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When Darkness Falls

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"You think I’m not a goddess?
Try me.
This is a torch song.
Touch me and you’ll burn."

 

- Margaret Atwood -


There was one thing that Méra hated more than anything, and that was waiting. Even though the list was long, doing nothing was on the top, and spending two never-ending days at the Nightgate Inn only made her remember how annoying it was. While she rested her chin on her palm, her left hand was hidden under the table, idly playing with a dagger. She heard low chattering from behind her back, but Méra didn’t bother with checking the source of it for a while. No one came here—at least no one important.

Before she straightened up, she slipped the weapon back into her boots and looked around: only a few people lingered in the main hall of the inn. Her gaze met with the innkeeper’s one unharmed eye, since the other was light grey, bright like the moonlight, surrounded by deep and black scars. Méra knew no blade but only magic could leave marks like those. The man, who usually wore a strict face, immediately started to grin at the sight of the woman’s tiny smile; her pale blue eyes locking with his. She had gentle eyes, but a blazing look, as Astrid never failed to mention to her.

Hadring – the innkeeper – scratched his almost white, shaggy beard, and while his eye was glued to Méra, he accidentally wiped a tankard of ale off the table. She couldn’t stifle a sigh while the old Nord crouched down to clean up his mess.

She brushed a loose strand of red hair out of her face, dark like dried blood, before she stood up from the table – which, thanks to that godforsaken dress, wasn’t easy at all. To walk the numbing stiffness out of her legs, Méra paced around the inn, and her eyes wandered towards the basement.

That damned Orc.

Ever since she arrived to the Nightgate Inn, Balagog gro-Nolob never left the place. He spent most of his time downstairs, the door of his room securely locked. It crossed her mind to pick the lock, but if she broke in, that idiot would immediately scream for help. Usually, it wouldn’t bother her, but now, she needed to stay incognito.

Méra tried to lure him out of the inn several times. Wrapping any men and women around her fingers was never a tough task for her – her appearance on itself was enough to do the job. But not with the Gourmet. Her smirks and cheeky words were only enough to make him blush and stutter like a teenage boy. The sight almost amused her – an Orc with flushed cheeks? Funny as it was, she couldn’t laugh at it for long; not when he only wasted her time.

By the middle of the third night, when she seriously started to consider murdering him in front of everyone next time he left his hiding place, Balagog simply walked up from the basement and went straight outside. From the surprise, she only watched his empty, cold place, as he shut the door close after himself, letting in the scent of the chilly night.

She shook herself and hurried towards the exit, but just as her palm touched the door, she heard the innkeeper’s rough voice,

“You’re going to get cold, lady.”

Shit. If there was the tiniest chance that the man could follow her out, he could easily ruin her plans. Méra heaved a sigh but didn’t think for long before she walked back to the man. She stopped so close to him she could see him swallowing hard. “I have to do something first, but how about you prepare a room for us for later?”

Even his disgustingly bright eye darkened at her words. “A room for—I mean, my customers—“

“Now, now, Hadring,” she said with a cheeky smile, tilting her head. “Are these drunken men seriously more important to you than me?”

“No!” he said, almost desperately, and Méra knew she had won.

“Then go, before I’ll change my mind.”

The innkeeper nodded and Méra didn’t look back to check if he did as she said while she left the place.

It was a clear night with no snow or wind, yet it was so cold it burned her cheeks like fire. She leaned down and pulled her dagger out of her boot, only to hide it back into the sleeve of her dress. Her steps were light, quiet; even the snow was silent under her feet. She spotted the Orc: he was standing at the dock behind the inn, looking into nothingness.

Méra slipped the dagger down on her arm when she was close enough, the tip of the blade still hidden behind her fingers. The weight of her heavy dress brushed against the wood she was walking on, and she didn’t even notice how loud it was in the silent night, not until the Gourmet suddenly turned around. Her eyes rounded for a second, but she tried to disguise her surprise with a smile.

The Orc sighed. “I already told you, m’lady. I’m not interested.”

“Well, that’s a shame,” she said with ease, taking one last step closer, before she raised her hand and slit his throat. “Sorry, Balagog. I’m in hurry.”

His eyes were round and desperate while his hands came around his neck, clinging onto his life until his very last breath. While Méra waited until he fell on his knees and chocked on his own blood, she wiped her dagger clean on his green tunic. The dark ebony blade swallowed every bit from the moonlight and didn’t let it go.

Dragging an Orc through a dock and into the woods wasn’t easy at all. Usually, it wasn’t a problem to leave bodies behind, sometimes even in the middle of a town (in fact, in some cases it was even required), but now, Méra got one clear instruction about the job: hide the body. Neither Festus nor Astrid told her the reason, as they also didn’t mention why it was so important to kill him. He was a damn cook, after all, as Méra wasn’t sure how his death fit into their bigger plan. Yet, curious as she was, she didn’t question it. Her job was to do, not to ask.

“Did you miss me, girl?” she asked the black horse with a grin and a small growl as she could finally drop the body next to a tree. The cloth that she wrapped around his neck to avoid leaving a trail of blood on her way was soaked by now, but only left some marks in the white snow around her last few steps. She didn’t bother with covering it; the weather would take care of it soon. Besides, they were in the middle of nowhere.

She scratched Shadowmere’s nose, before she lifted the old knapsack off her back. Stripping out of her dress in the middle of the snowy, frosty forest was not a pleasant thing to do. She quickly put on the all-black leather armour and her cape, hiding her red locks behind the hood. She pulled a small jar out of her pocket, half full of a dense, dark liquid. Digging two fingers in it, she brushed it against her eyelids, from one to another, carefully covering the freckles under her eyes.

Without doubt, Méra was a great assassin, but her features could easily get her into trouble. She considered only sheer luck she was still free and alive.

She cleaned her hands in the snow before she pulled her gloves on; then hopped up on Shadowmere’s back, leaving Balagog’s body behind.

***

The early morning rays of the sun warmed her cheeks deliciously when she finally reached the border of Falkreath, and she pulled off her hood, letting her locks brush against her clothed shoulder. She made a mental note to remind Astrid that next time, she wanted to take a job in a place somewhere warmer. There was something homelike in the quieter, cold places, and Méra could find comfort in it, but she preferred sunnier cities.

The city of Falkreath was close to the sanctuary, too close, but just like now, she avoided it every time if she had a chance. She trotted around the city and down to the little valley, where her home was hidden from curious eyes. Méra jumped off Shadowmere’s back and let the mare go back into her resting place before she murmured the three little words to the Black Door.

Since they mostly worked in the shadows of the night, it didn’t come as a surprise when she found no one in the main room of the sanctuary at these early hours. She walked past the wall that whispered to her so many times before, down the dark corridors and small chambers, until she reached the dining hall. Her stomach growled loudly at the sight of the food that remained there from last night, so she dropped herself down on a chair to eat some cold, roasted chicken and figs.

“By Sithis,” she heard a voice suddenly, so she looked back over her shoulder, seeing as Astrid hurried down the wooden steps. “What was taking you so long?”

Méra lazily turned back with a smirk and leaned against the backrest of the chair, wiping her hands off at a cloth. “I couldn’t buy him with my charm. Can you believe it?”

Astrid’s features finally softened as she smiled, running he eyes down on her. She rested her hips against a stone chair. “Hardly.”

“He’s dead. Don’t worry,” Méra said after she drank some water. “And would you tell me now why we needed to kill him?”

“Did you hide the body?” the blonde woman asked, ignoring Méra’s question. She didn’t answer, but gave her a pointy look; come on, she wasn’t that amateur… “Good,” Astrid went on. “Go and get some sleep. I’ll fill you in the details later.”

Méra didn’t argue. She hadn’t slept in more than two days, but the exhaustion only started to reach her now, when she was at home. In the last few weeks, she had been busier than any time since she first stepped into the sanctuary. The assassination of Gaius Maro. The murder of Vittoria Vici. Cicero… She really wouldn’t mind if she could take off a few weeks.

Her chamber was simple with a small bed, two chairs, a table, and a long weapon rack. Different kinds of swords and bows were hanging off it, but since she mostly used her dagger, they were more of decorations than weapons. The only two she used were hanging above her bed. One of them was an ebony sword with glowing runes carved into the blade, enchanted so it absorbed the soul of the person she killed. It was a gift from Astrid a couple years ago. The other, an ancient Akaviri sword that even without enchantments was one of a kind, its blade still sharp like the day it was forged. Méra stole it from her brother the day she fled from home.

She took off all her clothes and dropped down on the bed, curling under warm and soft furs. It only took a few minutes before she fell into a deep sleep.

***

Living under the ground had its benefits: it was safe, and it was quiet, but one thing that Méra never liked about it was that she could never tell for sure whether if it was day or night. She had no idea how much she slept when she opened her eyes in the pitch-dark room: it could be minutes or days, she couldn’t tell. After she opened the door to let in some light from the corridor, she put some fresh clothes on and left her chamber.

Every room seemed empty, until she found Babette in her usual place, sitting near to Lis’ nest. Méra winced in disgust as she saw her throwing dead skeevers to the spider.

“Why do you wear that ridiculous war paint, dear?” Babette asked while she turned around, lifting a goblet from the table.

Méra rubbed the back of her hand against her temple; she completely forgot to wash it off before she went to bed. “You know it helps to disguise.” she said, before she went to a dresser and poured some water in a bowl to clean her face.

“I like your freckles,” the little vampire said. “They give you this meek virgin look.”

She chuckled quietly, before drying her cheeks with a piece of cloth. “Astrid says I look like a southern whore with them.”

“Astrid says a lot of things lately.”

There was something in her voice that made Méra snap her head up. She slowly walked to Babette, whose red eyes were on Lis. “You don’t trust her anymore?”

She didn’t answer and didn’t look at her. She kept watching the spider, but Méra had the feeling she was just staring into the distance, far, far away from here. She almost gave up and walked away when the girl finally turned to her,

“I trust Astrid. I’m just not sure that her decisions are… appropriate,” she said lowly. “Are you sure that disobeying the Night Mother is a good idea? Are you sure that killing Cicero was the right thing to do?”

Méra swallowed hard. “We aren’t disobeying the Night Mother. The contract is still on.”

Babette smirked. “Good. About that… I think Astrid wants to speak with you.”

Before she went to find Astrid, Méra visited Festus Krex first to report back about the Gourmet. As always, the old man was leaning above his desk, flasks and vials and all kinds of herbs around him.

“Hello, Krexy.”

Méra couldn’t tell for sure if he just ignored her or he really didn’t hear her. Lately, the old man had problems with his ears. Nevertheless, she went closer and sat down across him, crossing her legs up on his table.

After he heaved a sigh, Festus looked up slowly, giving her a look that usually parents did after their kid did something wrong.

“The cook is dead.”

“I know,” he said shortly, placing down some ingredients with his shaky hand. He reached into a drawer and pulled out a small pouch; it clinked when he dropped it next to Méra’s legs. “Astrid also told me you hid the body,” he reached into the pocket of his robe and walked around the table. There was a ring in his palm.

Méra took her legs off the table. “Oh, thank you, Krexy, but you’re a little old for me, don’t you think?”

An annoyed growl rumbled in his chest. “You’ll never stop being an insolent little shit, will you? Take it now,” he said, while Méra merely grinned, watching the ring on her hand. “It’s called Nigthweaver’s Band. Helps you to sneak and makes your destruction magic stronger.”

Despite her barely ever using magic, especially destruction, she took it and thanked him for the gift. Maybe it would come in handy one day.

“So? How did you kill him?” Festus laughed. “Fireballs in the face?”

“Setting him on fire in the middle of the night would have been a little flashy, don’t you think?” she stood up, shaking her head. “I slit his throat.”

While she walked out of his room, the old man followed her for a while, murmuring more to himself than to her that you can never go wrong with fireballs. Festus said if it was up to him, he would have baked the Orc and serve it to the Emperor, just for the sake of irony, before she stopped in front of Astrid’s door.

Lately, she kept her door closed. Méra wasn’t sure if it was since Cicero or a little before his rampage, but she knew she had been a little paranoid since the Keeper brought the Night Mother into the sanctuary. She couldn’t lie to herself, but it made her think sometimes: did she doubt everyone else, too? Deep down, she knew Astrid would never betray her… but she also knew fear could make people do terrible things.

Only a few candles burned on the nightstand, giving the room an eerie light. Astrid sat lazily, leaning back against the chair, one arm up on the table. Even in the dim light, she could see the smirk on the blonde woman’s lips. “So, your time has finally come,” she started while Méra sat down across her. Astrid straightened herself and leaned closer; her voice low and mysterious as always. “You killed Maro’s son. You killed the Emperor’s cousin. You killed the Gourmet. And now, it’s time for you to kill Titus Mede.”

No reaction, no emotion; Astrid couldn’t read anything off Méra’s face. They sat in perfect silence for a while, after she finally spoke up, “Why me?”

“Why you?” Astrid asked back, an eyebrow arched. “You’re the Listener, after all. Aren’t you?”

Méra couldn’t ignore the cynicism in her tone, but she let it go. She got used to it by now.

“But more importantly you are one of our best assassins. You’ve achieved all those things that led us to allow to kill the Emperor. You’re the one who should do it.”

Méra nodded. “Alright. How should I do it?”

The smirk grew on her face. “You’re going to impersonate the Gourmet,” she said, placing her hand on a piece of parchment, slipping it closer to Méra. “Here’s the Writ of Passage you stole from the Orc. With that, they’ll let you into the castle.”

She took the letter and opened to read it, but her mind was elsewhere.

“I have special poison for this job,” Astrid went on, filling her in with the details. She opened a little box that lied on the table, giving the red root to Méra. “It’s called jarrin root. It kills instantly. Once you’re in the kitchen you’ll be able to poison the food. Now, after he dies, you must flee as quickly as you can. You must escape through the upper door, and across the bridge. I’ve arranged for it to be unguarded once the alarm is sounded.”

Méra narrowed her pale eyes suspiciously. “Are you sure? It’s the Emperor, after all. Why would they leave any exit unguarded?”

“Believe me, it cost me a lot of blackmailing, bribing, and more gold than I’d have like to in the sake of arranging this. Now go. Fulfill your destiny as the Listener.”

Her words were final, and Méra knew she was finished. The plan seemed perfect—though it was dangerous, she had participated in more dangerous jobs before.

“And do something with your hair,” Astrid said before Méra opened the door. “It wouldn’t be lucky if they recognized you in the castle.”

Méra shrugged. “I haven’t been there in the last fifteen years. I doubt anyone would recognize me.”

Astrid stayed in silence and let Méra walk out of the chamber.

Chapter Text

The sways and jolts of the carriage. Chirping birds in the trees. Someone’s humming. A sound of a loud, deep horn. Despair. Empty words. The sharp clinking of swords. A scream. Red, golden, and more red.

Méra startled out of her sleep, her grip tightening on the dagger under the pillow. She closed her eyes again for a few moments to slow down her breathing, before she crawled out of the bed and walked to the window. The wooden shutters creaked loudly when she opened them, letting in some fresh air. The icy breeze of the dawn lifted a loose strand of hair up from her cheek, sending shivers down her spine. As she leaned a little further out of the window, she could only see one man on his farm, alone, harvesting the crop at these early hours, so he could reach the nearest city with them in time. Rorikstead was definitely one of the most silent – and boring – villages Méra had ever been to.

Despite of its unsafety traveling by night, especially in the past couple of years, Méra almost never stopped after the sun set down. On one hand, she mostly roamed the roads by herself, and facing a group of vampires while she was fully awake was still more promising than sleeping alone in the wilderness, never knowing what might wake her up. On the other hand… she couldn’t name anything of the horrors of the night that would scare her away.

But now, she made an exception. If she spend one night in Rorikstead, and another one in Dragon Bridge, she would reach Solitude just in time. She didn’t want to spend more time in the capital than it was necessary.

By the time Méra left the inn, the sun was shining brightly, but a few drops of rain tapped gently against her cheek. This is how the weather was in Whiterun Hold, especially near to the Reach: whimsical, always changing, particularly in the middle of the summer.

She wasn’t on the cobbled roads more than an hour when she spotted two Thalmor soldiers and a wizard on horseback, coming from the road that led to Markarth. Méra pulled her hood closer around her face and fastened Shadowmere’s pace, but watched the Thalmor from the corner of her eye. Only when they reached the crossroad, she noticed there was someone behind them: a man with his hands bound together, in ragged clothes and barefoot, trying to keep up with the horses so he wouldn’t fall over. Méra trotted closer.

“Where are you taking him?”

The soldiers looked back while she approached, slowing down when she was next to them. They both ran their eyes up and down at her, watching her like she was some kind of dirt. Their golden armour glimmered in the sunlight as the raindrops rolled down on the shiny surface, and they said nothing.

It was the wizard (or justiciar, it was hard to tell which one as their robes were the same) who spoke to her. “We’re taking him where he belongs to. Now, remove yourself from my presence, if you don’t want to follow him.”

Méra looked back over her shoulder to take a look at the man. He seemed young, perhaps even younger than her, his hair blonde under the blood and dirt. Judging by how muscular he was and the fact he could still stand despite of his injuries, he was probably a soldier. “I’ll gladly die, rather than denying my God—“ he said through gritted teeth, but was cut off as the Thalmor soldier pulled on the rope hard, and the prisoner fell over on the stony road.

Her fingers tightened around the reins, but her voice was calm. “People should be able to worship any gods they want.”

“You’re right,” the wizard said, his voice implying that he was starting to lose his patience. “And they have every right to worship whatever gods they like. But Talos is a man, and only a heretic would think otherwise. Certainly you can understand this,” he stopped his horse, so the two soldiers halted as well. “Or perhaps there is something you’d like to confess?”

Méra let out a bored sigh. “I give you one chance to let him go.”

The wizard looked at her like he wasn’t sure he heard her right. “Are you out of your mind? Did you listen to a word I said?”

“Alright,” she murmured under her breath, before she quickly drew her katana out of the sheath.

Cutting a man’s head off was not easy if you didn’t use the proper weapon, and it was rather surprising, even to Méra that she managed to separate the wizard’s head from his neck with one, strong strike. The two soldiers of the Thalmor reacted quickly, both of them attacking her with their conjured swords. She jumped off of Shadowmere’s back and they followed her, cussing loudly in the process. Her blade cut easily through the Altmer’s light armour, through his heart, before Méra pulled her sword out and dropped his body down. The other one, seeing his two comrades lying dead on the ground, tried to flee, but Méra grabbed him by his cloak to pull him back, and plunged the katana into his chest.

With the exception of Shadowmere, the horses ran away from the smell of the blood. Méra walked to the Nord man who sat on the ground, his face confused, and cut off his bindings.

“Thank you,” he said; his voice dry and weak. He cleared his throat and fought himself up on his feet, following the woman who walked to her horse. “I’m Ralof.”

She turned back. “Are you a Stormcloak?”

“How did you know?” he asked, frowning.

“It wasn’t hard to figure it out,” Méra said, before shoving her waterskin into his hands.

“The Thalmor would have wanted to kill me even if I was a simple farmer. It doesn’t matter to them,” Ralof said, before he eagerly emptied half of the waterskin. Méra wiped the blood off her sword, before she pushed it back into its sheath on her back. “You’re not going to tell me your name?”

“No.”

Ralof helped her to drag the bodies out of the main road, but they didn’t bother with hiding them completely.

“Are you some kind of… mercenary?”

The rain stopped and Méra pulled her hood off, letting the wind blow her cheeks dry. She didn’t look at Ralof while she answered his questions. “Something like that.”

“Are you friends with Jarl Ulfric?”

“No.”

Ralof frowned, trying to understand the woman with the dark red hair in front of him. He winced when she kicked the Thalmor wizard’s head away with her heel. “Are you going to Solitude?”

“Listen,” Méra breathed out while she rummaged through the pocket of the wizard, hoping to find anything that could be of use against the Thalmor. She didn’t, but at least he had a nice amount of gold in his pouch. “I’m not here to make friends.”

Ralof didn’t understand. Why she did even save him? “I just thought we could help each other out.”

“Do I look like I need help?” Méra smiled while she walked back to Shadowmere, but didn’t wait for his answer. “You, on the other hand… you won’t survive in that potato sack, so I suggest you to swallow your pride and put on one of those armours. Take a horse and go home, soldier.”

“Thank you again, stranger,” Ralof said while Méra mounted her horse. “I hope we meet again soon.”

“Don’t build your hopes up,” she said, and rode away before he had a chance to say anything.

***

Méra reached Dragon Bridge before nightfall. She left Shadowmere outside of the village; the mare always draw attention, and that was the least she needed now. The giant statue of a dragon’s head atop the middle of the bridge arched across the wildly rushing Karth River, and she admired the sight of it. The river ran so many feet under the bridge it almost made her dizzy. A too remarkable entrance for such a little village.

The Penitus Oculatus Outpost looked abandoned—surely most of the guards were placed to Solitude for the Emperor’s arrival. It wasn’t so long ago when Méra last visited Dragon Bridge: only a few days prior she killed Gaius Maro, the commander’s son in Markarth. They needed to find the body soon, so it wouldn’t have been the best to kill him on a side road. She could’ve chosen any city, but since Markarth was the most corrupt of all, it seemed the best decision. A small pouch of Septim easily convinced the guards to forget about what they saw.

The only tavern in the village, the Four Shields was surprisingly crowded when Méra walked in. At first, the innkeeper said they had no free rooms left, but after some bribing, the woman found one last quarter where Méra could stay for the night. She dined there instead of the main hall, took a bath early, and didn’t leave the room for the rest of the night.

There were no stars up in the cloudy sky when Méra stepped outside of the inn before dawn, making the night even darker. She pulled her cloak closer around her body to protect herself from the blowing wind, while she walked back to Shadowmere, and before she packed her gear up on the mare’s back. She decided it was safer and smarter to make the way from Dragon Bridge to Solitude in a chef’s tunic instead of her armour.

It wasn’t like the last time she was in the capital, at the wedding, when she killed Vittoria Vici. She was fully armoured then, and the most anyone could see from her were her eyes. Now, she felt exposed. Not because everyone could see too much of her – but because it had to happen in Solitude.

The sun was shining brightly when she reached the farm near the city, but it didn’t make the weather a lot warmer. It was Skyrim, after all, and there were two kinds of weather: cold, and colder. She left Shadowmere near the docks, where the city of Solitude towered above them, and where she knew there was a hidden escape. Well, it was probably not a secret anymore. Last time Méra saw the exit, it was merely a small hole, carved into the rock. But now, it was a proper gate, though a small one, and no watchmen guarded it – at least not from the outside. Of course it could have been Astrid’s work, too.

She wasn’t so lucky at the main door. It was locked, with two guards standing at each side, and several others at the top of the gate. Méra walked to one of them, but when she told she was the Gourmet, the man only let out a sharp laugh.

“Why, of course! And I’m the Emperor!” he turned the other guard, who laughed too, before he went on. “Leave now, before I throw you into a nice cell.”

Méra clenched her fists to stop herself from pulling her dagger out of her boot and cut his tongue out. She reached into her pocket, which caused the guards to draw their weapons, but only a piece of parchment was in her hand. The man took off his helmet to read through the letter—he was an old Nord, and looked like he didn’t know how to smile. He folded the parchment in half and gave it back to Méra, before he shouted up to give permission to open the gate. Though he let her in, he kept eyeing her suspiciously.

Solitude was a rich and festive city with shops and merchants everywhere, and even the common people wore fancy, noble clothes. Once it reminded Méra of a happy and carefree childhood, but later, she could only think of it as the city of ghosts. Now, it even looked like it. There were no children running up and down on the streets, no people loudly chattering in front of the shops. However, many guards patrolled around. It didn’t surprise Méra. The death of King Torygg, the assassination of Vittoria Vici, the execution of Roggvir, the murder of the commander’s son; it all happened in the past couple of months. And between all of this, the Civil War was getting worse and worse.

While she walked across the large and always buzzy marketplace, Méra caught a glimpse of the marble towers and blue domes of the palace. She hadn’t been to Solitude for more than a decade, and now she had to see the Blue Palace two times within a month. Even from the distance, it was a knife to the heart. She didn’t mention it to Astrid; the least she wanted was to seem weak in front of her, but Méra had a feeling Astrid knew it. She could always see through her so easily.

She didn’t take her leader’s advice though, and left her hair in its natural colour. Méra never spent any time in Castle Dour. It was an Imperial Legion outpost; even her father avoided it if he had a choice.

The courtyard of the castle was crowded with Imperial soldiers and agents of the Penitus Oculatus. They strengthened the defence for the Emperor’s arrival. Méra recognized the man who stood by the door of the Emperor’s Tower immediately: it was Commander Maro. She didn’t waste time trying to say she was the Gourmet – she just showed him the Writ of Passage.

“What’s this now?” he asked and snatched the parchment out of her hand. “Order of his eminence… possessor of these papers… the “Gourmet…” he snapped his head up, his dark eyes showing surprise, but Méra could see as his features tightened. When he spoke up again, there was a shift in his tone, and she wasn’t quite sure it was only because of her identity. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize. Let me show you the way to the kitchen. Gianna, the castle chef has been eagerly waiting for your arrival.”

Méra thanked him with a smile and the commander led her into the castle. There was no one in the throne room and no one in the long corridor that led down to the kitchen; not even a single guard. It surprised Méra, but she was glad for it too.

“Gianna,” commander Maro said as the two of them stepped into the kitchen. The Imperial woman snapped her head up; she looked bored and arrogant, but when the commander introduced her the Gourmet, her whole face started to glow. She wiped her hands on her apron and walked closer to Méra, bowing a little with an excited smile.

“The Gourmet!” Gianna exclaimed. “When I heard the Gourmet was being brought in to cook for the Emperor, I could hardly believe it! I can still hardly believe it!” she giggled nervously, while Maro left the kitchen. Gianna led Méra to the cooking pot, and didn’t stop talking, not even for a second. “It is such an honour to get a chance to prepare a meal with the best chef in the entire Empire! Ha! Wait until I tell this to my dear mother! Here, put this on,” she shoved a chef hat into her hands. “The Emperor has requested your signature dish, the Potage la Magnifique. I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve taken the liberty of getting it started. The base broth is already boiled.”

After a half an hour, Méra started to get exhausted of this woman: she was a walking chatterbox. Even if she wanted to say something (that she definitely didn’t), she couldn’t have, as Gianna barely took a moment to stop talking and draw a breath. Méra seriously considered to give her a taste from the jarrin root, too. Instead, she sat down on a chair and lazily leaned back against the wall, giving instructions to the Imperial. She was now happy Nazir taught her to cook in their free time; she would have never thought it will come useful one day.

“I have to say, I never would have guessed it you’re a Nord! Where did you learn to cook like that? Surely not here in Skyrim—“

“Gianna,” Méra sighed, and stood up from the chair to walk to the woman. “Where I learned to cook is none of your business,” she dipped a spoon into the stew to taste it. “I think it’s ready,” she said, before Gianna had a chance to speak up. “Just one final ingredient.”

She pulled the small piece of root out of her pocket and gave it to her—the Emperor’s chef examined it suspiciously. “What is this? Some kind of… herb? Are you sure we should add this? The potage tastes perfect already—“

“Now, now, Gianna. Who is the Gourmet here? This is my secret ingredient and this is what makes my potage perfect. Surely you don’t want the Emperor to get any less than perfect, do you?”

“Of course,” she said nervously, and dropped the root into the pot. “My apologies.”

They cooked the potage for a few minutes longer, before Méra said it was ready. Gianna fixed her hair and changed her apron for a cleaner one, before she went back to the pot and turned to Méra.

“Alright. I’ll carry the stew pot, and lead the way up to the dining room. I’m sure the Emperor and his guest are dying to meet you,” she said, both nervous and excited.

Méra couldn’t hold back a grin at her choice of words. “I’m sure about that too.”

All the way through the castle, Gianna kept talking and talking about how nervous she was. Méra needed to gather all of her self-control to stop herself from stabbing her in the back while she walked behind her, but thankfully, they reached the dining room soon. A guard stood next to the door, who let them inside.

It was a large, richly decorated room with red carpets, Imperial flags, paintings on the wall, and a long table in the middle. A few noble men and women sat around it, judging by their clothes, and the Emperor at the head of the table. There were only two agents in the room.

“Ah! Here we are. Honoured guests, I present you – the Gourmet!”

Méra couldn’t hide her frown. Something wasn’t right with the way he talked. She met Titus Mede II once, when she was maybe ten year old, but the memory was old and blurry. Yet, she tried to remember what wasn’t right, searching for one, little detail.

But while she was lost in her own thoughts, Gianna served the food, and the Emperor raised his spoon to taste the stew.

Méra walked a little closer to the door that led outside. There were only two agents of the Penitus Oculatus, and she didn’t doubt she could take them down with her dagger, but it was still better to have another plan.

“Hmm,” the Emperor nodded, tasting the food slowly. “This is amazing,” he coughed now, his face reddening. Astrid didn’t lie – the poison was indeed fast. “Just as… I’m sorry, just as I imagined.”

He choked his last words out and reached his hand out for a goblet, but before he could clutch his fingers around it, he dropped dead on the ground. The noble men and women around the table gasped and yelled in shock and horror and didn’t hesitate before they jumped up to leave the room. And Méra followed their move; except, she fled the other way. She caught a last glimpse of Gianna’s face, whose eyes were glued to the Emperor, her jaw dropped.

Méra closed the door behind herself and pulled her knife out of her boot. She waited a few seconds, but no one came after her. Strange, she thought, but then she remembered what Astrid told her: she bribed the guards. Still, after killing the Emperor…

She walked further on the bridge and to the tower, but halted when she heard a noise. Someone was… clapping?

“That man was, by far, the most insufferable decoy the Emperor has ever employed. I’m glad he’s dead. Ah, but I’m even happier that you killed him.”

Commander Maro walked out of the tower, slowly, five of his soldiers around him. Méra’s grip tightened around her dagger.

“Surprised? So was I, when a member of your “family” came to me with the plan,” he nodded at two of his men and they ran towards Méra with their weapon draw.

Before they could reach her, Méra started to run too and dropped herself down to the ground when she was close enough, her leg reached out to kick a man’s legs out from under him. He fell over, and she plunged her dagger into his head. She pulled it out just in time to lean away from the other guard’s weapon, but she didn’t have time to pick the dead one’s sword up from the ground. Maro sent two other men at her, and they managed to get her: they didn’t kill her, they just held her down. A soldier, who kept her hands behind her back, wrenched her dagger out of her palm, and gave it to his commander. Maro stepped closer now, and sighed.

“You’re going to pay for this,” Méra said through gritted teeth. She wasn’t afraid. She was angry. “If you kill me, the Dark Brotherhood will slay all of you.”

The commander laughed quietly, before he took a deep breath, and his face became more serious. “I will slay all of you. I told the same after you murdered my son. You see, we worked out a deal… an exchange. I get you, and the Dark Brotherhood gets to continue its existence.”

“You’re lying,” Méra said, shaking her head. That couldn’t be true. No one ever would betray her from the Dark Brotherhood. No one.

“I lied in one thing,” Maro said, and thrusted the ebony dagger into Méra’s stomach. She gasped loudly from the sharp pain, but Maro didn’t stop. “After I kill you, I’ll butcher each and every one of your miserable friends.”

He pulled out the dagger and the pain blinded Méra for a second, but she could only think of one thing. He wants to kill them. All of them.

Maro raised her arm again, and this time, he aimed for her heart. “You killed my son, and now, you’ll pay the—“

Before he could finish his sentence, or made the lethal strike on her, Méra gathered her strength and kicked the man in the shin behind her. It wasn’t too strong, but it was enough to make him weaker for a second, and she could free herself from out of his grip. She leaned down and picked a sword up from the ground and struck towards Maro, but she missed, barely leaving a cut in his cheek.

“Kill her!” he shouted angrily, bewildered. “KILL HER!”

Méra could see she had no chance. She just got a knife in her stomach, she was wearing a dress, and there were too many of them. When commander Maro yelled, more and more guards hurried up to the bridge. There was nowhere to go up here. She cut down one man who was close enough, before she jumped off the bridge.

She found herself on and between many sacks of potatoes, somewhere at the middle of the marketplace. She heard shouts, yelling, and thought it was still better than falling on the ground, she was sure at least one or two of her ribs were broken. A man pulled her out, and she almost cut his head off by reflex, but it was only a merchant.

“Excuse me lady! You ruined my ware! Who is going to pay for this?”

Every inch of her body was aching by now, but she heard the approaching footsteps of many people. She ran away, fighting her way through the marketplace. Surely, all of the gates were guarded, even the secret one—the agents came up from there when she was on the bridge. She reached the wall that looked over the docks, and seeing no better choice, no other chance, she started to climb it. When she was halfway through, an arrow bounced off the stone, straight next to her head, followed by several. When she almost reached the top, one pierced through her left arm, and it took all her remaining strength to keep herself up. She pulled her body on the top of the wall, and without looking at what was under her, she jumped. If the fall didn’t kill her, then the guards would.

The wild bushes that spread through by the wall broke the fall, but Méra heard the sound of a breaking bone when she reached the ground. It was probably her ankle, but she couldn’t feel the pain anymore. She pressed her palm on her stomach that was heavily bleeding, making her white dress red.

“Shadowmere,” it came out no more than a whisper when she saw the horse nearby. If she could reach her… She limped closer while she shouted this time, “Shadowmere!”

The mare whinnied and turned around, galloping to Méra immediately. The guards were still nowhere, and she climbed up on her back, resting her head against the horse’s back. “Take me home.”

 

Chapter Text

Shadowmere was not an ordinary horse: she was faster, stronger, and smarter than any of her kind. She knew where she needed to go to get rid of the people who chased Méra, and it didn’t take too long until the Penitus Oculatus agents lost the track of them. If it wasn’t up to the mare, Méra would be probably dead by now: she couldn’t even take the fight with one man, let alone a whole group of trained warriors. She lost all her strength within minutes after she escaped from Solitude; the loss of blood making her weak and dizzy. One second, she was aware of her surroundings, then she lost her consciousness in the next. The sun shined so brightly it hurt her eyes, so she blinked, and it was dark. She felt snow against her cheek, but it turned to freezing rain. She saw as they rode into the shadows of the woods before she closed her eyes, and when she opened them again, they were out in the flowery, warm fields. It went on and on, for hours and hours that only seemed like seconds, and Méra wasn’t sure anymore she could reach the Sanctuary. Fury and fear drove her so far: she was afraid Maro’s agents would reach her home sooner than she could warn them, and the bubbling anger just grew bigger in her stomach as she thought back of how they tried to trap her. Her fingers clutched Shadowmere’s midnight black mane, but her grip weakened with every minute, until she didn’t hold her anymore. And soon, she felt a sharp pain on the back of her head, and everything went dark.

***

“Do you think she’s going to make it?” A woman’s voice said, quiet and worried. Méra couldn’t open her eyes, or maybe she just didn’t have the strength for it anymore. Or, perhaps, it was only a dream.

“I don’t think so,” this time, a man was speaking. He was panting, his deep voice tired and hoarse. “She lost too much blood.”

With each word, their voices became more and more distant. It sounded like an echo, coming from somewhere far away. Méra shivered with cold and pain.

“If we could take her to a healer—“

“Whiterun is the closest city, and it’s still at least a day on horse,” the man cut her off. “She wouldn’t make it. Besides, it’s almost dark, and she’s bleeding all over everywhere. She would attract every beast from nearby.”

“We can’t just let her die here!” The woman yelled in frustration. Méra heard the man’s sigh, murmuring something under his breath, before another man spoke up; his voice very similar to the other one.

“I’m open to suggestions. But I won’t let us die because of her,” it’s only been a whisper now in her head, then only half-sentences and incoherent words. Méra couldn’t catch more, while she was sinking, falling into something deep, something dark, something infinite.

And suddenly, she was up on her feet. Gods know how long later – time didn’t matter here, or maybe, it didn’t even exist. There was no smell of blood. She was warm, dry, and… no, she wasn’t alive. There were no wounds on her body; nothing hurt. Méra took a step forward, closing and opening her eyes a couple times – she saw no difference. The familiar darkness made her quiver with fear. She ran into the void, but her footsteps left no echo. Everything was awfully silent.

NIID.                                           

It was like a thunderstruck, and Méra slowly closed her eyes as the familiar sound filled her. She heard the growling, rough words from everywhere; from around her in the endless place, inside her head, inside her whole being. It gave off the feeling that even the source of it was untouchable. “Please, not this again,” she murmured under her breath.

NII LOS NI TIID.

“Can I just die in peace?” she asked, louder this time, even though she didn’t expect to get an answer. Or, if she did, she wouldn’t understand it anyway. This language was unknown to her.

NII LOS NI TIID.                            

She heard the same words again, and in a blink of an eye, it was cold again. Fresh air filled her lungs, but her eyes were still closed, and she could feel her own, slow, but steady heartbeat. Snaps and crackles of fire, a wolf howling in the distance, an owl hooting somewhere above her. Méra slowly sank back down, but not so deep this time.

***

When she opened her eyes, everything that happened in the darkness seemed distant, inaccessible, like the way people remembered their dreams after they woke up. More time passed, the more distant it felt, but no matter how absurd it looked, Méra knew hers was real. She blinked a few times and stared at the ceiling; the pale sunlight streamed in through the slits between the wooden planks. It was hard to breath, and she realized quickly why: several furs and other people’s cloaks covered her body. She elbowed up, but almost immediately fell back on the bedroll – every inch of her body hurt, most especially her head. She heard low chattering from outside, but the voices weren’t familiar at all.

Slower this time, Méra fought herself up in a sitting position, but leaned her shoulder against the wall. The process left her panting, and she doubted she could stand up, let alone run away if it was necessary. As the thick furs and cloaks slipped off her, she noticed she was at least half-naked, so she kept one around her body. Someone cleaned and bandaged her wounds on her stomach and on her left arm. Whoever found her, they were probably not her enemy, but she decided to stay careful. She looked around in the small shack. A few bedrolls, barrels, a long table but no chairs. Knives and bowls and tankards. It looked more like a hunter’s rest than someone’s home. Soon enough, her eyes found something familiar: her katana, her backpack, and Shadowmere’s saddle were leaned against the opposite wall. They were only in a little more than an arm’s reach, but Méra knew she was too weak and in too much pain to even lift the sword. She tried to straight herself, but her chest ached and burned. Being so vulnerable was driving her mad, but the approaching footsteps and the creaky sound as the door opened made her forget about her pain for a moment.

“You’re awake” A woman exclaimed, surprise colouring her face. Her skin was light brown, her eyes and hair endlessly dark. She crouched down just when two men stepped into the shack too, and Méra involuntarily slipped away from the woman, her back touching the wooden wall. “Don’t be afraid, we mean no harm,” she said in a shooting tone, smiling, and as her features softened, Méra realized how young she was. She couldn’t have seen more than twenty, maybe twenty-two winters.

“Who are you?” Méra asked quieter than she intended to, but her voice was weaker than she expected to be.

“Here, drink this,” the Imperial woman reached back at the table and gave her a leather cup, filling it with fresh, cold water. “I’m Ria, and they’re Farkas and Vilkas. They’re not as scary as they look,” she chuckled, pouring some more water to Méra as she already drank the first cup. “Well, maybe Vilkas is. We are Companions, by the way.”

That at least explained why she was still alive – the Companions would never leave a chance to play the hero, Méra thought bitterly. She put the cup down and wiped the corner of her mouth with the back of her hand, before she leaned back against the wall again. She slipped her palm under the cloak that was draped over her and put it on her side; her ribs were broken for sure. Her eyes fell on the two men as she raised her head. Their resemblances were obvious, but their little features made them very different still. While both watched her with curiosity, one of them looked more suspicious than the other. Méra knew that one didn’t trust her. Smart. “Are you two related?”

One of the two chuckled, while the other narrowed his eyes and said, “Very funny. We’ve never heard this before.”

“Vilkas…”           

Ria rolled her eyes. “Don’t mind them,” she smiled, and sat closer to her again. “What happened to you?”

Méra opened her mouth to say she didn’t know, but then, with a wave of shock, she realized it wouldn’t even be a line – she truly had no idea what happened. She frowned hard and put her hand on the back of her head but hissed at the pain. It seemed impossible to remember what had happened. Everything felt like a dream, blurry and distant, quiet and empty.

“It’s okay,” Ria said softly as she saw the confusion on Méra’s face. “You fell off your horse and hit your head very hard, we just saw it from the road. You lost so much blood we thought you won’t make it through the night,” she went on, worry and doubt mixed in her voice as she remembered back. “I had some healing potions, but, well… Well, we really didn’t expect you to be alive by the morning.”

Méra let out a small chuckle, but immediately regretted it. She had to do something with her ribs. “It’s not so easy to get rid of me.”

Ria chuckled nervously. “I’m not very good with healing, but I guess I’m still the best between the three of us. So, I cleaned your wounds and applied some potion, and as you see, you’re here,” she smiled happily. “You slept for two days.”

Suddenly, her heart gave a painful beat. Why did she feel she was running out of time?

“And what’s your name?” Farkas asked this time, lazily leaning against the table. His brother stood close to him at the door, his arms crossed across his chest.

“Méra,” she said after a little pause. She used fake names multiple times before, but it wasn’t necessary now. “Where’s Shadowmere? My horse?”

“That beast had a name?” Vilkas asked. “I think it had some serious sickness. Anthrax? Rabies? Ataxia? Its eyes were red, and it snarled like a mad dog while we tried to save you,” he added the last words slowly, not even trying to hide his grudge.

Méra sighed, but her face stayed blank. “So, you killed her.”

“We didn’t have any other choice,” Farkas said apologetically. “She attacked us, you see.”

“We’re sorry about your horse,” Ria said. “But at least you’re alive! You’re incredibly lucky.”

Or unlucky, the bitter thought creeped up on her spine, but Méra didn’t say anything. Ria asked if she was hungry, and damn she was, but she needed to sleep some more first – at least she said that. She rather wanted to be left alone and figure out what in Oblivion had happened, but whatever she did to remember, tracing back her memories step by step, it only made her head hurt more. The pulsating ache in the back of her head blinded her, and it didn’t help at all with her fuzzy and messy memories. She knew she was in the castle, she knew she killed the Emperor, and she knew she escaped through the bridge. But she remembered soldiers in red uniforms – not the guards of Solitude, but Maro’s agents. How did she make it through them?

Méra sighed and murmured a curse under her breath, her chest aching again even if she just took a deeper breath. Unlike Festus Krex, she never liked magic – stealth and quick play was her speciality, and the unpredictable, dangerous spells would only ruin her plans. Now, however, she was happy the old man taught her some of it. Restoration was quite useful, and she could learn to heal minor injuries perfectly. She managed to fix her broken ankle and her ribs as well, but she rather didn’t experiment on her head. Sithis knew what could happen, and she didn’t trust magic that much to try it. Casting spells made her even more exhausted than she already was, but she gathered some energy to put on her leather armour. Outside the Sanctuary, Méra almost never slept without it – better to be safe than sorry. Fever didn’t shake her anymore, but she kept her cloak around her body, and fell asleep soon.

It was already dark outside when Méra woke up, but she was still alone in the shack. She was only half-awake, but she could hear Farkas and Vilkas as they were talking outside. Méra didn’t listen into their conversation; in fact, she ignored them and tried to fall back asleep, until the mention of her name caught her ears.

“No, Farkas, I don’t trust her. And you shouldn’t either.”

“You don’t trust anyone,” Farkas replied, a little louder. “Doesn’t mean we should’ve let her die in the middle of the forest.”

“I didn’t say that,” Vilkas snapped. “But don’t you think it’s a little curious that the woman appears on horseback, with injuries that clearly say she was chased by someone? And have you seen her sword? I’ve never even seen a weapon like that.”

“And what makes you think she wasn’t running away from bad people?” Farkas asked. It was easy to tell which one of them were speaking: while Vilkas spoke like he was holding back some hidden anger, Farkas’ words were easy, nonchalant. Ria probably wasn’t around, or she would definitely have had something to say. “And that sword maybe isn’t even hers. She doesn’t seem like someone who could wield it.”

“You’re too naïve, brother,” Vilkas said. Méra heard a short, clinking sound, a tankard crashing to the ground, following by long silence. It was Vilkas again who spoke, his voice so quiet Méra needed to hold her breath to catch his words. “I heard when her heart stopped. For minutes, she was dead. I know you heard it too. What’s your explanation to that?”

Farkas didn’t reply first, and Méra furrowed her brows, trying to figure it out if she heard Vilkas’ words right or not.

“I don’t know, and I don’t care. She was seriously injured, and we helped her, and until she doesn’t give me a reason to distrust her, I won’t. You could try to be friendlier too, Vil, it wouldn’t hurt.”

Méra didn’t listen anymore, but she didn’t even need to – Vilkas fell silent, and Farkas didn’t say anything either. She quickly put two and two together from about what she overheard. Since she joined the Dark Brotherhood, she talked the less with Arnbjorn, but it was still enough to learn a thing or two about his past. He had told her a lot about his days in Jorrvaskr, and generally about the Companions – including their little secret.

Soon, she fell back to sleep, then woke up for a few minutes, before she dozed off again. It went on a couple times – Méra had a tough night, her aching head not giving her much rest.

A nightmare startled her out of her sleep for the fourth time that night. Repeatedly, she felt as Maro stabbed her, his words echoing in her head: I’ll butcher each and every one of your miserable friends. She was sweating and panting hard while she sat straight up, trying to slow her breaths down. It was only a dream. She threw the cloak off herself and ran her fingers through her messy, dark red locks – how desperately she wanted to remember.

By the moonlight that streamed into the cabin, Méra saw Ria was sleeping close to her, and one of the twins snoring under his cloak at the corner. Knowing she couldn’t sleep anymore, she stood up and draped her cloak around her shoulders, her katana on her back, and left the cabin.

A small fire still burned nearby, and Vilkas sat next to it up on a log. He jumped a little when he noticed Méra, slowly and silently approaching him. “You’re like a damn Khajiit.”

“Sorry. I’ll meow next time.”

When Vilkas first saw her, she was wearing a simple white tunic (though it was bloody, dirty, and torn). Now, seeing her dressed in a black leather armour, with a sword on her back, he arched an eyebrow, before turned his head away with a sigh. “And my brother thinks you’re not the sword fighter type.”

She sat down next to him with a smile but didn’t say anything.

“Are you hungry?” he asked after a little pause, and Méra nodded. She wasn’t sure how much time had passed since she last ate, since she left Dragon Bridge – maybe three days. Vilkas heated up some stew by the fire, before he gave the small wooden bowl to Méra. She dipped the spoon into it, then lifted it to her mouth, and the taste made her flinch.

Vilkas watched her features with faked surprise, knowing very well his cooking abilities were nowhere near to perfect. Méra cleared her throat. “This is terrible.”

“Sorry. I didn’t have time to cook, I was always a little busy trying to save people.”

A little smirk lifted the corner of her lips, and Méra rolled her eyes before she looked at him. “Are you always a petty little shit to everyone, or am I the only one who has the pleasure to experience this side of you?”

Vilkas couldn’t hold back a smile. “You’re not special in this one.”

She stifled a smile and returned back to her food. It got better a little with every taste, and besides, she was hungry and weak – she needed to eat something. She tried to think of Nazir’s delicious meals and decided to ask him to make his special soup for her once she would be at home.

They didn’t speak for long, and Méra realized she wasn’t the only quiet-type here. Maybe she would have spent the whole night like this, sitting by the fire and drinking ale, not speaking a word, but Vilkas broke the silence.

“So, will you tell me what happened to you?” he asked, and as Méra didn’t answer, he went on. “We made bets, y’know. My brother says you escaped from bandits. Ria thinks you ran away from an angry lover.”

Méra chuckled. She drank some ale before she said, “Sounds like both of them think I’m the victim in this story.”

Vilkas narrowed his eyes, examining her features. It was hard to read anything off her face. “And aren’t you?”

“Depends on who tells the story,” Méra shrugged. “No matter how honourable you may be, you are still the villain in someone’s life.”

While she stared into the glowing embers, Vilkas watched her face silently. He thought a lot about who she could be, from an ordinary peasant girl to a petty marauder, but the way she talked told him completely otherwise. It was prim and slow. He heard noble men and women speak like this.

“You didn’t tell me what you think,” Méra said suddenly, still not looking at him. “About how I did end up like the way you’ve found me.”

“I don’t know,” he grumbled. “But unlike Farkas and Ria, I don’t think you’re as innocent as you look,” he said firmly and honestly.

Méra smiled, and finally turned to him. “Do I look innocent? I haven’t heard this since I was sixteen.”

Vilkas couldn’t fight back the urge to run his eyes up and down on her – it was the mysterious tone she spokeand the way she looked at him from under her lashes. He sighed and sat closer to pour some more ale into her leather cup, and he refilled his, too. “My brother trusts you because he’s too soft. Ria… guess she’s too young to know what people are really like.”

Though Méra remained silent, she didn’t exactly agree. When she was at her age, she had plenty of occasions to experience why she should not trust anyone. She looked in Vilkas’s eyes; they were blue, not like hers, but deep and darkened in the warm light of the fire. “And you’re cold-hearted and old enough to know the truth, right?” she asked, but went on before Vilkas could answered. “Well, it’s mutual.”

A frown creased his forehead. “You don’t trust me? We saved your life.”

“Don’t take it to your heart,” she said coldly. “I don’t trust anyone.”

In other cases, Vilkas would found it smart she didn’t trust them blindly just because they saved her life, but he couldn’t help but find it a little strange. Most people trusted the Companions without question. This woman, however, she wasn’t impressed, she wasn’t thankful, and she wasn’t scared, despite of what happened to her.

“You should go to sleep,” he said. “We have a few hours until sunrise.”

“I don’t think I could go back to sleep,” Méra said quietly, Maro’s voice on repeat in her head, the feeling of her own blade cold against the wound on her stomach. She gripped the grass hard, anger filling her. Even though her memories were fragmented and incomplete, from what she remembered, she knew she will go back Solitude one more time. And even if she would die in the process, at least she wanted to take Maro with herself to the Void.

Noticing the shift in her tone, Vilkas tried to joke. “Well, the last watch is mine, so you don’t have any other choice but spending the rest of the night with me.”

Méra shook herself out of her distress and smiled a little, winking at him. “Don’t worry, Companion. I’m sure I can handle you.”

With a smile, Vilkas looked away from her and shook his head, almost invisibly. Damn, this woman was irresistible.

They didn’t talk much after that, as none of them adored the idea of small talk. Dawn arrived soon, colouring the eastern sky the palest shades of grey and pink, and Ria and Farkas started to slowly wake up as well. Both stared at Méra in her armour, but they didn’t comment it.

“You look much better,” Ria grinned, pointing out the obvious, after she started to pack her things into her bag. Méra went back to hers too and looked bitterly at Shadowmere’s saddle.

“Where do you live, lady?”

“Méra,” she corrected Farkas, who stood with his shoulder leaned against a tree. “I live in Falkreath.”

Farkas looked around, narrowing his eyes like he was thinking hard, then looked back at her. “That’s good. We should be able to make it there in two days.”

Méra frowned first, until she realized what their intention was. She sighed then, talking to all the three of them. “Listen, I’m very thankful you saved my life, but I can take care of myself from now.”

“Well, if you insist—“ Vilkas started, but his brother cut him off.

“Absolutely not. I’d be a lot happier if we could accompany you back to Falkreath.”

Seeing his words were final, Méra let out a long breath and turned to Vilkas. “I hate your brother.”

A wild grin appeared on the Companion’s lips. “What? You can’t expect us to let a vulnerable lady like you wander around in such a dangerous part of Skyrim, now, can you?”

“Vulnerable my ass,” she mumbled under her breath, and heard Vilkas’ laugh while she marched back to the shack. She returned with the saddle and shoved it into Farkas’ arms. “Would you please carry this?”

Farkas smiled kindly. “Of course.”

While they finished packing up their belongings, Méra casted one last healing spell around her wounds – they should be fine now. Her head still hurt, but the throbbing pain eased a lot. The fragments of her memories, however, were still shattered all over the place. She wasn’t sure whether the reason was that she fell off Shadowmere and hit her head hard, or the time she spent in that dark place – perhaps both. Maybe Krex or Gabriella could give her something to fix her mind.

They walked all day and only stopped twice to rest and eat a little. Ria talked a lot, and she was driving Méra mad with her constant unnecessary rambling. Farkas wasn’t any better, but at least he was funny. Sometimes. They just reached the Evergreen Grove, when Farkas suddenly stopped to look around. The small lake gleamed golden in the setting sun. “Seems like a good place,” he shrugged. “We can camp here for the night.”

Méra raised her eyebrows. “Are you joking? We could reach Falkreath within a few hours.”

“It’s not safe to travel at night.”

“Are you afraid of a few blood-suckers?” she asked, a smirk on her lips, but it was Ria who answered.

“Are you… not?”

Méra looked around at the three Companions, all of them watching her. Well, at least she got a chance to finally get rid of them. “I’m not going to sleep here when I could be at home by midnight,” she shrugged, and started to walk away from them. She heard arguing in choked voices and fastened her steps, hoping she could hurry far enough, but they were on her heels soon again. At this point, she had to repeat Astrid’s words in her head multiple times. Don’t kill people from other factions. Don’t kill them. Don’t kill them.

They continued their way on the cobblestone road. It was dark soon, but the moon was almost full, and the starry sky gave off enough light to see the path. After two hours or so, they caught a sight of the ruins of the Falkreath Watchtower, and they knew they were near to the town now.

“See it’s still lying in pieces,” Vilkas said. “You think the Jarl will ever fix it?”

Méra clenched her fist, but it was Farkas who answered. “Nah, Jarl Siddgeir doesn’t really care about what’s happening outside his own house.”

“And how do you know so much about him?” his brother asked.

“A woman told me,” Farkas shrugged. “Said her sister and her family lives on a farm near the town and wolves killed their sheep and cows. They asked the Jarl to do something about it, send some guards there, but he said he can’t afford that.”

Figures. It sounded very much like Siddgeir, Méra thought.

“People say they liked his father a lot better. But he’s still alive, so I don’t understand how Siddgeir ended up on the throne.”

“Dengeir is his uncle, not his father,” Méra corrected Farkas. “And he ended up as a Jarl because he’s really good at manipulating people.”

“Isn’t he the son of King Halfdan?” Ria asked. As Méra learned, she moved to Skyrim only a couple years ago, but the story of how the King and his Queen got murdered on the road spread through Tamriel like wildfire. “I heard he still has claim for the throne. Especially since Ulfric killed Torygg. By the Divines! You Nords are so complicated.”

“He is. But we had two kings since Halfdan, so no one remembers Siddgeir anymore,” Vilkas replied, but as her eyes fell on Méra, he frowned. “Méra? Are you alright?”

“Shut up,” she hissed, and held out her arm to stop the Companions. They just reached the watchtower, and soon they all heard laughs and loud chattering, a campfire burning next the staircase. It was impossible to sneak past through them, and they merely took two steps when the men and women fell silent, trying to find the source of the noise as someone’s feet crushed a branch.

“Stay behind me,” Farkas said to Méra as they walked closer to them, and the woman rolled her eyes, ignoring him and standing next to him. “We’re not looking for trouble,” he raised his voice. Three men and two women stopped about ten feet from them. “Just let us through.”

At first, they looked like bandits, but as the moonlight gleamed on the silver blade of the woman’s sword as she slipped out of its sheath, everyone recognized who they were – everyone, except Ria.

“Shit,” Vilkas murmured under his breath, and the man who stood the closest to them started to grin. Though he tried to hide it with his hair, but everyone could see he was missing an eye.

“Well, well, well, what do we have here? A few lost strays?”

He drew his swords too, causing Méra to say, “I wouldn’t recommend that.”

The man laughed, but it quickly faded away. A shock of realization, then anger. “Oh, wait. I know you.”

“Do you?”                                     

“Yes. You cut my eye off, you bitch.”

Méra remembered now. A few years ago, after she finished a job with Arnbjorn and they were on their way home, they ran into the Silver Hand. They killed most of them, but a few escaped – including the one who was here now.

“Well, why don’t you come here and let me fix it? It’s only fair if I cut off the other one too,” she smiled, and Vilkas shot a sharp look at her, but the Silver Hand were already rushing towards them. Méra drew her katana slowly and twirled it in her hand; a woman reached her first. She blocked her easily, and before she had a chance to strike again, Méra sank her sword deep into her stomach. The Companions were fighting too: Ria with her short sword and a parrying dagger, Farkas with a longsword, and Vilkas with his Skyforge steel, though an axe was hanging on his belt, too.

Another man reached her, the Silver Hand with the missing eye hot on his heels. Méra leaned away from his blade and cut his throat with her own, before her sword crashed against the man’s who looked furious. His strikes were hard, strong, but messy. No thought, no proper defence. These men fought from pure anger. Méra plunged her sword into his thigh so he fell on his knee with a painful groan, and before he could stand up, she kicked his sword out of his hand. The man looked up at her, panting and laughing, and Méra stabbed him to his eye and through his head.

“Much better,” she said, after she pulled her sword out and watched the man falling to the ground like a sack of potatos. The Companions were done fighting too, but there was a woman who ran away from them; she wasn’t far yet. Méra walked to Vilkas and pulled his axe out of his belt, and threw it away, straight into the woman’s head.

“What the hell was that?!” Ria asked, but she wasn’t the only one who watched Méra with surprise on her face – shock and amazement were mingled on Farkas’ face.

Vilkas, however, wasn’t impressed. “Can I talk to you for a second?”

Since Méra didn’t move, nor said anything, Vilkas clutched his fingers around her forearm and pulled her away from Ria and Farkas. They stopped when they were out of earshot, and Méra jerked her arm away angrily, raising her sword a little in her other hand. “Grab me like that again…”

He raised an eyebrow. “Would you really hurt me just because of that?”

“I’ve cut a man’s hand off for less.”

Vilkas heaved a sigh but didn’t comment it. “How do you know the Silver Hand?”

Méra bit the inside of her cheek. It was not necessary to lie, though she would never tell the complete truth. “A friend of mine is a werewolf. One time we ran into them. That’s all.”

Again, it was hard to read anything off her face—Vilkas couldn’t tell for sure if she was lying or not. Her heartbeat was steady; in fact, too steady for someone who just killed people. He walked away to the woman who lied dead on the ground, and freed his axe from her skull. “It was really not necessary to kill her.”

“One less enemy for you,” Méra shrugged. “She would have skinne you alive, so I wouldn’t feel sorry for her.”

Vilkas turned to her again and stopped inches from her. “Don’t tell Ria.”

“I don’t care,” Méra stepped back and cleaned her katana. “But don’t you think it’s a little unfair? That you keep secrets from your own people?”

“Don’t act like you know anything about the Companions,” Vilkas said, turning his voice down as Ria and Farkas approached them. “You know nothing.”

“Where did you learn to fight like that?” Ria asked once she reached them, though she didn’t wait for her answer. “It was amazing! Your movements are so fast and precise!”

They continued their walk, Vilkas still visibly fuming, when Farkas said, “You should join the Companions. We could use a Shield-Sister like you.”

Méra smirked. “I don’t think your brother would be happy if I did.”

“Oh, fuck him,” Farkas waved.

“Well, if he wants it.”

Vilkas looked back over his shoulder. “Would that shut you up?”

“Not if you’re doing it right.”

“Okay,” Farkas cut them off. “This conversation went to the wrong way very quickly. I’m serious, though. Why don’t you join us?”

Ria, who finally stopped giggling, stepped closer to them. “It’s for Kodlak to decide. But I’m sure he’d like you. I’d be happy if you joined our little family.”

Méra smiled. “Thank you. But I already have a family.”

Just when they finally reached the gates of Falkreath, Méra realized she had absolutely no idea where she should go. Clearly, the Companions wanted to stay for the night before they left to Whiterun, but since she didn’t have a house here, she couldn’t invite them for the night.

“Would you like to join me at the Dead Man’s Drink? The innkeeper has the best mead.”

“I’d like to fight over you on that,” Farkas started, “But I wouldn’t refuse an invitation like that.”

Just as she thought so. It would be much easier to get rid of them while they’re drunk. Together, they walked into the inn, and Méra hoped they would met none of her relatives.

 

Chapter Text

4 years ago

Ever since Méra returned back from Half-Moon Mill, two days ago, she stayed in the safety and silence of her dark room. Food and even water made her nauseous, lights and noises hurt her eyes and ears. Knowing she had already taken the proper potions, she hoped it would pass soon—but deep down, she knew that wasn’t going to happen. Turning on her back on the bed, she let out a quiet, painful laugh; a laugh of her own stupidity.

She could understand why someone performed the Black Sacrament in order to hire the Dark Brotherhood to kill Hern. Seemingly, the man lived a quiet life at the mill, selling building materials close to Falkreath, but far enough to hide from curious eyes. In reality, he loved to feed off of travellers. Méra thought it would be quick and clear. There were two ways to kill a vampire: ripping their head off or sticking a stake through their heart (or basically anything made from wood). They didn’t particularly like fire either. She didn’t want to get too close to him and risk to get infected, but she needed to make sure her strike would be lethal. It was daytime when she reached the mill; she knew Hern hid inside the house from the burning rays of the sun. The lock on the door was too easy to pick.

And when Méra told Hern the Dark Brotherhood had come for him, he wasn’t scared, nor surprised. He fought, and he fought well, but despite of him probably having experience for decades, or maybe even centuries, he couldn’t take the fight with Méra’s skills. Raw power meant nothing against someone whose every move was precise. The Nord vampire’s head fell to the ground with a loud, but blunt thud, before his body fell over too.

Méra took her time to wipe the blood off her face and her katana. She just slipped the weapon back into its sheath when she heard something; she looked around, but she saw nothing. She shuddered and decided to leave the house, but when her fingers wrapped around the handle, angry screams filled her ears. She didn’t have time to turn around before she felt a weight on her back, arms heavily around her neck; someone was clinging to her, pulling her to the ground. The woman caught her off guard and she found herself on the ground, claws scratching up the clothes on her back. Vampires had ear-splitting screeches, and it even made thinking hard while Méra tried to free herself from the woman’s grip. With one hand, she tried to push away her head from her own, but she was incredibly strong. With the other hand, she reached down to pull the dagger out of her boot, but it almost fell out of her hand when she felt sharp fangs sinking into the flesh of her neck. For a few seconds, her muscles weakened and her vision blurred, while the vampire drank her blood hungrily. When she finally gathered enough strength, she raised her arm and reached backwards blindly, stabbing the dagger somewhere into the woman’s head. Méra heard her screaming from the pain, but her grip weakened around her and she could free herself. She jumped on her feet and the vampire did so too; she pulled the dagger out of her cheek with a furious look on her face. She attacked again, but Méra was quicker this time—she cut her head off before she could reach her.

Shaking and panting, Méra fell on her knees and quickly searched for a cure potion in her backpack, only to find simple healing potions. She cursed under her breath. How could she forget to check it before she left? As quickly as she could, she rode back to the Sanctuary and marched into her bedroom, drinking not even one, but three vials of the strongest potions.

And now, two days later, she was tossing and turning in her bed, sweating and seeing stars from the pain. She didn’t tell anyone what had happened, as she believed she would heal before she even needed to tell anything. What a miserable way to go, alone in a dark room.

She dozed off a little, but her own, blood-curdling scream woke her up. At that point, she couldn’t tell what exactly hurt; she felt it everywhere inside her body.

“By Sithis, what’s happening here?!” Méra heard Astrid’s loud voice through her own shouts, before she saw her, stopping next to her bed. She kept asking questions, but Méra couldn’t answer. As the venom cursed through her veins, the pain blinded her. While Astrid was close to panic by the look on her face, Arnbjorn hurried into the room too. They were talking loudly, or even argued, but Méra couldn’t understand a word from the drumming in her ears. She just saw when Babette peaked inside when she finally choked out, “My blood is boiling.”

“What did she say?”

“She said her blood is boiling,” Babette repeated the words, almost knocking Arnbjorn off his feet as she fought her way into the room. It didn’t matter she was little; her vampire blood gave her a lot of power. “Oh, dear,” she sighed, examining Méra’s pain-drowned face. She grabbed the collar of her nightgown and pulled it lower, revealing the marks that only vampire’s teeth could leave.

“Wonderful,” Astrid sighed and put her palm over her forehead, before she collapsed on a chair, then turned to Babette. “Really, truly wonderful. Is she supposed to react like this?”

“The transformation is different for everyone,” the un-child said as a matter of fact, while Astrid looked like she could explode at any minute. “When the venom gets into the bloodstream of a mortal, they usually don’t take it very well. Some people make it, and some do not.”

Astrid snapped her head up; her blonde locks sticking up at every direction. A loud noise from Méra that was between a scream and a sob filled the room. “What do you mean some of them don’t make it? It could kill her?!”

“Oh, it will kill her. The venom kill us all before we come back.”

The leader jumped up, walking up and down in the room. Arnjborn watched her with furrowed eyebrows; he didn’t remember the last time he saw her being so upset. “I can’t believe this. This is madness. Can’t you do a potion for her?”

“I’m afraid it’s too late for that,” Babette replied quietly. “All we can do is wait.”

“What is happening here?” Veezara hurried in, his voice raspy as always, his eyes round when he caught a glimpse of Méra. “What in the—“

“Everybody get out of here!” Astrid shouted at the men, her face reddened, and both Veez and Arnbjorn left the room without hesitation. Even her husband knew it was better not to mess with her when she was upset. Astrid sighed and sat down at the edge of the bed, close to Méra, taking one of her hands in hers. Her skin burned like fire. “Can’t we at least do something with the pain?” she asked, merely more than a whisper now.

Babette pressed her lips into a thin line. “No. The venom is very strong. But so is she, Astrid. I’m sure she will make it.”

Astrid didn’t say anything, but leaned closer to the girl. She pulled away a strand of long hair that stuck to her face with sweat. “Méra. Can you hear me?”

She squeezed her eyes shut, hoping it would ease the pain in her head, but it helped nothing. She looked at Astrid. “Yes.”

“Did you hear what Babette said?”

“Listen,” Méra ignored the question and swallowed hard, trying to sit up on the bed. She fought herself up in a half-sitting position with Astrid’s help. “If I don’t come back—“

“No,” Astrid cut her off, her grip tightening on her hand. Méra noticed when her voice trembled. “Don’t start to say goodbye. You will come back. You have to come back.”

Swallowing back a painful moan, Méra smiled weakly at her. “But if I don’t come back—please, listen to me. I just want to say thank you… for everything. For taking me in, for teaching me… for being my family.”

Tears filled Astrid’s eyes, but she fought them back. She nodded, but couldn’t say a word.

The pain weakened Méra soon to the point she couldn’t feel anything anymore. Her surroundings became distant. She stared off into nothingness and found herself wishing it wasn’t the end. A few years ago, maybe only a year ago, she didn’t care if she lived or died, but how everything had changed since then… since the Dark Brotherhood. She wanted more time with them. 

And soon, she couldn’t keep her eyes open anymore, Astrid’s words lost in the echo, and the darkness swallowed Méra.

The deepest forests where no stars or moon lit the way was nothing compared what Méra experienced there, wherever it was. She was standing, the pain vanished, but she couldn’t feel herself relieved. She walked, then she ran, but she couldn’t find the end of the darkness. The silence cut into her flesh, she couldn’t even hear her own footsteps.

Fear slowly crawled up on her spine—did she really have to spend an eternity in the darkest darkness? While she tried to figure it out where she was, and how she could go somewhere, anywhere, a voice broke the heavy silence.

HI FOD NI KOS HET.

Méra spun around, forgetting about it was unnecessary; she couldn’t see anything. “Who’s there?”

No answer came, only more silence. “Show yourself!”

NI, DOVAHKIIN. HI FOD LOST DIR. HI FENT DAAL.

The unfamiliar words filled the endless place so heavily it felt like they left room for nothing, not even air, and Méra couldn’t breathe while it was speaking with its rough voice. Somehow… it was mesmerizing, even though she couldn’t understand a word.

NII LOS NI TIID.

Méra almost jumped out of the bed when her eyes opened, panting so hard her lungs burned. Astrid straightened, her eyes wide while she pushed her back on the bed, shouting words kept falling off her lips. It was pitch-dark in the room, no torches burned, yet Méra could see everything. After Astrid somewhat calmed her down, she lit some candles and gave a cup of water to the girl, whose breath started to go back to normal. She drank the water, but it didn’t help at all on the thirst she felt.

“I knew you’d come back,” Astrid said quietly, while she sat down on the chair next to the bed. Babette wasn’t there anymore. “How do you feel?”

At first, she wasn’t sure how to answer, because she felt herself surprisingly well for someone who just came back from dead. She felt no pain, she was only a little weak, but she never felt herself so whole. She could smell everything, she could hear everything; even Astrid’s heartbeat. “I, uh…”

“What did you see?” Astrid asked as Méra couldn’t answer her previous question. Her voice was mysterious and curious. “Were you in the Void? Have you seen our Dread Father?”

Méra thought about it for a second. From what she read and heard about the Void, the space filled with everything but nothing, the eternal heaven filled with darkness, it could be easily the place Astrid was talking about. It even crossed her mind maybe Sithis was talking to her. But somehow, Méra knew the space she had been wasn’t the Void. It was something between everything.

Now

Apparently, making the Companions drunk to get rid of them wasn’t as easy as Méra thought it would be. They got used to weep and celebrate as well with cheap mead and strong wine, unlike Méra, who never liked to drink too much. It dulled the senses, the mind, and she preferred to keep her head clear. Now, however, she let herself loose a little, recognizing she couldn’t get away from them any time soon.

The tavern emptied soon after midnight, and besides the innkeeper and a bard who still played softly on her lute, only the four of them stayed. Ria and Farkas talked the most; Vilkas only joined the conversation occasionally. He was uneasy in Méra’s presence, she could tell; he knew she was hiding something, but it didn’t bother her. She owed no explanation to him, and with a bit of luck, after they would leave the inn, they never had to see each other ever again.

While Méra played chess with Vilkas, her head already heavy from the strong wine, the other Companions kept trying to figure it out where Méra got her wounds. Each theory sounded more ridiculous than the previous, and she never denied any of them. She just listened silently, sometimes gave a sarcastic remark, until the game finally ended.

“Checkmate,” she said, resting her palms on the table for a second before she stood up, still gripping the backrest of the chair with one hand for some support.

“No way,” Farkas gaped at her, not even trying to hide his surprise. He had never seen anyone who could win against his brother, maybe Skjor on his better days.

Vilkas tried to keep his face blank, watching Méra as she smiled coyly, before she brushed the little wooden figures away and grabbed his tankard to drink. “I was too drunk for this game anyway.”

It was a weak excuse, as Méra was noticeably more intoxicated than him. She stepped closer to pat his shoulder. “Would it be really hard to admit that I’m smarter than you?” Vilkas opened his mouth, but she didn’t wait for his answer. “I’m sorry, Companion. I didn’t want to hurt your pride.”

“Where are you going?” Ria asked while Méra staggered away and towards the door.

“I need some fresh air.”

The cool air was freshening and Méra leaned her back against the wall, inhaling deeply. She was surprised to see dawn had started to lighten the sky over the mountains—she spent a lot more time in the tavern with the Companions than she wanted to. She stepped off the porch to walk around the town a little, but she didn’t get too far away before she halted, feeling as all the air left her lungs at the sight that came before her eyes.

Thick, grey smoke rose like a curtain, up towards the sky where Méra couldn’t see the end of it. Her heart jolted painfully, even if she could only guess the source of the dark cloud. She turned on her heels and ran back to the tavern to pick her sword up she had leaned against the leg of the table earlier, barely glancing at the Companions while she put it on her back.

“I have to go,” she said shortly, before she already stormed out of the place. Her behaviour caught them off guard; so far the woman always looked so calm and collected. The warriors watched the cold, empty place for a few silent seconds, before they exchanged curious glances, but it was Farkas who jumped up to go after her.

Méra heard his voice as he called her name while she hurried down the cobblestones, but she didn’t answer, hoping if she ignored him he would go away. Only when she reached the gates of the town she turned around and hurried back to him (though he was already close to her) and drew her sword; the tip of it touching the neck under his chin.

Slowly, Farkas raised his palm defensively. “I just wanted to make sure—“

“Don’t,” Méra cut him off sharply. Her blue eyes were cold in the pale light of the dawn, and suddenly, Farkas was sure that even without her sword, she could easily silence him with that icy gaze. “I’m only going to say this once, so listen to me. I’m not supposed to hurt you. But if you get ine my way, I won’t hesitate.”

She pushed the katana back into its sheath. “Don’t follow me.”

Though she had no doubt he wouldn’t, Méra walked off the road and choose the woods, where hopefully he couldn’t even see her. By the time she reached the little valley she was out of breath, panting from running through the forest. The sight was sobering.

The Black Door was wide open and the dense, dark smoke spilled out of the Sanctuary. Méra fastened her steps again, but halted when she saw Festus Krex’s body pinned to a tree by many arrows. She caught one of his eyes, angry even in his death.

“I’ll butcher each and every one of your miserable friends.”

Maro’s voice echoed inside her head again, louder this time as she realized it was no dream, no hallucination. Once more, she drew her sword and rushed into the Sanctuary, trying to cut her way through the choking smoke.

She found two of Maro’s agents in a room near the main hall, where the smoke wasn’t so thick. The two men barely had the time to draw their swords before Méra was there, spilling their blood. She marched through the corridor, fear creeping up her spine with every step, scared who she might find dead in the next room.

It was Arnbjorn’s body she saw first inside, in his beast form, an axe sticking out of his head. An agent still stood next to him and Méra walked closer, while he ran, but she still easily blocked his hit and cut his throat, before she kicked him in the middle of the burning fire. She continued her way up on the stone stairs, finding more and more of the Penitus Oculatus. The smoke burned her eyes so hard she could barely see, but it didn’t stop her from killing all of them. She learned to fight in the deepest darkness long time ago.

Méra met none of her own people on the way. She was alone, but it didn’t even cross her mind that she had never fought with so many people at once by herself before. Anger and fear equally drove her.

The upper floor was ruined so badly Méra wasn’t sure which part of the Sanctuary she was in. She tried to search for survivors, but it seemed impossible amongst the smoke and debris.

At last,a painful whimper and someone’s familiar, deep voice caught her ears. Méra rushed into the half-collapsed room and found Nazir, three agents lying dead around him while his back was against the wall, his leg stuck under rocks.

“Nazir,” she gasped almost desperately while she kneeled down, trying to free his leg.

The man coughed. “So you’re alive. I was starting to wonder.”

She ignored the shift in his voice. “It was all a trap. It was a fake Emperor I killed. Maro’s agents tried to kill me and—“

“And then they came for us too,” he said sharply, a hint of sadness in his voice before he growled in pain as he stood up. “Let’s get out of here before we’re roasted here alive.”

“We have to find the others!”

“Others?” Nazir asked as he looked back at her pained face. “There are no others, Méra. Everyone is dead,” he limped out of the room with the help of her. “I only didn’t see Astrid and Babette. Maybe they made it out.”

She didn’t want to build her hopes up, not anymore, but she couldn’t help it. They fought their way through the smoke, fire and debris, and left the Sanctuary just before a loud explosion shook the ruins. Nazir and Méra fell over, but a flying piece of rock hit the back of her head, knocking her out.

When she slowly opened her eyes, Méra was lying on her back in the grass, and her first thought was it was all a dream, a terrible nightmare, but the pain in the back of her head told her otherwise. The sun was shining brightly; she must have been blacked out for hours.

“Méra,” she heard a thin, girly voice on her left. Babette. She turned to her, seeing the girl sitting in the shadows of a tree to hide from the sun. Méra sat up to look around. Nazir stood next to the ruins of the Black Door, staring off into the distance. A low and deep neigh made her to turn around, and she saw Shadowmere near to the lake. It made her smile on the weakest way, wishing they wouldn’t be the only ones who could come back from death.

“I should’ve been there earlier.”

“What are you talking about?” Babette asked sadly. “They took us by surprise. If you were there, maybe you would be dead by now, dear.”

Méra buried her face into her palms, closing her eyes with a deep sigh. The thought of maybe she could have prevent this all burned a hole in her heart.

“It is not your fault,” Babette said again. “Nazir told me what happened to you in Solitude. You’re lucky to be alive.”

She couldn’t listen to her anymore, so Méra jumped up without any purpose, but quickly found herself in front of Nazir. Astrid. He had told her he didn’t see her either. She opened her mouth to ask about her, but before she could, a voice in her head cut her off.

Listener.

Méra turned her head towards the empty, dark tunnel where the Black Door used to be.

You must speak with Astrid. Here, in the Dark Brotherhood Sanctuary.

The Night Mother’s voice died away, and Méra frowned, her eyes not leaving the ruins. “Astrid is alive.”

“What?” Nazir asked, but Méra didn’t stop to explain; she walked into the Sanctuary. Her instinct told her she should check Astrid’s room first, but she could only guess where it was, though the entrance of the Sanctuary stayed rather untouched compared the other parts. She went in, but there was no sign of her.

“Méra, I don’t think Astrid’s here,” Nazir said as he followed her with Babette on his heels. “If she is, I doubt she survived. Look at this mess.”

But Méra’s eyes found a hole on the back of the room that she had never seen there before. She picked up her pace again, hurrying through the short tunnel, and her eyes widened when she saw her there, Astrid, lying on the ground.

“Astrid!” Méra exclaimed as she crouched down, helping her to sit up. She winced when she saw her face – one half pale as the snow, the other half burned so badly she wouldn’t recognize her.

“You are alive,” Astrid chocked out. “Thank Sithis.”

“We have to get you out of here and get some help—“

“No,” she cut Méra off, her voice weak but firm, her hand clutching her belly. Méra saw she was bleeding heavily. “Listen to me, please. There’s much I have to say, and not much time,” her voice was trembling with every word. She leaned against the wall with the help of the Listener, who fell in silence, waiting for what she had to say, but then, suddenly, it struck her like thunder.

“It was you,” Méra breathed out, her hands leaving her, but she stayed kneeling on the ground.

“I’m so very sorry,” Astrid said no more than a whisper after a little pause. “Maro… He said that by giving you to them, he would leave the Dark Brotherhood alone. Forever.”

Méra was only half-aware of the tears rolling down her cheeks, but it surprised Astrid. She had never seen her cry before.

“I was such a fool. It’s all my fault, Méra. You are the best of us, and I nearly killed you… as I’ve killed everyone else,” her last words were almost hysterical, her one eye teary. She reached for her hand, but Méra pulled her arm away before she could reach it.

“How could you do this Astrid?” Méra asked through gritted teeth, her voice shaking. “How could you—I trusted you more than I trusted anyone else.”

Astrid couldn’t answer. A single drop of tear fell out of her eyes.

After Méra dried her own wet cheeks with her sleeves, she stood up. She wanted to leave her there to die, to suffer, but her weak voice stopped her again.

“I just wanted things to stay the way they were! Before Cicero… before the Night Mother… Before you. I thought I could save us if I sold you out to Maro… but I was wrong. But you’re alive, Méra! Thank Sithis, you are alive. There’s still a chance to start over, to rebuilt. That’s why I did… this.”

Méra couldn’t understand first what Astrid was referring to, but she followed her gaze. Her eyes wandered to the wound on her stomach, to the dagger next to her, to the nightshade…

“I prayed to the Night Mother. I am the Black Sacrament.”

“By Sithis!” Méra heard Nazir’s quiet voice, reminding her for the first time since she came here that they were not alone with Astrid.

“You were right,” Astrid went on. “Cicero was right. The Night Mother was right. The old ways guided the Dark Brotherhood for centuries. I was a fool to oppose them. And to prove my sincerity, I have prayed for a contract. You lead this Family now. I give you the Blade of Woe,” she pulled the long dagger out of her belt. “…so you can see it through. You must kill me.”

Méra took the dagger out of her hand, watching the blade as it gleamed with a red light, like there was always blood on it. She looked up at Astrid again, for a long, strained second, before she sank the blade into her heart. She kept it there for a while, her head bowed, but she jumped on her feet the second she pulled the weapon out. She was unable to look at her face any second longer.

She hurried out of the Sanctuary and only stopped next to Shadowmere’s lake. Méra leaned her shoulder against a tree, her knees trembling, and she was surprised they didn’t give in completely. Her mind was filled with everything that happened, all different emotions churning inside her like a storm. She sensed as Nazir and Babette stopped behind her, but she couldn’t hear what they were saying. Her gaze was blank, empty, until the familiar voice brought her back to reality.

Listener.

Méra raised her head only slightly, wishing she could shut off the Night Mother’s voice too.

Astrid is dead. It is as it should be. May she find redemption in the Void.

“I hope she won’t,” she said loudly, turning towards the ruins. Nazir and Babette watched her silently.

While you live, the Dark Brotherhood lives. We must fulfil our contract. Emperor Titus Mede II must be eliminated.

Speak with Amaund Motierre at the Bannered Mare in Whiterun. He will know the true Emperor’s location.

“She spoke to you again, didn’t she?” Nazir asked not long after the Night Mother fell silent again.

Méra found his dark eyes, and she took a deep breath. She couldn’t fall apart, not now; she couldn’t let herself.

“Find some way to dig up the Night Mother from the ruins, then you and Babette go to the Dawnstar Sanctuary. Our family lives on, Nazir.”

“What? But everyone’s dead. What should we do?”

“I am the Listener, Nazir. You have to trust me.”

“You’re right,” he admitted in a low voice, even though at this point, it seemed hopeless to rebuild the Family. “But what are you going to do?”

Méra sighed. “I’m going to kill the Emperor.”

Nazir smiled, and it was the most pleased, most honest smile that Méra had ever seen from him. “Go. Go, my Listener.”

***

The same thing that drove her when she killed Maro’s agents was driving her again while she rode to Whiterun, except this time, it was pure anger without any hint of fear. Exhaustion didn’t reach her and she rode all day and all night, before she finally reached the city.

It was daytime, and the gates were open, so she could freely make her way into the always busy, open streets. People eyed her with curiosity or fear, perhaps both, while she walked up on the main street. She had painted back the black warpaint around her eyes she always used, hood on her head, but she let her red locks fall on her shoulders.

The Bannered Mare was always filled, no matter if it was day or night, and this time wasn’t an exception. Méra walked to the innkeeper, who stepped back at the sight of her. “Amaund Motierre. Where is he?”

The woman swallowed hard, her voice high-pitched and trembling while she spoke. “I-I can’t give out any information about my—“

“I won’t ask a second time,” Méra said calmly, quietly, slipping the Blade of Woe out of her sleeve. No one could notice her except the innkeeper.

“Alright, calm down,” she laughed nervously. “Motierre. He’s in the last room on the first floor.”

Méra smiled sweetly, hiding back the dagger. “Thank you.”

She hurried up the stairs and found the room quickly. It was locked, so she knocked twice, only to receive an angry shout from Motierre. “I said I didn’t wish to be disturbed!”

“Sithis is due a soul, Motierre,” Méra said calmly. “Wouldn’t you agree?”

The silence that followed her words made Méra think she should just break into the room, but before she could, she heard the soft click and the door opened, revealing a very shocked looking Motierre.

“By the gods. You… you’re alive! But I heard… your Sanctuary… please,” suddenly, his voice became more desperate, inviting Méra into the room and shutting the door close. “You mustn’t think I had anything to do with that! I wanted the Emperor dead! I still do! It was Maro! He was the one who—“

“The Emperor,” Méra cut him off, her voice cool and calm. “The real Emperor. Where is he?”

Motierre’s lips slowly curled up into a smile. “You mean after all this the Dark Brotherhood still honour the contract? This is amazing! Wonderful!”

“The Emperor, Motierre.”

“Yes, yes,” he cleared his throat. “He’s still in Skyrim, but not for long. You have to hurry. He’s onboard his ship, the Katariah, moored offshore in the Solitude Inlet.”

Méra gave a short nod and turned around to leave, fingers around the handle, but she looked back over her shoulder. “Commander Maro?”

Motierre laughed devilishly. “Oh, yes, I thought you want to settle that score. Last time I heard he was at the Solitude Docks, conducting the Emperor’s departure.”

“See you later, Motierre.”

 

Chapter Text

4 years ago

Being a vampire had its advantages, and Méra never hesitated to use them all. She was faster, stronger, more alert all the time. Her vision perfect, even in the darkest nights. Her wounds healed without using any spell or potions. She could move with the shadows like she was one with them; her steps silent, indiscernible.

The blood thirst, however, made everything worse. It cast a shadow on her mind, blinded her with hunger, and sometimes she couldn’t concentrate on anything but the sound of a person’s pulse, the bittersweet smell of blood, wanting to feed as much as it was possible off them. Babette tried to calm her, saying it was only temporary and it would be easier in time—after all, she had an eternity to learn. At first, Méra thought she could get used to it, but the un-child's words echoed in her head many times… An eternity? She didn’t want that.

“Are you very sure, dear?” Babette asked after Méra announced she wanted to cure herself. She wasn’t even sure if it was possible, but she heard rumors. “I know it is hard, but think about the perks you’ve got. Power. Immortality. Would you throw all of this away?”

Méra shrugged. “One lifetime is more than enough I’d like to spend here,” she replied, only half-jokingly. No one tried to stop her or talk her out of it; Astrid even encouraged her to get rid of the curse if it was possible. She could see why. Vampirism blunted her, and her leader wasn’t happy about it.

It seemed her only chance were the Vigilants of Stendarr. She didn’t fancy the idea to go to them asking for help, but curing a full-fledged vampire was something that maybe only people like them could do.

She could see the dark grey smoke from miles away, and Méra silently prayed under her breath—all for nothing. The Hall of the Vigilant lied in pieces, along with her hope.

“Fuck,” she cursed as she stood near to the ruins. What the hell happened here? Many didn’t like them, but burning them to the ground seemed a lot still. She’d already left when she heard a voice.

“Is someone there?” a man left a collapsed wing building, his light blue and grey robe shabby and dirty. Maybe it was Méra’s lucky day, after all. She jumped off her horse, keeping her hood on her head to protect her skin from the sunlight. “Who are you?”

“I came for some help,” she said. “What happened here?”

The man ignored her question. “Help? What help?”

“I’ve been infected with vampirism. I’ve been told you could help me.”

The vigilant let out a long sigh. The last few days had been devastating for him, but he had an oath to keep. “Of course. Come closer.”

Méra hesitated first, looking over the building that once used to be the grand house of the vigilants. She stepped closer then, pulling the hood off her head. Her hair used to be longer back then, only stopping around her waist. When the man saw her red eyes, he hissed  and stepped back, lifting his hands.

“You’re already one of them!”

“Wait—don’t,” Méra raised her palms defensively. Pulling out her sword and threatening them was probably not the best idea if she wanted his help, she had to admit. “I’m looking for a cure. I don’t want to hurt you.”

The man frowned, light green sparkles around his fingers as he already cast a spell. He didn’t lower his arms. “You… you want to cure yourself?”

“That’s why I am here,” she said calmly. “Can you help?”

The man sighed. “I’m afraid I can’t,” he finally lowered his hands. She seemed reasonable for a vampire, he decided. “But I might know someone who can.”

“Great,” she breathed out. “Where can I find them?”

“If I tell you,” he started slowly, “What can I get in exchange?”

Under her cloak, Méra’s grip tightened around her dagger. He had some nerve. How about I don't kill you then, she wanted to say, but she didn’t want to scare away her only chance. “What do you want?” she asked, the friendly tone long gone.

He looked at the ruins of the hall. “Those abominations did this to us. All my friends are dead. I’m heading to the Dawnguard, but I’m not sure at all Isran would help. We had some… difficulties in the past…” he trailed off, before he shook himself to continue. “The ones who attacked us came from a place called Dimhollow Crypt. My Brother, Adalvald is still there. He was sure it held some long lost vampire artifact of some kind.”

“So you want me to go with you and get your brother back?”

“Yes,” he nodded, taking a step closer. Desperation mingled in his voice. “I could never take the fight with them alone.”

“I don’t do favors.”

“It’s not a favor,” he said, shrugging. “If you help me, I’ll lead you to the man who could help you.”

Méra couldn’t stifle a laugh. “Fine. I’ll go with you. But only after I get the cure.”

 “And how can I know you will help?”

“You can’t,” she stepped closer, pulling the hood back on her head again. The man stood still. He didn’t seem scared of her. “You have to trust me.”

“Well, what more could I lose,” he mumbled under his breath. “His name is Falion. Last I heard, he set up a shop in Morthal. He is your man.”

***

When Commander Maro opened his eyes, the first thing he saw was the one, lonely candle, burning near him at the top of a piece of old furniture—maybe it was a night-stand once, when it didn’t look like it could fall apart from a gentle breeze. Wind whistled loudly between the wooden planks, and he shivered. The spot on the back of his head still throbbed in pain. The commander squeezed his eyes shut with a groan before he opened them again, trying to see better, trying to get his senses back, as he still felt numb in his limbs. He shifted his weight, realizing his arms and legs were tied to the chair he was sitting on. The legs of it screeched loudly against the floor as he moved more and more violently, trying to free himself from the ropes. Maro cussed under his breath, but he was cut off as he saw someone walking closer to him. Black robes, tall woman, red hair. Her features inscrutable. Blue eyes, glowing dangerously in the orange light of the candle.

Maro snorted. “I should’ve known,” he shook his head while Méra stopped in front of him, crossing her arms over her chest. “I should’ve gone after you personally.”

“Yes. You should have,” she replied coldly, thinking back of the last few days.

The boiling anger was the worst—it did not sleep. All the loss and all the pain tangled into a terrible, aching knot inside her, constantly scratching the surface and ready to explode. It drove her from Falkreath to Solitude and she only stopped once at Dragon Bridge, knowing she would need some rest before all the things that were about to come. After a small bowl of soup that she forced down and a few hours of sleep she was already on her way again; the rage that stormed inside her increased by every mile.

She knew she didn’t have much time until the Emperor’s departure, but she needed her revenge; she desperately clutched to it. Maybe it would ease the anger. Maybe it would ease the pain.

Old memories filled her brain from the day when she woke up in the old, abandoned shack. Her head ached and she was weak from the dizziness, but her first instinct was to kill Astrid when she saw her, lazily sitting atop a drawer. She could still trace back the marks of that meeting. Overturned table, pieces of a broken wine bottle, blood, a corpse. Méra remembered clearly, when she first opened her eyes there, she thought the place smelled like death.

And now, years later, with Maro in front of her... it smelled the same.

She pulled the familiar ebony dagger out of her belt, twirling it in her hand. “Thank you for keeping it. I kind of got attached to it,” Méra said, taking a step closer and sitting down in front of Maro. The old chair creaked under her weight. “It would be fair if I kill you with it, don’t you think?”

“Are you going to talk about how you want to kill me all night? Or will you finally do it?”

Méra smiled. Kindly, childishly. She pushed the dagger back into its sheath. “You know, Maro, I like to play with my food first,” she sighed loudly, before she stood up again. “But you are right. I have more important things to deal with.”

The commander clenched his jaw, watching as the woman walked to the back of the room. “You still want to kill the Emperor, don’t you? And how do you plan to do that alone? All your friends are dead.”

Her grip, as she just wrapped her hand around the handle of the sword, tightened so hard her knuckles went white. She released a breath slowly; no, she won’t give him the satisfaction to see her falling apart. She walked back to Maro, blade still in its sheath. “Sweet of you to think I can’t deal with your men alone.”

“If you kill me now,” Maro said, his eyes darting for a second to the weapon that rested across her lap, “you’ll open a war between my people and yours that will never stop.”

Méra scrunched her nose, faked confusion painted across her face. “Didn’t you just say all my friends are dead?”

“I’m not stupid. As long  there’s one left of you, the Dark Brotherhood will live,” his voice was dripping from hatred as he spoke, before he spit on the floor.

Méra smiled again. “You are a smart boy, Maro. Well, clearly not smart enough. Otherwise you wouldn’t have tried to kill my family,” her voice dropped, unable to hold her cool tone for a second. “Or if you did, you should have done a better job. You started that war that day.”

“Your family?” Maro’s voice was malicious, noticing he touched a nerve. “What kind of family betrays each other? I suppose this is how it goes with your people. You don’t know honour. You murder innocent people in cold blood.”

Her hand tightened again around the sword, and for long seconds, she only stared at the commander.

“Let me tell you something,” Méra said after she was sure her voice wouldn’t shake. Anger was dangerous, and she hated how weak she was under the effect of it. “Innocence is an illusion. We are all guilty, one way or another.”

“My son,” came Maro’s answer almost instantly, quietly. “He had never done anything bad in his whole life. He was a good man. And you killed him. Where’s his justice?” he stopped, heaving an almost painful sigh. “How can you sleep at night? Knowing how many innocent—“

“I asked the same when they murdered my parents,” Méra cut him off, leaning back against the chair. “They were good people, too. Everyone loved them. Then the Thalmor killed them. Why? Because they were on their way. It’s been fifteen years, and their murders only got more powerful. Where is their justice?”

“If it’s true…” Maro started, “then you, above everyone else, should know how it feels to lose someone for a foolish cause.”

Méra let out a long breath. “I don’t feel anything anymore, Maro.”

It wasn’t true, but her features were blank, and the commander believed her. He saw nothing but a woman without any sympathy. He didn’t feel sorry for her. Before he could have said anything, Méra pulled the sword out if the sheath, and Maro’s eyes fell on it. Runes were carved into the blade, runes he couldn’t read. They gloved bluntly with an eerie, purple light.

“Where do your people go after you die?” she asked, but she didn’t get an answer. All Maro did was staring her with hate. “I guess it doesn’t matter anyway, does it? After I kill you, you supposed to go to the Void. Who knows, maybe you’d even get a chance to meet your son there.”

He growled loudly, furiously, attempting to free himself from the ropes once more. Méra’s features didn’t shift.

“I’m planning to send you to a different place,” she raised the sword, showing the glowing runes into his face. “It’s enchanted. Traps the soul. Have you ever heard of the Soul Cairn, Maro?”

Again, no answer—only glances of hatred.        

“It’s very exhausting even for someone with no soul. For a person with a shattered soul, it is painful. Depressing. You wish you could kill yourself but you can’t because you’re already dead. I cannot even imagine how it feels to spend an eternity there if you’re nothing but a soul.”

Maro laughed bitterly. “So you want to send me there? Is this some kind of Nord nonsense? How are you so sure it even exists?”

“Because I’ve been there,” she said matter-of-factly, and the commander could see she was telling the truth. And Méra, for the first time since she brought Maro here, found a flicker of fear in his dark eyes. He swallowed hard, before his features hardened again.

“I’m not afraid of death.”                 

He sounded honest, and Méra nodded, standing up. “Good. I respect that,” she said before she plunged the sword into his chest. The runes glowed and whispered more and more as his soul left Maro. He died slowly, painfully, but the anger still clutched strongly to Méra.

She didn’t pull the sword out of him before she left. It was a gift from Astrid, and she wanted to leave it behind.

***

Just as she thought, the Katariah’s defence was rather poor. Besides the drunken sailors, only a few Penitus Oculatus soldiers were on the ship, and no wonder why—everyone in Skyrim thought the Dark Brotherhood was finished, gone. While Méra rode to Solitude, she had heard several whispers on the road, people saying how every one of the assassins were murdered. The news spread across the province like wildfire. First she was angry, then she merely smiled. If really everyone thought the Dark Brotherhood existed no more, she was about to cause some surprise.

Méra cut down every man on her way. No matter if they tried to beg or run away, she finished everyone. By the time she reached the Emperor’s quarters, her armour was drenched in blood. She picked the lock and stepped in—Titus Mede II was standing behind the table, leaning above a map. Next to him two of his soldiers who drew their swords immediately, but Méra killed them quick, too. Blood dripped from her blade and to the floor while she walked closer.

The Emperor sat down behind his desk. Slowly, calmly. “And, once more, I prove Commander Maro the fool. I told him you can’t stop the Dark Brotherhood. Never could.”

His voice was almost disturbingly peaceful. No fear, no anger. Méra had killed many people before, but never had she heard someone being so calm before.

“You don’t sound disturbed,” she said, wiping the blood off her katana. When she finished, she pushed it back into its sheath on her back, and pulled the hood off her head. Her dark red locks fell heavily on her shoulder, her cheeks smudged with blood. “You were excepting me.”

“Of course,” the Emperor said nonchalantly, and Méra finally realized why she thought there was something wrong with the fake Emperor’s words—his accent. The real Emperor was a Nord, but he was born and raised in Cyrodill. The other man sounded like he lived in Skyrim all of his life. “You and I have a date with destiny. But so it is with assassins and emperors, hmm? Yes, I must die. And you must deliver the blow.”

“You aren’t afraid of death?”

“I am not,” the man smiled. It was weak, but honest. “Look at me. I’m old. In these times, I can consider myself very lucky to live for so long,” he paused, not taking his eyes off Méra. Her face was empty, but she was surprised. Even Maro showed more fear than the Emperor. “Of course, I’d be lying if I said I imagined the end this way,” he chuckled, before his tone dropped again. “But what would it matter if I cry or beg? You are going to kill me anyway. Let me keep my honour, then.”

Méra reached into one of her inside pocket and pulled out a tiny vial, filled with a transparent liquid. She placed it down on the middle of the table. “It is a very rare poison. It kills instantly and you shall feel no pain.”

“That is very generous of you,” the Emperor said, only glancing at the vial while she pushed it back closer to Méra. He stood up from his chair. “But I never liked to choose the easy way.”

Méra couldn’t hide her frown. If he knew he’s going to die anyway, he could be thankful she offered him a painless way to go. She pulled her dagger out of her belt and took a step to walk around the table, before Titus Mede II spoke up again.

“You seem like a great listener,” he said, causing Méra to halt. “Would you suffer an old man a few more words before the deed is done?”

“I’m listening.”

“I thank you for your courtesy. You will kill me, and I have accepted that fate. But regardless of your path through life, I sense in you a certain… ambition. So I ask of you a favour. And old man’s dying wish. While there are many who would see me dead, there is one who set the machine in motion. This person, whomever he or she may be, must be punished for their treachery. Once you have been rewarded for my assassination, I want you to kill the very person who ordered it. Would you do me this kindness?”

Méra could barely stiff her smile. If she was in his situation, her last wish would be probably the same. “We don’t do favours.”

“I’m very well aware of that,” he said, nodding. “However, I can’t offer you anything anymore. I just ask you to consider my wish.”

“I will,” she said, before she closed the distance, and plunged her dagger into the Emperor’s heart. She watched the pain in his eyes. She watched him drew out his last breath. And, for the first time that felt like forever, Méra felt sorry for a person she killed.

She marched through the ship on the same way she used earlier, between the dead bodies—until she found one last man alive. His features looked very young under the dirt that clutched on his cheeks, and under the fear that appeared on his face when Méra pushed him against the wall with one arm and pulled her sword out with the other.

“Please, don’t,” he said, his words barely understandable from the thick southern accent. “I’ll leave. I won’t tell anyone what happened.”

Méra raised her sword with a scoff, but then changed her mind and lowered it. She stepped back, but a hand still gripped his tunic to keep him at place. “Go back to Solitude. Tell the guards what happened. Tell them the Dark Brotherhood lives.”

 

Chapter Text

4 years ago

“What the fuck am I even doing here?” Méra whispered into the darkness somewhere inside Dimhollow Crypt, wiping blood off her cheek after she killed two draugrs and a vampire. She panted heavily, but the dusty air made it harder to breathe. She didn’t sheath her katana as she made her way deeper into the cave; so far it seemed something was waiting for her at every corner: draugrs, giant spiders, vampires, or those twisted creatures they called death hounds. Vigilant Tolan was definitely right: they were surely guarding something here. And Méra wanted to find out what that was.

It had been four days since Falion cured her. All it took was a filled black soul gem and the mage worked his magic—at dawn, while the sky was still dark. Méra had absolutely no idea what he was doing while she stood under the pale moonlight, motionless; and frankly, she didn’t care. She just wanted to get rid of the disease and be whole again, and for that, it was worth the risk. Falion repeated spells on a language she didn’t understand, until the sun started to come up and burned her skin like fire, before suddenly, everything went dark. She passed out for long minutes, but when she opened her eyes and inhaled deeply, it felt like she was breathing for the first time in months. Falion didn’t take any money—he was just happy to find someone to experiment on (which he only admitted after his spells were successful).

And now, she had a promise to keep. She could have just walked back home and never see the vigilant ever again. Diving into a cave full of vampires, right after she got cured didn’t sound very promising, but, if she wanted to be honest, Méra was curious. What was so precious to them that it was worth to crawl up in daylight and burn down the entire Hall of the Vigilant? What was so important they had to hide it in the deepest cave for gods know how long? It had to be very valuable—and probably dangerous, too. Méra, however, cared little to none about danger.

This time, she didn’t forget to pack cure potions—more than enough, though she didn’t need it yet. The cave was long, deep, and her arms and legs were aching by the time she reached the room that she was probably looking for. It was the biggest and darkest of all with only a few torches around, making it hard to see anything. She walked down the stone steps and into a circular room, slowly, with sword at the ready. When she reached the bottom, she heard a whimper and she spun around: first, she couldn’t see anything, but then she noticed the vigilant, half-sitting with his back against the wall of the cave. Skinny, pale, barely alive. Bite marks on his neck, his robes bloody.

“Tolan,” Méra crouched down next to him and pulled a bottle of potion out of her pouch, but the man shook his head.

“No time. Just water,” he choked out, sounding like sandpaper against dry wood. Méra gave him her waterskin, but he barely took a small sip before he whispered, “You have to go to the Dawnguard. Please. They’re our last hope.”

“I’m not a courier,” she said, offended, but Tolan grabbed the hem of her cape with his remaining strength, making her fall on her knees in surprise. If his words didn’t stop her, Méra would have already cut his hand off for it.

“Don’t you understand?” his voice was still low, but dripped with anger and desperation. “The prophecy—it can be the end of us.”

“What are you talking about? What prophecy?”

“Please, go to Isran,” Tolan went on without answering her question. “Tell him—“

He could never finish the sentence, as an arrow pierced through his head. Méra jumped up and spun around, facing the three vampires in the dim light.

“I was just thinking about dessert,” one of them said, stepping closer and licking his lips.

It wasn’t an easy fight. She got an arrow in her shoulder and her left thigh; a vampire scratched up the skin on her cheek with her claw, but she tore all of their heads off by the end. She collapsed on the stony ground, pulled the arrows out and drank a whole bottle of cure potion—just in case. Méra was always terrible with healing spells – any spells, really – but at least she could stand up and walk after she cast one on her wounds.

The place seemed still, silent, but she kept her sword in her hand as she walked into the middle of the room. Whatever they were hiding, it had to be there. She went to the pedestal and placed her palm up on it—a little piece of it stuck out, like a button. She pushed it, immediately wishing she didn’t: a needle emerged from the middle, biting deep into her flesh and making her bleed hard. She cursed loudly, jerking her arm away, while her blood slowly flowed down into the stone.

She looked around. Braziers were set up all around the circle, some of them burning with an eerie, purple flame. After she walked around them for a while, Méra realized they were on a rail, and when she tried to push one away, it easily moved. She had never seen anything like that before – it must have been an ancient magic. She pushed all the braziers into their place, and when the last one lit up too, something finally happened. Where the pedestal was that hurt her hand, now an ancient sarcophagus stood. It emerged slowly out of the ground, until it stopped. Méra walked there cautiously—she had seen these things before. They contained a draugr, heavily armoured, buried with valuable treasures, and very much alive. She drew her sword again with her aching palm, trying to ignore the pain, before she kicked the door open.

It wasn’t a draugr—it was a woman.

She fell out of the coffin and on her knees, making Méra to take a step back. She was wearing light armour and a cape, red and black, a knife hanging around her hip, and an enormous scroll on her back. She finally stood up then, pushing her jet black locks back off her face and behind her ear. “Who are you? Who sent you here?” her voice was hoarse, dry, but surprisingly pleasant. Her eyes were still closed, her palm on her forehead like she felt dizzy.

“Why were you locked away like this? In a coffin?” Méra ignored her question to ask her own. The woman finally opened her eyes, tired, emerald green. She watched her for a while, frowning, before she said,

“Oh, you don’t even know what I am?”

Méra tried to put two and two together. “You’re…”

“A vampire, yes,” she finished for her, taking a step forward to look around the circular room.

Méra didn’t understand. “Your eyes aren’t red.”

“Never seen a pure-blooded vampire before?” she asked nonchalantly. Her tone surprised Méra. “So I assume it wasn’t my father who sent you here. Nor my mother. But then—“

“No one sent me here,” she cut her off. “I came to help someone, but your dear friends made dinner of him.”

“I would hardly call them friends,” she said, barely more than a whisper. Despite of the mocking tone that Méra gave her, she didn’t sound offended. Her eyes wandered to the sword in Méra’s hand. “I mean no harm, please put that away. My name is Serana.”

If Serana was a liar, she was a damn good one. She sounded honest, innocent even. “Méra,” she introduced herself, pushing her katana back into its sheath on her back. “So why were you locked away?”

“That’s… a long story. Sorry, I just—can you just please get me out of here?” She asked, looking around again. “This place looks very different since I’ve last seen it.”

Méra considered her words, then remembered Tolan’s dying wish. “Alright. But you have to answer my questions.”

Serana smiled. “After you freed me, that’s the least I can do.”

***

The dress she was wearing was simple: deep red skirt, long enough to graze the cobbled stones as she walked. White sleeves covering her arms, the corset loosely laced over her chest. Nevertheless, it was enough to make men turn around to take one more look at her; some just a glance, some of them not even trying to hide the obscene grin on their face. Méra made her way through the crowded marketplace of Whiterun with light steps, ignoring the whispers and whistles. The sun burned her cheeks, even though it was early in the morning. They were always the warmest, the first weeks of Last Seed, but this year seemed to be especially hot. Elders said it was a bad sign, a warning of an upcoming war—it was the season of The Warrior, after all. They also said those born under the sign of it, are skilled with weapons of all kinds, but prone to short tempers. Méra was one of them, as she was born on the very last day of the month. Worst time for a girl to come to this world, her mother used to say.

The Bannered Mare, as always, was crowded even at these early hours. She didn’t waste time but immediately went to Motierre’s room, this time easily finding it without threatening the innkeeper. He opened the door soon after she knocked; a grin painted all over his face.

“I know, I know!” he beamed just as Méra opened her mouth to speak. He urged her inside, shutting the door close with a laugh. “Titus Mede II lies dead! I received the news not moments ago. This is glorious! My friend, you may not realize it, but you have served the Empire, indeed all of Tamriel, in ways you cannot possibly imagine. Ah, but you care little for politics, am I right?” he finally stopped to take a breath, turning around to the drawer. He returned with a bottle of wine and two goblets while Méra took a seat, lazily leaning against the backrest and resting one arm up on the table. “We have to drink to this,” Motierre grinned still, pouring some drink to each goblet. While he did so, he told the boring story of how he did win the valuable wine from a pirate, and Méra had to take a deep breath to stop herself from stabbing him in the throat.

“To the Empire,” Motierre raised his goblet and thankfully, he was too busy looking at her face to notice her hand trembled for a second. Méra didn’t say anything, but clinked her goblet against his. The wine tasted nothing like she tried before—it was sweet like sugar but so strong she already felt warmth spreading inside her after one sip. She put it down.

“You’re not a talkative one, are you?” he asked, only getting a half-smile as an answer. Motierre sighed. “Let’s talk about your payment, then. It is inside an urn, in the very chamber where we first met, in Volunruud.”

Méra narrowed her eyes. “How should I know you aren’t lying?”

The man laughed like she just told the funniest joke. “Do I look stupid? I know better than to betray you.”

“Smart,” she smiled. Motierre looked very pleased with himself, but Méra didn't miss the way he eyed her; as his gaze shifted down to her exposed collar bones, doing a little to none trying to hide his thoughts that so clearly sat on his face. “There’s actually one more thing to discuss,” she said, leaning above the table and lowering her voice only to be a little more seductive.

“And what might that be, sweetheart?”

Win, win. Méra couldn’t stifle a smirk as she stood up slowly, crossing the small distance and sat down on his lap, an arm around his neck. “Today is the luckiest day of your life.”

“I certainly do feel that way,” he replied quietly, already leaning closer to kiss her, but right before his lips touched hers, Méra leaned back. He only seemed disappointed for a second before he saw the goblets in her hand—he gladly took it away from her, never taking his eyes off the woman while he gulped down the wine. “You know…” he started, but his throat suddenly felt dry. He coughed. “I would have never…” he cleared his throat again, and while Méra slowly stood up from his lap, Motierre saw as she slipped a small vial back into her pocket. Horror widened his dark eyes when he realized he was poisoned.

“We… we had a deal...” he barely chocked out the words, before he dropped dead to the floor.

***

Méra left the Bannered Mare slowly, calmly, through the front door. Motierre always asked not to be disturbed—she had hours before anyone would even find him.

She desperately felt like she needed a drink or two, but the Drunken Huntsman was more like her place. Quiet, far from crowded. Even so, she chose the table farthest from the door and the shopkeeper. She bought a whole bottle of spiced wine, something far from cheap but at least very strong.

And now what?

Since she left the Katariah, Méra couldn’t shake the desperate feeling off her shoulders. She killed more people she could ever count. Men and women, rich and poor. Old and young, barely in the door of adulthood. People who tried to run. People who cried and begged for their life. But never, not even once did she feel regret or sorrow. However, it wasn’t the remorse that pulled her somewhere so deep down; it was the very thought she allowed herself to feel this way. Because, as an assassin of the Dark Brotherhood, she shouldn’t.

She reached the bottom of the bottle and she bought another, not so cleverly trying to drown her feelings to alcohol, only to make everything worse. Astrid could help, she thought, only to realize there wasn’t Astrid anymore. She gave her the coup de grace. The thought brought tears to her blue eyes but she swallowed them back. After days, she still couldn’t put her fingers around it. How could she betray her? After everything they had been through together. She was like a mother, a sister and a best friend to Méra at the same time. She could have imagined to be betrayed by anyone else, but Astrid? Never.

Babette and Nazir are the only family you need, she remembered Olava’s words from years ago. The old seer told her many things that night, but Méra didn’t believe her. Seer could tell a lot of stupid things, she believed, but it seemed maybe she was right, after all.  

So what now? Was she supposed to go back to her old life? Pretending like nothing happened? She wished she could. She wished she could bury every tiny detail of the past weeks. She wished she didn’t feel anything at all.

She raised the now half-empty bottle to pure herself some more wine, only to knocking the goblet off the table. “Shit,” she cursed under her breath and stood to pick up the goblet, only to see someone else already did it for her. Méra looked up at the man and fell back on the chair with a sigh. “Companion,” Vilkas was the name, she remembered clearly. Méra always had an exceptionally great talent when it came to names. He set the goblet down on the table, and didn’t say a thing while Méra filled it. “I start to think you’re following me.”

“I live here,” Vilkas said, sitting down across her at the table without asking her if he could. “What’s your excuse?”

“I owe you no explanation.”

An almost invisible smile lifted the right corner of his lips. The wine made her words slurred, yet she sounded firm. She was dressed up like a lady. Her hair up in a braided bun, revealing too much of her neck and shoulder. Her eyelids visibly heavy from the wine she consumed. And still, she didn’t look any less intimidating when she looked deep into his eyes with those icy blues. “I was just trying to be friendly,” he lied. “Or is that a sin?”

Méra smiled. She saw through him, but at this point, she didn’t care. She poured some wine into his goblet, too. “I had some unfinished business.”

“What kind of?”

“I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you,” Méra shrugged.

“Would that be a problem for you?”

With a heavy sigh, she leaned on the table and rested her chin on her palm. She felt dizzy, and doubted she could stand up and walk without stumbling over her own feet. “You saved my life. Let’s say I owe you one.”

Vilkas hummed and emptied the goblet, before he leaned closer too. He could see the freckles above her reddened cheeks, the little grey in her blue eyes. He lowered his voice. “How about you leave the city?”

She couldn’t hold back a laugh. Smart men like him were rare. “Cheer up a little, Companion. Why are you so worked up?” she leaned back against the backrest. “Where did you leave your brother? At least he knows how to have fun.”

“This is why you threatened him?” Vilkas asked in a heartbeat, but Méra’s smile didn’t falter.

“Oh, so baby brother went to cry to you immediately.”

Vilkas sighed. If he wanted to be honest, he had no idea why he still wasted his time with this woman. She seemed like someone who plant themselves like a tree if they thought they were right. “It’s just something families do between each other, you know,” he said. “Sharing what happened with them. I understand it’s a term you may not know.”

Méra wanted to laugh it away, but Vilkas’ words cut deeper than she thought words ever could. He was right. She really didn’t know what family meant anymore. Everyone she ever considered as her family was either dead or didn’t care about her. The Companion noticed it from the way her smile slowly weakened, her eyes glistening with tears—but again, she didn’t let them fall. He realized he touched a nerve that he maybe shouldn’t have to, but while he opened his mouth, trying to form his thoughts, Méra placed her hands on the table to pull herself up.

“You won, Companion,” her voice was hoarse as she spoke. “I’m leaving. And don’t worry, I doubt we would ever see each other again.”

Vilkas thought the same when she disappeared last time, that he would never have to see her ever again—and yet, there they were. He wouldn’t mind if he could get rid of her once and for all. There was something around the woman that made his skin crawl, in both excitement and fear. She meant too much trouble.

Only when her hand left the table and she took a step forward, Méra realized how intoxicated she was. If Vilkas didn’t stand to catch her, she would surely have stumbled over her own legs. She felt his arms around her body, keeping her steady.

“Do you have a room here?”

Méra placed her palm on her forehead, tightly squeezing her eyes shut, like it would help to shut out the dizziness she felt. “No,” she said finally, clutching to his tunic with one hand. “And I have to go.”

“On all fours? Because I doubt you could leave otherwise.”

“Please shut up,” Méra breathed out.

“Listen,” she heard Vilkas’ sigh so she opened her eyes, looking up at him. “Let me rent a room for you and help you to bed. Sleep it off then get the hell out of here.”

She didn’t remember on agreeing, nor nodding, but the next thing she was aware of walking into a bedroom with Vilkas’ help and falling to the bed. The Drunken Huntsman had small rooms, and not as richly decorated as the Bannered Mare. Dustier, too. No fireplace, and only a small window. Méra laughed.

“What’s so funny?”

“You.”

Vilkas raised his eyebrows and crossed his arms over his chest, shoulder leaned against the door post. Méra sat up and rested her back against the wall so she could look at him; the room spinning around as she opened her eyes.

“You don’t like me. You don’t trust me—not even a little. You clearly told me you want me to leave Whiterun. And you’ve done nothing about it! You could have just easily thrown me out. Or kill me. And yet, you rent me a room and help me to get in bed and give me the choice to leave when I feel better,” she took a deep breath. “Even though you are sure I’m not a good person.”

“Yeah. Well, you probably aren’t. Doesn’t mean I want to kill you. And what if I’m wrong?”

Méra didn’t say anything, but lied down on the bed and closed her eyes. “See you around.”

“I hope the fuck not,” he groaned as he opened the door, but before he could leave, Méra spoke up again,

“I still owe you.”

Vilkas closed the door without a word, but smiled.

***

When Méra woke up, she had no idea where she was, what happened, or how long she had been sleeping. Her mouth felt like sandpaper, her head throbbing painfully, her stomach growling angrily. She sat up, hand clutched tightly on her belly—she was sure she was going to throw up, but the feeling disappeared as suddenly as it came. She stayed sitting at the edge of the bed for a while, face buried in her palms while she tried to remember back. Why did she even think it was a good idea to get drunk in the first place?

She remembered snippets of a conversation with Vilkas. She remembered he put her into bed. Oh, how she hated to look so weak—she definitely didn’t plan to show this side of her, especially not to him.

After she washed her face in cold water and drank as much as she could, Méra left the tavern and Whiterun. She took off the dress and changed into her armour when she was out of the city, and rode straight to the place where Motierre left the money. He indeed didn’t lie—it was all there in a chest. Even more than she expected. She packed it all in sacks, before she pulled herself back up Shadowmere’s back. It took her a few minutes until she realized she was heading to the wrong way—she made the horse turn around with a groan. Dawnstar Sanctuary was her home now. Or, it supposed to be. By the time she arrived, she knew it could never really be.

She hopped off the horse’s back, snow cracking and squeaking under her feet. The strong wind blew the hood off her head. Gods, how much she hated this cold weather.

What is life’s greatest illusion? The Black Door asked in its eerie voice while Méra stood in front of it, wiping the loose strands of hair out of her face.

“Innocence, my—“ she couldn’t finish her sentence as she felt an arm around her, holding her close from behind, a blade flat against her throat. Her breath hitched.

“Listener!”                                                         

Méra felt a shiver running up on her spine at Cicero’s familiar, high-pitched voice. The idiot. No, I’m the idiot, she thought bitterly. She spared his life, and now she’s going to pay for it.

“You were a fool to spare me. What, did you think I would be grateful? Cicero should be Listener! Not you!” his voice was angry in his own, wicked way and he spun her around. “And now you will die!”

Méra pulled out her sword in the moment Cicero let her go, but then, before she could attack, she saw the shift on his face. A smile—turning into a grin, before he burst into a loud laugh. “Oh Listener,” he leaned against the Black Door, trying to support his weight before he would fall over from laughing so hard. “You should see the look on your face! Oh, yes, Cicero has returned! Not to kill the kind Listener, but to serve, until one of us dies horribly. Best friends forever,” he kept laughing, wrapping an arm around Méra’s shoulders. “In the meantime, I’ll make myself at home in the Sanctuary. If you talk to Nazir first. I have a hunch he doesn’t really like me.”

If anyone else pulled this trick on her, they would lose a head. But Méra only smiled now. She was glad she didn’t listen to Astrid and spared his life. “It’s good to see you, Cicero.”

Her heart pounded heavily as they walked into the sanctuary—it was ruined, dusty, full of debris here and there, but with a bit of renovation, they could easily make it liveable.

“Good old memories, am I right, Listener?” Cicero smiled, bumping his shoulder into hers. Méra gave him a side glance, remembering how she had to fight through her way to the ruin. The jester even set a troll on the loose.

“I could have died, Cicero.”          

“Oh, but you didn’t! And Cicero didn’t want to kill you!” he sounded offended, raising his palms defensively. “Cicero only wanted to hurt you very badly. And you’re alive, aren’t you? The Listener is alive!”

At his loud voice, Nazir poked his head out of one of the rooms. His face went from surprised to angry as he pulled his scimitar out of his belt. “Wha—what is he doing here?”

“Sheath your weapon,” Méra said. “Cicero stays.”

“Méra,” Nazir sighed, his eyes still on Cicero, who stayed behind the woman’s back. “Did you forget what has he done?”

“I did not. Cicero only tried to restore what Astrid ruined. She was the one who broke all the tenets, not him.”

At last, Nazir slipped his sword back into his belt, making the jester laugh and dance into the next room. They followed him with slows steps. The man didn’t look happy about it, but he accepted her decision.

“The Emperor is dead.”                                 

“I know,” Nazir finally smirked. “Whole Skyrim knows. Say, did you really have to kill the whole crew of the ship to get to him? Not that I’m complaining. It’s just usually you choose a sneakier way.”

“The job is done, and that’s all that matters.”

“Alright…” he said slowly. The way she spoke surprised him. After Méra returned from jobs, she usually look pleased, she was chatty about it—but now, she was nothing like it. She sounded rigid.

They reached the biggest room in the sanctuary, where Babette was already talking to Cicero—she didn’t seem surprised to see him. “I hope Motierre payed well for our service.”

Méra turned to him and as they stopped. “50,000 gold.”

Nazir barely wanted to believe until he checked the bags himself—it was really more than they dared to imagine. But, after all, she killed the Emperor. “And now we should do something with this place,” he said, looking around, before he set his eyes back on Méra again.

“You should go to Riften and find Delvin Mallory. I believe Astrid had you visit him once before? The man is an expert ‘obtainer of goods.’ We can use the money to repair and refit this Sanctuary. Make a true home for us, hmm? While you do that, I’ll see what I can do about recruiting some new additions to our Family…”

Méra listened what Nazir had to say, but after he finished, she didn’t say anything. She watched him, then Cicero and Babette. She swallowed hard, her chest tightening.

“I can’t go there.”

“What do you mean? Did you get caught there recently?”

Avoiding his eyes, Méra looked everywhere but him. “I have to leave, Nazir.”

 “I frankly have no idea what you are talking about,” he shook his head. “You can’t go there but you have to leave? Which one is it then?”

Slowly, Méra released a breath she was holding in the past minute. It felt impossible to say the words out loud, but Babette did it for her.

“She wants to leave the Dark Brotherhood.”

That was Babette. Smart, quick-witted, fast. Nazir laughed. “Of course she doesn’t want to,” but then, seeing the look on Méra’s face, his smile faltered. “Does she?”

“I can’t stay here, Nazir. I can’t do this anymore. Not after Astrid.”

Silence settled between them in the room. Concern sat on Méra’s face, and while Nazir seemed angry, he sounded calm. “I understand it affected you badly, but we’ve all been through this together. We all lost our family. It doesn’t mean we should all just quit. Wouldn’t you just say we should start over?”

“I said what the Night Mother told me to,” she replied firmly. “I know it isn’t the right thing to do. I know. But I can’t do this anymore, okay? I can’t. I wish I could.”

Cicero looked like he just got slapped hard in the face. “But—but—but you are the Listener! You can’t leave us! You can’t leave the Night Mother!”

“The Dark Brotherhood worked very well without the Listener for long years,” Babette said finally, after she was silent for so long. “I don’t want you to leave, Méra, none of us do. But if you truly feel like this, if you couldn’t put all of yourself into this anymore, then you should go.”

Only Cicero’s quiet whimpers and mumbles broke the silence. Nazir plopped down on a chair and sighed heavily. He looked like he couldn’t quite believe that was happening. “And where do you want to go?”

“Somewhere warm,” Méra shrugged. “I always wanted to visit Elsweyr.”

“I hate those damn Khajiits,” he grumbled more to himself, shaking his head. Méra smiled and sat down next to him. If it was hard to leave, it was hard to leave because of him and Babette, even because of Cicero.

“I’m sorry. But I need some time alone to figure out what I want do to.”

This time, when Nazir looked at her, his features were understanding. He stopped arguing. “You can always come back, you know that?”

“I know,” she smiled, standing up. Cicero whimpered loudly again, walking up and down around the room.

“This isn’t right! The Lister should lead us! Guide us! This is not right…”

“Look at the bright side, Cicero,” Méra said, stepping closer to him. “The Night Mother is all yours now.”

Cicero let out a long, even dramatic sigh. “But what poor Cicero is without the Listener?”

“You are the Keeper. Who knows, maybe she’d even speak to you, once I leave.”

That would be a miracle, Méra doubted it would ever happen, but her words stirred Cicero and he looked happy again. “Maybe. Maybe! Hah, that would be splendid!”

They didn’t speak much for the rest of the day. There was no tearful farewell, hugs or empty promises. Méra gave Astrid’s old dagger to Nazir before she left. She rode out of Dawnstar in hurry, and didn’t plant to stop until she reach the border.

But while Méra planned her way, destiny directed her steps.

 

Chapter Text

4 years ago

“Let me get this straight,” Astrid said, resting her palms on the stone table. She slowly lifted her head, but her eyes were tightly closed like she was either focusing on something hard, or tried to get rid of a terrible headache. Her face was pale in the dim light of the candles, her blonde hair like liquid gold. “You helped a Vigilant by killing an entire nest of vampires, risking your own life. You freed an ancient, pure-blooded vampire, risking your own life. You escorted said vampire home and walked into a castle full of their kind, risking your own life,” she finally opened her eyes, but her features remained straight. “And now, you want to go to a group of vampire hunters just because of a dead man’s last wish?”

It was an unwritten rule within the Dark Brotherhood. They didn’t need to ask for permission if they wanted to leave for a shorter or longer period, but they all knew only a fool would keep secrets from Astrid. When she looked into her eyes, Méra often had the feeling Astrid could reveal all of her deepest secrets and feelings, even those she had no idea of.

“Whatever is going on between the Dawnguard and the vampires,” Astrid went on, as Méra remained silent, “you should stay away. It is not safe.”

Sighing loudly, Méra picked up an apple from the table and bit into it, before she plopped down on a chair by the table. “I’ve survived worse.”

At her words, Astrid raised a knife from her table and threw it away blindly—it crushed into a flower pot that stood on the top of a drawer, before the shattered pieces fell all over the stone floor. She walked around the table and leaned against it, arms crossed over her chest. Méra didn’t say anything, nor did she seem surprised: she was eating the red fruit silently with a blank face, while Astrid let out a long breath.

“This is not a Dark Brotherhood business,” despite of her anger, her voice stayed calm and quiet. “You didn’t promise anything, and I don’t want you to feel you owe that man anything.”

“It’s not about that,” she replied, looking up at Astrid. “I think they might be really up to something. And I want to find it out what it is.”

“It’s not our business,” Astrid repeated, even quieter this time. She shook her head, her arms falling to her sides. “You’re one of our best assassins, Méra. We can’t afford to lose you for too long. Or for good.”

Méra stood up, smiling. “It’s not so easy to get rid of me, you know that. And I won’t be away for long. Just a few weeks. Maybe even less.”

For a long, silent minute, Astrid did nothing but watch her silently, considering the possible outcomes of this. Then, realizing Méra wasn’t the kind of woman she could make to stay when she wanted to go, she heaved a sigh. “Fine. Go. But report back at least once a week. And take my horse,” Astrid added with a smirk. “She might be more useful to you.”

After a good night’s sleep, Méra left the Sanctuary early in the morning. Riding with Shadowmere was a whole new experience—she was fast and she barely needed any guidance. Seemed smarter than an ordinary horse, too; like she understood every word Méra said. If it wasn’t for her, it would have probably taken much more time to find Fort Dawnguard, but Shadowmere led her into the Dayspring Canyon.  It didn’t seem right at first; it felt like they were riding into a dark cave with no end, but when they reached the other side, it took Méra’s breath away.

Huge walls of mountains surrounded her from both sides, cutting out the noises from outside. It felt like she stepped into another world—everything was silent and still except for a few, quiet noises. The blunt, barely audible hoof beats of Shadowmere in the fresh, thin layer of snow. Tweeting and chirping birds from somewhere far away. Branches cracking and breaking when a rabbit or an elk ran past them. Water running fast: maybe a brook or a river.

Soon, the mountains ended and they stepped out into a wide, open space. A lake under a waterfall, surrounded by white birch trees lied in front of them. Méra looked around. It was one of the most peaceful places she had ever seen. She pulled the hood off her head, letting her waist-long dark red locks falling on her back. The air was chilly and only a little windy, but the sun gave off just enough warmth to warm her up. She inhaled deeply, before she slowly released it.

“Let’s get back, Shadowmere. I don’t think we’re in the right place.”

But the horse, ignoring Méra’s words and the way she wanted to turn her around, continued her way deeper into the canyon. Méra cursed under her breath, but let the horse lead her, and soon, she caught a glimpse of the dark stones of the towering building—the Blue Palace was a small farmhouse compared to Fort Dawnguard. She jumped off Shadowmere’s back and took the remained distance on foot, leaving Astrid’s horse behind. They were vampire hunters, after all, and Shadowmere’s red eyes were a little too conspicuous.

“Here to join the Dawnguard?” A man, standing at the enormous iron doors asked her. He sounded like he was talking about the weather.

“I wish to speak with Isran. Are you…?” Méra trailed off, making the man laugh out loudly.

“Gods, no. Clearly you’ve never even heard of him, have you? Well, let’s just say he’s not easily mistaken. Come with me.”

The inside of the fort seemed never ending as Méra looked up, and brighter than anything she had ever seen before. Above her, in the circular main hall, there was some kind of device that seemed like to gather all of the light from outside. Must have been Dwemer’s work.

“My name is Celann, by the way,” the man introduced himself while they walked down in a dimly lit, dusty corridor; his voice still cheerful. Not the way Méra would imagine a vampire hunter.

“Nice to meet you,” she said, only smiling at him when Celann give her a curious look. Before he had time to ask for her name, they reached the man that had to be Isran, and Méra immediately understood what Celann meant when he said, “he’s not easily mistaken”. After he left them in private, Isran took only a half-step closer, keeping a safe distance. He didn’t greet her. He didn’t introduce himself.

“Who are you? What do you want?”

Isran’s voice was just like the deep sound of thunder, rumbling across the sky. His skin was dark; not brown like Nazir’s but nearly pitch black like the night sky. In a contrast with this, his eyes were bright blue. Isran, with his hard and strict features, looked like he didn’t know how to smile.

Méra took a slow step closer. She was a tall woman, but compared to him, she felt small. “I’ve been sent here by Vigilant Tolan. He died in Dimhollow Crypt. He told me about some kind of prophecy, and he told me you and the Dawnguard are our last hope.”

Isran stayed silent for a long minute. He watched her silently, standing so still Méra wasn’t even sure he was breathing. Then, out of a sudden, he turned around.

“Follow me.”

After a moment of hesitation, Méra followed the man, but slipped her hand around the handle of her ebony dagger under her cloak. None of them said anything while he led her up on many stone steps, and only looked over her shoulder to check if she was still following him. Walking silently became a second nature for Méra, even if she didn’t need to.

Isran only stopped when they reached the top of the stairs. “When your friend came by not hours ago, I wanted to kill it immediately. I still do. But I was damn curious why a vampire shows up in Fort Dawnguard and who the hell is that woman she was talking about,” he said in the same deep voice, making Méra frown. Before she could ask, Isran turned around, motioning her to follow. “I give you one chance to explain yourselves before I kill you both.”

Méra raised her eyebrows, shooting daggers with her eyes at the man. Oh, I’d love to see you try, she thought, but the words couldn’t leave her lips when they reached a place that looked like a torture room. In a chair, next to a table, Serana was reading a book.

“What are you doing here?”

The vampire closed the book without any hurry, and stood up with a smile on her face. “Didn’t except to see me again?”

“Not really,” she admitted. Even though Serana promised she would answer all of her questions, she remained quite secretive all the way Méra escorted her home. Home—which was a huge castle named Volkihar, somewhere in the middle of the Sea of Ghosts on a secluded island, hidden in thick fog. Inside, everything smelled like blood. Méra couldn’t help but with the darkness and the eerie light, all the deadly and ancient artifacts, Castle Volkihar reminded her of the Dark Brotherhood’s Sanctuary. Even Serana’s father, Lord Harkon reminded her of Astrid with his slow, prim way of talking—until he turned into a giant bat-like creature and threw her out of the castle. It was Serana who did it on her father’s command, but after she hit her with some kind of stunning spell and dragged her out and through the misty courtyard, she whispered to her, “You’re lucky you made it out alive. My father usually doesn’t do favors.” She put Méra on a boat. “I can’t protect you here.”

She wasn’t sure yet how she should feel about Serana. She was friendly, but she was a daughter of a vampire lord. Then again, Méra knew that sometimes, family didn’t mean a lot. She would rather put her trust in a stranger than her own brother.

“I need your help. All of yours,” she said after a little pause. Her voice was low, quiet, with a hint of desperation.

Isran crossed his arms over his chest. “Tell me one good reason why should I help an abomination like you.”

Méra sighed. “Can I talk to Serana in private?”

“No.” Isran’s words sounded final, and it seemed smarter to not getting into an argument with him. Besides, Méra was too curious to find out why Serana risked so much and came here. She turned to her, waiting for her to start.

“I don’t even know where to start,” she said quietly, to which Isran spoke up with a low grumble,

“Get to the point.”

Both women rolled their eyes, but decided to ignore the man. “It’s about my father. You saw him… what he is like. Well, believe it or not. He wasn’t always like that. There was… a turn. He stumbled onto this obscure prophecy and just kind of lost himself in it.”

Méra shifted her weight from one leg to another. Could it be the same prophecy Tolan was talking about? “What kind of prophecy?”

“It’s pointless and vague, like all prophecies. The part he latched into said that vampires would no longer need to fear the sun. That’s what he’s after. He wants to control the sun, have vampires control the world.”

Isran snorted. “That sounds ridiculous. No one can control the sun.”

“Anyway,” Serana raised her voice, keep on ignoring him. “My mother and I didn’t feel like inviting a war with all of Tamriel, so we tried to stop him. That’s why I was sealed away with the Scroll.”

“You took a big risk coming here, Serana.”

“I did,” she breathed out. “But something about you makes me think I can trust you. I hope I’m not wrong.”

Méra fell silent. Trusting someone took her months, even years, and she didn’t understand why the woman put her trust so easily in her. Even if she had no intention to hurt her.

“Alright,” Isran broke the silence. “Is there any reason I shouldn’t kill this bloodsucking fiend right now?”

Méra turned to him, an angry frown creasing her brows. “Haven’t you heard what she just said? We’re going to need her help as much as she needs ours.”

“Why? Because of that story about the prophecy?” Isran almost shouted in frustration. “About some vampire trying to put the sun out?”

The argument between them went on for long minutes, until all three of them ran out of insults and breaths. It was Serana who finally managed to silence them.

“If you haven’t noticed, I have the Elder Scroll with me. I don’t know what’s on it, but it will have something that can help us to stop my father.”

Méra let out an exhausted breath. Couldn’t she just mention this earlier? “Let’s read it, then.”

“We can’t. Only a Moth Priest can. They spend years preparing before they start reading, though… and they’re seated in Cyrodiil.”

Isran frowned. “Some Imperial scholar arrived in Skyrim a few days ago. I was staking out the road when I saw him pass by. Maybe that’s your Moth Priest.”

“Maybe,” Serana wondered. “We have to find him.”

“I’m not going to waste my men looking. We’re fighting a war against your kind, and I intend to win it.”

“You don’t need to,” Méra turned to the man. “Serana and I will find him.”

As soon as it was settled, they didn’t waste time to leave Fort Dawnguard. Neither Serana nor Méra fancied the idea to spend even one more minute there, especially with Isran. Maybe he was a great warrior, but he was so blinded by hatred it was impossible to discuss anything with him.

“I have to tell you,” Serana said once they left Dayspring Canyon, pulling her hood on her head to protect her skin from the sunshine. They walked either side of Shadowmere. “I thought you were a vampire hunter too, one of them. But now I wonder… who are you?”

“That’s a long and complicated story, Serana.”

“If I’m not mistaken, we’re going to be together for a while,” she said nonchalantly. “We have time.”

Méra smiled. There was something in this woman she liked, but she couldn’t put her fingers around what it was. “I’m an assassin.”

“An assassin?” Serana raised her eyebrows. “Like from the Dark Brotherhood?”

“Exactly.”

“Nice,” she said, turning to her. “Being an assassin requires a lot of skills. Strength, inner peace, knowing all kinds of different poisons and antidotes, speaking different languages… and of course, walk with the shadows without being noticed! In order to do that, I actually have to turn invisible. I always admired people like you.”

Méra blinked once and twice; her lips parted in surprise. Normally, people were either afraid of her or judged her. Serana laughed at her expression. “What? You didn’t expect me to be afraid, did you? My breakfast was a farm boy. Who am I to judge an assassin?”

Their first way led to Riften, as it was the closest, big city. They asked around the innkeepers, people at the marketplace, and Méra even went down to the Thieves Guild, as they usually knew everything that was going on in Skyrim. Their group and the Dark Brotherhood had always been close to each other, and they always helped one another if they were in need. Her visit wasn’t successful now—most of them didn’t even know what a Moth Priest was. Serana said they should go to Winterhold. If a scholar visited Skyrim, it should be the place he visits first. They got a horse for Serana too, and left the city.

Soon it was getting dark just as they reached Shor’s Stone, so Méra suggested they should camp there for the night. For an answer, the vampire only laughed.

“Méra, you’re not going to find any more frightening and deadlier creature than me,” she smirked. As the sun went down, her eyes became red. As she explained to Méra, pureblooded vampires could hide the red from their eyes whenever they wanted, just as their pointy teeth, making it impossible being recognized. When it was dark though, they could only see perfect with red eyes. “But we should definitely take a rest. We had a long day.”

While Serana went to hunt in the woods the next monrnig, Méra stayed in the little camp they had set up at the edge of the forest, close to the river. She pulled the sword out of the sheath and took a few swings; she didn’t even noticed when Serana returned until she heard her voice.

“You know you’re holding it wrong, right?”

Méra turned around with an arched eyebrow, and huffed out a breath. “Excuse me?”

“It isn’t an ordinary sword,” the vampire went on, walking closer to Méra. “Even before I was… you know. Only a few people had something like it. An Akaviri sword? Where did you get it?”

Méra shrugged. “Family heirloom. It was my father’s, but he never used it. He wielded a longsword.”

“So he gave it to you?”

She took a few swings again while she answered. “My uncle gave it to my brother. And I stole it from him.”

“You’re full of surprises,” Serana laughed. “Still doesn’t mean you can use it right.”

Méra stopped and looked at her. “I use it well enough to spill anyone’s blood  with it.”

“I didn’t mean it as an insult,” Serana rolled her emerald eyes. “I’m sure you can use a sword very well. But it’s a katana. My father has one. I had one, too. Before he went crazy, he used to teach me how to wield it. He used to be a great admirer of the Akaviri, and especially martial arts. He always said I should use this sword like I was dancing.”

Méra remembered back the very first day she held a sword in her hand. In a deserted room at the Blue Palace, so her father wouldn’t find it out, she barely could hold the weapon with both hands. She was nine years old, and the first thing Rikke said to her when she saw how carefully she was moving was “You’re not in a dancing lesson.” And clearly, there was nothing elegant in sword fighting for her.

“Show me,” she said finally, reaching her arm out. Serana took the thin sword out of her hand. She hesitated first, and even after she started swinging the katana it was clear she hadn’t use it in centuries, it still amazed Méra. The way she moved with the blade explained what she meant when she used the word dancing. It was a dance, but instead of smiles and kisses, it ended with blood.

From that day, they sacrificed one or two hours every day for some practice, where Serana taught Méra how she could use her sword perfectly. It wasn’t just about strength, it was about focus, and it was about shutting out her surroundings. She told her the Akaviri used to meditate for hours each day, which also helped, but right now, they didn’t have time.

It took them a whole week to find the Moth Priest. The old man was already captured by vampires, but they caught them on the road south to Dragon Bridge. Méra was actually surprised by the fact he didn’t seem frightened at all, maybe a little confused. Overall, he looked a little crazy. The man was old, his grey robes tattered, his white hair sticking up at every direction.

“Are you sure he’s completely sane?” Méra whispered to Serana as they watched Dexion examining the Scroll—he didn’t open it, he just watched the handles, mumbling to himself.

“He dedicated his whole life reading ancient parchments, what do you think?”

They both chuckled quietly, before Dexion walked to them. “Remarkable. Remarkable! See the marks here? It’s the marks of the children of the night. When can I read it?”

“As soon as we reach Fort Dawnguard,” Méra answered. “It isn’t safe here.”

And she was right. By the time they reached the Rift, they stumbled into vampires three times, and as it turned out, they even found Dayspring Canyon. Obviously, Isran wasn’t happy about it, but at least it opened his eyes. He figured if something was so important to them, it really needed to be examined.

“So it’s written in some kind of magical language or…?” Méra trailed off as they stood in the bright main hall of Fort Dawnguard, Serana by the wall in the shadows. Isran refused to set down the machine that gathered the sunlight.

“No,” Dexion laughed. “Elder Scrolls are not written by ink and quills.”

Méra walked next to Serana as the Priest opened the Scroll. For long minutes, he was silent, he paced up and down and hummed to himself, before he finally stopped and started to speak.

"I see a vision before me, an image of a great bow. I know this weapon! It is Auriel's Bow!” his grey eyes were open, but they were hooded, looking into nothing. “Now a voice whispers, saying "Among the night's children, a dread lord will rise." In an age of strife, when dragons return to the realm of men, darkness will mingle with light and the night and day will be as one.
The voice fades and the words begin to shimmer and distort. But wait, there is more here. The secret of the bow's power is written elsewhere. I think there is more to the prophecy, recorded in other scrolls. Yes, I see them now... One contains the ancient secrets of the dragons, and the other speaks of the potency of ancient blood,” he stopped, before he added, “My vision darkens, and I see no more. To know the complete prophecy, we must have the other two scrolls."

For a long, strained minute, everyone stayed speechless. It was Méra who broke the silence. “Well, at least now we know this prophecy is really pointless.”

“What do you mean?” The priest asked in a tired, hoarse voice.

“In an age of strife, when dragons return to the realm of men,” Méra quoted the prophecy. “Last I checked Skyrim is in peace, and there are no dragons flying around.”

Dexion nodded slowly, before he shook his head. “Prophecies can be confusing… they usually are, and we only see they were right after the events happened. They’re also metaphoric. Strife can be under the surface and dragons can walk on the ground.”

“If we can’t understand it,” Isran spoke up, “then what’s the point of them?”

 “We know enough. We know there are two other scrolls, and we know with the help of them, we can find Auriel’s Bow.”

Silence settled between them once more, and again, it was Méra who broke it. “Am I the only one who doesn’t know what Auriel’s Bow is?”

“The only weapon that can kill a pure-blooded vampire,” Isran said. “If it really exist.”

“It does. And never been held by a vampire before. I can’t imagine what would happen if my father put his hands on it…” Serana’s voice was quiet, even a little sad. “We have to find it before he does.”

“I agree.”

At Isran’s words, Serana looked up, eyes wide, voice cheeky. “I’m sorry, did I hear you right? You agree with me?”

The man ignored her and turned to Méra. They all agreed on it that they had to make a move before Lord Harkon’s men would—although, they were sure the vampires didn’t sit idly either. They had to act quickly.

“So what do you say?” Serana smiled at Méra. “Will you come and hunt Elder Scrolls with me?”

“Gladly.”

Now

It was the first time in weeks Méra could sleep though the whole night, but immediately regretted it once she opened her eyes. She had no idea how much she slept in the small but surprisingly comfortable bed of the inn, but when she woke up with an aching head, the sun was already high up in the sky. She opened the wooden shutters of the window to look outside. While it snowed last night, now all the snow and ice melted down off the rooftops. Even the wind carried warmth. She washed her face in cold water to refresh herself, before she put her clothes on, strapping her sword on her back.

The inn was silent as she left the room, but it wasn’t surprising. Helgen was a small and quiet town with not many visitors; mostly the town folks were hanging around even during the night. She took a place by a table to eat some breakfast, but for long minutes, she just stared the food silently.

That was it—she would reach the border within a few hours and leave Skyrim for good. It was what she wanted. Skyrim had never treated her well, it only meant suffering and sadness and yet, now she felt sorry for leaving her behind. After all, she can’t erase the twenty-seven years she spent here.

She pushed the plate away, leaving the food untouched, and walked out of the tavern. It was almost unbearably hot outside, but grey clouds darkened the sky far in the North. She leaned against the railing of the porch, lost in her thoughts. Children were running up and down around the small marketplace, playing tag and their own imagine games, their laughs and shouts filling the quiet little town. They reminded Méra of her own, carefree childhood. She was the happiest back then, but now, it only made her heart ache.

It was a deep voice that pulled her back from her memories.

“Well, if it isn’t my least favourite vampire hunter,” Isran didn’t smile, yet his tone was playfully.

Méra straightened up; her confused features quickly disappeared with a smirk. “Look at you,” she nodded. “Finally leaving your room? Must be something very important happening. Is it the end of the world?”

Isran grumbled. “I’m recruiting. Two of my men just left after they got injured. Said they are retiring,” he shook his head. “Amateurs.”

Méra couldn’t stifle a laugh. If someone was dying, Isran would still expect them to go and fight. They stayed on the porch for a little while, talking about what happened with the Dawgnuard in the past four years since their ways parted. As is turned out, even the vampires weren’t as much of a threat as four years ago, they still had work to do.

“And what about you? You had never told me what you really do,” Isran narrowed his bright blue eyes. “Still being too damn mysterious about your life?”

“Always,” Méra said with an easy smile. Of course she never told Isran what she was, where she came from. Being an assassin wasn’t a profession that you just told anyone.

None of them was one for small talk, so before Isran could leave, Méra asked the question that burned her tongue from the moment she spotted the man. “Is Serana still with the Dawnguard?”

“She is. I told her she’s free to leave. We would make an exception and wouldn’t attack her. But she stayed,” Isran gave a tiny shrug. “I’ll never get used to her presence, but she still helps a lot.”

He didn’t need to say why Serana stayed with them. After working with the Dawnguard, Méra doubted any vampire would be happy to see her. Yet, she refused to cure herself…

“Would you tell her…” Méra started, but with a shake of her head, she stopped. “Never mind.”

Isran frowned. “Whatever happened between the two of you… it’s been four years. Nothing bad would happen if you just visit her.”

Méra smiled weakly but it didn’t reach her eyes. “Well, it was nice to see you, Isran. Happy hunting.”

The man merely nodded in answer, before their ways parted—Isran walked into the tavern, while Méra hopped up on Shadowmere’s back and left the town. It started to rain, but it didn’t cool down the hot air.

She could still see the gates of Helgen when something other came into view. Three carriages on the cobbled stone, led by Imperial soldiers. She could recognize the red flags from far, but only when she got closer she noticed the man on the horseback was General Tullius—with two Thalmor soldiers. Méra clenched her fists around the rein and slowed down to take a look at the prisoners. Stormcloak soldiers, judging by their uniforms.

Just when she wanted to turn her head away, she realized that in one of the carriages, the blonde man was sitting she once saved from the Thalmor. Ralof was his name, if she remembered right. And as her eyes wandered, her eyes fell on the man sitting across him. She hadn’t seen him in ages, but she recognized Ulfric immediately. So they caught him, after all. She would love to know how they managed.

“Move along,” the Imperial who drove the carriage shouted, causing Méra to look at the man. “There’s nothing to see here.”

Usually, it was the time when Méra threw a knife between their eyes, but now, she admitted it would have been a suicide mission. As she turned back, her eyes met with Ulfric’s. Even if he recognized her, he showed no sign of it.

Méra fastened Shadowmere’s pace, and didn’t look back.

 

 

Chapter Text

4 years ago

“Are you sure about this?” Serana’s voice was low, worried, and Méra closed her eyes for a second. Was she sure about this?

A few days ago when the two of them left Fort Dawnguard with the intention to find the Elder Scrolls, they knew it wouldn't going to be easy. Serana told her the story of how her mother, Valerica, fled from Castle Volkihar all those years ago, and they both agreed that she probably knew about the other scroll’s whereabouts. Getting to her was another problem, but Serana’s crazy idea was that she might be still somewhere in the castle. Breaking in through a secret door was a piece of cake for an ancient vampire and an assassin. Fighting their way through dark corridors and many bloodthirsty creatures meant some troubles, but they succeeded, and found what they were looking for: Valerica’s laboratory.

It was huge with many books and ingredients Méra had never seen before, but she knew Serana was familiar with them. On the road while they were travelling alone, she learned a lot about the vampire, and everything about Serana was surprising. She loved to write poetry—and she was very good at it. She was exceptionally great at making potions, and especially poisons. She knew the Akaviri martial arts. She could sing. But while she shared a lot about her past, Méra didn’t tell much. It scared her how easily she started to like her. Still didn’t mean she could trust her.

But as they stood at the portal that led to the Soul Cairn, Méra needed to realize she didn’t have any other choice but to trust Serana. A few minutes ago, just as they wanted to walk in, down the stone steps, Méra had to go through the most painful experience in her life—she even passed out for a while.

“What happened?” she asked while Serana helped her to sit up. Her head was still aching.

“I guess I should’ve expected that,” she murmured as she shook her head. “The Soul Cairn is hungry. It wants a soul. Since I don’t have one, I can go in without getting hurt. You, however… well, it tried to rip your soul out of your body.”

Méra groaned while she fought herself up on her feet. “Yeah, I could feel that. So there’s no way in. Unless you turn me into a vampire.”

In the dim light, Méra could swear she saw a light blush on her pale cheeks. “I wouldn’t do that.”

“Why?”

“Because… never mind,” she said, then quickly went on. “Maybe there’s another way. My mother taught me how to trap a piece of someone’s soul. If I could do that to you… we could give that piece to the Soul Cairn and… well, theoretically… you’d be able to go in.”

They talked it over. It was dangerous, and it was crazy, but there was no other way to go into the Cairn, so Méra agreed.

“Méra,” Serana called her name again. “Are you sure about this?”

“Yes,” she said firmly. “Just promise me one thing. If I turn into a soulless something, just kill me.” She wasn’t joking. Méra saw several times what Necromancers did with their test subject—it wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t a life.

“Will do,” Serana smiled. “But can I eat your heart first?”

“Sure,” Méra shrugged.

“Hold still,” Serana said quietly as she raised her hands, purple lights forming around her palms. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

Méra closed her eyes. She heard something that sounded like a small thunder, she felt a pinch—but nothing more. She thought losing a piece of her soul would cost more.

Whatever they expected to find inside the Soul Cairn, it was nothing compared how it actually felt. Everything was dark with an eerie purple light. Wind whistled sharply, thunder rumbled in the sky. With every step Méra took, she felt more and more exhausted. It felt like the place wanted to suck her in completely.

“Are you feeling alright?” Serana put her hand on Méra’s arm and stopped her. “You look pale.”

Méra closed her eyes for a second, before she opened them again. “I just feel… like…”

“I know,” she said, turning around. “I feel it too. I can’t even imagine what it is doing to you. This place isn’t for the living, Méra. Let’s find my mother and get out of here.”

If they were wandering around in the Soul Cairn for hours or only minutes, neither of them could tell. This place seemed endless, and they were alone. Bones crackled under their feet, lost souls whispered around them so loudly they almost missed the slow, fluttering sounds of wings. Méra lifted her gaze and her mouth fell open when she saw the dragon flying above them. It wasn’t in hurry, and it didn’t look like the beast paid any attention to them.

She looked at Serana, who merely shrugged. “We’re in the Soul Cairn and you’re surprised by a dragon?”

Méra remained silent. Dragons were long gone; she never thought she would ever see one again.

“Look,” Serana pointed to the direction where the dragon flew. “There’s a building that looks like a castle. Maybe there’s my mother too.”

Méra wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to go where the dragon was, but she followed Serana anyway. And as it soon turned out, she was right: Valerica was right in there, separated from them by an invisible, magical barrier. There was no way in or out.

She let mother and daughter to talk first so she walked away, but stayed in safe distance. It took less than a minute before their conversation turned into a loud argument, and Méra knew that was it—she walked back to them. Both vampires fell silent for a second, but it was Valerica who broke the silence.

“I can’t believe you brought a stranger here. Who are you? A vampire hunter? Did you come here to slay me and Serana, didn’t you?”

“No,” Méra replied, trying to keep her voice down. She was sure Serana’s mother couldn’t be much friendlier than her father, yet her attitude annoyed her. “I’ve saved Serana from your foolish plan. Now I’m here to keep her safe. And for that, we need the Elder Scroll.”

“You think I'd have the audacity to place my own daughter in that tomb for the protection of her Elder Scroll alone?” she sounded hurt. “The scrolls are merely a means to an end. The key of the Tyranny of the Sun is Serana herself.”

“What does she mean?” Méra frowned and turned to Serana, but it was Valerica who answered.

“When I fled Castle Volkihar, I fled with two Elder Scrolls. The scroll I presume you found with Serana speaks of Auriel and his arcane weapon, Auriel's Bow. The second scroll declares that The Blood of Coldharbour's Daughter will blind the eye of the Dragon. Serana is the Daughter of Coldharbour.”

Méra shifted her weight from one leg to another. “So… The Tyranny of the Sun requires Serana's blood?”

“Now you're beginning to see why I wanted to protect Serana, and why I've kept the other Elder Scrolls as far from her as possible,” Valerica said quietly. “If Harkon obtained Auriel's Bow and Serana's blood was used to taint the weapon, the Tyranny of the Sun would be complete. In his eyes, she'd be dying for the good of all vampires.”

Méra felt her stomach dropping to the floor in fear. She looked at Serana, who closed her eyes and shook her head from side to side. “I would never allow that to happen.”

“And how exactly do you plan on stopping him?”

“I'll kill Harkon.”

Valerica couldn’t hold back a quiet chuckle. “If you believe that, then you’re a bigger fool than I originally suspected.”

The argument went on for a while, until Valerica saw she really just used Serana as much as Harkon did. Méra felt sorry for her friend. Power and hatred blinded both of her parents.

Valerica agreed to give the Elder Scrolls to them, but in order to do that, they needed to kill the Keepers to bring the barrier down.

They weren’t sure what the Keepers were exactly. They wore armour made from bones (in Serana’s opinion dragon bones), and when they killed them, they evaporated completely. When they returned to Valerica, the barriers were gone.

She led them inside a courtyard where she kept the Elder Scroll, but before they could reach it, a noise rumbled in the sky.

“Durnehviir,” Valerica said quietly, and a few seconds later the dragon they saw earlier landed in the middle of the courtyard; an ear-splitting roar leaving its great mouth. Now that Méra saw the beast from up close, she saw how disgusting it looked: rotten, its whole body full of holes and deep scars. It looked like it could shatter into pieces in any second, yet it didn’t seem killing it would be so easy.

When Durnehviir opened its mouth not fire but a shout left it, and many skeletons emerged from the ground, attacking them. They were easy to kill: one quick strike was enough and they fell to pieces.

“There are too many of them,” Serana said out of breath, her back against Méra’s. “We have to kill the dragon,” she added, because she knew if they did, the skeletons would simply fall back to the ground.

Méra nodded. “You and Valerica cover me from the skeletons. I’ll deal with the dragon.”

“Méra,” Serana grabbed her arm. “That dragon doesn’t breathe fire. If his shout hits you, it’s going to rip your soul out of your body.”

Méra swallowed hard. “Then I’ll have to kill it quickly.”

Her grip tightened around the handle of the katana; she wasn’t sure what made her stay that, let alone that she could kill a dragon. When Durnehviir landed on the ground, Méra struck down with her sword instantly; she cut a small piece off his head, but it didn’t affect him much. That dragon was practically rotting anyway. She leaned away just in time before the purple light could hit her and she fell on the ground. She fought herself up, jumping away from the shouts. Fortunately, Méra was always quick on her feet. She climbed up on a stone statue and while the dragon still searched for her with his seemingly blind eyes, Méra jumped on his back. The beast roared and lifted from the ground.

“Oh fuck,” she murmured under her breath. “I didn’t plan like that.”

Durnehviir was already high up in the sky, flying wildly around and trying to get rid of Méra on his back. For a lack of better option, and since she could barely keep herself steady anymore, Méra plunged her sword into the dragon’s head. A blood curdling screech left his mouth and they crashed to the ground very quickly, Méra falling from the dragon’s back and landing on the ground. She didn’t have time to stand up—he was already there again, his steps unsteady but hovering over her and ready to shout, when Méra reached for her sword and stuck it into the dragon one last time.

She saw as the bones around them fell to the ground, and the next moment, Durnehviir collapsed too. Serana ran there immediately and helped Méra up on her feet, while the dragon evaporated.

“You did it!” Serana exclaimed with Méra’s cheeks between her hands. “What were you thinking? Riding a dragon? Méra…”

“It worked though,” she said, out of breath, before Serana pulled her into a bone crashing hug.

Valerica didn’t seem too delighted. She led them through the courtyard silently, a sad frown creasing her brows.

“Forgive me,” she said after Serana questioned her brooding look. “I never thought I’d witness the death of that dragon. Volumes written on Durnehviir allege that he can’t be slain by normal means. It appears they were mistaken.”

She gave them the Elder Scroll and Serana put it on her back. It would have been too risky to leave, so Valerica stayed, yet there were no teary farewells between her and her daughter.

Méra just sheathed her sword when they left the courtyard, but she pulled it out again when she saw a dragon – the same dragon that she just killed.

“Stay your weapons,” Durnehviir said as he landed close to them. “I would speak with you, Qahnaarin.”

Méra looked at Serana first, but she looked just as clueless as her. “I thought you were dead.”

“Cursed, not dead. Doomed to exist in this form for eternity. Trapped between laas and dinok, between life and death,” the dragon said in its deep, rough voice. “I believe in civility among seasoned warriors and I find your ear worthy of my words. My claws have rended the flesh of innumerable foes, but I have never once been felled on the field of battle.”

As Méra remained silent, he went on. “My desire to speak with you was born from the results of our battle, Qahnaarin. I merely wish to respectfully ask a favour of you.”

Then Durnehviir told them the story how the Ideal Masters tricked him and how he was trapped here, in the Soul Cairn an eternity ago. How they told him he’d be free when Valerica dies – except they didn’t mention Valerica was immortal, too. 

“I fear that my time here has taken its toll upon me,” he went on. “I share a bond with this dreaded place. If I ventured far from the Soul Cairn, my strength would begin to wane until I was no more. I will place my name with you and grant you the right to call my name from Tamriel. Do me this simple honour and I will fight at your side as your Grah-Zeymahzin, your Ally, and teach you my Thu'um.”

Méra frowned, not even trying to hide the fact she didn’t understand half of if what Durnehviir just said to her. “Just call your name in Tamriel? That's it?”

“Trivial to your mind, perhaps. For me, it would mean a great deal. I don't require an answer, Qahnaarin. Simply speak my name to the heavens when you feel the time is right.”

“Why do you call me Qahnaarin?”

The dragon shook his head and stepped closer. “In my language, the Qahnaarin is the Vanquisher, the one who had bested a fellow dovah in battle.”

“A fellow what?”

“It means dragon,” Serana answered to her question, causing Méra to raise her eyebrows.

“You speak their language?”

“I’m 4,000 years old,” she answered simply.

Méra smiled, but turned back to Durnehviir. “I’m not a dragon.”

Durnehviir was silent for a few seconds, before he said, “Forgive me. My instinct was to grant you this title. I am uncertain why. Perhaps one day it will become clear to both of us.”

Now

In the past decade Méra wandered all around Skyrim, but this was the first time she was so close to the southern border. She could see the top of the towering wooden gates – they were locked and heavily guarded. She could clearly hear the loud laughs of the guards as the wind carried their voices and echoed between the mountains. Méra stopped Shadowmere on the snowy cobbled stones and let out a slow breath, before she turned her head towards the Khajiit who followed her in the past minutes.

“How many times do I have to tell you I’m not interested in your junk?”

The Khajiit threw his hands to the air. “Junk!” he yelled. “M’kair sells no junk, m’lady. These are the best, finest—“

“We’re very close to the border,” Méra cut him off. “Do you want me to report you to the guards? I’m sure they would find very interesting what you hide under those furs.”

“Oh, please don’t do that,” he said, quieter. “M’kair has nine little cubs! How poor M’kair supposed to feed them?”

Before Méra could answer anything to the Khajiit’s question, a loud rumbling disrupted them. First, she thought it was the sound of a gathering storm, a thunder murmuring above them, but there were no clouds in the sky. Shadowmere snorted deeply but quietly, causing Méra to furrow her eyebrows. She has never seen her being nervous before.

“Well, it was a pleasure meeting you—“she said, but another noise cut her off. It wasn’t a thunder – it sounded like a roar. Her grip tightened around the reins and she looked around, trying to find the source of it.

“This is not good,” M’kair said with his heavy southern accent. “This is not good, M’kair feels it in his bones.”

Once again, everything fell silent; only the wind howled sharply around them, ratting the branches and dead leaves. M’kair left and disappeared in the forest, avoiding the guards at the nearby gates and trying to find a hideaway from the source of the noise, whatever it was.

Méra barely took two steps down on the road when she heard and felt another roar – this time definitely sounding like a thunder. Grey clouds darkened the sky suddenly, even though a few moments ago the sun shined brightly, blindingly. She turned Shadowmere around and in the not so far distance, she spotted the charcoal coloured smoke, billowing around the town – Helgen. What in the name of Sithis just happened? Méra wondered what could possibly blow up a whole town like this. She felt the horse was still unnerved, but she rode back towards Helgen with her, trying to figure out what happened from a safe distance.

While on the road, she tried to put two and two together. She met Imperials earlier, driving carriages packed with Stormcloaks including Ulfric himself – it was possible his soldiers had found a way out and blow up the place in the process.

If someone survived the explosion, they would definitely choke to death from the smoke – it was so thick and nearly black Méra could barely see anything. As she got closer, she met more and more people rushing out of the town, or what’s left of it, screaming and shouting with horror painted on their face. She slipped off of Shadowmere’s back, and the horse didn’t hesitate to run a few meters back from her. And then Méra understood that whatever caused the fire, it was definitely not the soldiers. What could be so horrendous it even scared Shadowmere?

The thought made her stop, but just as she wanted to step back, she remembered Isran was in Helgen. Méra pulled her sword out if its sheath. She hesitated for a moment – would she really risk her life to save someone else’s?

“Fuck it,” she murmured under her breath, and stepped forward. “It seems I can’t die anyway.”

When she reached the gates and walked into the ruins of the town, the smell of the smoke mingled with burning flesh was sickening. Méra stepped on something solid, but it collapsed under her weight immediately. It was a burned corpse, judging by its form. She crouched down and poked it with her sword—it disintegrated to million pieces, before the wind carried away the ashes. Almost at the same moment, she heard the now familiar roar and she understood, that the only thing was heated enough to burn like this was the fire of a dragon.

She lifted her gaze to the sky just in time to see as the beast slowly flew past her, its great, black wings stirring the dust and smoke.  Méra went deeper and found a part of the town that wasn’t completely destroyed – the air was clearer here too. A group of Imperial archers ran past her and to the direction of the dragon. Fools, she thought. Their arrows were just as useless as toothpicks against its skin.

A groan made her to fasten her pace once more; she ran around a collapsed stone building, seeing a man was lying on the ground with his back against the ruined wall, his hand clutched on his bleeding stomach. Méra had no intention in helping him – he was practically half dead, he would just slow her down.

“Wait,” the man chocked out between ragged breaths as Méra walked past him. When she turned around, she was surprised to see he was on his feet. She looked into the bright blue eyes, and raised an eyebrow when the realization hit her.

“Ralof,” she said, and the man was surprised she remembered his name. “Are you always between life and death?”

“Aren’t we all?” The blond Nord laughed, but it turned into a painful growl while he took a step closer, hand still on his stomach. “We have to get out of here. Now.”

The dragon’s roar shook the ground again. “I have a friend here. I need to find him.”

“What? No,” Ralof stepped closer as fast as he could, putting his palm on her elbow. “I saw when the beast arrived. It burned down everything within a few minutes. Your friend… if he didn’t already left, I doubt he’s still alive.”

Méra jerked her arm away. “You’re alive too.”

Ralof opened his mouth to say something, but the sharp roar cut him off. They jumped away just in the last second, before the dragon flew by and burned up everything with it.

As Méra lied on her stomach she felt rocks and burning woods falling everywhere around and on her, so she put her arms above her head, trying to protect herself as much as she could. When it stopped, Ralof pulled her out from under a wooden beam. She picked her katana up from the ground.

“Sheath that sword,” Ralof said between coughs. “Weapons are no more use here.”

It seemed even though it was lying in ruins, Ralof knew Helgen like the back of his hand. He led Méra through the town, jumping away from collapsing buildings and climbing above ruins as fast as they could. The smoke burned her eyes and she could barely see anymore, so she followed the man blindly.

When the dragon landed in front of them out of a sudden, Ralof’s first instinct was to jump away and take cover. The man tried to pull Méra with him, but his hands were covered in blood and his skin slipped on hers.

First, all Méra could see of the dragon were the pair of red eyes. Only when it stepped closer, slowly, she saw the dark skin, black as midnight. A low rumbling escaped somewhere deep from its throat, smoke emerging from between its many fangs, but the dragon didn’t attack. With her feet frozen to the ground – more from the surprise than out of fear – Méra lost herself in the fiery eyes. She remembered Durnehviir and how she used to think that dragon was big; but he was nothing compared to this one that stood an arm’s reach of her. Only its head was bigger than a grown man.

The dragon shook its head and took a step back, before he said something in its rough, guttural language that Méra couldn’t understand, yet somehow, it sounded familiar.

“You do not even speak our language,” the dragon finally said in the common tongue, though with a rough accent that Méra could barely understand. “Such arrogance, to dare take for yourself the name of Dovah. I feel a certain strength in you that I have not felt in a very long time. But I do not recognize you as a dragon.”

 “You talk too much,” Méra pulled her sword out of its sheath under a blink of an eye, long before the dragon could react. While it breathed fire and destroyed everything nearby, Méra slipped under the beast and tried to cut its belly open—all in avail. It sparkled like she was scratching the blade against stone.

When she freed herself from under the dragon, it turned around, and Ralof just pulled her aside when the dragon attacked again. They hid behind a collapsed tower and felt as the stone heated up under the fire, until they heard the painful screech that left its mouth. Some soldier attacked it with spears, so taking their time, Méra and Ralof ran away.

“What the fuck were you thinking?” Ralof asked while they reached the place where the gates stood minutes ago—now all dust and ashes. “You can’t kill a dragon by yourself.”

Méra huffed out a breath, but she remained silent. She felt like a fool, because she really, truly thought she could kill the dragon. After all, she thought Durnehviir called her Qahnaarin for a reason.

 “Come on,” Ralof urged her. He hurt his leg, maybe even broke it, yet he tried to suppress the pain. “There’s a Stormcloak camp nearby. We can get some rest there.”

Méra didn’t want rest, especially anywhere near around that enormous beast. The only reason she went with the soldier was because he couldn’t walk by himself anymore—she let him put his arm around her shoulder and helped him to reach the camp as fast as they could. She didn’t see Shadowmere anywhere nearby.

It was a small camp. Only a few tiny tents stood around and a much bigger one; the kind of where the noble stayed during their travel. There was one of it in every camp, Méra saw them while she was wandering around. It wasn’t empty, they realized at once. A man paced up and down in front of the tent, standing guard, but stopped at the sight of them.

“Ralof? I thought you were dead!”

“Not yet,” he said through gritted teeth. He lost so much blood his face was white as the snow around them.

“Get inside. Ruli will help you.”

Ralof gave a weak nod and the man who guarded the tent let them in. Méra helped him walk inside – by now, she carried almost all of his weight. She lowered him to the closest bedroll, and almost fell with him.

She straightened herself while a woman and a man ran to Ralof and crouched down to him. Besides them, only one man was in the tent – Ulfric. He sat by a table but stood up at Ralof’s arrival. He looked unharmed, but a defeated look was evident in his eyes. While his gaze was on Ralof, Méra watched him. She hadn’t seen Ulfric for more than a decade, and she wondered if he recognized her. He wasn’t much older than her, but a few strand of his hair already turned grey and he had wrinkles under his worried eyes.

“And who the hell are you?” the young soldier who ran to Ralof earlier raised his voice, lifting his axe at Méra. He couldn’t be more than twenty years old.

“Put that down before you cut yourself,” she said indifferently, crossing her arms over her chest. They could still hear the roars of the dragon in the distance.

“It’s okay,” Ralof chocked out while the woman named Ruli put bandages around his torso. “She saved my life. Twice, actually.”

Ulfric quickly turned his head to her. “So you’re the woman who killed all those Thalmor soldiers by herself?”

Méra shrugged. “There were only three of them.”

An almost invisible smile lifted the left corner of his lips, before his face went straight again. “You saved the life of my best soldier. You have my gratitude. If there’s anything I could do for you, all you need to do is ask.”

She gave a small nod, but said nothing, and was just about to open her mouth to announce her leaving, when Ruli stepped to her. “You seem injured—“was she all could say as she raised her hand to her forehead; it took Méra off guard and grabbed the woman’s wrist so tightly she yelped. “I’m just trying to help! You’re bleeding.”

Méra let her wrist go and wiped the blood off her head; she didn’t realize she was injured. “It’s nothing. And I should go.”

“Stay,” Ralof said from the corner. “I’m sure Imperials are still lurking around. If they saw you with me they would try to kill you.”

“I would love to see them try.”

“This is not a contest,” Ulfric spoke up quietly. “You’re injured and there’s a dragon outside. Let Ruli help.”

Grudgingly, Méra sighed and sat down on a wooden chair by a table, letting the woman clean her wound. Now that she was sitting and had a little time to take a breath, she was aware of the throbbing pain in her head where something had hit her earlier. She heard as Ulfric and his soldiers were talking about the dragon, but didn’t pay much attention to them until he sat down across her.

“May I ask your name?”

“Astrid,” Méra said the first name that came to her mind, almost immediately regretting it. She could’ve come up with anything—why she needed to tell the only name she definitely didn’t want to be called?

“Have we met before?” Ulfric asked with narrowed eyes. “You look familiar.”

Méra shook her head. “I don’t think so.” The lie came easily and without blinking, yet Ulfric didn’t seem completely convinced. There was a loud roar and everyone froze except Méra, who jumped from her seat and hurried out of the tent. She saw the black dragon as it slowly flew across the sky, before it disappeared from her eyes.

“It left,” she announced once she stepped back inside. “Flew towards Whiterun.”

The soldiers continued their conversations about the dragon and Méra wiped the blood off her hands, when Ulfric spoke up, “You don’t seem afraid.”

Everyone fell silent, and Méra looked at him. “Excuse me?”

“You look very calm for someone who just escaped from a dragon.”

Méra smiled weakly. “I’ve seen many fucked-up things in Skyrim. I’ve fought and killed most of them. Why should I be scared of a dragon?”

She heard the soldier scoffing behind her back, but Ulfric stayed silent for a while, narrowing his eyes before he said, “I’m not sure it’s bravery or foolishness. There’s a very thin line.”

“Does it matter until you could get the job done without getting yourself killed?”

Ulfric smiled. “You’re a brave woman. Even if a little too hot headed. We need more people like you in the rebellion.”

“This isn’t my fight.”

“You’re from Skyrim? Then it’s your fight too,” Ulfric said strictly, a hint of anger in his voice.

Méra’s face was blank. “Not anymore. I’m done fighting for Skyrim.”

“If you change your mind,” Ulfric stood up and walked to her. “Would you do me a favour?”

Méra didn’t answer, so he went on. “I can’t just walk into a city and tell them what happened. I’m sure none of my enemies would believe it if the news come from me. But we need to notify the cities nearby Helgen. Whiterun and Falkreath. If you could do that, I’d be very thankful.”

She left the tent soon and walked back to the road, trying to find Shadowmere. Everything was calm and quiet, like nothing happened. She sighed slowly and leaned against a tree. If a dragon wasn’t the sign to finally leave Skyrim, then nothing was.

She turned around and looked at the road that led to Falkreath. It was time to go home.

Chapter Text

Méra reached Falkreath while the sun was still high in the sky, burning her cheeks and making her sweat under her black leathers. She wondered now if the return of the dragons had to do anything with the sudden change of Skyrim’s weather. Plural, because she assumed where one dragon appeared, it would only be a matter of time before another one will follow.

While none of the guards stopped her as she walked through the open gates, she noticed as they eyed her suspiciously, whispering behind her back, and one of them kept following her loosely. It wasn’t surprising: her face was covered in blood and soot, her cape and armour shattered and burned here and there. She daydreamed about a hot bath and some spiced wine—at least as long she thought about that, she didn’t have to focus on the conversation she was about to have.

She spotted the steward in front of the Jarl’s Longhouse, talking to a guard with a piece of parchment and a quill in her hand. The woman hadn't aged a day since the last time Méra saw her, and that was eight years ago. With a faint smile on her lips, she quickened her steps and walked towards her. Nenya was one of those few who always treated her kindly.

“Hello, Nenya.”

The Altmer woman spun around with furrowed eyebrows, because the voice that called her name was all too familiar, yet she couldn’t believe her ears. “Lady Méra,” she said, aghast. Her once waist-long hair now barely reached past her shoulders. Her features became harder, colder. She was wearing armour instead of a dress, she had a sword on her back. Dirt and blood smeared across her face. “Wh—what happened to you?!”

When the guard heard the name Méra, his small brown eyes grew round, he froze, but in the next second he already left them and hurried into the Jarl’s house. She looked at Nenya with a frown creasing her forehead.

“Jarl Siddgeir ordered if you ever returned, he has to be informed immediately,” she explained quietly, almost a little ashamed. Méra couldn’t stifle a smile.

“Is he afraid of something?” She didn’t wait for an answer but turned around, walking up the few wooden steps. She heard the steward’s worried voice from behind while she opened the door of the longhouse.

“Wait—please. Don’t do anything stupid!”

“Why would I?” Méra asked innocently, running her eyes around the place. The main hall stood empty, the throne abandoned, the embers in the hearth grey and cold. As they walked deeper inside, she felt a cold shiver running down her spine. If a day ago someone would've told her she would stand in these halls again, Méra would have laughed and cut off their tongue. She took a deep breath3, her fingers involuntarily clenching around her dagger.

“What happened to you, Méra?” Nenya asked again, quietly. “We thought you either died or left Skyrim forever.”

Méra smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. How many times had she walked the roads that lead to Falkreath? By Sithis, how often had she even spent time in there? No one recognized her, or no one wanted to. “If you wanted to find me so badly, you could have.”

“Your uncle did everything,” Nenya said apologetically. “It wasn’t him who thought… that…”

She trailed off, pink flooding her cheeks. Méra didn’t ask her to finish; not because the truth would be too painful to hear, but because she was almost completely sure what she wanted to say.

A couple minutes later the same guard returned, asking Méra to give all her weapons to him. She rolled her eyes, but did as he said, before she followed Nenya through the hall and into another room.

He was sitting at the end of a long table, with a Thalmor soldier standing behind him at the corner, fully armoured. Méra clenched her fist, but forced a smile as she looked at the man who just leaned back against the backrest of his chair.

“Hello, brother. I see you made some new friends.”

Siddgeir didn’t take his eyes off Méra, but it was hard to tell what he was thinking. They had this in common: both of them could hide their emotions very well if they wanted to. “My long lost sister. What do I owe the honour?”

Méra slowly took a seat at the other end of the table. Now that she got a closer look at him, her skin itched noticing how much Siddgeir looked like their father. Same green eyes, same raven locks. He even wore his hair like he did.

She poured some wine into a goblet and gulped it down. As much as she wanted to make this quick—tell her brother what happened in Helgen then leave as fast as she could—she couldn’t help but tear open the old wounds. 

“I have to say, I was surprised to find you here,” she said with a calm voice despite of her raging emotions. “I thought you would be already in Solitude, trying to convince Elisif to marry you.”

Siddgeir shifted uncomfortably in his chair, before he waved to the Thalmor soldier and his steward to leave. Only when the door closed again and they were alone, the Jarl spoke up. “I thought it would be smarter to leave her some time to mourn, don’t you think? Might as well I should thank Ulfric for killing our cousin. Makes my situation easier.”

“Do you really think Ulfric wouldn’t do the same to you?”

Siddgeir paused for a few seconds. “This is what you want?” He clenched his jaw, but sounded so hurt Méra almost believed she hurt his feelings. “To see your brother dead?”

Méra took another sip of wine. “If I wanted to see you dead, I would have taken care of that long time ago by myself. Brother.”

The silence that settled between them was loud, almost unbearable. For Méra’s pleasure, it was Siddgeir who broke it; however, what he said only made her blood boil again. “You could have become a queen, Méra. And now… just look at yourself.”

“You know nothing about me.”

Sidggeir smiled. “I know more than you think.”

Her brother was a great liar. Even for Méra, who learnt how to read from people’s gestures, it was hard to decide when he was telling the truth and when he wasn’t. His devilish smile, his calm tone made her wonder if  Siddgeir indeed knew more than she thought.

“This is all that matters to you, right?” she scoffed. “Getting the throne back.”

“Of course this is all that matters,” he replied like it was the most obvious thing. “Our father was the last rightful king. He was murdered, along with our mother. Or maybe did you forget that—“

“I did not,” she cut him off with her fingers clenching around the goblet, but her tone stayed steady. “I was there that day, not you. I saw when the Thalmor killed them. Not you. So maybe you’re the one who forgot what happened,” she raised her voice a little—she couldn’t stop herself. No matter how hard Méra tried to bury her past, she could never fully forget what happened. Fifteen years passed since they killed the king and the queen, her parents, and she only considered it dumb luck she made it out alive. Fifteen years have passed, and she still couldn’t understand why they needed to die. Fifteen years, and her anger never faded.

“Say, when did you sell your soul to the Thalmor?”

“I can assure you I didn’t need to sell anything to anyone. We are at war. I chose the right side.”

“The right side?!” Méra snapped. “You’re cooperating with the same people who murdered our parents. Does that mean nothing to you?”

Siddgeir heaved a sigh. “As I said, we are at war. I don’t expect you to understand this since you decided to isolate yourself. I will never forget what happened—“

“Bullshit. I am the one who will never forget what happened. You? All you care about is to sit on the throne, and you don’t care what you have to do to achieve that.”

“And you, sister?” Siddgeir stood up, resting his palms on the table. “Tell me what you’ve been doing in the past eight years,” he ran his eyes down on her shattered, dirty armour, and Méra had the feeling again he knew too much. “Our parents would be ashamed.”

“You and I have a very different idea of what would bring shame to our family.”

“Cleary,” Siddgeir said, his gaze cold and inscrutable.

Once again, silence settled between them. Méra was sure if her dagger was with her, she would have already threw it between his eyes.

“This is why you came back?” Siddgeir broke the silence again.

Méra stood up with a sigh, drinking her wine. “Helgen has been attacked by a dragon. It burned down the whole place. You might want to strengthen Falkreath’s defence.

“You’re joking, aren’t you?” Siddgeir asked after a short laugh. “A dragon?”

“Yes. A dragon,” Méra rolled her eyes. She should have counted on this. “If you don’t believe me, go to Helgen and you’ll see with your own eyes.”

The Jarl shook his head, still smiling. “You come back after eight years, and you suddenly care about Falkreath? I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing with me, Méra, but I won’t abandon this city. Neither will I waste any of my men.”

Méra snorted, but there was no amusement in the gesture. “You know what? Do what you want. You’ll see when the beast burns your beloved throne to the ground. I hope I will be there to see your face.”

She kicked the chair back and turned to leave; she couldn’t bear to stay there any second longer. But when she opened the door, she halted, before she slowly turned back to the room.

“When the Thalmor soldiers murdered our parents,” Méra started slowly, looking straight into her brother’s eyes. “Who gave them the order? I know you know it.”

Siddgeir smiled in disbelief. “And why would I tell you that? So you could kill them? I don’t need a war with the Thalmor because of your personal vengeance.”

“Believe me, brother,” Méra started, stepping back. “If I wanted to find them, and kill them, I could have already done that. Don’t worry. I won’t. For now.”

Siddgeir hesitated. He knew very well Méra was telling the truth. With her connections, she could indeed find her easily as well.

“Her name is Elenwen,” he finally said. “And I don’t suggest you to try to get to her. She’s very well protected.”

“We’ll see about that,” Méra mumbled under her breath as she left, but Siddgeir called after her.

“Don’t you want to visit our uncle before you leave? I’m sure he missed you.”

“Fuck you.”

She gathered her weapons back, ignored Nenya as she wanted to make her stay, and left the city.


 

She found Shadowmere at the old Dark Brotherhood Sanctuary. Not once had Méra seen her afraid, let alone running away—it seemed there was something about this dragon that made the mare flee.

She reached Whiterun late in the afternoon, just before nightfall, but the gates were already closed. As it turned out, people here already knew about the dragon attack, and the guards only let her in when she said she was coming from Helgen. One of them escorted her up to Dragonsreach, where a loud argument welcomed her between the Jarl and his steward.

“What is she doing here? I told you I don’t want visitors now,” the Jarl said to the guard when he spotted Méra.

“She came from Helgen, my Jarl,” the guard said apologetically, and that softened Balgruuf’s hard features. All the people who came from Helgen needed medical help, and none of them could tell him anything. She seemed like the first person who could finally give some information.

Méra told him everything she knew; it wasn’t much, but it was enough. There was a dragon, and that was all it mattered.

An argument erupted between the men again, causing Méra to roll her eyes and turn to leave. She couldn’t make two steps when the Jarl’s Housecarl stopped her. “Jarl Balgruuf didn’t give you permission to leave yet.”

I don’t need his permission, Méra wanted to spit into her face, but then the Jarl appeared next to them before she could say anything. “It’s fine, Irileth. She can leave,” he said to her, before he turned to Méra. “But first, I’d like to thank you for what you did.”

He handed her a small pouch full of gold that Méra only took so she could leave sooner.

“There’s one thing I want to ask of you,” the Jarl said. “My court wizard had found something that could help with his research with the dragons. If you could obtain this artefact for him from Bleak Falls Barrow, I’d be more than thankful.”

Méra flinched. She could imagine a hundred other things to do instead of diving into an ancient tomb and fight her way through the living dead. When she refused, the Jarl frowned.

“I will pay very well for it.”               

“I don’t care about money,” she said, turned on her heels, and left the palace.


She quickly found the local smith before they would close the shop and paid double to fix her armour by tomorrow morning. Both owners widened their eyes, because the black leather she was wearing was one of the most expensive materials around Tamriel. The woman, Adrianne found her a dress she could wear in the meantime, and even offered her a room in her own house. Méra rejected her offer and went to the Bannered Mare instead.

After she rented a room, took a bath to wash the dirt and blood off her body and hair, she lied down on the bed to take some rest. But no matter how hard she tried, sleep didn’t come. She tossed and turned, her mind racing. Since she saw she couldn’t fall asleep any time soon, she left the bedroom and went down to the main hall.

As always, it was noisy with all the men and women laughing, talking or arguing, with the bard singing and playing on his lute. This is what Méra needed now: some noise so she couldn’t hear her own thoughts. She sat down at the only free table with a bottle of wine, ignoring every man who tried to talk to her.

It was late and she was pleasantly tipsy, standing at the bar and waiting for a fresh bottle of wine when a man walked to her. Without looking at him, Méra felt his eyes on her, but she kept staring forward.

“What is a beautiful lady like you doing in a place like this?”

Méra could barely hold back an annoyed growl. Her wine just arrived and she grabbed the bottle, but as she turned around, the man stood in her way. She huffed out a breath before she looked up at his face; he had a smile like he thought he could get anything that he wanted.

“I haven’t seen you here before,” he grinned. “Join me for a drink.”

“No.”

He shook his head. “I don’t take no for an answer.”

Méra raised her eyebrows like she wasn’t sure she heard it right, then put the bottle down. Just when she turned back to him, a familiar face appeared near them. She didn’t notice him until she heard his voice.

“Mikael,” Vilkas rested his palm on a chair, shooting daggers with his eyes. “I think you got your cue to leave.”

“I don’t need your help,” Méra said to Vilkas, not even trying to hide the bitterness from her voice. 

The Companion smiled. “I know. He will.”

She couldn’t stifle a smirk, but turned back to Mikael and grabbed his neck, pushing him down until his head hit the edge of the bar hard. He growled and whimpered while she pulled him back, punching him in the face.

People in the Bannered Mare either gasped from the surprise, or applauded loudly of the sight this stranger woman finally gave the annoying bard what he deserved. Nonetheless, no one tried to stop her; not even Vilkas.  He let out a sigh and took a sip from his ale. He never liked Mikael anyway—he let Méra have her fun.

“Do you take this as an answer?” Méra asked with a sweet smile, her grip strong around the back of his neck. The man’s hand was on his bleeding nose, and as he didn’t answer, Méra kneeled him in his stomach. “I asked you a question.”

“Yes—yes! Fuck.”       

Méra let him go in the next second, winking at Vilkas before she grabbed her wine and walked back to her table.

“I told you,” the Companion said to the man, before he followed Méra.

She was pouring wine into her goblet, watching him from under her long eyelashes. There was a devilish glint in her eyes that made Vilkas wonder when she would punch him in the face, too.

“I thought we had an agreement,” he said.

“Not really. You told me to leave. I never agreed,” Méra smiled. “Why don’t you sit down?”

Vilkas hesitated, but dropped himself down on the chair anyway. He rested an arm up on the table and eyed her up and down. Reading people always had been easy for him, but he couldn’t solve this riddle. There was some kind of dissonance in her, like two completely different parts trying to collide. He wondered if one of them was a mask or if she was really so secretive and complicated.

“Are you afraid of me, Companion?” Méra broke the silence, watching as his blue eyes narrowed in concentration.

Vilkas raised an eyebrow and smiled. “No. I just don’t like you to be around here. You always act like you’re up to something.”

“Oh, don’t be so rude,” Méra whined, taking a sip of her wine. “If you really want to know, I came from Helgen to talk to the Jarl.”

Suddenly, Vilkas looked curious. He straightened his back. “Is it true then? What they say about a… dragon?”

It amused Méra, the way he said it; like even the word dragon was something unbelievable, made-up. Like it never existed and never will, like it was no more than a tale to scare children. She leaned closer with a chuckle, whispering only. “You’re a werewolf and you’re really so surprised dragons exist?”

Her breath fanned over his cheek and it made Vilkas’ hair stand up on his neck. He couldn’t restrain himself from glancing down on her lips, reddened and glistening from the wine, which only made her smirk more satisfied.

“It’s true,” Méra said more seriously once she leaned back away from him. “Jarl Balgruuf sent soldiers to Helgen to search for survivors, but I don’t think they will find anything else but dust and ashes.”

They were both silent for long minutes. Méra didn’t feel it was necessary to say anything more until he didn’t ask, and Vilkas needed some time to process what he had heard. Earlier that day, he saw heavily injured citizens just outside Whiterun, trying to reach the city. He saw some of them later, much closer. He heard the rumours about the dragon. He tried to imagine—because why would all those people make something like that up?

Many people thought dragons were only a legend. Vilkas, who had read more books than he could even count at this point, knew that they existed. Besides all the things that were written down in the books, the evidence was lying all across Skyrim as well. They just needed to know where to look.

However, the last dragon died centuries ago. How they could come back—it was something he didn’t understand.

“So you were in town when it happened?”

“Yes,” Méra replied, though it was only half-true. She arrived when the dragon was already there, but she understood saying something like that out loud would sound a little wild.

Vilkas narrowed his eyes. All the people who escaped from Helgen looked like they’ve been through hell. “How did you get away without a scratch?”

Méra shrugged. “I was lucky.”

“Lucky,” he repeated the word under his breath. Earlier that day, after he heard the rumours, Vilkas visited the Temple of Kynareth to see if it was true. Danica didn’t let him further than the main hall, but he caught a glimpse of a man, half of his face burned, melted down. The priestess told him none of the survivors were in the state to say something just yet. “I think it takes more than a little luck to escape a dragon.”

Méra let out an annoyed growl and rolled her eyes. “What do you want me to say? That I am using the darkest magic so I can survive anything? Or that I am a Daedric Princess and I can’t be killed? Or—“

“Very funny,” Vilkas cut her off. “Knowing you I wouldn’t even be surprised.”

“Knowing me?” Méra lowered her tone and smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. There was a glint in her gaze that made Vilkas wish he hadn’t said anything. “I don’t know what you think of me. Yes, I was in Helgen. I saw people melting like snow from the dragon’s fire. I saw as the dragon destroyed the town in the matter of minutes. I felt the heat of its fire. I smelled the burning flesh,” she paused for a second to lean closer. “Tell me, Companion. Why do you think it’s so suspicious I could run away? Many people did. So hate me as much as you want—but don’t act like you know anything about me.”

She rested her back against the chair and downed another goblet of wine, avoiding Vilkas’ eyes who fell silent for long minutes. Méra’s head started to hurt and she was just thinking of getting up and go to sleep, when she heard Vilkas’ deep voice.

“I’m…” he started, clearing his throat. “I’m sorry you have to go through all of that.”

Méra raised her eyebrows in surprise. “I’m sorry? Did I hear you right?”

“I want to take it back now,” Vilkas sighed.

Méra couldn’t stifle a smile. She could practically see how torn this man was. He couldn’t decide if he should despise her or like her, if he should throw her out of Whiterun or into his bed.

“How long are you gonna stay here?” Vilkas broke the silence again. “Last time you disappeared quickly.”

“I don’t know yet,” Méra said honestly. When she woke up that morning, she was sure she would be long in Cyrodiil by now. She wasn’t sure anymore if she should leave. How many times she had tried to leave Skyrim? There was always something that pulled her back. “What about you? When will go to your next mighty adventure?”

Vilkas rolled his eyes. “Why do I feel you don’t like the Companions at all?” he didn’t wait for an answer as he went on. “I’ll leave just tomorrow. The Jarl hired us to pick up something for his wizard.”

“Bleak Falls Barrow? He asked me too earlier, but I rejected.”

“Afraid of the dead?” Vilkas asked playfully, taking a sip of his ale.

Méra didn’t answer. “Are you going alone?”

“With Ria. She’s new and she needs some experience,” as Vilkas finished his sentence, a woman backed into his lap, an arm around his neck. Young, white-blonde hair, big, clear blue eyes. Just like those Nord girls in the fairy tales, Méra thought as she watched her.

“Why don’t you choose someone more experienced?” she asked with her soft, thin voice. “Margrethe could show you a better time.”

Vilkas put his hands on her waist and pushed her out of his lap; firmly enough to move her away, but careful not to pitch her down to the floor. “Why do you ask?” he looked at Méra.

She shrugged. “Might as well join you. I don’t have better things to do anyway.”

Vilkas raised his eyebrows. One part of him would rather gouge his own eyes out than let her to go with him. Another part of him was eager to learn more about her.

Margrethe didn’t seem she wanted to give up easily. This time, when she approached them again, she leaned her hips against the table to face Méra, leaning close to her. “And who you might be? I haven’t seen you around here before.”

Méra caught Vilkas’ eyes and she saw as he shook his head, drinking from his ale.

“You’re too pretty to waste your time on him,” the whore went on with her honeyed smile. She leaned even closer, but talked loud enough so Vilkas could hear her. “I could show you things he never could.”

Vilkas snorted, but didn’t seem important to say anything.

Méra pulled the key of her rented room from under her clothes, handing it to the girl. “Third door on the left. I’ll be there in a minute.”

After Margrethe left with a sweet grin, Vilkas shook his head. “I told you I don’t like to be around here. Why do you think I’d let you to come with me there?”

“Because if you really didn’t want me to,” Méra said, standing up from her chair. “You would have already sent me away from the city.”

She drank the remnants of the wine, smiling at Vilkas before she turned to leave. As she passed him, she stopped. “See you tomorrow morning. Oh, and leave your whelp here. I don’t like to be hold back.”

Vilkas watched her leaving, and he didn’t say a word. He internally scolded himself for it. This woman meant a lot of trouble, and he shouldn’t get close to her in any way.

 

Chapter Text

The Bannered Mare never stood empty, but it always quieted down by the morning. A few travellers who chose the tavern to rest for the night now quietly ate their breakfast; the only sounds that broke the silence were chewing and clinking of cutlery. The innkeeper wiped the bar clean and threw daggers with her small, hazel eyes at Vilkas as he didn’t move his elbow away. The companion’s eyes were glued to the wooden staircase, but his mind was elsewhere.

He shook his head. What was he even doing here? Vilkas felt like he was making a fool of himself. He should’ve left an hour ago with Ria, not waiting here for a woman who obviously had more secrets than he could ever imagine. Who in their right mind would break into a dangerous, ancient Nordic tomb out of boredom? While Vilkas didn’t get scared easily, ancestral places like Bleak Falls Barrow could make the hair stand up on the back of his neck. He had been inside plenty, and he learnt he can be never sure what he might find. Unless it wasn’t absolute necessary, he rather avoided them.

It became clear she cared little to none about the reward, and it made Vilkas wonder. She was either up to something or she really wasn't afraid—not even a bit. Both possibilities made his skin crawl.

And yet he was there, standing in the main hall of the Bannered Mare, trying to figure out if he completely lost his sanity. The truth was – even though he didn’t admit this to himself – that curiosity drove him. It always did, even when he was afraid, even when he wanted to give up. He liked to learn, and Méra caught his attention.

And this is going to be your doom, you pathetic idiot, Vilkas thought bitterly. If he had to stay there alone any minute longer, he would surely change his mind and leave. But before he could, Margrethe walked down from the first floor.

Vilkas approached her just as she reached the end of the stairs. “Where’s she?”

The blonde arched an eyebrow. Her kind smile from yesterday became more cynical, but it changed little in her gentle features. “Good morning to you too. She left by the time I woke up.”

“Fuck,” Vilkas grumbled quietly. “I really am an idiot.”

Margrethe giggled as she just caught his words. “You probably are.”

Vilkas marched across the inn, shaking his head and internally scolding himself for being so stupid. He tore the door open, finding himself face to face with Méra. She was in her armour again, her features inscrutable as always.

“I thought you already left,” Vilkas said, trying to keep his tone neutral. It annoyed him that she didn’t even look surprised he was there, without Ria, just as she told him last night.

Méra walked past him and into the tavern. She only stopped at the innkeeper to buy herself a goblet of wine, before she turned back to him. “I told you I want to go with you.”

He waited until she downed her drink before he spoke again. “So you haven’t changed your mind.”

“Cheer up a little,” Méra rolled her eyes. “We’re going to spend some time together.”

“Yeah,” Vilkas growled, following the woman out of the building. “That gives me no reason for cheering. Still don’t know why you want to come.”

Méra didn’t stop as she said, “I told you that too. I have nothing better to do.”

It wasn’t a lie. Last night, after Margrethe fell asleep, she had time to think. This is what Méra wanted to avoid – this is why she hoped the blonde woman would exhaust her enough to doze off easily. She was tired, but she couldn’t just switch her brain off.

She thought back about everything that had happened to her since she killed the fake emperor. She died, and she came back. Astrid betrayed her. She lost her family. She couldn’t find her place in the Dark Brotherhood anymore—in the place that a few months ago meant the only home for her. She escaped from a dragon. Isran died. She met Ulfric again. She met her brother again, even though a few years ago she swore, if she ever saw him again, that would be so she could kill him.

It wasn’t the first time in her life when there was nowhere to go, but the first time when she really felt everything was taken from her. What was the point of leaving Skyrim? Starting over somewhere else? She didn’t want to start over, not anymore. She didn’t want to find a new place, make new friends, fall in love, just so she could lose everything all over again. One way or another, she lost everyone she had ever loved. How many more she could take?

They didn’t talk much until they almost reached the top of the mountain. The howling wind made the weather even colder, the sleet burned and stung their face. Méra pulled her cloak tighter around herself, cursing under her breath.

Vilkas shot an amused grin at her way. “Not fan of the cold?”

“I hate it,” Méra mumbled quietly, like she was angry at the snowy rain. She glanced at him, almost enviously, knowing his beast blood kept him warm.

“Nord women usually take it better,” Vilkas said, a little satisfied he finally found a weak spot.

However, Méra only smirked. “A gentleman would offer to warm the lady up, you know.”

“I guess I’m not much of a gentleman, then.”

Méra rolled her eyes, but remained silent. The companion stopped her at the snow cowered ruins, listening carefully. After a minute of silence, he finally turned back to her; his words quiet.

“There are at least four people up there. I’ll go ahead and try to talk with them. You go left and—“

He couldn’t finish his sentence because Méra already made her way up on the stairs, pulling her sword out of its sheath. Vilkas called after her, trying to make her to stop, but she acted like she didn’t even notice him.

Vilkas was right. There were five people at the entrance of the tomb, three men and two women. Judging by their shabby armour, they were bandits, and not even from the skilful ones.

“Where are you going now, sweetheart?” A man asked as Méra reached the top; his weapon at the ready.

She stopped. “Into the barrow. Since I had a great night, I give you a chance to let me in.”

The laughs didn’t surprise her. She got used to being underestimated, and while it could annoy her in most situations, it came handy in a fight.

By the time Vilkas reached the top of the stairs too, Méra already killed two bandits. He wanted to help, but it didn’t seem like she needed it. He stood there, almost mesmerized as he watched the way she handled that sword. Clean, quick, and lethal strikes, precise but light movements. It almost reminded him of some kind of dance.

“Let’s get something straight,” Méra said after all the five bandits lied dead around her, walking to Vilkas while she wiped the blood off her katana. She just single-handedly killed five people and she didn’t even look tired. Vilkas shook himself out of his daze. “You might be in some kind of special position with the Companions, but you are not the boss of me.”

She turned towards the door, but Vilkas’ voice stopped her. “You’re not accustomed to following orders, are you? Well, let me get something straight, too,” Vilkas said in a low voice, stepping closer to her. “You asked to come with me and I agreed.”

“I didn’t ask and you never really agreed.”

Vilkas took another step closer, ignoring her words. “You’re not doing me a favour for being here. So if you want to work with me… you do as I say.”

He didn’t wait for an answer but walked past her, opening the grand iron doors of the barrow.

“Fine,” Méra said in a mocking voice, rolling her eyes as she followed him.

This burial mound was no different than the others. Dark, dusty, ancient traps and riddles at every corner. Vilkas was experienced and quick-witted, but around halfway through the tomb he had to admit that if Méra wasn’t there, he would have easily walked into some traps. She was exceptionally good at finding clues and tracing marks.

It was still the way she fought that amazed him the most. After killing enough bandits, Vilkas couldn’t keep the question in anymore. “What kind of technique is that? I’ve never seen anyone wielding a sword like you do.”

Méra twirled her katana slowly. “Akaviri martial arts.”

“Akaviri,” Vilkas snorted, but he fell silent quickly. He remembered now that he saw the kind of sword she used, but only on the pages of the oldest books. It was an Akaviri weapon. “And where did you learn that? Because there are barely any books left about the Akaviri. Let alone their martial arts.”

Méra cast her eyes down as memories filled her mind, about all those hours Serana had spent with her, trying to teach her how to correctly use her katana. “Maybe I’ve found something better than books.”

While her face didn’t tell much, Vilkas noticed a tiny shift in her voice. He had a million more questions, like where did she get that sword, but his thoughts were cut off by a long, high-pitched shriek; someone was screaming for help. They exchanged a quick glance before fastening their steps, reaching the end of the tunnel quickly.

Vilkas went to the entrance and peeked in, only to pull back a second later. “Great. There’s a giant spider in there.”

He would already pull his sword out to march in, but Méra grabbed his forearm. “Wait,” she tugged on his gauntlet to pull him back a few steps.

“We have to help that man.”

“Yeah? And how do you plan to kill that spider?” Méra asked, pacing around the tunnel and searching for something on the ground. Inside these ancient halls, everything was scattered around; it didn’t take long until she found an arrow.

Vilkas arched an eyebrow. “Not with a single arrow.”

Méra shot an annoyed look at him from the corner of her eye, standing under a torch to look through the small pouch that was hanging from her hip. A moment later, she pulled out a small vial with a black liquid.

“It is one of the deadliest poisons in the world,” she explained as she coated the tip of the arrow with it. “One drop would kill a giant.”

A crease furrowed Vilkas’ forehead. “And you’re carrying that in your pocket? Do you at least have an antidote?”

“It only kills if it gets into the bloodstream. And once it does, you wouldn’t have the time to take any antidote.”

They tried to find a bow as well, but there was none nearby, and they didn’t want to waste more time. Vilkas offered that he would go in with the arrow to kill the spider, but Méra refused it.

“I’m smaller and faster than you,” she said, and she was already inside before Vilkas could stop her. She ran towards the beast and reached it before it had a time to react; she dropped down and slipped under the creature. Everything happened very fast: an ear-splitting screech came from the spider as she stuck the arrow into its abdomen, but only moments later it already collapsed. Méra barely had time to crawl out from under it.

Vilkas walked around the spider, kicking it in the head to see if it was really dead, before he stopped next to Méra. “That was nice.”

“Oh, did you really compliment me?” Méra asked with a smirk, crossing her arms over her chest. “Be careful or I’ll begin to think you actually like me.”

“You don’t have to worry about that.”

“Yeah, yeah, that was really nice,” the man who screamed earlier cut them off, bound in webs. “Now would you please cut me off?”

Méra pulled her dagger out and walked closer to him. He didn’t look like a bandit – he wore no armour but mismatched, dirty clothes; a filled knapsack fell off his back. Strange, she thought. Thieves were usually too coward to go to dangerous places like this.

“What are you doing here, thief?”

The Dunmer laughed nervously. “I’m—I’m not a thief! I’m just an adventurer. Now help me before another spider comes.”

Méra cut him out of the webs, but grabbed his tunic before he could flee. She kept the ebony dagger against his neck.

“Méra…” Vilkas said warningly, taking a step closer. “Let him go.”

“You heard him! Let me go. Please! I did nothing—“

“Shut up,” she snapped. “I’ll let you go after you tell me why you are here.”

She could practically feel him shaking in her grip. “Just for the treasure. If you let me go, I’ll tell you how to get in there—“

The man yelped as Méra held him tighter; the tip of her dagger digging into his skin. “You tell me now, or I’ll kill you right here.”

“Okay, okay,” he sobbed desperately, just before Vilkas wanted to interfere. “There’s this key in my bag. A claw. You have to use that to open—“

Méra cut his throat before the man could finish his sentence. His dark eyes widened and he fell on his knees, choking on his blood after she let him go. “Thank you,” she said nonchalantly, snatching up the rugged knapsack.

“What the fuck?!” Vilkas shouted as soon as he was over his surprise. “You just killed an innocent man!”

“Oh, yeah, I bet he was innocent,” Méra said sarcastically, continuing her search. “He was a damn thief and he would have run away as soon as we let him go.”

“And does it mean you had to kill him?”

She merely let out a tired sigh as she pulled something out of the bag, something she hadn't seen before. Judging by its weight, it was solid gold, not just coloured as one. It shape like some kind of claw with symbols on the bottom.

“I’ve seen this before,” Vilkas stepped closer, momentarily forgetting about his anger. “In the Riverwood Trader. Last time I went there the shopkeeper’s daughter told me it has been stolen and the thief killed her father.”

A slow smile appeared on Méra’s lips. “Well. It’s seems he wasn’t so innocent, after all.”

Vilkas took the golden claw out from Méra’s hand. “You couldn’t know that.”

“I actually can,” she said while they made their way deeper into the barrow. “There are no innocent people in this world.”

“Oh, really?” Vilkas didn’t look at her, and Méra had to fasten her pace to keep up with him. “Let’s say you’re right. It doesn’t mean you have to kill them instantly. This is what prisons are for.”

“Prisons,” she scoffed, putting her dagger back into its sheath. “You put them into prison for six months? For a year? And then they can continue what they did? That’s not a solution.”

“Neither your eye for an eye principle. If we did that, people simply cease to exist.”

“You talk like you’ve never killed anyone.”

Vilkas halted and turned towards Méra so suddenly she nearly lost her balance, and that said something. She felt her back bumping against the stone wall, and the companion was so close to her she could see the rage in his blue eyes.

"I’ve killed many. I did what I needed to do to save myself or save others. But I’ve never killed if it wasn’t necessary,” he took a half-step back. “You? You take other’s lives without a blink of an eye.”

Méra pushed him out of the way with her elbow. “Next time when I kill a homicidal thief, I’ll cry above their corpse.”

“Is everything a joke to you?”

Huffing out a breath, Méra stopped. “You think I’m a shitty person. You’re probably right about that. But thinking you’re better than me because you killed less people than I have? Killing is killing. The bandit you murdered? He was probably the hero of his daughter and for her, you’re the monster. Grow up and stop thinking in black and white.”

Neither of them talked in the following hour. Vilkas tried to keep his anger at bay, but the pill was even harder to swallow when a tiny part of him understood she might be right. Méra simply got tired of trying to make people see that everyone had both light and darkness inside of them.

They reached a hall where carvings covered both walls around them. Vilkas lifted the torch in his hand and took a closer look at them, while Méra walked to the circular door. It had symbols too—the same symbols she saw on the golden claw. An owl, a bear, and a moth.

Vilkas reached her a few seconds later. He didn’t say anything to her while he switched the rings to the right symbols, or while he put the claw into its place and watched as the door slowly sank into the ground.

His silence reached the point when it started to annoy Méra. “Did I touch a soft spot earlier?” she asked while they walked into another chamber. More than enough natural light came from above where the wall caved in, so Vilkas put the torch down as they didn’t need it anymore.

“How about we don’t talk about this anymore?” he slowed his steps down and looked at her. “Let’s agree to disagree.”

Méra nodded, but didn’t say anything. The cave they stepped into was loud from the waterfall, but somehow, it was more disturbing than the silence in the other halls of the barrow. Méra held her breath back when she heard the familiar whispers, and as they walked deeper she saw what she knew they would find.

She held many secrets but this one might be the only one she had never told anyone. The first time she heard the whispers from the wall with the strange carvings was the first time she stepped into the Dark Brotherhood Sanctuary. When she questioned Astrid about it, it seemed like she had no idea what Méra was talking about. Two other times when she came across them, she was with Serana. Since she showed no sign of hearing anything, Méra saw it better to stay silent. It never meant anything good when someone was hearing things that no one else did.

“A Word Wall,” Vilkas’ voice brought Méra back from somewhere deep, after she involuntarily let the whispers take control over her. She looked at the companion with a questioning look.

“I’ve seen some of these before around Skyrim,” she said. “What are they for?”

“No one really knows,” Vilkas replied, running his fingers across the words. They were so perfectly carved; he knew no chisel could make such a perfect work. “Scholars believe they were built by Nords who lived in the time of the dragons. They learned their language and somehow put the words up here. As you can see, after all these years, they still look flawless.”

Méra furrowed her eyebrows, taking a step closer to the wall. “So you say these runes… they are dragon language?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“Can you pronounce them?”

“No one can,” Vilkas replied with a questioning look. “Well, maybe a few fanatics like Farengar can. Why?

She didn’t give an answer but shook her head; she wasn’t sure about what to say anyway. Most of the time, Méra tried to forget about why she heard what she heard from these walls, why she was the only one who saw the runes glowing, why she could suddenly understand their meaning. For a while, and up until now, she even considered it had something to do with her being the Listener. But the Night Mother never spoke to her in the dragon language.

They found the artefact they were looking for, buried in a tomb with several other valuable gems and carved stones. After they picked them up, they soon reached the end of the barrow.

“Finally,” Méra groaned as they stepped out, fresh air and warm sunshine hitting her cheek. Vilkas followed her down into the valley where she washed the dust off her face in the river.

“I’m taking this back to Riverwood,” Vilkas raised his arm with the golden claw. “Do you want to come with me?”

Méra stood up with a smirk. “Oh, are we here now? You’re asking me to go with you? I’m really starting to think you don’t hate me at all.”

Vilkas sighed, putting the claw into his bag. “That clever mouth of yours will get you into trouble sooner or later.”

“Come on,” Méra tutted. “You wouldn’t hurt me.”

“I’ve never said that,” Vilkas replied, shaking his head. He still wasn’t sure it was a good idea to be around her, but one more day couldn’t hurt.

 

 

Chapter Text

15 years ago

The light swaying of the carriage lulled Méra into sleep early in the morning, only minutes after they left Falkreath. When she opened her eyes hours later, a long sigh left her lips. She would have loved to be on the road, seeing all the new, different places—if she didn’t need to spend it inside the carriage. They were on the road for weeks now. After they escorted and left Siddgeir in Windhelm in order to get to know each other better with the jarl’s daughter, they only spent two days in the Palace of the Kings before they were travelling again. Méra didn’t mind — she couldn’t bear the constant snowy, frosty weather.

Hearing her daughter’s bored sigh, Queen Helgi stopped humming and turned to Méra with a kind, but playful smile. Her blue eyes radiated so much warmth, her long, dark red hair decorated with lilies of the valley. “Good morning, lady. I started to think you want to sleep through the whole journey.”

Méra tried to rub the sleep out of her eyes while she turned to her mother. “I wish I could. I can’t do anything in here! Why can’t I go and ride with dad?”

“Because you’re a princess, not a horseman,” her mother said, but Méra only grimaced. She sank lower in her chair, arms crossed across her chest.

Long minutes passed quietly again; only Helgi’s humming broke the silence. Méra pulled the dark curtain back to look through the small window. The sun was shining, but rain was falling gently. The carriage halted so suddenly Méra fell back into her seat.

They heard approaching hoof beats, and just when Helgie opened the door of the carriage, Méra’s father appeared on his white mare. His dark hair dishevelled under the crown, worry creasing his forehead.

“What is it, my love?” Méra’s mother asked a little impatient.

Halfdan glanced at his daughter for a second. “Thalmor soldiers are riding towards us. I don’t know what they want, but when they appear it never means anything good,” he paused for a second, looking back over his shoulder. “I will go and talk to them. You two don’t leave the carriage no matter what, understood?” his voice was strict but with a worried lightness into it that made Helgi scared.

“Be careful.”

Méra felt as her mother grasped her hand. She didn’t know much of the Thalmor, but the snippets she heard from adults’ conversation, they weren’t exactly good persons.

Not a minute passed since her father left when they heard the loud noises. Shouts, screams, clashing of swords. Helgi looked through the window, but she pulled back very quickly.

“Mother? What’s happening?”

The queen looked at her, fear gleaming in her eyes. She hesitated for a second before she reached under her clothes and pulled out an ebony dagger. Méra’s eyes widened; she had no idea her mother kept something like that under her skirt.

“Listen to me, Méra,” she said with shaking voice. The noises outside increased, indicating they were getting closer. “Listen to me very carefully. You have to take this and you have to run away from here.”

“But mother—“

“Méra, please,” she urged, taking her hand and putting the hilt of the dagger in her small palm. “We’ll be fine, alright? You have to go back to Falkreath and tell your uncle we’ve been attacked. He’ll send help.”

Méra shook her head, tears filling her eyes and streaming down her cheek uncontrollably. “I can’t, mother, I can’t…”

“Yes, you can,” she said firmly, swallowing back her own tears as she pulled Méra into a quick but tight hug. She pressed a kiss on her forehead as she pulled back, and opened the door of the carriage. “Go. Run through the forest and don’t go on the road. And don’t be afraid to use that dagger.”

Out of breath, nearly choking on her tears, with her vision blurry, Méra ran through the glade. One of her shoes fell off her feet, branches tore holes on her long, white dress. Just as she reached the forest, she stumbled over something and fell with a heavy thud. She wanted to jump up, but her foot got stuck in a hole and she couldn’t free it.

She could still hear the metal clashing against metal, and her eyes quickly found the carriage. She saw the soldiers of the Thalmor in their shiny, golden armour. Most of her father’s people lied dead on the ground.

She could finally pull her foot out, but she didn’t move yet. Hiding behind a tree, she watched from safe distance what was happening. Her father was a great swordsman, everyone told her that. She didn’t believe it, not even for a second that they could hurt him.

She didn’t really believe, not even when they stabbed him in the back. Not even when he fell on his knees, not even when they stabbed again, and again, and again.

Not until she saw them dragging her mother out of the carriage and plunging a sword into her heart.

Méra couldn’t keep her scream back any longer, but regretted it immediately. Many of the Thalmor looked towards the woods, but only one of them hurried towards her. She quickly stood up and ran again, but she knew the man was faster than her. She stopped again at a ruin of an old watchtower, hiding behind the rocks. The dagger was shaking in her hand as she tried to stop her loud sobs. She held her breath back when she heard slow steps, breaking branches and crunchy leaves.

“Where are you, princess?”

Méra bit down on her lip so hard she could taste the blood in her mouth. She didn’t dare to move. The Altmer appeared so suddenly next to her she jumped back with a loud gasp, but the man grasped her forearm before she could move any further.

“There you are,” he pulled her closer while she squirmed, trying to free herself from his grip. “Stay still and I’ll make it quick. Just like I did with your dear mother.”

His words stirred something in her that made Méra lift her arm from behind her back, stabbing the ebony dagger straight into the man’s throat where his armour didn’t cover. His eyes widened in surprise and he stepped back, clutching his throat with both hands while he choked on his own blood. Méra’s hands were shaking, the Altmer’s blood all on her white dress and her hands. She couldn’t take her eyes off the man who slowly drew his last breaths. She couldn’t take her eyes off what she did.

She only turned to leave when she heard footsteps again. She ran, feeling nothing but echoing emptiness deep in her chest.

Now

It was just past dusk so it wasn’t completely dark yet when Méra and Vilkas reached Riverwood. They went to the general goods store, where they returned the golden claw to its rightful owner. Camilla was immensely grateful for it—she thanked them with a fat pouch of gold each. After the girl cried on Vilkas’ shoulder for what seemed like an eternity, they left the shop and walked down on the wide main road of the city with no purpose.

The streets always emptied after nightfall, but Riverwood seemed to be exceptionally quiet. If it wasn’t for the guards who roamed the streets, their weapons clinking against their armour with every step, the town would have been eerie quiet.

“Jarl Balgruuf really strengthened Riverwood’s defence,” Vilkas said quietly, noticing the signature yellow coloured cloaks between the mismatched pale blues and greys. “I thought he was afraid to send his guards away now that both the Stormcloaks and the Imperials are trying to win him over.”

At least he’s doing something, Méra thought, but she didn’t voice it. She would be surprised if it turned out her brother convinced everyone around him the dragon attack was no more than a rumour.

The Sleeping Giant Inn seemed quiet from outside, so they decided to rent a room and spend the night there. Whiterun was still hours away and they were both tired and hungry. However, when they stepped into the tavern, it was packed with people.

“Orgnar,” Vilkas nodded at the man behind the bar after they fought their way through the crowd. No one wanted to stay outside while a dragon was lurking around—though Méra didn’t understand why they thought a house built from wood would save them. “Can you give us a room for tonight?”

“Two rooms,” Méra corrected him, leaning her elbow on the bar. “And your strongest wine.”

The man whom Vilkas called Orgnar shifted his weight from one leg to another. “I… we’re full. I don’t think I can give you more than one room.”

“I’ll play double.”

Slowly, Vilkas turned to Méra with an arched eyebrow, but didn’t say anything until the merchant left them, saying he’ll see what he can do. “Would it be really so terrible to share a room with me for one night?”

“Don’t take it to your heart,” Méra smiled with her head tilted. “I sleep better if I don’t have to be in the same bed with a man I barely know.”

Vilkas didn’t reply, but he didn’t believe a word she said. They waited patiently until Orgnar returned, now with a blonde woman whom the companion recognized as the owner of the inn.

Delphine stopped with her back straight behind the bar, palms resting on the wooden surface. Her face strict, tired. How many times she had to deal with problematic customers? How many times she needed to clench her fists behind her back, trying to keep her mask on? She wanted to tell this woman what she normally did: there’s only one room left and if she didn’t like it, she can sleep in the barn with the horses.

Something made her stop before she could utter a single word. A sword was tied to the back of the redhead woman, and Delphine couldn’t take her eyes off of it. She only saw the hilt; long, dark, with the unmistakable symbols carved into it.

Delphine swallowed hard and forced a honeyed smile on her lips. “We only have one room left, but you can have mine. I’ll show you to it, this way.”

Orgnar looked like he just witnessed as his boss lost her sanity, while Vilkas couldn’t help but heave an annoyed sigh. Why did this woman always get what she wanted?

The room where the innkeeper led Méra looked more or less the same as the others in the Sleeping Giant Inn—except it was bigger with more furniture and some personal belongings. Méra felt a menacing shiver crawl up her back while she looked around, but she quickly swallowed her doubts down. It wasn’t the first time someone offered her a room at the mention of a little more money.

She accepted and said a quick thanks for it to the woman, before they both left the bedroom and returned to the main hall. Vilkas just left his own rented chamber, shaking his head at Méra before they both sat down at the same table.

Vilkas seemed to be completely oblivious to everything and everyone around him, eating his stew above a book about dragons. He was surprised to find something like this in a tavern, but he took the advantage and read it anyway.

Méra didn’t eat much. One hand rested lazily on her lap, the other playing with her knife under the table. She leaned her back against the wall, her eyes on the bard who sat close to the hearth. He was playing a slow song on a lute she heard from Cicero so many times before. The jester definitely had some soft moments from time to time, and somehow it was more frightening when he acted like a lunatic. It put a tiny smile on her lips which she quickly cured by taking a huge sip from the goblet.

The bottle of wine was half-empty when Vilkas looked up from his book. “Don’t you think you drink too much?”

Méra lifted her eyebrows, but her gaze stayed unfocused. “I probably do if a companion tells me this.”

“Gods,” Vilkas sighed, closing the book with a thud. “You do know that not all of us are the same, don’t you? What’s your problem with the Companions anyway?”

“Nothing in particular,” Méra shrugged. “I just don’t like people with hero complex,” she looked at him finally, taking another sip before she went on. “Your people think you’re some kind of gift straight from the gods because you help others. Even if someone doesn’t want your help. You all think you’re too good for this world.”

Vilkas couldn’t hold back a low chuckle. “You know what, I won’t even deny that some of us are indeed just the way you described. But even so, does it matter as long as they save people?” He paused and they locked eyes, but stayed silent for long seconds. Pushing away the bowl, Vilkas rested his arms up on the table as he leaned closer to Méra. “How many people have you saved, Méra?”

Méra gave another shrug, sheathing her knife. Her words became slurred. “Around a million. What about you?”

Vilkas scoffed in disbelief and shook his head from side to side, while Méra downed her wine and stood up from the chair. “Just because you did something good it won’t erase the bad. Good night, Companion.”

She returned to her room, and tired and dizzy from the wine, she collapsed on the bed immediately. She kept her eyes closed, yet she felt like the whole room was spinning around, making her want to throw up. The quiet noises from the hall got louder and louder in her head until it hurt and she squeezed her eyes, trying to shut the pain out.

Her eyes fluttered open immediately when she realized, it couldn’t be from the alcohol. Fuck. She tried to fight herself up in a sitting position, but her limbs felt numb suddenly. It took her a long minute but she was finally kneeling on the bed, rummaging through the small pouch that was around her hips. She always had an antidote that worked for common poisons, but her vision was blurry and her fingers couldn’t find the right vial. Her poor attempts ended with a sharp pain in the back of her head.

***

Méra jolted when she woke up and opened her eyes, but the ropes didn’t let her fall to the floor. She looked down at herself, seeing she was tied to a creaky wooden chair. Her head hurt like she was suffering her worst hangover.

Her eyes quickly found Delphine. She was sitting behind a table, leaning above a book. Méra laughed quietly. “You are so going to regret this.”

The blonde woman slowly stood up from the table and walked around it, crossing her arms across her chest. She wasn’t wearing a dress anymore but a brownish leather armour.

“Who are you?” Méra asked, trying to keep her face straight.

“You’re not in a position to ask questions,” Delphine replied coldly. “I don’t want to hurt you. I just need some answers.”

“You kind of broke that when you poisoned me.”

“Let me rephrase it,” she said, taking a small step closer. Her gaze was cold, intimidating, but it wasn’t enough to frighten Méra. “I might hurt you to get answers for my questions. I just don’t want to kill you.”

Méra heaved a bored sigh while she looked around the room. There were no windows, and since she couldn’t see the door, she assumed it was behind her back. There was a huge map of Skyrim hanging off the wall, drawers full of different potions. A weapon rack with different swords and bows, shelves packed with ancient-looking books and scrolls. She looked back at the woman, waiting for her question.

Delphine reached behind her back and lifted Méra’s katana, still in its sheath. “Where did you get this sword?”

“This is why I’m here? Because you want to know where did I get this sword? You could’ve just—“

“Answer me.”

Méra clenched her jaw. “Family heirloom.”

“Tell me the truth.”

“I’m telling you the truth,” Méra replied impatiently. “It was my father’s.”

“Who’s your father?”

A laughter shook Méra, more to distract the “innkeeper” as she slowly slid the tiny blade that was hidden under her sleeve. “And why would I tell you that?”

“As I told you,” Delphine said, taking another step closer. “You’re not in a position to ask questions. Who is your father?”

Méra didn’t answer. She felt the rope finally torn around her wrists, but her legs were still tied to the chair. She didn’t have time to think more as Delphine noticed as the ropes fell from behind her.

It wasn’t the first time Méra found herself in a situation like this. She was sneaky, but she was an assassin—there were always funny situations. She dropped herself on the ground with all of her weight, breaking the creaky old chair to pieces before she was already up on her feet.

“Drop the knife,” Delphine warned with Méra’s katana in her hand. “I don’t want to kill you.”

Méra ran closer, easily leaning away from every strike of her own sword. Delphine looked strong, but compared to Méra, she was slow as a snail. She kicked the blonde in the stomach and cut deep in the back of her knee. It took her off guard and in the tiny moment she hissed up in pain, Méra got behind her and kept her dagger flat against her throat, her other hand gripping her hair.

“Drop the sword. Now,” she added some pressure to her knife when Delphine didn’t want to move, and finally, she heard the clinking against the stone floor.

Méra’s fingers tingled. She wanted to cut her throat immediately, but she wanted to know who she was and what she wanted from her. Delphine felt as a drop of blood streamed down on her neck.

“Let me go and I will tell you everything. Please.”

She did as she said so. The little fight they had was enough to Méra to know she could easily kill her if she tried anything. Besides, she already decided she’ll finish her in the moment she answered her questions.

“That sword,” Delphine said as she walked to her table and sat down, wiping the blood of her neck. “Is one of a kind.”

Méra kept the weapon in her hand after she picked it up from the floor. “I know. An Akaviri katana. So are you some kind of crazy weapon researcher or…” she trailed off, shrugging.

“It isn’t just an Akaviri sword,” Delphine said, bandaging her knee. “It’s a Blades sword. Look at the symbols around the hilt—the dragons. I know it because I have the very same,” she nodded at the corner where her katana was rested against the wall. Méra followed her gaze, her eyebrows furrowed.

“Blades?”

Delphine heaved a tired sigh. Is there any people left in Skyrim who remembered them? “A long time ago, the Blades were dragon slayers, and served the Dragonborn. At least you’ve heard about them?”

“Yes. In children tales.”

The woman ignored her comment, but she was surprised. Nord girls like her were usually raised by listening to those tales all the time. “I am the last members of the Blades. We used weapons like this katana. Ancient, Akaviri weapons. I thought you either found a lost member of us or break into an old place of the Blades.”

“I didn’t. It really was my father’s. And his father’s before him. And I doubt any of them was a dragon slayer.”

Delphine nodded. “One of your ancestors had to be. These weapons don’t just scatter around the world.”

Méra watched as she stood up and washed the blood of her hands. She tried to remember if her father ever said anything about the Blades, but she couldn’t recall. The Akaviri weapon always hung in his office—he never used it. When Méra asked about it, he always said it was meant for more, but nothing else. Now it made her think whether if he was hiding something.

“Where are the rest of you?”

“The Thalmor hunt all of us down,” Delphine said, leaning against the wall. It made Méra curious. “Before the Great War, the Blades helped the Empire against them. Our Grand Master saw them as the greatest threat to Tamriel, which, at the time, was true. Maybe it still is. So we fought them in the shadows all across Tamriel. We thought we were more than a match for them. We were wrong.” She paused for long seconds before she spoke up again. “I’m sorry for… what I did. I lost everyone. Dragons are coming back and I’m alone. Seeing the tiniest bit of hope that maybe someone’s still alive made me lose my head.”

Maybe it was because they both lost someone to the Thalmor, maybe because for something else, but Méra felt a sudden wave of sympathy, and she knew she couldn’t bring herself to kill the woman. It was the very same feeling she felt when she killed the Emperor. For long years, she murdered men and women of all ages, and she never felt remorse. She didn’t quite understand why she had doubts.

She slipped the katana back to its sheath and tied it back to her back.

“You’re a great fighter,” Delphine said with a slight smile.

Méra walked to the door. “Thanks. For your own sake, let’s hope I don’t have to use it against you anymore.”

She walked up the wooden stairs and was surprised to find herself in the same room she rented; the trapdoor hidden behind the wardrobe. “Sneaky son of a bitch,” she mumbled under her breath, before she left the chamber.

Vilkas’ door wasn’t locked. When Méra walked in, he was sitting on the bed, half-naked with his back against the wall. He was holding a candle in one hand, making some light while he was still reading the book. He looked up when he heard someone stepped in—though he knew it was Méra, he recognized the sound of her steps. He watched as she slowly put her weapons down next to the bed.

“I hope you don’t mind if I join you.”

“Not at all,” Vilkas swallowed back a snarky remark, closing the book and placing it down the bedside table. He watched silently as she took her armours off. He didn’t mean to stare, but the way she slowly slid off of them stirred something deep inside him. He was more surprised though when he saw the undergarments she was wearing. Deep red and tight; the bottom ending just above her knee, the lace only covering her breast and barely her navel.

“What is it, Companion?” Méra asked as she caught his eyes. “Never seen a woman without clothes?”

“I have,” Vilkas said while she climbed into bed and pulled the furs on her body. “You do wear clothes though. Have you killed a royalty and stole hers?”

Méra smiled, resting her head on the bed. She had to let many comfortable things go after she didn’t live the Blue Palace anymore, but she couldn’t give up on the soft fabric she wore under her clothes.

Vilkas slipped down so he could look into her eyes. “So why didn’t you want to sleep here?”

“Does it matter?” Méra shrugged. “I’m here now. And I’m sure you already thought of a million reasons.”

“Well, I could only see two options,” Vilkas smiled. “One: after midnight you transform back into your real, ugly, daedric form,” he said, making Méra snort with laughter. “Or two: you were afraid you couldn’t keep those pretty undergarments on once you’re in the same bed with me.”

Méra smiled. “I’m not afraid of that, Companion,” she slipped closer, until Vilkas felt the sweet lilac scent in her hair. “I’m always quite straight about what I want. Maybe it’s you who should be afraid what would happen if I took my clothes off.”

He closed his eyes for a second, licking his lips. Vilkas felt his heart beating in his head, and it took all of his self-control to keep himself from pulling her into a kiss. He wasn’t sure if it was because the beastblood that was working inside him very strongly at this moment, or simply because of her presence. “And why are you so sure you could seduce me?”

“Because you’re a man,” Méra said and turned around, leaving a pang of disappointment in Vilkas’ chest. “Good night. Keep your hands to yourself.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Vilkas had never been a good sleeper. It always took him a long time to fall asleep, and he’d wake up at the smallest noises. This night wasn’t any different. He was still wide awake with only a few hours left until dawn, listening to Méra’s slow breathing and quiet heartbeat. When he finally dozed off, his dreams were restless and unpleasant.

The creaking of the bed woke him up very early in the morning. The first pale lights streamed in through the slits between the wooden shutters. He closed his eyes and grumbled, hearing Méra’s sleepy, weak whimper as she tossed and turned next to him.

“Can’t you at least let me sleep?”

No answer came, but her suddenly swift heartbeat made Vilkas open his eyes again. He saw her chest rising and falling rapidly, her body twitching, and he understood she was having a nightmare. He waited a few seconds, wondering if he should shake her out of it or let it pass. If he would be in the same situation, he would definitely want it to be over as soon as possible.

Just as he reached for her shoulder, Méra’s eyes fluttered open and she gasped loudly. She sat up on the bed and inhaled deeply; her face buried in her palms while she tried to slow down her uneven breaths. Cold sweat broke out on her body, shivering as the pictures from her nightmare replayed in front of her inner eyes. The soft smiles, the empty words, the glimmering of the golden armour, the blood on her small hands.

“Are you… okay?”

She ran her fingers through her locks, combing back from her face as she heard Vilkas’ voice. Instead of looking at him, she merely gave a short nod before she stood up from the bed and walked to the window, opening the shutters to let in the crispy morning air. Her heart was still drumming loudly in her ears.

They didn’t speak for a while. Vilkas had a million question as he usually had when he was around her, but he decided to keep them in a little longer, giving her some time to calm down. After they both dressed up, Méra walked to the door, but Vilkas grasped her wrist and pulled her back.

“Are you okay?” He asked again.

“Yes,” Méra replied. Despite of Vilkas’ soft tone and gentle hold on her wrist, she jerked her arm away. Her eyes and her heartbeat still showed some distress to him, but her voice was calm. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

She didn’t wait for an answer, but left the room with Vilkas on her heels. The main hall stood empty except Orgnar who stood behind the bar, and Delphine who swept the floors with a bored expression plastered over her face. The blonde woman looked up at the sound of the approaching footsteps; her features tightening at the sight of Méra. They watched each other for a long, strained second, before they both turned the other way.

It was still very early when they walked out of the Sleeping Giant Inn. The chilly morning air bit into their cheeks, but the golden glimmers of the rising sun promised a warm day. Méra’s steps were fast, like she was trying to run away; Vilkas had to hurry to keep up with her.

“You haven’t told me why you came to sleep in my room,” he said, slowly trying to pull something out of her. “Did something happen?”

Méra shrugged with a smirk. “Maybe I just hoped you’d warm me up.”

“You told me to keep my hands to myself.”

“Not my fault you gave up easily.”

“Okay, stop bullshitting me,” Vilkas said, standing in front of her to make her stop, just after they left the small town. Méra put her hands on her hips and sighed, waiting for him to move. “What happened last night? Did something… scare you?”

She couldn’t stifle a small, honest laugh. “I do things for many reasons,” she started, taking a step closer. “Or sometimes, for no reason at all. But fear is never one of them.” She held his gaze a second longer before she continued her way down the dusty road.

Vilkas arched an eyebrow as he reached her. “What are you saying? That you aren’t afraid of anything.”

“Yes.”

Vilkas scoffed. “I get it. You want to seem fearless. But everyone’s afraid of something.”

“Well, I'm not.”

Something in her tone told Vilkas that she was telling the truth, and it made his skin crawl. What kind of person felt no fear at all? “What about your nightmare?”

Méra clenched her fists, white-hot anger clouding her mind. Taking him off guard, she shoved him against the nearest tree with her arm across his chest; her face close to his.

“I was just trying to help,” Vilkas said before she could utter a word, but it only fuelled the fire.

“I don’t need your help,” she said through gritted teeth, pushing him back against the tree as he tried to move out of her grip. “Stop acting like you care about me.”

Her arm fell down to her side and she was about to turn to leave, but Vilkas’ voice stopped her. “Why are you so angry at me? Until now your problem was that I didn’t like you. And now, when I show the smallest sign of care, you lose your shit. What the fuck is your problem?”

Méra stayed silent for a few seconds longer. When she spoke, her voice was quiet, but cold. “You’ve been judging me from the first moment you saw me. You’ve made it very clear several times. And now? Now you suddenly don’t hate me anymore?

“People change,” Vilkas shrugged with a tiny smile tugging at the right corner of his lips. “Maybe I started to realize you’re not as an insufferable bitch I thought you were.”

Méra turned away with a short, breathy laugh. The way he talked eased something in her that she couldn’t quite explain. Besides, she knew he was honest. She didn’t want to hear sugar-coated words. Vilkas was hard to read, but she already learnt he was very straight about what he thought about others. “Don’t go soft on me now.”

It wasn’t every night that Méra had nightmares about that fatal day. Some were more intense than others, and sometimes she completely forgot about them by the time she woke up. This one was vivid and disturbing, like she relived every moment, and she knew it will haunt her through the day.

She didn’t like to sleep with others if it wasn’t necessary. People would either laugh at her or pity her, and she didn’t need any of them. She chose to sleep separately from Vilkas because she wasn’t sure what his reaction would be. While she doubted he would feel sorry for her, Méra thought he would have questions. And she was right.

After a couple hours of walking in silence, they stopped by the river to take some rest and eat something, but Méra had no appetite. They could see the very top of the towering building of Dragonsreach from the far distance—they were getting close to Whiterun. While Vilkas plopped down under a tree, seeking shelter from the burning heat of the sun, Méra sat up at the top of a rock, staring off into the distance.

Her thoughts wandered back to many years ago. She remembered how she ran through the forest fifteen years ago, barefoot, her dress ripped and blood soaked, her chest feeling like it was burning up. She felt like she had been running ever since then.

This little detour with Vilkas was good to keep her mind busy for a while, but as they got closer to Whiterun, the reality slapped her in the face again. There was nowhere to go, and if she wanted to be honest, she didn’t see the point of trying. She was tired of losing everything and everything she cared about.

“I don’t remember much of my childhood,” Méra heard Vilkas’ deep voice out of sudden. She jolted a little as it shook her out of her thoughts, but she didn’t look at him while she listened what he was saying. “I never knew my real parents. I don’t know where and when I was born. We were locked up in a cage somewhere deep in a dungeon, my brother and I,” he paused for a few seconds and Méra turned her head slightly, just enough to see his distant gaze. She could tell it was hard for him to speak about this, and it made her frown; why he was telling her? Just as she wanted to stop him, Vilkas continued. “We probably spent months or even years there, captured by necromancers. I’m not sure what they did to us, we were too young to remember. But sometimes there are images and sounds and smells that I see, especially in my dreams. Mostly about how they experimented on us with spells and potions,” he stopped again for a long minute, before he let out a deep breath and looked at Méra. “You’re not the only one who has nightmares. It doesn’t make you any less and it isn’t something to be ashamed of. Show me one person who never experienced anything terrible these days. We live in a fucked up world.”

A faint smile curved her lips, but it didn’t reach her eyes. She hated to be seen vulnerable, but it felt comforting to know she wasn’t alone. Vilkas seemed so cold most of the times, but hearing his story made Méra think they weren’t so different after all.

“What happened to you?” he asked softly, pouring some ale to his leather cup.

“Oh, so this is why you told me your little secret?” Méra asked with raised eyebrows. “So you could pull this out of me?”

Vilkas shook his head with a breathy laugh. “No. Would you stop consider everything as a personal attack? It wasn’t a secret anyway and I don’t want to pull anything out of you. I just asked,” he said, taking a sip from the ale. “Talking about shit like that helps sometimes.”

Méra slipped off the rock she was sitting on, stretching out her legs. She walked closer to the river, arms folded over her chest. “My parents were murdered when I was twelve,” her voice was cold and Vilkas froze; he didn’t expect an answer for his question. “We were on the road near Falkreath when it happened. I saw everything.”

Vilkas wanted to say sorry about what happened to her, but he decided to keep it to himself. He had a feeling that she didn’t need any pity. “How did you make it out alive?”

Méra cast her eyes down for a moment, before she turned to look at him. “I killed the man who caught me.”

Vilkas just pushed himself up from the ground but he froze mid-air, his features tightening at her words. She could practically hear his thoughts.

“I know what you think. How fucked up is she for killing someone at age twelve?” she shook her head slowly, sighing. “I know you don’t approve killing. I used to hate it too. That pig was the first man I’ve ever killed, and I hated myself for it. I’ve just taken someone’s life. I felt guilt and shame,” she glanced at Vilkas again. She expected to see judgement on his face, but she only found a mix of curiosity and sorrow. It made her think twice if she should go on. “But then I felt something else too, you know. I was proud of myself. I killed someone who had a part in my parents’ murder.”

Vilkas swallowed hard. “Did you avenge them?”

“Not yet.”

Her answer surprised him. Vilkas knew revenge was a poisonous thing, he experienced it himself many times before. It made him lose his mind, it made him kill. Méra seemed to take others’ life easily. Why she still waited with her own revenge? He felt there was more into the story, but he wasn’t sure he was ready to hear it. He chose to change the subject. “Are you on your own since then?”

Méra shook her head as a no. “It’s complicated, but I’ve always had someone. Except now.”

Vilkas bowed his chin and didn’t say anything. He didn’t know why he felt sorry for her so suddenly, why he felt the urge to keep her safe; especially because he knew very well she didn’t need anyone for that. The way she talked—so vulnerable despite of trying to seem tough and fearless, it made him see her from a new angle. She was right: Vilkas didn’t approve all of her actions, and he still didn’t trust her blindly. And yet, there was something behind all of this that made him want to throw away everything he believed in. He knew she meant trouble.

“Have you ever felt tired, Vilkas?” she asked a minute or two later, her voice hoarse and distant. It didn’t escape his notice that this was the first time she called him on his name instead of “Companion”. “I mean, really, truly exhausted. When you just want to stop and give up.”

Vilkas held her gaze, his eyes flickering between hers. “Yeah. I guess everyone feels like that sometimes. Some of us just more often than others,” he added, subtly letting her know he knew what she was talking about.

Méra drank some ale too. She never spoke so openly about her feelings, especially with someone she barely knew. Vilkas gave off those feelings that made him easy to trust. Besides, there was something in him that drew her closer. And she didn’t like it. She knew it would be smarter to run away.

“What makes you keep going?”

“What do you mean?” Vilkas asked, crouching down to pack his belongings back to his knapsack.

“When you don’t see the point anymore… what makes you keep going?” Méra asked, walking closer to him while he straightened from the ground, adjusting the sword on his back. “And don’t say some stupid “Skyrim and her people need me” shit.”

Vilkas snorted with laughter. “Do you really have to be so cynical all the time? Why is it so hard to believe that someone helping others is actually important?” he asked, heaving a sigh. “But you’re right. That’s not the reason—or at least not the only one.”

“What is it, then?”

“I don’t know,” Vilkas shrugged. “That there has to be something more.”

“But what?”

“I don’t know, Méra,” he repeated, taking a step closer. “If you don’t see the point, then make one. I understand you’ve suffered enough, but you’re still young. Stop overthinking it.”

Méra hummed, turning her head away. “Yeah. It’s a little hard not to when you’ve lost everything.”

Soon they continued their way down on the unusually empty road. The silence that settled between them wasn’t awkward anymore—it had a nice lightness to it that somehow, made everything easier.

“Where will you go?” Vilkas asked when they got closer to the gates of the city, walking up the cobbled stones.

Méra shrugged. “I don’t know. You banned me from Whiterun.”

He smiled, shaking his head. Recognizing Vilkas, a guard walked to the gates to open it. “You can stay if you want to.”

“Oh, how generous of you,” she said sarcastically, placing her palm over her heart.

“I’m serious, “Vilkas said, stopping Méra by standing in front of her. “You could stay… with us.”

Méra’s jaw dropped with a small laugh. The amused look on her face made Vilkas want to take it back what he said. “You’re offering me to join the Companions? You’re sweet, but that’s never going to happen.”

Vilkas sighed. “You said you lost everything. You don’t know where to go. I think staying with us isn’t such a bad option, after all. Besides, you have great fighting skills.”

“No way. Sorry,” she said, not sounding sorry at all as she walked past him. Vilkas grasped her upper arm before she could take another step, gently, but firmly enough to pull her back. “You really have to stop grabbing me like that if you don’t want to lose your hand.”

He eased his grip, but left his palm on her arm. “Just stay in Whiterun, then.”

They heard as the heavy gates opened, but none of them moved. “Why?” Méra asked suspiciously, eyes narrowed while she tried to read his face.

“I’d like to have you around for a while,” Vilkas replied with his voice deep and quiet that made a shiver run down Méra’s spine. “Maybe you could help me to break into another ancient tomb soon.”

Méra smirked. “I really have the feeling you don’t hate me at all.”

“I told you,” Vilkas shrugged, his hand slipping lower on her arm. “You aren’t as bad as I thought you were.”

They walked into the noisy city. Whiterun was always so crowded and so loud—Méra doubted she could ever live here. They fought their way through the sea of people at the marketplace, but stopped at the foot of the stairs that led up to Dragonsreach.

Méra licked her lips, sighing softly. “I’ll stay in the Bannered Mare tonight,” she said. “How about you visit me later and show me why I should stay?”

“Good idea,” Vilkas replied. “I want to talk to you later.”

Méra’s shoulders dropped. “I wasn’t exactly talking about… talking.”

“It hurts, you know?” Vilkas put his palm on his chest as they continued their way up on the many stone steps. “I feel like you just want to use me.”

She rolled her eyes. “What do you want to talk about anyway?”

Vilkas clenched his jaw, before he turned his head towards her. “Let’s give this stone back to the court wizard first.”

Méra gave a short nod. She already had a million thoughts of what Vilkas wanted to talk about, and she didn’t like any of them. He wanted to know too much and she wasn’t ready to give everything away.

Chapter Text

“Remarkable,” Farengar whispered to himself, resting his palms on the edge of the desk. He leaned forward, examining the Dragonstone that Vilkas had handed him a minute ago. The court wizard took a deep breath, scratching his chin thoughtfully. “Absolutely remarkable.”

Méra and Vilkas exchanged a quick glance. The room where they stood was big, but cluttered with books, maps and scrolls, vials filled with thick liquids and jars that contained internal organs, staffs and many other magical artefacts.

“So,” Vilkas cleared his throat, shifting his weight from one leg to another. Surrounded by all the mage’s weird things unnerved him. “Do you need anything else, or…”

Farengar lifted his head at his voice. A light frown creased his forehead, looking truly surprised and somewhat annoyed that he wasn’t alone. “Oh. You’re still here. No, thank you, we’re done here,” he walked around his table and passed them, opening the door. “Thank you for bringing the Dragonstone to me. I’m sure Jarl Balgruuf will reward you for your service.”

The door closed behind them in the second they stepped out, leaving them alone in the empty corridor. Méra looked at Vilkas with an arched eyebrow. “Is he always like this?”

“Oh, you haven’t seen anything yet,” Vilkas said while they both padded down the staircase. Long windows made the wide corridor bright and airy, but it was eerily   quiet as only Farengar stayed around.

“He’s fucking annoying,” Méra murmured, making Vilkas smile.

They didn’t meet Jarl Balgruuf as he had a meeting with someone, but collected the money from his steward. The jarl didn’t lie earlier—he was indeed very generous and rewarded each of them with a fat pouch full of gold. Whiterun had always been a rich city.

“I have to go back to Jorrvaskr,” Vilkas said as they stood under the Gildergreen, though it wasn’t exactly true. He didn’t have to go back immediately; he just needed to spend some time away from her.

Méra noticed immediately that something was off with him; the way he talked, the way he stood. She watched him with narrowed eyes, but before she could ask anything, Vilkas cleared his throat to change the subject. “If you change your mind and want to come inside—“

“Don’t stress about it,” she rolled her eyes with a smirk on her lips, turning to leave. “See you later.”

The Companion shook his head lightly, standing there a few seconds longer as he watched her leave. He scolded himself for letting her wrap him around her fingers without even trying. He didn’t understand what had gotten into him. Vilkas could never be fooled by a pretty face, and there were a million reasons he could list why he shouldn’t even talk to her. And yet, it all disappeared into thin air when he looked at her. As much as he hated to admit it, he knew his feelings were more than skin deep.


 

It was early in the evening, hours after Méra walked into the Bannered Mare. She sat in a shaded corner of the inn, her chin propped up on her hands as she stared off into the distance. A single candle burned on the table, a bottle of wine before her. Her mind raced with all the thoughts she wished to forget.

Méra lifted the goblet to her lips, trying to wash down the bitter taste in her mouth with some wine. She felt sick for being so weak, opening up to someone she barely knew. What the fuck is wrong with me? She asked herself over and over again, unable to get rid of the feeling that she didn’t know who she was anymore.

If it all would have happened a few months ago, she wouldn’t sit idly. She wouldn’t overthink it. She would stand up and run away, as far as she could from Whiterun. Méra let people in in the past, and it never ended well. No, she didn’t want to make that mistake again. She knew she should leave before it was too late.

But then again, she remembered there was nowhere to go. She had been alone a lot in the past fifteen years; in fact, she always had been a lone wolf, even in her childhood. Loneliness was in her nature—she welcomed it as an old friend whenever it found her again. Even at her worst, she never needed anyone. She could always get by somehow.

This is why it hurt to admit so much that now, after everything that happened, when she thought it couldn’t get worse, Méra caught herself wishing someone would hold her hand and guide her.

The candle flickered, and she felt someone near her. As she looked up, she couldn’t stifle a tiny smile at the sight of the tall figure, wrapped in dark clothes and hoods.

Nazir squeezed the candle’s flame out with his fingers, before he pulled a chair out across Méra to sit down. “And I really thought you left to Elsweyr.”

She didn’t say anything, and it didn’t surprise Nazir. He knew Méra always had been quiet. “What happened?”

She leaned back against the chair, sighing. “Life.”

Nazir let out a short, low chuckle. “You’ve always been so dramatic.”

“What are you doing here?”

“Some recruiting,” he replied, leaning closer above the table as he turned his voice down. The inn was crowded, and noisy—perfect to hold a conversation like this. It was easier to eavesdrop in an emptier, quiet room with only a few people. “Since you killed the Emperor, everyone talks about us. Well, unfortunately, that so-called dragon attack drew the attention from us, but it hasn’t changed anything. People fear and respect us more than ever before. We have a lot of work and not enough assassins since… you know.”

Méra swallowed hard, but kept her face straight. She wasn’t in the mood for this conversation, and she wanted to leave Nazir, but she was more curious than that.

“Has the Night Mother spoken to any of  you?”

“No. Cicero says she isn’t happy that the Listener left us and now she punishes us with eternal silence.”

While he was shaking his head with a sigh, Méra laughed. “And I’m the dramatic one?”

Silence settled between them, whilst Méra’s heart only ached more. It would be so much more easier to go back to the Dark Brotherhood, to her old friends, to start over, to continue what she did in the past seven years. Just as these thoughts raced in her head, Nazir spoke up.

“Why did you leave us, Méra?”

“I told you why.”

“You did. But I feel you weren’t entirely honest.”

Méra looked away, heaving a long sigh. There was absolutely no reason to lie, yet it was hard to tell him the truth.

“You were the best of us,” Nazir said as Méra was still silent. “It isn’t just my opinion. Everyone agreed. And not just because you get the job done—we all did that. When I heard your stories, when I saw you killing… it was something that made me think that this is exactly how an assassin should work. Straight out of the old books. It was art. No wonder why the Night Mother chose you.”

There was no honesty in the faint smile on her lips. Nazir's words punched her in the stomach, pushing her to finally answer his question. “Before the Dark Brotherhood, I only killed bad people. I think I used it as some kind of excuse to justify my actions. I’ve never thought about killing anyone who never did anything bad in their life. Until I met Astrid,” Méra stopped, taking a small sip of her wine. “She taught me that it doesn’t matter. That the world isn’t split into good people and bad people. Innocent and guilty. That we all have them both inside us. For years, I did what she told me to do. I didn’t care about a single soul. Young, old, the most innocent looking person in the world,” she shrugged, shaking her head. “I liked it. I really, truly liked it.”

She stopped again. Nazir didn’t push her, though she hadn’t answered his question yet. “When Astrid betrayed me, all the things she taught me just shattered into pieces.”

“You’ve made a mistake, Méra,” Nazir said after a long minute of silence.

“Yeah. I trusted the wrong person.”

“No,” he shook his head, shifting closer. “You put all of your faith in her. You can’t do that. You can’t put everything up on one person, because if you lose them—if they die or leave you or betray you—all those beliefs will be gone with them. If you truly believe in something, you should believe it because of yourself. You say you enjoyed what you did? That you felt no guilt? I’m not so sure about it anymore. You did what Astrid made you believe and because now she’s gone… you doubt yourself.”

“Bullshit,” Méra scoffed.

“Is it?” Nazir asked. “You knew Astrid very well. You knew how easily she could manipulate others. She had a great influence on you, Méra. But from what you told me now… I’m not so sure it was for your benefit.”

Méra closed her eyes, massaging her temples with the tip of her fingers. She felt her heart drumming loudly in her ears. “I’m not easily manipulated,” she said, trying to keep her voice quiet and calm as she lifted her head again.

Nazir cast his dark eyes down for a moment. “You aren’t. But Astrid found a weak spot of yours. I think you and I both know that.”

What he said hurt more than Méra cared to admit. It came in the worst possible time, when she wasn’t sure about anything. She stared down at the table, while Nazir’s eyes rested on her. They sat in silence for a while, before Méra cleared her throat and slowly stood up, despite she wanted to run. “I have to go.”

Nazir gave a short nod. His face didn’t show any emotion. “It was an honour to work with you, Méra. But I hope you’ll find your place now.”

She gave him a strained smile, before she crossed the room and left the inn. The sun was setting slowly, turning the streets to gold, but Méra could barely see anything. Her pulse was fast, her breathing shallow, her chest burned. Her steps were quick, almost running as she walked across the city without knowing where she was heading. Her shoulder bumped into others, but she didn’t hear as people cursed and shouted after her.

She only stopped when she felt like she walked into a brick wall, but when she looked up, she found herself face to face with Vilkas. He put his hands on her arms to keep her steady, while his expression went from surprised to concerned. He could hear her heart almost beating out of her chest. “Are you okay?”

Méra shook her head from side to side, closing her eyes as she swallowed hard. “Yes. I just need to leave.”

“Why? What happened?”

She stared at the ground, letting out a shaky breath. Involuntarily, she took a step closer to him. A small group of guards ran past them along the narrow street, so Vilkas pulled her out of the way, next to a wooden wall. When she finally looked up, he was surprised how empty her icy gaze was despite of being so upset.

“Nothing,” she said quietly. “Today has been just too much.”

Vilkas gave a short nod, though he knew she was hiding something. He took a small step backwards to give her some space, his hands falling to his sides. “Where do you want to go?”

“I don’t know,” Méra said honestly. The chill of the evening air made her shudder. It felt like the temperature dropped suddenly as the wind rose, gust following gust. She wiped the loose strands of hair out of her face. “I just can’t stay here with you.”

Her answer confused Vilkas even more. A few hours ago she seemed to be just fine; definitely better than she was in the morning after she woke up. Now she seemed upset and a little lost, no matter how much she tried to hide it. Her last words echoed in his head. “I just can’t stay here with you.”

Lighting flashed and thunder rumbled. The sky that was golden and magenta only a minute ago now faded to a dark, dusty grey. The sound shook Vilkas out of his thoughts. “Okay… we can talk tomorrow. You don’t have to leave.”

Méra closed her eyes again with a sigh. She couldn’t make him understand that she didn’t want to talk, not now and not tomorrow, never. She opened her mouth to tell him this as clearly as she could, but the distinct sound of clinking armour cut her off.

They watched with furrowed eyebrows as another group of guards ran past them. Vilkas stepped out just in time to stop one of them at the end of the line, asking what was happening.

The man took his helmet off. He was old and looked experienced, yet fear glistened in his eyes. “Dragon. Outside the city,” he said shortly, out of breath. “Irileth just went to Jorrvaskr asking for your help.”

It was very rare when the guards asked the Companions' help, even Méra knew this. Vilkas watched as the guard left, his eyes round and his jaw dropped. He knew he should act quickly, but the simple mention of the dragon froze him. He had heard what it had done to Helgen; how are they going to pick a fight with something like that?

“Well,” Méra’s voice made him collect himself. “One more reason to leave.”

She could see the hint of anger on Vilkas’ face. “Or you could help us.”

“Against a dragon?” she asked so sharply the Companion went speechless again. “I saw people fighting against a dragon and I saw all of them die. You know how I made it out alive? Because I fled. And not because I was afraid—I just knew I had no chance. This place is going to be nothing more than dust and ashes soon. I’m helping you, Vilkas. Get out of here as long as it isn’t too late.”

“Because running away is a solution, right?” Vilkas raised his voice after a few seconds of silence, making Méra roll her eyes. “Didn’t you say to me earlier that you don’t see the point anymore? Well, here’s your chance to do something. Or leave and feel sorry for yourself.”

It was the first time they heard a distant, deep roar and they both recognized it wasn’t thunder. Méra thought the sound was familiar, just like on the day she heard it near Helgen. She remembered how close she was to the border then.

Vilkas looked at her one last time, before he left.

“Fuck you,” Méra murmured quietly. She had to pick up her pace, almost run to reach him. “Fuck you,” she repeated, louder this time when she was walking next to him.

“I heard it the first time.”

Méra huffed out a breath. She tend to forget that Vilkas had heightened senses, including hearing. Now that she was thinking about it, she never saw him using the benefits of the beast blood. He didn’t even talk about it.

They just reached the Plains District when the noises became louder, clearer, and they could see from the distance as the dragon landed on the top of the gates. The wood broke under its weight, but it could find support on the stones. When it opened its great mouth, the roars echoed through the whole city.

More and more people left their houses to peek out, only to pull back a moment later with a scream.

Méra realized immediately that it wasn’t the same dragon she saw in Helgen. Even under the dim light of the darkened sky, she could tell its skin was lighter, not black; and much, much smaller than the other one. Somehow, it gave her hope.

The dragon opened its mouth again, breathing fire all over the buildings it could reach.

“Holy shit,” Méra heard from behind. When they turned around, she recognized the source of the voice as Vilkas’ brother. He looked just as shocked as the others who came with him. Méra didn’t know them, but she figured they were Companions as well.

“We need to evacuate the city,” Vilkas said, stepping closer to his brother.

“And how do you plan to do that?” A woman with ginger locks asked, her bright eyes not leaving the dragon. She had her bow at the ready. “Because the beast just set the gates on fire and as far as I know, Whiterun has no other exit. Unless you want to lead hundreds of people through the Underforge.”

She added the last sentence so quietly only Vilkas could hear it, but Méra stepped close enough to him to catch her words.

“They don’t need to leave,” Méra said. “You should lead them under the city. Tell them to hide in the basement if they have one. The others should go to the basement of the temple, guards’ catacombs, anywhere underground.”

Silence welcomed her words. It was a woman with shoulder length brown hair and angry eyes who first spoke. “I’m sorry, but why should we take orders from you?”

“Maybe because she survived Helgen,” Vilkas replied matter-of-factly, and Méra was glad to see the woman went speechless quickly. “Njada, Athis, do what she said. Farkas, you should go with them.”

Farkas gave him a puzzled look. “But I want to fight the dragon.”

“Go with them and help the citizens,” Vilkas replied. “Be stupid later.”

Their ways separated quickly. While the three Companions ran back the way they came, Méra headed towards the dragon with the others. She pulled her sword out of its sheath, though she had no idea how she could get close enough without getting burned.

The dragon left the gates and flew deeper into the city, burning up everything on its way. Soon, the sound of people yelling and crying filled the city, mixed with clinking of armour and shouting orders. It was a mess. The little hope Méra had a minute ago slowly left her.

“You escaped Helgen,” a Companion with strict face stepped to her. “Any ideas?”

Méra shot an annoyed look at Vilkas. Just because she was there and made it out alive, it didn’t mean she knew how to kill a dragon. If she didn’t want to make a fool of herself, she needed to use her common sense.

They watched as the arrows bounced off its scales like toothpicks. Méra remembered her fight with Durnehviir, and her less successful meeting with the other dragon in Helgen. “We have to bring it down to the ground. We have no chance while it’s up there.”

“Good thinking,” the woman said, aiming her arrow. “Get some spears, throwing axes, anything you can use to wound its wings. They look thin.”

They exchanged a quick, silent nod, before Vilkas led Méra aside. “You see the guards’ barracks there?” He pointed towards an already ruined building near the gates. Through the collapsed, burning buildings, the only way that led there was the middle of the street, right under where the dragon circled.

“That’s suicide.”

“We have to try it.”

“Fuck,” Méra breathed out, hesitating for a moment. “I swear by all the gods Vilkas, if we make it out alive, I’m going to kill you.” Her words made him smile for a sole second, but they didn’t waste more time. They ran across the street as fast as they could, taking the advantage of the guards and the Companions distracting the dragon.

Vilkas tried to stop and help a guard whose body was on fire, but Méra quickly pulled him away. There was no time if they wanted to reach the building before the dragon noticed them. They climbed through the debris, ruins of houses, burned corpses. Vilkas watched the scenery with horror on his face.

Half of the guards’ barracks had been completely demolished; the wooden roof was on fire, a part of the stone walls collapsed to the ground. It was dangerous to even walk in there; they both acknowledged that with a quick glance.

Méra sheathed her sword as they started to pick up every weapon they could use. Spears and throwing axes, shields, bows and arrows. The rafter above them were creaking ominously and they looked up, stopping in their movements.

“We should go,” the words barely passed his lips when they heard the roar of the dragon dangerously close to them. Vilkas dropped everything he had in his hands and pulled Méra down behind the ruins of the firewall, keeping his shield up above the both of them while the beast’s fire made the building collapse.

Without realizing, Méra held her breath back, waiting it to be over. She kept her eyes shut tightly; her body pressed against Vilkas’ as he wrapped one arm around her. She felt splitting pain in her left leg, but when she tried to move it away, she couldn’t. Vilkas’ shout filled her ears as he tried to keep his shield up with everything he had. The beast blood gave him enhanced strength, but his muscles ached terribly while he tried to protect the both of them from the bricks and burning woods as it all crashed onto them.

When it finally stopped, Vilkas waited a few seconds to make sure the dragon wasn’t near them anymore. With his remaiming strength, he moved the debris away so he could pull himself up from the ground. He saw Méra was still sitting, one of her legs stuck under a wooden beam. There was no way it didn’t break a bone. He threw it away and helped her up, both of them coughing from the dust and ashes.

“Are you okay? Can you walk?”

Despite the swollen ache in her calf, the throbbing pain in her chest, and the loud buzzing in her head, she nodded. She looked up at Vilkas, still panting heavily. Just before the house started to collapse on top of them, he was close enough to the door. Méra knew if he was alone, he could have easily jump out to save himself, but he chose to help her.

They could only free five spears from under the ruins that wasn’t broken or burned. With a small, silent glance, they both acknowledged their whole effort was in vain. Méra let out a deep breath, but she immediately regretted it. Her broken ribs made her wince, and it didn’t go unnoticed by Vilkas.

“You should take some cover. Go to the Temple—“

“No. I’m fine,” she protested, reaching for a spear that Vilkas held. She bit the inside of her cheek when she started to walk again so she wouldn’t cry out in pain. The Companion followed Méra and stopped behind her, watching as she aimed at where the dragon circled up in the air. When the beast noticed them and it flew towards where they stood, Vilkas almost pulled her out of the way, but Méra threw the spear before he could.

She groaned in pain and clutched her side as soon as she released the weapon. It went straight under its right wing and the dragon screeched loudly in pain, faltering for a second in the sky before it crashed to the ground. Méra and Vilkas jumped to opposite directions, both trying to take cover.

Méra felt the metallic taste of blood in her mouth as she bit her cheeks and tongue too hard while she tried to keep her groans in. She was sitting on the ground with her back against the ruins, hiding from the dragon. She knew it was close to her. She heard the heavy sounds of it steps, the deep rumblings from its chest.

The dragon lifted its wing before he struck down with it, right in the middle of the collapsed wooden house where she was hiding. She jumped up just in time, running to another safe place. She didn’t know how long she could keep this up—every inch in her body hurt.

She took the long moments of silence as a cue to leave, but just as she walked around the ruins and reached the street, she found herself in front of the dragon.

Méra gasped and froze. She didn’t have time to pull her sword out, nor running away; the dragon would snap her in half before she could move a finger. But the beast didn’t attack.

The dragon took a step closer, tilting its head to get a better look, sniffing curiously, until the angry grumbles in its throat slowly died away. Méra looked into the fiery eyes and she saw the narrow pupils slightly dilating. Her heartbeat went from rapid to steady. For a few moments, she felt she had no reason to be afraid.

Until someone threw a spear and the dragon opened its mouth, roaring so loudly Méra almost fell over. The blissful moments of calmness disappeared and she pulled her katana out, striking down and cutting the dragon where she could reach. She was trying to find the weak spots, but its skin was too rough and thick everywhere.

The Companions and the guards of Whiterun were around the creature, all of them throwing spears and axes or using their swords. They learned quickly that the steel tipped arrows were no use here.

Méra stopped for a second, shutting her eyes tightly as she listened to the dragon’s painful roars and screeches. She felt them in her bones, they crept up on her spine, and she caught herself wishing she could stop it.

She shook herself out of it and attacked again, this time successfully finding a weak spot under the dragon’s chin. Its eyes were on her again, and Méra dropped down to the ground right before it could set her on fire. She rolled over, realizing her arm was burning, rubbing it on the wet grass.

While dozens of women and men still attacked the dragon at once, it ignored everything and hurried towards Méra. She realized she had about three seconds to decide what to do. Running away wasn’t an option. She could either stay there and wait for death or stand up and fight.

She fought herself up on her feet as quickly as her aching body allowed, starting towards the dragon and closing the small distance that remained between them. She had no idea what she was doing, if she should be honest. The beast opened its mouth but Méra was quicker, cutting long and deep under its chin. It slowed it down for a moment, giving time to Méra to go closer and strike down again, thrusting her sword into the dragon’s head.

Méra didn’t have the strength to pull the katana out. The dragon faltered, a powerless screech leaving its throat before it landed on the ground, thick, dark blood flowing everywhere on the ground.

Everyone froze for long seconds; it felt like time had stopped. Méra could only hear her own shallow breaths and the crackling of the fire as the buildings around her slowly burned down.

A few moments or an eternity later, she couldn’t decide, the dragon’s body started to shake and rattle, and Méra almost let out a hysterical laughter. No, fuck, no. She thought it was dead. She heard people around her shouting orders again, clinking of swords, but the dragon’s eyes were still lifeless.

She heard whoosing, silent whispers while she stood there stunned, watching as the dragon’s body caught fire. It glowed and shimmered until nothing remained but bones and scales, Méra’s sword landed on the ground with a sharp clink. The golden and white simmers still circled around its bones, until they slowly floated towards Méra.

She closed her eyes when they reached her, and she felt something she had never experienced before. It flew through her whole body, warm and cold at the same time. She wasn’t sure she was standing anymore—she didn’t feel anything under her feet. It was like floating, flying. She felt strength, infinite power. She felt rage and she felt peace, fighting for balance.

When she opened her eyes with a sharp breath, everything was cold and painful again. The bones lied there, a few feet away from her. Méra slowly looked around, seeing as everyone watched her. Fear, respect, despise, relief. She could see them all.

Suddenly, she felt a hand grasping hers. “Come with me,” Vilkas said quietly, but Méra didn’t move. She couldn’t. The whispers now filled her ears and echoed through her head, all saying the same word. Dragonborn.

“Méra,” he spoke up again, gently tugging on her hand. She looked at him. Her gaze was still distant, but Vilkas saw something in the depth of her eyes he never thought he would: fear. “Come with me.”

She let him lead her through the ruins of the city without asking where they were going. She felt exhausted and disconnected, and yet, somehow, for the first time in years, whole.  

 

Chapter Text

A loud rumbling noise filled the air. It sounded more like a roar deep in the throat of some enormous creature; like a dragon. The one little word shook the ground, making it feel like the whole world split into two halves. Dovahkiin, dovahkiin, dovahkiin—it echoed through Skyrim with a weird, eerie sound.

Méra stood with her gaze towards the starry sky. The smoke burned her eyes, the smell of blood filled her nose, and as the sudden wave of shock left her, the pain slowly returned to her body.

“Let’s keep going,” Vilkas tugged on her hand but didn’t move yet.

The calling of the Greybeards reached them when they walked past the Gildergreen, and now they stood there like their feet were glued to the cobbled stones. Unlike the Plains District, this part of the city remained untouched—as if nothing happened.

He put his arm around her waist to give her a little push, and Méra winced from the pain when she made the first step. She took small and sharps breaths, she clenched her fists, and she bit her tongue to keep her painful moans in. She wasn’t sure how she could walk up the stairs without collapsing, but the next time she dared to take a deep breath, she was already inside the warm halls of Jorrvaskr.

Vilkas let her go and turned to her. She avoided his eyes and her face was as pale as the moonlight. He could practically feel how much pain she was in, and it quickened his pulse.

The door burst open with a loud bang. Farkas hurried over to them, panting heavily. “Are you two okay?”

“Find Danica,” Vilkas said without answering his question. “Tell her we need her help now.”

Farkas sighed, extending his arms. “I’ll try, but there are a lot of injured—“

“I don’t care!” Vilkas roared; his features hardening. “Just bring her here.”

Without waiting for his brother’s reaction, Vilkas took Méra’s hand again and led her across the hall, down to the basement, then through the long corridor. Every step was harder to make with her swollen leg and Vilkas wanted to pick her up, but when he tried, she hissed from the pain in her ribs. He put an arm around her, letting her lean most of her weight on him while he helped to walk her into his bedroom. Vilkas wanted to lay her down, but her back hurt too much so she remained sitting, gripping the edge of the bed.

Méra bowed her head, squeezed her eyes shut, and let out a shaky breath. She didn’t remember when she last felt so overwhelmed; the last time she felt so many different emotions almost at once. The physical pain was nothing compared to what she felt inside; swirling, powerful, stormy.

When she lifted her head, Vilkas sat across of her in a chair, arms crossed over his chest and staring off into the distance. His eyes quickly found hers, as if he sensed she was watching him.

“Did you know about this?”

Méra felt so weak she didn’t even have the strength to be mad after his absurd question. “No,” she said firmly, her icy gaze staring into his blue eyes, and Vilkas felt a cold shiver running down his spine.

She tried to straighten her body but stopped midway in her movement with a painful whimper. Vilkas clenched his jaw, his leg bouncing up and down. He watched as Méra searched for something in the little pouch that was tied around her waist, but sighed when she looked into it. Each of the vials broke; the potions and poisons mixed together.

“Thank you,” Méra said after a few minutes of silence. Her voice was hoarse, quiet.

Vilkas frowned. “What for?”

“You saved my life,” she looked down, shaking her head like she still couldn’t believe it. When was the last time someone risked their life for hers? Besides, so far it didn’t seem like Vilkas would do something like this for her.

“Well,” Vilkas smiled, leaning back on the chair. “Guess you owe me. Again.”

But Méra’s features remained confused still. “Why are you doing this? Why do you care about me?”

Vilkas swallowed hard. It was a question he asked himself many times by now but never thought about it enough to find the answer. He was afraid of it, even though he didn’t admit it to himself. “Shouldn’t I?”

“No. You probably shouldn’t.” Méra replied weakly, remembering how she lost everyone she ever cared about.

Vilkas opened his mouth, but whatever he wanted to say, it stuck in his throat. The door of his bedroom opened and Danica stepped in, shooting a furious look at Vilkas before her gaze fell on the woman on the edge of the bed. Her features went from annoyed to worried. The healer made Méra stand up, helping her out of her clothes. After she took her hooded cape off, Danica looked angrily at Vilkas again.

“And what are you still doing here? Out! Now.”

“I don’t think she’s that shy, ma’am,” the companion tried to joke, but Danica gave him a look that made him leave his own room immediately.

Méra lost track of time. She felt like an eternity had passed since the healer arrived, trying to mend her broken bones and clean her wounds. The bowl of clean water was dark now, the grey piece of washcloth red from her blood. There were open wounds on her back, her thigh bone and three of her ribs broke, and she suffered a mild concussion. Danica could heal most of it with spells, though not entirely. However, she could do nothing with the burns on her arm. Spells and potions helped little to none on injuries left by a dragon.

For the lack of a better option, she put herbs on the wound and gauged her forearm—at least it relieved the pain. She sighed and wiped her forehead. “I’ll come by tomorrow and bring the Court Wizard with me. He probably knows more about dragons than I.”

Méra bit back a groan. She would rather poke her own eyes out then let that crazy wizard come close to her.

The priestess left soon and Méra lowered down on the bed. She wanted to wait for Vilkas, but in the moment her head hit the pillow, she fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.


 

A blunt noise woke Méra up. Her eyes shot open immediately, searching for the source of the noise, but everything was silent in the dimly lit room. Her pulse raced, she felt disoriented, and her head throbbed with pain. She closed her eyes again, letting herself drift back to sleep—but then she heard the noise again, and now she was wide awake.

Someone knocked, she recognized. Slowly, she fought herself up in a sitting position, keeping the furs and blankets around herself. “Come in,” she rasped out; her mouth dry as sandpaper.

Vilkas quickly shut the door after he stepped in. He looked worried and sleep-deprived, his hair messy and dark circles under his eyes.

“How are you feeling?” he asked, pulling a chair closer to the bed and dropping himself down.

Méra gave the tiniest shrug. “Like someone who just killed a dragon.”

“You slept for two days.”

“Yeah, I feel like I did,” she said, rubbing her temple. She rested her back against the wall but she immediately leaned away with a hiss; the stone was cold like ice against her skin. Méra shuddered and pulled the covers tighter around her body. There was no fireplace in Vilkas’ small chamber and only bandages covered some parts of her.

The companion told her that Danica and Farengar were there yesterday, but he only let the healer in so she could change her bandages and cast some spells. Méra didn’t remember at all; the sleeping potion that the priestess gave her must have been truly strong.

“It’s full moon tonight, so I’ll leave for a couple days,” Vilkas said. “Don’t disappear while I’m away.”

Méra arched an eyebrow. She wasn’t sure she felt strong enough to even leave this bed, let alone to disappear. Then again, she remembered, she had survived worse. The thought almost made her laugh. Oh, don’t worry about me. It was just a dragon, I’ve survived worse. She chased her thoughts away.

“And what should I be doing here?”

“Rest,” Vilkas replied instantly. “Try to figure out your next step.”

The next step. Méra felt her heart skip a beat, and Vilkas heard it too. Now that she was awake, she had plenty of time to think about this whole Dragonborn-situation. The simple thought made her shiver—not because it scared her, not because it surprised her, but because everything made sense now. As if she didn’t just become the Dragonborn, but it had always been there, somewhere deep, buried inside her. And now it’s awakened, and she couldn’t ignore it.

“Are you okay?”

Méra cleared her throat. “I’m fine.”

Vilkas didn’t believe her, but he didn’t pester her. “I have to go. Tilma will bring you food and anything you need,” he stood up and pushed the chair back to the corner. As Méra followed his movements, she saw her sword was there, leaned against the wall. “Your armor is with Eorlund, our blacksmith. He’ll fix it but he’ll not give it to you until I’m back,” he said with a wink, making Méra roll her eyes. If she wanted to leave, she could easily steal it and leave before anyone could notice.

After Vilkas opened the door, he turned back to her. “Don’t let the others intimidate you,” he said, but seeing the amused expression on Méra’s face, he quickly added, “And please, for the love of Ysgramor, don’t intimidate them.”


 

The sun almost disappeared behind the mountains when Vilkas left Jorrvaskr. The heavy rain cooled down the warm summer day, filling the air with its musky scent. He stepped inside the Underforge, running his palm down his wet beard.

Farkas, who leaned against the wall, now straightened his back and flashed a grin at his brother. “Did you get a goodbye kiss?”

Vilkas only gave a small glance from the corner of his eye but didn’t stop; he continued his way deeper into the cave where the others were waiting for him. They were suspiciously silent this afternoon.

Skjor, who stood between Aela and Kodlak, stepped closer to Vilkas. His features were hard, worry and maybe even anger deepened his wrinkles; his voice hoarse, and yet, it had a nice lightness to it. “Are you sure it’s a good idea to leave her alone while we’re away?”

Vilkas nodded. “You can trust her.”

“Well, I don’t,” Skjor replied, furrowing his brows. “And you shouldn’t either. You barely know her.”

Vilkas glanced at his brother, who cast his eyes down. He knew his twin could be the only one who spoke about them, about her. He didn’t say anything, so Skjor went on. “I don’t care what she is or what you feel for her. You shouldn’t let a stranger into our halls.”

“Skjor…” Aela said softly, sighing. She didn’t want them to get in a fight right before the transformation, knowing well it could easily lead to some ugly scenes later.

But Skjor’s eyes rested on Vilkas. He could see right through him as no one else could; better than his brother, better than Kodlak. “You can’t risk our safety for a woman.”

“I don’t risk anything for anyone,” Vilkas snapped. “She’s heavily injured and she needed a place to stay. Should I have left her out on the streets?”

“We’re companions, not priests or healers. Our job is—“

“What exactly?” Vilkas cut him off so sharply it startled Skjor. There weren’t many people who were brave – or stupid – enough to talk to him like that. “I’m here to help those who need it, and Méra needs it.”

Skjor opened his mouth to answer, but Aela stepped between them, extending her arms to push them away from each other. “That’s enough,” she was looking at Skjor; her voice rough but her eyes soft. “I think our brothers and sisters can take care of themselves.”

Skjor barked a laugh. “I can’t believe you agree with him,” he said, then looked at Kodlak. The harbinger was eerie silent the whole time—the whole day, actually. “Are you not saying anything?” He asked with clear disdain in his voice.

He let out a slow, deep breath; eyes darting between the two companions. “We should support the Dragonborn. Letting her stay is the least we can do after what she did.” 

Skjor sighed but didn’t say anything. He shook his head and made his way towards the exit: the one that led out of the city. Aela and Farkas followed him, but Kodlak stopped next to Vilkas and patted his shoulder.

“Trust your instincts, Vilkas. But never let them blind you.”

He held his gaze for a few seconds until he couldn’t. If he trusted his instincts, he would have kept away from Méra a long time ago. He didn’t forget—he had a bad feeling about her since the very first time he met her. And yet, he threw his instincts out of the window and kept her close. You’re making a mistake, a little voice told him from the back of his head.

He ignored the voice that night, and deep down, he knew he will ignore it for the rest of his days.


 

Méra spent the following day in bed. As Vilkas promised, the maid checked on her multiple times a day and brought her food, though she told her she’s more than welcome to eat upstairs with the others if she wanted to. Thankfully, Danica told her she must stay in bed for a week, giving her the perfect excuse to avoid everyone.

While she lied in the chilly chamber, Méra had a lot of time to think about what happened. There were so many things in her life she could never understand, but now every piece fell perfectly into place. The whispering, her death, Durnehviir’s words, the prophecy.

The prophecy about Serana. Neither of them understood it and besides the Moth Priest, everyone thought it was just made-up. But now, it all made sense. When dragons return to the realm of men. She wondered if it was truly about her. After all, she died and she came back.

She desperately wished she could speak to Serana. It had been a long time since she really, truly missed her, but now the feeling burned a hole into her chest. She would listen to her, she would understand her, she would help her figure out what she should do. She would follow her anywhere.

Well, maybe not anymore, Méra thought and tightly squeezed her eyes shut. She tried to fight her tears back, but she couldn’t. She spent the rest of the day under the blankets, silently sobbing, leaving her food untouched and acting like she was asleep when someone knocked on the door.

The second day after the Circle left had passed much better. Her burned arm healed very fast, and it shocked the priestess. “It isn’t normal,” she kept murmuring under her breath, frustrated as she couldn’t find an explanation.

Méra could finally get up and take a walk around the room. If she had any clothes besides her undergarments, she would have tried to go upstairs. Vilkas’ chamber was cold and she was dying to feel the sun on her skin. It reminded her of the Dark Brotherhood Sanctuary, which was also underground and she never knew it was daytime or deep in the night.

She opened the wardrobe and tried to find something to wear. Vilkas didn’t have many clothes, but they were all too big for her to even try. With a defeated sigh, she looked around the room. There were books and maps everywhere. It surprised Méra: warriors like him weren’t famous for their love of reading. She even found a diary—it was tempting, but she fought back the urge to read it.

Ria visited her on the third day, right after Danica left. Just like the last time they met, she couldn’t stop talking this time either. Méra forced a smile, nodded or hummed an answer when it was necessary. She didn’t feel like talking, especially not to a stranger. She hoped the girl would take the hint sooner or later—she didn’t.

At least she learned a lot about the aftermath of the dragon’s attack. The gates and a part of the high stone walls had been completely destroyed; the Plains District heavily damaged. Mostly soldiers and guards died and a few dozens of citizens, but considering what happened, it could have been much, much worse.

They already started to rebuild the city: Jarl Balgruuf had no time to waste while they were in the middle of a war.

“Can you do something for me?” Méra asked quickly after Ria stopped talking about the damages but before she could start talking about something else.

“Oh, of course!”

“I need something to wear. I want to leave this room but…”

Ria squirmed in her chair. “Well, Vilkas said we shouldn’t let you go…”

Méra rolled her eyes. She wondered if Vilkas really believed they could stop her. “I won’t leave. I just want to take a walk upstairs.”

Ria hesitated, but left a minute later to find something for her. Méra took the advantage and quickly drank the rest of her sleeping potion that Danica left there for her, and when the young companion returned, she was already sleeping.

When she woke up hours later, Méra found a plain, dark green dress draper over the wooden chair. She tried it on, surprised that it was perfect for her.

She left her sword in the room, but slipped the dagger into the belt that hugged her waist. Her thigh still hurt with every step, but it was nearly not as bad as before; she didn’t even flinch from the slight pain. The long, dimly lit corridor stood empty and silent; she could hear the echo of her footsteps.


 

Vilkas sat by the long table, poking the bowl of stew with a spoon. The transformations had been exhausting and painful, and somehow, he always lost his appetite. This full moon was tougher than usual. He couldn’t remember much, just bits and pieces. Sometimes he thought it was for the best.

The main hall was quiet after Jarl Balgruuf stepped in with his steward on his right and his Housecarl on his left. He still stood close to the door, talking to Kodlak in a quiet voice. Vilkas knew if he focused on them, he would be able to hear them, but he didn’t even try. He was too tired.

The door of the basement opened and closed, and he looked up at the noise. Méra walked up the stairs, slowly, hiking the long skirt up with one hand. It never ceased to amaze Vilkas how gracefully she could move, with such light steps and delicate sway of her hips; he couldn’t take his eyes off her.

Méra pulled out the chair next to Vilkas and carefully sat down. “Stop staring at me like a hungry wolf,” she said, pouring some wine into a goblet.

Vilkas shifted, looking away from her. “I didn’t… I just…”

Méra couldn’t stifle a laugh while she took a sip from the drink. She leaned closer to him, resting her palm on his shoulder and her chin on the back of her hand. He had dark circles under his eyes and a fresh cut across his cheek. “You’re adorable.”

Vilkas wriggled his shoulders free from under her touch. “I see you feel better.”

“Much better,” Méra nodded. As she watched Vilkas, she had to realize her mood lifted at the moment she saw him. She hated to admit it but she missed him, and the thought made her squirm in her chair. “When did you come back?”

“About an hour ago. I went to see you but you were sleeping.”

Méra’s eyes wandered around the room. Most of the Companions were up in the hall at this late afternoon; even the Circle. While Vilkas and his brother looked exhausted and even weak, Aela and Skjor seemed to be just fine. Méra knew well why. Those who fought against the beast blood had a worse time during the transformation than those who didn’t. She wanted to ask Vilkas about it, but then her gaze stopped on the Harbinger and his guest.

“What is the Jarl doing here?”

Vilkas shrugged. “Don’t know.”

“Does he come here often?”

“Once in a blue moon,” he replied. “If he wants something, he sends his steward.”

“I heard they were talking about the dragon,” Farkas, who sat across them, leaned closer above the table. “I hope he doesn’t want our help to rebuild the city. We have more than enough problems already.”

Vilkas nodded in agreement, giving a meaningful look. There had always been jobs to do around Skyrim, and never enough companions. Besides, the Silver Hands almost never let them rest.

Soon enough, Jarl Balgruuf took a seat by the end of the long table. Before Kodlak joined him, he sent everyone down the basement—except the Circle. Méra made a motion to stand up, but the Harbinger told her she could stay.

Somehow, she could feel it meant nothing good. What have I gotten myself into, she thought with a tired sigh before she packed her plate with food and downed a goblet of wine.

“I don’t know what to do,” the Jarl said, running his palm over his face. Méra noticed he looked at least ten years older than the last time they met. “As if the Civil War wasn’t enough, now we have to deal with dragons. I’m not stupid. I know it’s only a matter of time before the Imperials or the Stormcloaks attacks us now, while we’re weak.”

“Normally I’d suggest to ask for the king’s help, but…” Kodlak trailed off, and the hall went silent.

“I need more soldiers to protect my city,” Balgruuf said. “But our best people left to fight in the war.”

“Jarl Balgruuf,” Kodlak Whitemane spoke up again, his arms folded on the table. “The Companions have never taken sides and we won’t start it now. We will help as much as we can, but we won’t take a part in this war. However,” he exhaled deeply and leaned back in the chair, his features hardening. “You could choose a side, and maybe you should consider doing it until it isn’t too late. I know you’ve been trying to stay independent, but as a leader, you need to know when to swallow your pride and ask for help. You’re risking thousands of lives. I think you and I both know there’s only one way to stop this war: fighting it. You can’t just stop it. No one can.”

The Jarl cast his eyes down, staring at his feet for a few seconds. When he lifted his head, he looked dedicated. “There’s someone who might.”

Everyone followed his gaze and all eyes stopped on Méra. She arched an eyebrow, looking around the table like she wasn’t sure it was really happening; though deep down, she counted on it. “Me?”

“You’re the Dragonborn, yes? A legend. People will listen to you and follow you  anywhere.”

Méra let out a breathy chuckle and put her goblet down. “So you want me to do… what exactly? To talk to Ulfric and Tullius and convince them to stop fighting? I’m afraid no one has the power for that.”

“I want you to become the High Queen.”

Once again, the room fell so silent Méra could hear her own, rapid heartbeat. She didn’t take her eyes off the Jarl, mostly because she didn’t want to see the others’ reaction. It took all of her effort to choke back a laugh, but the idea was so absurd. So absurd… and yet, it made her wonder if the Jarl knew who she was.

“My apologies,” the steward broke the silence, raising his hand and shaking his head. “But are you sure it would be a good idea to make a queen of someone we know nothing about? All because of some tale?”

“At this point, Aventus,” the Jarl sighed, his eyes filled with worry. “I’d rather take the risk. This war has been already going on for too long. We can’t do this anymore—not now, when we have much bigger problems. No one has seen dragons in centuries. We need to strengthen our defense all over Skyrim, but we can only do that if we stop the war first. Besides, I cannot really imagine anyone worse than Ulfric and Tullius.”

I can. Her name is Elenwen, Méra thought bitterly, and suddenly, being a queen didn’t seem such a stupid idea anymore. I could drive the Thalmor out once and for all, I could kill them all, I could take revenge. These thoughts clouded her mind for a few seconds and she clenched her fists under the table so hard her knuckles went white. Kodlak’s hoarse voice shook her out of her thoughts.

“I’m not saying it’s impossible. However, I thought Ulfric doesn’t let the Moot happen.”

“That’s true,” Balgruuf nodded. “But I believe he could be convinced. If there’s anything in this world that Ulfric respects it’s the Way of the Voice. The Dragonborn might be able to convince him.”

“Even if she could,” Irileth spoke up this time from the Jarl’s left. “Why do you think people would choose her? I don’t know much about this Dragonborn situation, but I do know that Skyrim always chose someone to rule from a royal family.”

Jarl Balgruuf looked Méra in the eyes, and now she was sure he knew it. He knew who she was. A cold shiver ran down her spine, hoping he won’t reveal her secret. “Dragonborns used to rule, Irileth,” he said. “It was a long time ago, but Nords respect them nevertheless. More than you think. Maybe it’s nonsense for you and a childish tale for Aventus, but not for us.”

“Respect,” Méra said with a short, sharp laugh as she lifted her gaze up to the ceiling. Everyone turned to her again, waiting for her to continue. She shook her head, before she looked at Balgruuf. “Tell me how many people sit on the Jarl’s chair just because they chose a side. Not because they believe in their cause, oh no; only because they could gain power. Do you know what would happen if I would go to the Moot? They would laugh at me. I have no money to share. I have no lands or cities to give. What do they care about respect or traditions when they can have a whole city to rule? You overestimate people, Jarl Balgruuf.”

“I might do,” he said after a long, strained minute of silence. The Circle watched them with bated breath. “But I don’t want to give up. And right now, you’re our best chance.”

Méra shrugged. “You could always just choose a side. Whatever you decide they’ll help you to protect Whiterun.”

“It isn’t only about Whiterun,” the Jarl said a little louder than he intended. “If I join, the war won’t stop, and we need it to stop! The Imperials and the Stormcloaks are fighting over a land that’s already ours, tearing it apart in the process. They weaken us until they we have no chance left against the dragons. You are the Dragonborn—you might be the only one who could stop this. If you can’t, if you won’t, then who will?”

Méra jumped up so quickly a sharp pain jolted through her leg. She kicked her chair back, right into the hearth in the middle of the hall. “Then let them destroy it,” she said the words so calmly and yet with so much anger in her eyes that no one dared to say anything. “What do I care if the dragons burn the whole world down? This place is corrupt, sick and rotten. I’ll never fight for it.”

 

Chapter Text

Méra sat on the edge of the bed in the cold chamber, her face buried in her palms. Her hands were shaking and her head buzzed so loudly she could barely hear her own thoughts. Every time she hoped she could finally forget her past, something happened that reminded her she will never be able to erase it from her mind. She lost count of how many times she started a new life and at this point, trying again seemed meaningless. One way or another, something always pulled her back.

But how could she rule Skyrim? Even if she had any desire for it, Méra couldn’t imagine herself living in the same building she used to as a child and sitting on the same throne her father used to, not with all the memories that still haunted her dreams. After all these years, she still desperately wanted to forget.

She took a deep breath, but immediately hissed from the pain in her back. From her sudden motion, her wounds tore open; she could feel the warmth as blood slowly soaked the green dress. She didn’t care enough to move, until the door opened with a loud creak.

Méra lifted her head, glancing at Vilkas for a second before she looked away. “If you came here to convince me to become a queen, you can leave.”

“No,” Vilkas sighed, pouring wine in two goblets. It annoyed him that her first thought was always mistrustful, but he realized there might be a reason for that. “It was selfish of Jarl Balgruuf to ask you something like that. He put a lot of weight on your shoulders.”

Méra emptied the goblet in one go. She was glad Vilkas didn’t come to preach about responsibility.

“I’m surprised, though. He’d offer his full support to help you claim the throne. Most people would accept it without hesitation.”

“I’m not like most people.”

“I know that,” he mumbled under his breath, shaking his head. Their eyes met for a moment and they both smiled, but it disappeared as quickly as it came.

“So why are you here, then?”

“You seemed really upset. I didn’t want you to be alone.”

Vilkas’ words were quiet and Méra’s features hardened. He knew the man cared about her and while somewhere, deep down it warmed her, it gave her more fear than pleasure. She didn’t want to let him in only to lose him once it was too late. It seemed as if he noticed the shift in her face because he quickly added,

“And besides, it’s my room.”

Méra rolled her eyes. “You brought me here.”

He took a deep breath and opened his mouth to say something, but whatever it was, it stuck in his throat. “Are you bleeding?”

She narrowed her eyes for a second, then sighed as she remembered he could smell her. Standing up, she walked to the drawer where the priestess left a bunch of herbs and potions. Vilkas could see a growing, dark red stain on her back. “I am.”

“Do you want me to—“

“No. Don’t bring anyone.”

He stayed in the chair and watched as she mixed some ingredients in a bowl. At this point, he gave up asking where she learned to make all those different potions. When she turned back, she looked at him.

“Can you help me with this?”

He nodded and slipped closer with the chair while Méra sat down the edge of the bed. She pushed the dress off her shoulders and wiggled out of it just enough so her back was exposed.

“I’m not sure whose dress this is, but she’s going to be really pissed.”

Vilkas smiled, but didn’t say anything. He grabbed the bowl of water and the piece of cloth, sitting closer to the woman. As he moved her hair out of the way, his hand brushed against her neck, and Méra felt goosebumps prickling over her skin.

But Vilkas had his own concern at the moment. As he washed the blood off of her, he revealed more and more scars on her back. Not the few deep ones she got recently; these were old, white, covering her from her lower back to her shoulder blades. His hand stopped and Méra closed her eyes. She knew what caught his attention and it took a significant amount of self-control not to lean away from his touch.

“Are you going to help or are you just staring at me until I bleed to death?”

Letting out a slow breath, Vilkas continued his work. The question was on the tip of his tongue—he wanted to know who hurt her, but he couldn’t bring himself to ask. He was almost certain she wouldn’t answer.

“It’s a little creepy, you know,” Méra broke the silence. “What else can you smell and hear?”

“Everything,” Vilkas replied simply. He wasn’t sure if she was genuinely curious or if she just wanted to change the subject. “It was confusing first but I learned how to separate them.” With gentle fingers, he started to apply the herbs.

Méra realized he was pretty good at it; despite of his often rough and crude demeanour, Vilkas was careful not to cause her more pain than she was already in. He had many scars on his body too; most of them he suffered during his transformations, and the proud man he was, he rather took care of it himself when he could.

“I can smell it’s Aela’s dress you’re wearing,” Vilkas went on. “But I can smell Ria too, on the dress and in the room so probably she gave it to you earlier today. I know you cried recently.”

Her heart skipped a beat. There weren’t many things she hated more than people finding her in a weak moment. It made her feel exposed.

“I can hear your pulse quicken when I touch you.”

Méra rolled her eyes. “Don’t be so smug about it.”

After he bandaged her up, Vilkas stayed a little longer. They talked about Jarl Balgruuf’s idea for a while, but seeing how anxious it made her, Vilkas decided to change the subject. There was one thing he still wanted to know.

“What are you going to do now?”

Méra had asked herself the same question countless of times in the past few days. If she really thought about it, she had been trying to find an answer for it since she left the Dark Brotherhood. It seemed so distant.

She had something completely new and different to deal with now. Something she knew nothing of; something she couldn’t control. If she learned one thing over the years, it was that she could never ignore her fate.

“I’ll go to the Greybeards,” she said firmly, but seeing Vilkas’ surprised face, she arched an eyebrow. “What?”

“Nothing,” he snorted. “I just can’t imagine you living secluded with a group of old monks.”

“I don’t want to stay there for too long. But they’re probably the only ones who can answer my questions.”

“What questions?

”“Who am I. What am I. A single word like Dragonborn doesn’t really cover it for me.”

Vilkas’ mind raced with all the stories he used to read. He wanted to say something smart and helpful, but he knew Méra wanted to hear something more than his lexical knowledge. And for that, the Greybeards were indeed her best chance.

“You should stay here for a few days. You can’t make the 7,000 steps with that leg.”

Reluctantly Méra agreed.

***

She left the building two days later, wearing her fixed armour. It felt good to finally breathe in some fresh air and feel the warm rays of the sun on her skin. The potions and spells healed her injuries, but days of sitting and lying in bed softened her. She wasn’t used to it; Méra always found something to keep herself busy and on the road.

The courtyard was loud from the Companions; most of them were either training or sitting at the long terrace to take some rest. While Méra walked past them between the tables, she was aware that their voices died down and she could feel eyes on her back. Ignoring them, she leaned her shoulder against a wooden pillar and crossed her arms over her chest. The way they fought, gave instructions and advices to each other reminded Méra of her days with the Brotherhood, and she felt a blunt pain in her chest. She missed belonging somewhere.

After hours of training with Ria, Vilkas decided it was about time to give the girl some rest. They both walked up to the terrace and drank some water, but while Ria collapsed on a chair, Vilkas walked to Méra.

“How do you feel?”

“Better,” Méra replied while the companion emptied another tankard of water. “I’ll leave tomorrow morning.”

Vilkas only gave her a nod in answer. He wiped sweat away from his forehead and avoided looking at her directly.

“Do you need some practice?”

Méra hesitated for a moment, but then she nodded. It had been a week since she last picked up a weapon—a little practice would definitely help before she would leave the city.

She didn’t like the idea of using a practice sword instead of her katana. While she was trained to wield many different weapons, her own, long and thin blade was her favourite.

She chose a light and short practice sword before they stood up across each other on the yard. The rest of the Companions stopped their training to watch them—everyone was curious to see the Dragonborn against one of their own.

The first few strikes were miserable for Méra. Her arm was weak, the weapon strange in her hand, her movements unusually slow. She felt as if it had been months, not days since she last wielded a sword.

With one powerful hit, Vilkas knocked the weapon out of her hand. Cheering and clapping filled the area and while Méra gave Vilkas a deadly stare, he only shrugged with a smug smile.

“Do you need a minute?”

Méra clenched her fists, physically forcing herself to stay calm. She reminded herself of all the lessons she learned about self-preservation. Breathe in. Breathe out. She felt her heartbeat slowly going back to normal.

“Okay,” she said quietly. “I’m ready.”

“You’re unarmed,” Vilkas replied, glancing at the sword that still lay on the ground.

Méra took a step closer. “I’ll take yours.”

He let out a sceptical laugh, but seeing as she calmly put her hands behind her back, the look on her face straight and determined, he knew her words were final. He took it slow and cautious first, but Méra too easily leaned away from his strikes. Vilkas picked up his pace, but as if she could see where he would move even before she lifted the weapon, Méra avoided getting hit.

Her movements were so light, effortless and natural, Vilkas couldn’t decide he should be impressed or angry.

Méra smiled to herself as she saw the half angry, half confused frown over his forehead. He was a good fighter, unbelievably strong, but there was no thought in his strikes. He did everything from intention without giving it a second thought. Of course, during a fight, there’s no chance to think too much.

The edge of the blade brushed against her back as she got behind him, but before Vilkas had a time to turn around, Méra grabbed his wrist with both of her hands and kicked the sensitive spot behind his knee. The well-aimed hit was enough to make him fall to one knee, his grip loosening around the hilt of the sword just enough so Méra could take it out of his hand.

She quickly straightened and while Vilkas got to his feet, she walked to face him.

“You’re unarmed,” Méra mimicked his words form earlier, looking at him as innocent as she could.

Vilkas’ face perfectly mirrored the way he felt. His cerulean eyes were angry, but an almost invisible, tiny smile tugged at the left corner of his lips. After he inhaled deeply and swallowed his pride, he picked the sword up from the ground.

Metal clashed against metal as they both tried to use their strengths against each other. Vilkas’ strikes were quick and strong, Méra’s easy and precise. On one way, they were both deadly. The beast-blood gave Vilkas enhanced strength and stamina, but he knew if it was a real combat, Méra could defeat him.

On the other hand, he was glad they were just after full moon—otherwise he wouldn’t be able to control the rage that constantly tightened his skin. It was very easy to trigger the wolf inside him.

Vilkas wasn’t sure how he landed on the dusty ground. It happened too quickly and when he realized it, he already lay on his back, the edge of Méra’s sword pointing at his throat. He stayed still for a moment, then waved the blade away and stood up.

“Well,” she breathed out, wiping strands of hair that stuck to her sweaty skin out of the way. “Looks like you’re the one who needs practice.”

Vilkas would have loved to say something smart, but at the moment he was too busy having no idea what he should say. He had seen her fight before, but experiencing it on his own skin was entirely different. She was lethal, but only now he realized how much.

While Méra drank some water, Vilkas plopped down next to Kodlak. He didn’t want to hear Aela’s snicker about someone finally beating him up. The Harbinger didn’t waste much time before he spoke,

“What do you know about her? Where did he learn to fight like this?”

Vilkas shook his head. “I don’t know much. She’s very secretive.”

Kodlak gave a quiet hum. “She has exceptional skills.”

“She sure has.” Vilkas tried not to sound too bitter about it, but he couldn’t. Yes, it amazed him too, but he couldn’t help but think there was something very wrong and dark behind this all.

As always, the old man saw through him. “But?”

Vilkas heaved a sigh and gripped the arms of the chair. He didn’t exactly know how to put his concern into words.

“Why are you struggling?”

“Because,” he said quietly, his lips barely moving. “Because I feel there’s something wrong with her. Something… dark. Sometimes it’s so much I could barely stand her gaze,” he added, shivering. “But I also feel I might be really, really wrong.” The wolf inside him gave Vilkas a kind of intuition, about places, situations, and other people. Even though these insights could be misleading, it rarely happened he felt controversial about something. “Does it make sense?”

“I’m sure it does,” Kodlak replied nonchalantly, then fell silent much to Vilkas’ disappointment. He wished he would tell his own opinion about Méra, or just say something smart like he usually did. He looked at Méra who talked with Ria a few tables away, and winked at him when she caught his eyes.

“If it was up to you,” Kodlak spoke up, drawing Vilkas’ gaze back. “Would you let her join us?”

A frown creased his forehead. “You are not considering taking her in, are you?”

Vilkas remembered well a few days ago he offered Méra she should come to them, but neither back then nor now was he sure it would be a good idea.

“Aela and Skjor both spoke very highly of her. What she did during the dragon’s attack was not ordinary. She saved many lives. They would both love to see her with us.”

Vilkas clenched his jaw. When he spoke up, he sounded frustrated. “Doesn’t really matter now, does it? She’ll leave tomorrow to the Greybeards.”

“Ah, the 7,000 steps. Perhaps you should go with her.”

Vilkas was sure the entire Circle heard the way his heart leapt. “Go with her? Why?”

“You need to clear your head, my boy,” Kodlak said, then turned his voice down. “I know you’ve been struggling since we gave up on the transformations. I can do fairly well. Farkas takes it surprisingly great. But you, Vilkas, you suffer a lot. I think you need some time to breathe some fresh air and I can’t imagine a better place for it than High Hrothgar.”

Vilkas stayed silent, his eyes transfixed on Méra. There was a time when he thought if he stopped transforming, it was going to be like giving up on a bad habit. First it would be hard, but easier as time would pass. As the weeks and months went by, he realized it wasn’t getting any better. There were good days and bad days, depending on his mood or the phase of the moon. He lost count of how many things actually influenced him, but anger was the worst of all. Vilkas could hardly hold himself back, which only made him angrier, driving him into a never-ending circle.

Kodlak was right. He should clear his head, but what he didn’t know was the main reason of his frustration was Méra herself. Going with her was a terrible idea.

Méra’s head buzzed from Ria’s constant chirping. She was sure the girl spoke more in fifteen minutes than she did an entire day.

She watched Vilkas. From the distance, she could see he was struggling; squirming in his chair and gripping the wooden armrest. She wished she had his ears so she could hear what they were talking about.

“So…” Ria leaned closer and touched Méra’s arm, making her visibly shivering and not in a good way. It escaped the young girl’s notice, but she pulled back anyway. “What’s going on between you and Vilkas?”

“Nothing,” she replied with a blank face, to which Ria tutted.

“Oh, come on. I’ve never seen him so concerned about anyone. And you can’t take your eyes off him.”

“It doesn’t mean anything,” Méra said sharply, hoping she would finally drop the subject. Of course she didn’t—but while Ria rambled about how adorable Vilkas was around her and how unlike it was for him, Méra spotted the Jarl from the distance. His housecarl walked by his right, two guards following close behind them.

Méra sighed and excused herself from Ria, knowing well he came because of her. Once again that day, the courtyard fell silent.

“I saw you practicing from the palace. You have extraordinary skills. May I ask where you learned all of this?”

Méra didn’t answer. Jarl Balgruuf smiled almost sadly and nodded at his followers to leave, so they had some privacy. Slowly, the yard became louder and louder again.

“Have you thought about what I told you?”

Méra’s features hardened; the anger she felt that night slowly filled her stomach again. She looked over her shoulder to see Vilkas’ eyes were on her. Before she answered his question, she offered him to take a walk so they were surely out of earshot.

“I think I was quite clear.”

“Indeed, you were. I hoped a few good night’s sleep helped to think it through.”

“There’s nothing to think through about this,” she said with more edge in her tone than she intended. Méra had been always proud of how well she could hide her emotions even if she was falling apart on the inside. Right now, she felt as if she had no control over it. “I meant everything what I said. Every word.”

They stopped under the Gildergreen. The blossoming, tiny pink flowers filled the air with a honeyed scent, but the air was cold around them. Jarl Balgruuf cast his eyes down, before he looked at her firmly.

“I feel like you’re under the impression that even if people chose you, you wouldn’t be able to make any difference. I think you are wrong. Yes, Skyrim has been slowly falling into pieces since your parents died, but it doesn’t mean it’s a lost cause. I believe there’s still a chance to turn things around for the better.”

Méra clenched her fists so hard it almost hurt. She felt her cheeks heating up with anger. “And for some reason you think I’d be the right person to fix this? Why don’t you talk to my brother? He’d be more than happy to take the advantage.”

The Jarl shook his head. “Rulers whose only goal is to sit on the throne are never good rulers.”

There was a long pause, and Méra tried to take this time to calm herself down, but she felt her pulse restlessly racing in her throat, her ears ringing. It was a miracle she could keep her voice down.

“Fifteen years ago the Thalmor killed my parents, the king and the queen in bright daylight. No one did anything about it. No one believed a twelve year old girl who just witnessed something so horrendous that it was truly the Thalmor—or maybe no one wanted to. Even my father’s brother who became king after him let the whole thing to be forgotten, and you know why? Because he was too much of a coward to open a war against them.”

“You have to understand it was the best decision he could make. The Thalmor have always had the biggest influence around the Empire. We stood no chance.”

“And now they’re even more powerful than before,” Méra said shakily, gripping the hilt of her dagger. She didn’t want to hurt the Jarl—it was more a force of habit. “Do you believe in fate, Jarl Balgruuf?”

“I do.”

“I do too,” she breathed out. “Fate is the only thing I believe in. You said Skyrim is falling apart and you’re right. Just look around. And at the top of all the damage, now dragons are threatening us. Have you considered that maybe we should let it fall?”

Suddenly, the man in front of her looked endlessly sad. “Considering I am one of those unfortunate who happened to live here, I have not. But it is not myself I am concerned about. Wouldn’t you want to make the world a better place for the ones you love?”

His words cut into her like the sharpest knife. As if there was anyone left I loved.

“You’re trying to be a great leader, Jarl Balgruuf. Searching for the best option for both your people and Skyrim. I understand that. But I am not the person you think I am.”

It seemed as if he finally accepted her answer, though he did not entirely agree. Balgruuf understood there was nothing more he could say to convince the woman.

“How did you know who I am?”

A small smile appeared on his lips. “Has no one ever told you how much you look like your mother?”

Méra’s heart sank to the floor as it always did when someone told her the same, though it didn’t happen much, it never failed to make her feel like she was a child again.

“I also remember you from your uncle’s longhouse,” Balgruuf added. Méra didn’t remember him. Her years in Falkreath seemed never ending while she was there, but all she wanted was to forget those times ever since she ran away.

“Besides, you don’t do much to keep your identity a secret, do you? Your name and your looks tell a lot.”

Involuntarily, Méra huffed in anger. The fury was nearly blinding—it came in waves, and she could feel like she could tear the man in front of her to pieces.

“Méra, you spent most of your life trying to forget what happened. I understand how it feels to lose someone you love, but no matter what you do, you won’t be able to bring them back, just as you won’t be able to erase your past. Maybe it’s time to live with who you really are.”

To hold back a scream that threatened to escape, Méra bit the inside of her cheeks and left the Jarl without a word. She felt rage, red-hot and right under her skin, feeling as if she opened her mouth, she could destroy the entire city with only her voice.

Méra had issues with her temper before. After her parents died and she had no choice but live in Falkreath amongst people who didn’t care about her, she felt alone. Never before did she feel that way. No one believed her, no one really cared about her unless they had their own selfish reason for it—it made her angry, reckless, and dangerously stubborn. As the time passed and she got older, she learned to hold it at bay, but she was sure the way she felt now was something entirely new.

It was overwhelming. She felt she could explode at any second. Almost blindly, she hurried through the city, forgetting about her sword that she left in the basement of Jorrvaskr. Her shaky legs led her through Whiterun in no time. The outskirts of the city were destroyed, but it looked like the entire population worked on it. Dark blood tinged the cobblestones, bones piled up around the edge of the road. The memory of the night when she killed the dragon filled her mind, and she understood the way she felt immediately.

On Shadowmere’s back, she reached the camp she was looking for less than half an hour. A couple days ago, while she stayed at the Bannered Mare, she heard rumours about a group of bandits who had been terrorizing the region for months. They raided small villages, kidnapped women, and killed everyone who stood in their way. With most of the soldiers left to the war, there was no one to take care of them. There were a couple of volunteers, but none of them made it out alive so far.

She slipped off the mare’s back, far enough so no one in the camp would notice her. They built high walls from wood, but not high enough.

Pulling her hood up her head, she made her way closer to the gates. No one guarded them from outside—seemingly they did not expect visitors. After all the failed attempts to defeat them, they probably got used to the victory and let themselves become lazy. Old, fatal mistake.

Méra walked around the camp, staying close to the fence. She heard quiet conversations, clinking of metal, low chuckles. When she found the place that was most silent, she climbed up, peered in, then lowered herself inside the wooden wall.

She quickly crouched down and hid behind two barrels. Two men guarded the gates from inside, another one secured the door that led into the cave; a woman sharpened her sword at the other side, while another sat close to her. With silent steps, Méra left her hiding place.

There was a small wooden building between her and the two guards where she could stop, but when she reached back to pull her katana out of its sheath, she felt as all the air left her lungs.

“Fuck,” she whispered, squeezing her eyes shut. The bubbling anger blinded her so much she forgot about her weapon. She just wanted to leave—to take her rage out on something, and now she was there, unarmed, left alone with her dagger.

Without giving it a second thought, Méra pulled the dagger out of her belt and started towards the men. They were so caught up in their loud conversation they didn’t notice her, back facing her, talking with wild hand gestures. She stopped behind the one closer to her and thrusted the dagger into his temple. The other’s jaw fell open, but before a voice could leave his mouth, Méra slit his throat.

One of them had a bow and a quiver filled with steel tipped arrows. She aimed at the man who guarded the door, and shot an arrow into his head before he could notice her and warn the others.

She knew in the moment his body hit the floor the two women ahad heard it. They quickly fell silent, shouting the man’s name and hurrying closer to examine him. Méra could’ve hide to buy herself some time, but she didn’t. While the other two ran towards her, she dropped the bow and walked towards them with slow steps.

Méra easily leaned away from the dark elf’s strikes, grabbed her wrists and turned it over until she screamed, and stabbed her before the blonde Nord reached her. It wasn’t any harder to cut her down either.

The cave was dirty, stinking, and dimly lit. As Méra made her way through it, bandit after bandit, she felt as the nearly unbearable anger slowly faded into something less. It was concerning, because even though she had no problem with killing for a very long time now, it never felt so satisfying.

She was silent, quick and lethal. She picked up a sword or a bow here and there, but she mostly operated with her bare hands and the dagger her mother gave her to keep herself safe. She didn’t stop and didn’t hesitate—failing didn’t even cross her mind.

Panting, Méra only stopped when the last bandit lay dead at her feet. Blood covered her face, soaked her clothes and dripped from her hands. Through her sharps breaths, she heard a sob. She spun around and held her dagger at the ready, but quickly lowered her weapon.

She opened the door of the small cell, but the women inside barely moved, wide eyed and shaking.

“You can leave. They’re all dead.”

After a moment of hesitation, all five of them left. They were dirty, their clothes ragged, but seemed capable to walk on their own. The last of them choked out a thank you, before she rushed after the others.

Méra wasn’t in a hurry. It was like all the wrath she felt vanished into thin air, like it was never there, and now there was nothing in its place. No remorse, no relief. She walked through the cave with slow steps, up into the fresh air, but sat down outside the camp with her back against the gate.

The sun was going down when Vilkas found her. He walked close, cautiously, leaving his horse behind. His eyes left Méra and he peeked inside the camp, seeing the few dead bodies on the ground. Her face was dark from the dried blood.

“Did you do this? All by yourself?”

She fought herself up on her feet, suddenly feeling drained. A creek flowed ahead of them, and Méra walked there without looking at Vilkas.

He stood behind her silently, watching as she washed the blood off her hands and face. Did Jarl Balgruuf gave her a job? No, she wouldn’t have taken it, and she wouldn’t have left without her sword. Something happened that upset her, something that drove her here.

“Méra. What happened?”

She looked back over her shoulder, still kneeling on the ground. She saw nothing but concern on his face. “How did you know I was here?”

“I was out at the stables looking for you when a few women reached the city. They looked terrible so I stopped them to ask what happened. They told me bandits kidnapped them and now, a woman slayed all of them. Alone. And that she saved them.”

Méra slowly stood up, and the expression on her face almost frightened Vilkas. The playful smile he saw when he practiced with her was long gone. Her eyes were so empty, almost lifeless. It mirrored well how she felt.

“Méra,” he called her name again and put his hands on her arms. She didn’t feel the urge to shake him off. “What’s going on? You seemed to be fine earlier.”

She licked her lips and found his gaze, and it seemed as life slowly filled her eyes again, but there was no happiness. “Whatever is this… I don’t…” She stumbled over her own words, something Vilkas never heard before. “When I… absorbed the dragon’s soul. I felt… I didn’t just feel angry. It was raw, uncontrolled rage. And power. So much power. I have never felt anything like that before. It vanished as quickly as it came. But then today… What Jarl Balgruuf said stirred something inside me and it came back. It didn’t go away.”

Raw, uncontrolled rage that didn’t want to go away—it sounded very familiar to Vilkas. “So you decided to go on a rampage?”

His voice wasn’t scolding or disapproving at all, but his words were enough to annoy Méra. She groaned and turned away, folding her arms over her chest. “And here we go.”

“No, wait,” Vilkas walked over so he could face her again. “I know what it feels like.”

“No, you don’t,” Méra snapped, but only a second later, it clicked to her. She lowered her voice. “Oh. Well. You can always just let the beast out.”

“I don’t do that anymore.”

She furrowed her brow. “Why not?”

This time, Vilkas avoided her gaze.

“You stopped transforming?”

He gave one, stiff nod.

“So you just bottle your anger up?”

“No, I don’t. I’ve been trying to control it so I can just let it go.”

“You’re an idiot.”

Vilkas snapped his head up. “You know, I’m trying to help you here.”

“Do both of us a favour and don’t,” she said firmly, but despite of her tone, her eyes glistened. Vilkas realized this was the closest to see her vulnerable. “Do you think just because it turned out I am Dragonborn, I’ll suddenly change and become some kind of hero? I didn’t kill those bandits because I wanted to save those women. I killed them because I was angry,” she took a step backward, biting down hard on her lip. “This is who I am. I’m not going to change for you or for anyone else.”

“Not even for yourself?”

“Oh, Gods,” Méra let out an annoyed sigh, turning away from him again with closed eyes. She heard Vilkas’ footsteps, before he spoke to her again.

“You could’ve ran away that day and save your own skin when the dragon attacked, but you didn’t. You led people to safety and risked your own life to kill the beast. You could’ve killed anyone today to help on your anger. Someone in Whiterun? The men at the stables? Farm boys on your way?”

Slowly, Méra opened her eyes. A small frown creased her brow, her heartbeat steady and slow, and Vilkas couldn’t decide if she was angry or confused.

“There’s a lot going on with you and you’re really far from a godsend hero, but you’re not as selfish as you make other people think you are.”

She didn’t say anything for long; so long Vilkas thought she’ll just stand there and stare at him. When she spoke, her voice sounded broken. “You’re wrong.”

He knew he wasn’t, but he didn’t push her further. “You need to work it out how to control your anger.”

“Yeah. Let’s hope the Greybeards have an answer for that.”

Vilkas nodded. “Speaking of which… I’ll go with you.”

“Excuse me?”

“Well, as you know, I have my own problems with self-control. Kodlak thinks some time off could help.”

Méra swallowed hard, eyes darting between his. She should not let him go with her. An ominous shiver ran up her spine, something she couldn’t quite explain. And yet, the thought of having him there was too tempting.

“As long as you won’t get in my way…”

Vilkas raised his eyebrows and peeked into the camp again. “Yeah, that wouldn’t be smart.”

 

Chapter Text

4 years ago

After they got their hands on the Elder Scroll that Serana’s mother hid in the Soul Cairn, Méra thought finding another one shouldn’t be a problem. How wrong she was.

For three weeks, they had been running around Skyrim and followed mere rumours, hitting dead ends after dead ends. No one seemed to know what Elder Scrolls were, or if they did, they had no idea where they could be.

Meanwhile, Lord Harkon’s men kept chasing them across the country. They didn’t mind—at least it meant they hadn’t found anything either. For the lack of a better option, the two of them went back to Winterhold. During their previous visit, the librarian ended their conversation quite quickly for “talking nonsense”, as he said. It took them a lot of bribing and sweet talking, but in the end, they managed to pull one name out of the old Orc: Septimus Signus.

There was only one problem: no one had seen the mage in decades. They could only hope he was still alive, because at the moment, he seemed to be their only hope to find the Elder Scroll that held the dragon’s secret.

Days went by quickly while they were looking for the man. While Serana looked happy she could visit more places in Skyrim after she had been locked away for so long, Méra started to lose her patience. She couldn’t help but feel they were running out of time, not to mention she completely forgot to report back to Astrid as she promised. She knew she won’t be glad, but she couldn’t waste time, and sending a letter was too dangerous.

After asking around in Winterhold and Windhelm with no success, Méra suggested they should visit Riften. If there was anyone who could find a lost man, it was the Thieves Guild; thankfully, the Dark Brotherhood had a close relationship with them.

Serana kept training Méra every day when they could spare some time. It was always mesmerizing to see the vampire in fight and Méra longed to learn all those things, but she started to think it was impossible. Acquiring new skills rarely caused difficulties to her, but the Akaviri martial arts were too much. Every time she felt she could defeat her, Serana easily twisted her wrist, kicked her feet from under her, or hooked her legs around her neck and dragged her to the ground.

“Okay, stop,” Méra panted with one hand on her knee, trying to catch her breath. They set a camp somewhere in the Rift before nightfall, but the sun sunk dangerously low now and she couldn’t see much in the shadows of the mountains. “Listen, I’m thankful you want to teach me all of this. I really am. But it’s a hopeless case.”

Serana walked closer to help Méra up. “What did you think? That you can learn this overnight?”

“No,” Méra huffed and waved her hand away, fighting herself up on her feet. “It isn’t fair, you know? It’s almost dark. Unlike you, I can’t see in the dark. Besides, you’re stronger, and faster. It’s physically impossible—“

“These things absolutely don’t matter. Just give yourself some time. If you listen to me and take my advices, you can defeat anyone. Enhanced or not. Bright daylight or darkest night.”

“Even you?”

“Anyone except me,” Serana said, making Méra smile. The two of them grew very close lately; closer than Méra thought she could with someone who wasn’t a part of the Dark Brotherhood. She had been trying to keep her distance, but often she caught herself telling her about herself, sharing moments of her past with Serana that no one heard before. It was a great comfort that Serana trusted her blindly, too, even though she didn’t exactly understand why.

“Besides, it must be really hard to fight with such long hair,” Serana pointed out, watching as Méra brushed the loose strands out of her face. “It’s for princesses, not warriors.”

Méra smiled and gave her a small glance from under her lashes. By now, she had told her pretty much everything about her past, including that she grew up in the Blue Palace. “You’re right,” she said with a sigh. Serana gladly volunteered to cut her hair off with her sharpest knife. When she finished, Méra’s dark red locks barely brushed her shoulders. She felt a sting of bittersweet relief, like she cut off a piece of her past.

“How did you become a vampire?” Méra asked all of sudden while they sat by the crackling fire. “I mean, I know the usual process, but you’re pure blooded. What does it mean?”

Serana closed her eyes and let out a slow breath. Unlike Méra, she could never hid her feelings. “Do you know the origin of vampirism?”

“From a Daedric lord, I would guess.” Méra remembered reading something, a very long time ago.

“Exactly. The first vampire came from Molag Bal. She was—well, she was not a willing subject, but she was still the first. Molag Bal is a powerful Daedric lord, and his will is made reality. For those willing to subjugate themselves, he will bestow the gift, but they must be powerful in their own right before earning his trust.”

Méra nodded, though she didn’t really get an answer for her question. “How did you actually become a vampire, then?”

Serana squirmed and looked straight ahead. Seeing how uncomfortable she felt, Méra wanted to apologize and stop her, but she started to speak before she could say anything. “The ceremony was… degrading. We all took part in it. Not really a wholesome family activity, but I guess it’s something you do when you give yourself to a Daedric lord.”

“And… your parents just let you to go through all of this?!” Méra felt as her pulse raced in her throat; her mind clouded. She always knew Harkon was a cruel man, but she though Valerica was somewhat better.

“Like I said, my parents were blinded with power. Well… my father still is.”

Méra bit her lip so hard blood spilled into her mouth. Serana felt the smell, but she didn’t say anything. While it all happened a really long time ago, she appreciated someone worried about her that much. It had been forever since she last had a friend—if she ever had any.

After long minutes, Méra broke the silence. “Have you ever thought about curing yourself?”

Serana’s red eyes found hers. She hesitated. “I—no, not really. I know what you think. Becoming a vampire took many things from me, but it gave a lot, too. We never were a normal family, Méra. My parents and I used to worship daedra even before we had any business with Molag Bal.” She paused for so long Méra thought she fell asleep. “Do you know what it feels like to live like this? Centuries without an end. It is tiring, yes, something I’m just so exhausted, but I wouldn’t exchange this for anything else. I went through too many things to just throw this away from me.”

Now

The sun was barely above the horizon when Méra and Vilkas left Whiterun, but they only made half of the journey by twilight. They could’ve chosen a shorter way through the mountain, but it was safer to stay on the road. Besides, they weren’t in a hurry.

Even though no one voiced it, Vilkas knew the Companions weren’t happy about his leaving. Skjor and Aela gave him confused glances and Farkas asked him if he was sure it was a good idea, but after he told them Kodlak brought it up in the first place, it settled them a little. Vilkas didn’t blame them; in fact, if it was the other way around, if one of them left the Companions for something that had nothing to do with their business, he would have been really pissed.

They set up a small camp in the woods for the night. This part of Whiterun Hold wasn’t entirely safe; many beasts lurked around, but the nearest inn was in Ivarstead. A small pack of wolves approached them just after they placed down their bedrolls. Méra reached for her sword, but a firm glance from Vilkas was enough to make them turn around and leave.

Méra lowered her arms and watched Vilkas, but he didn’t look at her. She wondered more and more often why he refused to use his abilities, but it seemed to be a very sensitive topic for him. They sat by the fire in complete silence for a while, just as they passed most of the road that day. It wasn’t actually uncomfortable; neither of them were big talkers, but deep down, it bothered them both. There were too many things left unsaid, too many questions they wanted to ask.

It was a clear, quiet night. A million stars twinkled in the sky, the air fresh and cool, filled with the thick, sweet scent of moonflowers. Méra slipped closer to the fire, staring absentmindedly into the flames while she drank some wine.

Vilkas didn’t realize he was staring until his gaze moved from her face to her neck, exposed as she loosened the leather. He felt anger tightening his chest, his heart drumming in his ears when his eyes fell on the two tiny scars that looked very similar to a bonding mark that werewolves left on their mate. He couldn’t stop his hand as it slowly made its way towards her, his fingers wrapping around the back of her neck while he brushed his thumb over the scars. The overwhelming urge to bite her washed over Vilkas like wildfire, but then he noticed it wasn’t left by a werewolf, and it helped him to settle down.

Méra froze—not out of fear but surprise as she felt his warm hand on her cold skin. Among werewolves, the neck area is much more attached to sexual intimacy than among humans; though Méra didn’t have the beast blood, she was very well aware of the significance of it. A shiver ran down her spine but she didn’t move, until she realized what caught his attention.

She almost couldn’t hold back a smirk so she bit into the inside of her cheek, turning slowly to him. She learned many things about werewolves while she lived with the Dark Brotherhood. Even though Arnbjorn wasn’t very talkative about it, Astrid was never shy to share snippets about their relationship. There was a time when Méra thought werebeasts choose their partners based solely on their animal instincts, but it wasn’t the truth. They have only one true mate and doesn’t push physical intimacy as fast as humans do; they want to know their partner better. Their psyche is built on the combination of human and wolfish instincts. A long forged bond, much rather than love at first sight as tales used to say.

But no matter how gentle their love is, marking their territory is usually an important part of their relationship. It depends on how strong and dominant their wolf is, but even then, their partner has to consent to being bonded—otherwise it’s just a painful and ugly scratch or bite.

Astrid loved her husband, but she never let him mark her; she found it degrading, ridiculous and childish, as she always said.

Vilkas pulled his hand back quickly, as if he just realized what he was doing. He cleared his throat and fiddled with the waterskin on the ground. “What happened there?”

“A very violent vampire happened there.”

“I thought these kind of scars heal if you take a potion.”

“The thing is, I didn’t.” The way Vilkas’ eyes widened with both shock and bewilderment was amusing. “By the time I returned home and took the potion, it was too late. I had no other choice but turn into a vampire.”

“But you… you aren’t…” Vilkas was confused. Even if she found a way to hide her red eyes, her smell would betray her. Vampires had a very cold, musky scent, almost as if they had just walked out of their grave. Werewolves deeply hated that smell.

“No, I’m not. A mage cured me.”

“I didn’t know there was a cure for vampirism,” Vilkas said quietly. “Must have been hard to find it.”

Méra shrugged. “I’d have done anything to find it. Being a vampire had some perks but for me, I don’t know, it just blunted me. The blood hunger was the worst of all, like it never really stopped. And I couldn’t go outside during the day. I love the sun too much for that.”

Vilkas’ lips curved into a tiny smile, but it was weak and forced. He went silent, his gaze distant and cloudy.

“Why did you give up on the transformations?”

Méra’s voice shook Vilkas out of his deep thoughts. So there was a cure for vampirism. Why did no one know about it? He figured it involved dark magic, and he decided he didn’t want to know the process. He leaned back against the nearest tree with a sigh, staring into the distance for a long minute before he spoke up. “As long as I can remember I just wanted to do what was right. It was all given. The Companions raised me and I officially joined them when I was still young. Becoming a werewolf… it’s a part of the Circle. People who had the blood and thought at it as a blessing raised me, so when it came to it, I accepted it without hesitation.” Vilkas paused and shook his head lightly, eyes everywhere but on Méra. “It isn’t what I thought it was. It’s cruel and violent and very overwhelming. People come to us telling werewolves killed their relatives and all I can think of… what if it was me.”

“Would you cure yourself?”

A frown creased his brow. “Kodlak has been searching for the cure for years, but he hadn’t found anything.”

“But if he did,” Méra pushed. “Would you use it?”

Vilkas hesitated, and it was more than enough for Méra. “Oh, look at you,” she smiled, sitting closer so her shoulder brushed against his. “You all talk about how much you hate to be a werewolf and you still wouldn’t give up on it.”

“It isn’t that easy,” he snapped, finally looking at her. “It’s been a part of me for too long now. I don’t know… I don’t know who I would be without it.”

“My father always said if you can’t change something, accept it.”

“Yeah, I wish it was that easy.”

Méra studied his face. She understood now why it was such a struggle to him and why he avoided talking about his condition. It reminded her of Serana. Despite of every horrible thing she went through, despite vampirism ruining her family and most of her life, Serana learnt to embrace it and make the best of it.

She bowed her head and gave a small smile, before looked up at him. “I think you shouldn’t give up on it.”

Vilkas lifted his head. “What?”

“Yesterday you told me you have your own issues with self-control. You also told me you stopped transforming. I thought about this a lot,” Méra said, taking a sip of her wine. Last night while she couldn’t sleep it seemed to be easier to think of other problems than her own. “This all means a lot of anger and frustration, and I couldn’t understand, because mostly you seem calm. But then I realized. You don’t. It was one of the first things I noticed when I saw you inside that little hunters’ rest: that you always look like you have a lot of repressed anger. You’re not relaxed at all and you can’t let it go. You just bottle everything up and let it consume you.”

Vilkas looked away and clenched his jaw. Besides Kodlak, no one ever had read him the way Méra did, not even his own brother.

“You can’t give up on the transformations, but you have no choice during full moon,” Méra went on. “And then you just let it all out. All the rage and frustration and gods know what kind of feelings you keep repressing. Don’t be surprised if you don’t even remember what you have done.”

Vilkas shook his head in disbelief. Since he started to dislike the wolf in him, no one told him he should try to accept it (except Aela and Skjor, but their love for the beast blood was bigger than he had ever seen with anyone). “So you say I should just live with it.”

“Yes,” Méra shrugged. “If you turn more frequently, you could control it better. And your anger, too. And you wouldn’t want to bite my head off.”

Vilkas squirmed, but he tried to hide his embarrassment with an eye roll. “I didn’t want to bite your head off.”

“But you thought it was a bonding mark, didn’t you?”

“I did alright, I was just curious.”

“Sure you were.”

He huffed a frustrated breath and shifted away so his shoulder wasn’t touching hers anymore. “How do you know so much about werewolves anyway?”

“I told you I have a friend,” Méra said, then quickly corrected herself, “Had.”

While Vilkas noticed it, he decided to not comment on it. “How did you figure out I was a werewolf?”

Remembering back that day in the woods when they saved her filled Méra’s heart with pain. She swallowed back a lump that formed in her throat and waited until she was sure her voice was strong enough. “I overheard you talking to your brother. You said something like you heard when my heart stopped beating. I knew about the little secret of the Circle, so it wasn’t hard to put it together.”

“You really were dead,” Vilkas said. His question was answered, but as Méra reminded him of that night all other things were pushed out of his mind. It wasn’t rare when he heard peoples heart skipped a beat or two, but Méra’s heart stopped beating for long minutes. No one should be able to come back from that without any harm. “How is that possible?”

“It wasn’t the first time,” she shrugged. “The vampire’s venom killed me too. It was… dark, you know? I’ve never seen anything like that. It was endless. And I heard a voice. It said something in a language I couldn’t understand, then I was back.”

Vilkas fell silent. Frankly, it frightened him. It was so unnatural, something he couldn’t wrap his fingers around. He knew she wasn’t lying: her heartbeat was steady and slow, but the look on her face gave it away that it scared her too.

“Get some sleep. I’ll take the first watch.”

He didn’t need to tell her twice. Méra couldn’t sleep much the previous night, barely an hour or two. She lay down and closed her eyes, but the fire long went out when she finally dozed off.

 

Chapter Text

They reached Ivarstead by the end of the following day. It was a tiny village with one small inn, always quiet and peaceful. They never had many visitors; the only ones who passed through were those who wanted to climb the Seven Thousand Steps.

On the night when Méra and Vilkas walked into Vilemyr Inn, the place was loud and filled with people. They exchanged a small glance before they headed to the bar, silently waiting in the long line. Seeing so many travelers, it wouldn’t have surprised them if the innkeeper said they have no free rooms left, but he could give them one last key.

“Let me guess,” he said indifferently after they ordered some drinks and food. “You’re a Dragonborn too.”

The question was aimed at Vilkas, but it was Méra who spoke up, keeping her face straight. “Excuse me?”

“In the past few days I’ve met more “Dragonborn” I could count. Seems like everyone takes their chances. Even my idiot cousin wants to go up there. He thinks the Greybeards called him ,” he rolled his eyes. “Nonsense. We all heard them.”

Méra turned to Vilkas and kept her voice down, so only he could hear her. She crossed her arms over her chest; suddenly, she felt like she was making a fool of herself. “This is ridiculous.”

“You don’t want to leave now, do you? The Greybeards will know you’re the real deal.”

Méra didn’t say anything. If she wanted to be honest, she still had her doubts about this—because what if she wasn’t Dragonborn? Maybe it was just a misunderstanding. Deep down, she hoped it was. How would the Greybeards make her prove it? Surely they didn’t have a dragon up there to kill so she could absorb its soul.

The loud noises of the inn and her own thoughts made her head ache in the blink of an eye. The innkeeper was pouring wine into two goblets when she turned back, but she grabbed the bottle from his hand. “Leave it. Thanks.”

They found an empty table in the corner where they could eat dinner, though neither of them had much appetite. While Méra started to feel this whole trip to High Hrothgar was pointless, Vilkas had his own reasons to drink away his problems. He couldn’t stop thinking about the conversation from the previous night.

First, his mind was full of what Méra said about his condition. While it was the easiest way, giving in didn’t cross his mind ever since he decided to give up on his transformations. Vilkas thought if he couldn’t take control over his wolf it would be the prominent sign of being weak, but most importantly, he didn’t want to disappoint Farkas.

For long months, he didn’t understand how his brother took it so well. He looked untroubled, like nothing changed at all. But while Vilkas always had been fierce and strong willed, his brother fell on the other side. He was a little lost and undecided all the time, mostly because he always tried to follow his heart instead of using his head. He realized Farkas only took this abstinence so easily because Vilkas showed himself strong.

Vilkas felt like a fraud. His brother put all of his faith in him, but he had been fighting an internal battle with himself for over a year. The right decision was to give up on the beast blood, but his wolf constantly tried to take control over him. He always pushed those urges away, somewhere deep, until last night when Méra put the bee in his bonnet. He knew that from now on, it would be harder to hold himself back.

Another thing that didn’t let him rest was the fact that Méra actually died. Twice. The thought made his skin crawl and he couldn’t stop thinking about it—how was that even possible? Vilkas’ first instinct was it had something to do with her being Dragonborn, but he couldn’t find an explanation. Considering that she came back from the dead, knowing she used to be a vampire for a while seemed like nothing.

Their mood had eased throughout the evening. The alcohol broke down a few barriers between them and they talked through the night. Vilkas told her a lot about his friends and their adventures. Méra, even though the wine slowly destroyed her filters, was careful not to mention anything about the Dark Brotherhood or that she was from a royal family. It should have been harder, but she got used to keeping secrets by now so it actually went easily, naturally even. In her drunken haze, she caught herself wishing she could speak with him openly about everything.

The main hall of the inn started to get quieter and Méra was a little sleepier when they decided to call it a night. Their room was at the end of a dark corridor; only a small oil lamp gave some light a few doors away. While Vilkas leaned against the wall, Méra tried to open the lock. Even if she could see anything, it would have been a miracle if she managed to put the key into the small hole. She felt dizzy; the hallway was spinning.

“Let me do it.”

“Shh. I got this,” Méra nearly shouted while she repeatedly missed the keyhole.

“You know I can see in the dark, right? Though I have to tell you it’s pretty amusing watching you like this.”

“You know you’re sleeping on the floor tonight, right?”

“Just let me put it in.”

Méra gasped and placed her hand over her heart. “Gods! At least buy me some dinner first or something.”

Vilkas ran his palm down his face; a smile still lingering on his lips. “I didn’t mean—you know what, never mind.”

Méra laughed. It spread warmth in Vilkas’ chest. He could count on one hand how many times he heard her laugh, and he wished he could lure the bright sound out of her more often. Her features were always inscrutable but she looked so beautiful like this: her cold eyes softened, her cheeks flushed, and her whole face lighted up with a smile.

When she finally opened the lock and nearly fell through the doorstep, Méra’s smile disappeared. There was a small bed pushed up to the wall, a table with no chairs, a tiny window left open, and no fireplace.

“Yeah, you’re definitely sleeping on the floor,” Méra said as she walked inside. The moon gave enough light so she could see well in the room.

Vilkas sighed. “Seriously?”

“If you were a gentleman, this wouldn’t even be a question.”

“Do I look like a gentleman to you?”

Méra laughed again and had to lean against the wall so she wouldn’t stumble over her own feet. She put her weapons down on the table, took her fingerless gloves off, but the laces of her boots meant too much trouble. She groaned and fell on the bed, deciding she was too drunk to care, but a few moments later she felt as Vilkas pulled them off of her.

“Thank you, kind sir,” she said, keeping her eyes closed and using her hands as her pillow. “As a token of my gratitude, I let you sleep in the bed.”

“Why thank you, my lady.” Méra heard shuffling and clinking and a minute later, Vilkas squeezed himself next to her. Their bodies weren’t touching, but he was close enough so she could feel his breath on her face.

She opened her eyes, but the room started to spin around and she shut them back again, her hand pressed to her forehead.

“Tell me you’re not going to throw up on me.”

“I can’t promise anything,” she said jokingly. Méra opened her eyes again, focusing on Vilkas’ dark blue gaze while she tried to slow the world down around her. As she took deep breaths, the throbbing and the dizziness eased, but her pulse kicked up a notch. Her fingertips tingle to reach out for him and she brought her hand up, pressing her palm to his cheek. The coolness of her skin helped nothing on how heated Vilkas felt under her touch. She watched his lips and scratched her fingers through his beard.

She made every hair on his body stand up with the small gesture, and Vilkas wondered whether she would react the same if he touched her. The thought was intoxicating. His heart drummed so loudly in his ears he almost couldn’t hear her voice.

“You’re so handsome.”

His lips twitched into a smile. “And you realized this now? In a dark room?”

Méra gave an annoyed huff. Her hand fell off his face and she pulled the blanket up to her chin. “Yes. The dim light helps a lot. The shadows hide your deformities very well.”

Vilkas hummed. “Sorry you have to sleep with such a cave troll.”

“Don’t insult trolls,” Méra said while she rolled on her other side. A few minutes went by silently, and she only spoke up again when she was on the edge of falling asleep. “You know, it’s a very cold room. And you’re so warm.”

Another time, Vilkas would have ignored her, but after he felt how cold she was, he knew she would just shiver through the night. He shifted closer, but hesitated when he felt how much tension she held in her body.

Even the alcohol couldn’t help Méra to get rid of the tightness in her muscles. Sometimes it did, sometimes it just made everything worse. Vilkas’ body temperature was higher than human’s. Méra could feel the warmth radiating off of him like he had a high fever. She leaned back into him, her back pressed tightly against his chest. It had been so long since someone held her so gently; she couldn’t even remember the last time someone hugged her. A dull ache she didn’t even know of slowly left her body, and Vilkas felt her relaxing against him. For a change, they both slept well.

***

Méra jolted awake late on the next morning with a rush of adrenalin. The unfamiliar feeling of sleeping in someone’s embrace sent her pulse rushing, and for a sole second she had no idea whose body was curled behind hers. She pushed the arm that was wrapped around her stomach off herself and sat up, resting her back against the wall.

Vilkas shifted and tried to rub the sleep out of his eyes. The bright light hurt them so he shut them again, groaning from the throbbing pain in his head. Through the loud buzzing in his brain, he could hear Méra’s fast heartbeat. “Are you okay?”

“Shit, no. My head,” Méra replied, messaging her temples. She slowly calmed down, but the hangover was nearly unbearable.

Vilkas couldn’t agree more. His own head felt like it could crack open at the smallest noise. How much did they actually drink? He couldn’t tell for sure. “I don’t remember much,” he rasped out, resting his weight on his elbows. “Did we have sex last night?”

Méra tilted her head with a smile. “You’d remember that.”

Vilkas stifled a smile and licked his lips, before he took a deep breath and stood up. “We should go soon.”

With a groan, Méra slipped back under the blanket. “Give me five more minutes and we can leave.”

It took long hours until they felt good enough to finally leave the inn. The fresh, chilly air helped a lot to clear their heads. Climbing up the Seven Thousand Steps wasn’t as exhausting as they thought it would be. Of course, it was tiring, but there was something inexplicably peaceful about walking those steps. Méra wasn’t sure if it was just her, but it spread something calm, yet incredibly strong through her whole body, like this place had its own power.

They moved slowly, stopped at the wayshrines to read them, and even talked with the pilgrims on the road.

Nonetheless, she was glad when they finally reached the fort. The snow and the wind were both incredibly strong up there; stronger and colder than in Winterhold. Méra could feel it in her bones and was sure she would need a day to get warm again.

The moment the heavy door closed shut behind them, everything fell eerie silent. She could no longer hear the whistling wind, only Vilkas’ and her own quiet footsteps that echoed in the large main hall. They halted in the middle when a man in grey robes stepped out of the shadows.

Arngeir knew. Many who claimed they have the gift visited High Hrothgar in the past few days, but the priest dismissed most of them without even giving them a chance to prove themselves. The power that resonated from the woman who stood in front of him was unmistakable. He had never felt anything like that before.

“So… a Dragonborn appears, at this moment in the turning of the age,” Arngeir said as he crossed the long room. Another three of the Greybeards walked into the hall, their faces hidden behind their hood. “I am Master Arngeir. I speak for the Greybeards.”

While Vilkas stayed behind, Méra took a few steps closer. Arngeir’s voice was kind and peaceful, but his face was almost unnervingly strict. “I’m Méra.”

“Strike us with the power of your Voice,” Arngeir nodded. “Let us see if you truly have the gift.”

Méra shifted her weight from one leg to another. “I’m not sure what you’re asking from me.”

The priest hesitated, but then took a step closer. He believed Méra truly had the Dragon Blood, but she lacked knowledge. It wasn’t necessarily a problem, if she was ready and willing to learn.

“Dragons have always been able to Shout,” Arngeir started with his quiet, pleasant voice. “Language is intrinsic to their very being. Shouting comes as naturally to a dragon as breathing, or speaking. For most people, long years of training are required to learn even the simplest Shout. But for you, if you truly are Dragonborn, the dragon speech is in your blood, and you learn it almost without effort.”

It was the most circumstantial answer Méra had ever heard, but it explained a lot. For now, she only cared about one thing: she needed to Shout to prove herself. Shit, I’d rather take the dragon, she thought to herself. She knew what she needed to do, but she had no idea how.

Méra took a deep breath. She came so far—she won’t give up so easily. There wasn’t much she knew about the shouts, but since she learned she was Dragonborn, she figured out some things by herself. Now she understood why she heard whisperings from those ancient walls, but when she repeated the words out loud, they came out like any other word.

She repeated them in her head now, all the words she read off the walls. Krii, Lun, Aus, Zii, Yol, Fus. They were so clear now, clearer than before. Méra chose Fus, as she felt it the closest to her, and let it wash over her. She tried to recall the feeling that nearly consumed her when she absorbed the dragon’s soul, and put all that rage and power into the one little word. When she opened her mouth, the Shout sounded like a thunder, and while for a moment she felt it was a part of her, it disappeared and only left a very calm satisfaction in its place.

Fus made Arngeir flinch back, another priest close behind him stumble over his feet, and a long vase overturned and crashed into pieces. It didn’t seem to bother Arngeir—in fact, his small, blue eyes lit up with excitement. This Shout wasn’t like his or anyone else’s he heard before.

“Dragonborn. It is truly you. I am sure you have many questions.” He said, stepping closer again. However, his smile fell when he spotted the hilt of the Blades Sword behind her shoulder. It took every ounce of self-control to hold himself back and not throw his believes out of the window. Whoever this woman was, she was Dragonborn, and that was the most important.

“I have. I—“

“Let me show you around High Hrothgar,” he cut her off. “I am sure you and your companion would like to rest awhile after your exhausting trip.”

Her curiosity was stronger than that, but Méra had the feeling she couldn’t get much out of the old man once he made up his mind. She gave a nod and stepped next to him, while Vilkas followed him close behind.

The fort was enormous. Méra lost count of how many doors they walked past and how many rooms they visited, and she wondered if there were only the four of them in the huge building. Nevertheless, she found the place beautiful. The dark stones didn’t give off a cold atmosphere like she expected to. Light shined in from outside through the long, colorful stained glass windows. Pipes ran along the hallways and rooms, and when Méra touched them, they were hot. They had hearths too, and the fire in them looked brighter and stronger. It made Méra wonder if the Greybeards were able to breathe fire like dragons.

The library was nothing she had ever seen. The fourth floor’s high room was packed with shelves and stuffed with books. Méra knew one lifetime wouldn’t be enough to read them all, but judging from the audible gasp that left Vilkas’ mouth when they stepped in, he would definitely try it.

Arngeir showed them their room – separated and far away from each other – before he let them rest. He promised Méra the next day they would start to learn, and he would answer her questions.

After all, Méra didn’t mind it. She had a lot to process, to mull over, and she didn’t feel herself strong enough to Shout again. She went to bed early that night, and when she fell asleep, she dreamt about dragons.

 

Chapter Text

When Méra woke up many hours later, it was still dark outside. High Hrothgar was eerie silent, almost disturbingly so. Knowing she couldn’t fall back to sleep, she left her chamber to take a walk around the fort. The thought of checking in on Vilkas crossed her mind, since they couldn’t talk last night, but Méra stopped in front of the bathhouse and decided to go in there instead.

The room had the same stained glass windows like they had in the corridors. During the day it must have been bright and clear, but with only Masser’s red light shining through the colourful glass, it gave a dim light to the bathhouse. Steam rose from the tubs up to the ceiling in white gusts. Méra stripped off her clothes and dipped her toes into the water; it was almost scalding hot. She wondered how they kept it so warm all the time.

After she enjoyed a relaxing bath, she headed back to her room. Instead of her armour, she dressed in a simple, sky blue robe she found in the wardrobe. It was very comfortable and smelled fresh, but felt strange to wear it. Her hair dried fast as she sat by the hearth, but the tips of her locks were still damp when she decided to leave. There was a door on the ground floor that led out to the backyard. Arngeir didn’t show it to them yesterday, but it wasn’t locked, so she simply walked out.

As the snowstorm stopped, the mountain was just as quiet as the building inside. It was astonishing how silent the world was from up here. Across the courtyard on Méra’s left, some kind of gate stood, built from stone and iron. Fresh snow crunched loudly under her boots as she made her way there, examining the iron gate at the end of a wide path. It looked ancient, but not abandoned.

She leaned her back against a pillar and watched the sunrise from there. It was breathtaking to see it from so high as the sun slowly came up, colouring the entire horizon in all shades of rose and gold. When she turned around to go back to the building, she realized there was another gate at the other end of the backyard. It was higher and made only of stone. Many steps led up there, but what caught Méra’s attention was the raging snowstorm behind the columns. Where she stood, there was no wind.

With a frown, she made a step to walk there, but the door of the fort opened before she could have made another one.

“Dragonborn,” Arngeir called calmly. “Come inside, please. It is time to start your lessons.”

After a last glance at the mysterious gate, Méra followed the priest. He led her into a huge room with a long, oval table. Arngeir sat down in one of the empty stone chairs, and motioned Méra to take a seat across from him.

“I thought we’ll start my lessons.”

“We will,” he said while she sat down. “But I promised I will answer your questions. However… I have to ask something of you first.”

Méra remained silent, and waited until he asked his question.

“What relations do you have with the Blades?”

“The Blades?”

“Your sword,” Arngeir answered patiently. “It is a Blades Sword.”

A sigh left her lips as the memory of the night when the “innkeeper” attacked her filled her mind. So the priest recognized her katana, just like that woman did.

“I have no relations with them. The sword was my father’s, and I can assure you, he was not a Blade.”

Arngeir leaned back against the cold chair and mulled over her words. He found it suspicious that she had a Blades Sword, but she seemed honest. “Have you met them?”

“I have. She poisoned me and tied me to a chair,” Méra replied nonchalantly. She didn’t see a point of lying or keeping it as a secret. “She didn’t know I was Dragonborn; I didn’t know it either. She was just interested how I got my hands on my sword.”

“How typical,” Arngeir said with clear disdain in his voice. “The Blades’ reckless arrogance knows no bounds, never had. They have always sought to turn the Dragonborn from the path of wisdom. They will surely try to approach you again. I advise you to stay away from them.”

“I don’t think I have to be afraid of that. There’s only one woman left of them.”

Arngeir sighed. “Dragons are coming back. If this is not the reason for the Blades to finish what they started, or at least try it, nothing is.”

“To finish what they started?”

“The Blades are dragon slayers,” Arngeir explained, as it became clear to him now the Dragonborn didn’t know much about them. “Bloodthirsty barbarians.”

Méra furrowed her brows. “Isn’t that my job, too? To kill dragons?”

“Do you think it is?”

“I--to be honest, I’m not sure what my purpose is. When a dragon attacked Whiterun, I killed it.”

The priest paused for long seconds. He had the same thoughts about Méra again: she lacked knowledge but she was willing to learn. “Dragons are part of the natural order of the world. The Blades thought to change the order to suit themselves, by wiping out the dragons. But again, we see that the natural order will be restored, one way or another. Perhaps we would have dragon allies against Alduin if the ancient Blades had not acted so arrogantly.”

What Arngeir said left more questions than answers. If the Dragonbon’s destiny wasn’t destroying dragons, then what was? She wanted to ask about Alduin, because only now it dawned on her that she might had already met the World Eater. She remembered how much bigger the dragon in Helgen was than the one in Whiterun.

And what did he mean by saying dragon allies ? As most people, Méra also believed dragons were evil by nature. They couldn’t be tamed. How would they help against their own kind to save the world?

“But enough of the Blades,” the priest disrupted her trail of thoughts. “I am sure you have a few questions. I will do my best to give you answers.”

Méra had a few questions an hour ago. Now, after their short conversation about the Blades, she had a million. She tried to focus on those that drove her here in the first place.

“What does it exactly mean to be Dragonborn?”

“It is not ours to know; only you can find out the meaning of it by following the Way of the Voice. We are here to guide you in that pursuit. You should focus on honing your Voice, and soon, your path will be made clear.”

Méra could barely keep back a groan. His answer was far from satisfying.

“I’ve been wondering…” she started slowly, trying to collect her messy thoughts. She wanted to tell him that she died but something brought her back; Méra had the feeling it was connected to her Dragon Blood. She was convinced by now that the strange words she heard was in Dovahzul. However, she decided to keep it to herself. The Greybeards didn’t need to know about everything, after all. “When I absorbed the dragon’s soul, I felt a tremendous rage and power. It vanished into thin air quickly, but since then, my emotions are all over the place. I have felt so angry only killing my way through a group of bandits helped to calm me down.”

Arngeir involuntarily squirmed in his chair. The way she talked about killing unnerved him. They were men of peace; taking another living creature’s life was only an option if they had no other choice. Being Dragonborn doesn’t necessarily mean being a good person. There was plenty of evidence for it in the past.

“Dragons hold vast, immense forces. I can only imagine, but when you absorb their soul, you take everything with it: their emotions too. Many Dragonborns before you had been drunk on the power they gained by slaying dragons. When you absorb a soul, it makes you stronger. But you have to think about what killing does to your soul.”

Méra arched an eyebrow and looked down on her lap. She had killed more men and women she could count. Her soul was long lost.

“But what can I do to control my feelings?”

“Meditate,” Arngeir answered simply. “We here at High Hrothgar spend a lot of time with contemplation, and you certainly should too. You will learn to meditate on Words of Power. It will help to find balance.”

Méra was more than a little sceptical about it, but she let it go. It was very hard to get anything out of Arngeir. She told him the other words she learned during her journey around Skyrim, but the priest said she should not use any of them yet. When she asked why, he explained that they were all beyond her knowledge. Arngeir said Méra had powers and abilities no one had in this world and that she was capable of things she couldn’t even dream of, but she must learn everything in its own time. Pushing through her own boundaries too soon could have fatal consequences.

While he didn’t lie and it could indeed kill her if she played with things she didn’t understand yet, Arngeir was also being cautious. If someone tasted so much raw power and strength so early, without any lexical knowledge and enough meditation behind it, they could very easily leave the path. It could breed a real catastrophe.


The following two months went by incredibly slow. Méra was enthusiastic to learn at the beginning, but the more time passed, the more bored and stuck she felt.

The Greybeards taught two Shouts to her: the Unrelenting Force and the Whirlwind Sprint. It was exciting at first, but Méra was disappointed. She hoped they would teach her more instead of practicing and meditating over the same six words over and over again.

It was also clear Arngeir kept many secrets from her. He never gave  direct answers to her questions, he didn’t let her in the restricted section of the library, and he refused to tell her about the Greybeards’ leader, who, apparently, lived on the top of the mountain. When she questioned why they were so secretive, he always said the same thing: that they will tell her everything when she was ready.

When she wasn’t meditating or practicing her Voice, Méra had to read many different books, and learn Dohvazul. She knew it was helpful to learn more about the history of Dragonborns, the Way of the Voice, and dragons in general, but she always preferred more practical lessons.

Méra missed being on the road. She was not used to spending so much time at one place and it slowly drove her crazy that she was stuck in an ancient fort. If it wasn’t for Vilkas, she would have snapped and left quite a while ago.

The two of them grew closer during the past months. When Méra had free time and she wasn’t exhausted from using her Voice too much, they always practiced sword fighting in the backyard. They had different styles and they could learn a lot from each other.

For Vilkas, it was easier to stay in High Hrothgar. He didn’t need to study anything, but he spent the majority of his time with reading anyway. During full moons, he left the fort to spend a few days away with the Circle. He never told Méra where they went, but she had a hunch he chose a place where he couldn’t harm anyone.

There were many nights when they ended up in each other’s chamber and talked for hours, sometimes until dawn. Once she started to be less defensive around him, Vilkas realized Méra was a very easy person to talk to. She was a great listener and she never judged any of his actions, though she didn’t hesitate to tell him her honest opinion. He didn’t mind it. Even though she kept many secrets, somehow he felt Méra was the most honest person in his life.

While Méra didn’t want to open up to him more she already did, she often caught herself on talking about her feelings and deepest thoughts. She was never a big talker, but truthfully, she missed having someone by her side she could tell anything. Méra spent a lot of time alone in the past, but she was never lonely. She always had someone, but she always lost them, and it never hurt less. She could bear any kind of physical pain, but this kind of ache cut too deep to get through it once more.

It was late afternoon when Méra finished reading a book about a Dragon Priest, somewhere in a quiet corner of the library. After she stood up and stretched her numb legs and her stiff back, she headed to the door of the restricted section as she did so many times before. She learned to pick all kinds of locks, but this one was sealed with magic. Méra knew she had no chance to get inside, but she couldn’t stop thinking about what kind of secrets the Greybeards were keeping from her.

With a defeated sigh, she turned to leave, but as she walked through the aisle of bookshelves, she spotted Vilkas. It didn’t surprised her to find him in the library. Considering he was a warrior, he read a lot. When Méra asked him about it, Vilkas told her it was kind of a coping mechanism when he was a kid. After the Companions saved him and his brother from the necromancers, they both suffered from nightmares and other post traumatic symptoms. They reacted to it very differently.  While Farkas talked it out, Vilkas suppressed his feelings and ignored them. When they weren’t learning sword fighting, he learned to read and write and spent a lot of time with books.

It became a habit for Vilkas and he couldn’t quite grow out of it. He had plenty of people to talk to now—the Companions and especially the inner Circle was like a real family to him, but once he got used to not talk about his feelings, it seemed impossible to do otherwise.

Méra sat down next to him, but Vilkas didn’t look up. He was reading a book about Skyrim’s previous rulers, and when Méra caught the title, her pulse quickened. She reached out, snapped the book closed, and pushed it away from him.

While Vilkas was a smart man, Méra understood why he couldn’t figure it out yet that she was the daughter of King Halfdan. After her parents were murdered, Méra and her brother lived in the safety of Falkreath, and everyone slowly forgot about them. Even though Siddgeir did anything to make people remember who he was, most citizens thought he was Falkreath’s previous Jarl’s son or grandson.

It only amused Méra because it annoyed her brother whenever she brought it up. Otherwise, it angered her to see how much everyone forgot about what happened.

Vilkas looked up. “I was reading that.”

“And I was bored. Why don’t you play with me?”

“Méra. We’ve talked about this,” Vilkas sighed and squirmed in his chair, thinking back about that morning a couple weeks ago when he accidentally walked in on her while she was changing. He didn’t see much, but he saw enough to make his ears pink. Unlike him, Méra didn’t get so flustered and made an offer about he should help her undress while he was there; something that only made the Companion more nervous.

The memory still amused Méra. She found it so appealing that someone like him lost all of his confidence around a half-naked woman.

“I was talking about chess. You have a really dirty mind.”

“Compared to you, I’m a saint.”

Méra smiled. It wasn’t a smirk, nothing smug, but a genuine smile; something Vilkas could see more and more frequently in the past weeks.

“Sure. Saint little werewolf.”

Vilkas shook his head and ignored her comment. “Learnt anything interesting today?”

“No,” Méra replied with an eye roll. “But Arngeir said next week I’ll have to go to a burial tomb to pick up an ancient horn. I can’t wait to finally go outside.”

“Am I allowed to go with you?”

“He said to go through that place requires skills only the Dragonborn has. So you probably shouldn’t.”

Vilkas clenched his jaw. He knew she was capable of taking care of herself, but the place she needed to go sounded dangerous. He didn’t like the idea of her going alone.

“Do you think you’ll survive a few days without me?”

He laughed. “I’ll do my best.”

They didn’t speak for a while. Vilkas picked up the books he had read earlier and returned them to their shelves, while Méra stayed at the table and got a little lost in her thoughts. There was something she had been meaning to ask for a while now, but being almost completely sure where that conversation would lead, she rather avoided it. She remembered clearly when they stood in front of the gates of Whiterun and Vilkas offered her a place within the Companions. His behaviour changed so much that day, like he was no longer trying to distance himself from her, but something kept him back still.

“Are you coming?” He asked when he came back, nodding at the door, but Méra didn’t move.

“I wanted to ask you something,” she said, so Vilkas sat back down next to her when she didn’t went on immediately. “Before the dragon attack in Whiterun… you wanted to talk to me. What was it about?”

He looked away and gave a small shrug. “It was a long time ago. I don’t remember.”

“Vilkas…”

His eyes found her again, but he hesitated. In the past couple months, while they grew closer to each other, they had gotten into a few heated arguments too. The reason was always the same: Vilkas asked something Méra didn’t want to answer to. He never understood what he did wrong, but he knew it could have been truly his fault and not Méra’s stubborn nature. The way he worded his thoughts not always came out the way he intended to. Vilkas envied his brother when it came to communication skills. Farkas always knew what to say to others.

Spending so much time with her, Vilkas started to understand what he could say and what he could not, and asking about her past was definitely one of those things that made her explode. They were both fiery and lost their head too quickly, said things they shouldn’t have to, and avoided each other for days.

He didn’t want to get in another fight with Méra, but it was her who brought it up. He took a deep breath.

“I wanted to know more about your past. What did you do before we met? Like, for a living? And what happened to you when we found you in the forest?”

Méra swallowed hard and bit her tongue to take the tension out on something. Vilkas was a smart man. The fact he didn’t figure it out she was high born was one thing, but she couldn’t quite believe he didn’t know she was a Dark Sister. While she never explicitly said it, there were many signs that simply couldn’t go unnoticed by someone who spent so much time around her. Being an assassin wasn’t just a job, it was a lifestyle, and even though he left the Dark Brotherhood months ago, it wasn’t something she could drop like a piece of garbage.

She wasn’t ashamed of anything she did in the past, but she found it hard to tell Vilkas about it. He wouldn’t understand.

“Does it matter?”

“I feel like it does. You’re keeping too many secrets.”

“Women’s intuition?” She asked jokingly, but Vilkas’ face remained straight.

“Werewolves’ insight. We have an ability to sniff out if something isn’t right with someone.”

“Then why are you still with me?”

Vilkas fell silent. He could have told her he wasn’t in High Hrothgar because of her, that he was there for himself, but it would have been a lie. It was almost impossible to lie to her; Vilkas often felt like Méra was reading his mind.

She made a motion to stand up, but he grasped her upper arm. “I didn’t ask it to insult you. Is it a sin that I want to know more about you?”

“You know a lot about me,” Méra said sharply. It was true. She had told him a lot about her feelings and thoughts; things that she wouldn’t tell anyone else. But she knew it wasn’t what interested him. “Why is it so important to know what I have done in the past? I don’t want you or anyone else to judge me for what I did or who I was five years of fifteen years ago. You know me now.”

Vilkas disagreed. Our past shapes our future; it makes us who we are today. No one can erase it or change it, no matter how much they want to. The way Méra fought so hard against giving him a glimpse of it, he knew there had to be something significant.

“When you say it like this, it sounds like you have something really big to hide.”

Despite of what he said, his tone was kind. He slipped closer on the bench until their legs touched, and watched her with kind eyes. Méra felt as her strength slowly left her. She shook her head, and when she spoke, her voice was small.

“I can’t tell you.”

“Why not?”

“You wouldn’t look at me the same way.”

Vilkas’ heart skipped a beat. He had a hunch Méra knew more about his feelings than he did. He slid his palm down her arm and grasped her hand. “This is what you’re afraid of?”

“No. I’m not afraid of anything,” she said so firmly she could’ve fooled anyone. She pulled her hand away from him.

“Oh, come on. Look, who cares what happened to you in the past. I don’t. I won’t judge you by that.”

“And yet you’re trying really hard to pull it out of me.”

Vilkas let out a small sigh. “Okay. I won’t ask again. I promise. You’ll tell me when you’re ready. If you want to.”

They held each other’s gaze and neither of them moved. Méra didn’t feel entirely relieved despite of Vilkas’ promise; she knew all of her secrets would be revealed sooner or later. For now, she didn’t want him to know about the Dark Brotherhood, and she especially didn’t want him to know about her family.

Long moments later he was still so close when he let out a deep breath, Méra could feel it on her cheek. Involuntarily, she glanced down on his lips and licked her own. As a response, Vilkas leaned closer, ever so slowly, and Méra’s breath caught in her throat when she looked up into his darkened eyes. She couldn’t see the blue of them.

When their lips almost touched, she pressed her palm against his chest to push him back, shaking her head with a whisper. “Don’t.”

Vilkas bowed his head and let out a shaky breath, while Méra was still watching him. Just a second later, the heavy doors of the library opened. They both slipped away from each other, but stayed on the bench. Master Einarth walked to them without any hurry, holding something small. He placed the rolled up parchment in front of Vilkas on the table, gave a small nod, and left without a word.

While Vilkas silently rolled out the letter and started to read it, Méra rested her elbows on the table and buried her face into her palms. She wanted that kiss—her entire body yearned for it, but she couldn’t allow herself to let their relationship to go that way. Catching feelings for him was the worst idea.

When she looked up after what seemed like an eternity later, Vilkas’ gaze was still on the parchment. His lips were slightly parted, his eyes wide.

Méra frowned and peeked into the letter. It was long, the handwriting like chicken scratches. “What is it?”

His Adam’s apple bobbed up and down, but he didn’t move. He didn’t even turn to her as the words left his mouth. “Kodlak is dead.”

 

Chapter Text

Solitude, one month ago

“There’s one more thing we need to discuss,” General Tullius’ stiff voice cut the short silence moments after he finished scribbling something down on a piece of parchment. The long, circular table in Castle Dour was filled with people as it always was during their weekly meetings. He put the quill down and looked around. “The dragon attack in Whiterun.”

“We’ve already talked about this, Tullius,” Elenwen said without looking up from the documents that lay in front of her. “As long as Jarl Balgruuf stays undecided, we’re not going to send him any help.”

“As I’ve said earlier,” Erikur squirmed in his chair and raised his voice so everyone looked at him. “If you help out Jarl Balgruuf, he might make up his mind and join us.”

Elisif cast a disapproving look at the thane’s direction. She never liked Erikur; she thought he was corrupt and manipulated everyone around him, but she had no proof against him.

“I am not going to waste money and men on a city that could easily turn against us immediately after they strengthened their defence with our help,” Elenwen said sharply, lifting her head.

“This is not what I wanted to talk about,” the General said before Erikur could speak again. He clenched his fist under the table. “There’s a rumour about the woman who killed the dragon. People say she hadn’t just slayed it but… she… absorbed its soul.”

Leaning back against the chair, Elenwen let out an annoyed sigh. “I’ve heard that. They say she’s a Dragonborn, is that it? You don’t believe in this Nord nonsense, do you, Tullius?”

“It doesn’t matter what I believe in, Elenwen. We’re in Skyrim, and as Rikke pointed out to me,” he paused, nodding at the woman to his left. “…the Dragonborn is quite important for the Nord. If you want to convince its people to choose us, the best way is if we convince her first.”

The Altmer narrowed her eyes, thinking about the general’s words for long seconds. “Fine. Find this woman and bring her here. And if she opposes… you know what to do.”

With that, Elenwen and her three attendants said a quick goodbye and left the room. The others stayed at the table, fiddling with parchments or sitting idly and thinking about what they heard.

“Do we know anything about the Dragonborn? Maybe it is only a rumour,” Falk said, breaking the long silence.

Tullis let out an exhausted sigh. There were dark circles under his eyes. “We don’t know much. Only that she has been spending her time around the Companions, so maybe she is one of them. Her name is… Meridia or Méra.”

Elisif felt as if she just got slapped in the face. She jolted, straightened in her chair, and exchanged a quick glance with Rikke. They both looked away before anyone noticed it.

Soon everyone left the room with the exception of Tullius, but Elisif let Falk and Sybille wait for her in the courtyard. Erikur insisted to stay, but Elisif didn’t allow it and her thane reluctantly walked out of the castle. She hurried to Rikke who stood at the front door.

“Did you hear Tullius? Do you think it’s her? Our Méra?”

She sighed and shook her head. “It crossed my mind, but… What are the odds?”

“It could be her!” Elisif exclaimed, then looked around and turned her voice down. “Rikke, she’ll never agree to join us. You know she won’t. Elenwen will kill her.”

“We can’t do anything.”

“Why, of course we can! Go to Whiterun with Tullius. If you could talk to her before anyone else…”

“Elisif, I can’t leave unless the general wants me to. If he leaves, I’m sure he wants me to stay here to protect you.”

“I have more than enough people here to protect me.”

“But…”

“That is an order,” Elisif said suddenly with such a firm tone that Rikke forgot for a second how young she was. Long gone was the little, shy girl who blushed when an important person said hi to her. Elisif was not high born, but she did a great job making everyone forget about that.

“As you wish. But please, Elisif, be careful. She might not be the person we used to know.”

Windhelm, one month ago

The heavy doors opened and closed loudly behind Ralof. He felt more than a little intoxicated from spending the entire afternoon in the Candlehearth Hall, but what he heard couldn’t wait. Partly because the news excited him, but mostly because he was afraid that if he waited until the morning, in his state, he might forget it. The main hall with the long table and the throne stood empty; his footsteps echoed loudly.

He opened the door of the small war room and nearly stumbled over his own feet. He leaned against the doorframe to catch his breath, while both Ulfric and Galmar watched him with a questioning, but alarmed look.

“You’re not gonna believe this.” Ralof staggered inside and fell into a chair by the table.

Galmar crossed his arms over his chest and gave him a judging look. Ralof was raised on the streets and even though he got in a high position lately, he often forgot about ordinary decencies, such as knocking and waiting for permission before you enter.

“I was in the Candlehearth Hall with Thorald. He has a sister in Whiterun, Eira. Small but fierce girl. She can talk anyone’s head off if they aren’t careful. I’ve met her once… a couple times actually… she was—“

“Get to the point, kid,” Galmar cut him off.

“Right. So… Thorald just got a letter from Eira and of course, she wrote about the dragon attack. That lady loves a good rumour. You see, she says his other brother, Avulstein, fought against the dragon too. He saw the Dragonborn. From their description, she is the same person who saved my life twice. You met her too, after Helgen.”

The small room fell eerie silent, and Ulfric’s face straightened. Galmar’s eyes darted between the two. “Are you sure, Ralof?”

“I can’t be. But from what Eira said… I’d say yes. It’s her.”

“Who is this woman? Do you know her?” Galmar asked, clearly annoyed that he was the only one in the room who didn’t know who they were talking about.

Ulfric rested his palms on the table for a second, before he stood up with a sigh and walked to the window. After his meeting with the woman who called herself Astrid, he spent days thinking of why she was so familiar. It took him longer than it should have to figure it out who she was.

“I do.”

“Then what are we waiting for?” Galmar extended his arms and stood up. “We should go to Whiterun as soon as possible. With her on our side, the Imperials stand no chance.”

Several minutes of silence followed his words. Ulfric thought about what his second-in-command said. It should be the logical decision, but he remembered what she told him that day after they escaped from Helgen. “This isn’t my fight,” she had said. “I’m done fighting for Skyrim.”

“No,” he said, turning back to them. “I don’t trust her. We should wait until she comes to us.”

Galmar gripped the backrest of the chair and let out a deep breath. What would he give to get in Ulfric’s mysterious mind just once. “And what makes you think she’ll come here instead of Solitude?”

A tiny smile curved the right side of Ulfric’s lips, but there was no happiness in it. He knew. Méra lost as much to the Thalmor as he did, if not more. “Believe me, she won’t go there.”

Galmar scratched his beard. “There’s no time for playing games. We’ve already lost too much to this war. If you know this woman, and if she really is Dragonborn, we need to find her before the Imperials do.”

Ulfric stayed silent. It was a great risk. Just because she was Dragonborn, it didn’t mean she would support him or his cause. But as Galmar said, they’ve already lost too much. Maybe it was time to take bigger risks.

***

The journey back to Whiterun took less time than when they headed up to High Hrothgar. They didn’t camp during the night to sleep, and only stopped for short breaks because Méra told Vilkas they need to rest if he doesn’t want the both of them to die of fatigue. It was easier for him: the beast blood granted him enhanced endurance and stamina. He took the advantage of it. Vilkas felt if he stopped, he would scream or cry or rip anyone’s heart out who gets in his way.

Méra didn’t try to stop him. She knew death and grief like an old friend by now, but she had no idea how she could comfort Vilkas. When she lost someone, every word sounded empty and meaningless. She did the only thing she could do and let Vilkas do anything that helped him to blow off steam.

They didn’t talk much. Méra didn’t know what to say and when she asked something, Vilkas grumbled a short answer or none at all. His jaw was clenched, hands balled into fists and he walked so fast Méra could barely keep up with him.

Near to Whiterun, they bumped into a small group of marauders who camped in front of an old tower. Vilkas would have let them go if they didn’t taunt him. Méra knew him for a few months now, but she had never seen him fighting so fiercely. It was wild and untamed and he not even had a scratch on him by the time he finished them all. He didn’t stop afterwards to wash the blood off or rest. He was restless.  

Even though Méra could practically see the anger that tightened under his skin, she was surprised he was still in control. When she heard an animalistic growl that rumbled somewhere deep in his chest, she took a step or two away. When his pupils narrowed into slits and his eyes changed colours, she kept her hand around her dagger. While Méra insisted many times she wasn’t afraid of anything, she wasn’t stupid. She was a good fighter, but she could hardly be a match to a werewolf. Many times she witnessed Arnbjorn’s rage when he turned into a beast in front of her, when she said something even mildly offending to him. Her only luck was that Astrid was always there to hold him back.

When they reached the city, Vilkas looked like he could collapse if he had to take one more step. He no longer seemed angry, but drained and sad. The marketplace was busy in the early morning hours and while they fought their way through the crowd, Vilkas let anyone bump into him. Méra took his wrist, dragging him away from the crowd and they stopped in front of the Bannered Mare.

“I need some rest,” she said. “And you do too. Go home and sleep.”

Vilkas didn’t say anything. Sleeping was a challenge even when guilt and grief didn’t fog his brain. “I… I’ll see you later after the funeral.”

Méra walked into the tavern and paid for a room. Her stomach growled loudly at the smell of food, but she could barely keep her eyes open anymore. She got the key and once she lay down, she fell asleep within minutes.

***

Vilkas sat on the edge of Kodlak’s bed. The room looked exactly like when he left two months ago. Books and parchments were scattered around the round desk, on the bed and on the small nightstand. Even at his last day, the Harbinger didn’t give up on trying to find the cure for lycanthropy.

He felt nauseous and angry at himself. He should have been there to defend him. To fight against the Silver Hand when they invaded his home. Instead, he was miles away, secluded in a fort, trying to find his own peace.

That was a blatant lie, though. No matter how much he tried to convince himself about the opposite, Méra was the only reason he stayed there for so long. And if High Hrothgar helped on his issues, the news about Kodlak’s death crushed all the process he made. It was a mystery how he could keep his wolf at bay on the way back from Ivarstead. He gathered every ounce of self-control, because he knew if he turned, he would hurt Méra. He felt ashamed thinking back about everything that crossed his mind while he tried to push his wolf back. Avoiding her wasn’t any easier, but safer.

The door opened with a slow, quiet creak. Vilkas didn’t know for how long he had been sitting there when his brother found him. Farkas heaved a sigh and leaned against the doorframe. The lonely candle that burned on the table illuminated the fresh, deep cut across his left cheek.

“Why don’t you come upstairs?”

Vilkas didn’t give an answer. He stared off into the distance with a blank expression.

“Vil… this isn’t your fault,” Farkas said. Earlier that day, when Vilkas arrived, the Circle spent a little time inside the Underforge. After they told him in detail what had happened, how the Silver Hand attacked them in the middle of the night, Vilkas only blamed himself.

“I should have been here.”

“And Kodlak would be dead anyway. Maybe you too,” Farkas snapped. It was an ambush; they were seriously outnumbered. Only the Silver Hand were to blame for what happened. “Weeping here alone isn’t going to bring him back. “

Vilkas hesitated. He didn’t want to be alone. He took a deep breath and followed his brother through the long corridor of the basement. Jorrvaskr was even more silent than usual, and the main hall wasn’t any different. Skjor and Athis sat at the far end of the table, Aela alone somewhere in the middle. Vilkas sat next to her.

“Feeling better?” She asked with a small smile, putting a hand on his shoulder.

Vilkas heaved a sigh. “No. I don’t know.”

Aela leaned closer. “Don’t worry, Brother. We will avenge him.”

A shiver ran up his spine at her words, and his wolf roared inside him. Yes, they will. The thought spread calmness inside him, first time since he had read the letter his brother sent to him. It should have disturbed him how much the simple thought of taking revenge put him at ease, but it didn’t. His mood lifted, and he could finally eat and talk and drink.

“Why don’t you ask Tilma to do something with that?” Vilkas asked after Farkas’ scar started to bleed again. He clumsily tried to stop it with strong wine and a piece of cloth. “Your pretty face is your only asset.”

“Ha ha. That’s hilarious.” Farkas looked him dead in the eyes, while Aela snickered. “Talking about pretty faces, where did you leave your girl?”

It wiped the smile off Vilkas and Aela could have almost sworn she saw him blushing. “She is not my girl.”

“Who? I didn’t say a name.”

“Fuck off,” Vilkas grumbled, and returned to his ale like there was something very interesting in his tankard.

“Come on. We’re so eager to know what a woman had to do to wrap you around her fingers,” Aela chuckled. “Though… you’ve always had a thing for redheads, haven’t you?”

Farkas nearly choked on his ale as a laugh broke out from him at the memory. When Aela came to Jorrvaskr at age nineteen, the twins were still boys and they both immediately fell in love with the young, beautiful woman. While their crush didn’t last too long, Aela loved to tease them about it.

“There’s nothing between us,” Vilkas mumbled under his breath. He suddenly remembered how much he wanted to kiss her at the library and how she pushed him away, and it left a bitter taste in his mouth. It was probably for the best. The more time he spent with Méra, the greater his desire for her grew. He knew a kiss would be more than enough to lose his control.

“Oh, please. I recognize a wolf in love when I see one,” Aela said and winked at Skjor across the table, who rolled his eyes.

“I’m not—can we talk about someone else’s love life?”

“Thank you for asking,” Farkas said, rubbing his palms together. “There’s this woman in Riverwood—“

“Farkas, seducing every woman on your way is a very poor excuse for a love life,” Aela said.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You’re a man-whore. No offense.”

“None taken,” Farkas shrugged as he stood up from the table, patting his brother on the shoulder. “At least I am having some fun.”

He left to sit with Ria who just came up from the basement. Her face was bruised and she had a broken wrist. Farkas told him earlier she fought very bravely against the Silver Hand. A few months ago, Vilkas wasn’t sure Ria would last too long with them. It wasn’t the first time she proved him wrong.

“You really aren’t going to tell me anything?” Aela’s question shook Vilkas out of his thoughts.

He shrugged. “There isn’t much to tell. She—I don’t know what she wants.” Méra’s behaviour confused Vilkas, it was true. Sometimes she opened up to him, sometimes she flirted with him; other times she completely shut him off and pushed him away. “I don’t mind. It’s for the best if I keep myself away from her. Yesterday I wanted to hurt her. Really, badly hurt her.”

“Vilkas…You have the gift for, what, fifteen years now? And you still don’t know how it works?” Aela smirked, but seeing Vilkas’ tense features, she softened her tone. “We have big, strong, intense emotions, and our blood doesn’t change the root of them. I know sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference, but… just think. You do like her. Why would you want to hurt her?”

Vilkas clenched his jaw. The eagerness to possess was in the werewolves’ nature and very often they did everything to get what they wanted. He didn’t quite see why it was any better than actually wanting to hurt someone, because he could still cause pain in the process anyway.

“Do you trust her though?” Aela broke the silence once again.

“What do you mean?”

The Huntress shrugged. “It wouldn’t bother me, but you tend to overreact and lose your temper too often.”

“I don’t follow,” Vilkas frowned, completely confused now. “Why shouldn’t I trust her? What are you talking about?”

Aela let out an exhausted sigh. Men. “And they say you’re the smart one. Don’t say you don’t know what she is? Even your brother figured out she’s an assassin.”

Vilkas felt as his blood ran cold. The truth hit him like a ton of bricks and at the same time, he felt like he had known it all along. How could he not, after spending so much time with her? The way she fought, the way she killed and the way she talked about death disturbed him, but lately, Vilkas stopped taking a note of it and chose to ignore it instead.

He stood up so sudden his chair fell back.

“Where are you going? It’s almost nightfall. The funeral—“

“I’ll be back,” he said sharply, and rushed out of the hall.

***

A nightmare woke Méra up, panting hard and gripping the edge of the bed. She didn’t dream about her parents this time. Méra saw herself, at the top of a mountain. The whole world was in darkness; no sun or moon or star shined in the sky. The scent of blood and death lingered in the air. Fire came then in a rush, red-hot and raging, and there was nowhere to go. She felt as if she was frozen to the ground. The sound of roars filled her ears, so loudly she couldn’t think of anything else. Alduin flew to her, his eyes like fireballs, but before he reached her, Méra jolted awake.

It made her head ache and she pressed her palm against her forehead, squeezing her eyes shut. As the seconds passed, the nightmare became more distant. She felt like she was there, like it wasn’t just a dream at all, but by the time she climbed out of the bed, she could barely remember the details.

She opened the wooden shutters of the small window to let in some light and fresh air, and was surprised to see the sun was going down. She slept through the whole day.

After she put her clothes on, slipped her dagger into its sheath and strapped her sword onto her back, she went down to the main hall to get some food. Despite of sleeping more than eight hours, Méra felt exhausted.

She sat in a shadowy corner of the tavern and barely dipped the spoon into the steaming stew when a man stopped next to her table, leaning against the wall.

“You know, I’ve always wanted to know if it’s true what they say about women with red hair.”

Méra sighed, and decided to take a large sip of wine first. “Which one? That we’re witches or that we have no soul?”

The man gave a short laugh and rested his palms on the back of a chair. “They also say “Red in the head, fire in the bed.”

“Too bad you’re never going to find it out if that’s true,” Méra said without looking up from her food.

As the words left her lips, she heard shuffling and a shout. Méra lifted her head just in time to see as Vilkas grabbed the man’s shoulder and threw him back like he weighed nothing.

“Get the fuck out of here.”

Méra stifled a laugh while Vilkas sat down across her. “Thanks. I was really close to stabbing him in the eye.”

“It wouldn’t be too much of a trouble for you now, would it?”

She swallowed her food and tilted her head. Vilkas sat with his back against the chair, arms crossed over his chest. His right leg bounced up and down rapidly. “What’s your problem?”

Vilkas shrugged and gave her a look like they were having a normal conversation, but Méra could tell he was close to losing his patience. “I was just thinking, you know. You mentioned this werewolf friend of yours.”

“Yes?” Méra asked, but as she said the word out loud, she knew what caused the sudden change in his behaviour.

“Is there any chance his name was Arnbjorn?”

Vilkas knew Arnbjorn well. A long time ago he used to be a member of the Circle, even before Vilkas received the blood. The Companions sent him away for a reason, and they weren’t surprised when they learned he joined the Dark Brotherhood.

Losing her appetite, Méra dropped the spoon into the bowl. “Maybe.”

In answer, Vilkas slammed his fist onto the table so loudly everyone around them looked their way; the hall went silent. She couldn’t give one direct answer and it set his rage off even more.

His action made Méra’s blood hot but she decided to not to show her anger. She leaned closer above the table and turned her voice to a whisper.

“What do you want to hear? I think you already know the answer.”

Vilkas jumped up from the chair and grabbed her upper arm. All the rage he felt in the past two days returned to him and burned high and bright like fire. He wasn’t even sure if he was angry at her or himself. He dragged Méra through the hall, down the corridor and into the room she rented. It wasn’t hard to find it; her scent still lingered in there. She kept hitting his arm with the heel of her palm, but it was like punching into a brick wall.

“What the—“ Méra yelled once they were in the room and Vilkas shut the door behind him.

“Say it.”

Méra raised her eyebrows and couldn’t hold back a bitter laugh. “Excuse me? I don’t have to admit anything to you.”

There was a growl again; that deep, guttural sound Méra heard so many times in the past days. In the next moment, Vilkas grabbed her shoulders and pushed her against the wall with such force it knocked the wind out of her.

“Gods damn you, Méra!” He shouted. “Why are you—why do you have to keep acting like this? I’ve told you everything about myself, my past, my family, and you can’t even answer one simple question! Why haven’t you told me that you are a Dark Sister?”

His fangs slid out and Méra felt a shiver running up her spine. She had to choose her words carefully if she didn’t want him to transform and rip her open. She wrapped her fingers around the hilt of her dagger, but she left it in its sheath. “Vilkas. Back off.”

Vilkas’ breath was coming in short, ragged bursts. He could barely hear anything over the blood that drummed in his ears. His vision was blurred and he could only focus on one point: Méra’s eyes. Her gaze was sharp and cold as steel. Somewhere, in the far distance, he heard as she said his name again, gently, like she was trying to calm him down. He eased his grip on her arms and took a step back.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” he said, avoiding her eyes. He felt like he was fooling himself, too.

“Oh, you don’t? To me it looked like you really  wanted to.”

Vilkas let out a long, shuddering breath, and forced himself to calm down. He went to count to ten, but Méra’s voice disrupted him.

“You’re pretty fucking unbelievable, you know that? This is exactly why I didn’t want to tell you I was an assassin.”

“What do you expect me to do? Should I congratulate you for murdering people for money?”

“I don’t need your approval.”

“Don’t you? Because I’m sure you said something like you’re afraid I wouldn’t look at you the same way,” Vilkas grunted. He saw in her eyes how vulnerable she was when she said that to him, and now he felt bad for using it against her. But he was still so, so angry; he had to do anything to keep it at bay.

Méra felt a lump in her throat and she wasn’t sure she wanted to cry or shout. She swallowed and released her dagger, feeling like her strength left her body. “Oh, and what a surprise! I was right. Two days ago you almost kissed me and now, after you learned what I was, you want to bite my head off my neck.”

“I don’t want to—why do you even keep talking in past tense?”

“Because I’m not the part of the Dark Brotherhood anymore.”

“Yes,” Vilkas said sarcastically. “People don’t just quit the Dark Brotherhood.”

Méra scoffed and turned her head away, folding her arms over her chest. She didn’t feel the strength to argue anymore. There was a long silence and the air was filled with so much tension you could cut it with a knife.

The more time passed, the more Vilkas felt ashamed. Regret washed over him and he wanted the earth to split open and swallow him whole. He shouldn’t have talked to her the way he did, and he definitely shouldn’t have dragged her through the tavern and slam her into a wall.

“Why are you still here?” Méra’s voice broke the silence. She turned to the window so she didn’t have to look at him.

Vilkas sighed. He wanted to apologize. He knew he should have to. “I… I shouldn’t have—“

“Yeah, you shouldn’t.”

Her voice was unusually unsteady. It made Vilkas want to hug her or gave her hand a soothing squeeze, but then he remembered that mere minutes ago his touches were nowhere near to gentle and comforting. He felt disgusted with himself and leaned against the wall, letting his head fall back and bump into the wood.

When Méra turned around, he looked at her. “And you said you don’t care about my past.”

“Listen, it’s not that. I…” Vilkas stopped and heaved a sigh. He looked through the window: it was already dark outside. The others were probably waiting for him. “Can we talk about this later? I have to go to the funeral.”

Méra’s features didn’t change. “Alright.”

She left the Bannered Mare half an hour later. Despite of the dark, the streets of Whiterun were busy with people: everyone wanted to pay their respect for the Harbinger of the Companions. Méra could see the fire of the Skyforge even from the gates. She could hear drums and singing voices.

She was long gone by the time the fire burned down.

Chapter Text

4 years ago

“Today, I’m going to blindfold you.”

Méra arched an eyebrow. “That’s kinky. I should’ve known you were into these kinds of stuff. Not that I’m complaining.”

“No—not like that.” Serana rolled her eyes with a smile and walked behind her. When her hand brushed against Méra’s cheek, she involuntary shivered at the contact. She was sure she could never get used to her icy cold touch.

She let her tie the thin, dark piece of cloth around her eyes.

“Wait,” Méra said as realization hit her. “You want me to fight like this? Serana, you’re deadly even when I can see what you’re doing.” She knew Serana would never hurt her, but she had seen her slitting people's throats with her nails and tearing a man’s head off without any particular effort.

She heard Serana’s short chuckle as she walked away from her. “Why, thank you! And yes, I want you to fight like this. I am surprised, you know. In my time, learning to fight in the dark was essential for anyone in the Dark Brotherhood.”

Méra huffed out a breath. “There’s no way I can do this. It’s not possible.”

There was a short silence. The thin layer of fresh snow crackled loudly under Serana’s boots, and Méra felt her hands on her shoulders. “You are capable of so much more than you think. I know your skills are already impressive, but imagine being able to defeat your enemy while you don’t have to see them. There aren’t many who can do that. You’d have the biggest advantage against anyone who crosses your path.”

Her words thrilled Méra. In the Sanctuary, she had read old books about assassins who mastered sword fighting, some of them even archery while they were blinded, but for Méra, it had always seemed impossible. Maybe someone with heightened senses like vampires could learn it, but someone like her? It never crossed her mind; not until now.

It was true there weren’t many occasions where she needed it, but when she did, it could be lifesaving.

They were actually quite close to a situation like that. After weeks of searching, they found the man who could finally give them a clue about the Elder Scroll. The old mage had decades of research about it, and from what he found out, it was located in the Tower of Mzark, in the ancient Dwarven mine of Blackreach. Méra wasn’t even sure that place actually existed, let alone they could find it, but so far it was their biggest hope.

Méra killed the mage after he told them everything. They didn’t need someone to give information about them to Serana’s crazy father. Volkihar vampires were on their heels for months, but for a couple of weeks, they hadn’t met any.

The tower of Mzark was their first time in a Dwemer ruin, and they both agreed they never want to go into one ever again. Even though the Dwemer were long gone, their mechanical constructs were still working well and ready to attack anyone who invaded their home.

The ruin was cold and wet, but some rooms were dry and warm. It was dark, but some places were well lit. Méra couldn’t describe the atmosphere of it, but it felt like the place was somehow still… breathing. Alive. It made her shiver how haunted it was.

And if the ancient automatons were not enough, they stumbled into more and more Falmer as they got deeper into the ancient ruin. The twisted, fearless creatures had no eyes, and they didn’t need them. Falmer could fight like anyone else.

“Gods,” Méra groaned as she pulled her blade out of a Falmer’s head. “They’re the ugliest beings I’ve ever seen.” She wiped the blood off her katana and sat back down on the floor, close to the small fire.

They lost count of for how long they were underground, but Méra’s guess was around for days. She hoped they could find the scroll before she would run out of food and water.

“Is it true they were Snow Elves once?”

“Yes,” Serana nodded from across her. The warmth of the fire did nothing to paint some colour on her pale cheeks. She took a sip from her waterskin, but Méra suspected there was no wine or water in it but blood. How it didn’t get clogged, she didn’t know.

“How did they become… this?”

Serana leaned her back against the wall. “When the Nords conquered Skyrim, Snow Elves had nowhere to go. The Dwemer offered them refuge, but they enslaved them. They weren’t stupid—they knew sooner or later the elves would rebel against them. So they made them eat some kind of toxin that blinded them. Can’t really open a rebellion against your masters if you can’t see, can you?”

Serana sighed, then went on. “When I last saw a Falmer… before I was sealed away, they didn’t look like this. They didn’t look like Snow Elves either, but it wasn’t so bad. I guess centuries of living underground deformed them.”

Méra stayed silent for a while. “The more I learn about the Nord, the more I despise them,” she said. Even though it was the Dwemer who betrayed them, it were the Nords who forced them underground.

Serana couldn’t stifle a smile. “Has anyone ever told you you’d be a good ruler?”

Méra let out a short, sceptical laugh. Why would anyone tell her this? It was her brother who was raised to be a king; he was older, and he was a man. No one ever considered her. No one except…

She stared into the fire. “One time I overheard my parents talking about my brother and me. I don’t really remember what it was about, but I remember my father say if he had to choose, he’d choose me as his heir.”

“And your mother?”

“No. She always wanted me to knit, dance, marry a high lord and sit in a chair all day long.”

Serana chuckled. “Maybe she was just trying to protect you. I mean… can you blame her? You did the complete opposite what she wanted for you and where did it lead you to? You’re a Dark Sister, you’re hanging out with a 4,000 year old pure blooded vampire, and you’re trying to find an Elder Scroll inside an ancient Dwemer city. You’re the nightmare of every parent.”

Méra burst into a loud laugh, but quickly silenced herself. Falmer could hear them from miles, especially because these haunted rooms echoed.

“Does your brother know about this? What your father said.”

“If he did, we wouldn’t have this conversation. My brother’s love for the throne is bigger than his love for anything. Including his own sister.”

“I am sorry,” she said, giving her a sympathetic smile.

Méra shrugged. “We both have fucked up families.”

Serana nodded, before she stood up from the ground. “Now come on. Let’s save the world from my fucked up family.”

Now

Morthal must have been one of the gloomiest cities Méra had ever visited. It wasn’t sunny and cold like Solitude, nor frosty and snowy like Dawnstar. The weather was constantly foggy, rainy, and they could barely ever see the sun from the dark grey clouds.

It was late afternoon; Moorside Inn was just as quiet as the streets. A few citizens ate and drank, a young bard softly played on her lute. Méra took another sip of wine and emptied the goblet in one go. She closed her eyes and let the alcohol course through her veins, but instead of the blissful numbing effect she hoped for, she felt as if every inch of her wanted to explode from what she felt. That deep, cavernous, echoing loneliness she hadn’t experienced in a while now was back and burned even brighter than before.

More than a week had passed since she left Whiterun. Ustengrav was near Solitude, but she met no trouble on the way, so as planned, she reached it in three days on Shadowmere’s back. She understood why Arngeir said only someone with the Dragon Blood could go through the tomb: she found ancient traps that would have been nearly impossible to survive without her powers.

Besides the few puzzles she had to sit down to and think them through, it was also one of the deepest and longest tomb she had been to. It felt great to take the tension off on draugrs and walking skeletons, but after hours and days, Méra just wanted to see the sun again. Her anger turned into boredom and into anger again when she reached the main chamber, but only found a scribbled note instead of the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller.

She poured herself another goblet of wine, and pulled the crumpled parchment out of her pocket to read it again.

Dragonborn--

I need to speak to you. Urgently.

Rent the attic room at the Sleeping Giant Inn in Riverwood, and I’ll meet you.

--A friend.

It wasn’t hard at all to figure out who left the mysterious note: it had to be the same woman who tied her to a chair months ago. A Blade. How did she know about the horn and how she could get it, it was a mystery, and Méra couldn’t really pay attention to the details to figure it out. For long days now, she felt miserable and it numbed her senses. She hated that she allowed herself to get so low.

Deep down, Méra counted on that Vilkas would try to come after her, but he didn’t. She knew it wouldn’t be a problem for him even though he didn’t know where she was going: he could easily track her down by her smell. She would be lying if she said it didn’t disappoint her at least a bit. In the past months, Méra grew closer to the man, despite fighting against it with every inch of her being. Now she wished she had tried harder.

She felt alone after she left the Dark Brotherhood, but spending so much time with Vilkas helped not only to ease the pain, but sometimes even making her forget it was ever there. Now he was gone from her life and the hole he filled was empty again, and deeper than before.

It was Méra who had left, but after what happened, she found it inevitable. Vilkas would never understand her and she didn’t need someone to hold her back. They were better off without each other, and the fact he didn’t even try to find her just proved she was right.

She stumbled back into her room and after a restless night of sleep, she left to Riverwood. She didn’t want to do anything with the Blade, but she was curious about what she had to say.

***

The dimly lit hall of the Underforge wasn’t empty when Vilkas stormed in, exhausted and in pain, but too restless to care. He walked to the round stone table and fell into a chair between Aela and Skjor. While Vilkas carelessly took a tiny, red flag off the map that lay in front of them, the other two exchanged a concerned glance.

Vilkas’ gaze was distant, dark and empty. “One more down.”

Aela let out a long breath. Vilkas’ behaviour scared her lately, but she hoped he only needed some time. They had more important business anyway. “Good. We still have one target in Whiterun Hold, but maybe we should move on to the Reach…”

Instead of listening to her, Vilkas shut his Shield-Sister’s voice off and stared at his hands. They were dark from the dirt and dried blood that stuck to them during the previous night while he wiped out a Silver Hand hideout by himself. It was his second in one week. He hoped taking revenge would help with the desperate anger, guilt and disappointment he felt, but it didn’t. It only eased when he was there, slaying all those people who were responsible for Kodlak’s death.

Since they attacked Jorrvaskr, the Circle’s secret was out. The whelps were curious, for a good reason, why someone like the Silver Hand attacked them. They demanded answers, and Skjor decided to fill them into the details.

Some of them already knew, but even those who didn’t, they didn’t run to the guards to sell them out. The Circle was thankful, and now they were a family more than ever.

Perhaps no one wanted to take revenge as much as Vilkas did, but Skjor and Aela shared his opinion. Farkas decided not to take a part in it, saying Kodlak wouldn’t want this. Deep down, Vilkas knew he was right, but he didn’t care. Vengeance blinded him.

“… Vilkas? Did you listen to a word I said?”

Vilkas shook himself out of his thoughts. “Yeah. No. I think we should go here,” he said and pointed at a flag on the map near Dawnstar. It was where the leader of the Silver Hand was. The man who was responsible of every attack against them so far—including the one that costed Kodlak’s life.

“No,” Skjor said firmly. “We need a plan first.”

“We’re wasting time and energy. How long do you think until they attack us again? We need to attack them first,” he said through gritted teeth, poking the same spot on the map. “The others would lay down for a while and it would be easier to take them down.”

“No,” Skjor repeated. “Don’t be stupid. There are too many of them. That fort is nearly impregnable. We need a plan.”

“We need to take the risk—“

“No, we don’t need to,” Skjor snapped and slammed his hand onto the table. The room fell silent for a while, but when he spoke up again, he was still shouting. “I’m not going to let you risk all of our lives because you’re too hot-headed to think this through.”

“Skjor…” Aela said gently, putting her hand on his arm.

“You go to the Reach. I go to Eastmarch.”

Vilkas was speechless for a while and held Skjor’s gaze. He didn’t remember the last time he heard him speaking to him like this. “And Aela?”

“Aela stays here.”

“Why?”

“Because I said so.”

With that, Skjor jumped up and left the Underforge. His behaviour surprised Vilkas. He was usually calm and it took a lot to make him lose his patience.

Aela closed her eyes and sighed. Did something happened the two of them? Whatever it was, it should wait. There were only the three of them and they were at war against the Silver Hand.

Vilkas leaned back in his chair and watched Aela. He was almost sure he saw a teardrop running down her cheek. He heard her heartbeat. He heard his own. He heard as Eorlund worked with metal somewhere above them, then the clashing sound died away. He heard another heartbeat, quieter, but faster. Vilkas looked back over his shoulder, alarmed, then back at Aela.

“Are you pregnant?”

Aela’s silence told everything.

Vilkas ran his palm over his face. It explained Skjor’s behaviour, but he wasn’t sure what to say. They always had a stormy relationship, and this came at the worst possible time. “Listen, Aela, I…”

“I don’t want to talk about this right now. Please,” she cut him off, her voice hoarse. “Vilkas, promise me you won’t go to Driftshade. Please.”

He crossed his arms over his chest. “You know it would solve most of our problems, right?”

“No. It would get you killed.”

Vilkas clenched his jaw and looked away. He wanted to go there, alone or not.

“Please,” Aela repeated. Vilkas was sure he hadn’t heard her saying the same word so many times in his entire life. “I know how you must be feeling right now, but this isn’t going to solve anything. Let’s go with the plan.”

“Killing that reptile would solve a lot of things.”

“Would it? I know you’re grieving, but I also know it isn’t just Kodlak’s death that makes you feel like this.”

Vilkas swallowed, still avoiding her emerald eyes. “What else, then?”

Aela sighed. “You miss her. Méra. What happened between the two of you?”

“I don’t miss her,” Vilkas grumbled, before he told her everything that had happened in the tavern. Remembering the night in details didn’t help much; it just made him angry at himself again. When he found her room empty that night, Vilkas wasn’t surprised. He should’ve counted on it, after all.

“So I scared her away, and now she’s gone.”

“Tell me something,” Aela said, leaning closer above the table. “Did she know what you are?”

“Yeah. She knew it from the start.”

“Then she knew what she signed up for.”

“I’m sure she didn’t sign up for someone hurting her.”

Aela tutted. “You got a little carried away. So what? That’s a usual Fredas night with Skjor and me.”

Even though she tried to joke it away, there was no smile on Vilkas’ face. “This is different, Aela. You have the beast blood, you can take it. She can’t. And even if she could… I shouldn’t have done that do her.”

“But it doesn’t matter now,” he went on after a few moments of awkward silence. “It’s better if we stay away from each other. And right now we have more important things to do.”

Aela watched him with narrowed eyes. “Okay. I’m going to say something now that you won’t like. You’re in love with this woman.”

“Oh, Gods. Aela—“

“You are. So go and find her.”

Vilkas gave her a look as if she just slapped him in the face. “Aela. We’re fighting a war against the Silver Hand and you want me to go after a woman? Pregnancy really does make women lose their mind.”

“I’m trying to help you here!” She shouted angrily. “Because you’re acting like an absolute dumbass, you don’t have to be an ass,” she let out a sigh. “I want you to go after her because this isn’t you. You’re not being yourself.”

“And for some reason, you think the reason “I’m not being myself” is her.”

“Yes,” Aela said softly. “Do you remember when a few years ago I almost died from the silver blade? Or when Skjor didn’t get home for weeks and I thought he was dead? We’ve all felt the same.”

Vilkas swallowed hard. “You think she’s my mate.”

“I saw the way you look at her,” Aela smiled.

“One more good reason to stay away from her,” he said, standing up from the chair.

Aela followed him. “Don’t go after her then. But promise me you won’t go to Driftshade. Please, Vilkas.”

Vilkas watched her with a sigh. She looked so wounded. They had always been through so much lately.

“I won’t go. I promise.”

***

Méra walked straight into the Sleeping Giant Inn once she arrived in the town. She didn’t bother with hiding Shadowmere like she usually did: she left her in front of the inn, earning some scared looks from some of the citizens.

Delphine stood behind the bar, leaning above a book. “What can I get for you?” She asked without looking up, writing down some notes. She lifted her head when no answer came, and her face immediately changed. “Oh. It’s you.”

“Yes. It’s me. And I think you have something that’s mine.”

She frowned. “What are you talking about?”

Méra reached into her pocket and put the parchment in front of her. The innkeeper’s reaction was immediate.

“It’s you,” she repeated, but now, surprise was dripping from her voice. “Follow me.”

Reluctantly, Méra followed her into her bedroom and down into the secret basement behind the wardrobe. The blonde woman rummaged through a small closet silently, before she returned to her and handed her the small horn.

“So the Greybeards seem to think you’re Dragonborn. I hope they’re right,” she said while Méra stuffed the horn into her knapsack. She raised an eyebrow. Why was she talking like nothing happened the last time they met?

“You have a Blades Sword and they think you’re Dragonborn… that can’t be a coincidence.”

“No, shit,” Méra said. “You’d better have a good reason for dragging me here.”

Delphine gave an exhausted sigh and leaned her hip against the table in the middle of the room. “It was the only way I could make sure it wasn’t a Thalmor trap. I’m not your enemy. I want to help you.”

“Help me?!” Méra could hardly keep her voice down. “The first time we met you poisoned me and tied me to a chair. Now you play this cloak and dagger game. Doesn’t really seem like helping to me.”

“You need to understand,” she said almost desperately, “you can’t be too careful. Thalmor spies are everywhere.”

Méra rolled her eyes. “I’m not exactly a fan of the Thalmor, but don’t you think you’re a little paranoid?”

Suddenly, Delphine’s features went strict. “I lost everything and everyone to the Thalmor. If you were in my shoes, you would know how it feels.”

Méra bit the inside of her cheek. She could barely stand the woman’s stern gaze, but she forced herself to not to look away. “Okay. You left the note. I am here. What do you want?”

Delphine walked around her desk. She rested her palm on a folded map, but didn’t open it. “Dragons aren’t just coming back. They weren’t gone somewhere for all these years. They were dead, killed off centuries ago by my predecessors. Now something’s happening to bring them back to life. And I need you to help me to stop it.”

Méra blinked. “Coming back to life?”

“I guess the Greybeards didn’t tell you this, did they?” There was a hint of satisfaction in her tone. “They’re keeping secrets from you. But I guess you’ve already noticed this.”

She ignored her. “What do you want from me?”

“First, I need to know I can trust you. That you really are Dragonborn. I got the horn too, after all. Does that make me Dragonborn, too?”

Méra felt her blood boiling. This woman had been playing games with her and now she wanted her to prove herself? It should be the other way around. “I don’t need to prove anything to you! I’m done here.”

“Go then,” Delphine said when Méra was already at the door. “You know where to find me when you change your mind. Because you will.”

Chapter Text

4 years ago

Haunted or not, Blackreach was beautiful. Glowing mushrooms provided natural, blueish light and gave the ancient city an ethereal atmosphere. They grew in all shape and size: some of them were small like a dandelion, others grew as tall as the highest towers. From outside, the buildings seemed untouched and as good as new. Abandoned structures they had no idea what they could do lay everywhere around the streets. The city looked ancient and futuristic at the same time. The Dwemer had always been so, so ahead of their age. Méra wondered when the people of Tamriel will be able to build buildings and devices like these again.

The air was thick with the spores that floated through the entire city. While it didn’t affect Serana at all, it made Méra more and more dizzy. She was sure if she had to spend one more hour down there, she would start hallucinating, too.

The beauty of Blackreach amazed her, but she couldn’t fully appreciate it while they had to fight their way through the Falmer. There were more of them down there than up in the tower, and sometimes they just chose the easier and smarter way and ran.

When they finally reached the tower they were looking for, she breathed in deeply. The air was musty there, but it was still better so now she felt her head slowly clearing out.

They walked up on ancient stone steps and found the room Septimus was talking about. Neither of the women had any idea what they were looking at, other than it was some kind of Dwemer work. Méra pulled the cube out of her pocket, the one she took from the mage, and placed it atop a small pedestal. It had a hole carved into the metal and sucked the cube in as soon as the two connected, but nothing else happened.

“What about these?” Serana asked, pointing at the other pedestals. “They look like buttons.”

They did indeed, now Méra examined them from closer. They pushed them each in a pattern they saw on the glowing map, watching as the structure in the middle of the room slowly came to life. The hoops circled and the blue glasses reflected the natural light that came in from somewhere above them.

When they pushed the last button down, a long, wide capsule lowered and opened, revealing the Elder Scroll.

Méra hurried down, feeling relieved that they could finally get their hands on it. In the moment she touched the scroll, a sudden wave of dizziness came over her again and pictures flashed before her eyes. A top of a mountain. Warriors with swords in their hands. Fire. Black wings.

She stumbled back and fell hard on the floor, her hand pressed against her temple. Serana hurried closer and kneeled down next to her, arms wrapping around Méra.

“Are you feeling alright? What happened?”

Squeezing her eyes shut, she took a deep breath. “Yeah… that was weird. We should get the hell out of here because these mushrooms are making me really high.”

Serana chuckled and helped Méra up her feet. She picked the Elder Scroll up and gave it to her, but Méra hesitated to take it. When she wrapped her hands around it the second time, nothing happened.

Now

The Companions had always been well-known around Tamriel, most especially in Skyrim, but Vilkas and Farkas were exceptional even amongst them. Many people believed the famous twins who grew up within the walls of Jorrvaskr were not only great warriors, but they simply couldn’t be harmed. They saw them in battle, then watched them leaving without a scratch over and over again. Who wouldn’t have thought the same?

Of course, it was not true. The beast blood and the training they received from very young age granted them extraordinary strength and skills, but neither of them were untouchable. They bled like any other men and sometimes, they survived by a hair’s breadth.

If anyone knew about Vilkas’ recent late night activities, they might have thought the rumours were true. During the past month, he broke into a dozen of Silver Hand hideouts, forts, caves and camps, and killed more men and women he could actually count. The worst injuries he had suffered so far were mere scratches from silver blades, but neither of them cut deep enough to stop him.

There was no fear of pain or death, no shame for taking the life of so many, no sadness he felt so often lately. Rage pushed every other feeling aside like they have never been there. It burned bright inside him and nothing seemed to soothe it. Vilkas let vengeance and fury rule his heart. It was better than sorrow, better than emptiness. He embraced it and didn’t stop to think, because he knew if he did, he would collapse under the weight of his actions.

He walked down the long, dimly lit corridor of the basement and halted in front of Skjor’s room. He lifted his hand to knock, but Aela walked out and closed the door behind her before he could.

“How is he?”

Aela bit her bottom lip to stop its trembling. After three days, she had still no idea how Skjor made it out alive and back home with all those injuries he had been suffering from: deep silver blade cuts and too many broken bones.

“Better,” she said quietly. “But he is still very weak.” She put her hand on Vilkas’ elbow and led him away from the door. “Listen, Vilkas. You’ve both done an excellent job in the past weeks. I’m not saying Kodlak would be proud…” she paused and smiled at him, but he couldn’t return the gesture honestly. “But I am. But maybe… maybe that’s enough.”

Vilkas blinked. “Wasn’t this your idea in the first place?”

“Yes, it was. And I didn’t regret it. You’ve already killed so many. You took revenge. Multiple times.”

“I’m not gonna stop,” Vilkas said, shaking his head. “Not until they’re all dead.”

“Use your head, Brother,” Aela said desperately. “I can’t go with you. Skjor needs to recover and it will take long weeks. We’re already short of warriors here. We can’t afford to lose more of us.”

Vilkas didn’t say anything. He wasn’t sure if it was Kodlak’s death, her pregnancy, or maybe both, but Aela had changed a lot lately. She was always so stubborn and rarely ever thought before she acted, but now she was cautious and very protective of everyone around her.

“At least until we get stronger,” Aela added after Vilkas’ long silence. “We’ve already weakened them. We can wipe them out later.”

In answer, Vilkas gave a defeated sigh. Aela took it as him giving his consent. “In the meantime, you could go and find Méra.”

“Méra…” he repeated the name quietly.

“Yes. It’s been a while now… you could talk to her.”

Vilkas stared off into the distance. He could, but what was the point? She didn’t want to see him and he didn’t want to cause more trouble. The longing he felt did not ease and the ache in his soul increased day by day. Nothing but anger could drown the pain for a while.

He couldn’t put it into words how much he yearned to see her again.

“Alright,” he said, looking back at Aela. “I’ll go after her.”

***

Méra didn’t tell the Greybeards about the little detour she had to make to retrieve the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller. They already despised the Blades, and even though Méra started to think it was for a good reason, she saw no point of feeding their hatred.

Beides, she couldn’t entirely trust the Greybeards either. Their methods were more peaceful compared to the Blades, but they kept many secrets from her; too many.

She came back to High Hrothgar a month ago, and she felt she was exactly where she was back then. Arngeir sent her to a few burial tombs, much to Méra’s disappointment, where she could discover new words. It was all in vain. They didn’t let her use any of them.

“Everything has its own place and its own time.”

“You are not strong enough yet.”

“You need to follow the path.”

For a while, Méra did as they told her to do. After a particularly long and dangerous tomb, when she got the same answer she always did, she had enough.

It was late at night and Méra kept tossing and turning in her bed, angry at the Greybeards for treating her like a child and angry with herself for letting them control her. She dressed and left the room, her legs carrying her without any goal. She found herself in the courtyard.

The northern lights shone in the dark sky, dancing in vibrant blues and greens. The crisp, chilly air was almost painful in her lungs. She thought about trying to shout every word she had learned so far, just out of spite. Then something else came into her mind; words she heard many years ago.

“Simply speak my name to the heavens when you feel the time is right.”

Durnehviir. She wondered if she could use his name with like three little words. The more she thought about it, the more she felt the words spreading through her very being. Curse Never Dying.

When the words left her lips, it wasn’t really a shout. It didn’t even sound like a thunder, like Fus Ro Dah. It was like a whisper, echoing through the skies and everything beyond them.

There was a mist, eerie and purple, circling around the ground before Durnehviir appeared, seemingly out of nothing.

“Ah! The free air of Vus at long last,” he said in his deep voice after he breathed in deeply.

Méra watched him silently, but kept her hand around the hilt of her sword, just in case. Durnehviir looked exactly like he looked in the Soul Cairn; broken, fading.

“Stay your weapons, Qahnaarin. You kept your promise, I shall keep mine.”

Méra had many questions. Durnehviir had told her he would fight by her side, but that was a long time ago. Why would he do that now? Why wouldn’t he join Alduin instead and fight alongside his own kind?

“What is troubling you, Dovahkiin?”

“Did you know what I was when we first met? You called me a dovah.”

“Drenkiin. I did not. It was no more than a mere instinct. A feeling that cleared out now.”

“I still don’t quite understand why I am Dragonborn. And the Greybeards keep a lot of secrets from me. I feel like they’re holding me back.”

Durnehviir stayed silent for so long Méra was sure he won’t speak again. He stared at the dark skies. “You hold great powers for a joor, for a mortal. Your feelings are natural.”

“So should I just let them control me?”

“You should do what your instinct says to do. If you feel you need someone to guide you on your way, let them. If you feel it is a path you must walk alone, leave.”

His answer wasn’t much different from something the Greybeards would say, but somehow, it helped more than Méra could think it would. Talking with Durnehviir calmed her, as if she finally found someone who could actually understand her. She felt it should unnerve her, but it didn’t.

“You have kept your side of the bargain, now let me fulfil mine,” Durnehviir said, fluttering his brownish wings, and turned his head away. “I will teach you my Thu’um. Soul Tearing, in your tongue.”

“Rii,” he said the first word, and it appeared in the snow like it was burning. “The essence of your enemy’s life force.”

Méra let the word wash over. It wasn’t anything like she experienced before. It felt vicious, but very powerful.

“Vaaz. Meaning to tear your enemy’s soul from its living vessel.”

If she could have stopped it, she would have. She felt the meaning of the word in her very being, in her soul, trying to rip her apart from inside. It was over before she could do anything about it.

“Zol – the unlife that results when a soul is imprisoned in dead flesh.”

There was only one time Méra had felt the same she was feeling now: in the Soul Cairn. Deep, painful emptiness. The weight of the endless. The smell of death and the cry of the dead.

The three words slowly faded away, and she decided she will never use this shout.

Durnehviir fluttered his wings again. “Call my name, Dovahkiin, and I will fight alongside you.” He set off the ground, but didn’t fly away. He circled above the mountain a few times, before he landed at the very top of it.

“Dragonborn,” Arngeir’s voice broke the silence, and Méra knew she was in trouble. She didn’t even notice when the old man came outside. “Come with me.”

She could barely keep up with him as she followed him inside the fort. Not only because he picked up his pace, but also because she felt exhausted and nauseous. She felt something wet and warm, trickling under her nose, and when she wiped it, there was blood on the back of her hand.

Méra halted and nearly fell back when Arngeir suddenly spun around. “Where did you learn about Durnehviir? How could you call him?”

“Why should I tell you? You never answer my questions.”

Arngeir’s face remained strict. “You are treading on a dangerous path, Dragonborn. I have told you you should follow our guidance.”

“Yeah, you see, I don’t really know why I should follow you. Why should I let you all tell me when I’m ready? You don’t let me use my Voice. You’re keeping secrets for me. How should I do anything if I lack the knowledge even about my own self?”

“Beware, Dragonborn. You would not be the first who left the Way of the Voice and did terrible, terrible things in the world.”

Méra scoffed. “This is why you’re so secretive. You’re afraid of me?”

The priest let out a long breath. “I am not afraid of you. I am afraid of what you are capable of and what you could do if you will not let us help you on your way.”

“I have some bad news for you, then,” Méra said, taking one step closer. “I’m done letting you tell me what can I do and what I can’t.”

***

Méra left High Hrothgar in a haze. She walked down the Seven Thousand Steps while it was still dark, disappointed and blinded by anger. She wasn’t even sure why she felt so furious. After all, she got used to the Greybeards behaviour a long time ago, and deep down, she knew she would leave them sooner or later.

What upset her even more than Arngeir was that once again, she had no idea where she should go. She still had a lot to figure out about being Dragonborn, but High Hrothgar was no longer an option. Where could she find anyone who knew as much as they did and was willing to share the knowledge with her? There was one place—one person who might help her, but Méra didn’t even want to think about it.

She didn’t want to think about anything at all. Days later, she found herself in the Bannered Mare. She felt lost, but knew two things with strong certainty. One: she wanted to see Vilkas. Two: she was too drunk to make smart decisions. Or any decisions, really.

“No more for you, sweetheart,” the old innkeeper wiped the table and picked up Méra’s goblet and empty bottle. She looked up at the woman who smiled at her kindly, and she felt as if she could choke her to death.

The tavern was silent and Méra wondered how much time had passed since she walked in. She lost count of it. She stood up and made a motion to go upstairs, but changed her mind and left the building. The chilly air of the winter night bit into her cheeks and cleared her head while she walked through the streets. Whiterun was so silent like a haunted city. Like Blackreach , Méra thought and chuckled to herself, though there was nothing funny in what crossed her mind. There were thousands of people around her here and she felt more alone than she felt in the ancient Dwemer city.

She opened the doors of Jorrvaskr and simply walked in. The main hall was empty in the early dawn hours and Méra couldn’t believe how easily she could make her way through the building.

Sneaking into places never meant any problem for her, but she made no effort trying to stay silent or invisible, and she was still quite tipsy. How the Companions could let their guard down so much after just being attacked, she did not understand.

Without knocking, she stumbled into Vilkas’ bedroom, but found it empty. Disappointment washed over her and she groaned as she fell down into his bed. It smelled heavily like him and she inhaled deeply. It gave her the fake sense like he was there, but it disappeared as soon as she let her breath out.

She felt the tears prickling in the corners of her eyes and groaned again, feeling like she could throw up. She rolled over her back and knocked something off the nightstand; it crinkled loudly as it hit the ground.

After she stilled her breaths, she sat up. What the fuck am I even doing here? She shook herself and stood up. Vilkas was probably away on a job or who knows—he did not care about her and she shouldn’t waste her time on him.

Méra crossed the room but halted when the door burst open. Aela held her bow with an arrow nocked to it, but sighed in relief and lowered her weapon when she recognized the woman. “Gods, you scared me to death.”

“Just me,” Méra slurred with a little wave. Her voice was hoarse and quiet. “I should go.”

“But you just came back. Did that idiot do something again?”

“What?”

“I know Vilkas can get a little carried away sometimes. But, you know, his heart is in the right place.”

Méra pressed her palm against her forehead to ease the pain. It didn’t. “I uh… I haven’t seen him in a while. Since I left Whiterun. A month ago or so.”

Above the dim light of the torch, Méra watched as all the colour left Aela’s cheeks. Her eyes went wide and her lips trembled. “I’m going to kill him.”

The way she reacted alarmed Méra. The Companion looked scared, and she knew something wasn’t right.

“He told me he goes after you… it was a week ago.”

“I’ve been around Skyrim a lot. Maybe we just missed each other.”

Aela shook her head. “No. He went to Driftshade. I’m sure he did.”

As Méra gave a puzzled look, Aela shortly told her everything about the time they spent without each other. The more she said, the more sobered and frightened Méra felt. If Vilkas really went there without any help, and it sounded like he did, there was a good chance he was already dead. Aela thought otherwise. The Silver Hand liked to capture werewolves and torture them for a long time before killing them.

It didn’t calm Méra, but at least there was a hope he was still alive.

“I’m going after him.”

“Wait—no!” Aela whisper-screamed and grabbed her forearm to stop her. “Didn’t you listen to me? You can’t go there alone! That’s a suicide mission.” She paced back and forth, running her fingers through her ginger locks. “Skjor can’t go with you, he can barely stand up. Farkas—he would lose his mind and just make everything worse. I… I can’t go either.”

“Why?”

“Well, uhm…” Aela’s hand involuntarily slipped down her stomach, and Méra saw her small baby bump under the thin fabric of her white nightgown.

“Oh. Congratulations.”  

Aela sighed. “We don’t have time for this. We need to find some people—“

“Let me go alone, Aela,” Méra said quietly but firmly, looking deep into her emerald eyes. “I can easily sneak in there before getting caught. I’ve done this before,” she lied. Whenever Méra had a contract, she tried to keep it as clean as possible. Finding a place and time when they were alone so she could kill them without audience.

Breaking into a fort full of werewolf hunters was something else. She was almost completely sure it was not possible she could just go in and sneak Vilkas out.

Her lie, however, seemed to calm Aela. She let out a long, shuddering breath, and gave a nod.

“I’ll bring him home.”

Chapter Text

A Khajiit paced back and forth around the fire, rubbing his paws together for more warmth in the early hours of the frosty Evening Star morning. When Méra reached him, he stepped closer to her, but kept bouncing on his legs.

“What can I get for you at these early hours?”

“I need weapons. Small ones.”

“You have come to the right place,” he raised a hand and disappeared in the huge tent which was set up outside the city. What couldn’t be more like thirty seconds felt like an eternity for Méra. She was losing time with every passing moment, but she couldn’t leave unprepared.

The khajiiti who named himself Rii’saad returned with a chest filled with small but effective weapons. Méra recognized most of them and cut him off when he started to talk about each of them. She took two small knives that she could hide in her boot and her sleeve, and a dozen of shurikens. She hadn’t worked with them for months, even though they were very useful and one of her favourites. They were quick and deadly.

“There’s something that might interest you,” Ri’saad said, pulling a small leather pouch out of the chest. He opened it and poured some of the tiny, shimmering black gravels on Méra’s palm. “Darkness powder straight from Elsweyr. You throw it and it creates darkness, helping you to escape, yes? It is resistant to most of the light-casting spells, sunshine and fire.”

Méra heard about the powder before, but never had a chance to use it. While khajiiti assassins developed it and used it regularly, it was not easy to get it anywhere outside Elsweyr. At least until the Civil War; lately many merchants moved to Skyrim, hoping they could sell their weapons.

She payed for the goods, climbed up on Shadowmere’s back, and left Whiterun in a hurry.

***

Anger is the most dangerous poison , Nenya used to say when Méra was a child. After her parents died, she had angry outbursts multiple times a day. She cried, she yelled. She hid where no one could find her and she tried to run away. At some point, she even got into fights with other children. Everyone around her deeply disapproved her behaviour, most especially her brother and her uncle. Because she should act like a princess, they said. Because no one will ever take her seriously, they said. Because it’s a weakness; a fatal flaw that she shouldn’t allow herself to have.

They told her so many times that after a while, Méra felt ashamed for showing any kind of emotion. She bottled them up, buried them somewhere so deep sometimes she forgot they actually existed; that she was still able to feel.

But there was something pure, wild and untamed in rage she couldn’t give up on anymore; not after she experienced how far it could take her. Méra learnt to control her emotions throughout the years, but she also learnt that some of them should be embraced.

Anger was helpful when it burned hot enough inside her. It pushed fears and weaknesses aside. It helped to get up no matter how many times she fell. It made her keep going when she had no other reason to continue.

Méra was sleep-deprived, emotionally and physically exhausted, and dangerously outnumbered. She had no chance to survive, let alone saving someone else. It was a suicide mission, just like Aela had said.

But anger didn’t leave place for doubt. It was the only thing she felt and she let it cloud her mind and take control over her.

The stormy snow and wind made it hard to keep her eyes open, but it didn’t slow Méra down. She climbed off of Shadowmere’s back, pulled her katana out of its sheath, and marched towards the walls of Driftshade. There was a man standing at the gates she cut down even before he had a chance to draw his sword. Arrows after arrows flew to her, all of them missing while she fought with two Silver Hands.

She knew she needed to be quick; she couldn’t let anyone escape and warn the others. While she had a chance to take them down one by one, she would miserably fail against an army.

After she killed the two men, she ran up the wooden stairs to the archers. The one in front of her drew his long sword; he was almost scarily strong but his heavy weapon slowed him down.  With her thin blade, Méra could easily leave small but deep cuts at the back of his legs, making him fall to his knees. She slit his throat and didn’t stop to catch her breath; there was one woman left who already hurried towards the building.

Méra cursed under her breath and pulled a shuriken out of her pouch, throwing it straight into her thigh. It made her stumble so she could reach her and sink her sword through her heart.

Inside, the fort was dead silent. It seemed tiny from outside, but it was only a disguise. Many stairs led downstairs from the main hall, under the ground. Gods knew how deep it went and how many people were actually inside.

There were werewolf heads on spikes everywhere around the building. Méra felt each hair on her arm standing up. It was the first time since she left Whiterun she experienced something other than anger. The mix of fear and disgust left a bitter taste in her mouth.

She kept her katana at the ready and sneaked through the corridors. As much as she wanted to get over it quickly, she still had the element of surprise: her biggest, and maybe only advantage. She broke into every room, partly to find Vilkas, partly because she intended to kill every single one of the Silver Hand.

They didn’t make it hard. The men and women of the group patrolled the corridors alone, sometimes in twos or threes. Méra was silent on her feet and could effortlessly sneak up on them, killing them before they could make any noise.

Her hands were coated red, her clothes drenched in blood. She turned around a corner and reached a long staircase that led upstairs, but Méra halted at the foot of it when she heard laughing and talking. She stepped back to hide behind the wall, waiting, listening. There were too many of them up there; ten, twelve, maybe even more.

She peeked out. It was dark where she stood but torches and oil lamps lit up the great room upstairs. A guttural growl and a painful howl caught her attention, followed by many others. The place where they imprisoned the werewolves had to be close.

Méra took a deep breath and left her hideaway, bending down as she slowly made her way up the stone steps. When she was high enough to look around, but still in cover, she lay down close to the wall, holding herself up on her elbows.

There was a large room with one long table in the middle and several smaller ones tucked against the walls. From what she was able to see, the Silver Hand in there were all heavily armed.

She reached into her pocket and pulled out the small leather pouch she purchased from Ri’saad. Reaching into it, she took a handful of the gravels and threw them into the room. The reaction was immediate. As soon as the tiny, ebony rocks reached the ground, black mist rose from the ground and up to the ceiling. Everything went pitch dark within a few, short seconds.

Méra slowly stood up from the ground and walked up the stairs. She stayed still, listening as everyone around her spoke in a shout, as if the darkness blunted all of their senses. She heard when someone screamed in pain when touched by the fire in the hearth.

“The fire—why can’t we see the fire? Someone’s in here!”

“Calm down. If we can’t see they can’t see either,” another one said in a hushed voice.

“Werewolves can, you fucking idiot!”

There was chaos in the room. No one saw anything; they just kept yelling instructions to each other without doing anything. It was amusing to listen, really. Méra heard scraping sounds as more of them drew their weapons.

With a smirk, she followed the voices. She halted behind someone, waited until she stopped speaking, and slit her throat with her hand above her mouth. Carefully, she guided the body down the floor so it didn’t make any noise. She killed three other people in silence, but the fifth blew her cover.

Her bloody hand slipped and the man screamed when she plunged her katana through his chest. Méra tried her best not to make any sound, standing still while people around her shouted and tried to find her.

Someone bumped into her and she quickly cut them off before they could move again. The next one – probably by accident – blocked her first hit, but they were swinging their weapon without aim and Méra could kill them with ease, too. She didn’t panic only because she couldn’t see. She had experienced more darkness than this, after all.

Eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve. Only a few of them left standing when the Silver Hand realized they stood no chance against someone who could fight like she did. They tried to find an exit, failing multiple times and bumping into each other, the wall, or Méra if they weren’t lucky enough.

The mist started to clear as they moved farther into the long room. It was still dark, but they were able to make out lines and shapes.  Méra moved faster and fought with a man; a Dunmer, judging by the reddish glint of his eyes. They could see in the dark, yet still, Méra had him on the ropes.

Until she felt a sharp pain in the back of her left thigh. She fell on one knee and let out a painful moan as the dagger slipped out of her flesh. She threw herself on the ground to lean away from a strike, grabbed an ankle of the Dark Elf and pulled him down. He yelped but the sound stuck in his throat as Méra cut his head off.

She fought herself up on her feet, jumping away and stumbling back as the woman who had stabbed her waved her dagger all over the place. Méra grabbed her wrists firmly and cut her hand off, but before she could kill her, another of the Silver Hand was at her back.

She let out a blood-curdling scream while Méra tried to ignore her own pain, fighting with the man. He left a deep cut between her shoulder blades and one on her upper arm before she stepped back into the darkness. She fished out a few shuriken and threw them without aiming. At least one of them surely hit the man and stuck deep into his flesh, judging by the shout that left his mouth. Taking the advantage, she ran to him and sunk her sword into his stomach.

After he dropped dead on the ground, the room went eerie silent. Méra made a cautious step, then another one, but all she could hear was her own, ragged breathing. She picked up her pace, searching for some light, and found the exit of the hall. She caught a glimpse of the woman who escaped, but she had no chance catching her with her wounded leg.

Shit.

She leaned her back against the wall to catch her breath. Suddenly, fatigue washed over her. She felt as she reached her limits and wanted nothing more than sink to the floor. The bleeding of her thigh did not ease, so she cut a piece off her cape and tied it tightly around it. With a groan, she pushed herself from the wall.

Once again, the building was deadly silent. She slowed down not only because it hurt to walk, but also because now she had to be even more cautious than she was before. She reached another long room, similar to the previous, except this one had many cells, most of them occupied by werewolves.

Méra walked carefully through the middle of the isle between the cells. The beasts were in terrible shapes, mutilated, full of scars, limping or simply lying on the ground. The smell of her blood made some of them snarl and rush against the iron bars. She swallowed hard. Even if Vilkas was amongst them, how could she know?

***

The door of the great hall burst open as a woman stormed in, clutching on her heavily bleeding arm and trying to catch her breath. She dropped to her knees and everyone turned to her: some of them sitting still, some of them jumping to their feet, alarmed.

“There—there’s an intruder. She’s already around the cells and killed everyone! In the dark!”

“A werewolf?”

“No. I cut her but the silver didn’t poison her. She kept fighting.”

Quiet murmurs filled the room while an Altmer hurried to the woman to stop the bleeding of her arm. Krev, however, watched her silently.

An intruder? Are you saying that one person… one woman killed fifty of my people?”

The young woman shrugged, still panting. “You didn’t see her, boss. She fights like… like… I have never even seen anything like her!”

Her voice was frightened, but Krev merely sighed. He nodded at two of his largest men who still sat at the table. “Go and find her. You can do whatever you please with her, but I want her alive.”

***

Méra tried to talk with the werewolves in human forms, but they were either passed out or already dead. When she almost gave up and left the cells, the man she had been trying to wake up lifted his head from the ground.

“You aren’t one of them.”

Méra turned back. “I’m looking for someone. His name is Vilkas. Tall, dark hair, blue eyes. He wears armour with a wolf symbol on his chest.”

The young man fought himself up in a sitting position and leaned against the wall. He panted heavily, keeping a hand on a scar on his stomach. Under the blood and dirt, he had long, strawberry blonde hair. He couldn’t be older than twenty. “The Companion?”

Méra stepped closer to the iron bars. “Have you seen him?”

He nodded and licked his chapped lips. “He broke in a couple days ago. Killed a whole lot of ‘em. He was here for a while but they took him.”

“They killed him?”

“Don’t think so. The Silver Hand likes to… play with us first.”

Méra let out a shuddering breath and started to pick the lock out. “Any idea where they took him?”

“He’s probably with Krev.”

“Krev?”

“Haven’t heard of him? Krev the Skinner. Guess your friend is too valuable for keeping him here.”

The lock broke, but the man didn’t move.

“You can go. It’s all clear that way.”

“I don’t think I can make it.”

Méra wiped dried blood off her sword. “Your choice.”

The corridors were still quiet and calm, strangely so. There was no one around, as if everyone just disappeared. Maybe they really did; maybe she killed all of them.

Her instinct told her otherwise. With every step, Méra felt like she was walking into a trap.

She just left an empty room when two men turned into the long corridor where she was. They froze, watching her like they couldn’t quite believe the woman back with Krev said the truth.

Méra twirled her sword, but stayed still. “Hello, boys.”

They exchanged a glance before they started towards her with increasing steps. Méra didn’t want to move yet: her leg hurt like hell, and they would see she was limping.

Blocking their strikes wasn’t easy. Both men were strong and a lot faster than Méra would have thought by their sizes. She drew a knife with her free hand and stabbed it into the man’s stomach while she leaned away from the other’s sword. His armour prevented the blade from going too deep, but it was enough to make him stumble back.

The pain in her leg and the loss of blood slowed Méra down. Her arms ached from the power the man put into his strikes and she was so focused trying to stay on her feet and parry his hits that she didn’t notice when the other Silver Hand got up. She felt a strong arm around her neck and another around her stomach, keeping her still while the man in front of her snatched her katana out of her hand with such force she was sure her wrist broke. She tried to struggle out of his grip, but he kept the tip of his dagger against her stomach. It broke through her thin leather armour and dug into her stomach just enough to spill blood. She didn’t have any other choice but to stop moving.

“Smart girl,” the one behind her said. “Take her weapons.”

He pulled the dagger out of her belt and yanked the pouch that was tied around her waist off of her. He looked into it, furrowing his brows when he saw the throwing stars and tiny vials of poisons.

“Where did you get all of this?”

“If you ask nicely, perhaps I’ll tell you.”

The man gave her a furious glance before he started to search for more weapons. He found the one hidden in her sleeve and the other in her boots, roughly groping her all over in the process with a disgusting smile. He opened the front of her suit, exposing her chest and running rough fingers down her stomach.

Méra gritted her teet. “Where do you think I hide more weapons? Under my skin?”

“Can’t be too careful.”

His hand went to grab her breast but Méra kneed him into his crotch before he could. He bent down and fell back with a groan, while the other man tightened his grip around her neck, nearly cutting off her airway while he dug the dagger deeper into her stomach.

“I can’t kill you yet,” the Silver Hand said after he straightened, walking close to her. “… but it doesn’t mean I can’t make you suffer. Your pretty little skull will make an excellent trophy.”

“Hurry up then, because I’m bleeding out here,” the one behind her said, pushing her while his grip didn’t ease at all.  

They walked her down the corridor and threw her into a cell, locking the solid iron door and blocking out all the light. She fell hard on her hands and knees, but sat up and leaned against the wall when the door closed.

Méra let out a long breath and closed her eyes. She was bleeding from too many cuts now and the loss of blood made her exhausted. She tried with a healing spell, but she was too weak and couldn’t close the wounds. They took all of her weapons, poisons.

With a painful moan, she pushed herself off the ground and adjusted her clothes that the Silver Hand nearly tore off of her. No, I’m not going to give up now , she repeated in her head. She walked to the wall, listening, but couldn’t hear anything.

Was her Unrelenting Force shout strong enough to break through the door? The more important question was if she was strong enough to use it at the moment. She stepped back and closed her eyes again, slowly breathing in and out and searching for that calm place she always had to find to use her Voice.

No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t. She was storming inside and nothing seemed to ease it.

She heard voices, and the door burst open. The man who took her weapons and two she hadn’t seen yet dragged her out of the cell, pushed her hard against the wall and tied her wrists together.

“Did you bring some new friends? Are you afraid of taking me alone?”

“I’d shut my mouth if I were you,” he said, roughly grasping her wrists. He turned to the others. “Search the place. I can’t believe she’s alone.”

He led her through the long corridor and into a large room, pushing her down onto a chair before she could take a look around. A voice in the back of her mind said she should have been scared, but again, all she could feel was anger; the desire for taking revenge.

The man tied her arms to the chair, making sure the ropes were tight enough before he stepped back. Méra couldn’t hold back a small laugh.

“Oh, you are all so screwed.”

The same woman who got away from her earlier shifted uncomfortably in the corner. “I’m telling you, Krev, she’s a witch. Kill her before she blows us all up.”

“Shut up,” the man whom she called Krev stood up and walked to Méra, leaning down so he was at her eye level. He had light brown skin and vibrant blue eyes, and he would have been quite handsome if he didn’t have that malicious grin on his face.

“So you’re the whore who killed my men.”

“It was not that hard, to be honest,” Méra shrugged with a smile. “I’d say you need better men, but you won’t be alive long enough to find them.”

Krev grinned. “You’ve got a mouth on you, don’t ya? Don’t worry, we’ll put it in a good use soon.” He patted her cheek and stepped back. “But first, tell me what the fuck you are doing here. Who are you working for?”

“I don’t work for anyone,” Méra said, holding the man’s gaze. The room went silent and she felt the urge to look around, but the leader grabbed her chin hard when she turned her head.

“Don’t even think about trying to escape, sweetheart.” He pulled his dagger out of his belt and slowly scraped the tip down her cheek. It didn’t spill blood, only left an angry red mark that should fade away soon. “You don’t deserve a quick death, but maybe I’ll change my mind if you start talking.”

As she didn’t say a word, Krev took a handful of her hair and yanked her head back, shouting. “Who are you working for?!”

She groaned, but remained silent. He let her go but moved his knife to her throat.

“Méra?”

Ignoring the blade against her neck, she turned her head towards the source of the voice. In a cage, at the back of the room, Vilkas kneeled with his head leaned against the cold iron bars. Her mouth fell open at the sight and her heart sunk to the floor. He seemed weak, sickly looking even with many fresh scars all over his bare chest. He lost weight and his face was tortured. Méra never thought she would ever see him so fragile.

Krev tutted. “Aww. That’s so romantic. So you came to save him, aren’t you?”

Vilkas’ grip tightened around the bars. “If you touch her—“

“Oh, I will touch her. And you’re going to watch it.” He walked closer to Vilkas, looking down at him with a mix of pity and disgust. Krev narrowed his eyes then, thinking. “Unless… you change into your true, ugly form, and let us skin you.” He said with such tone like he was talking about the weather. “Then maybe, I’ll let your girl go. If she behaves well.”

Méra felt her stomach turn in disgust. So this is why Vilkas wasn’t dead yet: because they wanted to skin him alive. They had been torturing and taunting him for days, trying to anger him enough so he would turn.

During her days with the Dark Brotherhood Méra had to torture many people for information, but thinking of what they have done to Vilkas sickened her.

He avoided her eyes and tried to stand up, but he was so weak he fell down again. She was almost completely sure he was too drained for transforming.

“Vilkas, don’t.”

As the words left her mouth, Krev slapped her in the face with the back of his hand. Suddenly, Vilkas stood and rushed against the bars, shouting as he tried to break out.

“Let her go,” he rasped out. “Do what you want to do with me just—just let her go.”

Méra closed her eyes and sighed. She felt the taste of blood on her tongue and spit on the ground.

Krev rolled his eyes. “All right. I see we have to do this the harder way.”

“Can I have a few last words first?”

He raised his eyebrows. “You don’t really deserve it, you know? After the massacre you’ve done here. But to see how generous I am… go on, sweetheart.”

Méra smirked. She threw all the knowledge out of the window she learnt from the Greybeards and instead of clearing her mind out, she let fury take over her. She felt it in her bones, in every fibre of her being.

“RII VAAZ ZOL!”

Purple lights circled out of her and hit Krev in the chest, throwing him back against the wall. His soul left his body; shimmering clouds floating around the room until they slowly faded away.

Everything happened in the blink of an eye. The people around the room froze for a second before they all drew their weapons, but halted again when they saw Krev standing up. Except it wasn’t Krev anymore; not really. His blue eyes went grey and were empty, lifeless.

With her hands still tied to the chair, Méra stood up and ran towards the nearest Silver Hand, kneeing him in the stomach and banging her head against his. While he fell back, Méra leaned away from hits and swords, using her leg to kick them. Her body reached a point where fatigue completely left her, allowing her to fight like she never even knew pain or exhaustion. It was like a swan song, because she knew it will get much worse when she stops again. If I’m going to die, I’ll take all of you with me.

She used her Whirlwind Sprint shout to dash forward, turned around halfway and crashed hard against the wall. It knocked the wind out of her lungs, but the chair broke and the ropes fell off her bruised wrists.

Seeing what she was capable of, a few of the Silver Hands simply ran out of the room. Méra grabbed a sword from the ground, but there were still too many of them against her: around two dozen. She heard that Vilkas tried to break out of his cell.

“YOOL TOOR!” Méra shouted again. Her eyes went round and she couldn’t hold back a short laugh when three warriors closest to her caught fire. She felt the smell of embers in her nose and the taste of soot in her mouth.

She raised her sword just in time to block a man’s strike. It was the same one who took her weapons earlier. He was strong and quick and Méra could barely keep up with him. He kicked into her wounded thigh and she cried out in pain, losing her balance. While she was falling, she left a deep cut on the back of his knee, pulling him down with her.

They both dropped their weapons and while Méra was quick to reach for it, the man held her on the ground with his body and she couldn’t free herself from under him. He wrapped both of his hands around her neck, so strongly she wasn’t sure he wanted to choke her to death or tear her head off. She tried to kick him with her knee, but she couldn’t move from the weight of him. She tried to reach for the sword, but it was too far away.

There was a deep, long roar and a loud bang that made the Silver Hand’s head spin.

“Shit,” he murmured under his breath and his grip eased just enough so Méra could grab the sword, using all of her remained strength to lift it and struck it through his throat. His blood streamed down, all over her face while his limp body fell on top of her.

For a sole second, she couldn’t breath and couldn’t move a muscle. She felt then as all the weight was lifted off of her and she breathed in deeply, coughing first and clutching her aching throat.

When her vision cleared and her ears weren’t ringing anymore, she looked up with slightly rounded eyes. Vilkas broke out of his cell, transformed, and already ripped apart most of the men in the room. There were blood, body parts and internal organs everywhere around. Méra sat up, but stayed on the ground, panting. She didn’t feel strong enough to take the fight with anyone anymore, and now she had a bigger issue.

In his beast form, Vilkas wasn’t much different from a normal wolf. He was twice, maybe even three times bigger than one. Surprisingly, his fur was white as snow and his eyes like amber.

Méra, still on the floor, froze when Vilkas finished all of them and caught her eyes. He stalked to her, blood dripping from his fur. There wasn’t much she could do against a werewolf who had been tortured and starved for days.

“Vilkas. It’s me,” she said quietly, trying to sound more confident than she actually was, but he growled even louder, inches from her face. She knew she shouldn’t look into his eyes, but it was hard to tear her gaze away. There was only one thing she could try.

Méra swallowed hard and slowly raised her chin, exposing her neck to him. She felt his breath on her as he leaned closer, sniffing at the thin skin. Her blood ran cold at the thought of how easily he could rip her arteries out, but the vicious snarling slowly faded. She shivered when he licked at her pulse point, once and twice before he whined quietly and walked away.

Méra let out a shuddering breath and followed Vilkas with her eyes. He collapsed, like he lost all of his strength, but he started to transform back. She winced at the sound of bones cracking and breaking and she crawled closer to him on the ground. When he was himself again, she rolled him onto his back.

His eyes were closed shut, his mouth open. Méra put her hands on his shoulders, shaking him. “Vilkas. Vilkas, you have to get up.”

He raised his arm, blindly searching for her until his hand found her cheek. His touch was weak and gentle and somehow took all of the strength she had left out of Méra. She lowered her head until her face rested on his chest. His always heated skin was unusually cold, his heartbeat slow. She closed her eyes and pondered how easy it would be staying there and die in each other’s arms.

No , a voice inside her head said, and she clenched her fist. She had been through so much to get here, to save him—she couldn’t give up on him when she was so close.

Slowly, she fought herself up on her feet. Vilkas didn’t move while she went to look around the room, walking between corpses. On the desk in the middle, she found her weapons and her pouch with all the vials. There wasn’t much she could use and all of her healing potions were in her knapsack, tied to Shadowmere’s back.

She found some clothes for Vilkas to wear and a cape that she could drape over his back, but he still didn’t move. She tried to pull him up, but he fell back like a ragdoll.

“Vilkas,” Méra said his name as loud as she could, slapping his face. “You’re too heavy. You have to help me.”

A sigh of relief left her when she finally saw the cerulean blue of his eyes. Vilkas blinked slowly, trying to clear his vision, but it was still blurry. He couldn’t really see Méra’s face, but  he heard her voice and smelled her scent and it gave him enough push to sit up.

It took another minute to stand up. Méra guided his arm around her shoulders and let him put as much weight on her as she could still bear without collapsing while they left the fort.

Only when they were already outside Méra thought of how lucky they were that there were no more Silver Hand left in the building. It was a miracle they could still walk; it would not have taken too much to defeat them.

The chilly air hit Vilkas’ face like a ton of bricks. Méra dropped him on the snowy ground and he leaned his back against a tree. Shadowmere trotted closer to them, seemingly out of nothing, and Méra was grateful she didn’t need to make another step. She leaned against the mare while she searched for potions in her knapsack, before she dropped on her knees next to Vilkas.

Silver was poisonous for werewolves. It got into the bloodstream and even though it didn’t kill quickly, it weakened them and tortured them for long days or even for weeks. Vilkas’ body was covered with scars, deep red ones that looked like flash burns. Méra applied three different potions on one to see their effect, but neither of them helped.

Heaving a sigh, she tore one petals off the nightshade she had and put it into Vilkas’ mouth. Nightshade was amongst the most poisonous plants, but in small amounts it could save lives. She urged him to swallow it and while she waited, she applied some potions on her own wounds.

Slowly, Vilkas opened his eyes. He was shivering with cold and he was pale as a ghost. When he spoke, his voice was raspy and quiet. “Méra… what the hell are you doing here?”

“Saving your life, you fucking idiot.”

He closed his eyes  again and couldn’t stifle a lopsided smile. “I’ve missed you.”

“Don’t sleep,” Méra said, slapping him in the face. “We have to go or we’ll both bleed to death here. We can reach Whiterun in two days… but maybe we’ll find a store on the way. I don’t know what can heal your wounds though.”

Vilkas furrowed his brows, like he was thinking something hard, before he shook his head. “I know a place nearby. Good friends. We can go there.”

“Are you sure?”

Vilkas gave a weak nod, and Méra swallowed hard. She didn’t like the idea of going to someone she didn’t know at all, but there was a chance Vilkas wouldn’t make it to Whiterun. She helped him up on his feet and Shadowmere’s back, and rode away as fast as they could.

 

Chapter Text

4 years ago

“I thought we had an agreement,” Astrid said calmly. She stood with her arms crossed over her chest, her eyes burning with anger. “I let you go, you report back once a week. Did I ask too much?”

“Astrid—“ Méra started, but the leader cut her off.

“And if it isn’t enough that you completely disappeared, you brought a stranger to our home. What in the name of Sithis were you thinking?!”

Méra sat on a chair in Astrid’s chamber with a small pout, like a little girl being scolded by her mother. Bringing Serana into the Dark Brotherhood Sanctuary was indeed not the smartest idea, but she didn’t want to leave her out there while Harkon’s men still chased them.

“I didn’t know it was taking so long. I didn’t know… Look, I couldn’t really send a letter from an ancient Dwemer city, could I?”

Astrid’s features didn’t change. “Is this funny to you? We thought you died!”

“But I’m here, so can we please move on?”

“No, we can’t!” Astrid couldn’t keep her voice down anymore, and Méra flinched back, hearing her shout. “I gave you a home when you had nothing. I gave you a family when you had no one. I gave a meaning to your life when you were lost. Is this how you repay everything I’ve done for you?”

Méra bit her tongue and looked away. Astrid always had a way to find her weakest spots and make her feel guilty if she wanted to. She did it many times before, and Méra always, without an exception, let her control her emotions. Another time, she would have apologized and promised she’ll change. But not now.

“I’m sorry, Astrid. I’m not ungrateful. You and the Dark Brotherhood are my home and I’m not planning to abandon you. But I’m not going to leave Serana either.”

Astrid held her gaze for a while, silently, before she let out a sigh. “Listen, Méra. I don’t care about any of your love lives. You know I don’t…”

Méra laughed. “Love life—what? No. It isn’t like that.”

Astrid rolled her eyes. “If you say so. Like I said, I don’t care. But you can’t bring a stranger here and you can’t disappear without a word just because she’s important to you. You’re an assassin first; everything comes second. I love Arnjborn, but if I had to choose between him and the Dark Brotherhood, I’d choose the Dark Brotherhood without question. Would you do the same?”

“Yes,” Méra said without a blink of an eye.

Now

Shadowmere was restless. She did not stop or slow down, but rushed through the deepest forests to reach her goal. It was not the first time her speed and endurance saved lives.

Méra lost track of time and she wasn’t sure where they were anymore. She tried to keep herself awake, her eyes open, but the loss of blood quickly drained out her remaining strength. Cold sweat broke out on her skin and her vision became blurry with every passing minute.

It was Vilkas’ presence that kept her conscious. His body leaned heavily on hers, his head rested on her shoulder, his weak arms wrapped around her waist. She could barely feel his breath against her skin, but what bothered her the most was how cold he was. How much he had left? Hours? Minutes? If he didn’t have the beast blood, she would have lost him already.

The mare slowed down and Méra straightened, alarmed. The forest got thinner, until she could finally see daylight between the trees. They reached a small clearing with a wooden house. She didn’t have much time to take in her surroundings: her eyes stopped on the man who chopped wood in the garden, but halted when he spotted the uninvited guests.

Méra slipped off of Shadowmere’s back and Vilkas fell with her despite the fact that she gave everything to keep him up. His eyes were closed, but small grunts and quiet murmurs left his lips. Whatever he tried to say, she couldn’t make out a word.

The man watched from afar as the strange woman tried to shake the man up, until he recognized who lied on the ground. Eyes widening, darkening with worry, he dropped his axe and ran closer.

“Vilkas!” He exclaimed while he crouched down. “What happened?”

Méra didn’t answer right away, just watched him silently. Despite the cold of the winter, he was shirtless. There were grey hairs in his dark blonde beard, his otherwise kind features hardened by an old, long cut across his face. There was only a small handful of people Méra trusted and if it was only about her, she would not put her life into a stranger’s hand.

“Silver Hand,” she slurred from the exhaustion. “Vilkas said we should come here.”

At her words, the Nord man’s features went from worried to angry in the blink of an eye. The way he pulled Vilkas up on his feet so effortlessly confirmed her suspicions: he had to be a werewolf.

“My wife will help you. Can you walk?”

Méra gave a short nod as they walked across the field, leaving stains of blood on the thin layer of snow. She didn’t know how she could gather enough strength to make another step, and when they stepped into the house, she nearly collapsed. The warmth that radiated from the hearth, the smell of home cooked meals that filled the entire place took out all of her remaining energy. She leaned her shoulder against the wall, her knees trembling.

At the far end of the hall, an Altmeri woman sat at the table with two children, surprise and fear on their faces.

“Eira, Hakon, go upstairs,” the man said firmly while put his hand on Méra’s elbow and urged her to follow him. The kids jumped and ran up the wooden stairs, but kept looking back over their shoulders. “Lyra, we need you.”

The woman whom he called Lyra was already on her feet, hurrying closer while the words left her husband’s lips. “Vilkas?” There was concern in her tone, her frown deepening as her gaze wandered from Vilkas to Méra. She exchanged a quick glance with her husband, before they walked down into the basement.

The room was big with two, small beds. They put Vilkas in one of them, but Méra refused to move from his side.

“Ragnar, what happened?” The High Elf asked while she leaned above Vilkas, dragging his clothes off to examine his wounds. She had the same worried expression over her face, the kind that told her they must have been knowing each other for a very long time.

Instead of answering, Ragnar looked up at Méra, cluelessly. Lyra followed his gaze, but her questioning glance turned into worry once again. “Dear, you are bleeding very heavily. Let me—“

“No,” she cut her off; her voice shaky but surprisingly strong. “I’ll be—I’m okay. Help him first.”

Méra knew she was almost as close to bleed out as Vilkas, but she didn’t go through everything she did only to lose him now. The thought of letting him slip through her fingers scared her in a way she wouldn’t have thought it was still possible.

“You are going to—“

“I don’t care. Help him. Please.”

With a sigh, Lyra turned back to Vilkas. Convincing her didn’t seem easy and now they didn’t have time to waste.

“Did you give him anything?”

“Nightshade,” Méra answered. “I tried to close his wounds but nothing helped.”

She nodded. “Nightshade is good. You have probably saved his life.” She gave her a small smile, but seeing she barely stood on her feet, face pale as snow, she became serious again. “Please, at least sit down.”

Méra didn’t want to sit down: she was afraid she would asleep. But before she even had time to argue, Ragnar pushed a chair closer to her, and she felt herself slowly sinking down. She watched silently as Lyra treaded Vilkas’ wounds with different spells. While she knew elves’, and especially Altmer’s magic was the strongest, seeing it always surprised her. Méra couldn’t tell how old the woman was. She had long, white hair, sparkling kind eyes, a distant gaze. She wore a dress elves usually did; long and thin, all natural colours.

“What happened? Did the Silver Hand attack Jorrvaskr again?” Ragnar asked.

“Not exactly,” Méra replied, out of breath, while she kept her tired eyes on Vilkas. Her own voice seemed distant and she felt so dizzy she had to hold onto the wooden arms of the chair. “He…”

Lyra cast a small glance at her while she crushed herbs in a bowl. She wanted to keep her talking before she would pass out. “Did they attack you on the road?”

Méra shook her head. “He went to kill their leader but they caught him. They tortured him for nearly a week by the time I found him.”

“What about the others?”

“The Silver Hand? A few got away but most of them are dead.”

“No. Your Brothers and Sisters.”

Méra closed her eyes. “’m not… I went alone.”

Lyra’s gaze met with her husband’s. It showed fear and surprise, and it was the last thing Méra saw before she drifted off to sleep.

***

Vilkas jolted awake with a gasp. He winced from the pain that shot through his ribs when he sat up, but he was surprised to see his wounds were mostly healed. The silver blades left deep, white scars that would never fully disappear, but it was a small price considering that he almost died.

He didn’t have a chance to thoroughly look around the room as his eyes almost immediately fell on Méra. She lay on the small bed, a few feet from his, many furs covering her unconscious body. Swallowing a few groans, Vilkas climbed out of the bed and limped closer to her. She was pale, her heartbeat and her breathing dangerously slow and weak.

“I would not wake her up.” A kind voice came from the door. Vilkas whipped his head around, sparing only a quick glance for the Altmer, before his concerned gaze found Méra again.

“Is she…” He stopped; his voice too dry and hoarse. “Is she going to make it?”

“I cannot tell,” she said, walking into the room with slow steps. “I healed her wounds. She got my best potions. She should have been already awake by now, long before you.”

“Then why is she barely alive?”

“My mother always said: if it is not the body, then it should be the soul. Let her rest, Vilkas. It is the best we can do now.”

After long moments of hesitation, Vilkas left the room in Lyra’s heels. Her words echoed in his head. If it is not the body, then it should be the soul. Our souls, he thought. If it was something with her dragon blood, there might be no one who could help her.

“Vilkas!” Two children screamed in unison, rushing towards the Companion and wrapping their arms around him with such force he nearly stumbled over. The noise made his head throb with pain, but he laughed weakly at the kids who barely reached past his waist.

“Eira, Hakon, look at you two!” He said while ruffling their hair. “You grew so much.”

They both pulled back at the same time, but it was the girl who first spoke. “Is it true that you killed a dragon?”

“Is that what they’re saying?”

“He can’t kill a dragon,” the boy said. “Only the Dragonborn can.”

Eira rolled her eyes. “Anyone kill a dragon but the Dragonborn can kill them permanently. There is a difference, you’re just too stupid to understand.”

“You are stupid!” Hakon yelled and his small fangs slid out, but Vilkas merely laughed while their father sent them away to do some chores.

Shaking his head, Vilkas dropped himself down on the nearest chair by the long table. Lyra quickly put a bowl of stew in front of him and Vilkas’ stomach growled loudly. He was starving, until he remembered the last time he ate anything was when he feasted from the Silver Hand’s body, and his appetite disappeared as fast as it came.

“I’m sorry for barging in on you,” he said, looking up at Lyra who sat across from him. “You know I wouldn’t have come here if I had any other choice.”

“Nonsense,” Ragnar replied, leaning against the doorframe. “You’re always welcome here. But what happened? Your Sister said something about the Silver Hand.”

“She isn’t my… she’s not a Companion,” Vilkas said, before he heaved a deep sigh. Memories flashed through his brain so quickly and vividly it made his head ache. All the rage he felt since Kodlak’s death now was gone, replaced with only guilt. Not only because the Harbinger would be deeply disappointed if he knew about the carnage he had done, but also because he put the Companions in danger. It could all have gone so, so much worse.

And Méra… He still had no idea how she got there, but now, because of him, she was barely alive. The thought of her dying felt like someone ripped his heart out.

He decided to tell everything to his friends. Ragnar used to be a Companion too and Lyra was one of the most understanding persons he ever met. He knew neither of them would judge him, and he really needed to pour his heart out.

“Kodlak would understand more than anyone why you did what you did,” Ragnar said after Vilkas told them everything—from the day they decided to take revenge, to the point Méra saved him. “We’ve all done reckless things. He isn’t an exception.”

Vilkas smiled weakly. Deep down he knew his friend was right, but it eased nothing on the shame he felt. Where should he go now, after all this? He felt like everything he ever believed in was thrown out of the window.

After he forced some stew down, he went outside to breathe in some fresh air. From the balcony, he could see the highest towers of Dragonsreach in the far distance.

Lyra stepped out, standing next to him, wrapped in the thickest furs. After living in Skyrim the past twenty years, she still missed the warmth of the Summerset Isles. “May I know who the lady is who brought you here? Have you finally found someone who broke the ice that coated your heart?”

Vilkas let out a short laugh. “It’s not like that. We just… I don’t know what we are. It’s nothing.”

“She risked her own life to save yours. I saw how she looked at you and I saw how you looked at her. It does not seem like nothing to me.”

Vilkas swallowed hard, resting his elbows on the wooden railing and staring off into the distance. “It’s complicated, Lyra.”

“You do have feelings for her,” she pushed.

“Yeah, maybe I do.”

“She does, too.”

“Does she?” Vilkas asked, shaking his head. “I didn’t treat her very well.”

“And yet, she saved your life. You have a temper. It does not mean you have to push her away.”

Vilkas sighed. When he spoke, his voice was small. “I can’t promise I’d never hurt her.”

“My husband is a werewolf too. So are my children. What I learned from them is that their wolves are a part of them, and not some kind of separated, evil spirit. I know you would love to think it is not you, but it is. The more you try to shut it out, the more you lose control. If you embrace it, the control is yours. Take it.”

Vilkas couldn’t hold back a smile. “You know, she said pretty much the same thing.”

“How surprising. Maybe you should start listening to the smart women around you,” Lyra said. “Let yourself love, Vilkas. Trust me, it is not that bad.”

Vilkas opened his mouth, but the words stuck in his throat when he heard an increasing pulse and a gasp of air. He rushed into the house, marched through the corridors and down the stairs until he reached the room where they stayed.

Méra sat with a confused look, holding the covers close to her body. She was still pale, but not as much as hours ago. Her eyes softened when she saw Vilkas and felt her heartbeat slowing down.

“How do you feel?” He asked quietly, walking into the room.

Méra licked her parched lips and cleared her throat. “Like shit.”

Vilkas poured some water for her and sat down at the edge of her bed, but instead of taking the cup, she wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him close. Remembering seeing him so weak, vulnerable and tortured reminded her how close she was to actually lose him.

The gesture caught Vilkas off guard; it was so unlikely from her. His body was stiff, but relaxed soon and put his free hand on the middle of her back, rubbing gently. Holding her close spread an unfamiliar warmth through him.

Out of a sudden, she let go of him as if she just did something she shouldn’t have. She avoided his eyes while she took the cup and drank the water in one go; the small effort leaving her panting heavily.

There was a million things Vilkas wanted to say to her, but now they were both here, his tongue was tied. Fortunately, Méra broke the silence.

“Where are we? Are they Companions?”

“Ragnar was. He met Lyra on a job, they fell in love, and they left to… get a life.”

Méra closed her eyes and slipped lower in the bed. She kept her eyes open, but she looked as if she could fall asleep any second. She tried to put the last few days together, piece by piece, and as she slowly remembered the tiniest details, she wasn’t surprised at all why she felt so exhausted. She pushed herself through her own boundaries in every possible way. The Greybeards were right, after all.

“How did you get there? Driftshade?”

“Aela told me you’d probably be there.”

Vilkas frowned. What in Oblivion was Méra doing in Jorrvaskr? Then another thought disrupted him, causing the most painful expression sitting on his features. “She’s gonna kill me.”

“Oh, yeah, she will,” Méra said, smiling. “You should send her a letter, though. She’s really worried.”

He nodded, but his mind was elsewhere. His gaze bored into her icy blue eyes. “Méra, I’m… I just wanted to say… what you’ve done for me…”

“It’s okay,” she said quietly. “I owed you, didn’t I?”

“It was reckless. You could’ve died.”

“You could’ve died, too. Guess we’re both reckless idiots.” She closed her eyes, sighing. “Just resting my eyes a bit.”

Vilkas watched her silently, opening and closing his mouth several times without finding the right words. He wiped the loose strands of hair out of her face, brushed his fingertips along her cheek, but she was already fast asleep.

***

Once again, when Méra woke up, she found herself in an empty room. She felt strong enough to get up so she climbed out of the bed and put on fresh clothes someone had left for her. The simple brownish dress fit her almost perfectly. She hadn’t found her armour anywhere around, but her weapons were all on the small table in the room.

The house was silent. As she walked up from the basement, she felt the smell of food and her stomach growled loudly. She heard quiet humming, and following the sound, she soon found Lyra in the kitchen.

“Oh, you are awake,” she smiled. “How do you feel?”

“Better.”

The Altmer urged her to sit down by a small table and poured her a cup of tea that should give her some strength. It tasted terribly bitter.

“Where’s everyone else?”

“My husband went to hunt with the children,” she said. “If you are looking for Vilkas, he is in the garden, brooding.”

Méra sighed and stood up. “I should talk to him.”

“You should,” Lyra said with a knowing smile. “But you should eat something first.”

Méra didn’t protest. She was starving and everything Lyra cooked smelled like heaven. She even had a slice of crostata filled with sour and sweet berries even though she already felt full.

“Are you a healer?”

“I have worked as a healer most of my life, yes. All around Tamriel. But mostly in the Summerset Islet and Skyrim,” Lyra replied.

“I guess this is how you met your husband.”

“Indeed,” she smiled, crushing dry leaves of some kind of herb and pouring them into a bowl. “At the Reach, fifteen years ago. It was never easy for an Altmer to live here, but the Companions took me in. I lived with them for a decade as their personal healer.”

“Don’t you miss your home?”

“Home is never a place, Méra. Of course I miss Lillandril—this is where I grew up. But it is my past. Do you think it would be wise if I left everything behind and went back to the house where I was born, only because there was a time when I was happy there?”

Méra stopped eating, staring at the crumbs on her plate. She didn’t know true happiness since she was a child, and she would do anything to get it back. “Sometimes I think it’s the only place some of us can find happiness.”

“Nostalgia is dangerous. It makes you think you will never be as happy as you were once. It is not true. You love a memory. And it is fine—keep them. But you should not let them think you have no chance left for the future. You have so many possibilities,” she smiled. “Right in front of your eyes.”

Sighing, Méra stood up from the table. “Thank you for saving me. You didn’t have to.”

“Vilkas’ family is my family too,” Lyra said without looking up.

Méra left the kitchen with a frown; family was an overstatement. She was a strange woman, to say at least, but mages usually were. Nevertheless, she kept thinking about her words. She knew there was no chance of going back in time but still, she still craved to get back some of her old life. She had tried to move on, but sometimes she felt everything she did was for quelling that deep homesick feeling she felt.

The weather was mild, the snow was melting. The property was huge with a garden where nothing grew in the cold winter except snowberries. There was a lake, and a small shrine of Talos. That was where Méra found Vilkas, sitting on a rock close to the shrine, seemingly lost in his thoughts.

Vilkas heard her coming even before she left the house. He looked up, happy to see her well enough to finally leave the bed. “How do you feel?”

“I’m alive,” she said, sitting down across of him on another stone. “What about you?”

“I’m alive,” Vilkas repeated her words, though it missed the joking tone she used. He saw goosebumps breaking out across her skin and he stood up, draping the sabre cat fur over her that was on his back. Méra smiled gently at him, but he avoided her eyes.

“Stop beating yourself,” Méra broke the silence.

Vilkas glanced at her, before looking away again with a shake of his head. “A lot of people could’ve died. Including you.”

“You wanted justice. I’d have done the same.”

“I wanted revenge. They aren’t the same thing.”

“Sometimes they are.”

Vilkas sighed. “Are you really trying to tell me I did the right thing?”

“Oh, no. What you did was stupid. Why did you think going there alone was a smart idea?”

“And you did what exactly?”

“I saved your ass. That’s what I did.”

Vilkas laughed. “Yeah. You did.”

For a while, neither of them said anything. Méra hoped Vilkas would open up a little but his heart still felt too heavy.

“It was just… all in vain, you know? It isn’t bringing Kodlak back.” Vilkas said. “I’ve killed before but only when it was inevitable. And now I slaughtered hundreds within a few weeks out of sheer anger. Still… I regret nothing. I’m just… I don’t want to live my life like this from now on.”

“We do many things to save or avenge the people we love.”

“Is this how you ended up with the Dark Brotherhood?” Vilkas asked before he could stop himself. He didn’t want to upset her again and he still owed her an apology. Thankfully, Méra didn’t look angry.

“Yeah,” she said quietly. “Yeah, I did.”

He wanted to know more, but her tone showed she considered that part of the conversation closed. “Why did you leave?”

“I was betrayed,” she shrugged. “Stabbed in the back by my own family. Looking back I start to think the Dark Brotherhood was never as much of a home I used to think it was.” She added quietly.

Vilkas didn’t say anything. The longer he knew Méra the more he realized how much of a lone wolf she was, but he wasn’t sure if she really wanted to be alone or if she was only being careful so she wouldn’t get hurt again.

The temperature dropped as the sun went down and it started snowing again. They walked into the house and sat down by the hearth, drinking some wine to warm themselves up.

“So where were you since we last met?”

Méra sighed and drank from her goblet before she started talking. She told him about the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller, about the Blades and Delphine, about the quests in ancient ruins, about High Hrothgar and the Greybeards. She told him everything except Durnehviir. It was one thing he knew she used to be a Dark Sister, but how is she supposed to explain to him she was literally in Oblivion?

Vilkas gave her a smile. “You just left the Greybeards only because they didn’t let you jump headfirst into everything? Méra… I understand—“

“No, you don’t understand,” she said sharply, but not angrily. “When I was a girl, I was always jealous of my brother. He got to learn about history and politics, sword fighting and horse riding, he could go out hunting and discover Skyrim. And what did I get? Sewing and dancing. They never let me to do anything else.”

Vilkas narrowed his eyes. It was rare Méra talked about her past, but from what he learned about her, he suspected she was from a noble family.

“I guess it didn’t stop you.”

“It did at first, because no one really supported me. My father, however… he said wherever I go, people will always underestimate me for no other reason that I’m a girl. It’s my duty to prove them right,” she smiled weakly. “He was right in one thing. They will always underestimate me. But it isn’t my job to prove them right. I don’t owe anything to anyone. You have no idea how many years I’ve wasted on trying to prove myself without even realizing it. I’m done with it. I’m tired of trying to live up to other people’s expectations.”

What she said cleared up many things for Vilkas. “Is this why you left me? Not because I—you know. Because I scared you?”

Méra raised an eyebrow. “I kill dragons. Do you really think an angsty werewolf can scare me away?”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t want to… I don’t care that… what I’m trying to say is…”

Biting back a grin, Méra rested her chin in her palm and leaned closer, staring him with eager eyes.

Vilkas stopped his babbling and heaved a sigh. “Do you find this amusing?”

“I do, actually.”

“I…” he started again, shaking his head. He was never good with words. “I really am sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you in any way. I was more angry at myself than at anyone else.”

“That’s not an excuse to treat other people like shit.”

“I know. I know. I just—“

“Okay, I forgive you,” Méra cut him off. “Just let’s move on because you’re ridiculously bad at apologies.”

“Thanks,” Vilkas smiled. The house was silent except the loud crackling of the fire in the hearth. “You said Aela told you I was in Driftshade. How did you meet her? What were you doing in Jorrvaskr?”

Méra swallowed, and Vilkas could have sworn he saw her blushing under the dim, golden light of the fire. Memories of that drunk, lonely night flashed in front of her eyes. “Nothing. I had some things to do in Whiterun.”

“You’re a good liar.”

“Thanks,” she said calmly. “But I’m not—“

“Yes, you are. Your heartbeat betrays you.”

Biting the inside of her cheek, Méra sighed and drank some more wine. “There are boundaries, you know. How about you just listen to what I say instead of my pulse, like a normal person?”

“It’s not like I can just shut it out.”

Méra heaved an annoyed sigh. “I went to Jorrvaskr because I wanted to see if you did something stupid. And see, I was right.”

Smiling, Vilkas shook his head and took a sip from his tankard. He knew she wasn’t telling the truth, but he decided not to make her more uncomfortable. “So… what are you going to do now? Do you really want to go to that woman from the Blades? Do you trust her?”

“I don’t. She’s a sneaky bitch. But she might be my only chance.”

Vilkas nodded. “I’ll go with you.”

Méra’s lips parted in surprise. Even though he spent a lot of time with her in High Hrothgar, she doubted he’d continue following her on her way all around Skyrim. Gods know what the Blade planned for her. “No. I can’t ask you that. Vilkas, this might be really dangerous. You should stay with the Companions.”

“You know, you’re not the only one who had to live up to other people’s expectations,” Vilkas said. “I’d like to go with you. If you want me to.”

Méra felt her heart swelling and she could barely stifle a smile. It’s been so long since someone willingly joined her; so long since someone genuinely wanted to be with her.

“As long as you don’t get in my way.”

“And she’s back,” he said with a grin. The hopelessness he felt after he woke up was long gone—now he was excited about the future, whatever it holds.  

Chapter Text

How strange it was to be back in Whiterun, Vilkas wondered. When he left Jorrvaskr, he wasn’t sure he would ever see daylight again, and while he was locked in a cage somewhere in the basement, he knew he would never make it out alive. He didn’t expect to wander around the busy streets again, breathe in the fresh air, or see his family. He went there to die, even though he would never admit to anyone.

But he was back, walking on the cobblestones of the city with the slowest steps. He felt thankful for getting another chance, but he dreaded the moment he would have to stand before Aela and Skjor after he lied into their faces. 

Standing in front of Jorrvaskr, Vilkas took a deep breath. If it wasn’t for Méra who stood by his side and gave him an encouraging smile, he might just run back into the woods. 

The entire hall went silent when they finally stepped inside. The Companions must have been knowing they were coming; Vilkas sent them a letter earlier. And yet, they all looked like they just saw a ghost.

“You idiot.” Aela was the first who spoke. She slowly stood up from the table, but after a small moment of hesitation, she rushed closer to Vilkas so fast he involuntarily backed away. He gave a scared glance to Méra, but she shrugged, crossed her arms over her chest and stepped back to watch the show.

“What in the name of Ysgramor were you thinking? You could’ve died! You could’ve put all of us in danger! You—you—do you have any idea how lucky you are you’re still alive?!” Aela yelled, hitting his chest. “You’re the stupidest person I’ve ever met!”

“I missed you too, Sister,” Vilkas said with a careful smile. 

For a second, Méra thought his words were only fuel to the fire, but in the next second, Aela pulled Vilkas into a tight hug. While tears streamed down her cheeks, she never stopped cursing him.

Slowly, the rest of the Companions approached Vilkas too, patting him on the shoulder or giving him a hug. His brother had a knowing smile on his face, like he never quite believed Vilkas could die anyway.

Méra watched the scenery for a while, staying in the background. The small smile she didn’t notice she had on her lips slowly disappeared as the truth hit her in the stomach. She was glad Vilkas had a loving family, but she had to realize if it happened the other way around, there would be no one to give her such a warm welcome. She had nothing even remotely close to this with anyone. 

While everyone was too busy celebrating the return of Vilkas, Méra left the building without anyone noticing her disappearance. She did not feel like she belonged here, nor did she feel like she belonged to anywhere else. 

She still wore the plain dress Lyra had given to her earlier; her armour ruined to the point it couldn’t even be fixed anymore. It was made from one of the most expensive materials and it wasn’t easy to get it in Skyrim. Finding another one that suited her perfectly seemed to be too much trouble and she wasn’t in the mood for searching for one. 

Instead of hunting for a new armour, Méra’s way led into the Drunken Huntsman. She wasn’t sure how much time she had spent there, drinking some wine and lost in her thoughts, but when she left, she had everything planned out. While she was somewhat happy Vilkas wanted to go with her, she couldn’t let him do that. He belonged here, with his family, as a Companion. She didn’t want him to give up on anything because of her.

She walked up the stairs that led to Jorrvaskr, cursing the long dress that kept tangled on her leg, only to find herself face to face with Vilkas.

“Hey,” he said with a confused frown. “Where have you been? I’ve been looking for you.” 

Méra took a deep breath. That was it; she had to say goodbye to him for good. It should have been easier. Why did she feel like it wasn’t right? While she was having an internal battle with herself, her eyes fell on a group of people who stopped at the main square. Her heart skipped a beat and she froze. In the small circle of the soldiers in deep red and golden armour, stoodLegate Rikke and General Tullius. Méra felt like time stopped and she couldn’t look away, not until the men and women started to move up the stairs. She grabbed a fistful of Vilkas’ white tunic and pulled him behind the wall where no one could see them, but she could steal glances of the group. 

“What the hell are you doing?”

“Shh,” Méra hushed him. She felt as if her heart could beat out of her chest and even though she  very well knew Vilkas heard it, she didn’t even try to calm herself down. She watched as the soldiers walked up the stone steps, the crimson flag they carried fluttering in the wind. They stopped at the front door of the Companions’ home, knocking loudly. 

“What are they doing here?”

“Looking for you,” Vilkas said simply. Méra whipped her head around, a mix of concern and anger on her face. “While you were gone they’ve been here a couple times. Stormcloaks too.”

“Why?”

“Isn’t that obvious? The same reason Jarl Balgruuf wanted to make you queen. They all know you’re the key to win the war.”

Méra let out a weary sigh, turning back to watch the Imperials. Skjor stood at the door, talking to them without letting them in, his body language clearly telling he didn’t want them there. 

“Great. Do they know anything about me? My name?”

Vilkas furrowed his brows. “No, I don’t think so. They always referred to you as Dragonborn. They know how you look like, though.” He heard as her pulse kicked up a notch again, but he couldn’t see her face. “Why are you hiding from them?”

“Wouldn’t you? I have no interest in fighting their stupid war.”

Fair enough , Vilkas thought, but her explanation wasn’t enough to dispel all of his doubts. “You didn’t have a problem with telling Balgruuf to fuck off.”

Méra turned to him. “If you think you can just say no to the Thalmor without ending up with your head on a spike, you’re stupider than I originally thought.”

Vilkas sighed. “Thanks.”

They heard as Skjor shut the door loudly and saw as the small group started to move away. They had no time to hide, and running away would have been too suspicious. 

Méra felt her heart beating in her ears. Even if they really didn’t know the Dragonborn was her, Rikke would surely recognize who she was. She saw her growing up; she even visited her after her parents died whenever she could. The thought of her siding with the enemy now made her throat tighten. 

Quickly, she turned to Vilkas. “Kiss me.”

“What? Why?”

“It makes people feel awkward and they just look the other way.”

“Yeah but—”

The words stuck in his throat as Méra grabbed the back of his neck and leaned up to press her lips against his. Vilkas’ mind went completely blank the moment she touched him. He couldn’t respond first, just stood frozen and let her take the lead. Just when she wanted to pull back, Méra felt his hands on her waist, pulling her body flush against his. He tasted the mild taste of sweet wine on her tongue and he deepened the kiss, making her gasp into his mouth. It was passionate but soft and in complete sync with each other. She slipped her hand into his hair, threading her fingers through his dark locks. Méra kissed him because she needed distraction, but she didn’t think it would have made her feel like this. She was glad he held her against him, because her knees felt shaky and weak.

Gently, Vilkas broke the kiss. Their eyes were still closed, his forehead pressed against hers. “They’re gone.”

“Okay,” Méra whispered, out of breath. She had no intention of moving out of his comforting grasp. 

Vilkas’ hands slid from her waist to her hips, giving them a gentle squeeze. He wanted to kiss her again but he still wasn’t sure if it was what she wanted. He pulled back just enough so he could see her face, but the way she looked knocked the wind out of his lungs. Her lips were swollen from his kisses, her cheeks flushed, her eyes sparkling.

Méra stepped back, running her fingers through her hair. She cleared her throat and Vilkas couldn’t help but smile. She was always so collected and confident, but now she looked like a mess.

“So why were you looking for me?”

“Because you disappeared without a word.”

“Do I have to tell you about every one of my steps now?”

Vilkas ignored her comment. “Skjor wants to talk to you.”

“About?” She asked, then quickly went on. “I don’t need his gratitude. I didn’t do it for them.”

Vilkas sighed. “Would it hurt if you stopped acting like you don’t care about anyone?” He asked, brushing a loose strand of hair out of her face. She felt her skin tingling under his fingertips. “I know what you’re trying to show. You aren’t like that.”

She brushed his hand away. “Fine. Let’s get this over with.”

***

Méra spent the next few hours in the main hall of Jorrvaskr, waiting for Skjor to finally show up. The Companions ate and drank and told her how thankful they were, but they were also curious to know how she could get through the Silver Hands alone. She didn’t tell them much and yet it was enough; in their drunken haze everyone agreed killing a few men shouldn’t be a problem for the Dragonborn.

Vilkas noticed how quiet she was. She never talked too much, but now he could practically see how far her mind wandered with every passing moment. Her gaze was distant and she often missed the question someone asked her.

When Skjor finally left the basement, he walked straight to Méra. He had many scars and bruises that still hadn’t fade yet after his last meeting with the Silver Blade.

“I’m not good with words like Kodlak used to be so I’ll make this quick,” Skjor said after he reached Méra and she stood up.

“Thanks to the Gods,” Méra said, making everyone laugh around them.

“Thank you for everything you’ve done. Perhaps you don’t even realize how much you have done for our family. You not only saved our Brother but eliminated those who had kept us in fear for decades. We owe you a debt. And if you choose to join us, we would be honoured to see you in our halls.” 

“Thank you,” Méra said. “But…”

“I know,” Skjor went on. “You’re Dragonborn. Probably have more important things to do out there. But if you ever need anything, just say it. And of course, you can stay here as long as you want. Vilkas shows you to your room.”

Méra nodded with a small smile and thanked them again before the new leader of the Companions left once more.

“That was quick.”

“Yeah…” Vilkas stood up next to her. “I thought after you saved my ass he’d at least try to give a heartfelt speech.”

Méra smiled, but Vilkas could see it wasn’t honest at all. She had been acting quite strange all afternoon. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah I’m just… tired.”

“Come. Get some sleep.”

Méra followed Vilkas down to the basement and she couldn’t stifle a content sigh. Compared to the noisy hall, everything was quiet here. They stopped next to a room and she peeked in after Vilkas pushed the door open.

“Do I seriously have to sleep here? It’s dusty.”

“You love warmth more than a Khajiit. It has a fireplace. I’ll send Tilma to clean it up.”

“Mhm,” Méra hummed. “Let’s not bother her. I can stay in your room.”

His pupils were blown wide and the corner of his lips twitched into a smile. "I have a really small bed.”

“At least you can keep me warm,” she murmured, stepping closer until her hip brushed against his. 

Vilkas moved closer like he wanted to put one arm around her waist, only to lean forward to shut the door close. 

“You know the way.”

Méra rolled her eyes while she walked towards his room. “You are no fun.”

She spent hours in the room, trying to fall asleep, but dreams didn’t want to come. After she gave up on trying, she sat behind the desk and read books about Dragonborns and the Blades.

Vilkas returned to his room late, but she was still awake. She looked up at him, eyes lingering on his body while he walked in shirtless, his hair damp. As soon as she turned her gaze away, her gaze was distant again.

“What do you know about the Blades?” She asked, eyes on the pages of a book.

The question surprised Vilkas. He pulled a chair closer and sat down next to her. “Not too much. They were really good at keeping secrets.”

“But what were they doing after the last Dragonborn died? They had to do something that made the Thalmor hate them.”

Vilkas leaned back in the chair. “The Blades not only swore to serve the Dragonborn but to protect the Empire. They say they were the first who saw the Thalmor as a threat. And it was all proven right, as we know.” 

Méra closed the book and turned her attention to Vilkas.

“Then the Great War happened and even the Blades realized it was enough destruction for a lifetime. The Thalmor, however… they hunted them down. It says here,” Vilkas said, opening the book Méra was reading earlier to search for a paragraph. He pointed on it when he found it, reading it out loud. “Some of them were killed defending their Temples, others as they slept in their hideaways, alone. Some fought, some ran, some hid. But the Thalmor found them all.” 

He watched as Méra stared off into the distance, furrowing her brows. She was silent for so long he thought she already forgot he was there. “What’s wrong?”

Her gaze shifted to her katana that was leaned against the wall. “I feel like I’m missing something that’s right in front of my eyes.” She looked back at him. “That woman… the Blade. She thought my father was a Blade.”

Vilkas glanced at her sword, then back at her. He gasped, realizing something he failed before. “Your parents were killed by the Thalmor?”

She bit the inside of her cheek, afraid she had already said too much. 

“Well, it is possible then, isn’t it? Maybe he was a Blade secretly. Or used to be before you were born. It makes sense.”

Méra shook her head. It did not make sense at all. Her father, who used to be the High King of Skyrim and had more than enough responsibilities even before he sat on the throne surely not spent his nights with hunting the Thalmor down. 

“Why would they kill your parents, then? I’m not trying to defend the Thalmor but they just don’t go around killing the commoners.”

“Yeah. Except if you worship the “wrong God”.” 

“Were they Thalos worshippers?”

Méra’s answer was only silence.

“Listen, Méra. You were only twelve. There’s a chance he had secrets…”

“Just… let’s not talk about this, okay?”

Vilkas let out a long breath and nodded. It was never easy to convince her to talk about her feelings. “You’ve been quiet all day. What’s wrong?”

For a while, she didn’t say anything but looked deep into his blue eyes. She wanted to leave tomorrow; she couldn’t wait with this conversation any longer. “I don’t think you should come with me.”

“Méra…”

“I’m serious. Do you really want to leave your family? And there’s a chance this is going to get really dangerous. Not just because of the dragons, but the Thalmor too. I can’t ask you to drop everything and risk your life by my side.”

“A couple days ago you dropped everything too to risk your life for me, didn’t you?”

“But I don’t have anyone except… you.”

The last words slipped out by accident and Vilkas could practically smell her embarrassment. He leaned closer, looking at her with a soft gaze while she did everything to avoid his eyes. 

“You have me. And that’s why I’m not gonna leave you.”

“But why? Why would you even want to come with me?”

“Because,” Vilkas started, but the words stuck in his throat. How was he supposed to tell her he wanted to spend every moment with her because he felt something he had never felt before? He found it impossible to put his thoughts into words. “I just don’t want you to be alone.”

“I’ve been alone most of my life. You don’t have to worry about me.”

“But I do. I care about you.”

“You shouldn’t.” She jumped up and walked to the other side of the room; her back turned on him. Vilkas approached her slowly, but didn’t touch her or made her turn around. He waited, listening to her thundering heartbeat.

“Everyone I’ve ever loved or just even got close to me either died or left. I don’t want to go through that again, Vilkas. And you don’t deserve to die for me,” she said, turning to face him. “I’ve had enough.”

He opened his mouth, but Méra cut him off before he could say a thing. “You can’t promise me anything.”

Vilkas sighed. “You’re right. I can’t. I can’t see the future and I can’t tell what will happen two years or even two days later. But I can tell you that right now, I want nothing more than to be with you. I… I’ve never felt this way about anyone before. I know I won’t leave you. Not if it’s up to me. And if it’s my fate to die by your side, then so be it.”

For some reason, she felt as some of the weight had been lifted off her shoulders. She suddenly had an urge to cry, but she swallowed the tears. She glanced down to his lips before she watched as his hand went to cup her cheek. He just kept it there, rubbing his thumb across her skin. She could still feel the burning of his beard on her chin and it made her shiver.

“Well,” she rasped out, licking her lips. “You have a way with words.”

Vilkas smiled. “My life is already dangerous. Do you think I’m safe here while I chase the most dangerous men and the deadliest creatures around Skyrim? If I die, it won’t be because of you. Allow yourself to be happy. You can’t live your entire life worrying about the future.”

Méra put her hand on his bare stomach, trailing her fingers down his abs and along the soft hair of his lower abdomen. It was hard to look into his eyes while he said things to her that no one said before. “You’re cheesy.”

Vilkas felt goosebumps prickling across his skin where she touched him. “And you’re ruining the moment.”

She dipped two of her fingers into his pants, loosening it. “This is still a perfectly good moment.”

He gently grasped her wrist. “Can you promise me you won’t run away? That you stop pushing me away?”

Méra’s hand left him and fell to her side. She wished she could make that promise, but she didn’t want to lie to him. “You have to understand it’s been a long time I let anyone close to me. But… I promise I’ll try.”

“That’s good enough for me,” he said, before he pulled her into a kiss. It was nothing like the one they shared earlier that day; it was heated, urgent, filled with need. His hands wandered, grabbing every part of her body he could reach. She bit into his bottom lip and he pulled on her dress, nearly ripping it off before he gained back some self-control. He unknotted the strings and Méra moaned into the kiss when she felt his hand on her breast. He grasped her thighs, sliding his hand up to her waist to lift her up, but a loud knock on the door made him stop. 

Vilkas hesitated for a moment, before he went back kissing her. Maybe they’ll leave, whoever it was, he thought. Her scent filled his nostrils too heavily to recognize who stood in front of his room. 

There was a knock again, and Vilkas pulled back with a groan. “Please go away.”

“I won’t.”

He opened his eyes and looked at Méra who looked just as annoyed as he did. He gave a last stroke to her waist before he walked to the door, nearly tearing it open.

“Did I interrupt something?” Farkas asked, not even trying to hide his grin. 

Vilkas looked at him like he was ready to kill, folding his arms over his chest. “What?”

“If you want to join us,” Méra’s voice came as she approached them, adjusting her dress to cover her body. “Please hurry up.”

“Well…”

“Don’t finish that sentence,” Vilkas cut his brother off. “What do you want?”

“I came to you, actually,” he said, looking at Méra. “There’s been another dragon attack. I thought you might want to know.”

“Where?”

“Some tiny village near Dawnstar. Reports say they heavily wounded the beast but it flew away. Jarl Balgruuf wants to meet the other leaders to work something out. It was the fifth attack this month.”

“The village?” Vilkas asked. 

“Burned down. Only a couple survivors.”

“Wait,” Méra spoke up. “Did you just say it was the fifth attack this month?”

The brothers exchanged a glance. “While you were in High Hrothgar,” Farkas started, “Dragons have been attacking smaller villages. Sometimes just flying across the sky. At this point nearly everyone saw one.”

With a sigh, Méra leaned against the wall. Of course they Greybeards didn’t know about any of this; they live secluded from the rest of the world. Or maybe they just didn’t think it was important to tell her.

She looked at Vilkas. “I have to go to Riverwood. Now.”

“What? Méra. You don’t even have armour.”

“I’ve wasted more than enough time already.”

“One more night won’t hurt. Stay. Get some rest. We will leave tomorrow.”

“We?”

Méra looked at Farkas’ confused face, before turned back to Vilkas. So he didn’t even tell anyone yet about his plan.

“Can we talk later?”

“I’ll wait for you upstairs,” Farkas said so sharply Méra had never heard from him before. 

The two of them walked back into the bedroom. Vilkas shut the door, running his palm down his face.

“So did you just plan to leave without telling them?”

“No. Of course not. I just thought I still have a day or two.”

Méra shook her head. She felt guilty, as if she was responsible for taking him away from here. “Vilkas, maybe you should…”

“I won’t change my mind,” he cut her off, cupping her cheeks. “I’m staying with you.” 

He kissed her slowly, gently. It was so sweet it made her smile. “Tell your brother if he interrupts us again right before I want to tear your pants off, he’s gonna lose a precious part of his body.”

Vilkas laughed and kissed her temple before he left the room. When he returned long hours later, she was already fast asleep.