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Not Drake but Jill: Act 2

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Alexa

She was suspended – floating – in nothingness.  She was neither hot, nor cold, and the darkness around her was more a uniform emptiness than the solid darkness of being underground.  The only light appeared to be coming from herself.  She raised a hand to inspect the faint white radiance that emanated from it.

Slowly she became aware of a presence in the darkness around her: a cloud of lesser darkness swirling with pin pricks of colored light.  Something in her recognized it and was pleased not to be alone.  The cloud enfolded her gently its many points of light flowing softly across her skin.  She noticed that the lights closest to her glowed slightly brighter than those that were farther away.

“You are beautiful,” she whispered.

The colored lights stopped, as if startled.  Then, after what appeared to be a moment of indecision, they condensed, solidifying into a dremora.  He was warm, and reassuringly solid, compared to the emptiness around her.

Fascinated, and apparently incapable of fear in her current dream state, she traced the red markings on his face with her fingertips before tipping her chin up and kissing him softly.

He returned her kiss eagerly, drinking the light from her lips.

 

Companions - Whiterun

Ysolda was giggling with Fralia Gray-Mane in the market.  Farkas wasn’t at all interested in what they were saying until he heard Alexa’s name mentioned.  She had a job near Riften, her first in the area since they’d discovered her former connection to the Thieves Guild, and would have checked in at Jorrvaskr if she’d completed it so, whatever the two women were talking about, it couldn’t be important. He went back to frowning at Anoriath’s selection of game and didn’t think of it again until later that evening when Eorlund Gray-Mane settled into the chair between him and Vilkas.

Eorlund took a long pull from the tankard in his hand, before shifting his weight slightly to look at Vilkas.  “You see little Alexa when she blew through town last night?” he asked somberly.

“Alexa was in town?” Vilkas asked, brows drawing together.  

Eorlund glanced at Farkas who shook his head.  “If she was, she didn’t come up here,” he told the older man.

The corners of the old smith’s mouth turned downwards.  “Hmm. I thought it would be you,” he muttered to Vilkas.

“Thought I would be what?” Vilkas asked, clearly as confused as Farkas.

“She bought a ring from Ysolda,” the smith told him, and took another swig from his tankard.

Farkas frowned at that. He knew she was trying to learn enchanting, but there was no reason to buy a ring from Ysolda for that when she could – and often did – make her own.  Still, his friend could be more than a little strange at times.  So he shrugged dismissively.

“She bought a wedding ring,” Eorlund told them, his eyes darting back and forth between their faces.

Farkas choked, glancing worriedly at his brother.

“Tell us what you know old man!” Vilkas growled, low and threatening.

“You’d have to ask Ysolda if you want to know more,” the smith told Vilkas.  “I heard from my wife who heard from her.  That’s far too many people between you and the truth for something like this.”

 

Alexa - Markarth

Alexa came awake with a groan.  A woman was yelling at her… something about blaspheming – which she never did, the gods paid far too much attention to her for that sort of thing to be safe – fondling some statues and blathering about marriage and… a goat?  It didn’t make any sense.  She looked around her.  Oh, those statues.  Ok, not usually her thing, but, if one were going to take up statue fondling, statues of Dibella seemed like a logical choice.

Now, what was that about marriage?  She looked down at her hands and froze in shock. 

 

Companions - Morvunskar

Morvunskar had been a waste of time.  Just a ruin filled with hostile mages with no evidence of Alexa, or a wedding.

“Look on the bright side,” Aela grinned at Vilkas as they started back to Whiterun.  “At least you know that story she told Ysolda about meeting her true love, like something out of a romantic ballad, was a lie.”

Farkas gave her a warning glance and Vilkas actually growled.  Aela laughed again.  Alexa was going to be so amused by all of this!

 

Alexa - Whiterun

“So, this isn’t the ring you sold me?” Alexa asked Ysolda, holding out her hand.

The other woman shook her head.  “No, that’s much nicer than anything I had in stock.  Your husband must be very wealthy.”

“Ok, so your ring must have been for my husband.  Did I say anything to you about him or our plans?”

Ysolda gave her a look of wide-eyed concern.

Alexa rubbed her temple. “Seriously.  I can’t remember anything from the last ten days.  I don’t know what happened to me, but I’m beginning to think it was a good deal more than a drinking contest gone wrong. Anything you can tell me would be a great help.”

“Only that you said you met your true love in a misty place, and that you intended to have your wedding reception at Morvunskar.  It… sounded amazing,” Ysolda added regretfully.

“Thanks Ysolda,” Alexa kissed her cheek.  “I’m going to go look into that.  When I get back I’ll sell some of the stuff I’ve picked up to pay you back, honest.  Just… don’t tell anyone about this until I’ve figured it out.”

Then she was off again before Ysolda could tell her that the Companions already knew.

 

Companions - Whiterun

“You just missed her!” Ysolda called out to Aela, Farkas and Vilkas as they passed through the market later that afternoon.

“What?” Vilkas barked.

“Alexa,” Ysolda squeaked, taking a step back.  “She was here first thing this morning asking about the ring and her wedding plans…”

“Why would she do that?” Aela asked, putting a restraining hand on Vilkas.

“Seems she can’t remember anything from the past ten days,” Ysolda told them.  “Oh, also, her hair is deathbell purple now!”

 

Alexa – Morvunskar

There were a surprising number of bodies littered around the place, Alexa noted as she snuck through the crumbling ruin.  Not that anyone appeared to be alive to be snuck up on, but caution suggested that whoever had killed all these mages might still be around.  Something about the carnage spoke to her of members of the Circle, but that couldn’t be right.  She was fairly certain she hadn’t sent out invitations.

Speaking of which, what kind of person would choose to live here, much less plan to have a wedding in this place?  Oh.  A portal. She stared at it for a moment and then shrugged.  After the week she’d already had… sure, why not.


“You’re here!” Sam toasted her grinning madly.

“Sam!  Where in Oblivion is this?  Why would we need Hagraven feathers, a giant toe, or holy water, to fix a staff?  Why is my hair purple, and who, in the names of all the Divines, did I marry?”

He laughed.  “I thought you might not remember your fist trip here!  You had a big night.  And you can go ahead and throw those feathers and things out.  You see…” Sam said disappearing in an orb of purple light to be replaced by an eight-foot tall dremora in daedric armor.  “I really just needed something to encourage you to go out into the world and spread merriment.  And you did just that!  I haven’t been so entertained in… I don’t know how long.”

“So, let me see if I’ve got this right, I spent nearly two weeks palling around drunk with a shape shifting dremora?” Alexa asked, trying to put all the pieces together.

“Not a dremora,” he chided his voice dropping an octave and turning sinister, “but Sanguine, deadric prince of debauchery!”  Sanguine’s voice returned to Sam’s usual, pleasant and slightly inebriated tone, “Also, I'm not sure ‘palling around’ is the correct term.”

“We traded a goat we didn’t own, to a giant, for his toe, in order to fix a staff that wasn’t broken… I admit that I’m not sure what to call that,” she told him flatly.

“I call it one hell of a honeymoon!” he laughed, holding up his hand so that she could see the ring on his finger.

“You’re joking,” she whispered disbelieving.

He put his tankard down on the table, took her face between his hands, and kissed her. 

Alexa would be willing to bet that there was nothing, in any world, quite like being kissed by the prince of debauchery.

“I am not joking,” he told her in a heated undertone.  “Though it is rather funny.”

Kynareth forgive her but she had to ask.  “Why?”

The daedric prince sobered slightly.  “Look, Sikendra, you’re going places.  I knew that when we met but turns out you’re also fun.  I like you.  So, I thought, better me than one of the others, right?”

She gave him a look of complete incomprehension. 

“You know the markings on your back, right?  The ones that indicate you’re a Grand Master, blah blah-blah.  Do you know how rare those are?” he asked.

“I believe, at the moment, there are only five Grand Masters in all Tamriel,” she answered.

“That’s right.  And the other’s, they’re elves.  Old elves.  But, you’re so much more than that…  You’re dragonborn…”

“I’m what now?” she interrupted.

“Dragonborn.  You know, like that Talos guy was.  You’re the first of a new dragonborn bloodline, to be precise.  That means you’re a real daughter of Akatosh.  So, like I said, you’re going places.  But, people like me, well they’re going to want to take advantage.  Especially before you get it all figured out.  Some of them have already had you running little errands, haven’t they? But once you know, once everyone knows, that you’re dragonborn then the dangerous ones will come out to play.  When that happens it might help to have someone looking out for you a little more actively than Azura and her ‘watching you from the twilight’ or whatever it is she voyeuristically does.  And, since I think you’re great the way you are, and you’d be a lot less fun if someone like Molag Bal or Namira got to you, I figured maybe should get to you first…  So I did, and here we are.”

“You married me to protect me from the other daedric princes?” she asked weakly, taking a seat at the table.  “Was marriage really the only way to do that?”

“Well, no, but it was the funniest.  What I wouldn’t give to have seen Mara’s face when she realized what was happening in her temple!  Her priests, using her power, to bless a union between a daedric prince and a new dragonborn…  Ah, good times!”

“Fuck me,” Alexa whispered, hitting her forehead gently into the tabletop a few times.  She was going to have to avoid temples and shrines of Mara for a while.

“Oh, I already did,” Sanguine leered.  “Totally worth it, by the way.”

“Thanks…?” she murmured dully, suddenly glad for her memory loss.  If his kisses were anything to go by sex with Sanguine, while amazing, would leave one in serious danger of enthrallment. 

She sat slowly back up and looked around her at the crowed of merrily drunken revelers and wonder if they were real people and, if so, how they had gotten to the Misty Grove.  And why was she here again?  Oh, right, the husband and the staff.  Well, she’d found one, divines help her, what about the other?

“Please tell me your offer of a staff wasn’t just a euphemism?” she begged.

“Oh!  Good one!  Hadn’t thought of that...  But no, the staff is quite real.  My wedding present to you, along with the usual powers and concessions, marriage between gods requires, blah, blah-blah,” he tossed her a short staff that looked like a bright red rose.  “A flower for you, my lovely wife.  And you should probably go.  It’s almost morning and you’ve got a family appointment to keep.”

Chapter Text

It was something of a surprise when her return to Tamriel more closely resembled regaining consciousness, after being hit over the head, than stepping through a portal.  It was even more surprising to find herself tied upright, in a cart, surrounded by people she’d never seen before.  Their armor, however, told her exactly what they were – Stormcloaks.  The guards riding ahead and behind the cart were legionaries.  And, to top it all off, her armor and effects were missing. 

Well, shit.  And she’d thought marrying a daedric prince was going to be the worst part of her week.

“Hey, you.  You’re finally awake,” one of the Stormcloaks announced stating the obvious.  “You were trying to cross the border, right?  Walked right into that Imperial ambush, same as us, and that thief over there.”

“Boarder?” she asked. Just where, exactly, had Sanguine dropped her and why couldn’t she remember it?  The prince of debauchery seemed to be doing double duty as the prince of memory lapses this week.

“Shut up back there!” the soldier driving the wagon called back.

“What’s wrong with him?” the man the chatty Stormcloak had called a thief asked the fourth occupant of the cart and, incidentally, the only one who couldn’t answer because he was gaged.

“Watch your tongue,” the chatty Stormcloak snapped.  “You’re speaking to Ulfric Stormcloak, the true High King.”

That was when the thief started to panic.  Alexa closed her eyes and tried to think.  This was… not good.  Wherever they were going it would be an imperial stronghold.  That meant there would be a Thalmor presence.  Given what Hircine and Sanguine had told her she’d be lucky if she ended up dead as the chatty Stormcloak was currently implying was their fate.  If there were Thalmor present there was a chance she’d end up in their “care” instead. 

Hircine had implied that someone knew she was in Skyrim* – even if that someone didn’t appear to be Ondolemar. How much worse would it get if Sanguine was right about her being dragonborn and the Thalmor found out? 

Ondolemar... shit. If she ended up in Thalmor care he’d… learn she’d befriended him to use him. Suddenly she thought it might be a good thing her hair was the color of deathbells.

“Look at him, General Tullius the Military Governor,” the chatty Stormcloak was saying.  “And it looks like the Thalmor are with him. Damn elves.  I bet they had something to do with this.”

“Unlikely,” she disagreed distractedly.  Seriously, if Sanguine wanted a divorce all he had to do was ask.  It wasn’t like she was particularly invested in their relationship at this point.  “If anything they are currently trying to find a plausible way for your Jarl to escape.” Fuck it.  If she was going to die today she might as well be pissy about it and voice all those niggling little questions that had been bothering her since she got to Skyrim like: where Ulfric got the money for matching Stormcloak uniforms much less to maintain and supply hidden camps all over Skyrim for the last twenty five years?  It certainly wasn’t coming from Eastmarch taxes.  The place wasn’t nearly wealthy enough to support that sort of thing.  No, her bet was on outside funding from even further afield than Markarth and Riften.

The Stormcloak soldier across from her snorted dismissively, “What would a Breton know of the Thalmor anyway?”

“The Thalmor seek to regain the glory of the lost elves.  A goal that requires retaking Cyrodiil,” she told him.  “The ban against Talos worship, in the White-Gold Concordant, was a poisoned pill meant to destabilize the empire – to destroy it from within so that the next time they invade Cyrodiil the Empire will be too weak to fight back.  The elves set you up, Stormcloak, and you have played right into their hands.  Worse you should be asking yourself whether your esteemed Jarl knew that from the beginning.”

She could feel the tension and anger now in the gaged and bound man beside her.  She turned to him with a vicious little smile.  “Your story is well known, is it not?  Ulfric Stormcloak, son of the Jarl of Windhelm, who was captured by the Dominion during the Great War and yet managed to escape. A daring story of course, but was it ‘escaped’ or ‘set free’, I wonder?  Tell me, Jarl, did they break you first?  Do you work for them now or are you merely complicit in their machinations?”

“How dare you!” the Stormcloak soldier spat, as their cart came to a stop.

“I am about to die for being stupid enough to get drunk in Riften after telling Maven Black-Briar, to drop dead,” she not quite lied.  She’d used the job in Riften to finally talk things out with Brynjolf and had actually been pleased with the results.  “Under those circumstances I dare a great deal.”  Then she shrugged.  “Perhaps you will get lucky and your Jarl will pull off another ‘miraculous’ escape. Anything is possible, however unlikely.”


The man with the quill and notebook gave her a worried look.  “Who are you?”

“Alexa,” she told him.

He waited a moment for a last name but she didn’t provide it.  “Are you from Daggerfall Breton?  Fleeing some court intrigue perhaps?”

She faded out on him. She was finding it surprisingly difficult to concentrate and not simply because of the pounding in her head. Something else was bothering her. An itchy prickle in the back of her mind, like she was being watched, or when someone nearby was looking for her. Standing in line for the block with the rest of the prisoners she looked around.  Everyone she could see was focused on Ulfric, not on her.  And yet the feeling persisted. 

Then she heard something.  A noise she felt she should recognize echoing on the wind.  The others didn’t seem to have heard it.  The General was lecturing Ulfric when it came again.  And then a third time as they called her to the block.

Kneeling with her head turned towards the headsman she finally saw it crest the mountain: a dragon, black as night.  It landed on the tower in front of her and stared her straight in the face.  She could feel its rage and disappointment as it looked at her.  It opened its mouth… 

Alexa surged to her feet and pushed the Imperial soldier who had asked her name out of the way, taking the full brunt of the strange pressure wave, issuing from the dragon’s mouth, on herself.  It stung like a bitch but she was all right.  Well, except for the fire suddenly falling from the sky and the enraged dragon snapping at everything that moved.


“Hey, when you guys found me, was I somewhat better equipped than I am now?” Alexa asked, a few minutes later, as the Imperial list-maker cut her wrists loose.

“No,” he replied, with a perplexed look.

“Well that’s the last time I get drunk at the Bee and Barb,” she announced as she started going through the various chests at the end of each bed in the barracks.

He snorted.  “If you are dumb enough to get drunk in Riften you deserve whatever you get.”

“I don’t know that anyone deserves dragons,” she replied, pulling on some oversized armor she’d found.

“True enough,” he grimaced and held out a hand.  “Name’s Hadvar.”

“Alexa,” she replied, shaking his hand.  “Currently of the Companions in Whiterun.”

“You’re a Companion?” he asked in surprise.

“At the moment.  I was with the Dawnguard for a while and, before that, I was an adventurer and a bard at the college in Solitude…” She pulled on the lever to open the gate leading deeper into the fort.  “This way.  These old forts usually have a back way out though the basement.  If it hasn’t caved in over the years.”

“You, uh, get around,” he commented following her down the first hall.

“If that’s a nice way of saying I haven’t found my place in the world yet, then yeah, I get around.”

Hadvar gave her a lopsided smile.


The last group of Stormcloaks, before the torturer’s apprentice decided he had to go back for ‘the old man’, had wounded Hadvar pretty badly.  Still it wasn’t anything two applications of Heal Other couldn’t handle.

“Never heard of a Companion using magic,” Hadvar gasped between applications.

“They loosened the restrictions for me on account of my winning personality,” she replied with a slight smile.  “Now try not to move too much or you’ll end up with an ugly scar.”

“Aren’t scars supposed to be manly?” he asked, with a grimace.

“I suppose the depends on whether you see scars as proof of what you’ve survived or as proof of what you were stupid enough to get yourself into,” she answered, helping him back to his feet.

“You don’t have many scars,” he noted as he lowered a bridge spanning the gap between the finished keep basement and a cave.

“The ones I do have are very much of the ‘stupidly got myself into’ variety,” she assured him.


The last two weeks started to catch up with her about the time they finished killing the brood of frostbite spiders. She kicked the now dead giant frostbite spider once for good measure as she walked past it.  Explaining the last two weeks to Vilkas wasn’t going to be possible and, to be honest, she’d known since Skjor’s death, now about a month ago, that she really was going to have to move on sooner than expected.  The itchy prickling restlessness that tended to precede another attempt on her life was becoming difficult to ignore.  “Hey Vilkas I married the daedric prince of debauchery last week!  Hope we can transition back to being friends!” certainly added a new urgency to leaving.

And now the Empire had tried to cut off her head for… well their memory of events and hers seemed to be significantly different, though, under the circumstances, that probably wasn’t their fault and was to be expected, and Ulfric… Ulfric was a self-aggrandizing weasel who spouted racist rhetoric, and encouraged the absolute worst in his followers, all while clearly, obviously, being on the take.  Fuck him too.  It was probably too much to hope that the dragon would manage to eat him before he got away.

The real problem was that there weren’t many places left in Skyrim she could go and she really shouldn’t make her escape to Morrowind until she could count on weather closing the way behind her.  She was still pondering this issue when they passed the Guardian Stones.  Suddenly inspired she touched the Mage Stone for luck. Even if the Thalmor had an agent at the College the last few years had changed her quite a bit.  Enough that she might be able to go the few months to winter without being recognized.

“Takes all kinds, I suppose,” Hadvar remarked, clearly trying not to sound disapproving and failing.

She glared daggers at him. “I’m sorry.  Did my healing magic save your life not so long ago or am I misremembering that?” she demanded.

Hadvar had the grace to look slightly abashed.  “Riverwood is this way,” he said, turning away from her and heading down the hill.


Leaving Riverwood the next morning, with a message for the Jaral, she came around the bend in the road that followed the river down the hill onto the plane around Whiterun, and saw a man, dressed in a plain black mage robe, sitting on a fallen log.  “Sam?”

He looked up at her with a grin.  “Hey there, pretty lady.  Lose some things?” he asked, standing to hold her belongings out to her.

Why?” she pleaded.

“Would you rather the Legion confiscate your things and have them ended up buried under a pile of ruble?” the prince asked.

At that, and without thinking, she closed the distance between them, wrapped her arms around his waist, buried her face in his chest, and burst into tears.

He rubbed her back soothingly as she sobbed.  “There, there, shhh, it’s over now.”

“Dragon,” she told him. “Giant, angry, flying lizard, and it yelled at me!”

“I hear family reunions can be like that,” he chuckled.

She gave a watery gurgle at that.  “You hear that do you?  No family of your own to yell at you?”

“Not really.  I mostly ignore those of my un-siblings that are prone to yelling,” he replied, wiping her tears away with a sleeve before kissing her gently and – at least for him – relatively chastely on the mouth.  It was still a toe curling experience.

“What am I going to do?” she asked when they came up for air.

“I suggest you learn to yell back,” he laughed, resting his forehead on hers.  “Preferably something obscene,” he added, his voice changing briefly from Sam’s to Sanguine’s.

“Of course you do,” she chuckled, as she drew away, trying to fix the mess she’d made of his robe. “Thanks.”

He looked bemused. “For bringing my things,” she told him, trying to clarify.  “And for putting up with the crying and for making me laugh.  It was… nice of you.  I appreciate it.”

He took her hand. “You know, I think I might be getting the hang of this whole husband thing,” the daedra confided a little smugly.

“Carry my pack for me, as far as the stables, and I might be forced to agree,” she laughed.

“I can do that,” he smiled.

“You wouldn’t happen to know where my dog is, would you?”

“I believe he’s asleep on your bed in Whiterun,” the daedra answered, starting down the hill, still holding her hand. 

“Good,” she sighed with relief, moving to walk beside him.  “What did you mean by ‘usual powers and concessions’?”

Chapter Text

Aela was standing at the top of the steps to Jorrvaskr when Alexa arrived in the Wind District escorted by a Breton man in a black mage robe.  She couldn’t hear what they said to each other, standing beside the Gildergreen Sapling, but the result was that the man glanced at Aela, and acknowledged her with a wink, before kissing Alexa lightly on the forehead and leaving the way they had come.  To Aela’s surprise Alexa, her shoulders slumping slightly with obvious fatigue, didn’t turn towards Jorrvaskr but crossed the square and started up the steps to Dragonsreach.

Frowning, Aela descended to the Gildergreen and took a seat, on the bench facing the stairs to Dragonsreach, to wait.


“So, it wasn’t just a rumor,” Aela began, once the door to the Underforge was closed behind them.  “You’re married.  What happened?”

Alexa settled onto one of the stone platforms, around the edge of the room, and leaned back, tiredly, against the wall.  “Did the job near Riften,” she began.  “Intended to spend the night at the Bee and Barb.  Ended up spending ten days* blackout drunk in the company of an avatar of the Daedric Prince of Debauchery.  Woke up four days ago, in Markarth, with a ring on my finger. Retraced my steps all the way back to one of the Realms of Revelry, in the hope of finding out who I’d married, only to end up in the back of cart full of Stormcloaks headed for execution in Helgen.  We arrived just in time for a dragon to level the place.”

Aela sat down next to her with a heavy thump.  “Wow,” was all she could say for nearly a minute.  “Did you find your husband at least?” she asked finally.

“Yes.”

“Who?” Aela asked, suddenly uncertain, given the timeline Alexa had just given her, that the Breton mage she’d seen her shield-sister with was Alexa’s new husband as she’d assumed.

“Officially, I think, a Breton mage named Sam,” Alexa replied.  “Unofficially, for your ears only, the afore mentioned daedric prince.”

There was dead silence for a moment.  “That’s…”

“Hard to believe, I know,” Alexa sighed.  She pulled a new, strange looking, staff off her pack and handed it to Aela.  “The Sanguine Rose.”

Aela looked it over for a minute before handing the staff back.  “You ok?” she asked.

“No.  But I’ll live.  I think.”

“We should have known something unnatural was happening when we found Meeko asleep on your bed, and had no idea how he’d gotten there,” Aela admitted.  “That was two weeks ago.  He didn’t wake up until this morning.”

Alexa nodded.  “At least my new husband was thoughtful enough to keep my dog safe.  I’ll give him that much.”

“What are you going to tell Vilkas?” Aela asked, worry showing in her tone.

“That I fell under the sway of yet another daedric prince and ended up married, and that I’m sorry,” Alexa answered softly. 

“Not the truth?” Aela asked.

“I… don’t think I want it widely known that I’m Sanguine’s wife and angry people are terrible at keeping secrets.”

Aela nodded in understanding.  “So… dragon?”

“Yep.  Just reported the attack to the jarl.  Farengar wants me to go retrieve something ‘dragon related’ from Bleakfalls Barrow for him.  The jarl seems to think it’s urgent so…”  She shrugged.

“I’ll come with you,” Aela decided.  “I don’t think you should go alone under the circumstances.”

“And what circumstances are those?” Vilkas asked, stepping out of the shadows.

They both jumped. “How long have you been eaves dropping?” Aela demanded, getting to her feet.

“Just long enough to get the impression that you’re both about to leave Whiterun to run an errand for the court mage.  Which seems odd as Alexa has only just returned after nearly three weeks away,” he replied, his voice dangerously low.

“A dragon leveling Helgen makes for odd circumstance,” Aela informed him.

Alexa sighed and stood up. “Get your things, Aela.  I’ll meet you out front in a few minutes.”

“You sure?” she asked, eyeing Vilkas.

“Go away, Aela,” he growled.


The next day…

“What’s so interesting about this stone, then?” Aela asked, pulling her arrows out of the thoroughly dead, at least for the moment, draugr death lord.

“It appears to be a map of some sort,” Alexa replied, frowning.  Feeling something on the back she flipped it over.  “On the back it says:  ‘Here lies our’, ‘fallen’ maybe, ‘lords until power of world-eater revives’*.”

“World-Eater?” Aela interjected sharply.  “You mean Alduin?”

“That’s what it says… I think,” Alexa confirmed. 

“Alduin, the World-Eater? Legendary black dragon?” Aela demanded.

“Black?” Alexa asked, eyes suddenly wide.

“Legend says the only black dragon in Tamriel,” Aela confirmed. “Why?”

“Because the dragon that burned down Helgen was black,” Alexa replied quietly.

“You’re kidding…”

“I’m not.  I think… I think I’ll take a rubbing of this thing for later study before I hand it over to Farengar.”

“I think we’d better get that thing back to Whiterun,” Aela told her.

“Agreed.  Should be a back way out over there,” Alexa pointed towards the stairs leading up towards the back wall.

“Back to the Sleeping Giant?” Aela asked, after they’d scrabbled down the cliff face the back entrance had let out onto.

“If you don’t mind,” Alexa confirmed.  “I’d rather deal with what’s waiting in Whiterun after another full night’s sleep.”

Aela nodded but said nothing.


“Alexa?” Aela asked as they made their way back to Whiterun the next morning.

“Yes?”

“You’re leaving us, aren’t you?”

“I… yes.”

“And Vilkas?”

Alexa sighed.  “I was clear with Vilkas when we started sleeping together that there was no future to our relationship.  I even explained that, having no wish to bring the Thalmor down on all of you, when the time came for me to leave Jorrvaskr, I would not be taking him with me.  He said he understood.  If he lied, or thought he could change my mind, that’s on him.  From where I stand being married has simply added a second reason not to take him with me.”

Aela nodded.  “I don’t know if the others will see it that way,” she pointed out.

“I’m certain they won’t,” Alexa told her.  “Another reason to be leaving sooner rather than later I suppose.”

“How bad was your fight after I left?” she enquired.

“Bad enough I don’t want to talk about it,” Alexa replied.

“And you’re sure running away is the best idea?  You won’t be around to defend yourself to the others if you do.” 

“I guess I’ll just have to trust that you’ll keep everyone else from making me out to be entirely evil. Also, it’s not what you think,” Alexa answered softly.  “I wouldn’t leave you all early just because of more awkwardness with Vilkas.”

“Then why are you?”

“Because when that dragon wrecked Helgen… I think it did it to kill me.”

Aela snorted in disbelief. “Not everything is about you, shield-sister.”

“Six days ago the daedric prince of debauchery informed me that I’m dragonborn,” Alexa told Aela without looking at her. 

“Do you believe him?”

“I don’t know.  I… I’m afraid.”

“Afraid?”

“Aela, I read dovahzul – the dragon language – but no one ever taught me.  And when that dragon Shouted at me the pressure wave tore the man on my left, who was wearing armor, to bloody shreds but didn’t do any more harm to me than a minor healing potion could take care of.”

“Could be a mage thing,” Aela replied, dismissively.

“Smoke,” Alexa breathed, pointing.

“The western watch tower is on fire,” Aela noted, concern coloring her voice.

“Dragon,” Alexa whispered.

“How can you tell?”

“I can feel him.  He’s close by, waiting for people to come and defend it so that he can prove his strength and dominance and claim this region as his territory.”

Alexa heard Aela snarl at that.  This was the Circle’s hunting ground and the dragon was trying to take it.  “If dragons attack from the air, they’re going to need archers,” Aela said, starting down the hill, bypassing the road and it’s switchbacks in favor of a more direct route.

“You mean the two best archers in Whiterun?” Alexa asked, following.

Aela gave her a sideways glance.  “You know… they say the only way to really know if someone is dragonborn is to have them kill a dragon.”

Alexa rolled her eyes. “Alright, Aela.  Lets go put the word of a daedric prince to the test.”

Aela grinned at her. “Race you, shield-sister!”

Chapter Text

 

Ulfric

They were within sight of Windhelm when the Voice of the Greybeards shook the air around them.  “Dovahkiin!”

He stopped and turned to face the mountain, brow furrowed.

“What was that?” he heard one of his men whisper.

“The Greybeards summoning a Dragonborn to High Hrothgar,” someone else answered, their voice full of awe.

He could feel all eyes upon him.  “We rest first,” he told them.  “It’s a long hike to High Hrothgar.”  He smiled to himself as he spurred his borrowed horse onward.  His destiny had finally arrived.

It was evening of the next day when the report from Hjornskar Head-Smasher, at the Whiterun camp, arrived detailing the events at the Western Watchtower.

“What news from Whiterun?” Ulfric asked Galmar who had accepted the report from the runner.

“My Jarl, what Hjornskar writes here, it cannot be true,” Galmar began.

“What does he say?” Ulfric asked, looking up from the map on the table.

“That the dragonborn is a woman from Whiterun,” he answered.  “That she slew a dragon and stole its power in front of half the guard…”

Ulfric gripped the table with white knuckles.  “Have it investigated,” he commanded from between gritted teeth.  There was no room for error in this.  He would not return to High Hrothgar unless summoned.  Or until the Greybeards admitted that he had been right to leave.  “And get somebody in Ivarstead to watch the approach to the monastery.  Let’s find out who thinks they are worthy.”


Tullius

“Dovahkiin!”

“What in the blazes was that?” Tullius demanded, looking up from the war table in Castle Dour.

Rikke was silent for a moment, her eyes wide, “The Greybeards,” she whispered finally.

“You’re joking…” Tullius grumbled.

“They just summoned a new dragonborn to High Hrothgar,” Rikke told him sounding stunned.

“A dragonborn?” Tullius snorted.  “Well, now that there are dragons…” something occurred to him and he looked up to meet Rikke’s intense gaze.

“My oath is to the Emperor,” he told her after a moment of tense silence.

She nodded.  “Of course, sir.  Mine as well.”

“Any chance it’s Ulfric?” Tullius enquired tiredly, after another, brief, awkward silence.

“I certainly hope not, sir,” Rikke replied.

“You and me both, Legate. Still, put some feelers out and see if anyone’s heard anything.  Lets not get blindsided by this.”

“Of course, sir.”


The Thalmor

“Dovahkiin!”

In the Embassy Ambassador Elenwen’s goblet dropped from her hand spilling all over the rug as it rolled under the table.  “First spirit of Tamriel, what was that?” she demanded of the only other person in the room.

“I don’t know,” Ondolemar answered softly.  “But I think I should get back to Markarth.”

 ...

At the College of Winterhold Ancano didn’t even hear the summons.  He was exploring the Midden firm in the belief that anywhere that was off limits had to be interesting.  So far his results were… underwhelming.


Lydia

When Lydia had been told that she was to be appointed housecarl to a new thane she hadn’t expected to be told that there was a good chance the new thane was the dragonborn the Greybeards had summoned five minutes earlier.  She was also not expecting the person in question to be the pretty Breton girl from the Companions.  It stunned her slightly to further realize that the fabled dragonborn was about the same age as she was.  Silly, she told herself.  It wasn’t like dragonborn were born old and white-haired.  Even Talos must have been young once, though it was hard to imagine.

She watched as the new thane, Alexa if she remembered her name correctly, quietly accepted her title from the Jarl and then, on her way to talk to Farengar, quite literally ran into the brattiest of the Jarl’s children, Nelkir.  Lydia was too far away to hear what the boy said to her but it resulted in the dragonborn taking his hands and, quite clearly, having a very stern word with him.

Lydia smiled as the boy blushed and hung his head.  She’d wanted to cuff the kid, hard, for more than a year now.

She then watched as the new thane crossed to the other side of the hall only to quickly return and speak briefly, but with urgency, to Farengar.  After a short discussion the mage had handed her something and she’d gone back to the other side of the hall reappearing a few minutes later with a strange, curved, sword in one hand and an expression of profound of distaste on her face.

Lydia stepped forward as her new thane approached the door.  “The Jarl has appointed me to be your housecarl,” she said, by way of introduction.  “It’s an honor to serve you.”

“Oh, uh, okay,” the young woman replied dazedly.  “Lydia, wasn’t it?”

Lydia nodded.

“Well, I guess you can help me pack,” her new thane said, forcing a smile.  “And call me Alexa, please.  ‘Thane’ is so new I might not remember to respond to it.”

“Of course.  Would you like me to carry that for you?” Lydia asked, indicating the sword.

“Oh, no.  That would not be a good idea.  It is quite, quite, cursed,” Alexa replied, as she stepped past Lydia.

“Cursed?” Lydia gasped following her.

“Yes.  I think I will take it with me to the College of Winterhold and see what they have to say about it.”

“Should you not be headed to High Hrothgar?” Lydia enquired, a little tentatively.

“Winterhold first, then the Greybeards,” Alexa decreed, pushing open Dragonsreach’s main door.

They paused for a moment on the far side of the Dragonsreach bridge looking down over the city in the golden light of a late summer afternoon.  “Well, this… certainly complicates things,” Alexa sighed, after a minute of silence.  “Though nothing’s gone to plan for a while now so I don’t know why I thought leaving would.”

Lydia gave her new thane a curious look.  “Where were you intending to go, if I might be so bold?” Lydia enquired.

“Atmora,” the other woman shrugged slightly. 

Lydia blinked at that. She’d never traveled beyond Skyrim and this Breton had just mentioned traveling to a different continent as one might mention visiting Falkreath or Riften.  “I thought Atmora was just a frozen waste with nothing living in it anymore,” she murmured.

“I know!” her new thane exclaimed.  “Nothing built, or altered, since the late Merethic!  It… would have been fascinating…” 

They stood, in silence, for another long minute before Lydia cleared her throat.  “You said something about packing?”


“Let’s see.  Clothes go in the pack on the bed.  Books in the chest by the door.  I’ll go through the desk and the weapons racks…”

“My thane, may I ask a question?” Lydia began carefully.

“Please do,” Alexa replied without turning around.  “I’d rather we were friends anyway.  I’m out of practice with servants and I don’t miss it much.”

“If you already have a place here, and are not leaving for Atmora as planned, why are we packing all your things?”

“Because I’m hoping to attend the College of Winterhold, and the Companions could use the room,” she replied.

“You need help?” Aela asked, dryly, from the doorway.

“Am I going to need covering fire to get out of here alive?” Alexa asked, making a pile of her journals as she pulled them from the desk.

“He’s angry and hurt, what do you think?” Aela responded.

“I think I’m leaving a whole six weeks earlier than I told him I would be and not going nearly as far as I was expecting,” Alexa replied.

“I don’t think what you’re doing today has him nearly as upset as what you did last week,” Aela told her.

My point was that, from his position, what happened last week only moved up the timeline of what was already going to happen,” Alexa sighed. “I’m the one whose life is a total disaster right now, not him.  Besides this isn’t even about him.”

“I think it would be easier to handle if it were about him, Dragonborn,” Aela said.

Alexa froze.  “Did you tell him?” she asked softly.

“I did.  I don’t think it’s sunk in yet,” she admitted.  “For any of us.”

“I’m not certain I even know what it means,” Alexa confessed.  “I wonder if the Greybeards will really be able to tell me.  Yes, Mephala, I can hear you.  I’m busy, not deaf,” she suddenly snapped, as she wrapped the strange blade she’d taken from Dragonsreach up in sackcloth.

“You hearing voices now, shield-sister?” Aela enquired, brow furrowing in concern.

“Would you be totally shocked to discover that the Greybeards weren’t the only ones who noticed the dragon slaying?” Alexa asked.

Lydia and Aela exchanged glances.

“Perhaps you really should seek help from your fellow mages,” Aela allowed.

“I’ll start carrying this stuff down to the carriage,” Lydia informed them.  The faster they got to Winterhold, it seemed, the better.


Lydia had just put the second, and last, of her thane’s chests in the back of the cart, and Alexa was talking quietly with Aela and Kodlak, when Vilkas came striding up to them, took Alexa by the elbow and drew her a little away from the others.  Lydia, not liking the force with which the Nord warrior had just pulled her new thane out of the conversation she’d been in, sent a questioning glance to Aela who shook her head, once, firmly.

Lydia crossed her arms, leaned up against the side of the cart, and didn’t bother to pretend not to listen in.  “Look,” Vilkas was saying, “I know you didn’t mean to cheat on me, that you were tricked by a daedra, and I… I’m sure we can figure something out…”

“And being dragonborn?” Alexa interrupted.

Vilkas ran a hand through his hair, a gesture so full of frustration Lydia instinctively took a step towards him just in case she’d be called upon to intervene.  “Look, I know what Aela says she saw but… you’re not even a Nord!  There’s no way you could be dragonborn.  It has to be a mistake!  We’ll go to the Greybeards together and you’ll see…” the denial in his voice was painful to listen to.

There was a short silence as Alexa clearly struggled with something.  “I don’t think being dragonborn is something you just ‘work out’,” she finally told him.  “And it’s not a mistake.”

“What?  That’s not…”

“It’s time to let me go, Vilkas.  Like you promised.”  She stood up on her toes and kissed him softly on the cheek.  “I’m sorry.”  And then she turned her back on him and climbed into the cart, her dog jumping up behind her.

Lydia gave Vilkas a hard look, daring him to try anything, as she climbed up beside her thane.  A minute ago she’d wondered why her new thane would walk away from one of the best catches in Whiterun.  And while she wasn’t certain she knew what he was talking about when he’d mentioned daedra, even by the standards of Nord men, suggesting one could ‘work out’ being dragonborn, as if he were the one most affected by the discovery, was both moronic and self-absorbed.  Her thane could do better than that.

Chapter Text

The stones beneath his feet were humming slightly and the air around him trembled as the usual steady thrum of ancient magics, which suffused the College, suddenly quickened and intensified*.  He could see the Breton female in front of him felt it as well though she continued her remonstrations without pause.* The College gates, at the far end of the courtyard, opened and, for the briefest moment, it was as though the motes from the mystical focus point in the center of the courtyard, falling through the air around them, had turned to silver and violet petals. 

The figure that came through the gate was, if anything, anticlimactic.  Another Breton female but younger than the one berating him, and probably pretty, by human standards, when not travel weary.  She’d also had the questionable taste to dye her hair deathbell purple.  It was her eyes, when she drew close enough, that caught his attention.  Blue the color of sea ice.  The contrast to the purple hair, he noted dispassionately, was actually quite arresting.  He eyed her dog with distaste.  It was probably too much to hope that the College had a policy regarding pets in the dormitories.

“Can I help you?” Mirabel asked the young women.

“I’m here to join the college,” the young woman replied tiredly.  “But I also need to speak to someone about some of things I’ve picked up along the way.” She glanced quickly in his direction before returning her focus to the Master Wizard.  “I think the College might be interested in a few of them.”

Mirabelle eyed the girl and her pack clearly taking note of the unusual assortment of staves strapped across the back of it.  She nodded once.  “Welcome to the College.”


The new student had arrived late enough in the evening the first day that, after a brief tour, she’d only had time to retrieve two chests from the inn, where the carriage driver had left them, before going to bed.

The next day she’d spoken to each of the masters in turn before exchanging the Novice Robes of Destruction Mirabelle had given her for Expert Robes of Alteration.  Tolfdir it seemed was quite pleased with his new student. She had then – with an ease suggesting they were already acquainted – sought out Enthir, the shifty Bosmer on the second floor, to help her make some changes to her room.  A project he seemed suspiciously willing to help with. 

It wasn’t until late in the afternoon, when the two of them were finishing up their furniture moving, that something interesting finally happened.  The Bosmer, laughing about a woman’s need for privacy as he handed her the keys to the new, lockable, wardrobe and bookcase he had procured for her, ended with: “Give my regards to Karliah next time you see her.” 

“Mara help you Enthir…” the new student had groaned in response.  “Just tell her already!”

“You think?” the Bosmer asked a little startled.

“Enthir, Gallus died the year I was born.  I don’t care how long mer live, eventually she’s got to move on.  Why shouldn’t she move on with you?”

“I, uh, no reason, I guess,” Enthir mumbled.

There was a short silence. “You need an excuse to contact her, don’t you?” the new student sighed in exasperation.  The sigh was followed by the sound of a chest opening and things being rifled through.  “Here, these should do.”  By leaning slightly out of his chair Ancano could just see her hand a drawstring bag to Enthir.

The Bosmer frowned at the Breton, opened the bag, and then looked back up at her, eyes wide.  “Do you know what these are?”

“Yes,” replied the Breton unflappably.  “I believe they belonged to her grandmother.  Returning them would be a rather nice gesture, don’t you think? Also I assume they more than cover the cost of the furniture.”

“How many did you say there were?” he asked, peering into the bag.

“Twelve,” she answered.

“I’ll put a two thousand gold credit on my books,” the Bosmer murmured distractedly.  “Would be nicer if I had the complete set though.*”

“Well, if I find any more of them, I’ll sell them to you, on one condition.”

“I’m listening.”

“Reasonable prices on all of our transactions from here on out.”

Enthir chuckled. “Here I was afraid you’d ask for my first born.”

“Tempting, but I’d rather not gamble on something that will never happen if you don’t get a move on.”

“Well, if you need anything else for your room, or want to sell that fur blanket of yours for a tidy profit, just let me know.”

“Go away, Enthir,” the new student replied, waving him off with a laugh.


Later that evening, while the students were at dinner, Ancano peeked into the Breton’s room. The bed was covered with a blanket made of a fur he’d never seen before.  It looked like a variant of a Sabre Cat except that the fur was black with green markings that glowed purple in the light from the mystic focal point. Intrigued he took a step into the room and looked around.

The room looked nothing like it had that morning.  A tall wardrobe, short display shelf with chest and an open bookcase she seemed to be using to hold miscellaneous small items, now lined the right hand wall. Between the bed and the wardrobe, stood a weapon rack holding the most beautiful bow he’d ever seen, a standard dwarven bow, and a staff that appeared to be made of dwarven metal.  He frowned at this.  Dwemer staves were beyond rare.  Where had she come by such a thing?

On the other side of the bed her nightstand had a few journals placed in an uneven pile on top of it.  A desk and closed bookshelf, like those in the Arcanaeum, took up the left hand wall.  Above the desk, on a wall shelf, sat a strange, glowing, teal and purple potted flower, a small bowl of glowing rocks, and a blue crystalline horse skull. The desk was covered in stacks of books clearly set aside to be organized before shelving. 

He picked up one he didn’t recognize and opened it.  The pages were covered in a text he couldn’t identify much less read.  He frowned at the book.  It was old; too old to have been written by the new student.  So it probably wasn’t an encoded journal or anything as suspicious as that.

“An interesting written language, Falmer, don’t you think?” a soft voice said from behind him.  “The many sharp points are such a contrast to the graceful curves.  I wonder if their culture was equally dualistic.”

Ancano stiffened momentarily.  He had not meant to be caught snooping.  “It seems you have traveled a great deal before coming here,” he offered, putting the book back on her desk.  “I was trying to remember what you said your focus was to be.”

“Ancient, and lost, magics: Falmer, Dwemer… Dovah,” she smiled softly at him.  “It seems rather topical these days, don’t you think?”

Well that explained a few things about the room.  “I see.” He didn’t attempt to hide the disdain in his voice.  Mer magic, especially ancient mer magic, wasn’t something a human would ever master and dragon magic… the idea was laughable.

“And what is your focus?” she enquired politely.

“I am an advisor to the Arch-Mage,” he corrected her sternly.  “The Thalmor wish to promote relations with your College.  I am at the Arch-Mage’s disposal if he requires advice.”

“Does the Arch-Mage seek your advice often?” she asked curiously.

“Perhaps not as often as he should.  In time, I believe he will be more trusting.”

“That must be very trying,” she responded sympathetically.  “But why do the Thalmor wish to promote relations with an institution that has, quite clearly, seen better days?”

“Now that stability has been established between the Dominion and the Empire, we seek only to help Skyrim,*” he replied automatically.  “To guide its people through this time of transition, to help lead them to a better future.”

“A thankless task I am certain.  The Nords are a stubborn people.  I do hope you are ready to devote several centuries to the undertaking.”

“Tell me, apprentice, are you of the sort that believe you’re here to change the world?  Or are you only in it for yourself?” he demanded, imperiously.

“The same could be asked of you Advisor,” she replied lightly.

“I assure you that I shall be watching you -- all of you -- very closely,” he told her, putting the book down with a dramatic thump.

“Careful Advisor, or you’ll end up with an awkward reputation for voyeurism,” she laughed after him as he strode away.


“What will you do now?” Mephala asked.  “The Thalmor already suspects you.”

“Does not,” Alexa muttered.

“He will.”

“That’s it!  First thing tomorrow I’m taking the sword to Labyrinthian and leaving it in that weird demi-plane I found.”

“NO!  I can help you.”

“I don’t need a sword. Especially one that want’s me to kill all my friends.”

“Are you certain?” the daedra asked.  “It is your destiny to attempt to save the world, Dragonborn.  If all I can do for you is distract your enemies then I will gladly do it.  Given what you are up against can you really afford to turn away help?”

“Why?  What am I up against?  Why would you help?  And how can I be certain your ‘help’ would be helpful in any way?”

“Come now, if your world is destroyed what will I do to amuse myself?” Maphala laughed.

“I’m sure you’d think of something,” Alexa muttered.

“The others feel as I do, I’m sure.”

“Undoubtedly,” Alexa snorted.  “Sheogorath is ever so dependent upon us.”

“Think about it,” the daedric prince insisted.  “What would dear Sanguine do without all the lovely mortal beauties to amuse him?”

“If you’re hoping to make me act like a jealous wife you should try targeting a relationship I didn’t get into while too drunk to remember it.”

“I really think you’d rather I didn’t do that,” Mephala’s voice smirked.  “Your relationship with that Altmer in Markarth is so deliciously convoluted…”

“Alright!  Fine.  I’ll play with you, but we are setting some ground rules first.  You break them and your sword goes in the nearest time anomaly I can find.  Also, you will be removing your influence from the children of the Jarl of Whiterun without harming them in the process.  Are we clear?”

Mephala chortled. “Ah, Dovahkiin, I have so missed having one of your kind around.”

Alexa was absolutely certain she didn’t like the sound of that.


The next morning Ancano observed the little Breton, weighed down by a strange assortment of objects, stumble into the antechamber of the Hall of the Element’s and push open the door to the Arcanaeum.

Intrigued he followed her at a great enough distance not to be noticed.

“I have some books I thought the College might be interested in,” the new student was telling the librarian when Ancano caught up.

“Mankar Camoran’s Commentaries on the Mysterium Xarxes, all four volumes… an excellent find,*” the Orc noted flipping through the four black and red bound books before him. “In good condition too.  I will pay you five hundred gold for the complete set.”

The student nodded and placed four green bound books on the counter.  Urag lifted the first with reverent hands.

“Well, well.  I haven’t seen one of these beauties in a long time.  A rare find in the original Falmer language.”

“Do you want them?” the student asked.

“You’re damn right I want them.  Question is, are you selling?  I’ll pay a thousand gold each and provide you with a translated edition.”

“That sounds fair,” she answered.

“Was there something else?” Urag asked, eyeing her with consideration.

“Does the College sequester things that are too dangerous to be out in the world?”

Ancano and the Orc both froze.  After providing the Commentaries without batting an eye what could she possibly want sequestered away?

“Why?” Urag demanded cautiously.

“Because I have something I’d like to get rid of, but I am unwilling to sell it to anyone who might use it.”

Ancano watched as the young woman unwrapped the object she had laid across Urag’s desk.

“A sword?” the Orc asked, clearly unimpressed.

Ancano’s breath caught in his throat.  It wasn’t just a sword.  It was an exquisite, two-handed, Akiviri style blade made of darkest ebony.  There were collectors in the Dominion that would pay handsomely for such a thing. Given, as a gift, to the right person at the right time... priceless.

The woman handed the Orc a journal.  Urag read it over a frown growing on his face.  “You are certain?” he asked finally.

“Absolutely.  You will be too if you spend any time around it.”

“I’m not going to ask you how you got this but I will take it off your hands.  I also will not tell you what is to be done with it.”

“Thank you,” the new student sighed, clearly vastly relieved.  “I appreciate it.”

“Will that be all?”

“For the moment, unless you had some College business you needed help with?”

Already knowing what would come next Ancano left the Arcanaeum and returned to the Hall of the Elements as quietly as he had come.


It was midafternoon when Enthir found Alexa on the roof of the Hall of Attainment.  The wind off the Sea of Ghosts was brisk, even in the relative warmth of late summer.  “You look cold,” he smirked as he came to stand beside her at the parapet.  “And it’s not even winter yet.”

“It’s been 80 years since the Great Collapse,” Alexa noted, still looking out over the Sea of Ghosts.  “Why has the bridge not been fixed, or the town re-built?”

“Savos Aren isn’t much for such ‘mundane matters’.  As for the town, no port anymore,” Enthir answered succinctly.

“And no one has thought to map the new coastline?” she asked.  “There’s clearly some deep water out there.”

He gave her a reproachful look.  “Mundane matters.”

“Riiiight.  And the Jarl didn’t try either?”

“The Jarl, like his father before him, is a useless, embittered, drunk.”

“Oh.  Good.  So the town slowly dies and, once it’s gone, the college eventually starves to death on its lonely pinnacle?”

“That appears to be the current plan,” Enthir confirmed.  “Or lack there of.”

“Well that’s cheery.”

“Welcome to Skyrim!” Enthir announced throwing his arms wide to indicate the ruin-strewn tundra around them. “Where they don’t solve problems, they endure them.”

Alexa laughed at that. “True,” she agreed, finally turning to look at him.  “Was there something that brought you up here?  Should I leave you to it?”

“I was looking for you, actually,” he admitted.  “A little birdy tells me that you’ve gained an interesting title in the past few days.”

“This little birdy wouldn’t happen to have purple eyes, would it?” she asked.

“Human with dark hair, actually.”

She arched an eyebrow at that.  Why had Sapphire been in town?

“Given the presence of a certain ‘Advisor’ are you sure this is the safest place for you to be?” he asked, in an undertone.

“I’m certain that no place is safe for me anymore,” she answered.

“Fair,” Enthir acknowledged. There was silence between them for a while.  “You have any idea what it means?” he asked finally.

“I’m leaving here tomorrow to find out,” she answered.

“I’d be careful of what you leave in your room, if I were you,” Enthir noted casually.  “There are some very nosy people here and master-locked is not the same thing as pickproof.”

“Well, if any of my things go missing, I expect you’ll be able to tell me who took them,” she replied.

He smiled at that.  “Point taken.  I’ll keep an eye on your stuff, dragon-lady.  Never know what you might do if your hoard went missing.”

“Probably breath fire over everything,” she laughed.

“Can you do that?” he asked in surprise.

“Yol!” she shouted over the parapet.

“Right,” Enthir muttered, taking a step back.  “Maybe don’t do that again unless you want to be found out.”

“You asked,” she replied mildly, and then shivered as a gust of wind came up off the ocean.

“Well, my curiosity is satisfied,” Enthir admitted.  “Lets get back inside.

Chapter Text

Alexa was still feeling bad for Salma, and the treacherous Beem-Ja, when she made her way to the Nightgage Inn, a rare book for the Arcanaeum, new talking wall, and quite a lot of loot heavier than when she’d left the College.  Retrieving Shalidor’s manuscript from the Forsaken Cave, the next day, meant that it was already late when she reached Windhelm.

Not wanting to spend time in the Stormcloak capital she paid the carriage driver at the Windhelm stables to take her to Riften.  It was early morning, two days later, when she arrived.  Since the market was not yet open Alexa squared her shoulders and went to the temple of Mara.

“Alexa…” Dinya began before pausing, a slight frown wrinkling her brow.  “I feel as though I should be angry with you, but I cannot remember why… It is the oddest sensation.”

“It is possible I was part of something, not too long ago, that has left Mara a little irked with me,” Alexa admitted.  “I was hoping you might know how I could make it up to her?”

“What did you do?” Dinya asked, real concern coloring her voice.

“I’m unclear on the details but I was under the influence of Prince Sanguine at the time so I figure that, whatever it was, it was offensive.”

“I see…” Dinya murmured her frown deepening.

“I wasn’t intentionally  under the sway of Prince Sanguine,” Alexa explained hurriedly.  “You know how adventuring around here can be.  You touch the wrong thing and – boom – daedra.” 

“I suppose that’s true,” Dinya conceded her frown lifting slightly. 

“You wouldn’t know of something I could do to regain Mara’s good graces, would you?” Alexa pleaded.

“Perhaps if you were to act as her hands in the world I might bless you and all would be well?” Dinya suggested after a moment’s thought.

“Can’t hurt to try, right?” Alexa asked, a little worried.  Being a god’s “hands” could mean just about anything.

“Are you prepared, then, to help bring the light across this land?” Dinya asked her in what was clearly some sort of ritual formulae.

“I am,” Alexa replied.

Dinya lifted her face and hands slightly in invocation and stood silently for a while.  “Mara has reflected an image to me…” she began, her voice oddly empty of inflection.  “At the foot of the throat a young woman... almost a girl... her fickle love must resolve itself. The village is Ivarstead.  The woman, Fastred.”  She let her arms drop and opened her eyes.

“This is the prayer heard by the goddess and relayed to her servants.  Return when she has seen her path.  I will entreat Mara on your behalf.”

“Thank you Dinya.  I am headed in that direction already.  I will do my best.”

This time she made it out of Riften without interacting with the Thieves Guild.  Thank the divines for small blessings.


Even riding Arvak most of the way, it was fully dark by the time Alexa reached Iverstead.  Clearing the ‘ghost’ out of Shroud Hearth Barrow, the next morning, took far less time than listening to Fastred and her parents. Surely if Nords would just learn to talk to each other none of this would have been a problem…  Or maybe it was the listening portion that was the issue? Either way by lunchtime Alexa didn’t care anymore.

“Have you spoken to Fastred yet?” Wilhelm was asking Bassianus when she returned to the inn for some food.

No.  I’ll tell you, Wilhelm, if I could sweep her away from here tomorrow I’d do it, but Klimmek still has so much to learn.”

Klimmek is doing just fine,” the older man replied.  “You should follow your heart.”

“You know,” Alexa said joining their conversation, “her mother supports you.  Though given the quality of your excuses for not stepping up, I’m a little surprised by that.”

“I always had a feeling she liked me,” Bassianus admitted.  “More than that brute Jofthor, at least.  Jofthor... what about him?  He’ll come after us and... it will be unpleasant.”

“A man who has never left Ivarstead?” Alexa asked.  “He won’t. Boti will see to it.”

“She would?” Bassianus asked her, wide eyed.  “If she’s willing to deal with him, then everything would be all right.  I’ll... I’ll go speak to Fastred!”

“Well done stranger,” Wilhelm told her as he watched Bassianus stumble hurriedly out the door. “I’ve been trying to get that lad moving for months.”

“Nothing like having a stranger in town to stir things up,” Alexa replied with a smile.

“True enough,” he chuckled. “Where do you go next?”

“I thought I’d climb the steps, see what’s up there, anything I should know?” she asked.

“The climb is best attempted in the morning.  That way you can get back down before dark,” he replied.

“Noted,” she smiled. “I guess, after lunch, I’ll take that claw you gave me and see if I can’t figure out what Wyndelius was hoping to find in the burial chamber.”

Wilhelm gave her a worried look.  “Be careful. No telling what’s down there.”


Draugr.  What was “down there” in Shroud Hearth Barrow was, definitively, draugr.  Lots and lots of draugr... and a few skeletons for good measure.  Thank the divines she had Auriel’s bow, shrouded armor, and all that time with the Thieves Guild under her belt because she was very definitely regretting dismissing Lydia in Winterhold.  Though she was also quite grateful that Wilhelm had been willing to watch Meeko.  The dog was completely incapable of sneaking.

The look on Wilhelm’s face when she arrived back at the inn was hilarious.  “You look like you nearly lost an argument with a sabre cat,” he told her.

“Praise Arkay that draugr are flammable,” she sighed.  “I’ve closed up the barrow and locked it tight behind me.  They shouldn’t be able to get out now.”

“So what kind of riches did you find in the burial chamber?” he asked.

She sighed and dumped out her pack on the bar.  “A sword, some soul gems, a book, and a handful of gemstones.”

“That hardly seems worth it,” Wilhelm noted, putting a bowl of stew and a plate of bread and cheese in front of her.

“Yeah, I wonder where Wyndelius got the idea there was treasure down there.”  She flipped open his journal.  “He writes about ‘the burial chamber’.  And the chanting wall did indicate that the barrow was built for someone important… a woman named Helg, who was a servant of Kyn?  Ring any bells?”

“‘Fraid not,” Wilhelm answered frowning at her.  “Didn’t know anyone knew how to read those chanting walls anymore.”

She smiled at that.  “Sorry, I probably should have mentioned that I’m a mage.  Horribly over-educated I’m afraid.  Still, what else can you expect from a Breton adventurer?”

Wilhelm laughed at that. “True enough, friend.  You’re room’s yours for the night again.  I assume you’re still planning to head up the steps in the morning?”

She nodded.  “I was wondering if I might use the chest in my room to store some things I’d rather not be weighed down by on the climb?”

“Sure.  It’ll cost you another ten gold for the extra day though.”

Alexa handed him the ten gold.

He gave her a terse nod. “I’ll see you for breakfast bright and early then.”


“Passing through on your way to High Hrothgar?” Klimmek asked, early the next morning, when she came upon him, and Gwilin, at the bridge.  “I’m about to deliver some supplies to the monastery myself.”

Alexa caught Gwilin’s meaningful glance and smiled.  “I am,” she answered.  “If you want, I can take your supplies for you.”  Gwilin beamed at her as Klimmek handed her the sack by his feet.

On the other side of the river, just up the hill a bit, a man stood with his arms raised in veneration of a small shrine.  Curious she stopped and peered at the plaque:

Before the birth of men, the Dragons ruled all Mundus
Their word was the Voice, and they spoke only for True Needs
For the Voice could blot out the sky and flood the land.

“Keep an eye out for wolves if you’re headed up the path to High Hrothgar,” the man advised as she stepped away from him and the shrine. He was dressed in mismatched hide armor but was carrying an Orcish bow and his quiver held elven arrows.

“You know the path well?” she asked.

“I like to spend time up here,” he admitted. “Walk the Steps, meditate on the emblems.  Doesn’t hurt when I bag some game along the way.”

Alexa kept her expression carefully blank. Whatever the man claimed his weapons suggested he wasn’t here for game.  “Do you visit the Greybeards, or just walk the path?”

“They’re not the sort to take visitors,” he told her with a quick, penetrating, glance.  “But I never go that high anyway.  Some folk who make the trip leave them food or other essentials,” he added, indicating at the sack she was carrying, “but not to make conversation.”

She nodded.  “I hear the view from just below the monastery is amazing and Klimmek needed some help with his delivery, so...” she shrugged.

He nodded.

“Were you here when the Greybeards broke their silence?” she asked.

“I was,” he answered uncomfortably.  “Strange days when the monks will do that.  I wonder what it means.”

“I don’t know,” Alexa replied.  “But I admit I had thought that there would be more people here hoping to find out.”

“The Greybeards don’t talk much,” he reminded her. “Better to wait at home and see. Dragonborn are supposed to be hard to miss, right?”

She nodded, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. “Thanks for the warning.”

“Sure thing,” he called after her as she started up the hill.

Alexa continued to read the emblems as she climbed eventually rounding a bend to find a woman seated in front of the fourth emblem.

Kyne called on Paarthurnax, who pitied Man
Together they taught Men to use the Voice
Then Dragon War raged, Dragon against Tongue.

That was odd. The Emblem seemed to indicate that the gift of the Voice had been relatively new at the time of the Dragon War and yet she was fairly certain members of the Five Hundred Companions had been capable of Shouting.

“Keep an eye out for wolves if you’re headed up the path to High Hrothgar,” the woman said, glancing at Klimmek’s sack of provisions as if to indicate that carrying a sack of food with you might catch the attention of the local wild life.

Alexa cocked her head at that.  Like the previous man’s bow this woman’s “don’t ask” tone and posture, and the way she was carefully taking in every detail about Alexa, felt out of place.  “If you’re not taking up provisions, what are you doing this high?” Alexa asked, even in late summer the air up here was pretty cold.

“Walking the Steps,” the woman answered curtly.  “Meditating on the emblems.  I make this trip every few years.”

“I see.  Were you here when the Greybeards called out the way they did?”

“I was just outside Ivarstead when it happened,” the woman admitted with a brief smile.  “It’s an exciting moment.  Nothing like this has happened in centuries.  But, exciting moment or not, I guess people still need supplies, huh?”

“That they do,” Alexa agreed, nodding a good day to the woman.  By the time she’d reached the next emblem Alexa had concluded that, while the jarls of Skyrim may not have sent representatives to Ivarstead to watch for the new dragonborn, she was willing to bet she’d just spoken with agents of the Stormcloaks and the Imperial legion.  She paused to read the fifth emblem.

Man prevailed, shouting Alduin out of the world
Proving for all that their Voice too was strong
Although their sacrifices were many-fold.*

Alduin?  The dragon from the Dragon Stone inscription?  That was interesting.  Alexa took a moment to stand on a rocky outcropping looking northwest to the Sea of Ghosts and took a deep long breath of the thin alpine air.  The view from up here really was amazing.  Her blood sang in her veins as Mirmulnir’s memories indicated exactly which part of the territory below her killing him – back before the Dragon War – would have allowed her to claim.  She smiled and shook her head at that.  Then turned away from the view and continued up the steps.

“And so the art of Shouting became the practice of a select few,” Alexa murmured to herself, after reading the eighth emblem.  Seventeen disputants… she reflected, grimly.  At least the current debacle only had two claims to the throne. Seventeen must have been a complete mess.  She stopped in front of the statue of Talos.

For years all silent, the Greybeards spoke one name
Tiber Septim, stripling then, was summoned to Hrothgar
They blessed and named him Dovahkiin.

“Dovahkiin is a title not a name,” Alexa told the statue before turning back to the climb.  Coming around the next bend she saw High Hrothgar for the first time.  It was built like a fortress baring the path forward as if to say: “If you want to be part of the history of the Voice you must pass through me first.”  There was one final shrine to the right of the stairs.

The Voice is worship
Follow the Inner path
Speak only in True Need.

“These people sound like fun,” Alexa told Meeko, ironically, as she put Klimmek’s supplies in the offering box and started up the final set of steps.


The door, surprisingly, was not barred and opened easily.  Closing it carefully behind her Alexa set her pack against the wall and pulled off her masked cowl before stepping forward into the open space of the room ahead of her. As she did so an older man, dressed in complicated gray robes, stepped forward, three others appearing out of side rooms.  “So... a Dragonborn appears, at this moment, in the turning of the age,” he began while giving her a critical once over.

Alexa frowned at him.  From his demeanor it seemed she was not at all what he’d expected.  Perhaps he had been expecting someone in particular?  “You call me Dragonborn, but what does that mean, exactly?” she asked him.

The monk frowned at her reprovingly.  “First, let us see if you truly are Dragonborn,” he instructed.  “Let us taste of your Voice.”

“Fus!” she shouted at a clay vessel beside the stairs.

“Dragonborn,” the monk nodded, his tone a fraction less disapproving than it had been a moment before.  “Welcome to High Hrothgar.  I am Master Arngeir.  I speak for the Greybeards.  Now tell me, Dragonborn, why have you come here?

“I am…” she paused infinitesimally, “Sikendra de’Arthe, and, I believe, you summoned me,” she reminded him.

“And you accepted that summons.  Why?” he pressed.

“I need to know what it means to be Dragonborn,” she answered simply.

Arngeir nodded.  “We are here to guide you in that pursuit, just as the Greybeards have sought to guide those of the Dragon Blood that came before you.”

She knew that already, Vilkas had been almost as obsessed with the stories of Talos as he had been with those of Ysgramor.  Still, those stories hadn’t been particularly detailed about the part the Greybeards had played in the Stormcrown’s rise to power. “And who are you?  What is this place?” she asked, looking around her.

“We are the Greybeards, followers of the Way of the Voice.  You stand in High Hrothgar, on the slopes of Kynareth’s sacred mountain.  Here we commune with the voice of the sky, and strive to achieve balance between our inner and outer selves."

So these people served Kynareth, not Akatosh. That was interesting and suggested that the dragonborn was only tangentially related to whatever this place, and these people, were.  “There are only four of you?” she asked.

“Five,” Arngeir corrected.  “Our leader, Paarthurnax, lives alone on the peak of the Throat of the World.  When your Voice can open the path, you will know you are ready to speak to him.”

Completing a training period before meeting the master seemed, if not fair, typical.  “Are their other Dragonborn?” she asked.

“You are not the first,” Arngeir told her.  “There have been many of the Dragon Blood since Akatosh first bestowed that gift upon mortal-kind.  Whether you are the only Dragonborn of this age... that is not ours to know.  You are the only one that has been revealed thus far.  That is all I can say.”

Something about his first statement caught her attention as Mirmulnir’s memories objected to its lack of nuance.  She frowned pushing it away for later consideration.  “You mentioned destiny?”

“All dragonborn have one,” Arngeir informed her. “What it is, that is for you to discover.  We can show you the Way, but not your destination.”

“Then I wish to learn,” Alexa responded with a slight bow of her head.

“Without training, you have already taken the first steps toward projecting your Voice into a Thu'um, a Shout,” Arngeir acknowledged.  “Now let us see if you are willing and able to learn.”


“Your quick mastery of a new Thu’um is... astonishing,” Arngeir admitted.  “I’d heard the stories of the abilities of Dragonborn, but to see it for myself...”

“I don’t know how I do it,” Alexa confessed. “It just happens.

“You were given this gift by the gods for a reason,” Arngeir told her sternly.  “It is up to you to figure out how best to use it.”

“You do not approve of me,” she noted, watching the other Greybeards disappear back into the monastery.

“You have the inborn gift but it has yet to be seen if you have the discipline and temperament to follow the path,” Arngeir sniffed, his tone a little brittle.  “But my approval is not necessary.  You are the dragonborn and we are the Greybeards.  It is our duty to train you.”

She nodded, and took a deep, steading breath. It looked like she was going to be mostly on her own in this.  “And, as I said, I wish to learn.” 

Arngeir grimaced slightly.  “You are ready for your last trial.  Retrieve the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller, our founder, from his tomb in the ancient fane of Ustengrav.  Remain true to the Way of the Voice, and you will return.”

“Way of the Voice?”

“The Voice was a gift of the goddess Kynareth, at the dawn of time,” Arngeir explained.  “She gave mortals the ability to speak as dragons do.  Although this gift has often been misused, the only true use of the Voice is for the worship and glory of the gods.  True Mastery of the Voice can only be achieved when your inner spirit is in harmony with your outward actions.  In the contemplation of the sky, Kynareth’s domain, and the practice of the Voice, we strive to achieve this balance.”

“And Jurgen Windcaller?”

“He was a great war leader of the ancient Nords, a master of the Voice, or Tongue.  After the disaster at Red Mountain, where the Nord army was annihilated, he spent many years pondering the meaning of that terrible defeat.  He finally came to realize that the gods had punished the Nords for their arrogant and blasphemous misuse of the Voice.  He was the first to understand that the Voice should be used solely for the glory and worship of the gods, not the glory the men.  Jurgen Windcaller’s mastery of the Voice eventually overcame all opposition, and the Way of the Voice was born.”

“Ah,” Alexa responded.  “That I understand the context of.”

“Then you are remarkably well informed,” Arngeir commented, in obvious disbelief.

“Nord culture, in the First Era, was as brutal as that of the Dragon Cult it supplanted,” she informed him.  “If the gods eventually sought the destruction of the first it is logical that they would punish the second.  I will remember that and seek balance in my actions.”

“That… is commendable,” Arngeir responded, grudgingly. “But the Dragon Blood is a gift from Akatosh.  You should not try to deny that gift.  Your destiny requires you to use your Voice -- why else would Akatosh have bestowed this gift upon you?  If you remember to use it in service to the purpose of Akatosh, then you will remain true to your Way.”

“And what is the purpose of Akatosh?”

“That is not for us to say,” Arngeir told her, motioning for her to follow him.

So the Akatosh vs. Kynareth thing was going to be a problem, Alexa noted to herself as she bowed slightly in reply and allowed Arngeir to show her out.  Perhaps he would be more open to speaking with her after she returned with the horn.


So Alexa returned to the base of the mountain, reported to Klimmek that she’d successfully delivered his supplies, and then, over dinner at the inn, set about planning her next few weeks of travel.

Clearly the first thing she had to do was return to Riften, inform Dinya of her success – the young lovers had already left town – and sell the few things she’d picked up in the barrow that she didn’t want to keep. 

After Riften she would take a cart back to Winterhold and deliver the book and the manuscript to Urag. While she was there she should send a message to Lydia, asking her to met somewhere, as, given Alexa’s experience the day before, she’d probably want backup for Ustengrav…  From Winterhold she could go, over land, to Dawnstar and get a boat to Solitude.  She paused, thinking.  It would probably be wise to pay her respects to Elisif.  It wouldn’t hurt to stay friends with the new Jarl of Solitude.  She could meet Lydia at the Winking Skeever and then go to Ustengrav for the horn.

It almost certainly wouldn’t go as planned.  Nothing ever went as planned, but at least, this way, she’d have dropped off the important things she’d already picked up before her next foray into a draugr infested tomb.

“That’s quite the journey you’re planning,” the hunter from the morning noted, sitting on the far side of the table from her.

“That’s adventuring for you,” she answered, with a smile.

“Can you really make a living that way?” he asked.

“So far,” she answered.

“Not a lot of adventure to be had on the top of the mountain,” he pointed out.

“True,” she agreed. “But the view near the top was worth every step.”


The plan remained intact as far as her very first stop, in Riften, where Dinya congratulated her on work well done and then said: “Go to Markarth.  There you’ll find Calcelmo, wise, acid, and reclusive.  Help him to emerge and state his intentions.”

“Oh thank Mara,” Alexa laughed.  “That stupid couple has been driving me crazy for months!”  In the cart on the way to Winterhold she added “Stupid couple in Markarth” and “apologize to Dibella” to her plan after Ustengrav.

Chapter Text

“Eolain,” Ondolemar greeted the Altmer women dressed in an exquisitely embroidered dunmer robe. “Should I have been notified of your arrival in Skyrim or are you just here to visit your brother?”

“Actually, I am here to see you,” Eolain replied.  “It’s a personal matter.”

Ondolemar arched an eyebrow at that.  “I see. Come with me then.”  He lead her back to his room indicating to his guards that they should stay in the hall as he closed the door behind her.

He gestured for her to take one of the padded chairs in front of the fire grate and waited for her to settle before sitting across from her.  “What can I do for you Eolain?” Ondolemar asked a little warily.  Earmiel’s twin sister could be every bit the drama queen Earmiel was.

“Amiril, my pureblood daughter, will be twenty this year,” she announced as if that explained everything. Regrettably, it did. 

Since the Great Anguish the Dominion had required that pureblood Altmer, members of the Thalmor or not, regularly produce pureblood children.  While the Thalmor might be willing to turn a blind eye to the pureblooded Eolain’s marriage to a female Dunmer, that minor act of tolerance was conditional upon her continuing to produced at least one pureblood child, every twenty years, the same as any other pureblood. 

Ondolemar repressed a sigh. Skyrim was a good deal closer to Morrowind than the Summerset Isles and there were quite a few pureblood males among his Justiciars.  “Did you have a particular Justiciar in mind?” he asked in a resigned tone.

“Actually the list of acceptable candidates the Dominion sent me noted that you too have not fulfilled your duties in this matter.  I thought we might come to an arrangement,” Eolain replied reasonably.

Ondolemar felt his jaw clench.  So far he had managed to put off the child requirement on the basis that he was a ranked member of the Thalmor – which afforded him some leniency – and often in dangerous situations far from the Summerset Isles.  The implication of his standard request for deferment being that, at such a time as his duties allowed him to return to the Isles, it was his intention to marry another pureblood and produce, not the odd child here and there, but a whole bevvy of perfect brats whom he would raise to be true Thalmor in every sense of the word. 

While he was uncertain of his actual intentions in this regard he was confident that he wanted nothing to do with being reduced to breeding stock. Thinking about it now he could almost hear Alexa snicker something about “prized stallions” and very nearly winced. Auriel help him, if she ever heard about this facet of life in Alinor, he’d never hear the end of it.

“No,” he said coldly and with finality.

Eolain blinked.  “No?”

“No,” he repeated. “I’m not interested.  You will have to find someone else.”

A petulant look crossed Eolain’s face.  “Why?”

“Why doesn’t matter,” he told her steadily.  “I said no and I meant it.”

“I’m not leaving until you explain yourself, or say yes,” she told him with a calm that was altogether unlike the young woman he’d grown up with.

“Do as you will,” he answered with a shrug and stood up.

Chapter Text

The trip from Winterhold to Solitude had been far more eventful than necessary.  Alexa had talked Brelyna into going with her (with the promise of a girls weekend in Solitude).  Though after the battle with the chaurus reaper at Frostflow Lighthouse Brelyna had refused to go any further and returned to the College. Still, it wasn’t all bad.  Alexa was childishly pleased with the torchbug in a jar she’d picked up.

Dawnstar had been a nightmare – literally.  It had taken three days to deal with Vaermina and her damn Skull of Corruption.  On the boat ride from Dawnstar to Solitude Alexa added “ditch creepy alchemical text in dragon shrine” to her to-do list after Ustengrav and before Markarth.

All of this meant that she arrived in Solitude just in time for Roggvir’s execution.  Which she definitely did not stay to witness instead making her way directly to the Blue Palace thankful that she’d chosen to wear her college robes – and hood – on the boat ride over.  The mage’s hood covered her startlingly purple hair even if it wasn’t the most attractive piece of apparel.  Maybe she should talk to Galathil* about it the next time she was in Riften.

The throne was empty when she reached the top of the stairs but Falk, Sybille, and the thanes were all in attendance.

“You have come at a dark time, friend,” Falk greeted her heavily.

“It is why I am here,” Alexa answered him softly.  “I thought I should pay my respects.”

He nodded.  “I am sure she will be pleased to see you.”

“How do Taran’s studies go?”

“He splits his time now between here and the Reach.  In truth he has learned everything I have to teach him, save experience.  Still, I think I will miss having his help in the days to come…” his eyes flicked up to focus on something behind her.  Alexa turned to see Elisif coming towards them.

“Alexa, it is good to see you,” Elisif began, perching uncomfortably on her husband’s throne.

“I came to pay my respects,” Alexa explained.  “I am only sorry that I could not do so earlier.”

“All is forgivable between friends, is it not?” Elisif smiled wanly.  “But, perhaps, you would be willing to do me the favor of singing to lift my spirits a little?”

“Surely, with the Bards College so close, you have not been bereft of a song or two?” Alexa asked, uncertain as to how the rather frivolous request would be taken by the members of the court.

“Pantea and Aia both have lovely voices, of course, but yours is, somehow, more moving,” Elisif replied.  “Please sing for me?”

Alexa saw Falk incline his head ever so slightly.  “Of course, Jarl Elisif,” she replied.  “Was there something in particular?”

“No.  Just not ‘The Age of Aggression’ please, it’s all I hear these days.”

Alexa took the lute that was being handed to her by Sybille Stentor, of all people, and settled onto the first step of the dais.  Thinking about what to play she lightly strummed the instrument and found her hands instinctively tuning it to a scale not meant for Nord music.  Ever since she’d absorbed that dragon’s soul outside Whiterun the same damn tune had been playing in her head.  From the knowledge she’d also absorbed from the dragon she knew it was an Ayleid hymn in praise of Meridia.  It had a beautiful triumphant melody and - given the improbability that anyone in the court would be able to understand the words, much less identify the Ayleid language as distinct from any other mer language - it seemed safe enough to play here.  Also, singing it might just get the damn thing out of her head.

When she finished she found the crowd was significantly larger than it had been when she started.  Apparently some of the more important of the observers at the execution had finally made their way to the palace.

A woman who could only be the Thalmor Ambassador, Elenwen, looked her over with a tiny, imperious, smile.  “It has been a long time since I last heard that hymn,” the Altmer noted coldly. “I had thought the bards of Skyrim were devoid of any true talent.  It seems I was wrong.”

“Though my skill is unworthy of such praise hearing it has gladdened my heart,” Alexa replied, inclining her head.

Elenwen’s eyes narrowed slightly.  “Have we met?  I could swear I’ve seen you somewhere before…”

“I have been an adventurer in Skyrim for sometime now,” Alexa replied, “and so have been a great many places.  But I think I would remember if we had ever been introduced.  While adventurers are far too common to be memorable, ladies of your rank, and beauty, in Skyrim are rare enough to be unforgettable.”

Elenwen smirked ever so slightly.  “Indeed. It is certain that, of the children of men, only the Bretons and the Imperials are so gifted in matters of speech. My compliments to those who trained you.”  She turned to Falk.  “There are some things we must discuss in relation to recent events.”

“Of course, Ambassador,” he replied coolly.

“My friend,” Elisif began, speaking to Alexa.  “I uh, there are some books I have that were lent to me by the College in Winterhold. I was hoping you might return them for me.  I fear I shall have little time to read them now.”

“Of course, Jarl Elisif.”

The younger woman* nodded and stood.  “If the court would excuse us for just a moment?”

No one seemed to notice the new Jarl as she stepped down from the dais and walked quickly to her room with Alexa in her wake.

Once in her room, Elisif closed the door behind them.  For a moment she stood there pulling awkwardly on her fingers.

“What can I do for you, Elisif?” Alexa asked her gently.

“There’s something… personal I was hoping you would do for me.”

Alexa raised her eyebrows questioningly but did not interrupt as the other woman began to pace. “You’re an adventurer, a traveler, and not just my friend but someone Falk says we can trust,” Elisif explained, coming to a stop just in front of Alexa.  “As you know, Talos worship is outlawed in the empire.  When we buried my husband I made offerings to all the gods... except Talos.  I would like you to take an item of his, a war horn handed down from his father, and place it at a shrine of Talos.”

“Of course.  Is there a particular shrine you would prefer?” Alexa asked simply.

“Um, I hear there is one not far from Whiterun?”

“I know it and should be traveling past there in about a week.  If that is not too slow a time frame for you?”

“Thank you,” Elisif smiled, taking the horn off the top of a dresser and holding it out to Alexa. 

Alexa took the horn and placed it within her pack as Elisif started back to the throne room.  Alexa took the chance to add stone of Barenziah, form the bedside table, to her pack as well, before quickly following the new Jarl from the room.

As Alexa passed back through the throne room she noticed Bolgeir Bearclaw leaning up against the wall and scowled.  The man’s feelings for Elisif had always been more obvious than was wise.  He spent far too much time looking at her, rather than at the court, to notice if anything suspicious was happening.  Given the current circumstances the situation could be both dangerous and a political liability. 

Perhaps she should mention it to Falk.


“Surely the Steward of Solitude has better things to be doing in the middle of the night than sneaking into the home of an unmarried woman?” said a soft voice behind him.

Falk froze then turned, his hand on his sword, eyes searching the darkness of the courtyard. “Show yourself!” he demanded in a stage whisper.

“So dramatic,” the voice murmured as the speaker primed a Healing spell to illuminate her face.  “Boo,” Alexa said mildly.

Falk heaved a heavy sigh. “Stendarr’s mercy girl, I might have killed you!”

The pretty Breton smiled at that but didn’t comment.  “I wanted to speak with you about a delicate matter and thought this might be the best place to catch you,” she explained as she drifted up to him and pushed open the door into Bryling House’s wine cellar.

Falk clenched his jaw. “What is it you wished to speak with me about?” he asked following her through the door.

The young woman seemed utterly unfazed by his clear anger at having been cornered.  “Surely you are aware that Bolgeir cannot remain as housecarl of the Blue Palace now that the High King is dead?”

Falk blinked.  Of all the things she could have said to him, while standing in his secret lover’s wine cellar, this was not one he’d expected. “He is utterly devoted to Elisif,” Falk argued.

“That is rather my point,” Alexa returned.  “He spends all his time looking at her and sighing soulfully rather than watching for danger in the court.  I could have killed her several times over today.”

“You are suggesting that he should have followed the two of you back to her room?  That truly would be inappropriate!”

“Which is yet another reason to replace him with a woman, Falk,” Alexa replied logically.

“Falk?” a voice asked as footsteps were heard on the stairs. 

Alexa looked up and then stepped away from him, melting into the shadows just as thane Bryling came down the stairs.

“Falk, you shouldn’t have come.  You know what’d happen if people found out about us,” she admonished even as she hugged him.

“I know, my lady,” he replied gruffly, briefly returning her hug before stepping away.  “I just needed to see you outside of court, away from all of the politics.”

“I’m serious!  If Erikur knew about us, he’d force you to resign from your position.  And without you, he’d have the new Jarl bent around his little finger.  Elisif is by no means ready to deal with someone of his ilk!”

Alexa cleared her throat slightly before stepping back out of the shadows.  “If Erikur causes you any trouble let me know.  That man is ridiculously corrupt… taking him out would be fairly simple, if potentially disastrous for the short-term flow of goods into Skyrim.  Still nothing that can’t be gotten around with a little ingenuity I expect.”

Thane Bryling stared at her in absolute shock.

“Anyway,” Alexa continued addressing Falk.  “As Thane Bryling has so earnestly pointed out to you just now the situation with Bolgeir must be dealt with before anyone can make a politically motivated claim of impropriety.”

“Solitude isn’t exactly over run with shield maidens,” Falk told her.

Alexa considered that for a moment.  “I know several…” she told him, and then, suddenly, smiled.  “I have the perfect candidate.  Leave it to me.”

“And what do you propose I do with Bolgeir?” Falk demanded.

“Make him a guard captain and point out that, once he is not in direct service to Elisif, his feelings are no longer quite so inappropriate. Though it would be best if he were to wait at least a year before making his feelings known.  Do make that clear to him as well.  He doesn’t strike me as the socially observant type.”

“And this replacement you have in mind?” Falk asked.  “How long until you think she’ll arrive?”

“No more than a month,” she replied.  “I have an errand near Morthal and an errand in the Reach to complete before I can address the issue.”

“I am trusting you a great deal in this, Alexa,” Falk warned.

“Have I ever let you down?” she asked, smiling at him over her shoulder as she let herself out of the house. 


Falk nearly had a heart attack when a white haired woman, in leather armor, blushed slightly and handed him a letter outside his home one morning about four weeks later. 

Letter to Falk

“This is… quite the letter of recommendation,” Falk told her. 

“I did not read it,” Olfina answered solemnly.  “It was not addressed to me.”

“I see.  It is rumored your brothers fight for the Stormcloaks.”

“So I hear,” she answered.

“And where do your loyalties lie?” he asked.

“Six months ago I would not have been able to answer that question,” she told him.  “It is hard when you despise everything about a person but respect what they stand for.  Harder still when the men of your family see only the possibility for glory and not the pain and destruction their chasing that glory will bring.  But now the woman who has been my friend for over a year is the Dragonborn.  That is where my loyalty lies.  If she tells me that Jarl Elisif requires a housecarl then I will be the best housecarl in Skyrim.  You have my word.”

“Alexa is the dragonborn?”

“You did not know?” Olfina asked, a little surprised.

That news had not made it this far,” he told her.  “But I am glad.  It explains much about Alexa and…”

“Gives you hope for the future,” Olfina supplied quietly.

“Exactly,” Falk agreed as he slipped the letter of introduction into his pocket.  “Welcome to Solitude, Olfina Gray-Mane.”

Chapter Text

The lock on the new, absentee, student’s chest and closet may have been pick proof but the one on her bookshelf was simply a master lock.  It took him eight picks and the aid of a particularly strong lock picking enchantment to open.  Once he had done so he made a wax key of the mechanism before turning his attention to the shelf’s contents.

Not finding a volume labeled My Deepest Darkest Secrets Ancano chose a rather fat volume labeled Overview of Dwemer Findings, Vol. 1 and took it back to his room to read over a bottle of indifferent wine. 

D1p1 D1p2 D1p3 D1p4 D1p5 D1p6 D1p7

Ancano went over the sketches that followed carefully and was reluctantly impressed.  The Breton student had drawn several views of the Centurion followed by an exploded diagram showing the layers beneath the Centurion’s outer casing.  The sketches were followed by a parts list containing the size, weight, and the resonance tone(s), of each part.  It was a very thorough piece of data collection - much better than he’d been expecting out of anyone at the College.  Perhaps her sketches were not as well executed as he would have expected of one of his own students, back in Summerset, but that was to be anticipated in someone with so few years to spend on their endeavors.

Her ear must be quite precise, he realized, noting the tonal differences she’d indicated between different sections of several of the Centurion’s larger, or more intricate, pieces. He briefly wondered if that had been what drew her to study Dwemer technology in the first place.

D1p8 D1p9

A thorough search of the Breton student’s bookself, the next day, (while everyone else was out) produced no journal about the Orrery at Mzulft leaving Ancano greatly frustrated.*

Chapter Text

When her thane had immediately sent her back to Whiterun, from Winterhold, Lydia had been disappointed. She had hoped that she might see High Hrothgar and even meet the Greybeards.  She had been surprised, and hopeful, when, three weeks later, she’d received a letter from her thane asking her to come to Solitude.  What her thane was doing all the way out west she wasn’t certain but it wasn’t her place to question either, she thought, as she stepped into the Winking Skeever.

“Lydia, you’re here!” her thane grinned, standing up from a table near the fire.  “Come on up to my room.  You can drop your bag there and we’ll discuss our traveling plans.”

“As you say, my thane,” Lydia replied with a polite bow.

“It occurred to me,” Alexa began, as they started up the stairs, “that you might have felt my dismissal of your companionship, so early in our acquaintance was, in some way, a reflection on you.  It was not.  I simply didn’t think you’d be interested in hanging around the college while I settled in.” She opened the door to the large room on the right and waved Lydia through before closing it behind them.  “Helping me retrieve an artifact, for the Greybeards, from an ancient tomb, however, seemed more your style.  Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.”

Lydia’s eyes widened slightly.  “Tomb, my thane?”

“Yes,” Alexa confirmed, dropping into one of the chairs at the small table in the corner and gesturing for Lydia to take the other one.  “It will, undoubtedly, be full of draugr and traps and giant spiders and all sorts of adventuring type things.  To that end I brought you a present!” she added standing back up to rifle through the wardrobe where, Lydia could see, she’d already put her things.

“A present?” Lydia echoed, mystified.

“This is Dawnbreaker,” Alexa smiled, handing Lydia a sword.  “It is a daedric artifact of Meridia and excellent against the undead. Or so I hear.  I don’t really use swords myself so I haven’t had a chance to test it.”

“Thank you my Thane,” Lydia murmured, dazedly accepting the sword.

“Also there’s a set of steel plate in the bag over there for you.  We should probably take it to Beirand for fitting and get you a shield.”

“A steel horned helmet*, my Thane?” Lydia asked, as she looked through the bag.

Alexa shrugged.  “It’s what I’ve got.”

“Took it off a dead bandit leader?” Lydia suggested.

“Something like that,” Alexa admitted.

“Thank you my thane. I will take it to be fitted once we are done discussing our travel plans.  You said we will be visiting a tomb.  Then what?”

“Then to Labyrinthian,” Alexa informed her, unrolling a map on the table and opening a journal.  “Have you ever been to Labyrinthian?  Do you know who locked the city doors?”

“No, my thane, I can’t say that I have or that I do.”

“Damn.  Ah well, a mystery for a later date.  After Labyrinthian, if nothing else comes up, I’m going to Markarth to pick up some stuff for the College – you don’t have to come if you don’t want to – then back to Whiterun and on to High Hrothgar… if everything goes as planned, which it probably won’t.”

Just then there was a knock on the door.  Lydia, dutifully, opened it.

“Viarmo,” Alexa smiled at the bard.  “What can I do for you?”

“Elisif has forbidden the Burning of King Olaf, festival this year!” he announced dramatically, as he came into the room.

“Oh?”

“As you are, no doubt, aware Elisif’s husband High King Torygg was recently killed,*” he informed both women.  “Elisif mourns her husband deeply and she feels that a festival that burns a King in effigy is... distasteful.  I’ve tried to convince her the festival is many centuries old and celebrates Solitude but I need proof!  I believe King Olaf’s verse will provide that proof.”

“The timing is rather poor,” Alexa allowed.  “Perhaps she will be more open to the festival in a year’s time?”

“No.  Too much work has already gone into planning this year’s festivities.  We need to change her mind!”

“Okay, and how do you plan on doing that?” Alexa asked.

“To convince her I want to read King Olaf’s Verse,” Viarmo confided.  “Unfortunately the verse was lost long ago.”

“But I’m guessing Giraud found something to suggest otherwise in that pile of moldering velum he’s been working on,” Alexa said.

“Exactly!” Viarmo exclaimed, clapping his hands together.  “According to Giraud the portion of the Edda dealing with King Olaf might still exist in Dead Man’s Respite.  I was hoping you could retrieve it.”

Alexa looked down at her map and Viarmo pointed to a location southwest of Morthal.  “When do you need it by?” she asked.

“The festival should have happened last week,*” he told her.

“Well I don’t think I can get it to you by then,” she remarked wryly.

“The sooner the better though.  Wait too long and it’ll be time to start preparations for the Old Life Festival!”

“I’m heading into the marsh anyway,” Alexa sighed, pulling out her journal.  “Lets see… Ustengrav, Labyrinthian, then Dead Man’s Respite… so a week to ten days to get back here all told.”

“Ustengrav?” Viarmo asked, looking suddenly intent.  “Why are you headed there?”

“To prove to the Greybeards that I am the dragonborn they just summoned,” she answered, matter-of-factly.

“Are you?” he asked, leaning in.

She looked up at him. “Yes.”

Viarmo reached down, grabbed her face between his hands, and enthusiastically kissed her on both cheeks. “Dragons, dragonborn, these are great days to be a bard!” he exclaimed.  “A thousand years from now Skyrim will have changed rulers dozens of times but the return of the dragons, that story is once in an era and I will have been the one to add it to the Poetic Edda!  You, my dear, will make me immortal!”

“Lucky you,” Alexa grumbled.

“Oh, don’t be like that!” he remonstrated with her.  “Think of how well the songs you write will do now that everyone knows they were written by the dragonborn!”

“Right, if only I had the time to write these days… Oh, that reminds me,” Alexa leaned over and pulling a book from her bag.  “For Giraud Gemain, a copy of Hela Thrice-Versed’s primmer on the Dragon Language. I’ve made some notes in the back. I recall a few things in his pile of texts being in the dragon script.”

“Thank you for this,” Viarmo said, taking the book from her reverently.  “I wish you luck in all your endeavors, my friend, and in finding the verse of course.”

“Of course,” Alexa replied sardonically.

Viarmo just grinned at that and bowed himself out.  Lydia gave her thane an enquiring look after closing the door firmly behind him.

“See, something always comes up,” Alexa noted dryly.

“So, what’s the plan now, my thane?”

“Ustengrav, Labyrinthian, Dead Man’s Respite, back to Solitude, then Markarth, Whiterun and High Hrothgar,” Alexa answered with a heavy sigh.


“See, it never ever goes as planned,” Alexa complained, removing the letter from the top of Jurgen Windcaller’s casket, ignoring the soft flash and hum of energy as the casket passed her the deeper knowledge of the word “feim” she would need to use it in a Shout.  She opened the letter.  “Dragonborn,” Alexa read aloud.  “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.”

Lydia frowned.  “Does the Sleeping Giant have an attic room?”

“I don’t believe so,” Alexa replied.

“Curious…  It looks like your ‘friend’ came in the back way,” Lydia noted.

“An excellent strategy,” Alexa agreed.  “I would have used it myself if I had known there was one.  I’ll remember to look next time.”

“You would have missed the Word Wall if you had, my thane,” Lydia pointed out as she followed Alexa out the back entrance.  “Do we go to Riverwood now?”

“No.  We’re going to spend the night in Morthal and proceed on our journey as planned.  Spending a night in Riverwood fits in nicely with our plan to go to Whiterun after Markarth.”

“By that route it will be more than a week before we arrive in Riverwood,” Lydia informed her thane evenly.

Alexa shrugged.  “If this person really had urgent business with me they could have gone to Ivarstead to meet me there or stayed here and waited.  Whoever this is has a flair for the dramatic.  They can wait a week, or even two.”

“But the Greybeards…”

“Seem to not want me around,” Alexa sighed.  “Doesn’t matter though, we’re stuck with each other.  Anyway, have you been to Morthal before?”

“No,” Lydia admitted. “I’ve always just passed it by.”

“Wise choice, it’s… an acquired taste, but far less creepy now that the vampire tavern girl has been dealt with.  Most of the people are actually pretty nice and the jarl is a fascinating person.”

“If you say so, my thane,” Lydia smiled.


Dead Man’s Respite had been… special.  Alexa was uncertain how she felt about ghosts getting revenge on draugr.  It all seemed rather pointless.  Dawnbreaker, on the other hand, had worked fabulously and Lydia was still, obviously, suffering from disbelief over Alexa’s insistence that she keep it.  J’zargo’s spell scrolls though… needed work.

Alexa dropped her things at the Winking Skeever, gave Lydia the rest of the day, and the night, off and went to deliver a book to a bard.  The results of which were absolutely hilarious.  Probably not accurate, of course, but she privately felt both the ghost and the draugr deserved that the result of their centuries long battle of wills be neither truth, nor a heroic saga, but farce.

Sorex Vinius caught her as she returned to the Winking Skeever to take a nap before the evening’s festivities.*


“Share it with someone special,” Alexa suggested, slipping the bottle of Stros M’Kai rum into Falk Firebeard’s hand, with a wink, before sauntering away from him, the courtyard, and the burning effigy.  Having done her part for the festival she was headed to Castle Dower’s wall walk for some time alone.  Lydia, though competent and surprisingly resilient, was not proving to be the easiest person to travel with.  Her insistence on maintaining a “proper” relationship with her thane, no matter how Alexa felt about it, was tiring.

On her way out of the College grounds Alexa passed Rorlund, standing a little apart from the festivities. “Are you enjoying the party?” Alexa asked the priest.

“I believe Sanguine would be pleased with this festival,” he mused, with a slight smile.

“I’m sure you’re right,” she smiled back. 

“What about you?” he asked.

“It’s been a long week. I need a moment alone to clear my head before I get involved in the party,” she replied.

He nodded in understanding but she’d already moved past him before he could say anything else.

It took Alexa a few minutes but she found a spot on the parapets where she could look down over the festival without having to be at its center.  It was nice to hear happy voices in a city that had been so serious only a few days before even if she was too tired to enjoy the festivities herself.

“He was right, you know,” a slightly inebriated voice noted as a chin came to rest on her shoulder. “It’s not a bad party.”

“Hello my husband,” Alexa greeted the daedric prince standing behind her.  “Do you usually attend these things?”

“Not always,” he admitted. “There are a great many festivals around Tamriel and an even greater number of Realms of Revelry.  I’m a busy guy you know.”

“Shouldn’t you be down there then?” she asked, indicating the crowd with a jerk of her chin.

“No,” he answered. “Oddly enough I’m not here for the party.  I’m here to see my wife.”

“Oh?” she asked, turning around to face him.  He was dressed as Sam, which was nice as it meant he was only a hand full of inches, rather than several feet, taller than she was.

“Rumor has it that you had something to do with the current non-existence of the Skull of Corruption,” Sanguine stated.

“About ten days ago,” she confirmed.

“Seems the others are taking an interest in you more quickly than I expected,” he noted.

“Could be a coincidence,” she offered.  “The Skull had been in that tower for years apparently.”

“More likely She activated it to draw your attention,” Sanguine told her, taking her left hand in his and kissing her palm. 

Alexa hissed through her teeth in surprise as his lips scalded her skin.  Sanguine let go.  “There. Another of my servants is now yours. He’s somewhat less rambunctious than the Rose dremora but he’ll keep me informed of goings on.  Snap, with your left hand, if you wish to summon him yourself.”

“Clarify ‘less rambunctious’,” Alexa demanded, a little unsteadily, as she rubbed at her apparently uninjured palm.  The newly gifted magic felt not un-like absorbing a word from a Word Wall only alien rather than strangely familiar.

“Butler rather than body guard,” the prince smiled, leaning in, his hands returning to her hips.

“I don’t have a household*,” she countered smiling back.

“Personal servant then,” Sanguine chuckled.  “He’ll let me know if you get into any real trouble.*”


“I think I may be genuinely in love with you,” Alexa murmured.

“I’m fond of you too?” Sanguine replied skeptically.  He was seated with his back against the tower wall.  Alexa was sitting in his lap with a plate of cake in her hands.

“Shh,” Alexa admonished her husband.  “I was speaking to the new love of my life.”  She gestured at the half eaten slice of cake with her fork.

“You have no idea how often that cake hears that,” Sanguine told her, amusement warming his voice.

“Is there really a Realm of Revelry devoted entirely to desserts*?” Alexa asked him.

“There is,” Sanguine answered.  “And I may even let you visit it after you’ve fulfilled to your destiny.”

“Not before?” she asked, innocently, around another mouthful of cake.

“Would you ever come back?” he laughed.

“Live the rest of my life surrounded by all the cake I can eat or wander around Skyrim being yelled at by dragons?  Let me think...”

“Exactly.”

“I’ve missed  cake,” Alexa admitted wistfully.  “Why don’t the Nords have cake?”

“Do you really want to know?” he asked.

“I already know it’s because they don’t mill their flour fine enough,” she replied.

“So why’d you ask?”

“It’s a human thing,” she answered vaguely.

Chapter Text

Eolain was bored. Markarth was a hideous place completely devoid of culture or entertainment and Dolly was making no efforts to accommodate her.  Still, his continuing resistance to her entirely reasonable request was a mystery worth solving and she was not going to be dissuaded by simple boredom or apparent lack of progress.

So when a pretty, purple haired, Breton girl, in form fitting black and royal blue armor, climbed the stairs to the throne room Eolain was in a mood to be diverted. Especially after she noticed the way Dolly all but walked into one of the stone tables when he saw her.

Apparently unaware of the Commander’s reaction the Breton girl smiled sweetly at him and cocked her head in the direction of the throne room.  What followed could only have been described as the final act of a romantic comedy.  All the elements were present: the bumbling, love sick, protagonist (Calcelmo); the oblivious object of his desire (Faleen); the helpful friend, without whom resolution would have been impossible (the Breton girl); and the somewhat appalled bystander (Ondolemar) to provide the audience (herself) with guidance on how they should be reacting to the events unfolding in front of them.  It was all very diverting… and intriguing.  The fact that the instigator of the situation didn’t stay to enjoy the results of her labor, failing to show up for the resolution scene at all, further indicated to Eolain that there was more going on here than met the eye… especially where Dolly was concerned.

So, while Dolly remained rooted to the spot by the spectacle occurring less than twelve feet away from where he was standing, Eolain went looking for the purple haired woman.


“Here you are,” Aicantar was saying, as he handed the Breton woman a stack of Dwemer cogs.  “If you learn anything interesting…”

“I’ll be sure to send you a copy of any paper that results from this experiment,” the woman replied, smiling brightly at him before she deposited the cogs in a backpack.

Eolain saw Aicantar blush slightly.  It seemed Dolly wasn’t the only Altmer the little Breton had an effect on.*

“Ah, excuse me, but might I get a moment of your time?” Eolain murmured as the Breton woman left the “laboratory” area.  The woman stopped, an enquiring look on her face, so Eolain continued, “I’m sorry, I know it is quite rude of me to introduce myself, but Ondolemar didn’t have a chance to introduce us earlier.  Eolain Larethaire.”

The little Breton tipped her head to one side.  “No rank or title?” she asked.

“Technically countess, but these days the Thalmor do not approve of titles outside their own hierarchy.”

“You are not a member of the Thalmor then.  I suppose that explains the lack of uniform,” the Breton murmured before smiling brightly. “Alexa,” she inclined her head, flicking her fingers out in a proper Altmer greeting of a commoner to gentry, taking Eolain by surprise.  “Student of magic at the College of Winterhold, erstwhile adventurer, and occasional errand runner, if the errand is interesting or well paid.  How can I be of service, m’lady?”

“I was wondering if I might beg a moment of your time,” Eolain replied, gesturing to indicate that she would prefer to continue their conversation away from Aicantar’s prying ears.

“Of course,” Alexa replied, following her over to the strange indoor planting between Calcelmo’s workstation and the Hall of the Dead.

Eolain seated herself on the planter’s edge.  “You seem fairly well acquainted with the Thalmor Commander,” she noted.  Anyone who knew Ondolemar well enough to know he’d actually enjoy the little show the girl had just instigated had to know him very well.

Alexa shrugged slightly. “I have been in and out of the keep frequently over the past few years.  I’d say I have a working knowledge of most of the people here… well, except the city guards.  Frankly I can’t tell them apart.”

“I was wondering if you knew if the Commander has a lover?” Eolain asked.

“Not as far as I know,” Alexa replied, clearly giving it some thought.  “Though it has been more than a year since the last time we spoke on the subject.”

“Ondolemar has discussed his love life with you?” Eolain blinked in surprise.

Alexa shrugged again. “He was drunk and some comment I made resulted in a lecture on the etiquette of not having your personal guards interfere with your sex life.  At that time he indicated his last lover had returned to Summerset more than a year previous.”

“So at least two years ago now…” Eolain pondered.  That didn’t seem like her answer then.

“His guards might know,” Alexa suggested.

“I’ve already asked them,” Eolain sighed.

“It’s kind of sweet how loyal they are,” Alexa smiled.

“A little frustrating though.”

“May I ask why you are interested in the Commander’s love life?” Alexa enquired, managing to sound sincerely interested but not, in any way, judgmental.

“The Thalmor are requiring me to produce a pureblood child.  Since we’re childhood friends I was rather hoping he’d be willing to father it,” Eolain explained and then blinked in surprise.  Why had she just admitted to that?*

The Bretton considered her thoughtfully, her head tilted slightly to one side.  “Larethaire… Larethaire…” she whispered frowning.  “Oh!  You wouldn’t happen to be related to Earmiel, would you?”

“You… know my brother?” Eolain asked, suddenly cautious.

“The Commander hired me to be his tour guide when he first arrived.  I spent two full days with him… in a marsh.”

Eolain thought about that for a moment, slightly stricken.  “I feel like I should apologize for… everything,” she confided.

“No need,” Alexa replied cheerfully, raising her voice slightly to be heard by someone coming through the door from the main hall.  “I already blame the Commander for the fact your brother is definitely not sleeping with one of my shield-brothers as one can be certain absolutely no sleeping is taking place in the entire hall whenever he visits.”

Eolain covered her face with her hands.  “I am so sorry.”

“I am unsure as to how that is my fault,” Ondolemar sniffed, as he joined them.

“Do not fret Commander. My revenge has already begun!” Alexa informed him sweetly.

“You mean that scene you initiated earlier?” he asked sourly.

“Come now, surely there is some solace in knowing that you are now free of their ongoing, farcical, failures to communicate!”

“Only to be burdened by what promises to be a level of besotted absurdity that would only be appropriate in much younger individuals,” he replied.

“Oh please,” Alexa laughed, rolling her eyes.  “We all know you’re a mushy romantic on the inside.”

“She’s got you on that one, Dolly,” Eolain snickered.

Alexa looked quickly back and forth between the glowering Thalmor commander and the entirely unrepentant Eolain.  “I’ll take that as my queue to leave,” she announced, taking a step away from them.

“Not so fast, young lady,” Ondolemar stopped her.  “What are you doing in Markarth this time?”

Alexa gave him a look of wide-eyed innocence.  “Oh I’m just here to pick up some examples of Dwemer cogs for the College of Winterhold.  But, since it wasn’t likely Calcelmo would just give them to me I did him a favor.  Now I have ten Dwemer cogs and your world is a slightly more saccharin place. I’d say that kind of multi-tasking deserves recognition, wouldn’t you?”

“I shall remember to note in my next report that you are dangerously manipulative,” he replied dryly. “And how long will you be in town?”

“No more than another day or so, I hope?

“You hope?”

“I uh… have to go apologize to the priestesses of Dibella?  I have no idea how long that typically takes.”

“Oh, this should be good,” Ondolemar muttered to himself.  “Spill, Breton.”

“I may have fondled some statuary the last time I was here.  For which I blame Sanguine...”

Eolain noticed that Ondolemar had frozen again, just for a moment.  “You do, do you?” he asked, recovering magnificently.  “I suppose you have a good reason for blaming a daedric prince for your antics?”

“I may have allowed him to buy me a drink… or four.”

“You’re kidding!” Eolain gasped.

“She’s not,” Ondolemar replied, pinching the bridge of his nose.

“In my defense his avatar was convincingly human and a lot more fun to hang out with than... though that might be the booze talking now that I think about it.  Anyway, if that’s everything, Commander, I have an aedra to apologize to.”

“Well far be it for me to get in the way of that,” Ondolemar replied stepping aside.  “Try not to destroy anything while you’re here.”

“When have I ever destroyed anything?” she enquired archly.

“I live in fear of the inevitable,” he replied.

She laughed at him before turning and bowling slightly to Eolain.  “It was lovely to meet you, m’lady.  Good day, Commander.”  And then she was sauntering off with a rather attractive sway to her step. 

Eolain watched her go with appreciation.  “Very nice,” she commented to Ondolemar after Alexa had disappeared through the doorway. 

“Alexa is one of the more dangerous people in Skyrim,” Ondolemar told her sternly.  “I would caution you against befriending her.”

She arched her eyebrows at him.  “That charming girl is one of the most dangerous people in the country?  I had no idea Skyrim was so safe!”

“You have been warned,” he told her, turning away.

“Oh… I see what’s going on here,” Eolain laughed knowingly.  “She’s the only entertaining thing in this dreary place and you’re afraid she’ll like me better than you!  Well don’t worry, Dolly.  These days I really am happily married.”

Ondolemar turned back to her and, just briefly, she caught an expression in his eyes that looked like sorrow.  “Perhaps it is simply that I’m worried her particular brand of crazy might be contagious,” he told her levelly.  “You have quite enough crazy of your own.”

Chapter Text

“Do our thanes go adventuring together often?” Lydia asked Argis the Bulwark as he handed her a bottle of ale.

He rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably, as he settled across from her at the table.  “No.  Not often. My thane doesn’t do a lot of ‘adventuring’.  He mostly just interacts with the Forsworn on behalf of the jarl.”

“Oh,” Lydia said, not knowing enough about the Forsworn to ask any follow up questions.  A slightly awkward silence filled the space between the two housecarls.

“So, uh, what’d Miss Alexa do that made her a thane of Whiterun?” Argis asked.

Lydia blinked.  “You don’t know?” she asked, surprised.

“Should I?” he enquired, brow furrowed in confusion.

“She’s the dragonborn,” Lydia answered.  “Killed a dragon outside Whiterun and absorbed its power, in front of half the town guards, just like in the legends.

Argis’ brow furrowed further.  “But she’s…”

“A Breton mage,” Lydia nodded.  “Surprised me too.  But she can Shout.  I’ve seen it. And she is really good with a bow.”

It was Argis’ turn to not know what to say.  He tried anyway.  “What’s it like, traveling with the dragonborn?”

“So far, pretty much like traveling with anyone else, I guess,” Lydia smiled in relief that things hadn’t gotten awkward again.  “Though, if you asked her, she’d probably tell you something about ‘nothing going according to plan’.  But this is still my first week on the road with her so...” she shrugged.

“I guess you’ll get to find out,” he smiled.

She smiled and toasted him with her ale.  He had a nice voice and wasn’t hard on the eyes… “How far did they say they were going?” she asked him.

“Karthwasten, it’s about half a days travel from here,” he answered. 

“So, even if everything goes smoothly, they won’t be back until tomorrow afternoon?”

“At the earliest,” he confirmed.

“So what’s interesting to do around here?” she asked.

“Not a lot,” he grimaced slightly.  “Miners get off work and go home tired.  Most of them only have time for fun on feast days.  The wealthier folks spend most of their time either in their own homes or at the keep.  The few of us in the middle usually spend our evenings drinking at the Silver-Blood Inn.”

“I’m not keeping you from your fiends, am I?” Lydia enquired politely.

“No,” he reassured her with a quick grin.  “No. My thane keeps us well stocked… and, tonight at least, the company here is more interesting than the company there.”

Lydia arched a brow at him. “Oh?”

He cleared his throat and glanced down at the bottle in his hands before looking back up at her. “Definitely better looking,” he offered.

She smiled.


A day in bed with a Nord warrior who, it turned out, had some idea of what he was doing, had done wonders for Lydia’s mood but she found herself beginning to worry as the second day drew towards midafternoon.

She was eating lunch, and ignoring Argis’ meaningful looks indicating his hope that, when she was finished, she’d join him in bed again, when the door to Vlindrel Hall finally opened revealing Argis’ thane but not hers.

“Where is the dragonborn?” she demanded, standing up and moving, purposefully down the hall towards the newly returned thane.

Argis’ thane gave her a tired look.  “Alexa’s taking the new Sybil of Dibella up to the temple,” he answered.  “Shouldn’t be more than another hour, I’d think.”

Lydia nodded once, curtly, to show she understood.  “Do you know if she intends to leave today?”

“I’d expect her to stay until morning,” the young man replied, pushing past her into the main room of his own home.  “But she’s not always the easiest to anticipate.  Argis, do we have anything to eat left in the house?”

“Very little,” he rumbled, stepping out of his room having, apparently, donned his armor in record time. “Shall I go to the market?”

“Yes, thank you Argis. I don’t think I could handle any more walking today.”

“You should get that horse I keep telling you about,” Argis told his thane, pausing for a moment in the kitchen to look over their stores.

“Horses are just expensive bear bait,” his thane disagreed disappearing into his room and closing the door behind him.

Argis smirked at the closed door and went back to inventorying.  About twenty minutes later he glanced towards Lydia.  “Want to come to the market?” he asked.  “You can see the road to the temple from there,” he added when he saw her hesitate.  The room suddenly shook and she stumbled into him and then, as the shaking continued, they both stumbled into the wall.  When the earthquake stopped they stood there for a moment unsure as to whether it had truly stopped or if this was just a pause between quakes.  When nothing happened Argis smiled at her. “Earthquake,” he shrugged.  “Not uncommon in the Reach.  Lets go see how the market faired, shall we?”

She nodded wordlessly and followed him from the hall.


Four hours later -

“The dragonborn is missing,” Alexa’s new housecarl – Lydia – announced.

“Missing?” Taran asked. “How can she be missing?”

“The priestesses say she left the temple hours ago,” Argis answered.  “And none of the guards claim to have seen her.”

“Of course not.  Given the way they feel about her I’d be surprised if they’d admit to noticing her being eaten by a dragon in the center of town,” Taran groaned, getting to his feet.  “Alright.  You two go find Endon and see if he knows anything.  Failing that check at the Hag’s Cure, Ghorza’s, the Trading Company, and the Inn.  I’ll go check the Keep.”

Lydia frowned at him before nodding, clearly uncomfortable with splitting up but unable to come up with a better plan.

Taran made his way to the keep, allowing himself a small sigh of relief when he separated from the two housecarls.  If the priestesses of Dibella had, as a parting ‘gift’, dosed Alexa with something he was certain they’d all be better off if her remarkably earnest new housecarl didn’t find out about it.  With any luck the reason Alexa was currently missing was because they had and she, and a certain Altmer, were finally dealing with their obvious attraction to each other.  With a little more luck some part of it had taken place on Legate Admand’s precious map table.  Though that last part was probably too much to hope for.

Luck was not, it would seem, with him.  Ondolemar was in his usual location outside the throne room.

“Have you seen Alexa?” Taran asked, climbing the stairs.

“Not in a few days,” the Commander answered.  “Why?”

“She hasn’t been seen since about two o’clock this afternoon,” he sighed.  “And she hasn’t left Markarth, at least willingly, because all of her stuff is still at my place.”

Ondolemar appeared to ponder something for a moment.  “Did the earthquake earlier seem entirely natural to you?” he asked finally.

Taran thought about it. The quake had lasted long enough that the intensity of the quaking should have risen before falling off but, instead, the event had been of a single intensity from start to finish. “No,” he answered, decisively. “Now that you mention it.”

“Know any way to fake an earthquake?”

“Ran into a Dwemer mechanism once that cause real earthquakes,” Taran answered.  “Aside from that, maybe the Greybeards?  You think Alexa…?”

Ondolemar nodded once. “If she didn’t do it she will, almost assuredly, have been present.”

Taran groaned.  “I’ll go try talking to Calcelmo.”

“Best of luck.  You’ll find him with Faleen,” Ondolemar warned.


The earth shook a second time as Eolain exited the Silver-Blood Inn.  Looking around her, as the humans tried to decide whether to panic, she noticed Alexa, and a dremora, dragging the body of the impertinent Vigilant of Stendarr out of the house he’d been asking about.

“Alexa!” Eolain called out, running up to her just as the dremora faded back into Oblivion.  The Breton girl whirled around a spell gathering in her hand.  Seeing who it was she gave a wan smile and snuffed the spell.  “Eolain?”

“Are you all right?” Eolain asked, looking the Breton girl over critically.  She looked tired and there were some odd darker than black smudges on her face and armor.

“Still alive,” Alexa replied shortly.  “Unlike this poor sod.”  She slumped down onto the pavement to catch her breath.

Eolain looked around them. “Why aren’t the guards coming to help?”

“They’re mad at me.  I may have had something to do with the disappearance of their second payroll a few months back.”

“I see… but what happened to you?  You look awful!”

“Hello Commander,” Alexa smiled warmly up at the approaching Altmer, ignoring Eolain’s question.  “I can feel you looming already.”

Ondolemar looked down at her.  “I thought I asked you, less than three days ago, not to destroy anything while you were here?”

She rolled her eyes. “As much as I would love to claim I know how to create earthquakes I’m afraid I can’t take responsibility for these, or any other strange phenomena having to do with that… house.”

Eolain laughed indulgently. “He’s just joking, my sweet. Everyone knows human mages don’t have the power necessary for that sort of thing.”

Ondolemar crossed his arms and fixed Alexa with a stare.  Eolain hadn’t been in Skyrim when the voices of the Greybeards had shaken the entire country.  Given that, Ondolemar wasn’t entirely certain that localized earthquakes would be beyond the scope of a dragonborn.  If Alexa really was dragonborn, which he still hadn’t seen proof of.

“Would you believe me if I told you there’s a rather active shrine to Molag Bal in the basement of that house?” Alexa asked, dabbing at a split lip with the back of her hand. “And that He did the shaking and… whatever else got your attention?”

“How active?” Ondolemar enquired still appearing thoroughly unimpressed.

“Like I just spent several hours in a cage staring at a rusty mace on an altar and listening to the lord of domination monologue at me,” she replied heavily.  “The only thing he said of even passing interest was that He currently has quite the beef with Boethiah, since, apparently, one of Boethiah’s priests comes by regularly to desecrate the artifact and the shrine…” she leaned back against the wall of the house to stare blissfully up at the sky. “I have no idea what that entails but, from the smell, I’d say it includes a great deal of urine.”

Eolain burst out laughing completely ignoring Ondolemar’s quelling glare.

“I guess I should be grateful this shrine to Molag Bal wasn’t a blood fountain like the last one…” Alexa murmured thoughtfully. “Though I suppose it probably wasn’t set up by a vampire either...”

“Am I to understand that a daedric artifact of Molag Bal is rusting away in the basement of that house?” Ondolemar demanded calmly.

“I believe that is what I said, yes,” Alexa replied.  “The sun is nice.”

“How’d you get free of the cage?” Ondolemar asked, taking a step sideways to come between Alexa and the sun.

She glared at him.  “I promised Sanguine we’d go drinking again. This time, apparently, the destination is the Shivering Isles.”

“I thought you hated planes traveling,” he noted casually.

There was a slight pause as Alexa appeared to think about that.  “Say, Commander, you wouldn’t be willing to simply kill me now and save me the hangover, and the questionable joy of having strawberry tarts with Sheogorath, would you?  He puts stinky cheese on them.”

“Have you ever considered not responding to everyone who asks you for help?” Ondolemar asked her in exasperation.

“I turned you down,” Alexa pointed out.

“Something I’m beginning to feel quite grateful for.  Divines know what you would have found if you hadn’t.”

“Purple bunnies,” Alexa replied, standing back up. 

“What?” Eolain asked in confusion.

“Someday the strange, unexpected, thing that happens to me will be completely innocuous and totally girly. Then I will announce that I have seen everything and retire.*”

“On that day the world will end,” Ondolemar told her. 

Alexa froze. “Careful, Commander.  With all that is going on the end of the world may be closer than you think.”

“Well, while we await its coming, I think I will discuss with the priestesses of Dibella what they want done about the shrine to Molag Bal in their city.”

Alexa nodded.  “And I think I will just leave town without talking to anyone else.”

“You might tell Taran you’ve been found,” Ondolemar suggested.  “He’s been looking for you.”

Chapter Text

Lydia and Alexa took a cart, that evening, for Falkreath, with a quick stop for a book at Sunderstone Gorge, arriving late the following day.  Which meant they arrived in Riverwood ten days after retrieving the note from Ustengrav.  

Delphine’s declaration that she was part of a group looking for a dragonborn, for the sole purpose of killing dragons and devouring their souls, had done nothing to improve Alexa’s opinion of the woman.  But her suggestion that the dragons were coming back to life was intriguing to say the least.  So the three of them, and Meeko, traveled to Kynesgrove, via Whiterun – to convince Olfina and Jon to run away to Solitude together – and the shrine of Talos outside Whiterun – to deliver the horn – to check it out.

By the time they got there, four and a half days later, Alexa was about ready to feed Delphine to any dragon that happened to show up.

There, for the second time, on the hill above Kyne’s Grove, Alexa heard the black dragon speak and the wrongness of his voice tore at her soul like nails on a chalkboard.  It further turned out that the various chanting walls she’d come across in her travels had left large gaps in her vocabulary. Still, Alexa was not so stupid that she failed to catch the names of both dragons before the black dragon turned and insulted her to her face.

“You do not even know our tongue, do you?” he laughed mockingly.  “Such arrogance, to dare take for yourself the name of Dovah.”

Shit, Alexa thought as she cast Ebony Flesh, used the Sanguine Rose to summon its dremora, and then notched an arrow.  That is really going to bug meAlso, dovah is a title not a name, ass-hat. Why is that such a common mistake around here?


“God’s above!  Look at that!” Delphine cried out as the fallen dragon burned away and Alexa was suddenly surrounded in a storm of energy.  Alexa just sighed and sat down on a rock.

“So you really are... I... it’s true, isn’t it?” Delphine stammered, coming up to her, nearly speechless.  “You really are Dragonborn.”

“I really am,” Alexa replied tiredly as Lydia rolled her eyes and went to loot the dragon corpse.

“I owe you some answers, don’t I?” Delphine began, looking a little sheepish.  “Go ahead. Whatever you want to know.  Nothing held back.”

“Who are you and what do you want with me? Alexa asked.

“I’m one of the last members of the Blades,” Delphine confided.  “A very long time ago, the Blades were dragon slayers, and we served the Dragonborn, the greatest dragon slayer. For the last two hundred years, since the last Dragonborn emperor, the Blades have been searching for a purpose.  Now that dragons are coming back, our purpose is clear again.  We need to stop them.”

The Blades, Alexa thought.  Well that explained Delphine’s constant harping on about Thalmor traps. “What do you know about the dragons coming back?” she asked.

“Not a damn thing!” Delphine replied.  “I was just as surprised as you to find that big black dragon here!”

“Yeah… I wasn’t as surprised as you’d think.  That tablet I retrieved for you from Bleak Falls Barrow kind of implied all of this.”

“I-it did?” Delphine stuttered.

“The inscription on the back?  Het nok un mahlaan drogge erei suleyk se Alduin vokrii?” Alexa asked her.

“I don’t read, or speak, dragon,” Delphine snapped.

“Oh, well, it means: here lie our fallen lords until [the] power of Alduin revives them,” Alexa explained. “Clearly then, if dragons are being revived, we shouldn’t be surprised to find out that Alduin’s involved.  Also I’d seen that black dragon – Alduin – before...”

“Really?  Where?” Delphine demanded.

“It was the one that attacked Helgen, when Ulfric escaped from the Imperials.”

“Interesting.  Same dragon...” Delphine murmured.  “Damn it, we’re blundering around in the dark here!  We need to figure out who’s behind it all!”

“Behind it all?” Alexa asked, stunned by the implications.

“Yes!  The first thing we need to do is figure out who’s behind the dragons.  The Thalmor are our best lead.  If they aren’t involved, they’ll know who is.”

“What makes you think the Thalmor are bringing dragons back?” Alexa asked confused.  “I mean, it seems pretty obvious from what we just saw that Alduin is the ones bringing dragons back just like the inscription said.”

“But all the dragons were dead!” Delphine argued.  “Killed off centuries ago by my predecessors.  Who brought the first one back?  Who told it to go raise the others?  Wait, who is Alduin?”

“I don’t know who may have been foolish enough to bring the World-Eater back to life, if that is even what happened,” Alexa replied.  “The tablets on the way up the Seven Thousand Steps say Alduin was ‘Shouted out of the world’, not slain.  But I do know that, if someone did ‘bring him back’, they would have immediately lost all control of him.  Only a dragon can subdue another dragon and attempting to subdue Alduin would be like attempting to subdue a daedric prince.”

“How do you know that?” Delphine demanded.

“I know it,” Alexa replied.

“I see,” Delphine muttered, sounding dubious.  “Still the Thalmor are our best lead.  I doubt the Thalmor are aware of you yet.  So you should be safe from them, at least until I can figure out our next move.”

“They won’t know anything,” Alexa murmured, thoughtfully, looking out over the hot springs flats her mind rapidly shuffling through dragon memories for something useful. 

“Yes they will.  The Thalmor have spies everywhere!” Delphine argued.

“The Thalmor do not believe in Alduin.  Instead – like the Imperials – the Altmer always believed the destroyer was just a Nord version of Akatosh.  They would never seek to revive something they don’t believe exists.  I must speak to the Greybeards.”

“What?  Why?  How could they possibly be any help?” Delphine demanded, stepping into Alexa’s path. “And what about the Thalmor?”

Alexa rubbed her forehead wearily.  The woman was clearly obsessed.  “As it says in The Book of the Dragonborn:

When misrule takes its place at the eight corners of the world
When the Brass Tower walks and Time is reshaped
When the thrice-blessed fail and the Red Tower trembles
When the Dragonborn Ruler loses his thrown, and the White Tower falls
When the Snow Tower lies sundered, kingless, bleeding
The World-Eater wakes, and the Wheel turns upon the Last Dragonborn,”

she quoted.  “After the events of the Oblivion Crisis all that was left of the prophecy to fulfill was a civil war in Skyrim and the death of the High King.  According to the prophecy, nothing else was necessary to ready the world for the return of the World-Eater.  Now that he has returned, at least for the time being, the Thalmor are all but irrelevant.”

“Are you saying the Thalmor are actively trying to bring about the end of the world?” Delphine demanded.

Alexa gave her a curious look.  “Ulfric Stormcloak, not the Thalmor, killed High King Torygg and brought civil war to Skyrim,” she reminded the other woman.

“But the Thalmor benefit the most…”

Alexa held up a hand to silence Delphine.  “No! No one benefits from this except in the very short term.  And one thing that can be said of the Thalmor is that they don’t think short term.  Even if the destruction of the world were the goal of Thalmor leadership it seems unlikely to me that anyone in Skyrim would be high enough ranked to know it. No, if we are going to learn what is happening, we need an expert on dragons and history.  The closest thing I know to experts on dragons are the Greybeards – they speak the language after all.  So I am going to speak to them.”

Delphine nodded. “Fine.  You go talk to the Greybeards.  The Blades once knew a great deal about dragons.  I will put out some feelers to see if I can find us some help.” She turned and stomped off.


Arngeir looked up at them in surprise when Alexa and Lydia stepped through the doors of High Hrothgar.* “You return,” he noted as Alexa held out the horn to him.  “And you’ve retrieved the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller.  Well done.”  He stood up from where he’d been kneeling.  “You have now passed all the trials.  Come with me. It is time for us to recognize you formally as Dragonborn.”

What followed left Alexa a little dizzy but otherwise unharmed. 

“Dovahkiin,” Arngeir addressed her again, as the other Greybeard dispersed.  “You have tasted the Voice of the Greybeards, and passed through unscathed.  High Hrothgar is open to you,” he bowed slightly to her.  “If you have questions, I will attempt to answer them.”

“What does it actually mean to be ‘Dragonborn’?” Alexa asked him.

“Dragons have the inborn ability to learn and project their Voice,” he told her gravely. “Dragons are also able to absorb the power of their slain brethren.  A few mortals are born with similar abilities -- whether a gift or a curse has been a matter of debate down through the centuries.  What you have already learned took even the most gifted of us years to achieve.”

“Why were dragonborn created?”

“Some believe that Dragonborn are sent into the world by the gods, at times of great need.  We will speak more of that later, when you are ready.”

Alexa frowned at that.  The Greybeards thought that the current situation was “a time of great need” but not something that was pressing enough to actually talk to her about?  “How will I know that I am ready so that I may return here to speak with you?” she asked.

“You should continue to train your voice. When you wish you may return here and we will tell you were more words of power can be found.”

She nodded in ascent to that and asked another question.  “The return of the dragons, does it have something to do with me?

“No doubt,” Arngeir answered easily.  “The appearance of a Dragonborn at this time is not an accident.  Your destiny is surely bound up with the return of the dragons.  You should focus on honing your Voice,” he reiterated, “and soon your path will be made clear.

“By ‘honing my Voice’ do you mean meditation and practice or slaying more dragons for their knowledge?” she asked.

“It is all one, Dragonborn,” Arngeir answered.

“No,” she told him.  “It is not.  One centers me within myself – as you say the Way of the Voice advises – the other… threatens to overwhelm my sense of self.”

“Perhaps you should use the one to mediate the effects of the other,” Arngeir suggested.

“Surely there’s more you can tell me than that?” she responded, a little exasperated.

“There is indeed much that we know that you do not,” Arngeir admitted, sternly.  “That does not mean that you are ready to understand it.  Do not let your easy mastery of the Voice tempt you into the arrogance of power that has been the downfall of many Dragonborn before you.

“If you had ever fought a dragon, Master Arngeir, you would know my questions are not born of arrogance but of a need to survive.  So far the dragons have been the ones to initiate hostilities with me.  I would like to understand why.”

“Then hone your voice and grow stronger,” he told her again.

“Survival is not the same thing as understanding,” she objected.

“I have told you all that you are ready to know,” Arngeir informed her.

Alexa rocked back on her heals and crossed her arms.  “The black dragon, Alduin the World-Eater, has returned.  But you knew that, didn’t you?”

“We suspected it,” Angier confirmed.  “How did you find out?”

“He spoke to me.  Not so much spoke as insulted, really.  I didn’t catch most of it.  Which reminds me, how can I learn the language of dragons, not just the words of power?”

Angier raised both brows at her in surprise.  “You wish to learn more than the words of power?”

“Dragons are snobs. If I’m going to ask one of them why they attack me on sight I’m going to need to speak dragon.”

“There is one who could teach you,” he allowed, grudgingly.  “But you are not yet ready to meet him.”

“Right, your leader who lives on top of the mountain, Paarthurnax…” her voice trailed off. “You’re joking,” she whispered finally. “The dragon who worked with Kyne to give the Voice to man.  He lives on top of the mountain?*”

“The very same,” Arngeir answered solemnly.  “But it seems I have said too much already.”

“No, please, tell me how to open the way,” she begged.  “He is the only one who might understand.”

“Understand what, Dovahkiin? He has never been mortal.”

“I am not only Dragonborn, but the bearer of the Bow of Auriel, a Grand Master of Restoration, and a Blessed of Kynareth,” she told him, her tone pleading.  “Tell me that of all the beings alive on this world he is not the one most likely to have some answers to my many, many, questions. Even if his answer is ‘Alexa, life is just one thing after another and the gods suck,’ at least that would be something!”

Arngeir frowned at her.

“Please, Arngeir?” she begged.  “Do you have any idea how embarrassing it is to be a dragon whose vocabulary is only useful for engraving tomb stones?”

Arngeir sighed wearily. “No.  You are not ready.  You have barely even begun your training, no matter how many words you managed to learn before coming to us.”

“Angier.  Rek los Dovahkiin, Strundu'ul.  Rek fen tinvaak Paarthurnax,*” one of the other Greybeards said, speaking for the first time.

Arngeir flinched.  “Forgive me, Dragonborn.  Perhaps I am over cautious.  When you have learned thirty-five words of power your voice will be ready to open the way.  When that time comes, we will show you the path.”

“Alright,” Alexa agreed. She already knew twenty-seven of the rotmulaag, finding eight more could probably be achieved by the end of the year. Especially since she could pick up three of those fairly easily by keeping her promise to Durnehviir.  “Where should I start?”

“A word may be found at Lost Tongue Overlook, in the Rift,” Arngeir informed her.


“I need to head back to the College for a while,” Alexa said to Lydia as they started back down the seven thousand steps.

The housecarl nodded. “Shall I return to Whiterun then?”

“I thought we might explore Geirmund’s Hall on our way to Riften,” Alexa suggested.  “I’ll pay for your cart ride back to Whiterun from there.”

“Of course, my thane,” Lydia replied expressionlessly.

Alexa bit back a sigh. In the last few weeks she’d learned it was pointless to try to get Lydia to use her name rather than her title. It was also all but pointless trying to converse with her as the Nord woman seemed to have a very definite idea of how their relationship was supposed to work and was proving to be entirely inflexible on the subject.  After a full month of traveling together Alexa was looking forward to spending time with someone else.  Maybe, after resting for a few days at the college, she’d see if Marcurio was up for some excitement.

Chapter Text

Windhelm

“The Jarls are upset,” Galmar announced, as he glanced over an official looking document a courier had delivered earlier in the day.  “They demand a Moot.”

“Damn the Jarls, and damn the Moot!” Ulfric growled.  “Why should we risk letting those milk-drinkers put Torygg’s woman…” he trailed off into silence as, for the second time, the combined Voice of the Greybeards echoed across Skyrim like rolling thunder.

“What is happening?” Galmar demanded.

Ulfric didn’t answer, closing his eyes to listen intently to the words echoing through his halls.

“My king?” Galmar asked, when it was over and Ulfric opened his eyes again.

“The dragonborn has been given the Storm Crown,” he told Galmar dully.

“So, it’s official then,” Galmar muttered.  “All the more reason to find the Jagged Crown.  It will legitimize your claim as High King.”

“A crown doesn’t make a king,” Ulfric told him, turning away from Galmar.

“No, but this one... It’ll be the symbol of the righteousness of our cause.  Think about it,” Galmar pleaded.  “The Jagged Crown!  It heralds back to a time before jarls and moots.  To before even the dragonborn*!  Back to a time when a king was a king because his enemies fell before him, and his people rose because they loved him.  Skyrim needs that king.  You will be that king, Ulfric. You must be.”

“Do as you will,” Ulfric told him softly before leaving the war room.


Alone in his rooms Ulfric picked up The Book of the Dragonborn, threw it in the fire, and watched, silently, as it burned away to ash.

He had always been destined for greatness.  The name placed upon him in his naming ceremony had been proof of that.*  It had verified what he’d always known, that he was destined to be a Master of the Voice – a legendary warrior on par with Ysmir himself.  And so, when the war had begun, he’d quit his training and gone to show the world the kind of greatness a true Nord could achieve.

He couldn’t remember when he’d first come to believe that “Stormcloak” had been a sign not simply that he was a gifted student of the Voice but that he was, in fact, dragonborn. Perhaps it had been during the Great War when his use of the thu’um upon the battlefield had gained him the recognition of his fellow Nords.

And why shouldn’t he have believed it?  Time and again his pivotal roll in history had been demonstrated.  When he’d been captured the information he’d simply known had been enough for the elves to conquer the Imperial City.*  His imprisonment by the Empire… Well, he had gone to prison the son of a Jarl and leader of a single war band and come out Jarl of Windhelm and leader of a rebellion.  Even his setbacks only brought him to new heights.

And still the moot had put that sniveling boy  on the throne of Skyrim.  Ulfric would have returned Skyrim to greatness but the soft Jarls had chosen Torygg instead.  So he’d used the thu’um to slaughter the boy-king, proved the boy’s weakness and his own strength, and shoved Skyrim headlong into civil war.  

So confident had he been in his destiny that he had not even felt fear when the Imperials had captured them outside Darkwater Crossing.  Like his previous two imprisonments he had known that this one would only lead him to further greatness.  So, with absolute certainty, he had watched the heads man work, and waited for a miracle. And, praise Talos, it had come! The gods had sent a dragon to free him! What more proof did the world need than that?

And yet… he had been afraid. He had not stood and fought the dragon even after he was free of restraint and there were swords enough on the ground around him.  Rather than proving himself then and there he had fled and, for the first time in decades, Ulfric Stormcloak had felt doubt. But the voice of the Greybeards, summoning a dragonborn to High Hrothgar, had fleetingly restored his faith in destiny… only to have it all come crashing down again. 

He was not the dragonborn. The dragonborn – prophesied savior of Skyrim – was a Breton female,* not a legendary Nord warrior.*  It was pathetic, shameful  even, that Skyrim should be reduced to looking to some elf-blooded woman for salvation.

No.  He would not, could not, stand for it.  Galmar was right.  He, Ulfric Stormcloak, would be High King and he, not the dragonborn, would restore Skyrim to its rightful place.


Whiterun

As the sound of the Greybeard’s greeting faded away, Hrongar grinned and clapped his brother heartily on the shoulder.  “She did it!”

“Who?  What?” Proventus demanded in confusion.  “What just happened?”

“Not just dragonborn but Storm-Crowned,” Balgruuf nodded, joy and relief flooding him, in equal measure, as he pushed away from the table.

“Always liked that one,” Irileth murmured, a very small smile tugging at one corner of her mouth. “Hey, where do you think you’re going?” she demanded suspiciously as Balgruuf headed towards his rooms.

“I’m going to change into city clothes and then I’m going to Jorrvaskr to have a celebratory drink with Kodlak,” he informed her, without turning around.  “You and Hrongar can come but you can’t stop me!”


Morthal

Idgrod Ravencrone smiled as the thundering voices dissipated.  “Good,” she murmured before turning her attention back to Earmiel. “You were saying?”

“I was saying that I believe the new control techniques Falion and I have been teaching Joric are working.  Your son claims not to have visited the ‘other place’ in over a month.  What was that noise?”

“The Greybeards have declared the new dragonborn to be Storm-Crowned,” she replied, smiling.

“Are not all dragonborn Storm-Crowned?” Earmiel asked.

“No.  The Storm-Crown is a gift of Kyne separate and apart from the dragon blood.*”

“What does it indicate?”

“At this point it is possible only the Greybeards know,” she replied vaguely. 


The Thalmor Embassy

It had been three days since the second time the voice of the Grey Beards had been heard across Skyrim. Elenwen had summoned all the Thalmor Emissaries in Skyrim, to the embassy, to discuss the “Dragon Crisis”.

“I found this,” Ancano scoffed, “in a rare treatise on Talos the College had moldering in that library of theirs.  It seems it’s some sort of Nord tradition when a new dragonborn has been revealed.” He tossed a piece of parchment with his copy of the greeting, and its translation, on the table.

Rulindil picked it up.  “Long has the Storm Crown languished with no worthy brow to sit upon.  By our breath we bestow it now, to you, in the name of Kyne, in the name of Shor, and in the name of Atmora of old.  You are Ysmir now, Dragon of the North.  Hearken to it,” the interrogator deadpanned.

“And what does that mean?” Elenwen demanded sharply.  “That these Nords have announced yet another heretical god?”

“I don’t think so,” Ondolemar disagreed.  “There have been many who claimed to be dragonborn throughout the ages.  Only one has ever been worshiped as a god.  Rather I feel it might be a good thing.  Who better to deal with dragons than someone who claims to be one?”

“Maybe the dragonborn is the one bringing the dragons back?” Ancano suggested acidly.

“If we are concerned about dragons,” Rulindil purred, “I believe the Blades were well versed in their lore.  Is not one of their lore masters still at large?”

“An excellent point, Rulindil,” Elenwen nodded.  “Why don’t you refocus your efforts in that direction? I will see what can be learned about this new ‘dragonborn’.  Someone, somewhere, must know who he is.”


Thalmor Headquarters, Castle Dour*

“You want to tell me what’s wrong?” Earmiel asked Ondolemar, later the same day.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Ondolemar replied dismissively.  They were seated in the main room of the Thalmor Headquarters in Castle Dour, failing to play a game of chess.

“You’re either sulking or really worried about something,” Earmiel informed him.  “Which is it?”

There was a pause as Ondolemar shifted uncomfortably.  “Have you seen Alexa, in person, in the last few weeks?” he asked finally.

“Not since she left the Companions, about the same time the dragon thing began,” Earmiel replied.  “Why?”

“Nothing, it doesn’t matter.”

“Oh no.  That’s not going to work.  Talk to me Dolly.”

“Two nights after I got back from that…” he waved a hand.

“Fact finding mission?” Earmiel supplied.

“She burst into my rooms, in the middle of the night, and kissed me…”

“Excellent!” Earmiel crowed. “About time!”

“Will you shut up?” Ondolemar snapped.

Earmiel blinked in surprise.

“It seems she was under the influence of Sanguine at the time and either doesn’t remember a thing or doesn’t feel it worth addressing while sober.”

“I see...  Did you ask her about it?”

“Of course not!”

“Why not?”

“She’s wearing a wedding ring.”

What?”

“Gold band, blessing of Mara, worn on the left hand?  Surely you’ve seen one before?”

“That’s not possible,” Earmiel objected.  “She broke it off with Vilkas before leaving the Companions.”

“Maybe she broke it off with her lover because she got married?” Ondolemar suggested snidely. 

“Alexa’s… not really the sort to keep multiple lovers.  At least not without them knowing about each other.  And I’m certain Vilkas would have made a scene over a lack of fidelity…” Earmiel murmured pondering the situation.  “You say she recently spent some time under the influence of Sanguine?”

“So she claims.”

“Maybe that explains it? I’ll see what I can find out.”

“Don’t bother,” Ondolemar sighed.

“Dolly…”

“You’re sister is here, by the way,” Ondolemar told him, changing the subject.

“I know.  That’s why I jumped at the chance to see you here rather than braving Markarth.”

“You know why she’s here?” Ondolemar asked.

“I tried to tell her you wouldn’t be interested.  She didn’t believe me,” Earmiel acknowledged, apologetically. “Why are you here, in Solitude, by the way?” he asked, changing the subject himself.  “Elenwen’s not having another party, is she?”

“Emissary level discussion about the ‘Dragon Crisis’ as she is calling it,” Ondolemar replied stiffly.

“Oh?” Earmiel asked, trying not to sound too interested.  “Did you come to any decisions?”

“Only that it would be nice to know who this dragonborn is and even nicer to have kept a few of the Blades’ Lore Masters alive.”

“No doubt.  Though you have to admit the timing, and your personal involvement in that little fiasco, could almost make one think the universe had a sense of humor,” Earmiel murmured.  “Any ideas on who the dragonborn is?”

Ondolemar gave him a long, level, look.  “Officially, no ideas whatsoever.  Unofficially I’m fairly certain both you and I know exactly who it is.”

Earmiel thought about that for a moment.  “Well, it would explain a few things.  What are you going to do?”

“That depends on her, doesn’t it?”

“Partially.  But it also depends on what you’re willing to do. You should probably come to a decision on that before you actually have to face her in her new persona, or before someone does something that will force you to make a rash decision.”

Ondolemar groaned, slumped in his chair, and pinched the bridge of his nose.  “Remind me what the protocol for this sort of situation is?”

“There isn’t one,” Earmiel replied easily.  “But you should be getting used to that by now.  You left standard social protocol behind, where she is concerned, ages ago.” When Ondolemar failed to respond to that slight provocation Earmiel went on.  “Have you considered, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, actually defining your relationship?” Earmiel asked.  “It would give you a set of standards to follow, or ignore.  Either way you’d have a better idea what you were doing, and risking.”

“Right, because standard definitions apply so well to anything even tangentially related to the dragonborn champion of Sheogorath,” Ondolemar, groaned.

“Now you’re just making up excuses as to why you can’t decide what you want,” Earmiel told him.

“I am a Thalmor Emissary, Earmiel.  What I want doesn’t matter.”

“If duty is all that matters then why’d you turn down Eolain’s offer?” Earmiel countered.

“You mean aside from the fact the three of us are practically siblings?” Ondolemar responded a little bitterly.

“Yes, okay, that would be off putting,” Earmiel admitted with a dramatic shudder.  “But it wasn’t just that, was it?”

Ondolemar sighed. “No, it wasn’t just that.  I also had a sudden auditory hallucination of Alexa saying something ridiculous, and absolutely mortifying, about horse breading.”

Earmiel’s eyes went wide. “Horse breading?” he choked, trying to repress his laughter.  “No, no, you’re right,” he gasped quickly, responding to the glare Ondolemar sent him, “she absolutely would say something like that,” he smirked at his friend before sobering again.  “But if you’re going to let the things Alexa says, inside your head or not, influence your decisions you’re going to be in a lot of trouble, Dolly.  Her espoused view of the universe doesn’t exactly match with the one you’re supposed to be championing.”

“I’m not sure her view of the universe fits well with anything,” Ondolemar pointed out.

“And you think that will help her case in the eyes of Thalmor high command?”

“I think it will make pleading insanity somewhat easier.”

“She’s the champion of Sheogorath.  For her insanity is a foregone conclusion not a defense,” Earmiel pointed out.

“Am crazy to think that she’s not a credible threat?” Ondolemar whispered.

“Crazy?  No.  I don’t think she has any plans in regards to the Dominion,” Earmiel hedged.  “But she will defend herself, Dolly.  And, if she really is the new dragonborn the Nords are so excited about...”

“The Dominion may do something that forces her to do so,” Ondolemar finished, levelly.

“Which brings us back to you needing to make some decisions,” Earmiel pointed out, gently.

“I suppose it does,” Ondolemar sighed and decided it was time to turn the tables on Earmiel.  “I hear you’ve taken up with one of the Companions.”

Earmiel gave Ondolemar a startled glance and then smirked.  “You asking for details?”

Ondolemar flinched. “No.  Definitely not.  Just… trying to change the subject.”

There was silence between them for a while.  Earmiel broke first.  “You know, there’s this rumor floating around the Oblivion planes right now,” he offered, “that Prince Sanguine has taken a wife.  Marriage blessed by Mara and everything.”

“You’re joking,” Ondolemar snorted, momentarily diverted from his problems by the improbability of the statement.

“That’s what I thought,” Earmiel agreed, smiling.  “I mean, can you imagine little Miss ‘live soberly and peacefully blah blah blah’s’ reaction to having Prince Sanguine in Her temple much less watching one of Her priests bless his marriage?  Hilarious!”

“I suppose it’s good to know that someone’s still having fun in the current mess,” Ondolemar commented

Chapter Text

“J’zargo is eager to hear how the scrolls are working,” the apprentice destruction mage announced, first thing after breakfast, the morning after Alexa arrived back at the College.

“Were they supposed to explode?” Alexa asked, looking up from the journal she was transcribing. “Because contact with undead caused the flame cloak to explode.”

“Ah.  No,” he admitted a bit sheepishly.  “That was not supposed to happen.  But... J’zargo is pleased to see that you are here, and not in pieces! You are a good friend to have done this.  J’zargo will not forget it.”

“The concept behind them is quite interesting,” Alexa allowed.  “Perhaps if you could make the explosions directional, or happen at a greater distance from the caster?  The Circle of Protection spell might contain some ideas on how to structure that kind of specification.”

“Restoration?” J’zargo enquired in obvious surprise.

“I know,” Alexa winced sympathetically.  “Talking to Colette can be… difficult.  Barring that I am lead to believe that Tolfdir’s understanding of spell structure is unparalleled among the masters here.”

He narrowed his eyes slightly, his whiskers twitching.  “Khajiit will consider these things,” he told her.  “But he wonders how you know so much about a school of magic you say you can barely use.”

“Restoration or Destruction?” she asked, smiling, and then shook her head before he could answer. “Doesn’t matter.  My interest – the reason I am studying lost magics – isn’t in casting spells but in understanding how magic works.  As such I know a fair amount about the theory behind each of the schools even if I’m terrible at actually using them.”

“Why would one study magic if not to become a powerful mage?” J’zargo demanded, sounding mystified.

“Magic is a part of our world,” Alexa responded easily.  “One cannot understand the workings of the world without understanding magic.”

“And that is important to you?”

“What could be more important?” she asked.

J’zargo’s whiskers twitched. “It does not seem that this is a subject we are likely to agree upon.”

“Then we will just have to agree to disagree,” Alexa noted, brightly, before going back to her transcribing.


Brelyna stuck her head into Alexa’s room a little before two in the afternoon.  “Will you be attending the afternoon lecture?” she asked.

“I suppose I should,” Alexa smiled, pushing back her chair and digging her coat out of her closet. She followed Brelyna – at a fast trot – across the courtyard and into the Hall of the Elements.  Phinis Gestor was already standing in front of the mystic focal point in the center of the room.  He cleared his throat. 

“At this time, I would like to make a few statements regarding policy here at the College,” he announced, his gaze lingering for a moment on Ancano before falling on Brelyna. “Please refrain from practicing Conjuration spells in view of the town of Winterhold.  Atronachs have a tendency to frighten the locals.  Undead... well, I don’t even think it needs to be said.” 

His eyes drifted to Enthir. “Urag has asked me to remind everyone to please return materials borrowed from the Arcanaeum in the same condition as you received them.  If this is impossible due to misuse or accident, Urag recommends finding a replacement copy to deliver to the Arcanaeum.  Failure to do so will result in paying, in Urag’s words, ‘a blood price’.  I did not ask him to elaborate on that point.”

Phinis frowned in Sergius’ direction.  “Once again, I must ask that everyone please clean up any materials used in the common areas.  We’ve had yet another sprained ankle due to soul gems being left on the floor.  Let’s please try and keep injuries to a minimum.”

Again his eyes drifted over the Thalmor Advisor before he addressed himself to the new students.  “The Midden remains off-limits at this time; while the initial outbreak has been cleaned up, the area is still considered hazardous.  No more experiments are to be carried out there, and mages are advised that you enter the Midden at your own risk.”

The corner of his mouth twitched slightly as he continued to stare in the direction of the new students. “While Drevis appreciates the spell casting skill that went into somehow cramming several hundred apples into his pillow...  He would ask that it please not happen again. He has suggested that, should he find out who is responsible, he is well versed in making things disappear permanently.”

“There have been unconfirmed reports that someone has been sneaking into the town of Winterhold while invisible, and causing... issues.  This goes quite against College policy, and the party responsible is advised to cease these actions at once.

He then sighed heavily. “Any information as to the whereabouts of the previous group of Apprentices would be greatly appreciated.  As of yet, there has been no sign of them.

“Thank you.”


“What ‘outbreak’?” Alexa asked Brelyna once all the students had returned to the Hall of Attainment.

“Something about undead,” she answered.

“Aren’t they worried that wild life will move in if they leave the Midden unpatrolled for too long?”

“Apparently not,” Onmund shrugged.

“Were the apples you or Enthir?” Alexa asked the Nord apprentice.

“It wasn’t me,” Enthir announced, as he passed through on the way to his room.  “I would never do anything that might draw that much attention to myself.”

“Well done,” Alexa smiled at Onmund as the Nord student blushed a brilliant crimson.  “But why Drevis?”

“He’s… rather full of himself,” Onmund muttered.  “And he was rude to Lyn.”

“Ah,” Alexa looked over at Brelyna who was looking a little embarrassed.  “I’m guessing Neloren isn’t a name associated with any of Morrowind’s great houses?”

Brelyna shook her head. “I don’t blame him.  Really I don’t.  I’m sure someone in my family has, at some point, done something…”

“But this isn’t Morrowind,” Alexa told her, “and the fact that you’re here proves you aren’t sailing through life on being a daughter of a great house.  He should be giving you the benefit of the doubt.”

J’zargo pricked up his ears at that.  “You are a member of one of the Great Houses of Morrowind?” he asked Brelyna.

“Was it a secret?” Alexa asked, suddenly concerned.

“I hadn’t told anyone else,” Brelyna admitted.  “You’re the only person who asked for a proper introduction.”

“If J’zargo has been rude, not to properly introduce himself, he apologizes,” the khajiit purred, bowing.  “He had thought the lack of formality was a sign of friendship in this place.”

“It is,” Alexa assured him.

“It is good to hear as J’zargo has no important family to speak of and so must make himself important,” the khajiit smiled at her.

“My family are all farmers,” Onmund admitted.  “What about you?” he asked Alexa.

“Merchants.  But I haven’t used their name in years.”

“Why not?” Onmund enquired.

“They got caught up in political intrigue,” Alexa answered.

Brelyna’s eyes widened and she gave a soft “Oh” of understanding.

Onmund looked back and forth between the Dunmer and the khajiit, clearly realizing he’d missed something.

“This one regrets the death of your family,” J’zargo told Alexa, managing to sound genuine.  “If he had known he would not have brought it up.”

“I think it is safe to say that if any of us fit in with our countries of origin we would not be here,” Alexa smiled.

“Still, this one finds the apples an interesting idea,” J’zargo purred.  “A way to test ourselves against each other, perhaps?”

“You’re starting at a disadvantage, my friend,” Alexa said, gesturing to the Expert robes of Alteration she already wore.

“Khajiit does not think so, unless you intend to begin spending more time at the College?”

“Competing across such a broad playing field would please you?” Alexa asked, surprised.

“It is better than having no competition at all,” J’zargo replied.

Alexa glanced at the other two students.  There was an excited glint in Onmund eyes and Brelyna was chewing her bottom lip. “Alright, J’zargo, it seems we’re all in,” she laughed.


Not particularly interested in getting back to transcribing her journals, Alexa headed to the Arcanaeum, her second book for Urag’s collection under one arm.  In exchange he handed her a copy of his translation of Shalidor’s manuscript and a note on the location of another rare book. 

On her way back through the Arcanaeum she passed by Drevis Neloren who was seated by himself at a table.

“May I take a seat?” she asked, indicating the other chair at the table.

“You...  You can see me?” the Dunmer gasped.

“Should I not be able to?” Alexa asked, sitting down anyway.

“Confound it all,” Drevis complained.  “I was quite sure I was invisible, or at least transparent.”

“Perhaps you were and the effect has worn off?” she suggested.

“Maybe,” he admitted. “Either way the spell requires more work.”

Alexa considered that for a second.  There was no way an illusionist of Drevis’ skill couldn’t cast a standard invisibility spell.  “What kind of invisibility spell are you working on?” she asked.

“It occurred to me, a while ago, that it is inconvenient, when one is invisible, to not be able to see one’s self.  I am trying to rectify that.”

“Ah.”

“Was there something you needed?” he asked.

“Two things, actually,” she admitted.

Drevis arched an eyebrow at that.

“I was hoping you might have time tomorrow to evaluate my skill level in Illusion.”

“Of course!” he beamed. “It would be my pleasure to assist in your study of Illusion.  Come by my room after dinner and I’ll give you the written exam to work on tonight and we can meet, in the Hall of the Elements, for the practical at 10AM tomorrow morning.  What’s the second thing?”

“Brelyna, and House Telvanni,” Alexa said, calmly.  “That’s not a real problem, is it?”

“Ah,” he nibbled on the tip of his thumb for a moment.  “No.  I suppose not.  She… seems like a relatively unassuming person more interested in learning than in rank…”  He glanced sideways at Alexa.  “Certainly nothing for another student to worry about, or bring to the attention of the Master Wizard.”

“Good,” Alexa smiled sweetly at him.  “I didn’t want to assume.  Anyway, now that is out of the way, is there anything I can do for you?” she asked.


The written part of the Illusion skill test only took Alexa about an hour.  Reading the translation of Shalidor manuscript, however, was far more interesting, and time consuming.  It was on Destruction magic – the school of magic she was weakest with.  Reading Shalidor’s thoughts on the subject did give her some insight as to what she’d been doing wrong all this time.  With a bit of practice Alexa was fairly certain she could now handle all the Apprentice level spells – including the lightning related ones. There were also some odd implications for ways in which the school of Destruction might overlap with other schools.  She would have to give it some real thought.

Alexa was enthralled enough by her reading that she was actually startled when a shadow, cast by someone coming between her and the light from the mystic focal point, fell across her desk. She looked up to find J’zargo standing, a little awkwardly, in her doorway.

“Khajiit thought, maybe, you might enjoy some of his less magical writings more than you did his scrolls?” J’zargo offered, stepping into Alexa’s room.

“You write?” she asked, putting aside the manuscript translation.

“J’zargo likes to imagine the people he meets in… different scenarios,” J’zargo admitted.  “He has noticed that you seem – good – with people and wonders what you might think of his efforts?  Perhaps you may have some notes on characterization?” he placed a journal on the desk beside her.  “When time allows, of course.*”


Ancano was, frankly, a little surprised, when he returned to the College, to find the Breton student in residence.  He’d assumed her month long absence from College grounds had been due to injury or death.

He was on hand, the next morning, to watch the Master Illusionist, Drevis Neloren, run a technical assessment of her skills.  She’d already mastered quiet casting, indicating an adept proficiency level but, Drevis felt, she was overcoming the magicka cost of an Invisibility spell, not through fineness, but by simply having a large enough magicka pool to brute force it.  Ancano, privately, concurred. 

Later that night Ancano managed to catch most of the conversation between the new students, while they were toasting their friend’s new status as an “Adept Illusionist”.

“J’zargo wonders why you bother,” the Khajiit sniffed.

“I’m tired of being attacked by bears,” the Breton girl told him.

“If you knew Destruction magic, you could just kill them,” Onmund reminded her.

“I see no reason to feed trolls,” the Breton student responded.  “Or leave a trail of animal corpses for one to follow me.”

It was a very reasonable, and logical, response to the problem, Ancano felt.  Still, an Expert proficiency with Alteration, combined with an Adept proficiency with Illusion, and, it would seem, a significant magicka reserve, was uncommon even in Altmer of her age.  But, in his opinion, neither were particularly dangerous unless paired with ingenuity and, as bright as she appeared to be, “clever” or “tricky” wasn’t something her saw in her.  In fact everything he knew about her, thus far, seemed to fit snugly into the needs of a field researcher: Alteration to protect herself and Illusion to diffuse situations without leading to new dangers or destroying the thing she was trying to study.  And yet… something told him she didn’t fit. 

Maybe if he could find out about that sword she’d handed to the librarian…  There had to be a vault, or something, where the Orc had stashed it. Tomorrow he would return to the Midden and begin looking in earnest.

Chapter Text

“Ten on the big one,” the Rose dremora offered causally, as he opened a bottle of mead with his teeth.

“I don’t know,” Alexa demurred, watching Marcurio chain-lightning the bear, “the little one’s scrappy.”

The dremora snorted. “It’s not even wearing armor.”

“The man or the bear?” Alexa asked.  “Oh look, some frostbite spiders have joined the party!” 

The dremora frowned at that. “Never have figured out why those things need so many legs.”

They were quiet for a moment as Marcurio finally bested the bear, with some help from the confused spiders, and then turned his attention to the spiders.

“I’ve never seen anyone draw so much attention from angry wildlife,” Alexa commented thoughtfully.  “Fifteen says if he ends up in the water he’ll find a slaughterfish waiting for him.”

“Inevitable, no bet,” the dremora snickered.

The fight only lasted about another minute.  The spiders weren’t nearly as troublesome as the bear had been.

“Why didn’t you help me?” Marcurio demanded, as he stumbled up to them.

“I told you not to wear that new cologne Brynjolf was selling,” Alexa responded reasonably.

“He said it would enhance my masculine side…” Marcurio complained.[1]

“And killing things is, undoubtedly, very masculine,” Alexa replied reasonably as the dremora just offered Marcurio what was left of his bottle of mead.  Marcurio grudgingly accepted it.

Alexa pulled out her map and looked around her.  From her days exploring dwarven ruins for the Synod her map of the area south of Riften was pretty detailed.  She figured that, given the way things worked around here, there were probably more word walls in the area than the one the Grey Beards had marked.

“These are cruel and unusual working conditions,” Marcurio announced, shaking the now empty bottle at Alexa.

“Cruel I will agree, but hardly unusual in Skyrim I’m afraid.  Still, I promised you a cut of any loot, as per our usual agreement.”

“I thought we were going to Dwemer ruins not ancient Nord tombs!”

“Yes, yes, my favorite ‘expert’ in Nord history.  The ancient Nords were barbaric… blah blah blah.  Mostly, my friend, I just need you to throw lightning bolts at things.”

“I suppose it’s good to have a purpose in life,” he groaned dramatically.

“Yep.  Our dremora friend here beats the snot out of things with his flaming sword.  You lightning bolt anything too far away, and I mark or defuse all the traps.  Oh, also, I have god-bow.”

“God-bow?” Marc asked a little worriedly.

“Auriel’s bow.  I picked it up a while back.  Works wonders on draugr.”

“You expect me to believe that you – that that – is Auriel’s bow?”

The dremora snickered again. 

“And why wouldn’t my father give me his bow?” Alexa asked a little peevishly.  “It’s compensation for whatever shit job he has planed for me.”

“We’re doomed,” Marc muttered.

“You didn’t have to come along you know.”

“What, and let Brynjolf watch your back instead?  I’m not that much of a sadist.”

Alexa raised an eyebrow at that.  

“Oh please, it’s not like the whole world doesn’t know you’ve ditched his sorry ass.”

“That was years ago.  And I’m married now.  It’s usually expected that you ditch you exes when you get married,” Alexa pointed out.

“Just not in your case,” smirked the dremora.

“What does that mean?” Marc asked, arching an eyebrow at her.

“Nothing at all,” she replied glaring at the valkynz.

He just grinned at her in return.

“Oh look,” Alexa announced. “Stairs!”


“Alright then, what’s my compensation for helping… do whatever?” Marcurio demanded, breathing heavily, as the dragon burned a few feet away.

“Uhhh… how about the next really cool staff we pick up?” Alexa asked, going through the pile of loot the dragon had, somehow, already managed to acquire.

“Meaning I have to stick around until we find a cool staff…” Marcurio grumbled.

“Well I see a rather large ruin on the other side of the valley.  We could head there next.”

“You want to hit two of these things in one day?”

“This one hardly counts,” Alexa replied dismissively.  “There weren’t even any draugr.  Just a dragon sitting on a wall on the side of a hill.”

“And what makes you think another of these stupid walls is in the ruin over there?” Marcurio demanded.

“I can see it,” she said, pointing.

Marcurio turned to look. “Fair enough,” he finally acknowledged sulkily.  “Just don’t walk into any spike filled pits or filthy skeever dens.”

“I will attempt to warn you before I choose to do either of those things,” she told him solemnly.


“Hey, what did your dremora mean about you not ditching your exes?” Marcurio asked, finally breaking the sulking silence he’d maintained across the valley and up the trail to Forelhost.

“I have no idea,” she lied. “What makes you think he knows anything about my marriage?”

“You two seem… unusually friendly for a summoner and a summon.”

“Meaning my summon doesn’t hate me?”

“That and I’ve never seen a staff that summons dremora before.  Or a staff that looks like a rose.”

“Daedric artifact,” she replied dismissively.  “Ah, I see, you go up the inside of the tower to get the bridge.”


“You buy any of that?” Marcurio asked as the ancient fortress’ remarkably intact door closed behind them.

“The stuff about the dragon cult holding out here?” Alexa asked.  “Yeah.  Sure. The stuff about General Tullius sending a single Altmer to pick up a dragon priest mask?  No.  Ancient magic isn’t really the Legion’s style.  No, I’m willing to bet he’s either Thalmor or a free lancer.”

“Or some horrible combination,” Marcurio muttered.

“Or that.  Watch yourself, fire traps ahead.”


“Ghosts,” Marcurio muttered sometime later.  “That’s a new one.  At least the Dwemer didn’t leave ghosts.”

“Hey Marc,” Alexa called to him as she lifted a dragon priest dagger from a glowing blue pile of ghostly remains.  “How do ghosts manage to carry weapons and wear armor?”[2]

“In a well regulated society they wouldn’t,” he told her.  “Of course, in a well regulated society the dead stay dead.”

“Well I don’t think anyone would accuse Skyrim of being well regulated,” she laughed.


“And look at this!” Alexa grinned a few hours, and one dead dragon priest, later.  “A supper fancy staff!”

Marcurio glared at her over a still burning wall of flame and put his staff of ice atronach away. “What’s the mask do?”

Alexa eyed it carefully. “Improves stamina, heavy armor, and two handed weapons.”[3]

“Doesn’t seem very elfy to me,” Marcurio commented.

“Not really, no.  They may not know what the individual masks do, just that they were, supposedly, enchanted by dragons.”

“I thought you said the mer didn’t believe in dragons.”

“They don’t believe in Alduin,” she corrected.  “Kind of hard not to believe in dragons when Tiber Septim laid waste to your navy with one relatively recently by their standards.”

“A valid point, I suppose,” Marcurio acknowledged.  “Shall we go find that talking wall of yours and then deal with the Altmer after we tell him you’re keeping the mask?”


“Huh,” Alexa muttered reading a note in slight surprise.  “This guy was working with the dead guy I found in Labyrinthian.  Only that guy I found more than two years ago and he was nothing more than a skeleton.  I wonder if that shrine is more complicated than it seems... and involves time.”

“You know you’re not making any sense, right?” Marcurio informed her.

“There’s a shrine in the ruins of Labyrinthian,” she explained.  “When you’re there you can use this wooden mask to travel to a place, or maybe a time, where, or when, the shrine is, or was, whole.  Items left in the other place/time are still there when you return.”

“Meaning that the time you are sent to is progressing,” Marcurio summarized.  “Indicating that it is a place, and not a time.”

“Yes, but there doesn’t seem to be a day/night cycle.  I spent several hours there once to test the theory and the sun never moved. Actually, suns plural.  There appear to be four of them… or at least four sun-like points of light, one directly centered in each of the four skylights.”

“Weird…” Marcurio admitted.

“Yeah, I was pretty sure it was a demi-plane and not a time anomaly but… I suppose it could be both?”

“Both?”

“I don’t know.  The skeleton is confusing.  That level of decomposition should have taken at least a decade.  Maybe the demi-plane’s separation from this plane had a time limit that has – at this point in time – run out.  If the guy died in the demi-plane[4] and his corpse was deposited back in the real time-line whenever it was the demi-plane ceased to exist that might explain level of decomposition,” Alexa added. “Or it could be that interaction with the resonance of the portal space somehow rapidly aged the man’s corps…”

“So the mask not only transports you to the demi-plane but might also send you back in time to get there?” Marc said, thinking out loud.  “But if this body was deposited where it is now, at a when unrelated to when it lived, isn’t there a chance he’s still alive now?” Marcurio asked.

“If that’s true then he’ll still have his version of the wooden mask and all the stuff I stashed there is up for grabs,” Alexa whispered, horrified.

“You’ve been stashing stuff in a magical space you didn’t understand?”[5] Marcurio demanded incredulously.

“Yeah…  Mostly things I didn’t think it was safe to have hanging around.  Like pieces of Mehrun’s Razor,” Alexa admitted a little sheepishly. 

“Lexi!” Marcurio exclaimed sounding appalled.

“I told you, I thought it was a demi-plane!” she responded.  “…I still think it’s a demi-plane.”

“Okay,” Marcurio relented slightly.  “But we are going to Labyrinthian like, now, I take it?”

Chapter Text

There was a light dusting of snow – the year’s first – on the ground when they reached Labyrinthian. Marcurio had immediately taken shelter in a funny little stone cupola-like building just inside the main gate. Alexa, meanwhile, had gone off to make sure no new trolls had moved in since the last time she had visited and Marcurio had set about clearing debris off the floor and starting a fire.  It wasn’t long before Alexa was back, announcing that she’d decided she wanted to take a look at Shalidor’s maze and that he could stay where he was, in relative warmth and safety.

“What about the person we’re supposed to be waiting for?” Marcurio asked, gently trying to remind the dragonborn that they’d come to this particular ruin for a specific purpose.

“If the courier made good time I’d expect him to arrive in the next hour or so as he’s just coming form Morthal.  Oh, one thing.  His sense of humor can be a little inappropriate,” she warned.  “Just don’t take anything offensive he says too seriously.”

“I hope you’re right,” Marcurio muttered as Alexa disappeared again. “I get bored very easily.


Marcurio heard the muttered curses long before he saw the Altmer stumble into view.

“You traveling with thane Alexa?” the elf asked, from just outside the door to Marcurio’s now pleasantly warm hideout.

“I am,” Marcurio nodded and indicated the other man should come in.

“Well thank the gods for that,” he announced dramatically as he flopped onto the sabre cat skin on ground across the small cook-fire from Marcurio. 

“Earmiel,” he introduced himself.  “Consulting mage in Morthal.”

“Marcurio, mercenary out of Riften,” Marc replied.

“You’re not sleeping with her, are you?” the mer asked.

“With Lexi?” Marcurio blinked.  Why did people keep asking that?  “No, thank the eight.  I mean, she was enough of a handful even before learning she’s dragonborn.”

“Alexa’s really the dragonborn?” Earmiel asked slowly.

“Oh… I, uh, guess you hadn’t heard that yet.  But, yes. Crazy ability to absorb dragon souls confirmed!  Also, she’s married now and has taken to dying her hair purple.  That’s new too since the last time we went exploring together.”

Earmiel gave him a considering look.  “Married to whom?”

Marcurio shrugged. “Don’t know.  The only things I do know are that she doesn’t think I’ve ever met him and her dremora summon doesn’t seem to think the relationship is exclusive.”

“Not that sourpuss from the Companions then.  That’s something at least.  Do humans usually allow their summons to have opinions on their love lives?”

“No.  Not that I’ve ever met a summon that would voluntarily talk to me either.  I just figured that was another oddity about being dragonborn.”

“So where is she?”

“She said something about taking a look at Shalidor’s maze.  Apparently with all the times she’s been through here she hadn’t bothered but now was the moment!”

“Typical,” Earmiel sighed.


“Hey guys,” Alexa laughed, as she and Meeko slid into the little building with them a scant hour after leaving to check out the maze.  “Looks like I’m an Archmage now!”  She held out a circlet for them to see.

“Is that a Diadem of the Savant?” Earmile asked, clearly stunned.

“I think so,” she replied, looking it over carefully.

Earmiel reached across the fire and cuffed her across the top of her head.  “Do you even know what you’ve done?” he demanded.

“Nothing all that difficult,” she muttered, rubbing the top of her head.  “I’m surprised Shalidor thought all that was necessary to be an Archmage was the ability to use a few staffs.”

“No,” Earmiel told her firmly.  “The magic of the labyrinth, not the difficulty of the trials, decides if you are worthy.[1]  The unworthy are simply returned to the entrance or stranded somewhere within the labyrinth without even undergoing the final trial.”

“Are we really surprised that a magic maze would find the dragonborn worthy?” Marcurio asked him sourly.

“But there hasn’t been a reported success in centuries!” Earmiel responded.  “If you’re really the dragonborn you need to keep a low profile, Lexi!”

“You call her Lexi too?” Marcurio asked in surprise.

“Yeah, okay, worry wart,” Alexa grumbled.  “You want to go see this thing?”

“Yes,” Earmiel answered emphatically.  “I would very much like to make it back to my own house before dark.”

“You coming Marc?” Alexa asked.

“No thank you.  I think Meeko and I will stay away from possible time altering weirdness.”


“Alright, how does this work?” Earmiel asked, looking at the crumbling ruin around him.

“I’m not entirely sure it will.  I’ve never tried taking a living thing with me before,” Alexa admitted.  “Hold my hand and we’ll see.”  She grabbed his hand, pulled the wooden mask down over her face, and…

It was suddenly a warm summer afternoon and the shrine around them was no longer a ruin.  Each of the skylights in the domed roof neatly framed a sun at its center.  That was certainly… unusual.  It also indicated – as Alexa had suggested – that this place was either an incredibly complicated time anomaly or a pocket-plane.  The shrine was also full of strange odds and ends neatly placed on the shelves.

“What are all these things?” he asked, looking around him.

“Trophies from my adventures, and a few things I didn’t know how else to lose in a way that wouldn’t turn them loose on the unsuspecting,” Alexa replied easily.

“Like what?”

“The book on the lectern. It’s the alchemical text from a cult of Vermina.  The things in the chest by the bookcase are artifacts from the Mythic Dawn, including robes and the sheath of Mehrunes’ Razor.[2]  I donated all four volumes of Camoran’s commentaries to the College of Winterhold’s collection when I got there.

“And this?” he asked lifting a knife which looked like an ebony dagger but was clearly made of something… organic.

“Careful with that!  That’s Nettlebane.  It was being used by hagravens to sacrifice spriggans when I acquired it.  It is the one weapon that can harm the Eldergleam tree and, I think, it’s the one weapon that might be able to actually kill the Hist – not just the trees it resides in.”

Earmiel put it down carefully before turning to stare at her.  A choice of expression made somewhat less effective by the fact she was still wearing the mask.

“Look, where else would you want me to put something like that?” she asked, in an annoyingly reasonable tone.  “If it were possible to destroy it would have been long ago.  And I certainly can’t keep it at the College.  I’ve already caught the Thalmor ‘advisor’ there going through my things.  Giving him access to something that could utterly destroy Argonia doesn’t seem like the best of ideas.”

“Alright, I get it, you’ve been using this place for your personal dragon hoard for a while now.”

“About two years, give or take,” she nodded.

“Take us back,” Earmiel sighed.

“One thing first,” she said, pulling Rahgot’s mask out of her bag.  “I think this goes here,” she slipped it on one of the busts.  It fit.

Earmiel frowned at that. “Why?”

“The ninth mask, Konahrik, is stored in the dragon skull.  I think it was meant as a way to make sure that only the person all eight dragon priests agreed on could attain the last mask.”

“Ah.  You trying to collect them all?”

“No.  Just not interested in carrying them around with me. They’re associated with some really terrible things I’m trying to avoid remembering right now.”

“What?” Earmiel asked, confused.

Alexa removed the wooden mask and they were back in the cold of early Skryim winter.  “When I kill a dragon I absorb their memories,” she explained, letting go of his hand.  “The Dragon Cult is something best forgotten.”

Earmiel winced in sympathy. “So you say that skeleton over there was a skeleton when you found it here two years ago?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“And yet you met a guy just a few days ago working in conjunction with this one, who didn’t know he was dead yet?”

“I think it rather unlikely the second man had been trying to get the dragon mask in question for more than two years.”

“Yes, most people would have given up in that time.  I will need to think about this.  Lets head back to Morthal.  I have a nice, warm, house there.”


“Do you have a theory on the dead man?” Earmiel asked, as he mixed up a hot toddy[3] for each of them. Marcurio and Meeko had elected to go to the inn rather than have drinks with Earmiel.

“I do,” Alexa answered. “But I don’t want to influence you’re thinking on the subject.”

“Alright,” Earmiel smiled. “So what was the maze like?” he asked, handing her a mug and settling himself into the other chair in the room.

“Labyrinths technically – two of them connected by an underground space – not a maze,[4]” she informed him.  “Pretty boring really.  A lot of walking broken only by the occasional gate that had to be opened with a spell.  There was a word wall though.  So I guess that’s something.”

“Word wall?”

“Oh, right.  So you know those walls I told you about that chant in the dragon tongue?”

“Yes.”

“Turns out the Greybeards think the best way for me to learn to speak dragon is to go read them all.”

“That… sounds annoying.”

“It is.”

“What did it say?”

“Noble Nord, remember these words of the / hoar father: Fearnot the specter of / death, for he is the herald of glory / and your guide to great Sovngarde,” she recited morosely.

“Well, it that’s the secret of life I’d like a refund,” Earmiel groaned.

“Yeah… if the Glamoril was in the labyrinth somewhere, like everyone seems to think, I certainly didn’t see it.  Though it could be I’m just not worthy.”

“Sweetling, if a daughter of Auriel, given his own weapon, is not worthy of the secret of life, I doubt anyone else ever will be.”

Alexa burst out laughing and then batted her eyelashes at Earmiel.  “Dear sir, you flatter so.”

“Oh please, we both know you can do better than that,” he smirked. 

“When it proves either necessary or appropriate,” she acknowledged.

“So, I hear you’re married,” Earmiel offered in an offhand manner.

“Wow, that was a terrible segue,” Alexa laughed, managing not to choke on her mead-tea.  “Would you like to try again?”

“No.  But I wouldn’t mind an answer.”

“I am,” she answered simply.

“I see you’re still adventuring…” he prodded.

“Never stopped,” she replied.

Earmiel groaned dramatically.  “Details woman!  Give me details!  I mean the least you could have done was invite me to the wedding so that I would be on hand to console all those poor disappointed men you undoubtedly left behind.  But noooo, you were only thinking of yourself on your big day… I forgive you, of course.  But I must have details!”

“And if I told you I have literally no memory of the event?” Alexa asked in a tiny voice.

What?”

“Well… I accepted a bet that I couldn’t outdrink some guy at an inn.  He was already pretty far-gone so it didn’t seem like a big deal.  Turns out he was actually an avatar of Prince Sanguine and I spent the next ten days running around Skyrim blackout drunk. When I woke up, I was married.  My new husband and I seem to get along well enough so we figured we’d give it a try.”

“You’re joking.”

“I’m not.  I’ve even added the Sanguine Rose to my collection of things not to leave home without.”

Earmiel was quiet for a moment.  “This wasn’t just before Helgan, was it?” he asked, eyes narrowed slightly in concentration.

“It was.  Why do you ask?”

Earmiel was quiet for a moment as he clearly considered something.  “No reason,” he answered finally.  “You been to Markarth lately?”

“A couple weeks ago, why?”

“Just wondered if you’d told Dolly yet.”

“That I’m married?  Is there some reason I should?”

“I just… kind of hoped you and Dolly...”

The little Breton gave a delicate snort.  “As if that superiorly bred mer would have anything to do with a mutt like me.”

“Do you think Dolly really cares about that?” Earmiel asked, startled.

“Yes,” she answered simply. “He cares deeply about serving his people and he can’t do that with an inappropriate romantic attachment.”

“You are a beautiful and intelligent woman, a gifted mage, and an exceedingly proficient political operator,” Earmiel told her.  “What part of that makes you ‘inappropriate’?”

“You mean aside from not being a pureblood Altmer?” she asked.  “I am the dragonborn.”

“Arguably that makes you more directly descended from an aedra than any Altmer, not less,” Earmiel pointed out.  A frown creased his brow as he watched her fiddled nervously with with her mug rather than answer.  “Lexi, my dear,” he began, leaning forward to cup his hands around hers, effectively pinning her hands between his and the mug she was holding, ending her ability to fidget.  “What’s bothering you?”

She swallowed, and looked up, meeting his eyes.  “Some would also say that it makes me the rightful Emperor of Cyrodiil, perhaps even of all Tamriel,” Alexa told him softly, finally admitting aloud to the one thing she’d been avoiding even thinking about since she’d killed her first dragon.  “I don’t think the Thalmor are likely to approve of that.”

That was something Earmiel hadn’t considered, and probably true. He gave a resigned sigh and let go of her hands.  “Alexa, you need a plan.  The Thalmor are not to be taken lightly and I’d rather not see the day that Ondolemar is forced to sign the order for your execution.”

She burst out laughing. “When a Thalmor agent signs the order for the dragonborn’s head, which they absolutely will,” she told him, “it won’t be someone as lowly as the Second Emissary to Skyrim.  And it won’t be handled by a bunch of Justiciars.”

“That,” he allowed, grudgingly, “is an excellent point.  But it doesn’t change the fact you need a plan.” 

“Any suggestions?” she asked, clearly not really expecting a response.

Thankfully he’d had more than a week to think about it – since his conversation with Dolly – and so had one ready.  “Have you considered getting Dolly to upgrade your status to ‘asset’?”

She blinked in surprise. “What good with that do?”

“He’d be your ‘handler’, meaning he’d be the one officially determining the level of threat you pose to the Dominion and any complaints about you, from other Thalmor, would have to go through him.”

“I’m not a spy, Earmiel,” she told him.

“By my last count you’ve got four Jarls, the Companions, the inner circle of the Thieves Guild, and the Commander of Skyrim’s Justiciars wrapped around your little finger. You’ve also got the ear of more than one daedric prince.  If you can’t turn that into the occasional chatty newsletter about absolutely nothing then I have significantly overestimated you.”

There was quiet between them for a while as Alexa thought about that.  “Marc tell you I’m the dragonborn?” she asked finally.

“He may have mentioned it,” Earmiel admitted with a smile.

“Men are such gossips around you,” she noted a little absently.  “Though I suppose that does make you an ideal spy.  Kudos, by the way, to whomever sent you.  Or did the Commander request you specifically?”

“I believe I told you I wasn’t in that business.[5]

“You did.  Doesn’t mean I believed you,” she answered.

“Then surely you know that, if you’re right, I would never actually admit to knowing what you’re talking about,” he countered.

She looked him over, searchingly, her face serine.  “Just because someone else sent you here doesn’t mean I wont use you, you know that, right?”

He smirked slightly. “A Breton with only a quarter of a century under her belt thinks she can use a man she claims is a trained Altmer spy? That should be interesting to watch.”

“Lucky for you then that you’ve got front row seats at that particular show.”

“So what does the prologue of this production look like?” he asked, leaning in excitedly.

“Prologue?” she asked archly.  “What makes you think we’re not already well into the first act?”

He laughed and topped off her drink with some more mead.  “Hey, I still haven’t had a chance to study one of those chanting walls yet.  You wouldn’t be visiting another one, around here, would you?”

She pulled out her map. “I haven’t visited High Gate Ruins yet,” she said considering the area around Morthal.  “It’s from about the right time period to have a wall in it.  And I’m sure Marc wouldn’t mind a day of resting at the inn here while we go check it out.”

Chapter Text

Realizing that Earmiel was right about needing a plan for how to protect herself from the Thalmor (now that running and hiding were no longer options) had sent Alexa into a slow-simmer panic, which only served to make her fixate on all the things she didn’t yet know, or understand, about her current circumstance.  By the time she and Marcurio had retrieved the latest book for Urag, from Lost Echo Cave, Alexa had concluded that if Arngeir wasn’t going to tell her what she needed to know she could always try going over his head. So she dismissed Marcurio at Dragon Bridge, returned to Labyrinthian to retrieve something from the Dragon Shrine, and then headed for Darkfall Cave.


“Welcome back, dragonborn,” Gelebor greeted her as Alexa stepped through the wayshrine. “Congratulations on being Storm-Crowned.”

“You knew,” she not quite asked.

“I suspected,” he told her solemnly.  “Once you took the bow, I was certain.”

She was silent for a while, looking out over the vale.  “Do you think He’ll talk to me?” she enquired finally.

“He may, though the gods are more often silent than the daedra.  Leave your arrows here,” he added.  “I will bless them while you attempt to speak with your father.”

When, an hour later, she had not returned, Gelebor went looking for her.  He found her sitting on the ground in front of the shrine of Auri-El in the main hall.  Clearly she’d already cried herself out forcing him to wonder, briefly, if anyone else knew the dragonborn was feeling overwhelmed.  He settled beside her, wordlessly took one of her hands in his, and considered the new, very large, gem in front of the shrine.  It was quite an offering.  Especially if it was what he thought it might be.[1]

“World-Eater and Dragonborn return together,” she whispered, her voice still a little congested from crying. “Why?”

“The dragonborn have always shifted the balance away from premature completion,” he told her gently. “Why, I do not know.  Perhaps Auri-El likes this kalpa?”

Alexa’s eyes narrowed slightly as she turned to look at him.  “If the divines were so angered by being tricked into assisting with Creation that they slew one of their own, why would Akatosh seek to preserve any kalpa, much less this one?”

Gelebor was silent for a while.  “I too have wondered this,” he admitted.  “Once, long even before I was born, a heretical group claimed that the divines were not truly as we had come to understand them.  They maintained that the Aedra are nothing more than metaphors for the forces of creation manifested by our belief in their individuality.[2] They believed that Lorkhan, Auri-El,[3] and Alduin were three aspects of a single force devoted to the cyclical creation, preservation, and destruction of the world. ** 

“They claimed that Change and Time are synonymous and that when one worshiped Auri-El one was worshiping the manifestation of a balance between Creation and Destruction that leads to progressive, rather than chaotic, change and that we perceive that progressive change as linear time.  Thus Auri-El is the force that rules over the space between Creation and Destruction – when the forces are in balance - and that, they claimed, was why He is king over our world.”

“Do you believe they were right?” she asked him, her eyes suddenly intent on his face.

“Too many times I have seen Auri-El intervene to save Creation to believe He does not wish for its continued existence,” he told her without answering her question.

“Preserver,” she whispered, raising a hand glowing with the sunny golden light of a healing spell. “I see.”

He watched the purple and silver petals blow across her skin and smiled softly.  “It seems, Dragonborn, that you are well suited to your task,” he squeezed the hand he was still holding once, reassuringly, before letting go.  “Your Altmer friend was interesting,” Gelebor remarked, changing the subject.  “His understanding of the world...”

“Has been corrupted,” Alexa finished for him.

“Yes,” Gelebor agreed simply.

“The Altmer – once the best of us – are now, like the Dwemer and the Aylids before them, corrupted – fallen,” Alexa sighed.  “I do not know what has made them so but, I fear, they make take the whole world with them. Unless the World-Eater is hungrier than he currently appears.”

“Perhaps,” Gelebor allowed. “Or, perhaps, the gods will find a way around that trouble as well.  The world is not as fragile as you seem to think, Dragonborn.”

“And this is why I come here,” she smiled, tiredly.  “Because I can rely upon you to tell me it will be alright.”

“Is that what I have said?” the ancient mer asked in slight surprise.  “In truth, my friend, it has been a very long time since anything has been ‘alright’ and yet, the world is still here, is it not?”

“And ‘poof’, there goes my sense of relief,” Alexa grumbled.

“May I ask why you sent him here?” Gelebor enquired, returning to the topic of Ondolemar.

“I admit I hoped speaking with you might shake his faith in the things he takes as givens.”

Gelebor smiled at that. “It is my first time being caught up in the machinations of a dragonborn,” he told her.

“Should I apologize?” Alexa asked.

“No.  It is interesting, and not much in my life these days is interesting.”

“Glad I could help,” Alexa smiled.

“He worries for you, you know.”

I worry for me,” Alexa responded wearily.

“There is a great deal to be worried about,” Gelebor agreed.  “Still, it is good to have friends, Dragonborn.  Many in similar positions to your own soon find themselves surrounded only by those who seek to use them.”

“And find themselves without any friends when the need arises,” Alexa added.  “Not your most subtle moment, Gelebor.”

He shrugged slightly. “What did you seek when you came here, this time, Alexa?” he asked, changing the subject again.

“The Greybeards tell me that every dragonborn has a destiny but will not tell me mine,” she answered. “I thought Auri-El might tell me what his purpose was in creating me.  But, as it turns out, I think you – in conjunction with that stupid dragonborn prophecy – have answered my question.”

“You are to slay the black dragon Alduin, first born of Akatosh, and prevent the untimely end of this kalpa,” he confirmed for her.

“Strange that Akatosh would seek the death of an aspect of himself…” she murmured.

“Perhaps he seeks only the negation of this particular manifestation of Time’s destructive aspect?” Gelebor suggested.  “I very much doubt that, should you win, things will cease to die or that dropping a jug will cease to break it.  Alduin’s purview is probably quite limited.”

“I guess… but why wouldn’t the Greybeards tell me this?  Why keep it a secret?”

Gelebor contemplated that for a moment. “Perhaps they fear that the dragonborn’s legendary lust for killing dragons might lead you to slay their master?” he suggested.

“I feel no compulsion to kill dragons,” she disagreed.  “All those that I’ve killed, thus far, I’ve killed in self-defense.  And, while the knowledge I gain by absorbing them is fascinating, their memories are a weight upon my soul I’d rather not shoulder.”

Gelebor gave her a concerned look.

“They remember the horrors of the dragon cult,” she explained.  “And now so do I.”

He nodded.  “I remember it as well.  I hope, for your sake, my friend that – like our own memories – the dragon memories will dull with time.”

“I hope so as well,” she, murmured, glancing in the direction of the shrine.

“Auri-El would not have gifted you his bow if he did not care,” Gelebor told her, attempting to comfort the expression of hurt and sorrow he saw on her face.

“About me or about the world?” she asked softly.

Gelebor had no answer for that.

Chapter Text

The week had been unutterably dull.  Ancano was so bored by the inadequacies of the third rate students, and the petty power squabbles of the second rate faculty, that it was taking all his remaining sanity not to tear his own eyes out.  When things had gotten this bad previously he’d explored the Midden.  But Mirabelle was keeping far too close an eye on him now for that.  In fact, he’d be willing to bet, that she was seated in the stairwell, on the next floor up, listening to him fumble about his room.  Well, thankfully, he’d taken the opportunity, afforded by yet another lecture about the current rash of pranks in the dorms, to ‘borrow’ another of the Breton Student’s journals.

He filled a goblet with wine and, just for show, screeched his chair noisily across the floor a couple of times before settling down.  The Master Wizard might be keeping a close eye on him, but it wasn’t close enough to keep him from spying on the work of the only interesting student her college had to offer.  And he was doing it right under her nose.

D2p1 D2p2 D2p3 D2p4 D2p5 D2p6 

Ancano noted down “Sharpslope Cave” though he’d never heard of it.  He assumed he’d already seen the results of her discovery of a Falmer “library” though he made note to read the translations in the Arcanaeum.

D2p7 D2p8 D2p9 D2p10 D2p11 D2p12  D2p13 D2p14

Ancano leaned back in his chair.  This must be what Arniel Gane was working on!  Enchanted weapons that never ran out of power!  No wonder the old fool had been so unwilling to talk to Ancano.  And to think Ancano had nearly convinced himself Gane was being evasive out of sheer perversity!  Well he wasn’t fooled.  And now he had something actually interesting to report back to the Dominion.  Perhaps the Thalmor could find other sources of this aetherium or even a way into Blackreach itself…  Maybe the Breton girl had already found one?

He kept reading.

D2p15 D2p16 D2p17

Baffled, Ancano flipped quickly through the rest of the journal.  Typical.  The remaining pages, it seemed, were devoted not to the very important and interesting subject of aetherium but to documenting other Falmer lairs the Breton girl had come across – Lost Echo Cave, Shimmermist, Duskglow, Darkwater Pass, the list went on.  Growing aggravated, by the Breton students apparent inability to understand what was and was not important, Ancano didn’t even bother to retain their names (though it was a little disturbing to see how many there were).  The Dominion had no interest in the Falmer.  The Snow Elves were dead and gone and what remained of them was unworthy of his time. 

Aetherium, however, was a different matter entirely.  If the Breton girl was still studying it, or could be persuaded to resume studying it again, she would be an excellent resource for him to develop.  And, once she’d found him a way into Blackreach, he could return to Alinor with the single most important contribution to the Dominion of a generation!  His next posting would be his to pick and he certainly wouldn’t be spending any more time stuck on a rocky glacier in the middle of nowhere.

Ancano smiled to himself as he tucked his notes away.  No, it wasn’t time to inform anyone of this yet.  Not until he had the girl's cooperation at least.

Chapter Text

As had happened once before,* one moment Ondolemar was alone in his room, with the door closed, and the next Alexa was standing there the door still closed behind her.

“Your ability to simply appear is a little concerning, Breton,” he told her, putting the report he was working on in a drawer.

“Did you enjoy your pilgrimage?” she asked, indicating the ceremonial ewer she had lent him with a glance.

“I did,” he replied, standing up.

“And?”

“It was everything you said it would be: beautiful, transformative, enlightening,” Ondolemar acknowledged, removing the ewer, the jewel,* and the notebook from the shelf, and handing them to her.  “Your friend Gelebor was something of a revelation.”

“He certainly is that,” she acknowledged as she put the things he handed her in her pack.  Done she left her pack against the door and went to stand by the fire, one shoulder against the wall, her arms wrapped around herself.

Ondolemar observed her, for a moment, in concern.  For the first time in the two years he’d known her Alexa seemed… fragile.  “Is there something I can do for you?” he asked, trying to keep his sudden concern out of his voice. 

Alexa nodded without looking at him.  “We are friends, right?”

“I believe so, yes,” he replied, trying to keep his face and tone expressionless.

“I think I need your help,” she told him her eyes still locked on the flame of the Dwemer gas-lamp fireplace.

“Alexa…”  He stepped forward, took her by the shoulders, and turned her to face him.  “What has happened?”

“I’m dragonborn.”

He frowned at her in confusion.  “So I’ve heard.  What of it?”

“You know?” she demanded incredulously.

“Your friend Gelebor was rather clear on the subject.”

“Of course he was,” she remarked bitterly.  “Why didn’t he tell me?”

“That I can’t help you with,” Ondolemar replied with the ghost of a smile.  “Is there some reason you appear to be upset?”

“I don’t want to be Empress of Cyrodiil,” she admitted softly.

“Who says you have to be?” he asked.

“Since the founding of the First Empire every dragonborn, acknowledged as I have been, has become Emperor of Cyrodiil.  Do you think anyone – Imperials, Thalmor, daedra– will believe me when I tell them I have no desire to be Empress?”

“Do you truly not?”

“Oh for the love of Mara!” she groaned.  “If I wanted any of that I’d be halfway to Cyrodiil by now!”

“No,” he disagreed, “you wouldn’t.  Not until you’ve done whatever it is Auriel created you to do.”

“Which I would love to do if only he would say something!” she snapped.  “But he hasn’t told me anything!  There’s been no guidance or supervision!”  She turned away from him throwing her arms up in exasperation.  “The river does not explain itself to the leaf caught in its currents.  Even if that leaf is, apparently, its daughter.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you throw a tantrum before,” Ondolemar noted dryly.

She sagged slightly. “I went to the Chantry.  I stood before His shrine and prayed for answers.  With every fiber of my being I begged Him to explain what is happening to me.  Pleaded to be told what it is He expects.  Nothing.”  She gave a tear-cracked snort of laughter.  “Me, the person who can’t walk past the shrine of a daedric prince without them trying to talk her ear off, and the only higher power I actually need to talk to...” her voice caught in the throat and she was silent.

“He didn’t give you his bow for nothing, Alexa,” Ondolemar told her softly.

“That’s what Gelebor said.”

“And who would know Auriel better than the one who has served him for more than four thousand years?”

She seemed to think about that for a moment, her eyes never leaving his face.  “Why are you not freaking out about this?” she asked.  “Dragonborn haven’t historically been good news for elves.”

“Truthfully it’s almost a relief to have an explanation as to why your life is so strange,” he told her.

She rolled her eyes at that and went back to looking at the fire.

“What can I do for you, Alexa?” Ondolemar asked again.  “Why are you here?”

“I… I think I need someone to stand between me and the Dominion,” she told the fire.  “Just long enough for me to do whatever it is that must be done, and then…” she turned back to him, “I’ll go.  I won’t trouble anyone, I won’t seek the Ruby Throne, I’ll just… disappear.”

“You’re asking for my protection?” Ondolemar whispered his voice catching in his throat.

“I know you’ve had me listed as a potential asset for some time now,” she told him.

That was not something he’d expected to hear.  Ondolemar went very still.  “Would you mind explaining how you know that?”

She looked up, meeting his eyes again.  “The night with the Wabbajack… you passed out leaving me completely unsupervised in your rooms.  Probably not the smartest thing you’ve ever done.”

“I see.”

“Don’t be like that. I haven’t used anything I learned against you or tried to blackmail you with it.  I just… wanted to know if I could trust you.”

“Is there some reason you were worried you might not be able to trust me?” he asked.

“You mean aside from the whole elven supremacy thing?”

Right.  He sighed. Well, Earmiel had suggested defining their relationship…  “And what can you offer the Dominion that would make you a worthwhile asset?” he asked her, taking an official tone.

“You’re joking, right?” she demanded incredulously.

“Answer the questions, Alexa,” he told her sternly.

“Do you want to know the things I’ve learned about dragons, like how to tell if they’re more likely to breathe fire or ice?” she asked.

“That will do,” he acknowledged.  Frankly, given Elenwen’s current obsession with the subject it was, quite possibly, the most valuable information anyone could offer him.  “And you promise me that you are no threat to the Dominion?”

“I am only a threat to things that threaten me,” she replied.  “Learning that I’m dragonborn hasn’t changed that.”

He nodded, his eyes never leaving her face.  “If I change your status to ‘asset’ there are rules to that relationship, you understand that, right?”

“It seems to me I already inform you of interesting things I come across,” she pointed out.  “What else is there?”

“I’ll want you to check in with me regularly, even if only by letter.  Important, or sensitive, things you are to bring to my attention in person.”

“Done.”

“You’ll be required to inform me of credible threats to the Dominion.”

“Dragons,” she deadpanned. “They’re a serious threat to life everywhere.  Oh, and me. But I’ll try to keep a low enough profile no one thinks to put my ass on the Ruby Throne.”

“And if I tell you to do something?” he asked.

“I’ll think about it,” she answered.

Ondolemar pressed his lips together in annoyed acceptance.  He had expected that.  “Good enough,” he sighed.  “Lastly, everything you do will reflect on me.  Please don’t do anything insanely embarrassing.”

“You do realize I don’t know enough about Altmer culture to know everything that category would include, right?” she responded a hint of her usual humor returning to her voice.

“I fear that if I bothered to make you a list you’d only find something to do that wasn’t on it,” he replied wryly.

She actually smiled at that.

“Are you sure about this?” he asked her gently.

“I’m absolutely certain I’d rather be dealing with you than that ‘advisor’ the Thalmor have at the College of Winterhold.”

“Ancano?” Ondolemar asked in surprise.

“Is that his name?  He still hasn’t introduced himself, even after I caught him going through my things.”

“He always was rather rude,” Ondolemar admitted.

“If he’s a spy he’d get further by being friendly than by telling everyone around him they’re not worthy of his time.”  Alexa’s eyes narrowed as something occurred to her.  “He’s not being punished for something, is he?”

Ondolemar smiled at that. “If he were, I certainly wouldn’t tell you.”

“Well that’s a yes. What did he do?”

“I believe I just said I wouldn’t tell you,” Ondolemar told her, walking over to his desk and pulling an official document out of a drawer.  “Here,” he said.  “Sign this. I’ll fill in the rest before sending it to the Embassy.”

She glanced over the form and then signed at the bottom.

“Alright,” Ondolemar said, putting the document away in the same drawer as the report he’d been working on.  “Now, dragonborn, tell me about dragons,” he commanded, taking his usual seat in front of the fire.

A slow smile spread across her face as she sat opposite him.  “Does the fact I’ve promised not to lie to you about them mean you’ll automatically believe anything I say?”

“Lets find out,” he replied, dryly.

“Is there some place you would like me to start?” she asked.

“Do you really absorb power from the dragons you kill?”

“Yes.  Specifically I absorb their souls,” she answered. 

“And you are unharmed by this?” he asked, suddenly concerned.  It had never before occurred to him to wonder what actual affects being dragonborn would have on her.

“It… is an odd sensation but not physically harmful,” she answered.  “I cannot yet say if the passing emotional instability it causes is in any way cumulative.  The nightmares are more than a little bothersome.  The severity of those does appear to be increasing.”

“Nightmares?”

“The end of the Mythic Era was not a pleasant period of time,” Alexa clarified.

“Ah,” he shifted slightly in his chair to face her more fully.  “And the dragons.  Where are they coming from?”

“From out of their graves,” she answered simply.

Ondolemar frowned at that. “Explain.”

“Dragons are immortal and will only cease to be if their souls are absorbed by either another dragon or a dragonborn.  If ‘slain’ by anything else they… still exist.  Their soul remains within their bones only requiring an infusion of life force to return them to full life.  I can hear them now, in the ground.  Speak to them even though they mostly refuse to converse.”*

“Who brought them back?”

“Alduin is bringing them back,” she told him softly, her eyes wide and focused on something only she could see.  “The process is ongoing.”

“How do you know?”

She blinked once, deliberately, and then met his eyes.  “I was there when Alduin raise Sahloknir outside Kyne’s Grove.  I saw how it works and also that it left Alduin, at least temporarily, too weak to fight me himself.”

“Is there a way to avoid confrontation with the dragons?” he asked.

“If you are not dragonborn, it should be possible,” she answered with a slight sideways tip of her head.  “You see, for the most part, the dragons do not seek the death of mortals they seek to establish dominance over them.  So, if they’ve already seen you, don’t argue with them, don’t stand your ground, just run. If they haven’t seen you yet, hide, low to the ground and stay still.  Like many aerial hunters movement catches their attention.  Stay still and they may miss you altogether.”

“And if confrontation is unavoidable?” Ondolemar enquired.

“Waiting for a dragon to land, in order to fight them, isn’t an option if you want to survive,” she informed him seriously.  “Dragon Shouts – their breath – are several times stronger than the equivalent spell. I’d be surprised if a competently cast Greater Ward could take more than a single hit.  But, with enough mages or archers, you could, conceivably, do enough damage, in the first few seconds of the encounter, that the dragon might choose to disengage before it gets the chance to Shout more than once or twice,” she offered dubiously.

“So it would be imperative to stay spread out,” Ondolemar observed.

Alexa nodded in agreement. “It would also be well to remember that, having been forced to retreat, a dragon is likely to become rather unreasonable.  They may choose to slake their damaged pride by proving their dominance over some less well-equipped group.  Or, possibly, by finding an ally and slaying those that shamed it in a very public fashion.”

“Meaning that if my Justiciars make one angry enough it might attack the city,” he concluded.

“Yes.”

“And how many have you killed?”

“Three,* so far,” Alexa answered. 

His eyes narrowed a little at that.  “If dragons are such an overwhelming force that you caution trained Thalmor Justiciars to avoid conflict with them, how is it possible that you have killed three?”

“I am dragonborn,” she replied, as if that single fact should explain everything.

“And by what means does that alter the situation in your favor?” Ondolemar responded pedantically.

Alexa gnawed thoughtfully on her lower lip, clearly thinking hard about something before answering.  “To put it in the crudest way imaginable,” she began, “I am to dragons as a black soul gem is to creatures with black souls.  Even as handling a black soul gem can affect a person with a black soul proximity with a dragonborn affects a dragon.”

“Meaning that the transfer of power may begin even before the dragon’s death?”* Ondolemar asked.

“Broadly speaking. Though, frankly, I don’t fully understand it yet,” she admitted.

“I see…” Ondolemar pondered that for a moment.  “What is the dragon’s purpose, now that they have returned?  What do they want?”

“To reinstitute the Dragon Cult,” Alexa answered with a slight shrug.  “Oh, that reminds me!” she gasped, perking up visibly.  “Dragon Priest masks…  The Altmer outside Forelhost, calling himself Captain Valmir, recruiting people to retrieve Rahgot’s mask, out of his draugr defended casket, ‘for use in the civil war’… I assume he was a freelancer and not one of yours?”*

It took Ondolemar a moment to unpack what she was asking.  “Not ours as far as I know,”* he sighed.  It took all his Thalmor training not to burry his head in his hands in equal parts irritation and despair.  If someone had sent a Thalmor agent to search for artifacts of power, in Skyrim, then the internal power struggles back in Alinor must be getting worse.  “But retrieving artifacts of ancient power isn’t really something Justiciars do,” he finished.

“So you wouldn’t know even if it were?” she summarized with a soft, somewhat knowing, smile.*

“What makes you think he was Thalmor?” Ondolemar enquired, dreading the answer.

She gave him a bored look. “Altmer claiming to be a captain in the Stormcloaks?  Not exactly likely.  Claiming to be a Captain in the Imperial army, slightly more likely, if he’d had a proper uniform.  He didn’t. That and I don’t get the impression General Tullius sets much store by ancient magical artifacts.”

“He was posing as both?” Ondolemar demanded incredulously, his mind actually boggling at the idea.

“He was.  From where he was camped he could see the road pretty well.*  He’d guess the allegiance of the person he saw coming and dress appropriately.”

“So you’re saying the complete lack of professionalism is what makes you think he was a member of the Thalmor?” Ondolemar enquired, archly.

“No,” she answered. “That’s what makes me think he was a freelancer.  No way to tell if the Thalmor were the ones who hired him of course.  But I’d have expected the Thalmor to be able to provide an agent with the correct Legionary uniform at least.  Though thinking the peoples of Skyrim are too stupid to notice does sound like Thalmor – or maybe just Altmer – arrogance at work…” she added her voice dyeing away at the end, leaving the statement incomplete and open for further consideration.

“That is rather troubling,” Ondolemar agreed, pushing the many implications of this information away for further consideration at a later date.  “But, as I said, even if it were a Thalmor operation if it didn’t involve the use of Justiciars I wouldn’t necessarily have been informed,” he lied.  If it really was a Thalmor operation he should have been informed, if only to prevent his Justiciars from accidently interfering with it.

“Ah, well that’s too bad,” Alexa shrugged, apparently letting it go.  “Given that the mask is rather underwhelming I was wondering what the going price was.”

“No you weren’t,” he laughed.  “And that’s a little depressing.  One tends to imagine dragon magic as impressive, not ‘underwhelming’.  What’d the mask do, out of curiosity?”

“Improves stamina, the use of heavy armor, and two handed weapons.”*

“Three things?” he noted in surprise.  “That’s unusual at least.  How many masks are there?”

She closed her eyes for a moment… “Nine in Skyrim though only eight were ever gifted to men…”* she snorted suddenly, half laughing, and opened her eyes.  “The organization commonly called the ‘Dragon Cult’ was actually not a cult in scholastic terms, but a religion much the same way the worship of the Eight Divines is a religion.”

“Meaning one religion containing the cults – by which is meant the rituals and observances belonging to the worship of a single deity* - of eight separate Aedra,” Ondolemar said, in the tone of one reciting a lecture.  “Remember to whom you are speaking, Breton.”

“As if you’d let me forget,” she teased.  “Anyway, point being, the Dragon religion, in Skyrim, handed out eight masks.  Indicating the existence of eight high priests and, therefor, eight individual cults dedicated to the worship of eight individual dragons… one for each Nord gods whose worship the dragons sought to supplant with their own.”*

“And the ninth mask?” Ondolemar asked curiously.

She closed her eyes again, searching through the memories.  “Konahrik.  Meaning ‘Warlord’ in dovahzul…”  She opened her eyes.  “Akatosh, obviously, was replaced by Alduin, though they are not, from the perspective of the here and now, the same thing…  Kyne – Kynareth – oh,” her eyes flicked as she put something together. “That’s interesting.”  She fell silent.

“Yes?” he prodded.

Alexa blinked once, returning to the world around her.  “Oh, uh… Emblem four, on the way up the seven thousand steps says,

Kyne called on Paarthurnax, who pitied Man.
Together they taught Men to use the Voice.
Then Dragon War raged, Dragon against Tongue.”

“You’re about to tell me that this Paarthurnax was the dragon cult’s replacement for Kynareth, aren’t you?” Ondolemar asked his voice weary with the inevitability of it all.

She nodded.  “His high priest was Krosis – meaning Sorrow… his mask may be lost to the world as Krosis was disgraced, and his temple destroyed, when Paarthurnax’s treachery was revealed.”

“Destroyed how?” Ondolemar asked.

“They dragons broke the earth beneath it and called forth fire?” she murmured, in a confused tone, her eyes momentarily blank and unseeing.  “Oh,” she blinked away the memories again.  “That makes sense.  It was where the hot springs flats south of Windhelm are now.  That certainly explains the ruins and the three dragon burial mounds in the area.”*

“Dragon’s can change the land?” he demanded.

“Enough of them together? Sure.  You must understand, dragon magic – even the stuff we’d classify as Destruction or Illusion magic – is more like tonal architecture or really powerful Alteration magic.  All of it, even the least of their spells, works by altering, not the caster or the target, but the world.”

“No wonder the primitive Nords thought the dragons were gods,” Ondolemar muttered.  “About how long do we have before all the dragons have been raised?”

“I don’t know,” Alexa answered.  “I know that the map of dragon burials I found indicates that, at the time of its creation, the Dragon Cult had managed to bury the remains of twenty dragons. But I also know that they were not able to bury all the dragons that died before the Dragon Cult was finally destroyed, and that several dozen dragons were slain, centuries later, by the Akaviri.”

“And how many dragon priests masks have you come across?”

“Two: Rahgot, meaning Anger, who served the dragon who’s worship replaced Mara, and Vokun, meaning shadow, who served the dragon who’s worship replaced that of Orkey…”  Alexa frowned at that, tipping her head to one side. “Huh.  Now that’s interesting.  All the individuals who became the high priests partook of their dovah’s immortality.  It wasn’t until after their dragon’s were slain that the priests had to start draining life force from their followers to maintain their immortality.  Bernadette Bandian will be interested to hear that.” 

“Who?” Ondolemar asked in slight surprise before his brain managed to process the rest of what he’d just been told.  “Wait, what?  Are you saying they literally drained life from people like vampires?”

“Bandian is a member of the College of Winerhold,” Alexa told him.  “She studies Draugr.  She’s also the person who reported, just before Helgen, that not only do the dragon priests continued to drain energy from their followers even now, but that the dragon priests were becoming ‘livelier’.  At the time everyone thought she’d just finally run mad.  And, yes, dragons drained life force.  Though, before the dragon’s death, only dragons were allowed to drain life force from cult members.  The thu’um, you see, is a focusing of one’s vital essence.  The stronger your vital essence – the more of it you have – the strong your thu’um.”

“So if you can augment your own vitality with the vitality of others your thu’um grows in strength,” Ondolemar concluded for her.

“Exactly.  Dragon’s rank themselves based entirely upon the strength of their thu’um so it became a way to reinforce their hierarchy.  The more followers you had, the more essence you could draw, the stronger your thu’um, the higher ranked you were, the more followers you could keep, and so on.”

“I suppose the good news is that the dragons will be weaker now than when they had worshipers?” he suggested.

“Ah-ha, silver lining found!” Alexa exclaimed, laughingly.

“And where do you stand in the hierarchy, Dovahkiin?” Ondolemar asked softly.

“Please don’t call me that, it’s creepy.  And I don’t know.  I’ve killed three dragons now and I have no idea where any of them would have been in the current hierarchy because one hasn’t been established yet.”

“So we should expect to see dueling dragons in our near future?” Ondolemar enquired.

“That would seem to be a logical outcome of the situation,” she replied, noncommittally.

“And is the power of your voice increased by the vital essence of the dragons you absorb?”

“Yes.”

“Meaning you now know how to Shout?”

“Yes.”

“Show me.”

She looked around her. “You don’t really want me to light your room on fire, do you?”

“So you only know destructive Shouts?” he enquired, a little imperiously, just to bait her.

“You do realize that it takes most people about a decade to learn their first Shout, right?”

“I did not know that,” he replied, with a slight smirk.  Watching Alexa be put out by being asked to demonstrate her new ability was more entertaining than it probably should have been.  “How long did it take you?”

“I don’t really count because I can gain the knowledge of how each Shout I know works from the dragons I kill.”

He arched an eyebrow. “Well then?”

Alexa rolled her eyes at him.  “Fine. FEIM!” 

Ondolemar blinked in surprise at the spectral being now sitting in the chair across from him and actually jumped, very slightly, when Alexa reached out and passed a hand right through him. 

“Happy now?” she asked, after dispelling the effect.

“Don’t show that to Earmiel,” Ondolemar advised, his tone more serious than he’d intended.  “He’d lock you up in an attempt to study how it works.”  Just then a sudden knock on Ondolemar’s door startled them both.

Alexa rose quickly and picked up the pack she’d left against the door, swinging it over he shoulder.

“Enter,” Ondolemar commanded, loudly enough to be heard through the door.

The door opened.  “Sir,” a Justiciar began, stepping into the room, before coming to a startled stop.

“Don’t worry, I was just leaving,” Alexa announced, sliding past him, and out the door, before the Justiciar could decide if he should apologize for interrupting.

Ondolemar repressed a sigh. It seemed Tantha and Cyril* hadn’t noticed Alexa arriving either.  “What is it?” he asked the Justiciar wearily.

The Justiciar held out a sheaf of papers.  “This week’s reports.  And Sanyon* is still missing.”

Ondolemar nodded, accepting the reports.  “Presume dead at this point.  I’ll let the embassy know.”


That evening Ondolemar sat at his desk considering the New Asset Form with Alexa’s name on it.  The aedra, he reflected, had a terrible sense of humor. They had just presented him with the dragonborn – a career making asset – and she was the one human in the world he was likely to protect.  A dangerous situation, for him, as there were those among the Thalmor who would claim that merely having such an impulse was proof he’d been compromised.  That the impulse was directed towards the dragonborn… treason might not be beyond the bounds of what they would claim. 

He read over what he’d written on the form and grimaced slightly.  If anyone ever found proof that he’d filled out this form inappropriately – that he’d already known Alexa was the dragonborn and not mentioned it – well, emissaries had disappeared for less.  But recognizing her, as the dragonborn, in this initial form, would make it likely that Elenwen would assign herself as Alexa’s handler, which would render this entire exercise pointless.  So, for the first time in his life, Ondolemar had falsified an official form.

And for what, a nasty, self-doubting, voice in his head demanded?  What are you getting out of this arrangement?  Were you even thinking at the time or did you just let the situation run off with you?  He considered that question carefully, going back over the beginning of Alexa’s visit in his mind.

He had immediately noticed that, for the first time in their nearly two year acquaintance, his playful, standoffish, Breton had seemed… fragile, even scared.  Looking back on it now he could acknowledge that her apparent fragility had troubled – possibly even upset– him.  Worse he’d felt a brief flash of elation in response to realizing that she’d come to him with her problems only to be flooded by an empty feeling of dread when he’d understood that there wasn’t anything he, or anyone else, could do about their root cause.  Objectively speaking that level of empathy for an asset was always trouble. 

His Breton, the nasty, spiteful, voice enquired? 

Ondolemar winced and pinched the bridge of his nose.  That was just the kind of slip-up that could get him in real trouble. 

At least, this once, be straight with yourself and call this what it is, that nasty little internal voice admonished, a stupid attempt to stay close to the human you’re infatuated with. And just because you are singularly well positioned to watch her back it doesn’t mean you’ll actually be successful in buying her any extra time before the Dominion decides she has to die.  And, when that happens, what will you have gained, again?

Some understanding of a new threat, that was for certain.  And, eventually, the accolades that would come from having ‘unwittingly’ acquired the dragonborn as an asset.  He would be the agent of the hour, right up until someone realized he wasn’t using his asset to its full potential.  Or they realized exactly how narrow his agreement with her was.  On top of that, given the way Thalmor internal politics worked, being the handler of, arguably, the most important asset in Skyrim would mean other Thalmor agents would be practically lining up to tear him down.  If this charade went on too long someone would find out.  But, if he’d said ‘no’, in all likelihood he would never have seen Alexa again…

He set the form down and stared blankly at the wall in front of him and let his mind go utterly blank. Finally he sighed.  So that was it then.  Lose his relationship with Alexa or risk everything else.  It was official, his time in this wretched city had finally driven him insane. 

Still… he’d learned enough from her, in one evening, to keep Elenwen happy for months, if he doled the information out correctly.  The ambassador was obviously terrified of the dragons.  Even if, Ondolemar privately suspected, any dragon that tried to eat Elenwen would, rightly, conclude she was inedible and spit her right back out again, that fear could be used to his advantage.

He signed the New Asset Form and put it in with the rest of the monthly reports he’d be sending to the Embassy, when the Thalmor courier arrived, in a few days. 

He then sat, indecisively, at his desk for a moment.  A few of the thing Alexa had mentioned in their conversation that morning were odd enough to require real consideration.  The story about the Altmer attempting to collect dragon priest masks… was bad.  Whether or not he was actually a Thalmor agent wouldn’t matter in the eyes of any Nords who learned of his attempt to acquire historically significant artifacts from their ruins.  Worse, given that there were eight masks, there was every possibility there were more people, like him, out there.  Furthermore Altmer didn’t just show up in Skyrim without the Thalmor knowing about it. The Embassy kept an eye on every Altmer in the country from Ulundil, the man that ran the Windhelm stables, to Legate Fasendil himself.  The fact that this “Captain Valmir” wasn’t on one of Ondolemar’s lists was deeply troubling. Even if his mission was too secret to trust to a report, Ondolemar, as Second Emissary, should have been informed of it the last time he’d visited the Embassy.

Ondolemar pulled another piece of paper from the drawer and began to write.

 

Chapter Text

Alexa was in his room. Ondolemar could tell from the soft smell of sweet lavender and mint that she’d been there for a while, waiting for him to wake.  He wondered, groggily, if this was what having a young child was like.  Probably not, he decided as he came more fully awake. Alexa’s “nightmares” were likely quite real.  Well he’d told her, just yesterday, that she was to report important things to him personally…

He sighed and turned over to face the room.  “This had better be good, Breton.”

“Did you know,” Alexa asked, from where she sat in his chair by the fire.  “That half the shop keepers in this town worship Namira?”

Suddenly very awake, Ondolemar sat up.  “You’re joking.”

“I should say worshiped,” she corrected herself.  “Past tense because I very definitely killed them all when they tried to force me to join their little cannibal coven.”

He got out of bed and walked the few steps to look down at her.  “Are you alright?”

“I brought back the priest of Arkay they were intending to eat… but I may need to bathe in something caustic if I’m ever going to feel clean again,” she replied, still not looking at him.

“Is that why Verulus closed the Hall of the Dead?” Ondolemar asked, putting two and two together.

She nodded.  “Someone had been chewing on the bodies.  He was afraid to tell anyone who might have family buried there.  So he asked me for help.”

Ondolemar crouched down in front of her.  “Alexa…”

“You know the worst part, when I think about it?” she whispered.

“No,” he replied, suddenly wary.

“You know that butcher down in the market?  Claims to sell the bloodiest beef in the Reach?”

“He was there?” Ondolemar asked with a sinking feeling of certainty.

She nodded.  “He used to claim to sell mutton but I…” her throat constricted and she turned a funny shade of green.  “Have you seen a single sheep anywhere in Skyrim?” she asked faintly.  “What if it wasn’t mutton at all?  People who have never tasted mutton before wouldn’t know the difference…”

Ondolemar took her face in his hands.  “Alexa, look at me.  Don’t think about it.  Dwelling on such things will not do anyone any good.”

“Divines forgive me, I hate this city,” she whispered, her eyes filling with helpless tears.  She closed her eyes and took a deep, slow, breath. “But that’s not what I came to tell you.”  Taking ahold of his wrists she pulled her face from his hands.  “Yesterday I over heard that Justiciar tell you that ‘Sanyon’ was still missing.”  She met his eyes directly for the first time.  “One of the coven was an Altmer who called himself Sanyon.  I… I thought you should know.”

Ondolemar froze. Though the name was a fairly common one among Altmer there was indeed a missing Justiciar by that name.  If one of his Justiciars had been a worshiper of Namira and he hadn’t noticed…  “Where is this shrine?” he asked her softly.  “I’ll send some people to deal with it.”  If Justiciars were good for anything it was sealing up shrines and keeping secrets.

“Reachcliff cave,” she answered softly.  “On the road running east from Dushnikh Yal.”

Alexa grabbed his hand as he stood.  He looked down at her in surprise.  She so rarely initiated contact between them it caught him off guard.  “Namira’s presence is strong there,” she told him, her eyes intent on his face.  “The pull of it is incredible.  Be careful whom you send.  It took me longer than I’d like to admit to shake off the coercion effects the cultists used to convince me to join them.”

He laced his fingers through hers and squeezed her hand once before letting go.  “I’ll send people who know what they’re doing,” he assured her, stepping away to make note of the location on the map on his desk.  When he turned around again she was gone.  He sighed in annoyance.  If this new appearing/disappearing habit of hers continued, they were going to have a talk about it.

Chapter Text

In the long list of unbelievable and strange things that had happened to Alexa, in her quarter century of life, this had to be in the top three: Sanguine, daedric prince of debauchery, was washing her hair.

Passing through the gates out of Markarth she’d suddenly found herself several feet off the ground, and naked, in Sanguine’s arms.  She had been so startled that she’d actually shriek in surprise when he’d almost immediately dropped her into a pool of steaming, softly scented, water.

“Dare I ask what this is about?” she enquired sitting very still on the bottom of a pool, somewhere in Oblivion, as the deliciously warm water sloshed around her.

“You know that butler I assigned you after your run-in with Vermina?” Sanguine asked pleasantly, holding out a snifter of something a surprising golden yellow.

“Dremora, over dressed, over bearing, stuffy, and a bit of a tit?” she responded, accepting the glass.

“That’s the one!  He took me to task earlier for neglecting my wife at a very trying time in her life,” the daedric prince explained, settling onto the edge of the pool behind her.  “Do you feel neglected, my sweet?  You handled Namira very well, by the way.”

“Thank you.  And is there a safe answer to that question?” she asked, leaning back against his legs, warm water lapping across the tops of her shoulders.  Oddly enough she felt safe here with him.

“Hmm,” he chuckled, carefully unpinning her purple hair.  “I believe Mora would tell you that there are no safe answers and fewer safe questions.”

“And what would Sanguine tell me?” she asked, smiling up at him.

“That you need to take some time for yourself now and again, and that I, as the lord of pleasures that lead one to forget their duties,* am fully qualified to help with that,” he replied kissing her softly.

“A little over qualified, don’t you think, prince of ‘too much of a good thing’?”

“Prince of ‘never too much of a good thing,’” he corrected her sternly.

She laughed tipping her head slightly to the side so that he could pour warm water over her hair.  He kissed her again gently before soaping up and beginning to massage her scalp.  She moaned in appreciation leaning more fully against him.  “I think I remember why I married you now,” she murmured.

“And here I had thought it was for my dazzling personality,” he purred back.

“It could be,” she replied thoughtfully.  “You do always seem to make me laugh.”

“Speaking of such things, you might want to be a little careful with that Altmer of yours,” Sanguine commented affably.  “All that fanaticism does funny things to their heads.”

“Ondolemar?” she asked, tipping her head back to look at the dremora rinsing her hair a final time. “If you would prefer I not spend time with him…”

“Jealousy isn’t really in my nature, my sweet, and I will certainly not stand in the way of you taking a lover, or even several lovers, with whom you can share your time on Nirn. But I will object strongly to anyone who might hurt you.”

“And you object to Ondolemar?”

“Not as such, no.  Though it is a good thing you broke it off with that pup of Hircine’s.”

“You didn’t approve of Vilkas?”

“I escorted you to the steps of Jorrvaskr myself for a reason,” he admitted.

“Why?” she asked, mystified.

“A dragon can only be controlled by a stronger dragon.  Anyone else must resort to abuse.  Which is one reason why I shan’t even try.  He, on the other hand, was trying.  His need for control, compounded with the strain you’re under, could have destroyed you.”

“I see,” she sighed, closing her eyes, and sinking a little deeper into the water.  That certainly put an unpleasant spin on her last relationship.  “And Ondolemar?” she asked, returning the conversation to its previous topic.

“Truthfully I fear you are not taking him seriously enough,” Sanguine told her, slipping into the pool beside her.

“And how seriously should I be taking the supposed interest of a man who would have to give up everything he has worked for, and believed in, to be with me?” she asked the daedric prince.

“My darling, those are exactly the ones you must take the most seriously,” he answered.

Chapter Text

Waking to find herself at Hunter’s Rest, fully dressed, with all her gear and Meeko asleep beside her, was, Alexa felt, a significant step up from either the Temple of Dibella or a cart full of Stormcloak prisoners.  Surprisingly she wasn’t even particularly hangover, though hangovers seemed to be taking more work to achieve these days.  She stretched, sat up, and immediately regretted it.  It had snowed over night and the air outside of her bedroll was bitter cold.

“Morning, sunshine,” Olel, the Redguard hunter that frequented the camp smiled.  “I’m surprised you’re awake.  You arrived late enough last night that Holki,” she gestured to her Nord companion by the fire, “and I didn’t even notice you come in.”

Alexa smiled at the friendly woman, shivered convulsively, and pulled her winter coat off Meeko – who was using it as a blanket – and wrapped it tightly around herself.  “Where did I leave my boots…” she murmured to herself, looking around as Meeko made a grumbling noise of complaint and curled into a tighter ball flipping his tail over his nose.

“We put them by the fire to warm up,” Holki explained as he handed them to her.

“Thanks,” Alexa smiled at him.  “That was thoughtful of you.”

Holki shrugged dismissively and went back to tending the fire.

“There’s leftover stew in the pot,” Olel informed her as Alexa struggled with her boots.  The multiple sets of fasteners on the back of the Dark Brotherhood style boot may have lead to an excellent fit but were not easy to manage with rapidly numbing fingers.  Finally finished Alexa nudged Meeko awake.  “If you get up I’ll give you some stew,” she told the dog.

Meeko opened one eye and blew expressively through his nose.

“It’s warm stew,” Alexa told him, rolling up her bedroll.

Meeko groaned to his feet and stood, looking expectantly, at Alexa.  She handed him his plate out of her pack and he took it to Holki at the fire.

“Nice trick,” Holki acknowledge gruffly.  “How much should I give him?”

“About a cup,*” Alexa answered, joining them at the fire with her mug and some tea leaves in a small bag.  The covered pot hanging over the fire was steaming in a way that indicated it was full of hot water not soup.

“What about you?” Holki asked, setting down Meeko’s plate.

“I don’t do well with a lot of food this early in the morning,” Alexa answered with a slight grimace, filling her mug with hot water.  “I’ve got some bread and cheese that will do for me.  Is there anything I can do for you two to thank you for your hospitality?”

The two hunters looked at each other.  “Do you have any mead?” Holki asked.

“I have no idea,” Alexa responded, putting her tea down to steep, and beginning to dig through her pack. “Let me see… yes, it would appear I do have mead,” she answered and began to make a pile of bottles on the ground. In truth it appeared that not only did she have mead but that all of the food items in her pack had – miraculously– been replaced with alcohol and honey nut treats.

Olel gave her a concerned look.

“It seems my friends have played a prank on me,” Alexa offered, hoping the other woman would buy it. “Do you guys have any travel food you’d be willing to part with?”

“Where are you headed?” Holki asked, as they exchanged some dried meat and a few apples for seven bottles of mead.

“Solitude,” she answered, tea in one hand, honey nut treat in the other, “by way of Rorikstead and Dragon Bridge.”  Which was the truth, even if she planned to make a few stops along the way.

“Bundle up tight then,” Olel recommended.  “The wind on the plane can be fierce this time of year.”


It was around noon when Alexa first spotted a taproot hanging from a dead tree.  A little further on she came upon a deer skull effigy of Hircine sitting on the edge of a grove of dead trees.  “This has got to be the place,” Alexa murmured to Meeko, scratching him reassuringly behind one ear.  If Taran’s information was correct, the cave, housing the last remaining members of the Glenmoril Wyrd in Skyrim, should be nearby.  Taran had given Alexa the information the last time she’d been in Markarth. But she’d had Lydia with her and so, not wanting to reveal the Circle’s secret, hadn’t been able to act on it until now, over a month later.  Something she was feeling a little guilty about.

As Alexa and Meeko approached the cliff face, following the trail, she could see a woman in a black hooded robe warming her hands over a brazier marking the entrance of a cave. 

“Hello?” Alexa called out, to the woman by the brazier, not willing to risk startling her by approaching unnoticed.

The woman started and looked wildly about her.  “You never should have come here!” she snarled, upon seeing Alexa, a lightning spell charging in her hand.

“I am a Beast Master of Hircine and I am here to speak with a member of the Glenmoril Wyrd!” Alexa called out, using a ward spell to absorb the lighting bolt.

The hag canceled her next spell her body language expressing confusion and distrust.  “You’re what?” she demanded.

“A Beast Master of Hircine,” Alexa enunciated carefully.  Seeing that the hag was unconvinced she continued, “I promise to stay right where I am if you go tell them I’d like a word.”

“Stay right there then,” the hag ordered disappearing into the cave and dropping a lightning rune on the ground behind her as she went. 

It was about six minutes later when the rune was dispelled and a Hagraven, attended by a different hag, came out of the cave.  “You say you are a Beast Master?” the Hagraven croaked, eyeing Alexa suspiciously. “Prove it.  Command this one to do your bidding,” she ordered, indicating the hag she had brought with her.

Alexa turned to the silver-eyed woman.  “Sit,” she commanded, her voice rumbling slightly with the echoes of one trained in the thu’um.  The hag dropped to the ground without a moment’s hesitation.

The Hagraven nodded. “Good.”  She turned away, waving for Alexa to follow her into the cave. “What is it you seek from the Glenmoril, Beast Master?”

“I seek understanding of the gift of lycanthropy; how the transfer of blood can summon a beast-spirit from Oblivion to bond with a living being and how it can be sent back,” she answered mater-of-factly.

The Hagraven gave her a sidelong glance.  “It is conjuration.  Summon into this world, banish into a host.  The blood is just a conduit.  To send back is simply the reverse.  Summon from the body, banish into Oblivion.”

“But how is such a thing achieved?”

The Hagraven began to chuckle, wheeze, and finally collapsed in a gasping pile of feathers and elongated limbs.  “Lord Hircine didn’t bother to explain much to you, did he?” she cackled.

“Something of an understatement,” Alexa grumbled.

The Hagraven stood back up. “You are a Beast Master,” she told Alexa, still grinning.  “Make the connection between the realms, as you would with any conjuration, then order the spirit away.”  She leaned over, looked Alexa in the eyes, and inhaled deeply.  “The Harbinger seeks his freedom, doesn’t he?”

“He does,” Alexa answered, a little surprised that she apparently still smelled of the Circle. Though armor was notoriously difficult to get smells out of.

The Hagraven nodded once and turning to one of the worktables, drew out a thin journal, and threw it at Alexa. “You are a Beast Master.  It is given to you to attend to the needs of Hircine’s beasts, not me.  Now go away!”


“Sinding!  Are you here?” Alexa called, standing in the remnants of the hunter’s camp just inside Bloated Man’s Grotto, the glow of twilight painting the sky above her in pinks and golds.  Getting no response she took the path to the right and found him, curled up on a pile of hay, in front of the shrine of Talos

“Alexa!” Sinding looked up at her in surprise.  “I… I must have actually been asleep.”

She held up the journal she’d gotten from the hagraven and smiled.  “You still interested in a cure?” she asked him.


The courier caught up with Alexa in Solitude.

 

She supposed it wasn’t too surprising that summoning an undead dragon, to help her search for a ghost, might have caught someone’s attention.  Worth it though.  Durnehviir had spotted the woman’s husband’s spirit in only a few minutes.  She might have spent the better part of a day looking for him.

A “friend”, huh. Delphine had used the same sign-off, in the note she left at Ustengrav, but the tone of this letter didn’t sound like her.  Who would know what a word wall was much less enough about dragonborn, and the Greybeards, to know she would need to find and read them?  Someone who, from the look of the handwriting, was better educated than most Nords, that was for certain.  One of the other Greybeards?  No, they didn’t care about the Thalmor.  Could there be another, surviving, member of the Blades in Skyrim, she wondered?  Her mind suddenly flashed to a Nord man, carrying an Akaviri style blade, seated at a table at the Nightgate Inn.  Fultheim?  Not im possible.  But the news would have had to travel pretty quickly to get to him, and back to her, in five days.  Still, not impossible, just not likely.  A mystery for another day.  She tossed the letter into her pack.

The word wall at Skyborn Alter, and Durnivir’s final word of power, would make for thirty-five words of power.  She could head back to High Hrothgar and learn how to pass through the wind barrier behind the monastery.  She was finally going to be allowed to talk with a dragon who might not introduce himself by trying to kill her.  Maybe he’d even have some answers for her.

She considered the hagraven’s journal in her pack.  Her test run on Sinding had worked.  She knew how to cure lycanthrope.  But… High Hrothgar first, she decided, then back to Whiterun to cure Kodlak.

Chapter Text

“Eolain,” Earmiel greeted his twin sister standing in the middle of Thalmor Headquarters in Solitude with a slight look of disdain on her face.  “What can I do for you?”

“You can tell me what’s going on with Dolly,” she answered, after activating a grand soul gem she was holding, but before gesturing for him to be seated.

“What, Ondolemar hasn’t just jump at the opportunity to do his duty to the Dominion by siring pureblood children he will probably never see?” Earmiel asked sarcastically, not the least bit surprised that his sister had come prepared to ensure their conversation would not be overheard.

“Given the way he grew up…” Eolain began.

“You mean never getting to spend time with his father because his parents couldn’t stand each other and so his father took every opportunity to be posted as far away from home as possible?” Earmiel asked.

“He turned out fine, didn’t he?” Eolain demanded.

“I don’t think that’s the point,” Earmiel sighed.

“There’s more to it than that though, isn’t there?” Eolain prodded.

“What do you mean?” Earmiel responded with his best innocent look.

Eolain squirmed a bit in her chair.  “I don’t know really.  It’s just… Twice now a Breton woman has passed through Markarth and he has been pleased to see her.  Talking to her made him happy… and yet talking about her upsets him.”

Earmiel sighed and scrubbed at his face with one hand.  “You’ve met Alexa?” he asked.

“I have.  That’s why I came all the way up here to ask you about Dolly.”

“I’m afraid I don’t immediately see the connection,” he told her tiredly.

“Earmiel we both know Dolly and I have very similar taste in women and I’d totally hit that if I weren’t happily married.”

“No,” Earmiel shook his head, “you wouldn’t.”

She arched an eyebrow at him.

“Pretty little Lexi, as I like to call her.  Also known as Alexa Storm-Crowned, Archmage, champion of Sheogorath, Meridia and, possibly, Azura*, recently revealed dragonborn and, as you have surmised, the woman our Dolly has been beautifully, deeply, glowingly, in love with since before I came to Skyrim.”  He made a slightly sour face.  “It’s not likely to end well.”

“Dragonborn?  Her?” Eolain demanded incredulously.

“Her,” Earmiel affirmed.

“I don’t know whether to feel relieved on behalf of the Dominion or terrified on behalf of the world,” Eolain remarked.

“That really depends on which persona she presented you with,” Earmiel muttered.

“Oh?”

“Alexa may well be the most profoundly manipulative person I’ve ever met.  Do not, my sister, fall into the trap of interpreting her apparently cheery personality, and inability to take anything seriously, as evidence of a lack of either intelligence or political aptitude.  It would not surprise me to discover that the champion of Sheogorath is most serious when she’s being funny.”  He paused for a moment before directly meeting Eolain’s eyes.  “As much fun as Lexi is, just… be careful around her, okay?”

Eolain snorted at him in disbelief, a profoundly unimpressed look on her face.

“Do you know why I’m in Skyrim, Eolain?” Earmiel demanded.

“Our parents believe you are here to study a natural phenomena.  You didn’t lie to them, did you?  You know you could lose your status as their favorite child that way,” she replied, in a slightly catty tone.

“A deeply unlikely prospect given our other siblings,” he countered.  “But no, I am not here to study anything natural.  I am in Skyrim because Alexa correctly identified adjacent plane travel, in the rambling statements of an eight-year-old boy, and decided that the best way to handle the problem would be to set up a situation in which a Thalmor Emissary would investigate the child’s problems as a way to test the veracity of the utterly ridiculous things she tells him.”

“I take it she has made a great number of outlandish claims,” Eolain noted dryly.  From the short conversation she’d had with the girl it seemed likely.

“In Lexi’s case, the more outlandish the assertion, the more likely it is to be true,” Earmiel told his sister.

That caused Eolain to pause for a second.  “Meaning that once you’ve accepted that she told you the truth about an eight year old boy who travels to adjacent places you’re unlikely to bother checking basic things like where she comes from?” she enquired.

“Exactly,” Earmiel affirmed. “It’s actually rather impressive.”

“You sound like you admire her,” Eolain noted.

“I do.  I even count her among my friends, but that doesn’t mean I trust her.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t know, or understand, what drives her and I very much doubt that her goals are aligned with anyone else’s because she doesn’t see the world the way anyone else does… except, maybe, the dragons.  She can taste time, Eolain, and feel the pull of the patterns of history and, quite probably, even hear the song of the Convention itself!  And now that she has access to their memories…”

“You know you’re babbling, right?” Eolain interupted her twin condescendingly.

Earmiel pulled a face at her.  “My point is that, for all that she may appear human, Lexi truly is a dragon, and no one in the entire world even knows what that means anymore much less how to handle it.”

“I see,” Eolain murmured. “And what about Dolly?” she asked.

Earmiel sighed and buried his face in his hands.  “If Dolly doesn’t stop following the bread crumbs Lexi leaves out for him I fear he may end up wandering into outright sedition without knowing how he got there.”

Eolain arched her brows in surprise.  “Truly?”

“Lexi’s choice to frame the entire world as either ridiculous or deeply ironic has been surprisingly effective at causing Dolly to reevaluate his interactions with both his fellow Thalmor and the people of Skyrim.”

“And you haven’t stopped her or told him what you’ve observed?”

Earmiel leaned back in his chair with a sigh.  “I’ve been trying to convince Dolly of the kind of people he’s working for since the end of the First War with the Empire.  Since I am fairly certain she intends no harm towards him, why would I interfere with the only person who has had any success?”

“And you’re not at all concerned that Dolly be overly friendly with the dragonborn might put him in harms way?  I mean, the Thalmor…” Eolain let her voice die away.

“Are currently trying to decide whether the dragon-slaying dragonborn, or the dragons themselves, are the greater threat.  But, you are right, that won’t last.  Once the initial fear of the new dragon threat wears off they’ll realize what a new dragonborn bloodline – a rightful claimant to the Ruby Throne – means for both the Empire and the Dominion.  Then they will probably order her death and expect Dolly to enforce said order.”

“Do you think she’ll survive?”

“If it were just the group of Thalmor here in Skyrim, I’d tell you I’m not worried, but…” he shrugged.

They sat in silence for a long while.  Finally Eolain nodded once, decisively.  “Thank you Earmiel, you’ve been a great help.”


“You seem unusually busy,” Earmiel commented, settling into the chair across from Viarmo at the Winking Skeever.

“Alexa was in town two days ago,” Viarmo explained, glancing at the small pile of books on the table in front of him.  “She tells me she has accepted a long-term contract from an Altmer.  The contract is, apparently, partially dependent upon her not doing anything embarrassing.”

“So she came to you to find out what that might include,” Earmiel surmised, a little annoyed that Alexa hadn’t come to him.

Viarmo nodded and then sighed heavily.  “At which point I suddenly realized how inadequate, and out of date, the Bard’s College’s information on Altmer culture is.  So now I’m attempting to write a short primer for use by our students.”

“What kind of things is your handbook going to cover?” Earmiel asked curiously.

“Etiquette for social occasions and how patronage works,” Viarmo replied.  “Why?”

Earmiel shrugged. “Just thinking that, given the number of unattached young men the Dominion is sending here, your bards might find a section on sexual relationships useful.”

Viarmo paused, his hand frozen above the page, and glanced up at Earmiel.  “Meaning you think Alexa’s new employer may make a pass at her?”

Earmiel met his eyes unwaveringly.  “Would you be the least bit surprised?”

“No,” he answered finally. “Though I would be very surprised if she noticed,” he added.

“Exactly my point,” Earmiel smiled.

Viarmo groaned.  “That will nearly double the length of the book... but you are right.  Can’t have my students insulting people by simply failing to realize they’ve been propositioned.”

“Would you like me to write the chapters on flirtation and sex for you?” Earmiel asked.  “Divines know I’ve got both training in the theory and experience with actual practice.”

Viarmo considered it for nearly half a second before pushing an empty notebook, and his extra quill, in Earmiel’s direction.

Earmiel smiled to himself as he opened the journal to the first page.  This was far, far, too fantastic an opportunity to pass up.

Chapter Text

Reaching the mountain’s summit Alexa found herself in the sudden stillness of an eye of a storm.  She could feel the dragon close by, watching, even if she could not see him, and so gave the strange shifting in the air that seeped the jarring, discordant, taste of shattered time, a wide berth as she moved to stand before the Word Wall. 

To her surprise none of the words on the wall were active.  There was a slow beating of wings and she turned to face the dragon landing behind her.  “Drem yo lok,*” the dragon rumbled.  “Greetings, wunduniik.*  I am Paarthurnax.  Who are you? What brings you to my strunmah*... my mountain?

“I am Alexa…” Alexa responded with a slight bow.  “No. That’s not right,” she corrected, straightening back up.  “My name is Sikendra de’Arthe.  I… have not used my real name in some time.  I apologize.  I had thought you would already know what I am, if not who.”

The dragon looked bemused. “Rarely have I met one so confused by who they are…  But you speak true.  I know what you are, dovahkiin.  It is my turn now to beg forgiveness.  It has been long since I last held tinvaak* with a stranger.  I gave in to the temptation to prolong our speech.”  He cocked its head to one side slightly, thinking.  “Iiz-kaan-draal… Kyne’s icy prayer, in the language of the dov. Three rotmulaag as a dragon name should be.*  It is a good name.  A portentous name.”

Alex frowned at him and decided against pointing out that he’d just badly mangled her name.  “Would not Paar-thur-nax then mean Ambitious Lord of Cruelty?” she asked.

“It does,” he answered.

“I suppose we don’t get to choose our names,” she offered uncertainly.

He grinned at that. “But I was, once.  But that was lifetimes ago.  Now I sit here, on the peak of the Monahven,* and contemplate the meaning of words.”

Alexa considered that for a moment.  “Do dragons not distinguish between names and titles?”  Certainly the Nord tradition of attribution names blurred the line between the two.  Maybe they had learned the confusion from the dragons.

“We do not,” Paarthurnax answered.  “At least amongst our own kind.”

“Why?”

“What is a title but a role one fills that may change as you do?” he asked her.  “But the dov merely are, have been, and always will be.  The concept of change is – foreign – to our natures.  What need have we to distinguish between what we will always be and the roll we fill?”

“Then, if you have changed, shouldn’t you choose a new name?” she asked him.

“I keep it as a reminder of what I was and why I stay up here on the Monahven.”

Alexa nodded.  Under these circumstances she could probably forgive Alduin for his misuse of the word.  Instead, she decided, she was going to take up feeling smug about the fact that his grasp of mortal languages wasn’t as good as he probably thought it was. “Why live alone on the top of the mountain if you crave speech with others?” she asked, changing the subject slightly.

“Evenaar bahlok,*” he answered.  “There are many hungers it is better to deny than to feed.  Dreh ni nahkip.*  Discipline against the lesser aids in qahnaar*... denial of the greater.”  He shifted his weight and resettled his wings.  “Tell me.  Why do you come here, volaan*?  Why do you intrude upon my meditation?”

“I wished to speak with you,” she answered.  “There are questions I hoped a dragon could answer.  Yet none appear willing to simply speak with me.  Will you answer my questions?”

Paarthurnax chuckled. “Drem.*  Patience.  There are formalities which must be observed, at the first meeting of two of the dov. By long tradition, the elder* speaks first.  Hear my Thu’um!  Feel it in your bones!  Match it, if you are Dovahkiin!”  He turned to face the word wall.  “YOL-TOOR-SHUL!” he shouted his breath causing a word on the wall to begin to glow.  “The Word calls you, Iizkaandraal.  Go to it.”

“Het mah Herfodr shul-kriid sahrot konahrik do lumnaar do krent hahnu.  Here fell Herfodr Sun-Slayer, mighty warlord of Valley of Broken Dreams.  Shul means sun.”

“Good,” he acknowledged. “It seems the language truly is already in your blood.  A gift, Dovahkiin.  YOL. Understand Fire as the dov do,” he commanded, passing her the deeper knowledge as the Greybeards had.  “Now, show me what you can do.  Greet me not as mortal but as dovah!  Do not be afraid.  Faasnu.*  Let me feel the power of your Thu’um!”

“YOL!” she shouted, hitting his side.

“Aaah... yes! Sossedov los mul*!  The dragon-blood runs strong in you!  It is long since I had the pleasure of speech with one of my own kind.”  He sobered looking her over carefully.  “So. You have made your way here, to me.  No easy task for a joor... mortal.  Even for one of dovah sos.  Dragon-blood.  What would you ask of me?”

“I… The Greybeards wish to send me all over Skyrim to learn the Words of Power but the Words of Power are not...” she threw up her hands in frustration and began to pace.

“What troubles you, Dovahkiin?”

“If all a dovahkiin is, is a hunter of dragons, a murderer of their own blood siblings, then the Words of Power are all we need to know.  But, if that is all I was to ever be, then why would the gods make me as I am? Surely a warrior would have served that purpose much more ably than I?”

“And what are you besides dovahkiin?” Paarthurnax asked.

“A Grand Master of Restoration, Blessed by Kynareth; a healer. Surely this,” she waved a hand at the word wall, “cannot be my path?”

“Well named indeed,” Paarthurnax noted with surprise.

“Will you teach me, not just the words of power, but the language of dragons?” she asked him, almost pleading.  “Tell me about dragons?  Answer any of my questions the Greybeards can, or will, not?”

“I will teach you, Iizkaandraal.  Come here whenever you wish.  You will always be welcome, briinah.”  He shifted his weight to face her more fully.  “Was there something particular you wanted to ask that the Greybeards would not answer?”

“Why are the dragons returning?  Does it have something to do with me?”

“Yes, and no,” Paarthurnax replied carefully.  “More that you have something to do with it than it with you.”  He gave a soft chuckle at the look she gave him.  “If Alduin had not been about to return our father might not have created you.  Your existence is in response to his not the other way around.  No fault for the destruction he brings to Keizaal,* or the world, lies with you.”

Alexa felt her shoulders drop with relief.  She took a deep, slow, breath.  “Will you tell me about Alduin?”

Paarthurnax hummed deep in his chest his gaze fixed somewhere in the middle distance.  “The eldest brother,” he answered finally.  “Gifted, grasping, and troublesome, as is so often the case with firstborn.  Alduin always was pahlok – arrogant – in his power.  Uznahgar paar.*  He took domination as his birthright.”

“Was his voice always so discordant?” she enquired.

“He is the World-Eater, the embodiment of destruction, what should his voice sound like?” Paarthurnax asked her.

“Like the final notes of a symphony, the silence of fulfillment, and completion there after.  Not the squeaking of strings inexpertly silenced and the stillness of a startled animal that awaits the next sound so that it will know in which way to run.”

The dragon hummed again. “I admit I had never considered his voice beyond the strength of his thu’um.  It is an odd thing to realize, after all these years, that his voice was as corrupted as his purpose and none, until you, had taken note of it.  But the dov never questioned him.  He was, once, the crown of our father Akatosh’s creation. We accepted that, and much else, as Truth.”

“The crown of our father’s creation was the force meant to end it?” Alexa asked in surprise.

“End?” Paarthurnax asked, cocking his head quizzically.  “Perhaps. But perhaps each world is simply the egg for the next kalpa?”

“You are suggesting that Creation is an iterative process?  That the gods will try it over and over until, what, they get it right?” She stopped, her eyes going wide.

“I see one of the others speaks to you now,” Paarthurnax commented.

“The Towers…”* she whispered.

Paarthurnax chuckled. “It seems you have you answer Iizkaandraal.”

“If even you believed that Alduin was the quintessence of creation, why did you turn against him?”

“When he claimed for himself the lordship that properly belongs to Bormah - our father Akatosh – I worried.  But when it became clear he sought usurp our Father completely… it was too much.”

“He sought to become a god, not just be worshipped as one?” she whispered.

Paarthurnax made a sound of slight disagreement.  “Alduin has always been something more than dovah,” he told her.

Alexa considered that, her eyes narrowed with thought.  “Did Alduin exist in the Dawn Era?”

“That has always been my belief, though he would never say.”

“So you believe he is a Manifest Metaphor but not a god?”

“I believe he is a god,” Paarthurnax corrected, “but I know that he is not our father Akatosh.”

“I see.  So he sought to, what, mantel Akatosh, though he himself was already a god?”  How would that even work, she wondered? 

“He strayed from his path,” Paarthurnax informed her, his tone fatalistic.

“And so my fate, the purpose for which Father made me, is to face him?  To what end?” she demanded.

“I cannot say,” Paarthurnax admitted.  “Even we who ride the currents of Time cannot see past Time’s end.”

Alexa thought about that for a moment.  “So, because you do not know – and cannot guess – we can assume that, if I fail, Time will end?”

“Geh, yes.  It is an answer, Dovahkiin, if not a pleasant one,” Paarthurnax told her.  “But you must grow stronger in your blood and in your Voice before you can face Alduin.”

Alexa sighed, sagging slightly.

“You seem relieved, little one,” he noted, his voice warm with laughter.

“I am.  I will face the Eldest if that is what our father would have me do.  But it is not something I look forward to with anything but dread.  And I know I am not ready.”

“Then you are wiser than most.  Too many of us would see only glory in such a challenge.”

“So your advice would be to continue to travel Skyrim in order to learn the words of power from the various word walls?”

“Yes.  And, every so often, to visit me so that we may discuss what you have learned,” he gave her a sideways glance.  “It is the duty of the young to keep the old company, from time to time, is it not?”

She chuckled at that with a slight shake of her head to cover the wave of emotion that was threatening to make her cry.

Paarthurnax huffed, gently, through his nose.  “Krosis, kiir, I regret.  The dovah are social creatures, you should not have been forced to grow up without contact with others like yourself.  But the changing of the vennesetiid* obscured much.  I did not sense your presence.”

“That’s alright,” she assured him.  “I don’t think High Hrothgar would have been a good place to be a child.”

Paarthurnax hummed in agreement.  “You walk a hard path, kiir, and there are more than a few who may try to stop you, or use you to their advantage.  Know, in your heart, that you are dovah and take strength from it.”

“Thank you,” Alexa said, pushing away from the wall.  The hour was growing late and she wanted to make it to the bottom of the mountain before full darkness.  “I should take my leave.  It is a long way to the village below.”

Paarthurnax nodded.  “Go to Shearpoint,” he told her.  “You may find something of interest to you there.”

Chapter Text

A courier came running up to Alexa the moment she stepped out of the Vilemyr Inn.

Shield-Sister,
      We need you.
- Aela

 


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.

“Huh.”

“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.

“It is.”

“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.”*

“Oh.”

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.

Chapter Text

“This is the resting place of Ysgramor and his most trusted generals,” Vilkas breathed, looking around the anti-chamber with wide eyes.

“How do we get inside?” Farkas asked.

Vilkas placed Wuuthrad in the hands of the statue of Ysgramor and stepped back.  The door on the far side of the room slid into the ground.

“You should be careful,” he told Alexa without quite looking at her.

“Careful specifically or careful generally?” she asked.

He smiled a little at that. “The original Companions – their finest warriors – rest with Ysgramor.  You’ll have to prove yourselves to them.  It’s not that you’re intruding; I wager they’re actually expecting us.  They’ll just want to be sure that you’re worthy.  So… be ready for an honorable battle.”

Alexa gave him a startled look.  “Aren’t you coming?”

“No,” he answered with a decisive shake of his head.  “Kodlak was right.  I let vengeance rule my heart.  I regret nothing of what happened at Driftshade.”

“In that case you’ll fit right in with the assholes buried here,” she sighed.

“No,” Vilkas stated, giving her a disapproving look, “I can’t go any further with my mind fogged or my heart grieved.”

“So you’re too embarrassed to look Kodlak in the face one last time?” she countered.  “Are you afraid he’ll be disappointed in what he sees?”

“He always was, a little, I think,” Vilkas confided.  “Why would that change now?”

“In the time that I knew him he was exceeding proud of all his ‘children’,” Alexa informed him. “Worry is not the same as disappointment, Vilkas.”

“Why would he be worried about me?” Vilkas asked, confusion showing on his face.

“Worried for not about,” she corrected.  “Because that’s what it means to be a parent.  He loved you.  You should be there to help free him.”

The expression on Vilkas’ face turned mulish.

“Do you want to be the next Harbinger of the Companions?” Alexa demanded, loosing her patience.

“I…  Yes, more than anything.”

“Then I suggest you get over whatever this is and go prove yourself to those that came before you,” she snapped, pointing at the open door.

“The dragonborn is right, shield-brother,” Aela told him.  “If you want to be Harbinger you should stand before your predecessors.”

“You coming Farkas?” Alexa asked, taking him by the arm as she started towards the door without waiting for Vilkas.

He gave her a slightly worried look.

“Don’t worry,” she smiled up at him.  “I’ll protect you from the spiders if you promise to take care of any skeever.”


In the second chamber Alexa lifted a corundum colored knife off a side table.

“What do you have there, shield-sister?” Aela asked.

“Whatever it is, you should leave it,” Vilkas told them both, curtly.  “We are not grave robbers.”

“It is proof that someone buried here was a dragon priest,” Alexa answered Aela softly, ignoring Vilkas’ suggestion that she would steal from Ysgramor’s tomb. 

“The five hundred did not serve dragons,” Vilkas disagreed.

“All the men of Atmora served dragons,” Alexa told him.  “But this knife is proof those who returned with Ysgramor had already turned to worshiping them.”

“We should move on,” Farkas interrupted before Vilkas could respond.

“Should we be prepared for another of those flying lich things?” Aela asked, glancing, meaningfully, at an open coffin.

“Doubtful,” Alexa replied. “We’ve been fighting ghosts, rather than draugr, so far.  Though I wonder…”  

“Ye-es?” Aela asked.

“The method by which draugr were created is commonly considered one of the lost necromantic arts,” Alexa explained, moving to follow Farkas.  “But, given how even the bodies of more modern Nords seem to have trouble staying dead,* I wonder if the current embalming, or burial, process has, accidently, retained some part of the ritual.”

“Now there’s a chilling thought, shield-sister,” Aela muttered, following close behind.


“Kodlak, is that you?” Vilkas asked the spirit standing in the center of the room.

The spirit smiled. “Of course.  My fellow Harbingers and I have been warming ourselves here. Trying to evade Hircine’s notice.

“But there’s nobody else here,” Aela argued, looking around them.

“You see only me because your heart knows only me as the Companions leader,” Kodlak told her his smile turning wistful.  “I’d wager old Vignar could see half a dozen of my predecessors.  And I see them all.  The ones in Sovngarde.  The ones trapped with me in Hircine’s realm.”  His gaze turned to include Vilkas and Farkas.  “And they all see you.  You’ve brought honor to the name of the Companions.  We won’t soon forget it.”

Alexa stepped forward to stand beside the brazier.

“Dragonborn,” Kodlak smiled, acknowledging her.  “You accompany my children still.”

“They are my shield-siblings, Harbinger,” she answered.  “If I can help them in their endeavors, I will.  Besides, I have a promise to keep.”

“So, you have found a way?” Kodlak asked.

“I have,” she answered. “And, for you Harbinger, I will risk Hircine’s wrath.”  She tossed a summoning scroll into the blue flame of the brazier.


“We’ve killed your beast spirit,” Vilkas told Kodlak, sheathing his blade.

“Sent it back to Hircine’s realm without you,” Alexa corrected, mildly.

“And so removed the beast from inside of me,” Kodlak’s spirit confirmed.  “I thank you for this gift, my children.  Though the other Harbingers remain trapped by Hircine.  Perhaps, from Sovngarde, the rest of the heroes of old can aid me in their rescue.  Think of it, the Harrowing of the Hunting Grounds!  It would be a battle of such triumph.”  He turned to address Vilkas directly.  “And perhaps someday, you’ll join us in that battle.  But, for today, return to Jorrvaskr.  Triumph in your victory.  And lead the Companions to further glory.”

Vilkas bowed his head, clearly too choked up to answer, as Kodlak’s spirit vanished.  Alexa looked around her.  “Short cut back to the beginning is this way,” she said, indicating a ramp to the second floor.  “When you’re ready.”


Alexa placed her hand on the word wall her sight darkening as her eyes filled with the blue flare of ancient magic.  When her sight cleared again she stepped back but did not turn around.  On her way up the path she had pretended not to notice that he had been following her. Now they were alone together for the first time since their last fight in the Underforge exactly three months ago to the day.

“What does it say?” Vilkas asked from behind her.

“Laknir Little-Hammer raised stone in memory of his servant, humble Vakeeza, who swore allegiance to kings of Skyrim and died in Gray Autumn,” she answered.  “The word of power, on this one, is Mirwhich means ‘allegiance’.”

“Are they all grave markers?” he asked.

“Most, but not all,” she answered, finally turning to face him.  He was standing at a distance of about ten feet from her.  She watched in detached fascination as he twice opened his mouth to say something only to close it again.  “Was there something you wanted to say?” she asked.

“Just that you were right, earlier,” he told her.  “I should begin my time as Harbinger as I intend to continue.  “So…” he gestured around them.

“Alright,” Alexa said, giving him a curious look.

He took another deep breath and squared his shoulders.  “The last time we spoke before you left, truthfully the last several times we’ve spoken, I acted badly,” Vilkas declared, his voice steady but with very little inflection.  “I was blinded by my own pain and did not notice that you were in a far worse situation than I.  I know I hurt you, please forgive me.  And, if I, somehow, made your situation worse, I would like to apologize for that as well.”

“Aela really lit into you, didn’t she?” Alexa smiled.

“Several times,” he admitted, the corner of his mouth lifting slight.  “But I mean it.  Your life had just fallen apart and all I could think about was myself.  You needed better than that.  You deserved better than that.”

“Mistakes are not so bad, if we learn from them,” Alexa noted.

Vilkas swallowed hard. “A wolf in love with a dragon would, I think, be a pitiable thing,” he admitted.  “One that refuses to understand that they are not suited to each other, in the face of overwhelming evidence, would not be fit to lead his fellows.”

She nodded in mixed relief and understanding.  “I am sorry as well.  Though I did not intend any of what happened I deeply regret that you were hurt,” she told him, sadly, before changing the subject. “When the time comes that you wish to be free of the beastblood, let me know, and I will remove it from you.  The process is far easier for a living person than a dead one.”

“What does it involve?” he asked, carefully.

“I am a Beast Master of Hircine,” she reminded him.  “It seems I just tell it to get out.”

“Really?” he blinked in surprise.

“So it seems.  The Hagraven I consulted laughed so hard at me she fell over.  And, yes, I have already tried it.  And yes, it worked.”

“Cure me now then,” he said, taking a single step towards her.

“Are you certain?” she asked.

“I am the Harbinger of the Companions.  I should set an example,” he replied emphatically.

“Dreaded wolf, begone!*” Alexa commanded.

Vilkas watched in surprise as the spirit leapt from his body into the air, howled once, and then vanished. He stood there, for a moment, staring blankly out towards the College.

“A bit anticlimactic, isn’t it?” Alexa observed.

“Yes,” he answered still sounding a little dazed.  “Can you cure Farkas too or will it have to wait?”

“If he asks,” Alexa replied.

“Then let us go and speak with him,” Vilkas said, turning to descend the steps back to the tomb’s antechamber.

Alexa caught him by the arm, causing Vilkas to turn back to her in surprise.  “Without her pack Aela will need her shield-siblings more than ever,” Alexa told him earnestly.  “Be there for her.  Lone wolves are not happy animals.  It would be a tragedy if, after all of this, she were to go out hunting one day and simply not return to Jorrvaskr.”

Vilkas’ eyes widened briefly in understanding.  Then he squeezed the hand on his arm reassuringly.  “Farkas and I will do our best,” he promised.

Chapter Text

“You get a chance to read those Falmer pieces yet?” Urag asked as he took a rare book from Alexa.

“I have,” she answered.

“What did you think?”

“I think Auriel should have intervened sooner,” she admitted.

“Did he intervene at all?”* Urag enquired, disbelief obvious in his tone.

“The Diary of Faire Agarwen,” Alexa replied.  “The group it chronicles did not join their fellows in seeking aid from the Dwemer.* Instead they found refuge in the Great Chantry of Auri-El where they fought and killed two dragons and survived for several centuries until the day they accepted a refugee infected with vampirism.”

“How do you know that?” Urag asked, his brow furrowed.

“Because that’s where I found it,” she told him.

“You’ve found the lost Chantry of Auriel?” Urag snorted.

She shrugged. “Believe what you will.”

The librarian considered her for a moment.  “What do you think actually happened?”

“When?” she asked.

“Why’d the Nords exterminate the Snow Elves?” he clarified.

“You don’t think the destruction of Saarthal was enough?” she enquired.

“For two hundred years of systematic genocide?” he snorted.  “No.”

“So you’re asking why the Nords hate elves?” she countered.

“You think it’s the same question?” he grunted, lifting an eyebrow at her.

“Yes,” she responded.

Urag rested his arms on the counter in front of him, settling in for a prolonged conversation.  “What’s your theory?”

“That no Snow Elf would worship a dragon, much less exchange the worship of Auriel for that of the World-Eater himself.”

“You think the Dragon Cult stoked Nord anger over Saarthal into a hatred for all elves for long enough it simply became part of Nord culture?”

“Yes.”

“Because elves refused to worship the dragons, and serve them, as the humans did?”

“Or because it was necessary for a mythopoeic recreation of the Ehlnofey Wars so that the dragons might take their places as the new Nord pantheon,” Alexa offered.  “Or some of both.”

Urag blinked, twice. “That’s a big word, girl.  Do you even know what it means?”*

“Mythopoeic recreation is the practice of recreating – usually only symbolically – Dawn Era events in order to reproduce their outcomes,” she recited.

“The Dwemer mythopoeicly enchanting items is one thing,” Urag told her.  “But a recreation that encompassed all of Skyrim…”

“Would be meant to alter the world,” she agreed.

“Alright,” Urag grumbled. “Walk me through it.”

“Skyrim, as I’m sure you know, is where the Wandering Ehlonfey fought the forces of the Old Ehlnofey, over and over, until the Wandering Ehlnofey were driven from Tamriel. In those battles, we are told, the Nord gods fought along side their people as their war leaders.

“With Ysgramor’s return to Skyrim we see a return to all out war between the descendants of the Wander Ehlnofey, and those of the Old Ehlnofey, and the replacement of the worship of the now fully transcendent Nord pantheon with the worship of eight very real, very material, dragons. 

“If the dragons truly wished to become the gods they already claimed to be then a mythopoeic recreation of the events that lead to the transcendence of the original Nord pantheon seems like a safe bet.  The theory would also explain how 500 Nords could conquer the Snow Elves, as dragon participation in leading the Nord war bands would be required by the mythopoeic recreation.

“The attempt at recreation, however, would have suffered from one, fairly significant, issue; the world of the Late Mythic Era was not the same as the world of the Dawn Era. With Atmora becoming an uninhabitable ice sheet and the dragons of Akavir having been driven to near extinction, the mythopoeic recreation could not end with the Wandering Ehlnofey retreating from Tamriel.  This time the Nords had to win.  For that to happen, and still achieve the intended results of the recreation, the dragons would have to create a myth-echo so intense it could alter the Pattern of reality itself.  Which, if they’d pulled it off, meant they wouldn’t simply have mantled the Nord pantheon but, in the process, added a dissonant refrain to the melody of Creation. Which might explain the very sudden nature of the god’s decision to intervene.”

“A interesting theory,” Urag allowed, slowly, still clearly thinking it through.  “You got proof?”

“I’m working on that,” Alexa admitted.  “Currently my only direct proof of anything is a dragon priest dagger found in the Tomb of Ysgramor, which is hardly solid evidence of anything except that dragon priests existed in Atmora, which we already knew.  The theory’s weakest point, currently, is that the dragons don’t seem to have found someone to play the role of Shor.  Though Shor has no cult, so maybe they did and he just never got a priest?  But why bother to make a mask then?” she asked, more of herself than of Urag, and then shrugged.  “I don’t know.  The theory is in its early stages still.”

“Good luck with it,” the librarian grumped.

“Thanks,” Alexa smiled. “Do you have any books on Altmer culture?”


Ancano stared, disbelieving, at the report the Thalmor courier had left for him, at the dead drop in the ruined house.  The new Breton student – Alexa – it seemed, was now an asset of the Second Emissary’s on the basis of her interest in dragons

The new student had, of course, mentioned that interest in their first conversation but he’d seen no sign of it since.  Rather she seemed to have settled into a wholly ridiculous rhythm of buying new spells, practicing them for a few days, and then disappearing from College grounds for about a month only to return, travel stained and weary, sleep for a few days, transfer information from her travel journal into the topical journals she left at the college, discuss any new questions one-on-one with various masters and fellows, then buy and practice more spells, pick up a request list from the librarian and disappear again.  Rinse and repeat.  The only deviation in the schedule was how long, exactly, she would be gone.

Such lack of attention to her studies, Ancano felt, should not have produced results and yet Drevis and Tolfdir raved about the progress she was making and Urag seemed quietly pleased with the tomes she’d retrieved for him.  She was also helping Arniel Gane with whatever mysterious project he was working on.  Which, given the journals of hers he’d read on the Dwemer, was to be expected.  The only magic she didn’t seem to touch was Destruction magic and he’d heard her claim that her Restoration magic was good enough to server her purposes, which he took to mean rudimentary at best. 

As far as he could tell she did nothing but field research, and yet, every time he checked her shelves no new information on aetherium presented itself.  Odder still, given her new position, the journals she had transcribed, so far, held no insights on dragons.  Though a whole new volume had been added to hold her thoughts on the construction of Ancient Nord ruins; her notes on the “Lunar Forge” struck him as particularly fanciful.  Was the Second Emissary grasping at straws or had he truly seen something in her that Ancano had not, he wondered, trudging back to the College?

She had returned to the college two nights ago, bringing back with her a strange assortment of gifts for her fellow students, which she’d given each of them after eating and bathing but before falling into bed her first night.  The next day had seen a minor argument with Enthir resulting in the exchange of the Nord student’s amulet for another drawstring bag – contents still unknown – and a set of very ill-advised experiments conducted by Brelyna Maryon.

Aside from that she’d mostly slept and transcribed notes out of her travel journal, same as usual. Well, if everyone was sticking to their usual schedules, she’d be alone in the dormitory at this time, he could ask her himself.


It was annoying to discover that, the moment Ancano was forced to look for her, the Breton student had finally left her room.  When he found Alexa she was seated at a table in the Arcanaeum surrounded by a pile of books.  He reached out and picked one up.  “Altmer Culture and Custom?” he asked in slight surprise.

She shrugged without looking up.  “It occurred to me, on my last trip, that every Justiciar I pass on the road takes an instantaneous dislike to me.  I am wondering if there is something offensive about my manner or dress.”

“You might begin by looking at the person speaking to you,” he suggested.

She looked up at him and gave a secretive little smile.  “But I just read that I should never make eye contact with a person whose name I do not know.”

He blinked at her. “Has no one told you my name?”

She tilted her head to one side.  “Now that I think of it, you are right.  Nirya referred to you ‘Ancano’ right before calling you ‘rather handsome’*.  Under these circumstance, am I to presume she got your name right or wait for you to give me your name, since you failed to do so when we first spoke?”

“That was rude of me,” he admitted sourly.  “I am Ancano, and you are?”

“Alexa,” she replied standing to perform the appropriate courtesy as one of his own people would.

“You already seem remarkably well versed in Altmer customs, for a human,” he noted with a sniff.

“I was a bard, for a time, both here and in Cyrodiil.  Given the outcome of the Great War it seemed wise to learn what I could of your ways.”

“You were a bard?”

“Yes.  My ear for music is what drew me to the study of Dwemer technology.  I am proficient, by human standards, on the lute and I’m told my voice is not unpleasant to listen to.”  She looked up at him through her lashes.  “Was there something I can do for you, Advisor?  You do not seem like the type to make small talk.”

“I received a message, regarding you, from the Second Emissary in Markarth.”

“I am not surprised,” she replied easily.  “He has question I was already attempting to find the answers to.”

“I am surprised he feels a student is worthy of his time,” Ancano stated, at his most condescending.

“Perhaps I am simply the best bet that has come his way thus far?” she suggested.  “Not many people were interested in the subject before Helgen. Fewer still can read dovahzul, even though Hela Thrice-Versed’s excellent dragon language primer has been available since the second era*.”

“And what do you get out of this arrangement?” he asked.

“I was rather hoping that it would reduce the likelihood that my study of dragons would end with me as a guest at Northwatch Keep* explaining to an interrogator that I really have no idea where the dragons are coming from as they remove my fingernails one by one.  But that’s just me.”

Ancano blinked.  That was actually very sound reasoning.  “The reason the Justiciars you pass on the road dislike you on sight is because you are neither obsequious nor afraid,” he told her.  “At home they are used to the one, here the other.  They would find your lack of either emotion suspicious.”

“And do you find it suspicious?” she asked.

“No.  You clearly lack the sensibility required to be wary of those with petty power.  And,” he added grudgingly, “given the arrangement you have come to with the Second Emissary, you should be perfectly safe... now.”

“I am glad you think so.”

“I will expect your cooperation, should I ask for it,” he informed her.

“And I will be pleased to give it, should I receive prior, written, notification from the Second Emissary to that effect, for each individual request.”

That surprised him. “You believe that I might use an asset against the wishes of their handler?”

“No.  But having been told that my actions will reflect upon the Second Emissary I feel some caution is called for.”

Ancano’s eyes narrowed. “The Second Emissary is lucky to have found so thoughtful an asset in this barbarous land.”

“You flatter me, Advisor. Perhaps it is simply that, while I do not have the sensibility required to fear petty power, I do have enough to fear real power?”

Ancano doubted that but chose not to say so.  “Speaking of dragons, have you spoken with one?  You claim to know their language, after all.”

“I have, though I was in an Oblivion realm at the time.  But knowing their language is unnecessary.  They are quite capable of communicating on their own – in any language you wish – even if the ones around here do not appear to be interested in talking. Maybe that will change once their hierarchy has been worked out and they’ve finished conquering their personal territories.”

“No time soon then,” Ancano grimaced.  “There are dragons in Oblivion?”

“Some attempted to hide, in various realms, from the destruction of their species, others ended up there by the same paths that all mages can.  I’m told the one that found himself in Coldharbor suffered in ways that would have made even the worst of Skyrim’s dragon priests blanch.”

“Lovely,” Ancano commented. “And what can you tell me about the dragon’s return?”

“Only what I have already told the Commander, as that is currently all I know,” she answered simply. 

“Tell me,” he commanded.

“Alright.  I have seen a large black dragon visiting ancient gravesites and summoning dragons back from the dead.  And no, before you ask, that does not make the resulting dragons undead.  A dragon’s soul, you see, does not have an afterlife to move on to.  So it remains here, on Nirn, locked within the dragon’s bones.  Thus, when enough life-energy is applied to the bones the dragon returns to real, true, life.”

“And how does this dragon achieve such a thing?”

“With a Shout I’ve translated as ‘flesh-time-undo’.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s the thing about dragon magic!” the Breton student told him suddenly excited.  “I don’t think it’s actually magic!  Or, at least, not magic the way we think of it.”

“…What?” Ancano asked, suddenly wary.

“I think it’s a form of tonal architecture!” she explained, giddily.

Ri-ight.  His mistake. He really should know better than to try talking to the students around here.  “Fascinating,” he muttered, dismissively.  “I’ll let you get back to your reading now.”

Alexa watched him go, a slight smirk, painting her lips.*  When the truth was unbelievable enough lying about it was unnecessary.

Chapter Text

What followed was a wide range of Stormcloak propaganda and a particularly smutty short story featuring Ancano and the Arch-Mage of Winterhold.

Ondolemar had no idea who the Khajiit with a flare for prurient writing was but he was almost certain the cat posed no threat to the Dominion.  It was somewhat more difficult to gauge the level of threat he might pose to Ancano’s person.  Still, Ancano was perfectly capable of protecting himself…

Ondolemar forwarded the manuscript to Earmiel who, he was certain, could us a pick-me-up.  Two weeks later Ondolemar was only slightly surprised to find a pamphlet version on a bench at the Thalmor Embassy.

Two weeks after that it was clear that Earmiel and the Khajiit had gone into business together as the tales of the Thalmor Advisor’s torrid adventures - working his way through the various members of the College, and city, of Winterhold - had taken Skyrim by storm. 

It did not escape Ondolemar’s noticed that Alexa, or any character like her, was absent from the published material.  On the other hand, Ancano, who was now the subject of knowing smiles and faint snickering wherever he went, was taking the situation with less grace than might have been hoped for in someone of his standing.

Chapter Text

The scent of sweet rolls had interrupted Ondolemar’s late night routine sending him to the Keep’s kitchen.  When he got there he was nearly certain he was having some sort of horrible hallucination.  Eolain, Faleen, and Alexa were seated around the chef’s table playing cards while, it would seem, binging on brandy and bite sized sweat rolls.

“Alexa,” he exclaimed in surprise, even as he noted that she wasn’t wearing her armor but a set of basic, College of Winterhold, robes.*  “What are you doing here?” he asked, suddenly a little concerned.  He had never seen her out of her armor before.

“Got my ass nearly handed to me by a lich this afternoon,*” Alexa replied, with a welcoming smile.  “So I decided to spend the night here, in this lovely city, rather than ride somewhere nicer while exhausted and wearing armor in need of extensive repair.”

“Oh!  Hello…” Faleen greeted him, with disturbing cheer, belatedly turning to look over her shoulder at him.  “Eolain was just telling stories about you!”

“Alexa keeps winning,” Eolain explained in a stage whisper.  “I’m trying to distract her.”

“Why you think I would find stories about the Commander’s childhood distracting I do not know,” Alexa replied primly.

“Well I do…” Faleen giggled, an event so out of character it caused a shiver to run down Ondolemar’s spine. “I’ve always found him distracting. Mostly the lips.* They look so… soft.”

“Oh, they are,” Eolain grinned at the Redguard woman as Alexa picked up a good portion of the discard pile.

“Wait… how do you know what his lips are like?” Faleen demanded of Eolain.  “I thought you preferred women?”

Alexa smirked at him from across the table as she rearranged her hand.  “This clearly isn’t going anywhere good, Commander.  I suggest you run away before she answers that.”

“I came here for a sweet roll,” he announced stiffly.  Not that fleeing hadn’t already occurred to him but, now that it had been suggested, there was no way he was going to admit he found the situation intimidating.

Alexa tilted her chin in the direction of the sideboard.  “I saved some for you.  On the covered plate over there.”

“Dolly,” Eolain hissed, grabbing at his coat as he tried to slip past her to the sideboard.  “I think Alexa might still be sober, can you tell?”

“How much have you already had?” he asked her in exasperation.

“Uhhh… we’re working on our second bottle, I think,” Eolain answered.  “Though the first one wasn’t full when we started, so it’s hard to tell…”

“Then no,” he cut in before Eolain could ramble any further.  “I doubt any of you are the least bit sober.  It’s actually surprising you’re not dead.”

“But how can you tell?” Eolain demanded.  “She keeps winning!”

He sighed.  “Alexa, are you sober?” he asked, disentangling his coat from Eolain’s hand.

“Not particularly, no,” the Breton replied, laying out her hand to the mixed groans of the two other women.  “Though I think my tolerance has increased somewhat since my run in with Sanguine.”

“Cheater!” Eolain gasped. “Daedric help is not fair!”

“Boo-oo,” Faleen added half-heartedly as Eolain filled Alexa’s cup to the brim.  “Oh, hey,” Faleen gasped, her eyes fixed on Ondolemar backside as he picked up his plate of sweet rolls.  “Alexa’s right!  Thalmor coats do have heart shaped designs on their butts*!”

“How had I never noticed that?” Eolain demanded, leaning around Faleen to inspect Ondolemar’s butt.

Ondolemar glared at her and sat down on the nearest chair.  Usually he would have taken his sweet rolls back to his room but what was going on here might prove… interesting.  Faleen at the very least was drunk enough to let something slip and Eolain almost certainly required supervision at this stage.*

“I mention it simply as an odd design decision,” Alexa sniffed, as she laid out a winning hand. “I mean, usually, one would assume such a thing would be used to accentuate the wearer’s curves… but Altmer generally have no curves to draw attention too.”

Eolain snickered, tossing her cards into the center of the table.  “Ah… the truth hurts.  My wife, however, is dunmer.  Her curves areluscious.”

“What about my curves?” Faleen asked sounding dejected as she handed her cards to Alexa.

“You, my dear, have the best breast in Markarth,” Eolain told her with complete sincerity.

“Thanks!” Faleen blushed. “But Alexa is prettier.”

“Alexa is very pretty,” Eolain agreed warmly.  “Quite a lot of mer blood too… though I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a mer as pale as she is…”

“Not sure pale is the right word,” Faleen mused.  “White, yes, but pale just suggests she doesn’t get enough sun.”

“Snow Elves,” Alexa replied shuffling the cards.  “And my coloration doesn’t change much when I tan; it just becomes harder to see the veins through the skin.  As Faleen suggests my pigmentation is very white.  I believe it is your deal?”

“It is but, before we start the next hand, you need to prove you’re as drunk as we are or you have to drink everything in your cup,” Eolain announced.  “And don’t think you can get out of drinking just because you were right about Dolly’s coat.”

“Wait… does that mean you’ve been checking out the Commander’s ass?” Faleen demanded.

“I noticed the design a little while ago when I was forced to follow a Thalmor agent up a flight of stairs which was steep enough to place his butt on about my eye level,” Alexa told her.

“So you’ve been staring at Ancano’s coat,” Ondolemar murmured, not above getting a little of his own back.

Faleen’s head whipped towards him, startled.  “Oh, Ondolemar, you’re still here!”

Alexa ignored him and grimaced at the amount of brandy now in her cup.  “Right, so how do I prove that I’m as drunk as you ladies are?”

“You could uh…” Eolain looked around the room for inspiration.  “Kiss Dolly!”

“That would be a very bad idea,” he told them coldly, wiping his sticky fingers on a napkin.

“Are you going to hold him down?” Alexa asked Eolain, as she stood up.

“I will!” Faleen laughed, getting to her feet.  She stood behind his chair, her hands on his shoulders, pressing him into his seat.

“It’s alright, Commander,” Alexa smiled.  “I promise you I’m not poisonous.”

“Alexa…” he warned but it was already too late.  She’d taken his face between her hands and was kissing him.  Auriel help him, the kiss was amazing.  It took all of his willpower, and the knowledge that Eolain was watching, not to react beyond resting a hand on her hip to keep her steady.

She pulled away and smiled. “See?  No harm done!”

“So?” Faleen asked curiously as she released Ondolemar’s shoulders.

“Eolain was right,” Alexa replied with a little shrug.

“Sooo unfair!” Faleen moaned.  “If I didn’t have a lover already I’d…”

Ondolemar cleared his throat, picked up his sweet rolls, and fled the kitchen.


Ondolemar only made it as far as the throne room before realizing he didn’t feel safe leaving those three to gossip without some supervision so he turned around and took a seat in the shadows leading off to the Jarl’s quarters.  From here, if he listened carefully, he could still hear everything that was being said in the kitchen but was out of teasing range.

The women’s revelries only lasted a few more hands before Alexa excused herself and, drawstring bag in hand, disappeared in the direction of Calcelmo’s work station.

“Hey… Eolain, why are you here again?” Faleen enquired, leaning heavily against the mer woman and gesticulating sloppily as Eolain helped her from the kitchen.

“Because I’m a pureblood and the stupid Thalmor are stupid,” Eolain replied a little grouchily, propping the housecarl up against one of the stone tables.  “Where’d Alexa go?”

Faleen plopped, gracelessly, onto one of the stone seats.  “Sheee… potions?” Faleen replied after a good deal of thought.  “Hey, you know, you’re a… a good person.  I like you.  Most of the Altmer around here… assholes.” 

Eolain nodded knowingly. “Thalmor,” she agreed.

“Yeah… assholes,” Faleen repeated.  “Not the Commander though.  Can’t figure him out.  Says all the right things but… not an asshole.  Should be, but… not.  Weird.”

“I see we’ve progressed to the meaningful conversations part of the evening,” Alexa laughed, coming back. 

“You… not drunk enough,” Faleen informed her as she downed the potion Alexa handed her.

Alexa reached out and touched Faleen’s forehead with glowing fingers.  The woman’s eyelids flickered and then she slumped forward on the table and began to snore.

“Wow,” Eolain commented in surprise.  “Sleep spells aren’t that common in academic magic.”

“True.  Guards!” she gestured to the two men still standing outside the throne room.  “The housecarl requires help back to her room.”

Alexa waited for the guards to completely disappear with Faleen before turning to Eolain.  “You want to tell me why you’re getting drunk and avoiding the Commander?” she asked, sitting on top of the table the housecarl hand just vacated.

“No,” Eolain replied simply, taking a seat beside her.  “And Faleen is right, you a far too sober.  You shouldn’t have noticed that.”

“Yes, well, I’m fairly resistant to alcohol these days and notcompletely unobservant.”

“Because you’re a dragon?” Eolain asked.

“No.  Dragons can get drunk.  I wouldn’t suggest it though…  Their memories indicate it often ends poorly.” She hesitated for a moment and then appeared to shift topics.  “Earmiel says you have a daughter my age.  That’s… odd to think about.”

Eolain nodded glumly. “I’d think less about it if… never mind.”

Alexa seemed to consider that for a moment.  “If the reason you came to Skyrim isn’t working out, why are you still here? Markarth isn’t the most interesting of places.”

“Because I’m worried for Dolly,” Eolain answered, a tired, sad, little note to her voice.

“And you think that sentiment is best expressed by drunkenly avoiding him?”

“Ha!” Eolain, laughed. “No.  I’m avoiding him because I haven’t figured out how to talk to him about it yet.”

“You could just try telling him.  The Commander is fairly skilled at verbal interrogation.  He’d know the right leading questions to ask.”

“Or the right things to say to shut me down,” Eolain muttered.  “He’s almost as bad as my mother when it comes to implying that he’s deeply disappointed in my decisions.”

“Are your decisions so very disappointing?”

“I’m a pureblood Altmer, with a rare gift for Alteration magic, and not only did I choose to shirk my family duties, when I ran off to Morrowind, but I’ve had the bad sense to prefer my own sex.  As a pureblood of childbearing age I should be producing perfect Altmer babies for the Dominion.  Preferring woman makes that more difficult,” she explained.

“I’m sorry.  The current situation in Alinor does not appear to be particularly socially healthy.”

Eolain snorted rather indelicately.  “You, my dear, have a rare gift for understatement.”

“What has you so worried about the Commander?” Alexa enquired, proving, in Ondolemar’s opinion, that he wasn’t the only one skilled at getting people to talk.  He’d have to remember that.

Eolain sighed slightly. “When we were children adults were always holding Dolly up as an example of our generation’s ideal pureblood. It’s… not a standard anyone should try to live up to.  I worry about the day he wakes up and realizes exactly how unhappy he’s always been.”

“And you think that’s more likely now than it has been before?”

“Previously I just worried that he’d never realize he was unhappy,” Eolain replied wryly.

“Huh...” Alex mused.  “I just assumed he was unhappy because living in Markarth would make anyone unhappy.  What makes you think the Commander might see his unhappiness as a systemic condition rather than as a result of living in this wretched place?”

What indeed, Ondolemar wondered, sinking deeper into the shadows that surrounded him.

“I think… I think he may have, for the first time in his life, actually considered making a choice that could lead to something other than living up to the potential of his perfect bloodline by eventually being promoted to Thalmor High Command and living in elegant misery for the rest of his life.”

“That was quite the mouthful,” Alexa remarked. 

Eolain rolled her eyes. “I say ‘considered’ because he hasn’t, and probably won’t, actually choose to deviate from the path he was set on by his parents.  But the simple act of considering possibilities other than the ones he’s been told he should want leaves him open to the realization that being better than everyone else isn’t making him happy.”

“And so you’re staying in the hopes of mitigating the resulting nervous breakdown?”

“No.  I’m staying because, should he choose happiness, I want to be here to help him.”

“I think the Commander is lucky to have you and Earmiel,” Alexa said with a soft smile.  “I’m a little jealous.”

“Jealous of overbearing childhood friends?”

“I have no one like that in my life.  I… didn’t get much of a childhood.”

“So… what’s it like, being dragonborn?”

“Growing up, not knowing, sucks,” Alexa answered with all the appearances of truthfulness.  “I was always, different, too good with magic, too aware of some things, too good at guessing others.  My human family couldn’t just let me be a child.  No, I had to study and perform and impress the right people so that I could be married advantageously and live my life as a particularly decorative weapon my husband would keep around to impress others… 

“It wasn’t until I absorbed a dragon’s soul that the weirdness of my life made any sense. Even then it wasn’t until I found a dragon that would actually speak with me that I had someone to talk about the strange things that go on in my head.  In some respects, I suppose, I’ve spent my entire life alone.”  She sighed and, seeing Eolain’s worried look, gave a dismissive shrug.  “Knowing though...  Your view of the world changes when you suddenly gain all the memories and experience of a being that had lived since not long after time began.  Even the oldest mer I’ve ever met cannot approach the knowledge and understanding of the world that a dragon has.”

“And you remember all of it?” Eolain asked, a little awed.

“All of it times four… Dragons have eidetic memories and I have absorbed four of them,” she answered.

“I can’t imagine what that must be like,” Eolain admitted.

“Mostly I try not to think about it…” Alexa admitted with a wry little smile. “Or anything else that might cause the dragon memories to suddenly bombard me with massive amounts of information I have no way of verifying.  It’s one reason I stick to the ridiculous and trivial in conversation. Having people stare at me like I’ve run mad, simply because a dragon I’ve killed knew something otherwise undocumented, doesn’t make for a fun evening with friends.”

“Alright, blow my mind!” Eolain exclaimed, flapping a hand at Alexa.  “Tell me something you’ve learned from the dragons that no one knows or would believe!”

“For the last twenty-six years we have been living in a Real Moment*?” Alexa offered.

“A real moment?” Eolain asked.

Alexa, displaying a very strange grasp of alteration magic, drew a glowing straight line in the air in front them.  “Looking back we see history as a single line of causality, a single trajectory along which we all travel, inexorably, to the end.  But this is only because we assume that the way things happened is the only way they could have happened,” she explained.  “And yet we know from the various accounts of the Warp in the West that time and experience, at least within a Dragon Break, are more malleable than that.”  She drew several, staggered, lines off the first line connecting them all back to a single point a hand’s length further down. “Dragon Breaks – spaces of un-time within linear time – are not the only documented type of anomaly that effects Time. There are also times in which the trajectory of history can be changed,” she said, drawing a straight line branching off the first.  She then circled the point at which the two lines branched.  “These spaces in which the trajectory of history can be altered are Real Moments.”

“How can you tell that we are living in such a time?” Eolain asked.  “I mean if you don’t have a dragon to tell you.”

“The instability of the future timeline allows for greater influence from beyond the various barriers that protect reality including, but not limited to, the Oblivion realms, Adjacent Places, and even un-time.  In such times the mnemoli - a group of Magna Ge in charge of the Elder Scrolls – may choose to remove their charges from Nirn for safe keeping.  In 4E 175 the entire Imperial collection of Elder Scrolls disappeared.”

“You are saying we have been living in a Real Moment – a time without fate – since sometime in 175?” Eolain asked in astonishment.

“Yes.”

“That’s… amazing!  But not something, I think, you couldn’t convince someone else of.  Got anything better?”

“Aldmeris never existed?” Alexa asked.

Eolain turned look at Alexa. “What?”

“Don’t shriek at me,” Alexa complained.  “You wanted something unbelievable.”

“But there were tapestries, and texts, in the Crystal Tower!”

“There still are,” Alexa replied calmly.  “Just because you can’t get to them doesn’t mean they’re not there.  But they’re proof of the function of the Tower not of a continent lost in the early Mythic.”

“The Crystal Tower has a function?* Beyond being a big building, I mean.”

“If all of creation is music – as the Dwemer believed – then the Towers are like conductors each directing their own performance of the symphony that is Creation,” Alexa answered.  “Kalpa to kalpa they are unchanging their contents carried from one Creation into the next.  When the Destroyer consumes all of Mundus only they are left behind.  From them all Creation begins anew.”

“So you’re saying there have been multiple creations and Aldmeris never existed in this one?”

“Not multiple creations exactly.  More like multiple iterations of the same creation – variations on a theme.  Like the same symphony being played over and over again. Each performance is unique but also the same.  As for the society depicted in the artifacts held within the Crystal Tower… it has not existed in this iteration yet,*” Alexa answered quietly.

“Meaning Aldmeris is a possible future?”

“One in which the Ayleidoon Hegemony had removed from the world all non-mer sapient life.  The ninth era I think, though it is hazy.  Dragon memories of past kalpa are… like half forgotten dreams: Strange and distorted by the influence un-time has on drake.  I do know that particular kalpa didn’t last long after the final set of extinctions weakened the structure of the Convention such that the Hist nearly conquered all five cornes of the twelve worlds* before the beginning of the next kalpa cleared them from the field.*  Whether this kalpa will end the same way that one did… I can’t tell.”

“Wow.  There’s so much to unpack from that it may take me a decade or two to think about it,” Eolain confessed staring blindly into the middle distance.

“Welcome to the inside of my head these days,” Alexa laughed.

“I don’t think I envy you, though it would be fun to keep you around just to talk to,” Eolain smiled.

There was companionable silence between them for a while.

“Hey, I’m glad you’re friends with Earmiel,” Eolain said suddenly.  “You’ll keep an eye on him for me?  I worry that he’ll eventually get himself into trouble that his charm can’t get him back out of.”

“I’m not sure that anywhere near me is the safest place to be,” Alexa pointed out.  “Dragonborn aren’t known for living safe and quiet lives. But yes.  I will attempt to haul his ass out of any trouble he gets into. As long as I’m still around at least. Speaking of which, it is definitely past my bed time and I’ve got an early start in the morning.”

“No more liches, I hope?” Eolain asked as Alexa retrieved her pack from the kitchen.

“No.  I’m off to devote a few days to the thrilling activity of meditating on the meaning of words,” Alexa smiled.  “As the greatest risk involved in such things, this time of year, is frostbite, I think I’ll be fine.”

“Good luck?” Eolain offered. “If the boredom becomes overwhelming you can always come back and entertain me.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Alexa laughed, turning away.

“Are you not going to say goodbye to Dolly before you go?” Eolain called after her.

Alexa gave Eolain a slightly startled look and then glanced, swiftly, in his direction.  He froze, barely even breathing. 

“No,” Alexa answered Eolain with a sight shrug.  “It’s late and the Commander needs his beauty sleep.”

“Alright then,” Eolain stood up.  “I guess we can walk to the inn together then.”

“After you, m’lady,” Alexa bowed, gesturing towards the stairs.

Ondolemar waited until he could no longer hear their voices before standing and making his way back to his room.  Had Alexa known he was there?  And, if she had, how much of what he had overheard had been for his benefit, he wondered?


“If I apologize for yesterday’s drunken antics, will you forgive me enough to acknowledge my presence?” Eolain asked, late the next evening.

There was a moment of tense, pregnant, silence between them before Ondolemar shifted slightly in his chair. “Do I really strike you as unhappy?” he asked, without looking up from the report he was writing.

Oh.  She perched, carefully, on the edge of one of the padded chairs before the fire, facing him. “Yes,” she answered, her voice calm even as she twisted the fingers in her lap hard enough the joints complained. “How much did you overhear?”

“Everything from the time you left the kitchen to when you and Alexa left the Keep,” he replied mildly as if it were of no concern.

She swallowed hard around a suddenly dry throat.  “Then can I ask you something?”

“Is there some way I could stop you?”

“Do you love her?”

The quill Ondolemar was holding snapped between his fingers.

“To be clear,” she hurried on before he could respond.  “I’m not asking if you desire her I’m asking if you love her.”

He put the broken quill aside.  “That’s not really any of your business, is it, Eolain?”

“Fine,” she replied shortly. “Then let me ask you something else. If you were free of all responsibilities to your family, and to the Dominion, what would you do with your life?”

He opened his mouth to reply, closed it again, and turned away from her with a slight sigh.  “I don’t know,” he admitted softly.

“Well thank the Divines for that much at least,” Eolain sighed, relieved.  “Because, ‘Exactly what I’m doing now’ wouldn’t have been a good answer.”

“And what is it you believe I am doing now?” he asked her.

“Torturing an entire people with the intention of destroying their way of life in order to negate their ability to defend themselves against Thalmor Imperialism,*” she replied without flinching.

Ondolemar raised both eyebrows at that.  “You’ve gotten rather bold, living in Morrowind.”

“Am I wrong?” she demanded, equally calmly.

I do not torture people,” he told her softly.  “Nor do I refer them to the torturers if it can be avoided.”

“But the Thalmor do,” she told him.

“Yes.  The Thalmor do.”  His eyes met hers squarely and she could only stare at him, aghast. 

“Stendarr’s mercy, Dolly, what have you done?” she whispered.

“Nothing,” he told her. “I have done nothing.  And I will continue to do nothing.  The dragonborn is my asset.  What I choose to share with my colleagues and superiors, about my assets, is for me to decide.  It is enough for them to know of her affiliation with the cause.”

“You’re officially protecting the dragonborn?” she hissed. “Are you insane?”

“You make that sound as if she is an enemy of the Dominion,” he remarked.

“Isn’t she?” Eolain demanded.

“Do you have proof of that?”

She blinked.  “No...”

“And you never will,” he told her.

Eolain sat there, for a time, dumbstruck.  “Are you ever going to tell her?” she asked finally.

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I’ve… tried.  I can only assume that her apparent ignorance is a choice she has made to not endanger our current relationship.”

Eolain snorted at that. “You ever tell her straight out?”

He fiddled with the point of his new quill but didn’t answer.

“Dolly, she saved you a plate of sweet rolls and then kissed you on the flimsiest of excuses.  She clearly likes you.  And, if you weren’t dressed like that, she might even have picked up on the fact that you like her.”

“She’s married.”

“So steal her from him! Anyone who would let Alexa face liches, and travel around a countryside full of angry dragons, with only her dog for company, doesn’t deserve her!”

“And what would you have me do about that?” he demanded.  “It’s not like the Second Emissary to Skyrim can simply leave his post to travels around the countryside fighting dragons!”

Eolain blinked, taken aback by the vehemence of his response.  She swallowed and considered her next words carefully.  “All our lives, Dolly, you have done what others expected of you, not because you had any particular attachment to what you were being asked to do but because you never had a good enough reason to say no. Is Alexa enough to change that?”

“You’re suggesting I leave the Thalmor?”

“NO,” she exclaimed, shocked that he’d even suggested it.  “That would probably be a very bad idea.  But I am suggesting you focus less on getting yourself promoted to a position in Alinor and more on finding a position someplace where an Altmer with a Breton lover wouldn’t be quite so scandalous.”

“You think I haven’t thought about it?” he admitted.  “But I have a duty to my family to return to Alinor.  It’s already been put off longer than it should.  Putting it off again will only invite comment.  I must return there in 205 when my current deployment is up.”

“That I can help you with,” she told him. 

He gave her a startled look. “You can?”

“We can talk about it after you’ve actually told Alexa how you feel.  As bluntly as possible.”

Ondolemar frowned at her.

Eolain rolled her eyes. “For once in your life Dolly, do yourself a favor, take my advice, and talk to her about something more important than whatever random, and totally fascinating, thing she’s deflecting people with today.”

“I’ll consider it,” he told her, “if you leave me alone to finish my reports.”

Eolain jumped to her feet, made a high-pitched noise of glee, hugged him, and then scampered across the room to the door.  Her hand on the door handle she stopped and looked back at him, where he sat, still stunned by her reaction.  “You know I want you to be happy, right?  No, don’t answer, it was a rhetorical question,” she continued before he could respond.  “But I’m glad I came here, even if this place is utterly wretched and I hate spending this much time away from Mirlen and the children, because you deserve better than…” she gestured around her.  “Anyway, you have work to do.”

Still frozen in place, Ondolemar watched the door shut behind Eolain.  The strength of her reaction was worrying.  What, in the names of the Divines, did she think he had just agreed to?

Chapter Text

The next journal Ancano ‘borrowed’, without asking, turned out to be musical in nature.  He thumbed quickly through the first few songs, barely registering them.  They weren’t terrible, especially by Skyrim’s unfortunately low standards, but they weren’t particularly memorable either.  They also appeared in this journal in what was probably finished form, suggesting that, like everything else left in her bookshelf at the College they had been moved from the journal she carried with her.

About twelve pages in a short Breton fairytale, put to music, was the first song that caught his attention. Ancano had to admit, after due consideration, that, given the singer was halfway capable, the tune would be nice enough.

A Breton piece, suitable for square dancing, about river spirit that caused men to wreck their boats on the rocks, was next.  He snorted slightly.  The story was a common one though almost universally without factual cause.  Still there was considerable skill expressed in the composition even if both this piece, and the last, sounded a little homesick.

The next was an instrumental piece called “Argonian Dance” scored for pipes and three different drums. He knew the dance it’s time scoring indicated.  The music would fit well enough, he decided after a moment of thought.

A strange piece about traveling with a ghost followed.  Ancano wasn’t sure what to make of that one.

After it was a Khajiit style song about an endless pilgrimage to one of the sacred hidden cities in Elsweyr Ancano was certain didn’t truly exist.  The haunting melody threatened to get stuck in his head.

A drinking song called “A Toast to Tomorrow” was a good deal more rousing and optimistic then any of the previous songs, or most Nord tavern music for that matter.

A Redguard call and response style song, in three parts he was fairly certain most humans would not have the range for, followed.  The girl did have a facility for language and imagery, he’d give her that much.

After that was a dunmer style hymn to Mephala, suitable for sword dancing, that was actually quite good. Ancano paused and went back over it. Something had changed.  The previous two songs had been happy.  This one… gave him chills.

A hymn to Auri-El, in ancient Falmer (using a modern script and with translation), followed.  It left him gritting his teeth in anger over what had happened to the Snow Elves at the hands of the Dwemer.  Disquieted by the intensity of his own response Ancano moved swiftly on only to find he’d reached the last written page.  Its contents took his breath away.  This, final, piece was written in truly ancient Aldmeri and, unlike the Falmer hymn, had no translation. Ancano pulled a sheet of paper towards him and went to work. 

When he finished his hands were trembling with repressed emotion.  The song was an immortal’s soft lament about the circular nature of time and existence, and her envy of mortals who lived briefly enough to believe in change. It was beautiful, heartrending, and uplifting.

He wanted to demand, of the Breton student, where she had found this music.  There was certainly no way she had written it herself.  No one living spoke this dialect of Aldmeri with the fluency, subtlety, and beauty displayed by the lyrics.  No, this was a piece of mer heritage.  But he could not ask her about it without revealing he’d gone through her things.

Chapter Text

“Someone is excavating Korvanjund,” Paarthurnax informed Alexa, landing on the wall above her, and startling her from her meditation.  “The word wall within is one you might find… useful.”

“Korvanjund?” she asked, standing up.

“North and east of Shearpoint, between the two giant camps,” he replied.  “A tomb, built for High King Borgas, the last of Ysgramor’s bloodline.”

“If it is only just being excavated now then all the draugr within are likely to be alive,” Alexa muttered to herself.  “Not to mention whoever is excavating it probably won’t want me around.”  She sighed, and stretched.  “Perhaps, with a little ingenuity, they can be avoided rather than fought...”

Paarthurnax gave a snort of laughter. 

Alexa arched an eyebrow at him.

“For all that you are human, you seem uninterested in battle,” he explained.  “Evgiir Unslaad – season unending – the jul of our time were eternally engaged in battling each other.  It was why we first sought dominion over them, to direct their energy towards better, more constructive, things than slaughter.  Does your dragon blood equally fail to call you to prove your dominance over those that would oppose you?” he enquired, head tipped to one side.

“Are there those that would oppose me?” Alexa asked him.  “Have I done something that requires opposition?”

“Living here, as I do, I am unlikely to know, dovahkiin.  But that you ask the question at all is interesting.”

Alexa frowned at that, his comment reminding her of something that had been bothering her for the last few weeks. “The ‘traditional greeting’ of the Greybeards to a dragonborn… it conflated being Ysmir – the ‘dragon of the north’ – with being Storm-Crowned.  But while I may be a dragon in the north I am no shezarrine.”

“What makes you think ‘dragon of the north’ should indicate a Shezarrine?” he asked.

“If Akatosh is a dragon, and Alduin is a dragon, and Lorkhan is a ‘serpent’, then surely the term ‘serpent’ is simply an insulting way to refer to a dragon.  Lorkhan’s heart is under Red Mountain.  It would be hard to be more ‘of’ something than the place that surrounds your heart.  Also his people came from Atmora which is north of Tamriel.”

“You are right,” Paarthurnax allowed.  “Lorkhan is the ‘dragon of the north’ and, given your apparent lack of blood lust, I think it fair to say you resemble Akatosh more than either Alduin or Lorkhan.*”

“Doesn’t that make the traditional greeting inaccurate?” she asked.

“A great many ‘traditional’ things are inaccurate,” Paarthurnax chuckled.

“Was it ever accurate?” she asked.

“That part?  Only once,*” he answered.

“That part?” she echoed. “So being Storm-Crowned is aslo not the same thing as being dragonborn, is it?”*

“No.  Though, as a daughter of Kyne, you are, arguably, both.  Though, again, you seem to lack the compulsion to seek out dov to test yourself against.”

Alexa shivered, the sun had dipped behind the mountain and the temperature was dropping.  “I should head down,” she admitted a little ruefully. She hadn’t wanted to end their conversation yet but the path would be dangerous in the dark.  It would be a very long way to fall.

“You should know, Alduin has ordered your death,” Paarthurnax informed her gently.  “Those that wish to please him will take note.”

Alexa nodded a little morosely.

“There are places you must go for your training,” the dragon continued.  “The smarter ones will wait for you there.  The braver ones will seek you where you live.”

“Is there any way to solve our differences without killing them?” she asked.

“No,” he answered simply. “If only because you require their strength – their knowledge – if you are to defeat Alduin.”

“Right.  So I’ll just focus on searching for word walls and defeating any dragon waiting for me on them then.”

“We will speak more when next you visit,” Paarthurnax promised.  “Do not forget about Korvanjund.”

“I’ll take a look at it after Northwind Summit,” Alexa answered.


Five days later…

“Do you know what this is?” Karliah breathed, lifting the downed draugr death lord’s headpiece in her hands.

“Really barbaric head ware,” Marcurio answered firmly.

“It’s the Jagged Crown!” Karliah told them, handing it over to Alexa to look at. 

“It can’t be.  The Jagged Crown was lost in the fourth century of the first era,” Marcurio argued.

“What do you know about it?” Alexa asked, turning the crown over in her hands.

“It symbolizes a time in Skyrim when the High Kings were chosen by strength of arms and collective adulation,” Marcurio answered.

“Well, that explains the dead Stormcloaks outside.”

“If Ulfric gets his hands on it…” Karliah whispered.

“No one should have it,” Alexa said, tucking it away in her pack.  “The thing still has fragments of the dragon’s soul in it.”

Marcurio and Karliah exchanged a look.

“Why don’t you finish up with the talking wall and we’ll loot the place so we can all get out of here before what’s left of the Stormcloaks catch up?” Marcurio suggested.


Divines help him he hated draugr.  He was keeping it together pretty well though and they probably only had one room to go… the main burial chamber.  Hadvar grit his teeth and followed the legate forward in a rush.  A rush that came to a sudden stop as he, and the handful of legionaries that remained, stopped in their tracks.  All the draugr in this room were already down.

He looked around him in surprise and saw three people, standing at the far end of the room, in front of a strange, curved, wall, as one of them, wrote in a notebook.

The Imperial mage tapped the woman who was writing on the shoulder.  “Company.”

She turned to look at them. “Hadvar!” she laughed.

“Alexa?” he gasped in surprise.  “What are you doing here?”

“Ever wonder what the dragonborn does after she’s been summoned by the Greybeards?” Alexa asked him, still smiling.  “Well, this is it!”

“This is it?” he asked mystified.

“Yep!  I crawl down every draugr infested hole in Skyrim looking for these damn chanting walls,” she told him as though that explained something. 

“Why would you do that?”

“To learn the dragon language,” she sighed.  “So the dragons will stop mocking me for being unable to understand them. Seriously, they’re assholes about it.”

You’re the dragonborn?”

“Not what you expected?” she asked.

“How did you get in here?” Legate Rikke demanded, pushing past him.

“Side entrance,*” Alexa answered with a shrug.  “If I’ve learned anything in all the searching for chanting walls I’ve done lately, it’s that most of these burial chambers have a second entrance.”

“Really?” Rikke blinked.

“Yep, right over there, disguised as one of those upright caskets.  The hidden doors require a skilled hand to open,” she nodded at the figure in armor so dark it was hard to see, “but it’s much easier than worrying about all those draugr and traps.  What is the Legion doing here?  Tomb robbing doesn’t really sound like something you should be doing.”

“We’re looking for the Jagged Crown,” Rikke explained in a slightly huffy tone.  “You didn’t see it, did you?” she continued, looking around her. The room had clearly already been gone over for treasure.

“Ugly helmet like thing made of dragon teeth?” Alexa asked.

“Yes.  Give it here… please?”

“No.”

“What?” Rikke demanded incredulously.

“No.  It would be a very bad idea to wear that thing out in the open these days.  The College of Winterhold will take it for safe keeping.”

“And why would that be?” Rikke growled.

“The dragon that ‘donated’ these teeth was not killed by a dragonborn,” Alexa explained.  “Meaning the teeth, and bone, are still ensouled. Given the current state of Skyrim there is every possibility that somewhere, out there right now, is a dragon, missing its teeth.*  It will definitely come looking for them.”

“That’s…” Rikke began, unsure even where to start on that claim.

“Totally freaky?” the Imperial mage asked, with a grin.  “You have no idea.”

“So, in the best interest of everyone involved,” Alexa continued, with a glare for the mage, “the College of Winterhold has volunteered to hold onto this damn ugly piece of Skyrim history until such a time as the dragonborn has eliminated the threat it poses to Skyrim’s next High King.  At such a time as a moot is called, and new High King determined, given that the dragon in question has already been dealt with, the College promises to hand over the crown at the King, or Queen’s, coronation.”

“But…”

“It is not my intention to cheat you of your prize, Legate,” Alexa interrupted Rikke before she could argue. “You can leave here in the certain knowledge that the legend of the Jagged Crown will not be used to strengthen Ulfric’s claims or bolster his ranks.  Neither will your possession of this item cause a dragon, intent upon retrieving it, to descend upon Solitude and lay waste the Blue Palace.”  She put her journal away and lifted her pack.  “Now, my friends, it is time we were leaving. Hadvar, it was lovely to see you again.”


After Alexa and her party disappeared from sight Rikke turned on Hadvar.  “How well do you know the dragonborn?”

“We escaped Helgen together,” he replied.  “I didn’t know her before and I haven’t seen her since, ma’am.”

“You manage to get a sense of her political leanings in that time?”

“She could have escaped with the Stormcloaks but, instead, chose to keep me safe.  She said it was because, of all the people she’d met that day, I was the only one who appeared willing to listen.  I believe she was a little upset by the Empire’s decision to behead her for being in the wrong place a the wrong time, ma’am.”

“But not so upset she joined the Stormcloaks.”

“I don’t think there’s any chance of that, Legate.  She seems to believe that Jarl Ulfric is a Thalmor asset and that his uprising is part of a plan to destroy the empire from within… ma’am”

Rikke gave him a startled look.

“I don’t know why she thinks that but something she said, while talking to the other prisoners, makes me think she has an unpleasant history with the Thalmor,” he added, hastily.

“Just like everyone else,” Rikke muttered. 


Outside, and a quarter of a mile away in the direction of the Nightgate Inn, an armored husky was steadfastly ignoring the well-dressed dremora holding his leash.  The dremora sighed.  “If only you would learn to sneak we would not be in this ridiculous situation,” he told the dog sternly. 

Meeko refused to even twitch an ear in response.

Chapter Text

She was back, and had been for the better part of a week already, which meant he was going to have to go through her shelf of journals again the moment she left.  Ancano eyed the Nord student endlessly practicing his flame spell.  There was absolutely nothing to see here in the Hall of the Elements.  Perhaps the thrice-damned Khajiit, or even the Dunmer, student was up to something more interesting.

He checked the Arcanaeum and narrowly missed running into Colette Marence.  While dodging behind a bookshelf was clearly beneath a mer of his standing the woman was an absolute chore to deal with.  Finding nothing of interest in the Arcanaeum he decided to make his way back to the Hall of Attainment in the hope that the apprentices were there and not up to something ill-conceived in the Midden.  With any luck they might even be talking about something of marginal interest.  Having the Breton girl around was usually good for that at least.

He ignored both Mirabelle and Phinis talking by the focal point in the courtyard.  Phinis was hardly more than passingly proficient and Mirabelle rarely did any real magic these days preferring to spend most of her time on administration.  It was deeply unlikely there was anything to learn there.

A bellowing scream rent the air and the whole college shuddered as a dragon landed, heavily, on the wall over the front gate.  Looking up in surprise, he met its eyes and, for the first time in his life, Ancano felt paralyzing fear take hold of him.  Distantly, through the frozen stillness of his mind, he heard the hollow crashing noise of a solid wooden door hitting stone.  

“KRII-LUN-AUS!”

The voice resonated through the air around him startling Ancano free of his fear.  He looked wildly about him, in an attempt to identify the new threat, even as the dragon rose, screaming, into the air.

“Spread out, use frost to slow it down, and shock to stagger it!” the Breton student called out as she took aim with her bow.  “If it lands stay out of the way of its teeth!”

Without even thinking Ancano moved to comply.  Later he would tell himself that only a fool ignored reasonable advice simply on the basis of rank.  But even that wouldn’t erase the unsettling knowledge he’d simply reacted to her orders without any thought for how reasonable they might be.  In the moment he had not thought to question, or to feel offense at her presumption, but had simply followed her command – the command of a dragonborn.


The dragon was down. Ancano was out of breath and nearly out of magicka.  Thank Auriel he’d learned to tap the focal points when he first arrived.  He seated himself on the edge of the font and let the magicka replenish his depleted reserves.

The Breton student was a little more familiar with dragon magic than he’d thought.  She had actually used a few Shouts during the fight, quite effectively even.  Still, if a dunce like Ulfric Stormcloak could learn such a thing, he wasn’t all that surprised the College’s only promising student could.

As he sat there, still gasping lightly, the dragon carcass began to spontaneously combust - from the inside out. Light pored out of the burning dragon filling the air around the Breton student and absorbing into her body.

She collapsed into the snow.

“Well, don’t just stand there!” Colette – when had she arrived? - snapped at all of them all.  “Someone help me get her to her room!”  Thankfully J’zargo and Enthir immediately ran to do her biding, easily lifting the Breton student between them.

“What in Oblivion was that?” Ancano demanded as Colette, and her helpers, disappeared into the Hall of Attainment.

“Dragonborn,” the Nord student breathed, clearly too stunned to remember his usual apprehension towards Ancano. 

Ancano arched his eyebrows at the Nord who, for once, stuck out his chin and stood his ground rather than scurrying away under the force of the Advisor’s condescension.

“We all heard the Greybeards,” the Nord argued.  “What else could it be?”

What else indeed, Ancano thought?


“Ah, you’re awake,” Ancano announced, stepping into Alexa’s room.

“Possibly, unless I’m hallucinating a Thalmor Emissary in my bedroom,” she replied, giving him a bleary look.  It seemed unlikely.  If she had been hallucinating a Thalmor Emissary in her bedroom, in all probability, it would not have been Ancano.

“It seems you are the new dragonborn,” Ancano continued, ignoring her comment.  “I suppose that explains things.”

“Does it?” she asked, sitting up.  She was a little surprised to find she was wearing the red robe from her closet. She pushed back a sleeve to check the burn she knew she’d gotten.  It was well healed and would not scar.

“If I say so, it must,” Ancano told her sitting in the chair at her desk.  Apparently he noticed her inspecting her arms.  “Colette saw to your injuries.  She wishes to speak to you when you have a moment.”

“Thank you for relaying her message,” Alexa responded politely.

“Of course,” he sniffed. “Now that the pleasantries,” he said the word as if it left a foul taste in his mouth, “have been taken care of I’d like to know what it was you hoped to accomplish by joining the college?  You are not, I think we can agree, the most diligent of students.”

“I admit my studies with the Greybeards are keeping me busier than I thought they would.  It was my hope, when I came here, to further my studies enough to not die when a dragon randomly decided to prove it’s bigger, stronger, and better at everything than I am, which they all are. Their age is something of an unfair advantage after all.”

Ancano stiffened slightly in response to the double meaning in her tone.  “Does the Second Emissary enjoy this attitude of yours?” he demanded archly.

“You’d have to ask him,” she replied, wondering briefly if Ancano knew how much resentment he always managed to pack into the words ‘Second Emissary’.  “I couldn’t possibly claim to speak for such a superior being,” she finished, feeling his eyes follow her as she slid out of bed and removed a set of Expert robes of Alteration from her wardrobe. 

“How literal is the title ‘dragonborn’?” he asked suddenly.

“I do not believe that either of my parents were dragons,” she answered, grimacing slightly.  Of course Ancano would be the one person in Skyrim to properly define “dragonborn” as a title and not a name.  It was actually a little aggravating.

“Do you always collapse after absorbing a dragon’s energy?” he asked.

“That was a first,” she admitted.  “Though it was the second dragon I’ve killed this week – and the power absorption is taxing – so I think I’ve probably just overdone it.”

“And what are the effects of this absorption?”

“Mostly that I gain access to their memories.”

“Not their power?”

“To a dragon, knowledge and power are inextricably related concepts,” she replied.

“And do you often have nightmares?” he pressed.

She froze for a moment before answering.  “After killing a dragon… yes.  Always. Their memories are… often unpleasant. Now, if I have your permission, I would very much like to get dressed and go see Colette.”

He didn’t move. 

She sighed and rubbed her forehead with the back of a hand.  “Advisor, the only thing worth knowing about me is that, underneath the irritating irreverence, I am a pragmatist.  I am here, rather than studying with some court mage, because staying at High Hrothgar, for long periods of time, is not an option and I needed a safe place to call home while dealing with the rather abrupt changes in my life.  As I preferred a place were the general populous would be nonplussed by my new title, rather than thinking it instantaneously made them capable of facing down multiple dragons simultaneously, like Nord warriors of legend, this seemed like my best option.  I have no interest in the politics of Skyrim or the Empire much less the Dominion.  In fact my only immediate interest is in figuring out why every dragon I come within two miles of tries to kill me.”  Her voice caught in her throat and she looked away.  “Forgive me, Advisor, but I really must go see Colette about this headache and go make the sleeping potions I will undoubtedly require for the next few nights.” Alexa allowed a single tear to trickle down her cheek before wiping it away.

“I see,” he stood up. “We will speak later when you are less emotional.”


Alexa stopped beside the skeleton in the courtyard.  Even a cursory examination of it revealed it had all its teeth.  So it hadn’t been after the crown.  It had come for her.  That meant this was likely to happen again.  It seemed that Paarthurnax had been right.  Not all those seeking Alduin’s favor would be content with waiting for her at word walls.  They were coming for her where she lived.

She looked around at the courtyard.  Well, the mages could clearly handle themselves and the College didn’t have any civilians to worry about or wood buildings to burn down.  Still, she should probably warn the Arch-Mage that this was likely to happen again.


Colette was not in her room so Alexa headed to the Arcanaeum.

“Dragonborn,” Urag acknowledged her arrival, holding out the translation of the last manuscript she’d brought in.*

“Librarian,” she replied, taking the book from him.  She heard him snort in response, glanced up, and smiled at the look on his face.  She would never have to worry about him calling her dragonborn, or deferring to her in any way, again. 

“It’s about Conjuration,” he grunted.  “You leaving the College again any time soon?”

“In a day or two I would think,” she answered.  “Do you have another book you’d like me to pick up?”

“It’s not too far, this time,” he told her, pulling out a piece of scrap paper and jotting down the information.  “The Sightless Pit, over by the shrine of Azura.”

“The cave with the Falmer totems out front?” she asked.

“Could be,” he grunted, noncommittally. 

“I’ll see what I can do. Have you seen Colette?”

“Other side of those shelves,” he answered, with a jab of his thumb.

“Oh, thank you,” Alexa gave Urag a knowing look before heading in the direction he had pointed.

“Look at you!  Up already,” Colette exclaimed the moment Alexa rounded the corner, indicating that she had been aware Alexa had been talking to Urag. “And to think, just recently, I was feeling so dejected about your apparent lack of interest in Restoration!”

“I take it you saw the markings and are aware of what they mean,” Alexa noted.

“Indeed,” Colette smiled, the picture of sunny satisfaction.  “It is comforting to know that not everyone has dismissed Restoration as entirely as most members of the College.  Truly comforting.”

“Did you tell anyone?” Alexa asked.

“I only to confirmed what the others were saying, that you are the dragonborn, and only to the Arch-Mage,” she answered.  “The rest I thought you’d want to tell him yourself, when you woke.”

“Would you mind joining me?” Alexa asked.  “It’s the sort of thing best heard from a colleague rather than a student.”

“You go ahead,” Colette answered, looking at the table beside her.  “I must put these books back before I join you or Urag will never forgive me.”*


“I hear you’re the dragonborn,” Savos Aren said, putting his book aside.  “I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that the dragonborn would use magic other than the Voice.  Was there something I can do for you?”

“There are a few things about my current situation I thought it would be best you heard from me rather than via rumor,” she told him, casting a glance a the two doors that lead out of his chambers.  “Privately.”

Savos waved a hand over the soul gem on the table beside him and a slightly light distorting barrier formed across the archway leading to the entry hall.  “It is sound proof,” he assured her, folding his hands in his lap. “Urag does not like to be disturbed when my alchemy experiments blow up.  You were saying?”

“Until three years ago I was a member of the Synod and, before that, a member of the College of Whispers.  I was forced to leave both institutions after assassination attempts on my life. Thalmor involvement was suspected in both cases.”

“I see.  That could be awkward given our resident advisor.  Any idea what you did to warrant assassination?”

“If your worry is that other members of the college may make the same mistake I did, it is unlikely.  Furthermore it seems most Thalmor believe their last attempt on my life was successful and those that know better have not yet connected the Breton mage in Cyrodiil to the dragonborn in Skyrim.  I have also taken steps to protect myself from Thalmor aggression against the dragonborn.  I believe they should be sufficient for a while.”

“Truly?  I would be interested to hear how you’ve managed that. But first I’d like to know what you did to being with.”

Alexa glanced over to where Collette was coming up the stairs from the arcanaeum.  “I think Collette can help with that.”

Savos sighed.  “The shield is a sound dampening field not a physical barrier.”

Alexa nodded and waved at Collette to join them.  To Alexa’s slight surprise the other Breton woman simply stepped through as though she had no question she would be able to.  “Ah, good.  Have you told him yet?”

“No.  I thought he’d be more likely to believe you than me.”

“Well then, Arch-Mage, I would like to present to you, Sikendra de’Arthe, Grand Master of the school of Restoration.”

“Grand Master?” Savos asked eyebrows arched in surprise.  “Surly a teaching position would suite you better than that of a student?”

Alexa shook her head. “Thank you, but no.  As much as Restoration is my school of preference my current situation, in regards to not attracting Thalmor attention, requires that I show no interest in it.  As such I apprenticed in Illusion at the College of Whispers and Alteration at the Synod.  Currently I am letting it be known that my interests lie in ancient and lost magicks, rather than in any of the formal schools, and that my only interest in standard magic is the ability to better protect myself while doing field research.”

Aren nodded. “And, in regards to the Thalmor, you indicated you had taken steps to protect yourself?”

“After the Greybeards formally recognized me as dragonborn I realized hiding was going to be difficult. So I made a deal with the Thamor’s Second Emissary to Skyrim.  In return for keeping him informed of anything I learn about dragons and the ‘Dragon Crisis’ he has designated me a ‘high utility cooperative asset’.  Any further action by the Thalmor against my person will have to go through him.”

“So you’re a Thalmor spy?”

“Only in so far as information on dragon’s is concerned.  The deal we made was quite narrow.  He protects me from any Thalmor kneejerk reaction to the appearance of a new dragonborn and I tell him how to keep his Justiciars from being eaten alive.  The College will also, of course, be informed of any important data I find on the subject and receive copies of any papers I write.”

Savos nodded once. “Good enough.  Thank you for informing me.”  He waved a hand over the soul gem again and the barrier vanished.

Collette went back to the arcanaeum and Alexa went back to her room.

Chapter Text

Alexa cast Candlelight, pulled a journal out of her backpack, sat on a pillar base, and chewed her lower lip thoughtfully.  She began to write.

Smiling slightly at her misleading analysis of the Sightless Pit – whoever at the college was reading her journals would never bother to investigate such an entry – Alexa took out a second journal, and a wooden stylus, flipped to a page and added an entry to a growing list of aetherium locations. 

If Katria had only known how common aetherium actually was in Skyrim… She sighed and stowed her journals. Which reminded her... she really should see about getting Taran to block off that cave in the Reach.  Maybe she’d go talk with him about it after picking up that knife Tolfdir wanted from Lost Valkygg.  Now, where was that book Urag was looking for…


Gloomreach Cave, nine days later…

“Commander,” Alexa blinked in surprise.

“Dragonborn,” he greeted her, looking around inquisitively.

“What takes you so far from the city, Commander?” she enquired politely, as if they had just run into each other on the road and not in an out of the way cave.

“You do,” he answered succinctly. 

“I’m flattered…” she responded smoothly, “is there something I can help you with?”

“You can explain to me the curious choices you’ve recently made in regards to this… rather boring cave,” he answered. 

“Curious choices?”

He sighed.  “I think I’ve come to know you well enough by now to recognize when you’re doing something unusualeven by your remarkable standards,” he told her.  “Making sure no one may purchase the rights to mine in a cave is not your usual sort of thing.  Escorting a local thane out to take a look at it… even more so.”

“Falmer,” she answered. “I’ve cleared them out of here twice now, which means they must be coming from some larger location I can’t find the entrance to.  I suggested to Taran that, since there is a Forsworn encampment nearby, it might be worth building a wall deeper in… even if the Falmer are likely to, eventually, tunnel around it.”

“Why not simply collapse the cave?” he asked reasonably.

“If I said it was because this cave is beautiful and should not be destroyed, would you believe me?” she asked, curiously.

He looked around him at the featureless rock.  The only thing to be seen was a single tree growing in the light of a hole in the ceiling. “I would not,” he answered stiffly.

She chuckled at that. “Come, leave your guards here, and I will show you.”

Ondolemar glanced at his two guards.  “Why?”

“Well, I was going to use the time to make a report…” she explained, already wandering away from him.

Ondolemar sighed heavily, and gestured for his guards to stay behind, before following her into the tunnel.


“What’s so important about the last few weeks that you felt the need to tell me about it without my bodyguards around?” Ondolemar hissed as he knocked his head into the roof of the tunnel again.

“Just that, three days ago, a ghost at the Old Hroldan Inn mistook me for Hjalti Early-Beard,” she answered.

“You don’t look anything like Tiber Septim is said to have looked, even as a young man,” Ondolemar objected.

“Weird, right?”*

“Do ghosts have bad eyesight?” he enquired, a little confused by her lack of indignation.

“I have no idea.  But it’s a good question.  I’ll try asking the next necromancer I run into.  Here we are,” she stepped out of the tunnel and to the left to let him by her.

Ondolemar stepped into a large cavern and stopped dead in his tracks.  The cavern’s ceiling, and some of the walls shown with tiny glowing blue crystals like densely packed stars.  He snuffed his candlelight spell to get a better look and sucked in his breath in awe.  If such a place had existed in the Isles it would have been carefully sculpted into a masterwork of beauty that would have become a pilgrimage site for all mer. Here he had been living only two hours from it and hadn’t known it existed.  He tore his eyes away from the ceiling and looked around him.  The traces of the Falmer Alexa had mentioned were obvious here, so she hadn’t lied about that either.  He glanced in her direction.

“The ceiling is very beautiful,” he admitted.  “But I’m afraid, dragonborn, that it does not explain why you did not simply purchase this place yourself.”

“Because the news of me buying a worthless cave would have been totally normal and not resulted in these exact circumstances?” she muttered sarcastically.

“You were trying to avoid discussing this place with me?” he asked, surprised.

“Not just you,” she sighed and then growled something to herself he didn’t catch.  “Fine. Lets try a trust exercise, shall we? Come.”

“I’m not falling backwards into your arms, crazy Breton,” he informed her as he followed her up a dirt ramp to a ledge a fair ways off the ground.

She burst out laughing. “Oh divines, no… though that would be hilarious.  No. Instead think of this as a chance to prove you trust my intentions.”

She dropped her pack on the ground and drew off her gloves.  Out of her pack she pulled what appeared to be a small hammer made of Dwemer metal.  “Have you ever heard rocks sing, Commander?”

“No, because rocks do not sing,” he informed her.

She grinned at him and struck one of the blue clusters in the rock beside them with the hammer.  The rock, and then the whole room began to hum faintly as if he were standing inside a singing bowl.  As the tone faded Alexa put her hammer away, walked over to a piece of scaffolding, and lay down on her back to stare up at the starry ceiling.  After a moment of indecision he joined her.

“Do you know what aetherium is?” she asked him after he’d finished settling beside her.

“I do,” he replied. “But the only book on the subject I’ve seen suggests that the only source is an as yet undiscovered deep mine somewhere here in Skyrim.”

“That is what the book Aetherium Wars posits.  But, it seems, the book is wrong.”  She gestured above them.  “Beautiful, isn’t it?”

He turned his head to look at her.  “Alexa…”

Trust, Ondolemar,” she reminded him.  “You can’t tell anyone.  I can’t tell anyone.  This country, the Thalmor, we would destroy ourselves over a resource we don’t even know how to mine much less properly refine. It took the Dwemer centuries to figure it out and they knew more about rocks than the rest of us combined.”

“If you really have no intention of using it, then wouldn’t it be safer to just collapse the tunnels?”

“There aren’t that many people in the entire world who know what aetherium looks like.  The last miners to work here were only interested in the corundum veins,” she told him.  “But here, in the darkness beneath the earth, the light of Aetherius shines.  You really want me to destroy that?”

“If it meant not having to report its discovery… I…” he paused, turning back to look at the ceiling above him.  “No.”

“If you need to report what you did today, perhaps this place is simply a wonder of the natural world?” she suggested.  “Skyrim is full of those.”

He snorted at that. “True.”  He was silent for a while.  “Promise me that you will not use what you found here against the Dominion and I will promise not to report it.”

She turned her head towards him and considered him serenely for a time then looked back up at the ceiling. “What part did you play in the war?”

“What?” he choked, sitting up in surprise.

She shrugged slightly. “Given how much Ancano resents you, I assume you are considered young for your position,* which, in turn, suggests you distinguished yourself in some way to get to where you are.  The war seems the most obvious answer.”

“Why ask me about that now?”

“I’ve never had you alone and in the dark before,” she replied in that infuriatingly practical tone she sometimes used.  “I’m sure one of your interrogators could explain the effects of this kind of situation to you.”

“Warm, safe, and in relative darkness with someone I trust,” he sighed softly.  “Yes they would tell me to light a torch, keep my mouth shut, and get out of here as quickly as possible.”

“You trust me?” she asked with a faint laugh.  “I would never have guessed, given how often you ask if I’m trying to poison you or if I intend to destroy the Dominion.”

“I’m alone, in the dark, with one of the most dangerous people I know.  How is that not proof of trust?”

“And the flattery continues, but you have not answered my question.  What part did you play, Commander?”

“It was before you were born.  Why do you care?”

“Because the only thing I actually know about you, besides your rank, is that you care about your people.  Unlike that ass at the College who’d sell out his own mother, or the Dominion even, if it would increase his standing.”

“And the fact that I care about my people is reason to interrogate me?”

“Yes.  Because you care for them beyond simply believing that everything the Thalmor do is in service to all mer.  You care about the outside world’s perception of the Altmer.  You want your people to be seen as a genuine force for good not as a faceless boot on the neck of all those with inferior bloodlines.  That, in my experience, makes you… singular.  And so, I wonder, how did someone who might choose to do the right thing, rather than simply following orders, make it to the rank of Commander?”

“And you have extensive experience with Thalmor agents, besides myself and Ancano, on which to base your analysis?” he asked archly.

She smiled at that. “I had a life before coming to Skyrim.”

“Yes… and what did that look like, exactly?”

“You mean you don’t know?” she laughed softly.  “That must be frustrating.”

“You’ve never used a last name in Skyrim,” he told her.  “Not once. It has… made you rather hard to track.”

“So you did try?”

“Of course I tried,” he sighed.  “I wouldn’t be doing my job if I hadn’t.  Earmiel would even have me doubt that Alexa is your real name.”

“An exchange then? How you got to where you are for how I got to where I am?” she suggested evenly, stowing away the comment about Earmiel for another time.

He thought about it for a moment before settling back down beside her to stare at the ceiling again. “I was not active in the war itself,” he told her.  “I… was stationed in Valenwood from 166 to 186.”

“Meaning you managed to identify every Blades agent in the country in under five years?” she asked sounding a little impressed.

“Not just me.  But yes.  I… was in charge of the most effective team of agents in either Valenwood or Summerset.  That… got the leadership’s attention.”

“So then what?” she enquired.  “Home for a promotion and some training on how to recognize heretics and then off to Skyrim?”

“Something like that.”

“Ever been to High Rock?”

“Not since before I joined the Thalmor.”

“Do you still hunt members of the Blades?”

“No, someone else is in charge of that now.  Why?”

“They’re not doing a very good job,” she muttered.

“What makes you say that?” he demanded with a frown.

“Couriers have been delivering ‘helpful’ letters from ‘a friend’.  Given my friend’s obsession with remaining unidentified, and their constant reminding me that not everyone will be pleased by my existence, I assume they’re a member of the Blades.”

“What would you have said if I had said yes?” he asked, curiously.

“Asked you if you had any leads, and then hunted him or her down myself and bashed their head into a table a few times.  Cloak and dagger bullshit makes me grouchy.  Especially when we should all be pulling together to deal with an actual threat to the entire world.”

“You’re no longer worried by the civil war and the possibility of a second war with the Dominion?” he enquired.  “You once claimed you would leave the continent to avoid such a situation.”

She sighed tiredly.  “Until Alduin is dealt with all my other concerns are trivial.  Except those that might either help, or hinder, my dealing with him.  Of which there are an unfortunate number.”

“And you really have no option but to face him?”

“Whatever the purpose of Nirn – of its creation – is, Alduin, as he is now, will either pervert said purpose or end Nirn before that purpose can be achieved.  Akatosh, it seems, would rather he didn’t do either of those things.  And the daedra, I think, would rather be allowed to pervert Nirn’s purpose themselves. That’s… quite a lot of pressure to not simply shrug off the whole destiny thing.”

“You know that I will help you if I can?”

“You and Jarl Ravencrone,” she said with a wry little smile. “The only two people in Skyrim who, when told the world is ending, offered to help without demanding something of me first. As if the end of the world will wait on everybody’s personal concerns.  Maddening!”

There was a short silence. “Thank you,” she said finally.

“Your turn,” he told her. “How’d you end up in Skyrim?”

“Funny story,” she replied. “You’re kind of looking at a big part of it.”

“You were looking for aetherium?” he asked, suddenly doubting her insistence that she had no intention of making use of her find.  “Alexa…”

He heard her open her mouth and then close it again.  “I suppose I should start a little further back…  Did you know I’m a dragon?” she asked, her voice laughing again.

“I believe I’ve been told that, yes,” he replied with mock seriousness.

“Would you be surprised to hear that being a dragon was affecting my life in some very strange ways even before I knew what I was?”

“Having known you since before you learned what you are, no, I would not be the least bit surprised.”

She nodded absently at that and was silent for a moment.  “I have spent most of my adult life trying to figure out why it is that I am haunted by the conviction that the world is… breaking.  My search for answers began with the Dwemer.  I reasoned that, if the damage was progressive, then Dwemer artifacts – their tones – would represent an earlier stage in the process.  The Aetherium Forge, hidden and unaltered since the mid first era, seemed like a likely candidate for an example of an intact tonal set.”

“So you came to Skyrim chasing proof that what your dragon senses were telling you was real?”

“Pretty much…” she sighed. “I’ll admit that ‘you’re sensing the imminent return of the World-Eater’ wasn’t on the list of possible answer I thought I might find.”

He snorted softly at what could only be a dramatic understatement.  “How’d you end up in the Dawnguard?” he asked.

“Inattention on my part got me infected with vampirism.  I went to the Dawnguard looking for help.  They were in the middle of a crisis and needed people who could handle themselves and I needed someplace to stash my stuff.  It was never a long-term arrangement but…” she shrugged.  “It worked out, I guess.”  There was silence between them as he thought this through.

“When all this is over, are you still planning on simply vanishing?”

“Assuming I survive that long?” she enquired. 

“Assuming you survive that long,” he affirmed.

“I haven’t really thought about it,” she answered.  “Too busy with current events I guess.  Why?”

He smirked up at the ceiling.  “Just wondering if you are going to be around or if I should get on board with this fad you mentioned of asking you to pre-pay for my help saving the world.”

“Ass,” she laughed. “What would you ask the dragonborn for anyway?  I mean Skyrim’s already embroiled in a civil war so no need for me to socially engineer upheaval within the Empire for you.  I suppose I could attempt to sell out any remaining Blades but… that hardly seems worth the time.  I haven’t got any contacts worth mentioning, at this point, in the rest of the empire. My head may be filled with all sorts of arcane knowledge but most of it lends itself to being useful in a university setting rather than a military one.  I suppose I could declare myself Empress, take the dragon throne, make you my official regent, defeat Alduin, and then run off like I was planning…  Actually that sounds like fun, lets do it!”

“And I used to wonder why Sheogorath likes you,” he chuckled.

“Really?” she grinned. “And here I thought my suggestion that Justiciars teach Nords the virtues of soap, in our second conversation, was a subtle hit that I’m a little nuts.”

Ondolemar laughed. “Yes, it really was.”  He took a deep breath and let it out slowly.  “Just so you know, I have noticed you didn’t actually tell me about your ‘extensive experience’ with other Thalmor agents.”

“Do you have any idea how many Thalmor agents there are in Cyrodiil these days?” she asked dryly.

“So you came to Skyrim from Cyrodiil…”

“I did.  But you didn’t tell me enough about yourself to get a more detailed answer than that.”

He smiled at that.  “Fine.  I do have another question though.”

“Oh?”

“Why, if you had extensive, and negative, experience with Thalmor agents, did you decided to spend so much time with me over the years?”

“Most Nords are boring and rude,” she told him.

“So conversing with me is marginally more amusing than talking with your average Nord?  I’m flattered.”

“Hey now,” she objected. “Not six weeks ago you said we were friends!”

“I suppose I did,” he murmured. 

There was another lull in conversation.  “Damn it,” Alexa suddenly exclaimed, “now I’m curious.  What would you ask the dragonborn for?”

“The dragonborn?” Ondolemar replied, clearly surprised but the sudden question.  “Nothing.”

Really?” she asked incredulously.  “No ‘go get me proof of this’, or ‘go kill that’?”

He rolled onto his side to look down at her.  “Really,” he told her solemnly.  There was a short, pregnant, silence.  He opened his mouth to say something, thought better of it, and then decided to say it anyway.  “The only thing I want, that you can give me, is your understanding that this – our friendship – is not… easy for me.  You were right when you suggested that many Altmer see humans as little better than animals. Right again when you implied that my failure to reflect on what I had been trained to think had all but made me one of them.  But… you should know that you have been the one bright spot in my time here and that our conversations are a source of joy for me.  I only regret that I didn’t manage to actually say so before... things became complicated.”

He rolled back onto his back and closed his eyes.  “I just… want you to know that I am trying to be the kind of friend you deserve.”

After an endless moment of frozen stillness he heard a slight rustling beside him and then a cool hand touched his face.  He opened his eyes to find Alexa leaning over him.  “I know I’m not the sanest person around,” she began, with a quirky little smile. “But did you just tell me that you love me?”

“Don’t worry,” he told her returning her smile ruefully.  “I don’t expect it to turn out any better than any of my other attempts.”

“Other attempts?” she asked, confusion clouding her face.

He pulled off his gloves, took her hand that had retreated from his face to his chest and, holding her palm against his, laced their fingers together.  He met her eyes.

She pressed her lips together obviously trying to repress a smile.  “You’re joking,” she told him.  “You have to be joking.”

“Not joking,” he replied seriously.

She struggled with her amusement for a moment longer before giving up and collapsing onto his chest her entire body shaking with suppressed laughter.  “I’m not laughing at you,” she eventually gasped when she came up for air. “I’m laughing at the situation.”

“I had no idea you found tragic love stories so amusing,” he grumbled, his annoyance with her somewhat alleviated by the current, unprecedented, amount of physical contact between them.

“You mean ‘tragic failures to communicate’,” she told him, squeezing the hand that was still holding hers and taking a deep calming breath.  “I knew you were a mushy romantic.”

“How very observant of you,” he drawled, taking possession of her other hand and kissing the inside of her wrist.

“In my defense the first time you held my hand like this you were very drunk,” she told him.

“If you mean the night with the Wabbajack, I was perfectly aware of what I was doing,” he told her. “Though you would be right to assume that, under the circumstances, the gesture indicated somewhat less then than it does at this moment.”

She groaned, burring her face in his chest again.  “Divines help me… Earmiel going to be insufferable…”

“What’s this about Earmiel?” he asked, pushing a stray lock of hair softly behind her ear.

“He’s been telling me you were interested since... I don’t know, maybe the second month after he arrived.”

“Well you don’t have to tell him he was right,” Ondolemar pointed out.  “Though I’d like to know what made you think he was wrong.”

“You mean aside from the rather striking uniform you’re currently wearing?” she asked.

“Really?  That’s the only reason?” he enquired, sitting up to cup her face with his free hand.  “I believe I already offered to take it off if you found it offensive,” he whispered, low and a little heated.  “The offer stands.”

“Ondolemar…  Even if I weren’t married, wouldn’t a romantic relationship between a Thalmor Commander and the dragonborn be a bad idea?”

“It’s a terrible idea,” he admitted, watching her eyes search his face.  “If anyone found out we would, undoubtedly, find ourselves in a great deal of trouble.”

“But it’s still what you want?”

“No, I don’t want to be the dragonborn’s lover, I want to beyour lover.  I’ve been in love with you since long before you killed your first dragon.”

“Not just mushy but a little corny too…” she let go of his hand.  “I…” her eyes widened at a sudden realization.  “Oh no…  I’m going to have to go drinking with Sanguine again!”

“You’re not making any sense you know,” he grumbled, feeling that the impact of his declaration had been lost.

“I really need to stop taking him up on bets… even if it does make up like a third of our interactions...”

Ondolemar gave up and kissed her.

“Um… ok,” she whispered. “That just happened.”

“As much as I’m sure you enjoy the time you spend with the daedric prince of debauchery he wasn’t the topic of our conversation,” Ondolemar told her softly.

“Actually… he was about to be,” she replied, wincing slightly.

“How so?”

“He’s my husband?”

Ondolemar just stared at her.

“Right, no, that’s crazy. Why would you believe that?” Alexa muttered to herself and snapped her fingers.  There was a swirl of purple light and the sound of an opening portal. “My lady,” the exceedingly well-dressed dremora began, bowing to Alexa.  “How may I be of service?”

“Can you please remind me who my husband is?” Alexa asked, her eyes never leaving Ondolemar’s face.

“Of course, my lady. You were wed to my lord Sanguine, Prince of Revelry, on the seventh of Last Seed, 4thEra 201, in the Temple of Mara in Riften.  The wedding was attended by no fewer than six of his highness’ un-siblings...”

“Wait,” Alexa whipped her head around to look at the dremora.  “There were guests?”

“Indeed.  The princes Sheogorath, Azura, Miridia, Hircine, Nocturnal, Clavicus Vile, and Mephala were in attendance.”

Mephala?” she demanded incredulously. 

“It should also be noted that both Kyne and Akatosh sent emissaries,” the dremora added.

Alexa blinked at the dremora.  “He invited my parents?”

“In a manner of speaking. Sadly the souls of your mortal parents could not be found.”

“Of course not, they weren’t daedra worshipers,” Alexa groaned covering her face with her hands.  “I think I understand better now why Mara was so pissed.”

“Lady Mara was most displeased,” the dremora agreed.  “Was there anything else, my lady?”

“No, but please inform my husband that he has won another of our bets.  You may go.”

“Of course, my lady.” The dremora bowed, glared at Ondolemar, and then warped back to Oblivion.

“I don’t know why I’m surprised,” Ondolemar offered, finally breaking the uncomfortable silence that had fallowed the dremora’s departure.

“Well I was surprised,” she told him.  “When a Breton mage in Riften offered to buy me a drink I didn’t expect to wake up in Markarth, ten days later, married to a daedric prince.”

“That would be… surprising,” he agreed.  “And the dremora servant?”

“A ‘gift’ from my husband after a run in with Vermina.  I think his job is mostly to keep an eye on me and let Sanguine know when he needs to sober up and get his ass to Nirn to intervene with another prince on my behalf.”

“So you’re under constant daedric surveillance.”

“Yes.  Sanguine claims he married me to keep his un-siblings from using or altering me.  A sentiment for which I am grateful even if I am unsure his chosen method was truly the best idea.”

There was another, slightly awkward, lull in conversation.  “So… um… What is being married to a daedric prince like?” Ondolemar asked, breaking the silence.

“I’m not sure I can speak to that generally,” Alexa replied, clearly giving it some thought, “but being married to Sanguine is… surprisingly unobtrusive.  We’ve spent time together four times in the last five months.  And two of those were initiated by my contact with other daedra.  So, while it’s a lot of time to spend with a daedric prince, it’s no time at all spent with one’s spouse,” she shrugged.  “I admit I halfway expected him to forget about me entirely within a month, but that didn’t happen, though I’m told the butler he assigned me has, upon occasion, felt the need to remind him of my existence.”

“Do you love him?” Ondolemar asked.

“I…” she stopped her eyes becoming unfocused for a moment.  “I deeply appreciate him and what he has done for me so far and I enjoy his company in small doses.  But I do not yet know him well enough to say I love him in the way that you mean.”

“And does he love you?”

“He appears devoted to the concept of me, I guess.  But I am uncertain he understands, or is capable of, love as you or I understand it,” she answered.  “Daedric princes are very… different, even from other daedra. 

“He has told me that he does not expect my fidelity, and is actually encouraging me to find mortal companionship, though he stipulates that he retains the right to veto a relationship with someone he feels might harm me.  But I’m… not ready to put it to the test yet.”

“I’m not sure I would be either, if I were you,” Ondolemar admitted.  He took her hand again and, lacing their fingers together, held it up between them.  “Know that I will do my best to protect you from all those, of this world, who would do you harm.”

She reached up, with her other hand, pulled his head down, and pressed her forehead into his. “Careful what promises you make,” she whispered.  “And do not put yourself at risk to protect the dragonborn.  She’s quite adept at protecting herself.”

“That choice, my love, is mine to make,” he replied softly and then chuckled, when he heard her growl low in her throat.  “Now I really regret not being clearer with you before you married a daedric prince.”  He sighed and kissed her forehead softly.  “We should go if we are going to make it back to Markarth before dark.”

She shook her head and stood up.  “I’m headed in the other direction,” she told him.

Chapter Text

“Welcome, briinah,” Paarthurnax greeted her from his place on the word wall.  “It is pleasing to see you again.”

Alexa shivered a little, as Paarthurnax’s wind barrier reformed around the summit, and went to join him.  She settled against the outside of the wall, beneath where he perched on its shoulder, the sun warming her face, the stone warm against her back, and the astonishing view before her.  After all the time she’d spent up here, and with the wall still chanting faintly to itself, she could almost ignore the jangling presence of the “time wound” as she’d come to think of the strange shifting space not far from where she stood.  Still she wondered how Paarthurnax had lived so long with its presence.

The dragon tilted his head to one side, thoughtfully.  “It is an odd thing to say, Briinah – sister,” he commented into the relative stillness.

“Why is that?” Alexa enquired politely.  “There have been other female dragonborn.”

“Not like you.  Not a firstborn born with the blood already within them – a sister by birth not adoption.”*

“Are there truly no female dragons in this kalpa?” she asked.

“Like Akatosh, our father, the dov of this kalpa have no gender.  Though, like him, we too have always identified as male.  But here you are…  Perhaps you are not drake at all but jill?”

“Jill?”

“They are the tiid-vokrenne – daughters and ovaar* of Akatosh – they mend the time that has been broken.  But they are not part of this kalpa and visit Nirn only in votiid - the un-time joor call Dragon Breaks.”

“The minute-menders… I heard something about them once,” she said, a puzzled frown on her face.  “You believe I am more like them than like you?”

“If you were like the drake, Dovahkiin, you would have already declared yourself High Queen of Skyrim. Instead your place your pieces as you see fit and let them act for you.  Few even see your hand in the shaping of events.  This is the way of the jill.”

“I see,” Alexa whispered, staring blankly out over the land below.

“Your mind is troubled,” Paarthurnax noted. 

“I… yes.  My mind is in turmoil, but with the problems of jul, not dov,” she replied, thinking of the College discovering she was dragonborn, Ondolemar’s declaration, and the three Thalmor mages that had tried to kill her outside Falkreath on her way here from Markarth.  It was hard not to wonder if the first and third were connected, though the letter she’d pulled off the mage’s corpses – which referred to her as Sikendra – seemed to indicate otherwise.*  Maybe the mages were that the hunters Hircine had warned her were about almost ten months ago now.  Surely if Ondolemar had known about them he would have mentioned something.  Perhaps he didn’t know about them because they were related to the Thalmor in Cyrodiil and so didn’t report to anyone in Skyrim.  If so, she might have some time yet before the local Thalmor realized that Grand Master Sikendra de’Arthe was Alexa the dragonborn.  “I was hoping coming here might give me some distance, and clarity, on them,” she admitted.

“I fear the concerns of mortals are beyond my council,” Paarthurnax rumbled.  “But, if you have other questions, I will answer as best I can.”

Alexa was silent for a while longer as she collected her thoughts.  “It is said that Kyne gave all mortal-kind the Voice,” she began, “and that Akatosh gave some, individual, mortals the dragon blood.  These… are not the same thing, are they?”

“No,” Paarthurnax agreed. “They are dov-ah-kiin and dovah-kiin*, respectively.”

“Would I be right to assume that particularly gifted practitioners of the one have – upon occasion – been mistaken for the other?” she asked.

“By those who do not understand, more often than not,” he admitted.

“The Greybeards do not seem to make the distinction,” she pointed out.

“It has been some time since there has been a need for them to do so,” he reminded her. 

Alexa considered that for a moment.  “How many first generation dovah-kiin have there been?” she asked, finally.

“Born of the blood?  You are the third,*” he told her.

She frowned again.  Alessia, Reman, Talos, herself, that was four. He’d already told her Talos had been a dragonborn like herself, did that mean that one of the others had not?  “Talos, and?”

“Miraak,” he answered. “Early in the First Era.”

The flood of dragon memories, triggered by the sound of Miraak's name, hit her so hard she would have stumbled had she not been leaning against a wall.  Fire and death and chaos suffused her mind’s eye.  The dragons had feared what Miraak had been and what he might do.

“Miraak,” she whispered, stunned, “was Akatosh’s first attempt to prevent Alduin from actually replacing Him?”

“Perhaps.”

“I see.”  So Mirrak, Talos, and herself, were different, in some way, from Alessia and Reman.  Interesting but not the most pressing issue to come out of the revelation of Miraak’s existence.  She chaffed, distractedly, at her nose to warm it.  “Out of curiosity, in the mythopoeic recreation* Alduin was attempting, who was to be Shor?”

“No dragon could fill that roll,” Paarthurnax, told her.  “But Alduin believed that humanity itself could be used as a replacement until the mythopoeic pattern was strong enough that it would force the missing pieces into existence.”

“Which is why the Dragon Cult was so brutal,” Alexa concluded.  “The suffering of its followers to mimic the suffering of the dead god…”  She cocked her head to one side as something else occurred to her.  “Was Miraak proof that Alduin was right?”

“Possibly, but Alduin did not slay him.  Miraak simply vanished,” Paarthurnax answered.  “I know not what happened to him.”

“So the pattern did not complete,” Alexa murmured, thoughtfully.  “But… was the residual pattern still strong enough to force Lorkhan’s myth-echo into existence a second time?”

Paarthurnax turned his head to regard her with a single, large, eye. 

“Pelinal Whitestrake?” Alexa offered.  “Some say he was a Shezarrine.”

The dragon snorted. “If so, the jill have a better sense of humor than I’ve given them credit for.”

They had something to do with him?” she asked in surprise.

“They allowed him to be where* he was needed,” Paarthurnax hedged. 

Alexa gave him a confused look

“What do you know of the Whitestrake, aside from his deeds?” the dragon asked.

“Not a lot,” she admitted. “I know it is said that there was no heart in his chest, just ‘a red-rage shaped diamond-fashion, singing like a mindless dragon, and that this was proof that he was a myth-echo*’,” Alexa quoted. “I had wondered if by ‘myth-echo’ they meant he was a mythopoeic embodiment of something.  Given his hatred of elves, Shor made sense to me, which is what lead me to…” her voice faded away.  “A ‘red-rage, shaped diamond-fashion,” she repeated slowly, “in his chest.”  Alexa looked up at Paarthurnax in wonder.  “He had a Dwemer dynamo core in his chest instead of a heart?”

“Keep going,” Paarthurnax encouraged.

“But I’ve never come across any mention of a Dwemer construct that had a personality or could talk.  Or would be mistaken for a man.  Although,” she chewed her lower lip thoughtfully, “I suppose, given the inclusion of a fully sapient soul the first two could be, theoretically, possible.  Though probably not before the discovery of black soul gems*…  So I’m fairly certain the Dwemer didn’t have the ability to do that when they disappeared.”

“They didn’t,” Paarthurnax agreed.

“But Pelinal is said to have had enough personhood to fall in love*… wait.”  She narrowed her eyes at the dragon.  “Didn’t, past tense, but not as in ‘won’t’ future tense?”

Paarthurnax merely hummed low in his chest again.

“So it wasn’t just his armor that was from ‘the future time’* but saying that his core was ‘singing like a mindless dragon’ – meaning it was resonating with the tones of Time itself – was meant to indicate that all of him had passed through Time? You’re telling me Pelinal Whitestrake was a Dwemer war-construct from the future?”*

“I believe you were telling me that,” Paarthurnax chuckled.

“I suppose being related to the Dwemer would explain his hatred for ‘god-logic’,” she allowed, slowly, still thinking it through.  “But why would the jill allow the Dwemer to send something backwards in time?  Much less something that would have such an effect on history?”

“That, I do not know,” Paarthurnax admitted.  “It is nearly impossible to sense a future that will no longer be.  But, whatever the reason, it is certain that they felt it necessary to change the outcome of a Real Moment*.”

“Well,” Alexa remarked after a prolonged silence.  “After trying to digest that I am now thoroughly intimidated by the jill.”

Paarthurnax chuckled in his throat.  “Just as well, Dovahkiin, our sisters are not to be trifled with and you have matters closer to home to worry about.”

“True,” she acknowledged wearily.

“Do you wish to meditate upon a word of power while you are here?” the dragon enquired.

“Sure.”

“Which one calls to you?”

“Feim,” she told him. “After our discussion, definitely feim.”

Chapter Text

Brelyna had chosen to join Alexa, in her experiments with the Atronach Forge, because she was bored and Nirya had tagged along because she was nosy.  In the end the three of them had broken into the Old/New Life festival wine a day early in order to “enhance” their experimenting.

Alexa frowned at the pile of frost salts that had just appeared.  “I think I’m beginning to understand the logic of this thing,” she announced to no one in particular.

“Good,” Brelyna replied. “Because I’m officially lost.”

“Are you certain you should be playing with that thing?” Nirya enquired condescendingly.  Of the three of them she was the only one who’d bothered to bring a cup for her wine. “The Midden is currently off limits and the things down here are usually here for a reason.  I can’t imagine it was built in the Midden simply because there wasn’t room on an upper floor.”

I’m allowed to be down here now,” Alexa pointed out, flapping the edge of her coat (usually worn as part of the men’s uniform), indicating Mastery of Alteration, which she was currently wearing as an added layer over adept robes of Conjuration and Illusion.*  “Besides, if I don’t play with this thing, who will?” she asked, putting the frost salts on the table in front of Brelyna who dutifully noted them in the Athronach Forge Manual.

“Soo, Alexa,” Brelyna began, clearly about to try to change the subject before Nirya and Alexa had a fight.  “I hear you’re married.  When do we get to meet your husband?”

“Probably never,” Alexa replied, adding a salt pile, amethyst and greater soul gem to the offering box.  “My husband doesn’t spend a lot of time in Skyrim.”

“Do you have a lover?” Nirya enquired.

“Nirya!” Brelyna gasped dropping her quill.

“What?” the Altmer asked. “If her husband’s never around…”

“Humans would view that as dishonorable!” Brelyna scolded.  “You shouldn’t imply such things about another member of the college!”

“If I had meant to impugn Alexa’s honor I would have come right out and done so,” the Altmer pointed out unperturbed by the Dunmer’s scandalized reaction.

“Brelyna’s right,” Alexa interrupted.  “In most cases asking a human that question would be cause for offense.  But Nirya is also right.  My husband has made it clear he does not expect the level of fidelity most human husbands do.  Though I think he’d probably have words for me if I started having children without passing it by him.”

“See, humans can be reasonable,” Nirya sniffed.

“Huh, seems I’m right,” Alexa muttered to herself.  “Lyn, please make a note that salt, amethyst, and a greater soul gem, result in pinch of void salts.”

“So… do you?” Brelyna asked as she made the requested note in the manual.

“Do I what?” Alexa asked, looking over her shoulder at Brelyna.

“Have a lover,” Nirya responded, rolling her eyes.  “You are attractive enough that I assume you have offers.”

“I…” Alexa’s voice trailed off as she involuntarily remembered Ondolemar kissing her.  She cleared her throat.  “No.  I do not, currently, have a lover.”

“Are you blushing?” Brelyna gasped.  “What are you not telling us?”

“Spill, Breton,” Nirya commanded, opening a new bottle of wine.

Alexa rolled her eyes. “I may have been propositioned the last time I was away from the College.”

“I take it, from your expression, that this wasn’t just some drunken Nord in an inn somewhere?” Nirya noted.

“No,” Alexa admitted.

Well…” Brelyna prodded impatiently.  “Don’t leave us in suspense!”

“It was a Thalmor Justiciar… assuming my reading on Altmer custom is correct and he really was propositioning me and not just being weird.”

Nirya’s jaw dropped open. “What did he do?  I mean it must have been rather overt if you noticed.”

Alexa took Nirya’s hand and held it up between them and then laced their fingers together.  “Then he said something about protecting me or taking care of me or… something.  I admit my brain rather short circuited, in confusion, at that point.”

“You’re serious?” Nirya demanded.  “He laced your fingers together and offered to accept responsibility for you?  In Alinor that’s practically a marriage proposal!”

Brelyna was snickering. “I’m imagining the number of times he’s tried to express his interest, that you totally missed, in order for him to get to the point he’d try something that direct…” she explained when Alexa raised an eyebrow at her. Then something else clearly occurred to her because she burst out laughing.  “If Ancano knew he’d have an aneurism!” she explained, gasping a little for breath.

“Then, perhaps, I should be grateful that he has been recalled to the Thalmor Embassy for the holidays and so is not lurking around here to eavesdrop,” Alexa smiled.

“Yes,” Brelyna agreed. “It will be nice to celebrate the Old, and New, Life festivals without him around to disapprove of everything.”  She glanced at Nirya, “don’t you think?” she added.

Nirya was frowning thoughtfully.  “How well do you know this Justiciar?” she demanded, ignoring Brelyna’s question.

“We’ve talked before… mostly back before I joined the College,” Alexa answered evasively with a dismissive shrug.  As much fun as gossiping with the girls was it wasn’t worth endangering Ondolemar by being too truthful.  “I always just assumed he was being relatively pleasant in the hope I’d tell him about any shrines to Talos, or whatever, I came across in my exploration. Though, looking back on it, I suppose it’s possible he was actually interested in the Dwemer.  It is possible that even Justiciars can have outside interests.”

Brelyna snorted at that but said nothing.

“And do you have any idea how Altmer handle such relationships?” Nirya asked.

“No.  How would I?” Alexa responded with a frown.  “Though, since you mention it, I’m going to guess that Altmer extramarital affairs are not uncommon – given how long you live – and are, like everything else you do, complicated.”

“The Altmer have rules for everything,” Brelyna agreed.

“In Alinor, all relationships are extensively scripted,” Nirya informed her listeners.  “A courtship can go on for years before a couple may choose to even walk alone in a garden together.”

“Sounds exhausting,” Alexa noted a little dismissively.

“Why do you think she’s here?” Brelyna asked.

“My choices are not the point,” Nirya sniffed.  “Currently we are discussing the much more interesting topic of whether Alexa’s Altmer suitor is serious or just tailoring his behavior to deal with human stupidity.”

“Are we?” Alexa asked in slight surprise.  “I suppose you’re going to tell me that, if I knew all the appropriate customs, I would have seen it coming?”

“Were you surprised?” Brelyna asked curiously.

“I…” Alexa paused, thinking about it.  “I suppose I was surprised that my race wasn’t a deal breaker.”

“Well you’re certainly not marriage material,” Nirya agreed dryly.  “Doesn’t mean he’s not interested in something a little less binding.”

Brelyna shot Nirya another angry glare.

“What?” the Altmer demanded a little defensively.  “It’s not like Alexa’s some sort of blushing maiden who believes the world is all rainbows and happily ever after.  And it’s not like this Altmer can really commit to anything anyway since the average Justiciar is posted to Skyrim for less than a decade.  I’m sure an ill-advised tryst or two in that time is more common than one might think, and can be overlooked as long as it never becomes too public.”

“I still think you’re being mean,” Brelyna told her.

“I’m being realistic,” Nirya told her, before turning back to Alexa. “Besides, what could be better in this situation than knowing that you will never be asked to chose between him and your husband?”

“Wait…” Brelyna interjected, addressing Alexa.  “Does he know you’re the dragonborn?”

“He… does,” Alexa replied, suddenly cautious.

There was a sudden, deafening, silence.  “What?” she asked, looking back and forth between the two other women.

“… You should probably avoid seeing him again,” Nirya told her quietly.  “For his own good, if he was being sincere, and for yours if he wasn’t.”

“You think he may have been ordered to approach me?” Alexa enquired.

“I think you don’t want to find out if he was and you don’t want anyone else to find out if he wasn’t,” Nirya told her gravely.


Eolain entered Earmiel’s house in Morthal without knocking.  “Good, you’re home,” she announced upon finding him seated by the fire.

“I am,” he acknowledged. “What would you have done if I had been naked?” he enquired, smirking up at her from the book he was reading.

“Screamed and tried to turn you into a mudcrab,” she answered simply.  “I am here because I assume you have a way of contacting Yurian.”

“Well that was direct,” he replied, putting his book down.  “And to think I hadn’t yet asked what I could do for you.”

“Were you going to?” she asked.

“No,” he answered. “As much as I love you, you already know that I don’t support your reason for coming to Skyrim, and your presence in Skyrim is as disruptive as it has been fruitless.  So, no, I have no interest in helping you and so no reason to ask how I might do so.  I will, however, suggest that you return to Morrowind before a dragon has the good sense to eat you.”

Eolain rolled her eyes. “I’m not intruding upon you without purpose, brother.  There is something I very much wish to discuss with Yurian.  If you help me do so I will be out of your hair soon enough.”

“And what makes you think I even have the ability to contact Ondolemar’s father?”

“Yurian was a distant parent, not an inattentive one,” she told him.  “Since I would be shocked to learn that Ondolemar’s personal guards – as fanatically loyal as they appear to be* – aren’t reporting on Dolly to his father, I find it actually inconceivable that you wouldn’t be reporting to Yurian as well.”

“So why not ask them for help contacting him?” Earmiel responded a little grouchily.

“Because they also report to Dolly’s superiors,” Eolain answered.  “You don’t.”

That caught Earmiel’s attention.  “So what, exactly, do you wish to discuss, with a man on the far side of the continent, that is either so urgent, or so secret, that you cannot simply write him a letter?” he enquired, condescendingly.

“What is necessary to buy Dolly fifty years of relative freedom,” she snapped back, before visibly collecting herself again.  “Surely you are not opposed to the topic?  Isn’t Dolly’s happiness something you want as well?”

Earmiel folded his hands in front of him and smiled softly at his twin.  It didn’t reach his eyes.  “What I want is for the Altmer to return to being citizens of the world rather than actively trying to separate ourselves from it,” he told her, languidly.  “A goal that requires freeing our homeland from the Thalmor and everything they stand for and believe in.  If I can save Dolly in the process, I will happily do so, of course, but I am not confused about where my priorities lie.  Exposing both myself, and Yurian, to the possibility of Thalmor scrutiny, by asking him to suddenly drop whatever he is doing, to communicate with you, a person who’s decisions have left her an exile in all but name, is not something I have the least interest in doing.”

“And you don’t think helping Dolly might allow you to recruit his dragonborn inamorata to your cause?” she enquired, archly.

“I am not so foolish as to believe that it is possible, or even advisable, to recruit Alexa to any cause,” he told her sternly.  “Destiny drives this dragonborn, Eolain, not politics. She has no time for causes other than the ones fate has already laid upon her.  But I have no doubt that her fate will, one day, bring her into direct conflict with the Thalmor.  In the aftermath of said conflict I would rather the Resistance be seen as the moderating force that was there to put Alinor back together again, when she’s done utterly eviscerating our current leadership, than as the people who opened Alinor up to the ravages of another dragonborn.”

“Well that is very high minded of you,” Eolain sniffed.  “And here I was, thinking, in my small way, that I might be able to change the life of my oldest friend, and my twin brother’s first love, for the better.  How superior a person you are that you think only of the needs of the many and are not at all swayed by the plight of individuals!”

“That is uncalled for,” Earmiel told her softly between gritted teeth.  “Are you quite done with your tantrum?”

“No,” she answered, settling into the only other chair in the room.  “If you will not give me a way of contacting Yurian, on my own, then I will wait here – with my dear, darling, brother – and simply join you on your next, scheduled, rendezvous.  Since the Old Life Festival is only a day away, I expect your end of year report is also not far off.  And it has been such a long time since we spent the holidays together!” she added, in a falsely chipper tone.  “Our parents would be proud of us!”

“Our parents would die of shock,” Earmiel sighed.  “Sometimes I hate you, you know?”

“And, sometimes, I hate you too,” she smiled back at him.

Chapter Text

It was midafternoon, on the seventh day of the new year.  Ancano sat, sulkily, in the back of a cart traveling along the road to Winterhold.  He was not pleased to be headed back.  It had been such a relief to spend nearly a week at the Embassy surrounded by people with both manners and culture.  The mere thought that he was nearly back to that isolated, wintry, prison the locals called a “college”, was borderline physically painful.

He glared at the snow stretched out around him and the peaks of distant icebergs floating in the Sea of Ghosts.  He was stuck in this wretched place until he found something of value to the Dominion. A lesser agent might have written the college off after the first year – accepted failure – and returned to the Dominion with nothing to show for himself, but Ancano was determined. There was simply no possibility that a place, so full of power that magic energy literally radiated from fonts in each of the buildings, wasn’t involved in something beyond the mundane, every day, research he’d, thus far, been able to uncover.

Savos Aren, at the very least, was up to something.  Ancano could tell that the Dunmer had a substantial portion of his power invested in an ongoing spell; a spell that predated Ancano’s arrival at the college. Aside from warding spells – for which Aren was particularly renowned* – very few types of spells lasted for years.  Yet Ancano had found no evidence of an actively warded location in, or around, the college.

It had also been deeply disappointing to discover that the college’s excavations in Saarthal had, so far, been a waste of time.  The only thing the work there had produced was a better understanding of exactly how far warding magic had come since the first era.  No intact examples of Atmoran magic had yet been found.  So even the small hope that some examples of early human magic might reveal something of use to the Dominion had come to nothing. Much like his continuing search for where the College kept its most dangerous magic items, which had produced only the confirmation that such a place existed.  But, aside from, possibly, whatever was behind the one door in the Midden that he’d been unable to open, Ancano’d found nothing worth mentioning on the college grounds.  Perhaps, like the Winterhold jail, the college’s vault was somewhere out in the ice.  He was going to have to start paying much closer attention to the librarian’s movements if he wanted to determine where.

As for the dragonborn, while her search for aetherium was interesting it couldn’t truly be considered research sanctioned by the college (as it had begun before she’d joined). So it told him nothing about the institutional interests of the College of Winterhold or what role they might play in the next war.  Which was why he felt secure in keeping the information to himself, for now.  If she ever found a key to Blackreach… well, Ancano would have the immense pleasure of handing the Second Emissary’s prize asset over to Third Emissary Rulindil for interrogation.  He almost smiled at the thought, only to frown, disapprovingly, at three brown-robed figures walking down the road in such a way that the cart was forced to swerve so as not to hit them.  Damn barbarian Nords didn’t even know how to get out of the way properly.

In the end Ancano’s only reaming avenue of investigation, at the moment, was the vague rumors he’d come across (mostly from Enthir gossiping with the new students) about someone, or something, called “The Augur of Dunlain”.  Perhaps he could bare to spend an evening, or two, socializing with Tolfdir.  The old Nord had been at the college longer than anyone else, including the Arch-Mage.

The cart stopped on the edge of town and Ancano climbed stiffly out.  Ancano paid the driver and stepped out of the way as he turned his cart around to start back to Windhelm.  A glance back down the road revealed that the brown robed trio, who, from this angle, he could see were wearing dopy* looking masks, were just coming into town.  No doubt the costumes were part of some local new year custom, he reflected with a scowl and a scathing once over. 

“You,” one of the men began, stepping in front of Ancano the moment the cart, and driver, were out of the way.  “We understand that the so-called dragonborn is a member of the College here.  Is it true?”

“It is,” Ancano answered with all the condescension he could muster after four days* in an un-sprung cart, on Skyrim’s less than stellar roads, in the dead of winter.  “She’s right over there, if you wish to speak with her yourself,” he added, pointing to where he’d spotted Alexa talking to Birna in front of Brina’s shop.  He was really far too tired to put up with local foolishness right now.

The masked man immediately shoved past Ancano moving, purposefully, down the street.  “You there!” he called out to the Breton student as he approached.  “You’re the one they call dragonborn?” he demanded.  His accent – Dunmer, not Nord – caught Ancano by surprise, causing the Thalmor Advisor to stay where he was rather than making his way to the college.

“Ye-es?” the Breton student responded with a confused look.

“Your lies fall on deaf ears, Deceiver!” the man yelled, lightning forming in his hands.  “The True Dragonborn comes...  You are but his shadow!  When Lord Miraak appears all shall bear witness.  None shall stand to oppose him!”

The fight was over rather quickly.  The Winterhold guards were more practiced than most in dealing with magic users and the trio’s strange attire had clearly caught their attention even before the first spell had been cast.

Ancano strolled over and began going through the pockets of the man who had appeared to be the group’s leader.  The only thing of interest was a note.  He stood back up before opening it and perusing the contents.

“What does it say?” Alexa asked, walking over after the guards were finished lecturing her.

“Board the vessel Northern Maiden docked at Raven Rock,” Ancano read aloud.  “Take it to Windhelm, then begin your search.  Kill the False Dragonborn known as Iizkaandraal before she reaches Solstheim.  Return with word of your success, and Miraak shall be most pleased.”  He paused to give her a skeptical look.  “Iizkaandraal?” 

She grimaced slightly, holding out her hand for the note.  “My dragon name – apparently.  Don’t look at me, I didn’t choose it.”

“Were you headed to Solstheim, false Dragonborn?” he asked, sardonically, as he handed the note to her.

“Not insofar as I know,” she replied, reading the note for herself.  “Miraak… Miraak…  Who in Oblivion is Miraak?”

“The True Dragonborn, apparently,” Ancano sniffed.

The girl’s frown deepened. “The Greybeards claimed that I was the only dragonborn revealed in this age.  And, if he really is dragonborn, why doesn’t his dragon name have a third syllable?” she murmured as she turned away from him and started back to the College. “Unless… no, that doesn’t make any sense at all.  There’s no way he could still be alive.  Humans aren’t immortal, stupid dragon memories. Though Bernadette Bandian’s last paper did say the Dragon Priests were becoming more ‘lively’.  Perhaps the process is more advanced in Solstheim? No.  Miraak disappeared.  No body, no tomb, no draugr to donate life-force… but Krosis was fairly lively… of course, his dragon wasn’t dead…” 

They had reached the College courtyard.  Alexa stopped and threw her hands up in the air.  “But I don’t want to go to Solstheim!” she yelled to the sky.

Watching her disappear into the Hall of Attainment Ancano realized he was uncertain how sane the Breton student had ever been but it seemed she was beginning to crack up a bit.  This he had mixed feelings about.  On the one hand Ondolemar had received quite a bit of credit for having managed to recruit the “dragonborn”.  This was irksome as it secured the younger mer’s continued, meteoric, rise through the ranks of the Thalmor.  Having it fall apart on him would be quite gratifying to watch.  On the other hand Ancano was uncertain what would happen if an insane dragonborn were added to the current political mix in Skyrim.  He was also increasingly aware that she wouldn’t be easy to take down.  Her elevation to being a “Master” wizard in the four months since she’d arrived – little of which she had actually spent at the College – was troubling.  However much she tried to downplay it the Breton obviously had a rare gift for magic. The possibility of a second, older, dragonborn was worrying.

Ancano made a mental note to see what he could find out about someone – a dragon priest? - named Miraak from Solstheim.

Chapter Text

If it hadn’t been for the color of her hair Ulfric might not have recognized the person striding toward him. The woman who had so insulted him to his face at Helgen, who had poured deeply troubling truths she should not have known into Ralof’s disbelieving ears, in a tone that was hard to dislodge from one’s mind, was now standing before him. 

“Only the foolish or the courageous approach a Jarl without summons,” he told her.  At his tone the conversation around the table died and Galmar and the guards hands moved to their weapons. 

Jorleif cleared his throat. “Jarl Ulfric, this is Alexa, of the Companions, she has been investigating the recent murders…” the steward stuttered and he shifted his weight uncomfortably, clearly hoping he had not made a mistake that would bring Ulfric’s famous temper down upon him.

The woman simply threw a set of journals at Ulfric’s feet.  “The Butcher is dead.  Your city guards and the latest woman he attempted to kill can attest to this.”

“I see…” Ulfric replied with a measuring look.  What a piece of luck that the bitch from Helgen would turn out to be the dragonborn. All that time he’d spent preparing to take his rightful place and this Breton had stolen his destiny.   “Windhelm thanks you for your service, Dragonborn,” he rumbled, low and threatening.

“It should not have required my services, Jarl,” she replied coldly after the faint gasps his announcement had caused died down.  

“The Stormcloaks could use someone so clearly dedicated to the safety of Skyrim’s people,” Galmar suggested gruffly his eyes alight with the idea of adding The Dragonborn to the ranks of the Stormcloaks.  “Will you join us, Dragonborn?”

“No.”  

“No?” Galmar barked in surprise.

“The blood of women stained your streets and no one in this room did a thing.  Such inaction is not worthy of a man, much less a Jarl or a King.  I will not serve such a one.”

“Our men are stretched thin with the war,” Jorleif jumped in before Ulfric or Galmar could respond. “That is not the Jarl’s fault, my lady!”

“Finding the murderer’s lair took less than three hours of investigation,” the dragonborn told them, her eyes never leaving Ulfric.  “Finding and stopping the murder himself took less than a day.  Your steward and your court mage can confirm my timeline. Surely, even with the war, a single guard could have been tasked with the investigation for so short a period of time… had you cared.  Clearly you did not.”

“You know nothing of me, dragonborn, or what I care for,” Ulfric informed her, his voice rumbling low with the power of the thu’um.  “You, a foreigner who has done nothing for Skyrim* and knows nothing of its people’s plight, have no right to judge me or my actions.”  He gave her a slightly smug look.  Long ago he had discovered that adding the low rumble of the thu’um to his voice made his fellow Nords more likely to think of him in terms of the heroes of old and so more willing to devote themselves to his cause.  Thus he had gotten into the habit of using it continuously. The dragonborn’s voice, on the other hand, held no shadow of that most Nordic of abilities.  His men would never associate her with their legendary heroes. He was a leader of men, and she just killed dragons.

I fight for the men I’ve held in my arms, dying on foreign soil. I fight for their wives and children, whose names I heard whispered in their last breath…” she sneered, her voice a surprisingly accurate imitation of his own, thu’um rumbling and all. “Yet, in truth, you turn a blind eye to their orphaned children, homeless on your streets, and their wives and daughters dying at the hands of a madman within your walls.  Your actions speak for themselves Jarl Ulfric.  They do not require me to give them zul*.”

Ulfric gritted his teeth, his hands balling into fists by his sides as the tremors from the single word she had spoken in dovahzul died away.  “I would hate to see you as an enemy, Dragonborn,” he suggested softly.

“You needn’t worry.  I have every intention of remaining neutral in your war with the Empire.  Even if I did not I would still find myself rather preoccupied with dragons at the moment. A situation you might consider devoting some time to yourself.  Dragons once ruled all Skyrim.  There is nothing figurative about the horrors they inflicted.”

“And how do you expect me to pay attention to dragons with the Empire breathing down my neck at every turn?”

“The Greybeards know more of the situation than they will tell me.  Perhaps you might have better luck with them than I.  Arngeir once cared for you as a son, did he not?”  She turned away from him and addressed herself to Jorleif.  “The murderer is dead.  The city’s women are safe again and I clearly have other things I should be doing.”

“Of course, Dragonborn,” he squeaked.  “Your reward,” he handed her a purse of gold.  “Thank you again for your service.”

“For you, and for the city,” she smiled at Jorleif, “it was no trouble.”  Then she turned and gave Ulfric another measuring look.  “When we refuse to admit our mistakes we compound them, Jarl,” she declared, before turning to walk towards the door.

“And what mistakes have I made?” he called after her.

“When you broke your oath of fealty, slew your king, and plunged Skyrim into civil war, you fulfilled the prophecy of the Last Dragonborn,” she replied, her voice echoing through his hall.  “Now the World-Eater has awakened and the Wheel turns.  That seems like a pretty big mistake to me.”  She stopped, hand on the door, and looked back at him.  “Unless, of course, you are saying that the return of the dragons was your intention when you decided to kill your king?  Did you, perhaps, think to trade being Stormcloaked for being Stormcrowned?”

“How dare you?” he roared, rising to his feet.

“You are personally responsible for all of this, Jarl Ulfric,” she told him sternly.  “Remember that the next time you tell the story of how Alduin, the Worl-Eater, himself saved you from execution.”  And then she was gone a gust of icy wind slamming the door shut behind her.

“Fascinating,” Wuunferth muttered into the silence the dragonborn had left in her wake.  “It would never have occurred to me that the prophecy was so literal…  Out of curiosity what color was the dragon that destroyed Helgen?”

“Black,” Ulfric growled.

“You mean she wasn’t lying?” Jorleif demanded, a note of hysteria creeping into his voice.  “The World-Eater has returned?  These are the end times?”

“No!” Ulfric yelled at Jorleif.  “You will not listen to that filth!  And you will not pass on that elf-lover’s lies!”

Even Galmar seemed a little taken aback by that.

Ulfric took a deep breath to center himself.  “Our cause is too important to be distracted by legends and myth,” he told them. “Skyrim must be free.  Only then can we deal with the dragons.”

Chapter Text

Aside from the city guards very few armored persons showed up on the Windhelm docks.  A Breton with purple hair, and armor befitting a shadowscale, kind of stood out.  Still, he didn’t give her more than a glance, so he was a little surprised when she stopped in front of him.  “Can you tell me which of these ships is the Northern Maiden?” she asked.

“No.  The Nords don’t appreciate us so I don't appreciate them right back,” Neetrenaza told her, standing up from the grind wheel and turning his back on her to move to the armor bench.

“Uh, ok.  But I’m not a Nord.”

“You’re looking to hire one,” he replied tersely.  That shut her up for a moment.

“If the Nords here don’t appreciate you, would you be interested in working somewhere else?” she asked suddenly.

He turned his head slowly to face her.  “That depends on the job.”

“I understand the Argonians map the waterways of Black Marsh as the rest of us might map the contours of a mountain or valley.  Is that true?”

“It is,” he answered carefully.  “Why?”

“Well, no accurate map has been made of the coast of Winterhold since the Great Collapse. Without such a map it is not safe to bring ships in to trade with the city.  You wouldn’t know anyone who’d be able to fix that, would you?”

He turned and leaned up against the workbench, crossing his arms in front of him, considering her for the first time.  Her equipment was clearly valuable.  Perhaps there was money to be made here.  Still… “The water is cold here, land-strider.”

She dropped her pack on the ground and, pulling out a simple silver necklace from one of the pockets, tossed it to him.  “That should help with the cold.”

He frowned, put the necklace on, walked to the edge of the dock, leaned over and stuck his hand in the water.  The water that was usually dangerously cold even here now felt almost lukewarm. “Interesting,” he admitted.  “I may know two, other than myself, who could help you.  For the right price,” he added.

She lifted a finger. “Hold that thought, I’ll be right back.” 

He watched in astonishment as she hurried back up the stairs and into the city.  Seriously, humans were a strange bunch all around.

About an hour later the Breton girl returned caring an odd assortment of objects in her arms.

Needing a quite place to talk, out of sight of the guards, Neetrenaza led her into the Argonian Assemblage and closed the door behind them.  Best to find out what the job really was before setting a price.  “How much of the coast do you want mapped?” he asked her. 

She unrolled the new map she’d brought with her out on the table and drew a line on it just to the west of the island with Blackcoast Cave on it and another that ran from Hela’s Folly to The Tower Stone.  “Out to wherever the land drops off into the deep sea,” she said.

“That’s a lot of coast line, Breton,” Neetrenaza pointed out.

She nodded and turned to her pack.  “Three rings of healing, and two more necklaces of frost resistance,” she said, handing him a drawstring bag.  “A staff of mage light – it gets dark down there.”  She handed it to him.  “Staffs don’t work underwater so use it on yourself, or an object you can bring with you, before you go down.  A staff of flame atronach to help against terrestrial wildlife and a bag of filled common soul gems to recharge the staffs with.”  She rooted around in her pack a bit more before pulling out a large coin purse.  “And one thousand gold for supplies and wages for the next month,” she said, handing him the purse.  “Will that do?”

He blinked at her in astonishment.  All told she’d just handed him more wealth and magic than he’d ever held in his hands before.*  “What makes you think that I won’t just take all this and run?”

“I’m the dragonborn,” she replied with a slightly bitter smile.  “If you break our bargain I will find you.  Besides, I am offering to pay you well with limited distressing human oversight. And, should a sea-lane large enough for ships be found, there is always the possibility of more work in Winterhold. Almost anywhere would probably be a step up from working for these assholes.”

“Neetrenaza,” he said, holding out a hand to her.

“Alexa,” she replied, shaking his hand firmly.

“You’re really the dragonborn?”

She turned away from him. “Yol!” she shouted, a burst of fire streaming from her throat and hitting the wall.  She turned back, rubbing her nose, distractedly.  “That one’s hard on the sinuses,” she explained with an apologetic smile.

Neetrenaza swallowed hard. “I imagine so,” he agreed his voice shaking a little.

“So, uh, I’ll be going, and I’ll check up on you when I get back from Solstheim,” she smiled a little uncertainly.

“Is there some place you want to meet?” he enquired.

“No.  I don’t know exactly how long I’ll be gone so I’ll just come find you,” she explained, hefting her pack.

He nodded.  “It’ll probably be a week or so before we’re outfitted and the map maker I know can get here.”

“No problem,” she nodded. “I’m expecting it will take you through the end of the summer anyway.  Just, you know, don’t die and do try to be as accurate as you can.  I will be checking.”

And then she was gone and he was left wondering if there was some sort of hidden catch to all of this.


Seated on the deck of the Northern Maiden Alexa examined the skull amulet in her hand.  This artifact of Mannimarco’s, she decided, she would put in the dragon shrine when she returned to Skyrim.  It would be interesting to discover if it could leave that place on its own as was, supposedly, its way.*  She dropped it into her bag and cracked open the Book of Fate. Blank.  Typical.  She snapped it shut and stowed it in her pack as well.  The wind was picking up.

“Trouble ahead,” Captain Gjarlund called out pointing to a mass of dark cloud on the horizon.  “Usually I’d suggest we turn around and try again later in the week but...” he gave her a sideways glance.  “You said you could handle it?”

“I did,” she agreed, walking to the prow of the ship.  “LOK-VAH-KOOR!” she shouted into the sky ahead of them.

“Shor’s mercy,” Gjarlund breathed as the clouds dissipated and the sky cleared.  “You’re the dragonborn, aren’t you?”

“I’m a dragonborn,” she answered.  “Whether I’m the dragonborn seems to be a matter for debate.” 

 

 

To be continued…

 

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