Actions

Work Header

Run from Time

Chapter Text

A long time ago, the Serpent had led her to Akavir, Caith was born under it and always figured she would die under it. A traveller’s sign, it was fitting for her, she who would call herself the Nerevarine. There was nothing left for her on Tamriel. Nothing. The Corpus cure had left Caith neither alive nor dead, now she was suspended somewhere in between— most called it immortality. So she took a ship and a crew of a few willing, brave souls and set sail chasing the sun eastward all the way to the coasts of Akavir. Those who sailed with her who had survived the harsh seas did not long grace the new land. Now Caith had found herself a beach, built a little hut high up in a tree, and spent her days lounging around. It was all very relaxing, she told herself, ignoring the bloodied blade laid bare across her knees and the automatic scans she made of the horizon, watching for movement. Very relaxing indeed.

 

Caith must have dozed off at some point. She must have. That was the only explanation she wanted to believe as to why Akatosh was standing before her— the other options were that she was either insane or that a god was actually standing mid-air in front of her.

 

You have been chosen. Caith swore and nearly fell from her perch on the branch when Akatosh started speaking. The words rumbled and shook the land, reverberating in her ribcage. Your time is not yet done in Tamriel, Nerevarine, you must return to it.

 

“What if I don’t want to? What if I would rather not be a player in these twisted games of yours and Fate’s any longer?” Caith challenged rather irritated. The waves rose higher, the coastline started to crumble, and storms gathered on the horizon brought in by fierce winds that now whipped through the air. Caith yelped and fled closer to the trunk of the tree, away from the swaying branches. “Okay, I’ll go! Stop with the apocalyptic routine already!”

 

I’ll see you soon, Champion. Caith huffed as Akatosh disappeared with an amused smile. It seemed to her that Aedra and Daedra were a little too similar for her liking. Grumbling the whole time about the ‘damned divines’, Caith repaired her ship, rolled it into the harbor, and set sail with a skeleton crew— at least she had the foresight to make a few beforehand. What provisions Caith had, she packed; though she knew it wouldn’t nearly be enough. The only remnants of her humanity: ebony daedric armor and shield were packed carefully among her belongings. For the journey, she wore simple pants and tunic with a scarf wrapped to protect her face from sun and wind. On her hip was what was once a simple ebony weapon, she did not remember its original form, though it had suited her as a sword for a long while now, and emitted a green flame when drawn which served as a reminder of the Akaviri curse laid upon it.

 

The journey back to Tamriel was just as long as she remembered it, longer still as storms and fog confused her bearings. A glimpse of the shore was all the warning Caith got before the ship crashed, dashed against sunken boulders of a rocky coastal cliff. Five minutes. That’s how long she was in the water and it was plenty of time to leave her shivering on the beach curling into herself trying in vain to warm her freezing limbs, her pack— which she had managed to save and was why it took so much out of her to swim— lay momentarily forgotten beside her. A gentle, warm wind blew and calmed her violent shaking. Kynareth, Caith realized with shock, was the one who would be responsible for such an act. When she had regained enough control over her movements, Caith opened her pack of treated leather and fur to change into blessedly dry clothes before slipping her armor on like it was a second skin. She left her shield and bow strapped to the pack, though within easy reach, and checked the arrows carefully in her quiver before setting off. Thus began her journey.

 

The nearest town was three days and a fortnight away and it turned out to be Bruma. Not knowing where else to go, Caith sought the Serpent amongst the stars and followed its path to Skyrim. It all went to Oblivion from there. Caith changed out of her armor to simple traveling clothes and lovingly packed it away knowing that a full set of ebony daedric armor would alarm any border patrols she came across. It was all made of ebony mined and forged by her own hands in Morrowind and bled with daedric hearts she won herself. Caith had no intentions of having it confiscated anytime soon.

 

Caith figured she must have had the good fortune to miss any agents in the area when she was able to enter Skyrim unnoticed. It was when the ambush started that the age-old words entered her head. “Those born under the Serpent are the most blessed and most cursed.” Caith should have known something like this was bound to happen— misfortune hot on the heels of lady luck— and had little time to curse the gods before she was in the thick of it, sword brandished and bloodied. For a moment, it looked like she would be able to break through and make a dash past the treeline whilst the madmen in red and blue slaughtered each other like the tide which dashes itself upon the rocks. That was when she heard it, a deep rumbling laugh, there was nothing she could do to avoid the blow that struck her on the back of her head, she collapsed alone in a little clearing amid a field of red, it came from seemingly nowhere…

 


 

 

When Caith woke, it was to the rickety racket of a cart which jolted her from the mists of her mind after rolling through a particularly nasty stretch of poorly cobbled road. She sat up with a grown and would have placed her hands to sooth her throbbing head were their movements not stilled by a length of rough rope. Her mind’s flashed back to a similar time on a ship, her fate uncertain bound for either pardon or execution. The instant was over with a few blinks, eyes squinting up at the sun breaking through the clouds. It was at that moment Caith took notice of the other occupants in the cart, they were staring intently at her, she knew what they saw. An odd-looking Nord with dark, tanned skin, eerie amber eyes, and long white hair tied back with leather. Caith knew that her height being on the shorter side of average did not help the rumors, just as her sword equally did not which lay beneath her feet on the ground still in its sheath attached to her weapons belt. Her lips twisted into an amused smirk at the thought of how the Imperials, for that is who she saw they were upon truly looking at their uniforms— time had done little to change the design— must have struggled to get it even there.

 

“You, you’re finally awake,” the deep voice of a native blond haired, blue eyed Nordic man sitting across from her startled Caith from her thoughts. “You walked right into that ambush, same as us… Though I’ve never seen anyone fight like that, such strength and you were so fast! How did you do that thing with the magic? It just disappeared when it got near you!”

 

The man then went on to get into an argument with a whiny horse-thief over some sort of rebellion involving Stormcloaks. Their leader was sitting next to her with a world-weary look in his eyes, she supposed that about summed up how what must have been a civil war went. The Legion still had it, Caith felt a moment of pride remembering the decade where she served in it for a brief stint in her younger years. That was so long ago, before everything had started, before Morrowind. A glance at her hand right hand reassured her that her Moon-and-Star ring remained though Azura had gone silent long ago. Caith had only survived as long as she did because of the foundation of skills she had learnt serving in the Legion.

 

The group of prisoners were still bickering. The driver growled under his breath in annoyance and turned back with an angry voice, “Shut your traps the lot of you!” The eyes of that strange strange woman flickered up to meet his and the soldier shivered. Her eyes seemed to glow. He did not want to know what had made those three scars on the right side of her face, it was of some strange weapon, and her warpaint… its white color was a stark contrast against her face as it started in a line above her left eye and resumed as two beneath it. He did not want to know what sorcery she was surely involved in. What looked to be a normal— if there was such a thing— ebony sword had turned out to be so heavy that none could lift it yet it seemed to add no more weight than expected when they tried lifting her body instead. It was all they could do but lay her on the wagon, detach the belt, and move her on the seat in well-secured restraints.

 

Caith watched on with a smirk dancing across her lips as the soldier quickly broke from her gaze and quietly muttered a prayer to the divines under his breath to ward him from evil. Ahead, just visible out of the forest Caith saw the walls of a settlement. “Do you know the name of that place?” She hated having to ask her bearings and resolved to find and memorize a map of Skyrim as soon as the opportunity arose.

 

“Aye, that’s Helgen. It’s funny how Imperial walls used to make me feel so safe. Where we go now, Sovngarde awaits,” he replied solemnly. Ulfric lowered his head at those last words and Caith could see his eyes soften at hearing one of his own already at peace with death. For a moment Ulfric lost his train of thought about the strange woman, he had seen green flames from her sword, he was sure of it, yet no one else had appeared to have noticed anything odd about it besides its weight. Their envoy was paraded through the town as the civilians gathered to watch the show, for that was what it was meant to be in order to attract as many witnesses to spread the word as fast as possible.

 

The Thalmor were gathered with the Imperials and Caith looked on at their apparent alliance in surprise, knowing that she was in need of a history lesson. They were loaded off the carts and one by one the prisoners were named and sent to be lined up. Well, except for the horse thief. He made a run for it and was quickly used as target practice for a slew of watchful and proficient archers. Her name, unsurprisingly, was not on the list.

 

“Who are you kinsman?” The soldier calling roll asked. Caith simply smiled and gave a shrug in response. “I see then. Captain, what should we do? She’s not on the list.” Hadvar turned to his Captain in question who was angered by the prisoner’s lack of response.

 

“Forget the list, she goes to the block!”

 

“By your orders Captain,” Hadvar said not really minding. Caith found the Imperials lack of proper discipline and complete utter disrespect for the laws and traditions they had fought for so long to maintain disappointing and felt her own memories of her service tainted by the loss. Shoving those thoughts aside, she arranged her face into a mask of indifference and lined up with the others.

 

As the ceremony wore on, Caith found it increasingly difficult to resist fidgeting, not from the boring speeches but the itch inside her mind urging her to go forward, to search, to hunt, for what exactly she did not know. Just when the feeling was at its strongest a dragon appeared and Caith stood standing in shock— not from the dragon, she had seen far stranger things in her travels after all— she recognized the beast. Of course she had read the legends and knew of Alduin, but this, this was the being that walked her restless dreams.

 

“DOVAHKIIN!” Caith could make out the words in its bellows. Dragonborn, that word meant dragon hunter born. She knew her legends well enough to know that this one came with a prophecy. It was only natural that she had a bit of a fascination with them being who she was. The next words rumbled in the Thu’um shook her eerily in the same manner as Akatosh’s, they meant nothing to her until Caith found a wave of fire barreling at her. Her eyes widened as the heat at the crest of it brushed against her, her body tensed for the pain knowing her lapse had left her no time to dodge. She might have newfound immortality yet that did not mean she did not bleed, did not scar. All it meant was that she would live through it, and this was one of the times when Caith thought she might rather not. Unable to move, unable to die, that was the only death Caith would ever find. She took what she thought to be her last breath and laughed. Laughed as the fire vanished into her, absorbed and dissipated, where to was a place she was not concerned with finding out at the moment. Alduin took flight and Caith sprinted away to the shelter of a still standing watchtower before a physical attack found her.

 

Ralof and Ulfric watched the woman walk away from the dragonfire without a scratch after it had washed over her in shocked silence. A flicker of recognition lit her eyes as she met theirs with a familiar nod.

 

“Well met, you two, glad to see you survived.” Caith’s eyes surveyed the scene and found them armed, gesturing with her hand she saw Ulfric’s eyes latch onto her ring and cursed inwardly. “Where did you find your arms? I’d like mine returned as well.”

 

“In that chest over there. I- I can’t believe it, dragons! I thought they were all just a legend,” Ralof said in amazement.

 

“Legends don’t burn down villages,” Ulfric spoke, his eyes trained meaningfully on Caith. The woman flashed him a grin and went on to retrieve a pack from which she donned light ebony armor— just a chest piece, vanguards, and bracers—  with an eerie glow to it that spoke of the Daedra and with it upon her back braced a moment too early to have known by mortal senses of the attack from which the upper side of the building was destroyed, she dashed up the stairs and surveyed the scene through the billowing smoke. Amidst the ruins Caith saw she could get to the carts, she broke her bonds on a jagged rock and leapt with neither a word nor a look back.

 

Her feet hit the ground running and she flipped a piece of ruined building off the smashed carts with ease then dug through the remains to find her sword which she immediately strapped onto her waist once more. The soldier, Hadvar, tried to gain her attention and she promptly flipped him off and went to the nearest door to the Keep finding herself met by the prisoner who sat across from her. Once inside they both took a moment to breathe, the roars and cries of the fight now muffled.

 

“I’m Ralof by the way, never got around to introducing myself,” the Stormcloak started in a friendly voice. He would rather live now that the execution was apparently canceled and it seemed to be a rather smart move for him to stay as close to the woman in the scary midnight armor as possible. Ulfric had been watching her with a sharp eye and Ralof was curious to ask him what he saw if he ever both had the chance and worked up the nerve to speak to his leader.

 

“Caith,” she responded noticing how nervous the young soldier was, he had to be barely thirty. “I’ve seen worse happenings than this, Ralof, follow my lead, we’ll get out of here alright.” Caith could hear footsteps approaching through her hood and drew her sword, slinging her shield off her back. She readied herself off the side of the gate in a fighting stance and Ralof mimicked her position on the opposite side.

 

The Imperials walked a couple of steps in, unaware they were being hunted. Ralof broke cover a moment too soon and with a cry they drew their weapons yelling “Stormcloaks!” in alarm. She shook her head at the typical Nord behavior as he let loose and charged with a battle cry. Caith rushed forward herself closing the distance before the Officer had a chance and stabbed her sword deep into a chink in the armor. The bodies dropped lifeless to the floor, landing nearly in sync due to their well-timed attack. They wiped their blades on the fallen and moved on to the next room. It was just a matter of time before the rest of the keep was cleared, friendly or not, none made it to see the sunlight save Caith and Ralof. They started walking down the path in silence.

 

“Do you have a map?” Caith asked Ralof. He passed her his in silence. After a few minutes, Caith looked up and passed it back.

 

“Should we split up?”

 

“Nearest town is Riverwood, three days,” Caith replied noncommittally.

 

“Aye, I was born there. Still have family, a sister, she has a husband and child there. Why don’t you come into town with me? We can at the very least send you off with some supplies, you saved my life back there.” Caith hummed her agreement, no longer interested in conversing, and they continued their hike.

 

Wolves waylaid them a handful of times as they traveled making it necessary to set watch when they camped for the night. Caith took full advantage of their time alone together to get as much history and information about Skyrim and beyond out of Ralof as she could, the man seemed happy for the chance to talk if not the subject. Ralof relaxed the moment they walked past the gates though he noticed that the woman beside him seemed to grow even more alert— if that was even possible— from the increased amount of people nearby. The Stormcloak shrugged, certain people were always on edge, danger lurked everywhere but more so for some.

 

The town was small and Caith found herself being stared at followed by hushed whispers of “daedra” and “sorcery” as she walked through town— to be fair her armor was alarming to most commonfolk. It was twilight and the leftover daylight was fading fast. Ralof led Caith to a small house where they found his sister, Gerdur, inside.

 

“Ralof! What are you doing here? I thought you were with Ulfric,” Gerdur questioned him warmly, embracing him.

 

“Aye, I was in his guard when we got caught up in an ambush. Nearly got a shave from the Imperial headsman heh,” he rubbed his hand behind his head guiltily as Gerdur started to fret. “We were in Helgen when a dragon attacked. All that’s left is ruins now.”

 

“A dragon! Oh my… what about Riverwood? It could be in danger. We need to get a message to Whiterun.” For the first time Gerdur seemed to notice Caith’s presence. “Who are you?”

 

“She is a friend, saved my life, would never have made it out of Helgen alive if it wasn’t for her,” Ralof said giving her a grateful look.

 

“I can take the message to Whiterun for you ma’am. Ralof here should likely keep his head down until he makes it back to friendly territory.” Both Nords looked shocked that she would offer, yet it wasn’t like there was anything else for her to do. Akatosh had ordered her back to Tamriel. Maybe not Skyrim specifically, but she might as well throw herself into the thick of things. Alduin meant the prophecy of the Dovahkiin and Caith was getting a rather bad feeling about this mess.

 

“Yes! Oh divine’s bless you, thank you!” Gerdur clapped her hands happily and Caith tried not to cringe at the mention of the divines. They did not exactly have an amicable relationship. “Would you like to stay the night and have a bit to eat?”

 

“No thank you ma’am it’s a good four days to Whiterun and I’d rather get a move on with what little light is left.” Caith bid them both farewell and clasped Ralof on the shoulder as she passed in a gesture of friendship and a wish for fair weather in his upcoming days. With not a word to anyone else she passed, Caith left Riverwood as suddenly as she arrived.

Chapter Text

From the map Caith had seen earlier, she figured it would be roughly five days before she made Whiterun’s gate. Once fully away from the noisy town, Caith left the road for the game trails to spend some time hunting. With her bow out and an arrow knocked, Caith crept silently through the underbrush. There was nothing quite like the silence of hunting— merging one’s self with the surroundings— it was something that Caith enjoyed immensely. A few hours later and three rabbits, half a dozen fish, and a skeever had found their way to her bag, all stripped and ready for travel along with a few handfuls of herbs and alchemy ingredients found as she hunted. Twilight came twice a day and was always filled with the sound of life. Unfortunately for Caith, it was now fully dark and it was all she could do to not hit a tree as she slowly circled back towards the road, determined to right her path and having seen an easily defendable outcropping along the banks of the river being well aware she was not the only hunter in these woods. Having managed to make it to her declared campsite with minimal stumbles and muttered swears, Caith promptly wrapped herself in a fur mantle and fell asleep instantly, not bothering with a fire for the fairly warm night and trusted her instincts to wake her should any threat come near.

 

The next few days of travel went smoothly and Caith enjoyed being immersed in the wildlife, having grown used to living amongst nature. She could feel the winds of change start to stir as the countryside slowly prepared for the march of winter. It was the end of Last Seed, Harvest’s End when Caith finally saw the walls she sought, her mind brought forth a chilling memory of quite a different event that had began so long ago— the Oblivion Crisis— it was nearly bad enough for her to return to Tamriel then to give aid had not gates opened across the far-lands. The gods had it well in hand aiding a champion in the quest, the chosen was of no mortal beginning as not just any soul is capable of reincarnating into Sheogorath. With heavy thoughts Caith walked through once more fading light, the first house she came upon she saw a gentle breeze start to blow as she opened the gate. It was a confusing house, it seemed abandoned, the windows dark, yet there were animals and gardens thriving albeit the latter overgrown. Caith picked up a letter she found by the door and a chill lanced down her spine. Elysium Estate, a house blessed by Kynareth herself. Too curious to listen to common sense and find a less suspicious place to stay, Caith retrieved the key at the shrine with a nod in thanks to show her respect.

 

The key turned the lock and Caith gasped, the fires had lit, the house bid her welcome. And what a beautiful house indeed. Vines and water wound their way through the beautiful layout, all of which Caith gave a once over before setting her pack down, gifts from the gods were not, in fact, a good enough reason for one to die a stupid death. Everything settled, Caith cooked herself a bit of rabbit stew, washed, and slept peacefully till first light.

 

Upon waking, Caith took a moment to set everything in order before going out to weed the garden and check over the farm animals from which it was obvious that they had been abandoned a few years back. The chickens had multiplied and it seemed that the cow and goat had been brought to the house as weanlings them being still young. Carefully, the fires were put out and the gate was latched before Caith left once more to continue her way to Whiterun. Not knowing what to expect, her steps melded to a measured pace upon seeing a pair of tense guards at the gates.

 

“Halt! The gates are closed to travelers, you are not permitted to enter,” the guard on her left spoke out.

 

“I have news of a dragon attack on Helgen,” Caith offered, hoping they would take the bait. News traveled slowly, in such a harsh and barren land Caith doubted that no more than a handful of travelers would have passed anywhere near with word of what happened and the odds of them not being bandits or drifters— though Caith was a bit of the latter— was not very high at all.

 

“You have information about Helgen? You had better see the Jarl right away,” the guard replied, now showing more interest in her, though his scrutiny useless against her helmet. “Go straight to Dragonsreach and ask to speak with Jarl Balgruuf. The keep is the highest building, you’ll see over yonder above the others.” With that, the guard signaled his comrades above to open the gate just enough for her to slip inside before it banged shut with a loud thud and the bar was hefted into place once more.

 

Trying to ignore the feeling of being trapped, Caith reassured herself with the scalable sections of the wall and made her way briskly to Dragonsreach. Once inside Caith’s first sight was that of an angry Dunmer woman storming towards her with her sword drawn. She sighed.

 

“You there! Who are you to approach the Jarl?” Came the angry, accusatory words that just made Caith want to take her time killing the mer. It was fortunate her face was hidden for she was certain she did not quite mask all of the bloodlust that flashed behind her eyes.

 

“I have news from Helgen. Did the guard not send word?” Caith queried, amused at the lack of forewarning given. Here they allowed a stranger into the keep, armed and in daedric armor to boot, yet did not know of her purpose. Quite a break in command if she ever saw one. Both Irileth and Balgruuf blanched at the fault pointed out to them and the housecarl moved aside at her Jarl’s gesture.

 

“I bring word that Helgen was destroyed by a dragon attack.” She had decided beforehand that it was best to keep the details sparse for now, if she went out telling the truth and looking like a madwoman she would lose all credibility and none would listen to her.

 

“How come by you this information, traveler?” Balgruuf was now looking over the stranger in his hall warily. He did not know who she was but he saw the glint of a ring on her finger decorated with a moon and a star… his thoughts ground to a halt, it just couldn’t be. Could it? The Jarl felt the traveller’s gaze intensify as she studied him sharply having noticed him glance down at her hand and startle ever so slightly. Caith narrowed her eyes at him, surprised by how inquisitive the man was, his education must have been thorough, as much as she would have rathered remain anonymous, she supposed the truth would have come out eventually.

 

“I was in Helgen at the time of the attack. I believe only a handful of others may have survived,” she answered in an even tone, revealing nothing of her thoughts. The Jarl said nothing on the matter so Caith chose to let it go as well, why he was keeping silent was anyone’s guess, perhaps he wanted to confirm his suspicions or discuss with his advisors how to best take advantage of the situation. Behind him, the gathered advisors started fretting about Riverwood whilst the Jarl sat pensively.

 

“I see. You have my thanks for carrying this news. If you would speak to my Court Wizard, Farengar, I believe you would be well suited for a job he has. There is coin to be rewarded upon the task’s completion.” Balgruuf was reaching and she knew it, he said the first thing that came to mind that would bring the stranger back to him. If she really was who he thought she was… the dragons returning might not be as dire a plight as it first seemed.

 

Deciding it would be best to stay at the center of attention as well— Akatosh ordered her here and she was not in the mood to anger him… she still remembered what happened a century or so ago— Caith went over to hear the details from the jumpy mage. After what was far too long of a conversation for far too little information, Caith was finally able to leave the keep and headed for the general store where she sold a few of her skins in return for a new map to add to her growing collection of the lands of Nirn. It was a blank map made of a durable cloth-like material that only had the major cities marked upon it and a few landmarks. Caith sat on the edge of the well outside the store whilst she filling in the locations she had visited so far with marks that she had picked up in her travels long ago.

 

The journey to Bleak Falls Barrow meant a five-day trek back to almost exactly where she was before. Not that Caith minded much, with her task to Riverwood completed she was free to roam the lands again and go where she wished. At least that was what Caith told herself as she navigated her way towards the location of her mission and made sure her gear was secured for combat. This time the nights grew cold and Caith started wearing a fur mantle treated for the rain to roll off it and so that the wind would be unable to slip through the fabric. She was glad of it when a sleeting rain picked up on the third day of her travels and tugged her hood lower on her face grumbling whilst trudging down a muddy path. There was no point in delaying the trip. Storms could and often did last for days in Skingrad, it was better to keep moving if she was capable of it.

 

The barrow itself provided poor sport. Her sword out, her shield up, Caith slaughtered the sentry-bandits with ease. She didn’t bother with stealth, not wanting to wait out in the rain anymore as it was indeed still raining like the end of the world depended upon it. The green phantom flames licked the blade lithely, visible to almost no one and certainly none who were present. Caith entered the crypt wary of the silence then laughed at the irony of how she was worried by the lack of movement in a burial tomb, granted with the dragons having returned it was only expected that their servants would do the same. Further in, voices were heard and Caith dropped smoothly into a crouch and lightened her steps so that they would not be heard. In the distance, she could see a couple of skeevers and a small bandit camp. Her first move was to silently take out the skeevers so that she could advance undetected. Two adults. Her arrows found their marks in the closer of the targets first, the large male, the woman went next. From there Caith advanced using her sword. It was with swift progression that she swept through the ancient ruin, navigating the maze of tunnels with surety as she worked her way ever deeper beneath the surface.

 

When the webs started Caith slowed her steps, reflexively raising her shield in preparation for the shots of poison from the inevitable Frostbite spiders lurking nearby. The one that dropped from the ceiling was by no means small. Caith took immediate advantage of being the smaller opponent and dove beneath its limbs right as it recoiled them to strike, she rolled using her shield and smoothly stabbed it in the abdomen using her shield to block the green slick that came from the deadly wound. Then… the corpse collapsed on top of her. Pure instinct was the only thing that let Caith fall to the floor safely with its weight managing not to hit herself with any of her weapons and still have space to breath. The blood seeping from the spider’s body soon found its way to make contact with her skin through minute cracks in her armor and began to burn. Caith’s face twisted into a grimace of pain and with a surge of strength no mere mortal would be capable of, she rose on arms no longer steady but beginning to shake with the increasing amount of poison seeping into her bloodstream. Her body felt as if it was burning— a feeling she was hauntingly familiar with— and it seemed an eternity before she was able to limp away after flipping the infernal spider off of her. She took a moment to recover, Caith was in no danger of dying, yet there were worse things than death that could befall her should she lose consciousness. An irritatingly high pitched voice grated on her nerves and shattered her brief moment of respite, in a flash of frustration Caith lashed out and slew the source without bothering to further investigate, her mind on autopilot she looted the corpse, coldly registering that the golden dragon claw she looted off the body was likely a key for further inside.

 

Amber eyes layered in shadow beneath a helmet had no light, iced over with the promise of death. A body that moved, that killed, with an empty effectiveness. A wall of words so familiar laid dark, no knowledge was offered, it was not needed.

 

“Fus Ro!” A shout startled Caith’s ears and the face of a draugr and a chanting wall with glowing script flashed behind her eyes.

 

The first flakes of a gentle snow drifted delicately downward and melted on contact with her armor. She had lost a day this time; there was no stopping her when she was in that trance-like state. The fire of her sword dimmed as Caith grew more aware of her surroundings, taking stock of the blood caked onto her armor and the weight of the dragonstone in her back and let out a world-weary breath. Something deep within her surfaced in those moments, it was more than survival, it was something ancient, something deadly… consuming. There was nothing Caith could do save begin the trek back to Whiterun. Another long hike after yet another meaningless errand. Had she not seen a mercenary guild right next door to the keep? Caith very well knew why Balgruuf chose to send her on this errand, but for the moment she allowed herself the illusion of complaint. Tirelessly, her steady tread brought her ever closer to her destination… and the inn.

 

Dawn broke gently over the horizon as Caith’s shadow trailed her up the steps to the keep. Not a soul stirred in the early hours and at the top of the wall, she sat, her gaze sweeping patiently across the skyline. When the sun had sufficiently risen for the residents of the hold to wake, Caith took leave of her perch and pushed open the thick wooden doors. Not a spoken word was exchanged when Caith handed over the tablet, perhaps it was her manner that held the mage’s words at bay, perhaps it was something else entirely, it was of no matter to her. The muted hush that blanketed the hall with hurried footsteps, a commotion in the room above the Jarl’s throne, then the sound burst through all around as Irileth excitedly flitted into view.

 

“There is a dragon attacking the Western Watchtower! You there, traveler, you were there at Helgen, you are the only one of us with any experience combatting the dragons. Follow me if you will,” Irileth actually took the time to be polite despite the urgency she felt at the situation, a voice in her mind urged civility lest the stranger refuse. The housecarl was relieved when a terse nod soon followed her request and she jogged up the steps to meet with the Jarl, glancing over her shoulder to make sure the odd woman had followed her as she could not sense her presence and jerked in surprise to see the traveler next to her.

 

“Traveler, I do not know you yet Whiterun needs your aid. I ask you, will you help us?” Jarl Balgruuf made his request as sincere as he could manage.

 

“I shall.” Caith really did not care one way or the other about some sentry outpost. It was the dragon she was interested in, by now Caith could recognize a turning point when she saw one, the winds of change were arriving; it was about to get real and all their lives were headed straight for Oblivion.

 

Caith did not wait for Irileth to gather her guard, instead setting out immediately, it was a day’s ride to the westward outpost and she was not up for playing mock soldier— she had seen how lax the guard structure was. It was an insult to her Legion days, yet so was the current state of the Empire if she was being honest.

 

Time played out that Caith arrived a full half a day’s march ahead of the reinforcements and decided it was the perfect opportunity to get a look at things. The bodies littered the ground like dolls tossed aside and stone pieces of the fort reduced to rubble were strewn about like a child’s toys. A quick scan of the skyline showed no dragon in sight though her senses were on alert. Inside the fort she found a small group of survivors huddled together.

 

“What’s the situation here? I need the casualty report and the time of the last sighting,” Caith did her best to keep her voice level and mono-toned in an attempt to calm the anxiety-ridden guards.

 

“We- we lost all but us four here sir. The b- beast could still be heard by us yesterday at dusk. It would seem he was making loops of the area ranging outward.” Caith nodded at the young guard who spoke up, he had brown hair and eyes which was odd for a Nord, probably mixed with Imperial. She was impressed by his composure and report which contained enough information she was not left wanting yet not too much that he was wasting her time. Considering the youth’s experience, Caith figured that he would become a valuable asset during combat.

 

“What’s your name lad?”

 

“It’s Frederick sir,” the young lad responded softly.

 

“Thank you for the report and don’t worry kiddo, I have a good feeling about this.” Caith briefly fought the urge to tussle his hair and grip his shoulder before settling for a lopsided smile she knew the lad could not see but hoped he heard in her voice.

 

Outside a roar came from the far horizon; it was growing closer rapidly. Then the wing beats could be heard… thud Thud THUD . The air pulsed with the steady beat of his wings. Caith watched him swoop down low over the horizon. She could have sworn she heard dovahkiin bellowed out in challenge amidst the rush of the dragon’s thu’um. On the second overhead pass, a wall of fire was sent hurtling directly for Caith.

 

“By Azura!” Caith swore as she jumped violently off the ledge at the doorway, landing in a roll behind the cover of rubble whilst smoothly readying her bow. The dragon bellowed in pain as arrows pierced his wings and turned into a sharp dive towards the sole figure on the ground below who dared attack him. Out of the corner of her eye Caith saw Frederick appear at the tower’s entrance and jerked her head to clearly signal him to back off feeling a flash of protectiveness and he quickly skittered back to where his decidedly more sane— and cowardly— comrades had gathered inside.

 

In that instant Caith made a surprisingly tame decision considering her life experience; to run towards an open field while being chased down by a dragon with murderous intent. Fortunately, dragons are predictable, and while they are rather nimble in the air, the massive size of the beasts works against them as using all of her agility Caith was able to — barely— avoid the brunt of the attacks and ground the beast. Singed from half a dozen particularly well-aimed shots and improperly timed dodges, Caith knew her strength was flagging. A half-hour had passed in her dance with the dragon and she was starting to tire of the constant sprints. It was a risk and a long shot yet Caith took the opening when she saw it; her bow was slung onto her back, right foot built speed, left foot pushed against the ground, she leapt and drew her sword. Time came rushing forward as Caith was jerked to a stop when her left hand halted her jump. Her grip held through the dragon’s thrashing and her sword thrust home. Caith landed lightly on the ground as the corpse crashed down beside her.

 

Caith yanked off her helmet and panted, her burns throbbed, her body trembled, and the dragon’s body started to glow. The soul hit her like a wall and she gasped. Memories, pain, Mirmulnir’s abilities, and his mastery of the Thu’um flooded into her. He had died once before, she felt that battle, every injury, every hunt, the death, the pleasure, flying, his entire life, she felt it all compressed into a single instant. Caith was anchored to the sands as a tidal wave hit focused solely on her, she should have died, it was not supposed to happen this way, her wounds were healed instead. Only the old scars remained, every aching muscle, burn, and scrape had disappeared as she relieved the pain both his and hers. There wasn’t time to scream. In the instant it started it was over, the compressed force of the soul had entered her and there it remained, swirling, waiting. A skeleton was now staring back at Caith, silenced forever by the greatest dragon hunter who was ever meant to be; the last Dragonborn. The legends had arrived once more.

 

It was late morning as Caith walked away, the ruins of the battle fading into the distance. No birds sang, gentle trails of smoke rose from the grass reaching for the sky, a handful of guards huddled in the tower, and carnage lay all around. It was early evening when the next sounds were heard, rallying yells drew the remaining guards outside, and the cries of horror bid them stay and wait for the arrival of the reinforcements— all that was left for them now was to pick up the pieces.

Chapter Text

Caith had no interest in returning to Whiterun just yet and meeting with the Jarl; instead, she turned her interest to the southeastern corner of the country where she heard there was a town called Riften, where the Hold’s Jarl resided. It took just over a fortnight before Caith saw the crossed swords of Riften’s sigil marking the town’s wall. That was still half a league away and she was dirty and exhausted by the time she made it to the gates only for a guard to move into her way. Caith was just glad she had the forethought to change into her traveler’s garb lest her armor attract additional unwanted attention.

 

"The city is closed. I would be willing to make an exception and let you in, for a fee of course." In her mind, Caith sighed.

 

"I don't have any money as you can see, but I'm sure we can work out a different kind of payment," Caith said in a breathy voice, leaning closer to the guard and brushing back her hood. He smiled, getting the hint, and slipped away from his post. In the shadows of the tree line near the wall, she pushed him up against a tree and let her hands wander down his side. He closed his eyes as she pressed into him only to open them again for his last moment as her dagger slipped between his ribs. Five minutes later Caith dropped over the top of the wall with the keys to Riften in her pocket and disappeared into the shadows on the streets.

 

There was not much to be terribly impressed by in Riften by day, the surface of the town was mundane, run-down, yet at night, that was when the fun began. Observing from the rooftop of Mara’s temple, Caith watched the thieves and cutthroats skulk about the streets each making their way about the town to conduct all sorts of sordid transactions. Uniform armor marked those of the Thieves Guild out from the rest although from what Caith remembered there should be far less of those ranging factions as the Guild typically shut out all competition and held a position of prominence when it came to crime syndicates. Something was clearly wrong with the guild for it to have fallen on such hard times. Still, Caith had been gone a long time so she supposed it was only expected to allow for the changes the passage of time had brought, her perception was quite outdated after all. Regardless of the means, the prospect of trouble and thieving drew Caith’s intrigue, hence her having wound up hours later in the nearest tavern that doubled as an inn on the second floor where she was currently lounging on a bench in a shadowed corner at daybreak. The Bee and the Barb it was called and it was certainly the correct place to hunt for gossip. It was early yet and she had already gathered from the wenches that the Thieves Guild was indeed marked with a black spot, unable to break a long-standing string of bad luck which was causing it to spiral so out of control. Now crime was more chaotic, more natural, and a lot less fun in Caith’s opinion. It was just as Caith was contemplating leaving to go see if she could catch a guildsman unawares on the streets for some questioning when just the right kind of thief she was looking for walked in through the door. Caith saw the thief to be a red-haired Nord when he pushed his leather hood down. He seemed worried and quietly spoke to yet another thief who had slipped in from the second entrance which faced a different street. They spoke freely, thinking they were free from eavesdroppers, with a sinister glint in her eyes Caith settled into her seat better, finding it fortunate that she was beyond the abilities of mere mortals.

 

“I don’t know what else to do Saph, with our luck this bad, perhaps my ‘mad-market-schemes’ should stop being fronts and we should try following the merchant's path,” the red-haired man tried to come off as light-hearted when he really just sounded out of options. “It’s not like destiny is going to just step out of the shadows and solve all our problems.”

 

After that it was just more moping and talk of doom and gloom on the part of the old time thieves who sat at the bar drinking for a while, Caith followed her instincts and left a couple of hours before they did. She slunk around the side of the building to a dimly lit alley where she scaled the walls and settled in on the shingles to wait for her target to leave. The red-haired Nord left a bit later than the woman and Caith tailed him from the rooftops until he too strolled down an alley with poor visibility. It was then Caith dropped silently from above to land behind the thief and deftly grabbed his arm into a joint lock, maneuvering him to shove against the nearest building’s side whilst she relieved him of his dagger. Once disarmed, Caith released the thief and held up her hands in a placating gesture, well aware he could not see her expression from beneath the scarf that concealed her face.

 

“I hear the Guild has come into a bit of a rough patch of late,” Caith decided the upfront approach would be best appreciated by the harried redhead.

 

“That’s my business.” The said redhead seemed to have taken her rough handling to heart.

 

“Look, I know this might be a bit strange and all after how I dropped in on you, but I did not fancy being stabbed, and I can help if you let me.” Her tone was kept soft and sincere with a touch of amusement to lighten the mood.

 

“I heard one of the guards was killed out by the gate. You are the only new arrival unaccounted for, that is not how we do things in the Guild, no killing.” The redhead was still rough-spoken; however, it seemed that Caith had caught his attention. Brynjolf had to admit, the newcomer was intriguing alright.

 

“Well, then perhaps it is wise not to employ spies if another preferring to keep their business their own concerns you so, that matter is already sorted and cooling. I can work a job without spilling blood,” she stated with a slight edge to her voice.

 

“The Guild does need extra hands, and you do have skill for being able to get the drop on me like you did… hmmm, if you are truly willing to keep to your word about stealing without killing, meet me at my stall in the market square noon tomorrow.” The redhead was used to the underground and was willing to look past discretions so long as there was a benefit for him and the Guild.

 

“We have an accord.” Caith tossed his dagger to him lightly in a gentle arch and from the split second it took his attention to catch it to the next, she was out of sight, gone nimbly once more to the rooftops to prowl the city whilst the citizens slept. It was only then that Brynjolf realized they never exchanged names, curiosity alone was enough to make him glad she agreed to go for his little test. That and he really needed a job to go well for a change.

 

Sleep did not find Caith that night and she was glad for the cowl which kept the weariness on her face hidden. Images dancing beneath her eyes of fire and death and blood washed over her in waves that left her feeling oddly quiet, like a ship becalmed at sea— searching for wind yet unable to move. Admittedly, Caith did consider leaving the redhead to his own devices and leaving Riften altogether in the wake of the decidedly foul mood she found herself in by the time noon bothered to stroll near. She had scouted the area in the twilight hours before dawn had properly broken once she familiarized herself with the guard schedule which she learned to be pleasantly predictable. Now Caith glided silently up to her thieving friend and took pleasure in watching him jump when she revealed her presence.

 

“By the gods, how do you keep doing that?” Brynjolf asked the woman in an equally irritated and concerned voice. She really could have harmed him if she had the intent to and that worried him. The stranger certainly did not look innocent, her tunic covered by a long coat with loose pants, a sturdy pair of boots, well-worn gloves, and a scarf around her head— with that weapons belt and sword upon her back all she needed was a hat instead of the hooded cowl and she could easily pass for a pirate… Brynjolf’s thoughts ground to a halt and he unconsciously took half a step back to reexamine the woman with eyes narrowed in suspicion. It would not due to tangle with pirates, though angering one as skilled as her who was bound to have a crew was decidedly worse. Mind made up, Brynjolf continued on, acting as if nothing had happened, and began to explain the plan as his mind originally imagined this afternoon playing out.

 

“Alright, this is a simple job, consider it your trial before we decide about you signing on. I will get everyone’s attention and when I do you need to steal the ring from the strongbox in Madesi’s stall then plant it on Brand-Shei. Clear?”

 

“Crystal,” Caith said with a conspiratorial grin that she hoped the thief could hear in her voice. It seemed Brynolf did as he winked in return and seemed to perk up some from his previously gloomy countenance.

 

From there it was a simple matter. Once the redhead called the crowd over with his “cure-all” elixir, Caith picked the ridiculously simple lock on the box, removed the ring— along with the rest of the valuables but it was not like she was instructed not to do that. Covertly making her way along the outer fringe of the crowd, Caith slipped between the various spectators until she ‘brushed’ against her target, neatly dropping the ring into his pocket as she made her way over to browse the weapons displayed at the forge where she remained seemingly occupied until the crowd dispersed. The guards made their appearance in a very timely manner and promptly arrested the Argonian, effectively shutting down his stall. In a discreet corner amongst the buildings, Caith met up with Brynjolf again who absolutely refused to admit to himself that he had missed when she made the initial drop and only kept the charade up to divert suspicion from his performance. In his books, if the stranger wanted in, she was in.

 

“You handled yourself well, you have skill,” Brynjolf paused, considering. “People call me Brynjolf, you?”

 

“Caith,” her tone was diplomatic and seemed to take a moment too long, he supposed it really did not matter if the name was true, so long as she answered to it.

 

“Meet me in the Ragged Flagon, it’s a tavern through the Ratways beneath the city, I recommend some armor for the trip.” Brynjolf hoped that Caith heeded the warning, the woman was good and the Guild needed someone like her.

 

“Sewers. Fun.” Caith was not looking forward to making the trip in the least, she was tailing Brynjolf to the common entrance first chance she got. “See you down there then.” After the redhead had strode out of sight she sighed in annoyance. So much effort, the Guild used to be one of her favorite haunts all those years ago, she supposed it was in the past.

 

The door to the Ratway was common knowledge (to be avoided), and after having learned only a few degenerates dwelled in its depths, Caith decided not to bother putting on her armor and instead went inside as is, since it would be getting dark soon and there might be a bed involved, otherwise she decided she will be sleeping on a roof, perhaps the brewery as it seemed to be rather well-maintained. Slinking through the poorly lit sewer system, Caith heard voices in the distances and as she rounded the corners, saw the shadows of the men who appeared to be common thugs loitering there. Dropping smoothly into a crouch, Caith deftly crept closer, mindful of making any sound lest it bounce off the stone and alert her targets. The weapon Caith pulled from her belt was surprisingly the same familiar shape of middling length and curved slightly near the end with a featherweight and the same green flame flickering along the midnight colored length. She supposed she had grown rather fond of the form, though usually her weapon changed for practicality rather than acquiesce to her sentiments, Caith dismissed the stray thoughts as whilst her situation was not overly threatening, it was about to become so as she had not stopped moving and was now within striking range, if she did not act she risked being discovered.

 

Deftly creeping forward in a well-practiced crouch, Caith selected her first target. There were three of them, the nearest would not do, he was wielding a battle axe and though it was made of dull iron, the reach alone would be enough to slow her to the point where her defense against the others would be limited. Instead Caith ignored the archer as well and focused on the third, besides the battle axe the third was also armed with a melee weapon, a sword, which would force him to get closer to engage and while close quarters rendered the archer ineffective, two blades were more likely to cut than one. Weapon ready, she struck; left hand yanking his head back, right foot to the back of the knee, bringing him closer for the kill, right hand slit his throat, left foot shoved him, stumbling, dying, towards his comrade fumbling with his axe. The second man took a moment for the attack to register, for him to realize that his friend was dead, that he should disregard the corpse and block an oncoming blow… Caith took that moment to kill him. Her sword slipped through his worn leathers and then she gracefully spun away to sprint for the archer who had by now readied his bow. Arrows were easy enough for her to dodge and the archers poor aim made it child’s play to duck and side step as she made her dash for him, not stopping as she ran him through. Using her boot to press against the archer’s chest, Caith pulled her sword from him and wiped it on his clothing before directing it in a smooth arc back into the scabbard on her back.

 

Continuing through the sewer system— which seemed to be built using the design plan of dropping a pile of string and building accordingly— Caith found a few more lunatics, including one direhard boxing fan, before she eventually arrived at the door to the Ragged Flagon that she pushed open to hear the voice of Brynjolf talking to a group of other thieves.

 

“Give it up, Brynjolf, she’s not coming,” a bald man said with a weary sigh.

 

“Oh she’ll be here, this one’s different, you’ll see,” Brynjolf shot back with certainty. That woman was something else alright, she asked for the fate of the guild and he’d given it to her, the weight was hers to shoulder and there was no way he could see her backing down from her word. Caith would be there.

 

“Hey Bryn.” He looked up to see the woman slip from the shadows, appearing right next to the group, looking exactly as she did earlier, if a bit bloodier.

 

“Glad to see you could make it.” Brynjolf played off her slipping in from nowhere and motioned for the others to put down their daggers which they pulled far too late to be of any use but show. Caith just raised a hand in greeting to the rest of the group. “You didn’t wear armor?”

 

“Did not need it,” Caith shrugged in response and Brynjolf raised an eyebrow at her.

 

“Regardless, I have a few citizens who need coin collected from— “ The red-haired Nord started to explain the job but was interrupted by a grumpy looking Breton.

 

“Enough Brynjolf, she said she didn’t need armor eh? Well, I have a job for you then, follow me into the Cistern for details, see Tonilia for guild leathers, this job requires you to look the part.” The group stared slack-jawed as Mercer walked away.

 

“Caith, be careful, I’ve never seen him take a personal interest in a fresh recruit, the job will be dangerous, watch you back,” Brynjolf warned her in a hushed voice, nodding after the Guildmaster.

 

Caith trailed Mercer into the Cistern after turning to sign her armor preferences to the fence who nodded her understanding. Not hesitating once they were within the guild quarters, Mercer turned towards her and fixed her with a stare.

 

“The job’s for a place called Goldenglow Estate, the owner, Aringoth, has been stepping out of line. We’re to teach him a lesson by emptying his safe and burning down three of his beehives. No restrictions on his life and don’t screw up. Got it?” Mercer was impressed the woman took it all in stride, not seeming concerned in the least, he was right, she had experience going on missions and that could be very useful indeed.

 

“Got it. I’ll leave later tonight.” Mercer nodded and with that she walked away, spying a ladder down a short corridor in a corner. Her lip turned up in the corner of her mouth, here was the entrance she was looking for. Promptly, before any of the other thieves had a chance to get a word in, Caith climbed the rotting wood and found herself walking out of a crypt in the cemetery adjacent to Mara’s temple. She had no interest in sleeping surrounded by strangers in a dank, perpetually lit sewer. The weather was pleasant enough and the brewery’s roof seemed the cleaner of the two options.

Chapter Text

Caith’s hunch about the weather proved to be correct and there was naught but the passing of stars to keep her company. She waited, lurking about the rooftop till only a handful of hours remained until morning’s light. Securing her pack, Caith leapt over the wall to prowl through the darkness towards her target. Goldenglow Estate.

 

The property itself was dimly lit with a dozen or so mercenaries sleepily patrolling the main house. It would seem the owner had some inkling of the trouble that was to come. There was a bridge leading across the water and Caith slipped through the shadows as far across as she could whilst remaining in the blind spots of the guards. When she could go no farther without risking certain discovery, Caith tossed a rock far off to her right, with the guards suitably distracted, she then hopped over the side and slid into the water thankful that she was in the southern part of Skyrim— that did not mean the water was still not freezing though. For this trip she had packed lightly, wearing only her light traveler’s garb with her cloak tucked into her pack along with a canteen of water. The rest of her belongings she had left on the rooftop well hidden. Sure Mercer had ordered her to go in guild leathers but if no one who saw her lived to tell the tale, how would he know any better? She would get a pair when she returned, and Caith seriously doubted that Mercer would bother to check if his mandate had been completed or not with the arrogant pomp that man portrayed.

 

The swim was not long but it still was a miserable feeling to be wearing damp clothes— even after wringing them out— that stuck to her skin in unpleasant ways. Caith made her way to the back entrance and found it to be unguarded, the lock was difficult though it would not be beyond her skill to pick. From the corner of her eye, a nearby circular sewer cover caught her attention and Caith raised an eyebrow at it, striding over to investigate. A quick glance beneath the rotting wood showed only a ladder leading into murky depths; a sewer. Perhaps the tunnel system connected to the building, that would be convenient. Well, no point passing up a perfectly pickable door.

 

Caith knelt down and placed her tools in the lock, moving the tumblers in a respectable amount of time for a thief breaking her way into a building heavily guarded by heavily armed mercenaries. The door swung open on blessedly silent hinges revealing a warmly lit wooden interior floored with rugs and wonderfully sparse of little tables holding littler things prone to both falling and subsequently shattering with noises far louder than should be possible. A smirk danced across Caith’s lips as she crept closer across the floor, there was an entrance to a room a stone’s throw ahead and a cursory glance around the corner showed a couple of mercenaries chatting at a table. Next to the men were several open bottles, guard duty indeed. The pair was likely tasked with watching the very door she walked in from. Caith shrugged, a fool’s folly makes thieves jolly indeed. Darting back a few steps out of sight, Caith drew her sword which helpfully phased into a bow, a flick of her hand and an arrow was knocked. She brought her right hand alongside her cheek drawing the string with it and raised her left to take aim. Her arrow caught the leftmost man through the throat, effectively ending his shout along with his life. Before the second could turn around, she rapidly fired again, hitting her mark once more with a fatal shot. Targets down, Caith moved on, she was not there to snoop, not yet.

 

The rest of her foray through the building went in a similar manner, arrow after arrow, corpse after corpse. The upper level of the building held the prey she sought. Aringoth was naive in his proclamation of “I’m not telling you anything, you had better kill me, thief”... an arrow through the knee and the threat of another finding its mark slightly higher and a little more centered was enough to set his tongue to wagging. Though not enough to save his life. Further exploration led to the basement and with the help of the master key, Caith was able to lock all possible interlopers out of the lower levels as she began her descent. A few dead men in a mess of an area housing a bar sent Caith down a hallway doused in oil. Caith grinned at the sight and bolted down the corridor.

 

“Woo! Over here! Come see!” Her shouts echoed off the walls drawing what guards waiting ahead to chase after her words. Five in total joined the chase, nearing the open space of the bar once more, Caith slowed half a step, spinning into a crouch as she struck flint against the rough floor then leaping up into a roll behind the passage wall as the fire sprung. When the screaming quieted, Caith removed her bow from her back and placed it into her scabbard after it reverted into a sword. The charred remains smoldered as Caith strode past, deeper in the dungeon, a spring in her step— behind her, the flames began to lick at the straw strewn across the floor…

 

XXX

 

It was a straight shot to the basement, the keys did the heavy lifting and she cleared out anything of interest in the safe, nothing else to do, Caith began to leisurely wander back towards the surface once more, that is until she saw the smoke. Then she ran.

 

Apparently lighting an oil and straw covered floor on fire— no matter how amusing— was a really bad idea if one intended to preserve the structural integrity of the building. Finding a hatch leading back into the sewers, Caith leapt in without looking back. Her earlier hunch proved right when a rising ladder did indeed lead out to the surface besides the house once more. A blazing heat was nearby and she smirked recognizing its source as the fiery skeleton of the building she had decimated. Shouts came from the mercenaries who were torn between stopping it from spreading and fleeing for their lives. The nearby trees caught fire and Caith picked up a burning branch as she passed through, casually strolling towards and then igniting three and only three beehives.

 

By the time Caith slipped back into the— still freezing— water, a guard patrol was making its way down from Riften. She was not worried about hopping the wall into the city once more, the place was on an island after all, if anything was to burn down the place was ideal. Turning back for a parting glance at the spectacle a chuckle escaped her lips as she saw the guards were merely laying a water track down packed with dirt across the bridge to stop it from spreading. Evidently, relationships were not well maintained between the estate and the town. Caith returned to her rooftop and gathered her untouched, if a bit dewy, items and slipped her way down to the underbellies of the city. The sun had broken over the horizon and Caith was eager to break her fast, first, she sought out Tonilia in order to pick up a pair of guild leathers which the woman had apparently managed to scrounge up scarily accurate to size. Striding back towards the Cistern to enjoy a small snack before she headed out for the day, a hand suddenly yanked her by the arm into a discrete corner. Raising her arm straight up she broke the hold, palming her dagger as she spun and proceeded to place the thief who grabbed her into a neck hold. The thief went still with a muffled swear, knowing better to fight and not appearing overly hostile. Nudging the hood back well aware she probably should check who it was first before simply killing considering she was currently part of and quite literally in a den of thieves. Red hair was revealed and Caith released her grip, disappearing her dagger to one of many hidden spots on her person, and raised her brow at Brynjolf questioningly.

 

Once the redhead caught his panicked breath, he stared her down with a look that was half glare and half concern. “What did you do?!”

 

“I just got back,” Caith replied, a playful twinkle in her eyes.

 

“I have never seen Mercer so angry, he is livid!” Brynjolf’s expression shifted to one of worry completed with a tired sigh. “What in Tamriel did you do?”

 

Caith held up her hands in a placating gesture, she motioned over her shoulder and the two slipped into the ratways and then out onto the streets for a bit more privacy. The woman took a moment to consider her words before speaking. “I did the job, killed the owner, searched the place, and burned three hives… just, the rest of the place sort of burned down too,” she finished and had the grace to at least stop looking so damn pleased about it. Brynjolf stared at the woman in disbelief. He worked his jaw a few times before he managed to get words out.

 

“Mercer is going to kill you, you realize that yes?” Brynjolf asked in a voice that suddenly sounded small.

 

“Hey, it’s alright, I know I literally just met you but you seem to care, I’m tougher than I look,” Caith flashed a tired smile to the red-head, it would be a hassle but disappearing would not be all too hard.

 

“I know, I’ll tell the gents and the lass I haven’t seen you.” Brynjolf sighed. “I vouched for you, with the guild, you know?” Caith saw what he was getting at.

 

“Look, if you were leaving there would be a lot more grumbling, I know that much about you Red. If it gets rough, send a letter to Winterhold and try to make it to Ivarstead if you can.” Brynjolf was back to glaring at her, likely realizing she was still rather amused by how it all turned out, though he could not help but respect a woman as crazy as she. She was no lass, that’s for sure.

 

“Aye, I’ll do that… Red?” The red-head raised an eyebrow at her.

 

“Well, you did not seem so fond of Bryn,” Brynjolf grimaced before he could hide it and then scowled when he realized he just proved her point. “Besides, you are the first red-head I’ve met that I’ve actually liked, granted there is not a lot of you to begin with.” Caith shrugged and started shuffling further down the alley where she began to undo the buckles of her armor.

 

“What are you doing?” Brynjolf hissed at her, not deining to comment on her choice of names.

 

“I’m changing, can’t be caught in guild leathers now can I? Keep a lookout.” With that, Caith resumed, well she never really stopped, taking off the armor and slipping back into her traveler’s garb which Brynjolf was still rather certain made her a pirate.

 

“Were you ever… well…” the red-head could not quite bring himself to ask, this was very well likely the last time he’d see the woman and he would rather be remembered to have a bit of sense.

 

Caith had finished changing, her cloak settling across her shoulders. “If we meet again, you should ask that question,” Caith’s tone sounded melancholy for a moment before her demeanor shifted to be more business-like, “See any guards?” The red-head actually started to check like the dutiful lookout he was before swearing and whipping his attention back to where she was, but it was too late, the last echo of her words already fading into the falling night. It was that exact moment that he realized that he let a possible pirate walk away with the literal keys to the city.

  

From the rooftops, a silent figure watched his temper tantrum unbeknownst to Riften before slipping away completely, an unvoiced chuckle on her lips.

 

Truly, Caith had not intended to put the red-head in a position where the Guildmaster may or may not kill him. She still had the contents of the safe— a bill of sale for Goldenglow— in her possession for leverage if it ever came to that, though Caith doubted the capabilities of the thieves who seemed to be doing rather poorly and had been a bit too certain that their leader was an unstable murderer for her comfort.

 

Caith left Riften without looking back and found herself on the outskirts looking down on a building on the fringe of town where a lovely horse was stabled. The guards seemed lax and she could do with a donation of food and a steed before she began journeying again. After, she never did get a chance for some proper thievery. The guards seemed rather sedate so Caith approached soundlessly, easing her way to the side of the building where she could dispatch one of the guards without the others seeing, hidden by the foliage and grateful that the leaves had not yet begun to fall as Hearthfire had begun and their colors were shifting. She went to draw her sword and swore under her breath to discover that it had ever so unhelpfully shifted into a war axe. The first of the mercenaries she rushed and managed to silence with a swift hack to the neck and caught the body on the way down, scowling at the blood now coating her garb. The horse snorted at the scent and the second outside the house went over to investigate with a greatsword in hand. Catching sight of her he roared— Nord heritage— and charged alerting the third down the path who began to shoot arrows with blessedly poor aim. The Nord swung the sword with little grace and was easy enough to get in close and dispatch, sprinting towards the archer Caith threw her axe and watched it sink satisfyingly into her opponent’s chest with a muffled thunk. Putting a foot on the body to retrieve her weapon, she also gained the keys to the estate and decided to help herself to the inside of the house. Not wanting to waste time on more guards appearing, she slipped inside, glanced around on the upper floor to make sure it was clear then dashed to the basement, sending a word of thanks that the safe was right there. A lock pick later and she had a bag of coin and the papers to the horse, a stallion— Frost.

 

Back outside with a new skip in her step, Caith groomed then tacked the stallion, a palomino coat with a flaxen mane and tail, he was gorgeous and proud. Mounted and riding off, Caith was very pleased to discover he was a well-trained horse and judging by his leg response, likely a war horse with the gaits to match. There was naught left to do save move forward. Northward bound seemed to be her best destination considering that to the west held a man who knew her secret, Caith thumbed her ring pondering the outcome of that piece of information, she should have killed the man before he had a chance to share it. Balgruuf seemed likely to keep it to himself, yet he owed her nothing and she did not know what his motives could be.

 

It was nearly dark when Caith noticed a spattering of blood across the cobblestone path Frost plodded along. Just a few drops strewn haphazardly across it, the owner staying only long enough to dash across the path. There were leaves fallen, their colors turning with the season, it seemed as if something large barreled through the foliage. The footprints were human but next to it was something large, a sabercat.

 

The cat’s prints showed splayed paws and a crooked path.

 

It was rabid.