A courier came running up to Alexa the moment she stepped out of the Vilemyr Inn.
We need you.
The guard at the Whiterun gate stopped her with a quick wave of his hand. “Dragonborn, you should know. Someone attacked Jorrvaskr four days ago. Kodlak Whitemane is dead.”
“Thank you for telling me,” she said quietly. How had she not known, Alexa wondered as the guard nodded and stepped back into his position beside the gate? How had she not sensed this coming?
You haven’t been in Whiterun in over a month, she reminded herself sternly. And you haven’t been inside Jorrvaskr in twice that long. There’s no way you could have known. But if Kodlak was dead neither of the methods detailed in the hagraven’s journal would work to remove his wolf.
Alexa stood beneath the Gildergreen Sapling and closed her eyes. Capturing a spirit at the moment of death was simple enough but there had to be some way to recall one that had already departed this plane. If she could summon Kodlak the beast spirit would – undoubtedly – be summoned as well and slaying it – returning it to Oblivion without him – would free Kodlak’s spirit of daedric influence. “How?” she asked the dragon memories in her head. “How is it done?” Nothing. None of the dragon’s she’d had killed had been interested in necromancy. Perhaps Durnehviir might know?
A wind picked up, blowing through the branches of the sapling, and sending a shiver down her spine as its icy fingers caressed the back of her neck. To think, a few months ago, she’d thought she’d be planning a trip to Atmora right about now… Atmora. The Atmorans had worshiped more than just dragons, they had worshiped their own ancestors, summoning forth their spirits to give council. If Ysgramor’s tomb was truly of Atmoran design then it would contain the necessary ritual space. Given that Ysgramor considered his true successors to be the Harbingers, and not the kings of Skyrim, their spirits might be present there even without being summoned. “There the souls of the Harbingers will heed the call of northern steel,” she heard Vilkas’ say, in her mind, as he recounted the legend of Ysgramor’s tomb. She stepped back from the tree. If she was right freeing Kodlak was still possible and anyone with even a passing familiarity with conjuration magic could do it.
As she climbed the steps to Jorrvaskr she could hear Eorlund at the Skyforge and so, rather than find out what kind of welcome awaited her in the mead hall, Alexa went to stand, silently, beside him at the forge. He returned what he was working on to the fire before turning to look at her. “You’re back,” he observed, gruffly. “Good.”
“I am,” she answered simply. “For now.”
Eorlund nodded knowingly. “Your shield-siblings have withdrawn to the Underforge, Dragonborn. I believe they’re waiting for you.”
She nodded, tears briefly clouding her eyes as she keenly felt the new distance between them that his use of her title implied. “Thank you. I’ll go to them now.” She turned and made her way down the stairs as the sound of Eorlund’s hammer filled the air again.
“The old man had one wish before he died,” Vilkas was saying as she stepped into the Underforge. “And he didn’t get it. It’s as simple as that.” She stopped, in the shadows, just inside the door, not wanting to interrupt.
“Being moon-born is not so much of a curse as you may think, Vilkas,” Aela argued, more than a hint of defensiveness in her voice.
“That’s fine for you,” he growled back. “But he wanted to be clean. He wanted to meet Ysgramor and know the glories of Sovngarde. But all that was taken from him…”
“And we avenged him,” she responded in a placating tone.
“Kodlak did not care for vengeance,” Farkas rumbled from the sidelines.
That stopped them both. “No, Farkas, he didn’t,” Vilkas agreed, sounding almost guilty, before he turned back to Aela. “And that’s not what this is about. We should be honoring Kodlak, no matter our own thoughts on the blood.”
“You’re right,” Aela grudgingly allowed after a tense moment of internal struggle. “It’s what he wanted, and he deserved to have it. But is it even possible?”
“It is,” Alexa told them, stepping into the light. “I have, as he once asked me, learned of two ways to remove the curse from the living. But Kodlak’s position as Harbinger presents a third option that should work upon the dead.”
“You… Where have you been?” Vilkas demanded angrily, stepping towards her.
“I have been with the Greybeards,” she replied gently.
“If you had been here, if the dragonborn had been here...!” Vilkas ground out.
“The Silver Hand are cowards!” Aela snapped at him. “They would have waited until she was away on a job and it would have ended the same. Our shield-sister is not to blame for this!”
“You know how to cure Kodlak?” Farkas asked her, ignoring Aela and his brother.
“I do. Do you know the legends of the Tomb of Ysgramor?” she asked Farkas, the startled expression on Vilkas’ face almost making her smile. Had he thought she wasn’t listening when he’d told her all the tales of the Companions?
“There the souls of the Harbingers will heed the call of northern steel,” Aela answered, with a slight eye roll. “But what does that even mean?”
“Tombs of Atmoran design contain, within them, a ritual space specifically created to allow even non-mages to take council with the familial spirits of the people buried within. It is possible that, using the one in Ysgramor’s tomb, should allow a Companion to contact the soul of any person who died in good enough standing to be accepted by the spirits of those buried within the tomb. By using Kodlak’s own connection to his beast spirit we should then be able to summon the wolf as well. Slay the beast-spirit and Kodlak’s soul will be free.”
“And how does one use this ritual space much less use Kodlak’s spirit to summon his beast spirit?” Aela asked.
“I am an Adept level conjurer,” Alexa revealed.
“Of course you are,” Vilkas muttered.
“Be that as it may, we can’t even enter the tomb without Wuuthrad,” Aela reminded them, “and it’s in pieces, like it has been for a thousand years.”
“And dragons were just stories,” Eorlund said as he stepped into the Underforge. “And the elves once ruled Skyrim. Just because something is, doesn’t mean it must be. The blade is a weapon. A tool. Tools are made to be broken... and repaired.” He held the axe in his hands out for all to see.
“Is that...?” Vilkas, gasped. “Did you repair the blade?”
“This is the first time I’ve had all the pieces,” Eorlund replied. “It is said ‘The flames of a hero can reforge the shattered.’ The flames of Kodlak have fueled the rebirth of Wuuthrad. And now it will take you to meet him once more. As the one who bore the fragments, I think you, Vilkas, should be the one to carry Wuuthrad into battle. The rest of you should prepare to journey to the Tomb of Ysgramor.”
“One thing, before we go,” Alexa interjected. “Did you save the weapons of the Silver Hand?”
“I was intending to melt them down,” Eorlund told her. “But have not yet had the chance, why?”
“We go to slay a spirit born in Oblivion. Weapons that are not silver, or enchanted, will not harm it,” she informed the Companions around her.
Aela snorted. “Now there’s irony for you. The blades that slew Kodlak may also set him free.”
“What about Aela?” Farkas asked, Eorlund. “Can you make silver arrows?”
“I’ll enchant a bow for her,” Alexa smiled at Aela. “I have an elven one I picked up last week.”
That night, as Alexa made her way to her old room, Vilkas, wordlessly, handed her a slim journal, then turned his back on her, went to his room, and closed the door, firmly, behind him.
She’d forgotten how cold the lower level of Jorrvaskr was. At least the College – with its lack of Nords – kept their rooms at a reasonable temperature. She climbed under the relatively thin covers, which had replaced her fur blanket – now on her bed in Winterhold - and opened the journal. It was Kodlak’s. Blinking back tears she began to read.
“You didn’t make it to the funeral,” Aela noted from the doorway.
“No,” Alexa agreed, putting aside the journal as Aela took a seat on the foot of the bed. “I only received the letter you sent yesterday.”
Aela nodded in unhappy understanding.
Alexa slipped an arm through hers and leaned against Aela’s shoulder. “It’s been a hard year, hasn’t it?” she said finally.
“For you as well,” Aela pointed out.
“I realized, not so long ago, that I can’t remember what it feels like not to have had a hard year,” Alexa admitted, letting go of Aela’s arm and scooting up against the wall to offer Aela a spot under the covers.
Aela gave her a watery smile. “Are you coming on to me, shield-sister?”
“Sleep over,” Alexa told her as Aela, despite what she’d just said, accepted her offer. “But if you want to be alone right now, I’m not going to stop you, or tell you how stupid that would be.”
“I’m only staying to keep you from crawling into bed with Vilkas,” Aela sniffed.
“Yes, that would be a disaster,” Alexa agreed.
“Not a likely one though, I take it?”
“It may be a strange thing to say, given everything, but I don’t think we were good for each other,” Alexa admitted. “Besides, without me around, maybe Ria finally has a chance?”
Aela considered her for a moment. “You are different, shield-sister,” she finally announced. “The restlessness that kept you out in the field for weeks at a time, and was going to take you from us, is less noticeable than it was.”
Alexa snorted slightly. “I don’t think Lydia, or my colleagues at the College, would agree.”
“They do not see you as I do,” Aela answered. “Your energy has found focus. I am glad. I… I was afraid being dragonborn would make you someone different, someone who wasn’t my shield-sister anymore.”
“I suppose it is nice to finally know why my life is the way it is, even if I don’t yet understand what it means,” Alexa admitted. “Nicer still to finally have someone who says they will help me figure it out.”
“I can only imagine that not knowing you’re dragonborn would be similar to what not knowing you’re moon-born might be like,” Aela offered. “Risky, dangerous to those around you, and emotionally agonizing. And, the whole time you were with us, you never let on.”
“It’s a little different, I think,” Alexa hedged. “Less an agony of emotion and more one of the mind.”
Aela smiled sadly. “I can see that.”
“Aela, if the twins ask me to remove their beast spirits, will you be alright without a pack?”
Aela was silent for a while. “I will still have a family, even if I do not have a pack,” she answered finally.
“Hey, would you like to kill a dragon on our way north?” Alexa asked. “Some people I passed on the road mentioned that there might be one at Shearpoint and I need to go there anyway.”
“I’m sure Vilkas will love that, shield-sister,” Aela smiled.
“I didn’t ask Vilkas,” Alexa told her shield-sister.
“Sure,” Aela shrugged. “Can’t let you have all the fun.”
There wasn’t just a dragon at Shearpoint. There was also, unexpectedly, a dragon priest.
“What, in shore’s name, was that?” Vilkas demanded.
“A dragon priest,” Alexa answered, crouching down to examine the pile of ashes. “What were you doing out here?” she asked softly, as she examined the ash covered mask. Krosis. “Ah. So this is where you ended up.”
“Shield-sister?” Aela asked, her tone worried.
“When Alduin claimed for himself the lordship that rightly belonged to Akatosh – when the worship of dragons finally sought to fully replaced the worship of the divines – some of the dragons turned against him. The dragon this priest served was their leader. In revenge the dragons loyal to Alduin destroyed his temple. I’m surprised the priest got this far before they killed him.” She picked up the staff of fireballs and stood back up, knocking the mask against her thigh to get the ash out.
“What’s the wall say?” Farkas asked.
“Modir the Far raised [this] stone / [in his] brother’s memory, Oskar / the Fool, whose voice was weak and / not [the] mighty shout of his clan,” she answered.
“There are all three words of the Shout on it. See?” she pointed to the three sets of markings that glowed every so slightly. “Gut,” she said, pointing to the first one, “it means far. Mey,” she pointed to the second one, “means fool, and zul means voice. The Shout is Far-Fool-Voice or Gut-Mey-Zul.”
“What does it do?” Farkas asked.
“I don’t know yet,” she answered. “I’m going to have to kill another dragon, or mediate on it for a week, or two, to find out.”
“Is that what the Greybeards have you doing?” Farkas enquired. “Reading walls and then thinking about them?”
“Yes,” she answered, leading the way back down the path.
“Sounds boring,” he remarked, following close behind.
“Oh.” He thought about that for a while as Alexa left the path cutting northwest to hit the road just east of the Blizzard’s Rest giant camp. “Did Talos have to do the same thing?” Farkas finally asked.
“He had it even worse than I do,” she answered, smiling up at him. “There weren’t enough dragons around then for him to simply kill one in order to gain their knowledge of a Shout. So every Shout he wanted to learn he had to learn by thinking about it.”
“Can you really call storms like the legends?” he asked.
“Yes. But I don’t like to use that one because I haven’t figured out how to keep the lightning from hitting the people I’m traveling with.”*
He looked so disappointed Alexa couldn’t help but smile. She looked up into the cloudy winter sky. The few flakes of snow floating through the air indicated a storm from the Sea of Ghosts would soon be cresting the mountains just north of them. “Here, this one is pretty neat,” she offered, stopping to turn her face to the sky. “Lok-Vah-Koor!”
The clouds thinned. “Lok-Vah-Koor!” she shouted again and the clouds dissipated revealing clear blue sky and bathing the land around them in wintery sunlight. “That live up to expectation?” she asked Farkas.
He just grinned happily and slung an arm around her shoulders as they walked down the road north to the Nightgate Inn.
Aela and Vilkas exchanged a wide-eyed look before hurrying to catch up.