Delphine is growing tired of waiting, and they’re running out of time. Surely the Dragonborn would have found it by now. There is the off-chance that the Greybeards won’t send them there so soon, but Delphine doubts that’s the case. She knows they would want to keep their involvement minimal, despite their claims of upholding the honor of their predecessors. Pacifists to a fault. She only hopes the Dragonborn has more steel in their bones than them. She is supposed to have the blood of a dragon, after all.
A woman enters the tavern then—one whom Delphine recognizes immediately. Did Farengar send her after me? Her mind goes to the tablet tucked away in the hidden basement. Farengar was not happy that she refused to let him keep it. She resents any knowledge she is forced to give to the sniveling mage. He already knows too much, and Delphine’s own knowledge is limited enough. And she was the one who retrieved it. Farengar has no actual claim. But that doesn’t mean he won’t try to take it.
Delphine watches as she slowly makes her way to the counter, eyeing the room and patrons with a dark gaze. She’s clearly in no mood for talking, and everything about her screams danger. Delphine wonders how much of a problem she would be if she chose to start anything. Taking her out should be relatively easy, but it will have to be done quietly.
“What do you have to eat?”
“We’ve got some venison stew left, and maybe some cheese. As for drinks, I only serve water or milk this late.”
“Stew and water are fine.”
"How much stew do you want?" Delphine asks as politely as she’s able.
"How much can you give me?
“I’ll see what I can do.“ Delphine says, repressing a smirk. “Make yourself comfortable.”
The woman didn’t seem to recognize her. Maybe she’s not here for her at all, or maybe she doesn’t plan on doing anything yet. In any case, Delphine will stay alert. The woman sits at the table furthest from the other customers and watches Delphine go to the back with a look in her eye that Delphine doesn’t like. Delphine brings her a pitcher of water and a large bowl of the stew, tempted to spit in it, but nothing’s been proven yet and she’s not that unprofessional. The woman pokes at her food tentatively at first, before scarfing it down like a starving dog. She’s never seen someone eat so fast. When the woman finishes off her water just as quickly, Delphine returns to the table.
“Couldn’t help but notice you scarf down your food. Are you sure you don’t want anything else to eat?” She asks, mildly impressed.
“I’ll be fine, but I am going to spend the night.” The woman says, getting to her feet. ”Do you have an attic room I could stay in?”
Delphine’s jaw nearly drops. She’s the Dragonborn?
“Is there a problem?”
“Well, we don’t have an attic room, but you can have the one on the left,” Delphine says, before turning to go through the back.
“Don’t I have to pay you first?”
“I’ll return shortly. You can pay me then.” The woman shrugs before heading into the room. Delphine quickly makes her way to Orgnar’s room in the back, her head racing. And to think I was ready to kill her if I had to. Delphine thinks, laughing at herself. She was always told she was far too impulsive. Her heart squeezes at the memories of her former companions. After all those years of hiding from the Thalmor, she can finally act. She can finally avenge them, can finally do what they always dreamed of doing. She can restore the Blades to their former glory.
“Orgnar. I need you to man the front!” She shouts, banging on his door. ”Can you hear me?”
“It’s hard not to.”
“Then go do it!” The door opens, and he pushes past her with an irritated glare. “Don’t give me that look, I’ve been out there all day.”
“You’re the one responsible for that.” He calls out, before entering the dining hall. Delphine ignores him and takes a moment to gather herself before heading into the Dragonborn’s room. She’s sitting at the chair, sharpening her sword.
“Damn it.” She hears her say, bringing a finger to her mouth. “Knocking would have been nice.” Delphine hesitates at that, but she’s not in the mood for apologizing.
“Come with me.” She says, opening the wardrobe and heading down the stairs. This is it. The woman grumbles but follows. “Close the door behind you,” Delphine calls out when she makes it to the desk and hears the sound of the latch. The woman makes it to the bottom of the steps. “Now we can talk.”
“Where’s the horn?” Delphine smirks. At least she knows how to get down to business.
“If I were planning on just handing it over to you, I’d have left it in the tomb,” Delphine says, crossing her arms. ”You still have some things to prove.”
“What do you want then?”
“The Greybeards seem to think you’re Dragonborn. I hope they’re right.”
“Are they usually not?” The woman asks, and Delphine wonders how loyal she is to them. She’ll have to be careful about that in the future.
“Let’s just say I have little faith in them. Our ideologies are vastly different.”
“Get to the point,” The woman says impatiently.
“I’ll get to the point whenever I want, got it? I need to know if I can trust you before I tell you anything else.” Delphine says, glaring. The woman seems to barely notice it.
“How do I know I can trust you?” She asks, and Delphine scoffs.
“If you don’t trust me, you were a fool to walk in here in the first place. You’d already be dead if I didn’t like the look of you.” The woman only rolls her eyes, and it’s all Delphine can do not to lash out at her again.
“Wouldn’t that have made all of this pointless?”
“Only if you really were Dragonborn.” Delphine pauses, waiting for a reaction. The woman doesn’t say anything, only holds her gaze, so she continues. ”And if you are, that means I’ve been looking for you… well, someone like you for a very long time and I’m actually trying to help you, so hear me out.”
The woman crosses her arms. “Give me the horn first.”Delphine narrows her eyes, about to say something, but is beaten to it “That is the only way you’ll get me to cooperate. If you don’t you can consider all your efforts to help me futile. I’ll find another way to get the horn.”
Delphine scoffs. “So you do have some backbone: surprising, considering the Greybeards like to snuff that out.” Delphine goes to the chest, pushing it aside and taking the horn out of the wall before marching across the room and shoving it into her hands “Here. Take it, but I— Wait, where are you going?” She asks as the woman turns and takes a step up the stairs.
“I had a job to do. I’ll come back when I’m done.”
“What? No, you can’t!” The woman ignores her. “Wait,” Delphine demands, grabbing her arm and pulling her to a stop. The woman glares at her. “Please. We’ll be too late if we don’t do it now.”
“Do what?” The woman asks, yanking her arm from her grasp.
“Remember the job Farengar refused to give you?” The woman nods. “Well, we wanted to get the Dragonstone— a map of dragon burial sites. I assume you know the dragons are being resurrected, correct? Well, I’ve figured out the pattern. The one at Kynesgrove is next.”
“Kynesgrove? That’s days away.”
“If my calculations are correct and we leave before dawn, we’ll get there just in time… And once I see you absorb a dragon’s soul, I’ll tell you more of what I know.”
“Alright, but if you try anything,—”
“The same goes for you.”
The woman sighs. ‘Then let’s get this over with.”
Ulfric set out as soon as he heard the news. Someone was spotted climbing the steps to High Hrothgar, and that someone has to be the Dragonborn. Ulfric doesn’t know why else anyone would attempt such a thing this time of year. He’s only attempting it because he’s done it many times before, and he’s not going to miss his chance. He knows that the Greybeards won’t offer the Dragonborn much, and his past with them can now be used as an advantage.
He was young when he first went to train with them and to live a life of solitude, seclusion, and study for years. It was a dull life for a boy, but he was chosen. His father couldn't say no, not to an honor such as this. Being chosen by the Greybeards is far greater than any title that would have been bestowed on him. So he threw himself into it, learning faster and growing stronger than they could anticipate. They often told him he was their best student— that one day he would take Arngeir’s place. He wanted nothing more— Ulfric scoffs at the thought. How could he have wanted anything else when that life was all he knew?
One day he couldn’t help it. Ulfric escaped. There was a festival, one he remembered distantly of going to. It came by every year, and one year the temptation was too great. He met a girl, Laila. Ulfric smirks— there were many firsts that day. He got a taste of life and afterward hungered for it ever since. He would escape the mountain more often, would send notes with the deliverer and Laila was always ready to receive him.
It wasn’t long till the Greybeards found out and tensions grew between them. Ulfric refused to stop leaving and they eventually gave in, but whenever they suspected he had left the next day his training was more intense and his list of chores would grow longer. He bore it to keep the peace, but he always knew it wouldn’t last. Deep in his heart, he knew he no longer wanted that life. He would give it all up for Laila if he could. But he was chosen, so he had to stay.
Then the war came and everything changed.
“Your lust for this woman has corrupted you!”
“There is no corruption, only the truth! My eyes have been opened to a different life— a greater purpose, one that’s more than growing old and dying on this mountain having done nothing that really matters! What’s the point in all this training and power if I never get to use it!”
“Power does not mean privilege, my boy, it means responsibility!”
“I’m not talking about privilege! I’m talking about opportunity! We have the chance to help our fellow men. With us on the battlefield—”
“We aren’t heroes, Ulfric. We can’t win their fights for them; that is not our place! Your hunger for purpose has led you astray! Joining in the fight will not tame the fire of mer and men, you will only be fanning the flames!”
“And your passiveness has led you nowhere. I refuse to be a part of this— of nothing! Whether or not it goes up in flames, I will not stay here. I see now that there’s no honor in it. “
“Are you truly speaking of honor, Ulfric, or glory?”
Both, Ulfric admits to himself, he wanted both. And he got neither. He returned to Skyrim a broken man. He couldn’t live with himself for his failure— but he thought he could live with Laila, but she had already given herself away. He couldn’t blame her. He was supposed to be dead, but he could blame the Empire. Their cowardice and passivity was responsible for this. The treaty was a sham— they knew it and still they had it signed. They were no better than the Greybeards, but there was nothing Ulfric could do about it. Nothing but wait and take the chance when it came. And it did, it—
Ulfric stopps when he realizes where he is. He’s made it. Just around the corner he will see High Hrothgar towering above him. He’s not sure he’s ready for that yet. Turning back is always an option— a poor one, but it’s there. I am not a coward. He makes it around the bend.
Ulfric marvels at the sight for a moment, nostalgia hitting him in the chest. All those years here and all those years away— he doesn’t know how to feel. But he does know how they will feel. He wonders for a moment if he should sneak in— he certainly knows many different ways. But no, he’s better than that now. Bigger. He doesn’t need to hide like a rat: he’s more than that. He’s the Bear of Markarth, Jarl of Windhelm. He’ll use the front gate.
He pounds on the doors, knowing how hard of hearing they are . How fitting , he thinks, now that he knows their true disposition. These men would let thousands of men suffer and die for their own moral superiority— for the traditions and teachings of their fathers. They wouldn’t even hear their cries. Part of him just wants to enter but knows that that will anger them more than his presence already will.
The door opens.
“What are you doing here?”
"You can't save us single-handedly, Brynjolf," Sapphire says, leaning against his desk.
Brynjolf sighs, hand tightening around his pen. The past few weeks have been nothing but work as Brynjolf does what he can to salvage what funds they have left. It’s bad enough that they’re already dangerously low on coin, but winter has always been harder on them. Usually, they’d have enough made from the rest of the year to get them through it without any major hiccups; now they will have to struggle to stay afloat.
"If I don't try to, who will?" he asks, defeated. The rest of the Guild were already getting lazy before winter came, save for a few, but a few isn’t enough. Gallus would be so disappointed. All his work will be for nothing. “I will not stand by and watch the Guild fail,” Brynjolf says, feeling his resolve strengthen. “Not when I can do something about it." I have to do something right. His eyes go to her for a moment, before returning to his paperwork. He was almost done.
"Be real,” Sapphire says, taking the pen out of his hand and tossing it over her shoulder. Brynjolf gets to his feet, about to tell her off, but she silences him with a finger pressed against his lips. “What can you do about it? Everyone gave it their all, but we're still stuck at the bottom of the barrel!”
"Then what do you suggest I do, lass?”
“Me.” Brynjolf lets out a surprised bark of laughter at her bluntness, and she takes a step closer, hand falling to his chest with a wicked look on her face. "I mean it. Take a break. Relieve your stress.” She leans in close enough that their lips brush as she says, ”Come back and reevaluate."
"Is this real advice or part of your attempt to seduce me?"
"Can't it be both? It has been a while."
Not just with you, Brynjolf thinks, wondering when the last time he had sex was. The past few weeks had him solely doing jobs, recruiting, and crunching numbers with Mercer who’s decided to start taking even more of their funds to prepare for Solitude. He hasn’t quite come to the decision yet, most of the others dislike the idea as much as Brynjolf. But Mercer always was cautious. And while he would gladly do for a roll in the sheets, he can’t help but remember the last time Sapphire wanted to sleep with him.
"Only because you don't know how to share…" Brynjolf takes her hands, lifting them off his chest. “Do you know how hard it was to convince the poor lass to stay after you tried throwing her out? I still don’t even know how you knew what room I was in.”
"What can I say?” She pulls her hands out of his grasp and gives him a sultry smirk. “I'm greedy. You know that." Brynjolf smiles, no one would accuse Sapphire of being anything otherwise.
"Come back in an hour," he says, moving around her to retrieve his pen. “I need to finish this.”
"Fine,” Sapphire huffs, “but you'll have to make up for the time missed."
Brynjolf smirks as he watches her leave, then goes back to the desk, eyes fixed on the bottom drawer containing Krosa’s things. If only I wasn’t so stupid. Even if she didn’t end up joining, she certainly would have made things more interesting. Her journal was interesting enough, though not very informative. Which fits her perfectly. He hasn’t finished reading it yet— hasn’t had the time or the motivation. There were even times where he’s forgotten she even existed, he was so absorbed in what he was doing. Maybe he’d have forgotten completely if her stuff wasn’t here to remind him she was ever here in the first place.
I wonder how she’s doing. He doubts she’d be traveling across Skyrim in this weather if she’s even still here at all. Not to mention the word of dragons plaguing the land. If Krosa wasn’t going to leave before, that surely would have drawn her away.
It takes him only a few seconds to make up his mind, and he unlocks the drawer and pulls the book out. He rereads a few passages as he flips through the pages, trying to remember where he left off. A certain passage catches his eye, and his heart nearly jolts when he sees what’s written.
‘I defeated some bastard called the Butcher. I still can’t believe the city officials did nothing about him. I got a lot of gold from it, way more than I should have. I think Ulfric was trying to bribe me. Arrogant bastard. I hope I never have to be in the same room as him again. Brynjolf can be trusted for the most part. He’s an ass, but he’s a helpful one.’
Brynjolf smirks, wondering what else she said about him. He skims through each passage as he goes back, trying to find her first entries after coming to Skyrim. He smiles as he imagines what she must have written about him then.
‘Just got a job that will take me out of Cyrodiil. It’s in Skyrim. I’m looking for a man named Brynjolf. The contractor told me he was a slippery one— flirtatious, crafty, and willing to do whatever it takes to survive. Ginger hair, green eyes, lilting accent. He lives in a city called Riften. I’m supposed to bring him to another city, Falkreath. Should be easy enough. It better not be as cold there as they say.’
‘Don’t ever go to Riften again, but if you do— HAELGA’S BUNKHOUSE IS NOT AN INN. ’
Brynjolf stifles a laugh at that. So that’s what she was talking about. Oh, how he wishes he was there to see how that went down. A feeling hits him then, and he has to put the journal down. She’d kill him if she knew he was reading this. But , Brynjolf reasons, I already started . There’s no going back from that now, and if she ever found out it would be because she’s talking to him. There’s just one more thing I need to see. It doesn’t take long to find what he’s looking for, they were the last things she would have written about.
‘Brynjolf asked me to join his guild again. This time I’m actually considering it, damn him. Should I accept his offer? I like him well enough, and he hasn’t given me any reason to doubt his intentions. I’ll have time to think about it in the ruins. I don’t even know why I’m writing about this.’
‘ I don’t know what Savos meant, and I still don’t know why he gave me the amulet, but it saved my life. Maybe I need to talk to Tolfdir now that I know more about what it does. Savos would say it’s cheating, but I find myself not caring. If only he weren’t so secretive, what’s even the point in being so cryptic?’
‘I think I’m going to give him a chance. I hope I don’t regret this.”
This was a mistake. He tosses the journal back into the drawer, slamming it shut before resting his head in his hands. Brynjolf doesn’t know what to feel. He hopes that Sapphire will return soon. If not, he may have to seek her out himself. Whatever he was working on can wait.
“I am here to see the Dragonborn,” Ulfric states, only hesitating for a moment before answering. Part of him hoped the Dragonborn would be the one to greet him— not Arngeir.
“The Dragonborn has no interest in you or your war.”
Ulfric glares. “Why should I believe you?”
“I assure you, I speak the truth. Those are the words of the Dragonborn.”
“Are you sure you’re not the ones who put them there?” Ulfric demands. It has only been a few weeks, but he knows from experience how persuasive they can be. They no doubt tried converting the Dragonborn’s mind to their ways as effectively as they could. Only the Thalmor are better at it than they are.
“The Dragonborn has a mind of their own,” Arngeir states, a trace of humor in his voice.
“And how is that any different from me?” Ulfric asks, watching as the humor fades, something tugging inside of him when it’s replaced with anger.
“You and the Dragonborn walk different paths, my boy, and Fate favors the chosen.”
Ulfric scoffs. “I was chosen by you once.”
“I am not Fate, which is a good thing for I would have made a grave mistake.”
“And the Dragonborn is your attempt to make up for this mistake of yours?” He scoffs again, taking a step closer, ready to barge in if Arngeir chooses to slam the door in his face. “I’m sure it was an opportunity you couldn’t pass up.”
“It is not opportunity I speak of, but duty. We always knew that one day we would train the Last Dragonborn. If you had stayed, you could have been a part of it. Alas—”
Ulfric doesn’t have the patience for this. “Where is he?”
“He?” Arngier asks smugly, “Who are you speaking of?
“The Dragonborn. I will not leave until I talk to him.”
“I’m afraid that isn’t possible. The Dragonborn’s training is complete, and has already been sent on their way,” Arngeir states carefully, a secret hidden in his eyes.
“What?” Ulfric exclaims, taking a step forward. “It’s only been a few weeks!”
“It was enough.”
“You’re setting him up for failure. Have your loyalties switched? Did that dragon of yours—”
“You’re making a fool out of yourself, Ulfric. Your pride has blinded you, and soon it will destroy you.”
“Is that a threat?
“It is only the truth— isn’t that what you were seeking before all this happened? We have always spoken it— You may have seen a piece of it, convoluted it may be, but truth is truth, and it always remains the same.”
In all those years training here, he has never known Arngeir to be a liar— bigoted, yes— but honest. He also had the penchant of knowing things he shouldn’t. But there’s still the chance that he will reveal something— or say something with a hidden meaning. He always loved to do that. Ulfric used to appreciate it when struggling with his studies, Arngeir used to have a soft spot for him; his carefully crafted words always a clue to what he was missing.
“You still haven’t told me where the Dragonborn is.”
“Yes, I know, I did that on purpose.” Ulfric glares. “If only you were smarter. Perhaps you need another lesson on how to—”
“Enough of this. I don’t need another lesson from you. I wasted my time coming here.” Ulfric turns and starts walking away, not caring about anything Arngeir may be trying to tell him, but he hears Arngeir quietly say something just loud enough to reach Ulfric’s ears:
“Yes, you did, and you have little of it left.“ Ulfric stiffens and whirls around to face him. He expects Arngier to look triumphant, but he just looks tired. And regretful. Ulfric does not want his pity.
"What's that supposed to mean?” he snarls.
"If you're not careful, son, the Dragonborn will be your end."
“You’ve made mistakes before, Arngeir. It’s bound to happen again.”
Ulfric states, his temper boiling over— humiliated and denied. He doesn’t know why he tried. You were hoping for it to be different, for all that time with them to mean something. It was foolish. But at least now he knows the Dragonborn is out there— and maybe his time with the Greybeards was too brief to be converted to their ways. As he makes his way back down the mountain. He’ll have his whole way back to figure out where the Dragonborn could be.
The world is white— covered in glittering snow that stings her eyes. Clouds cover the sun, only a few rays escaping the barricade, it’s warmth not strong enough to reach her. The only bit of warmth comes from every exhale, quickly erased. The trees are bare, the river frozen through, and the only sound is the crunching of the snow with each step she takes. Mountains can be seen in the distance— a sight she used to marvel at— but now she’s been up one of those mountains, and she knows what they’re really like.
Krosa can’t believe she’s here again.
Fate is funny that way, I guess. She’s been learning a lot about that. The Greybeards spoke of Fate as if it was a god they worshipped. Delphine would speak of it with dread. The inevitable is bound to happen, but where the Greybeards would stand by to let it pass, Delphine would try to fight it— wanting to forge her own path. Krosa doesn’t know which way is best, but it’s not like Fate really cares about what she thinks anyway. If it did, she wouldn’t be here.
Riften is a place she never wanted to return to again. She can see it looming in the distance, a dark spot against the light. The first time she was here, she was humiliated, and the second time she was betrayed. The third time is bound to be worse if her luck is anything to go by. But it has to be done. Fate wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ll have to see him again.
“So, what would you like to drink, lass?” he asks once they enter the tavern.
“What are my options?” Krosa asks, having never drunk alcohol before. She was always too busy to try, and never saw a point in the expense. Everything in Cyrodiil was expensive, and despite men offering to buy her a drink before, she never wanted to around them. Brynjolf looks at her curiously a moment before answering her question.
“Well, I’m obligated to tell you to try Blackbriar Mead.”
“Obligated?” she asks as he pulls out a chair for her to sit in.
“They’re business partners of mine,” he says, taking a seat next to her, their knees brushing.
“Is it any good?”
“That depends on your definition of good.” His smirk has roguish charm written all over it, and Krosa wonders how many women he’s seduced with it. “For you, lass, I would suggest the Spiced Wine. It’s not the strongest of drinks, but the cinnamon gives it a pleasant, fiery taste. A perfect match for you, I believe. There is also, of course, the Mountain Berry Brew which is popular with the lasses, or the Nordic Mead, strong and hard to swallow… Everything else is something you’ve most likely seen before, or not worth mentioning.”
Krosa knows what he’s doing and nearly rolls her eyes. He must practice stuff like this all the time. Flirting was never her strong suit, but she has a sneaking suspicion that he wouldn’t even notice the difference. Krosa shrugs, pushing her knee slightly into his.
“Spiced Wine sounds good to me.”
Krosa doesn’t want to believe it. She studies his face, looking for a sign that he’s telling the truth. Shouts can be heard, and Krosa knows the Alik’r are closing in. He hesitates, and Krosa has her answer. She lunges at him, pinning him against the wall, her sword against his throat.
“You have ten seconds to tell me where the nearest thieves’ exit is. If you don’t, I swear I’ll kill you right here,” she states, dreading what would happen if he challenges her to go through with it. That would be another sign that he may be telling the truth. Those who are telling the truth, in her experience, tend to do so. He doesn’t do it. He caves, and again she’s disappointed. She really has been betrayed.
Their previous interactions swirl in her mind, leaving her a nervous wreck. When Delphine first told her she would have to come here, it was just a distant worry— an annoyance— but now it’s becoming a reality. She’s here, right now, about to do it. Already she can hear the sounds of the city. The big, over-crowded, grimy, traitor-filled city.
Krosa’s had nightmares about this place— reality mixed with fiction. She hoped the nightmares would go away by now— surely that damned Daedric prince has grown tired of tormenting her. Krosa knows she’s tired of being tortured, but there’s nothing she can do about it. There’s nothing she can do about anything, apparently, except for dragon-killing.
Krosa arrives at the gate and hesitates.
You can’t even face one man yet you expect to face Alduin? Ha! He’ll tear you to pieces!
Krosa doesn’t even know which dragon it is. They’re all starting to sound the same. And it’s only going to get worse. The Greybeards told her they should go away once she defeats Alduin, that they are connected to Alduin’s life force since he resurrected them. If she died, their souls would be returned to him again and all her efforts would be pointless. That was another thing they made sure she knew— that her victory is not absolute. She will face Alduin, but she may lose.
Krosa grinds her teeth.
“Are you going to stand there all day?” a guard asks, startling her. She doesn’t have all day. Delphine was insistent about finding Esbern quickly. And, while Krosa and Delphine tend to disagree on a lot of things, she can’t help but agree that the quicker this is over with, the better. This Esbern guy better be alive.
“No. Sorry, I’m… lost in thought.”
“Don’t care. Just get in so I can close the gate.”
Krosa enters the city.
Brynjolf lays there staring at the stone ceiling, feeling more relaxed than ever. I don’t know why I ever stopped. I was just too distracted I guess. He forgot how good it felt. The bed dips as Sapphire rolls to get out of the bed and redress. Brynjolf follows suit.
“I can’t remember the last time we used a bed,” Sapphire says when she’s finished.
“It’s not my fault you’re impatient.” Sapphire only scoffs in reply. Brynjolf pulls on his shirt, turning to look at her. "Thank you, Sapphire. I needed that."
She smirks, walking over to him, caressing his face. "I didn't do it for you. You're not the only one stressed.” She pats his cheek. “Don't take it too hard."
"Should I be flattered that you bestowed upon me the honor of satisfying your sexual desires?" Brynjolf retorts sarcastically, knowing full well she won’t be satisfied for long. He wouldn’t be surprised if she’s been hopping from one person to the next— and isn’t even done for today, as sex-starved as she is. Though, he’s certainly in no position to judge.
"You were adequate at best.”
Brynjolf barks out a laugh. "’Adequate?’”
She smirks again but backs away. "If it makes you feel any better, the rest of the options here are less than adequate.”
"I don't believe you, lass,” he says, invading her space. Maybe he’ll have to prove his competence to her again.
"Oh really? Is that why you keep coming back for more?”
"I had a need. You were available, as always." Brynjolf resents that, true or not.
"Well,” he says, taking a step back, “I hope I at least made it semi-enjoyable for you. You can see yourself out."
"Till next time."
"If there is a next time."
"There will be," she calls out from the hall, having left the door open.
Brynjolf sighs, about to close it and get back to work. Screw it, he thinks, walking out and locking the door behind. He’s tired of being cooped up in here.
It’s colder outside than it is in the Cistern, but it doesn’t bother him at the moment. Brynjolf walks around the city, not having a destination in mind. He finds himself in the marketplace and sees that Rune is currently manning the stall. Brynjolf tells him to take a break, the day’s almost over anyway, and Brynjolf needs to be doing something other than sitting at a desk.
Showing his face on the streets isn't the smartest thing to do right now, but there's nothing the guards can do to him until he does something wrong. Maven's made sure of that. Maven's also the only reason why they still have a market stall in the first place. After the guards' attempted raid, they were able to work something out. While both sides weren't entirely happy with it, it is what it is. Business isn’t bustling; he’s only able to sell a few potions here or there. Being in the fresh air is nice, but he’s not enjoying it as much as he thought he would.
Someone comes up behind him, and he sighs, ready for another transaction. He puts down the crate, wondering if he should tell them he was in the middle of closing up, but the Guild needs every last septim. With that thought, he turns around opening his mouth to say something; the words escape him, swept away by the person before him. Krosa. Krosa. She looks at him with a steely gaze, guarded and ready for anything. But in her eyes lies a glint of hesitation and something that twists in his throat, something he can’t name. She breaks the silence.
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“I need information,” she says, crossing her arms and looking at a point behind him. Brynjolf feels his heart twist in his chest at the sound of her voice. He is anything but prepared for this.
“I’m looking for someone. Heard you’re the person to talk to,” Krosa continues, keeping her voice even, but Brynjolf can hear the apprehension tugging at it.
“Krosa, can we talk about—” he starts, but she doesn’t give him time to finish.
“No,” she says with a voice like steel. “I don’t want to hear what a lying bastard like you has to say.”
“I am not—”
“You sold me out!” she shouts, hands flying onto the counter, golden eyes smoldering.
Brynjolf’s hands curl into fists, doing his best to hold down his rising temper. He closes his eyes, taking a deep breath. He only speaks when he’s able to unclench his fists. Hoping that logic and reason can win against her. She trusted me once , he reminds himself, that has to count for something.
“No, lass, I didn’t.”
She scoffs. “And you expect me to believe you? Just like that?” Brynjolf takes a step out of the stall, holding her accusatory gaze. She stiffens, taking a step backwards, one hand moving to rest on her sword. He stays where he is.
“I helped you get away, didn’t I?”
“Only after I threatened to kill you.”
“Well, if you really think I did, lass, why are you coming to me for help?” She looks lost for a moment, and he bores his eyes into hers, hoping she can see the truth in them. She looks away, grinding her teeth.
“I had no other choice.”
“And who are you looking for?” he asks, resisting the urge to take another step forward.
“A man named Esbern. Word is he’s hiding in a place called the Ratways.”
“And you need me for that? I’m sure you could have found the Ratways yourself, it’s not like it’s a well-kept secret.”
“I don’t have time to try.”
Brynjolf doesn’t buy that for a second. If she really didn’t want to have this conversation, she would have found another way. The fact that she’s here at all tells him she wanted to see him, whether she knows it or not, and that means there’s still a chance to convince her of his innocence— that maybe she wants to give him that chance. He steps forward again, tempted to place his hand on hers. He crosses his arms instead.
“But you have the time to try and convince the person you think betrayed you to help you?” She pauses at that, and he can see her questioning herself, doubt easing its way in.
“You said you run things like a business,” she says, her hand clenching into a fist. “This is business, Brynjolf, nothing personal.”
“On the contrary, lass, I take being called a lying bastard very personally.”
“That’s your problem, not mine.” He gives her a look that she ignores. “Just tell me what I need to know,” she harrumphs, crossing her arms
Brynjolf backs off, knowing he’s reaching her limit. “You’ll find the Ratway under the city,” he explains, returning to his place behind the stall and tidying up. “Use the stairs just off the marketplace by the meadery. You’ll find the door to the vaults in a place called the Ragged Flagon. You can’t miss it. And if anyone gives you trouble, just tell them I sent you… When you get to the Ratways, follow the tunnels marked with two horizontal dashes. You’ll find him eventually.” He expects her to leave so he turns to pick up the crate.
“How much?” she asks after a few seconds, nearly making him drop the crate. He turns around to look at her.
“For the information. How much do you want?” Brynjolf sets the crate onto the counter, studying her. He could ask her to hear him out as a payment, but knows better than to do that. She’ll grudgingly listen to him, still set in her opinion. Nothing good would come of it.
“How much is it worth to you?” he asks instead, and she hesitates for a moment.
“You can sell this for a good price,” Krosa says, throwing an orcish dagger onto the counter. “It’s barely been used.”
She leaves before he has time to do anything, and he watches her go, frowning. He picks up the dagger, running his finger down the blade before sheathing it in his belt. He knew that she would be difficult, but he wasn’t prepared for how hard it would hit him.
Krosa hates the effect he has on her. Even now, as she’s walking away she can feel it, the remnants of whatever camaraderie they had before now twisting in her stomach, stabbing into her gut. The sting of his betrayal still haunts her, but apparently so does whatever she felt for him before. She’s not sure what it was, but it had to have been something . Despite herself, part of her still wishes things could be right between them again. But that's impossible, not after what he did. If he even did it , a traitorous voice in her says, and she shoves the thought away violently.
The Ratways are as pleasant as they sound, but it’s littered with more than just rats. Several people are living in the tunnels, and many of them aren’t entirely welcoming. By the time she makes it to the Ragged Flagon, though, there are far less inhabitants than there were before. At least the rats will eat well tonight. The thought doesn’t settle well in her stomach, or maybe that’s the rancid stench of the place.
Why anyone would want to live down here is lost on her, and she is more surprised than she’d care to admit when she finds the Flagon filled sparsely with people chatting and eating. Who would come to a tavern all the way down here? she wonders, watching them for a moment. The smell isn’t as bad down here, but the dusty musk is hardly any better.
Krosa makes her way to the tavern, and people start noticing her presence, watching as she walks by. She can hear some of them whispering about her, wondering who she is and what she’s doing down here. She spots the metal door just to the side of the counter and starts for it
“Excuse me, Miss, but may I ask what you’re doing here?” the man behind the counter calls out to her as she approaches.
“Do you want anything to—”
“No. I’m only passing through,” Krosa says, having barely taken another step before he’s in her way. She glares at him, but he only says
“Look, I can’t just let anyone—”
“Brynjolf sent me,” she says as she pushes past him. “So leave me alone.”
Krosa doesn’t wait for him to reply, and he does nothing further to stop her, though she does hear someone at one of the tables call her a bitch under their breath, and another who snickers. She hopes there’s another way out of the vaults, so she won’t have to come back this way. And to think this may have been where she would have ended up if she had accepted Brynjolf’s offer. The people down here do look like criminals of some sort; she could have been one of those people at the tables. What would it have been like? She pushes that thought aside and goes through the door.
There aren’t many people in the vaults, but it’s darker than the night sky. Krosa summons a ball of light in her hand to illuminate the passageways. The light bounces off the wet stone, revealing cobwebs above her head and rat and skeever corpses at her feet.
It’s eerily quiet at first, quiet as the deepest reaches of any cave she’s been to. It’s unsettling. When the first crossroads comes, she looks for the mark Brynjolf told her about, and keeps following them, ignoring the sounds of skittering rats and the occasional wail of someone in its depths. Eventually she finds herself in a large room with stairs leading up to an inconspicuous metal door.
This has to be it. Krosa makes her way up the steps, hesitating when she gets to the top. Do I knock? She does, quietly at first, then again a little louder.
“Esbern? Are you in there?” There’s several moments of nothing, and Krosa moves to open the door only to find it locked. Of course it is, what I was thinking?
“There’s no one named Esbern here,” a man calls from inside. Krosa rolls her eyes. Delphine said he’d be difficult.
“Delphine sent me.”
“Oh,” she hears him sneer, “how reassuring! Most likely you’re with the Thalmor and this is just a trick to get me to open the door!”
Krosa nearly argues, but remembers what Delphine told her. Or at least, she hopes she remembers. Delphine didn’t give her any time to process before sending her away.
“She said something about the thirtieth— or maybe the thirty first… some time near the end of Frostfall. You’re supposed to know what that means.” Way to ruin it, she thinks to herself, already planning on how to break through the door.
“Well, if you were a Thalmor agent, you’re a terrible one,” Esbern says, and Krosa can hear the sounds of him unlocking the many locks he has on the door. Finally, it opens and Krosa gets a good look at the tattered-looking old man. “So Delphine’s still alive then?” he says, with a hint of mirth in his voice. “You’d better come in to tell me what she wants and how you found me.”
Krosa enters, and he shuts the door behind her, working on relocking it as soon as she’s inside.
“Delphine only told me you made a mistake— and that I needed to find you before the Thalmor caught wind of it,” Krosa says, and he stops what he’s doing to look at her curiously.
“A mistake? What could she—” he starts, face falling. “Oh. I know what she means. Damn thief. The Thalmor must have gotten him. I haven’t seen him in months. I knew I shouldn’t have—” he drifts off, forgetting the rest of the locks as he stands.
“I’m near the end of my life, but I couldn’t let myself die with all that I knew.”
“So he was your… student? Do you think he can be saved?”
“I doubt it,” he says solemnly, before shaking his head. “But enough with that, what did Delphine want with me?”
“Dragons are coming back to life, she wants you—”
“Dragons!?” he exclaims, turning towards her. “Then this is it. I told her— I told everyone this would happen! No one would believe me! All I could do was watch our doom approach. And now it’s here. By the gods, it’s here,” he breathes, falling into his desk chair, head in his hands. “The end is upon us.”
“It’s not the end.”
“Haven’t you figured it out yet?” he says, getting to his feet again. “What more needs to happen before you all wake up and see what’s going on? Alduin has returned, just like the prophecy said—”
“I know about Alduin and the prophecy.”
“Oh, do you?” he sneers, “Delphine never believed in it, so who told you?”
“She believes in it now… sort of.”
“She couldn’t see the truth if it hit her in her face,” he says, and Krosa can see where he’s coming from. Delphine isn’t the easiest person to talk to, always so set in her opinions, barely giving any consideration to what Krosa says. “It doesn’t matter who knows it now,” he continues after a moment of silence. “It’s all hopeless—”
Krosa hears raised voices come from beyond the door. “Did you hear that?” she asks.
“Hear what?” Esbern goes to the door, leaning an ear against it, and his face goes white. “They’ve found me,” he says hopelessly before turning on her,“You led them right to me!”
“We can still escape,” Krosa says quickly, hands raised and taking a step back as he comes closer. She hopes he doesn’t try to attack her. That would make things more difficult than they already are.
“ Escape? There is no escape!” he cries, passing her and pulling a vial out of one of his drawers with tears in his eyes.
“What is that? What are you doing?”
“The only thing I can do. There is only death, one way or another, and I will not be imprisoned by the Thalmor. I will not live to see Alduin destroy the world. I am sorry you came here for nothing.” It doesn’t take long for her to figure out what he plans to do, and Krosa doesn’t give him the chance to even open the vial. She takes it and throws it against the wall, the glass shattering on impact.
“Wrong choice,” she says with a glare, “try again.”
“You—” Something crashes into the door, and Esbern pales, about to turn back towards the desk. Krosa grabs him by the collar, pinning him against the wall before he tries anything else.
“I’ll knock you out and drag you if I have to,” she all but snarls, running out of patience. “I have no intention of letting them take me either.”
“Hmph. Delphine sure knows how to pick ‘em,” he dryly states. “But can’t you see this is all pointless? Even if we escape, without a Dragonborn, Alduin cannot be defeated, and there hasn’t been one of them for—”
“I’m Dragonborn.” His eyes go wide at that.
“Wh— what ? You are? How? Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
“I’ll explain later. Can you fight?”
“I wasn’t a Blade by chance, just let me get ready.”
Krosa nods, letting him go and taking a breath as he dons his armor. Krosa has no idea if they really can do this; she has no idea how many of the Thalmor are out there. She’s only faced them once before, but then she was able to avoid confrontation in large groups.
But you’re more powerful now. With us, you could rip them to shreds with a single breath.
Why do you care? Krosa asks before she can stop herself. Her heart skips a beat at the thought of what she did. She never responded before, and part of her hopes they won’t answer— that they’re not able to answer.
I’m not like the others, the voice says, and Krosa realizes which dragon it is, and that she’s never heard it talk to her before this. It’s the one from Falkreath— the one that killed Sinding. I want you to succeed, it says, but Krosa won’t have it.
I don’t believe you. There’s another crash at the door, and Krosa’s forced to drop the subject, her nerves tingling as she turns to Esbern.
“Will that door hold?” Krosa asks, trying to shake off the effects of the conversation.
“Not for long,” he says, standing by her once he finished. “How do you plan on getting through them?”
Krosa has only one idea, and her heart races at the thought. She can feel the dragons’ souls inside her stirring as she focuses all thought on what she’s about to do.
The dragon was right about one thing, their power is explosively effective. As soon as the words leave her lips, the wall before them is torn apart and the Thalmor are thrown back, Krosa can't help but take a moment to stand in awe. She’s never really used it before, not like this.
It feels good, doesn’t it? All that power at your command. Krosa says nothing to that, trying to erase it from her mind. She shakes herself from her moment of revelry, Esbern only a few moments behind her as she throws herself down the stairs, heart thundering in her chest. She can’t help but admit the truth to herself: the dragon was right. That felt amazing.
“I’m sure that feels as good as it looks,” Nazir states disapprovingly, smirking at the man tugging at his chains. Blood runs down his wrist, the bright red flowing over the dried blood of the last time Nazir gave him a visit.
The man spits at him.
“If you give me what I want, you won’t need to struggle so much to get out of those chains.” The man only glares, and Nazir tries to hide a smirk. “I’ll admit, torturing you was more fun at first, but I’m starting to lose my taste for it.” The man eyes him suspiciously as Nazir turns to the door, waving in Gabriella and Babette. “Unfortunately for you, there are others who’ve been waiting for a turn. You remember Gabriella?”
“I’ve missed you,” Gabriella states, smiling flirtatiously at the man, dark promises in her eyes.
“And this is Babette, a cute little thing, isn’t she?”
“Don’t worry, Nazir, we’ll get him to talk,” Babette says, licking her lips.
“Not before we have our fun first, of course.” Gabriella starts emptying her sack of special ingredients and pre-made poisons onto the table. She’d been saving them for an occasion such as this.
“My thanks. And by all means, do what you will,” Nazir says with a bow, before making his exit. He knows they’ll succeed, torture isn’t even necessary. Babette could easily take control of him, but he did promise them their fun. A blood-curdling scream reaches his ears, and Nazir has to admit that he’s impressed. Even he was not able to coax such a reaction out of the man. The sound is music to his ears.
“Ah, Brynjolf! There you are!” Vekel exclaims as soon as Brynjolf enters the Flagon. Brynjolf makes his way over to the counter, sitting heavily onto one of the stools. Vekel hands him a tankard. “I believe a friend of yours came down here.”
“That would be Krosa,” Brynjolf says, watching Vekel fill the tankard.
“Wait–” The pouring stops– “Krosa? The Krosa? She… She wasn’t very pleasant.”
“Yeah, she’s not in a good mood.”
“Neither are you by the looks of it,” Vekel remarks, setting down the pitcher and leaning onto the counter. ”What’s going on? Why is she here?”
“I don’t know, she didn’t tell me.” Brynjolf takes a drink, savoring the burn.
“Are you going to go after her?”
“Why? So she can yell at me some more?”
Vekel smirks. “Did you have a lover’s quarrel?”
“I’m in no mood for your jokes, Vekel,” Brynjolf says with a sigh, eyeing the liquid one last time before pushing the tankard away from him. Getting drunk is not a smart idea at the moment, despite how badly it’s calling to him. Not only will Vekel take full advantage of it, but if he runs into Krosa again, he wants to be at his top game.
Krosa. He still has a hard time believing that she’s actually here. It hasn’t even been that long… it just seemed so impossible, especially with everything he knew about her. Why did she come back? he wonders. It would have to be something important or inevitable. While he’d like to believe that his original analysis is right, it never would have happened without some form of prompting.
A thunderous boom comes from the Vaults, vibrating through the tavern, rattling anything not nailed into place. Curses and shouts of alarm sound, and Brynjolf feels his stomach drop. Aiden’s in there. He sent the lad after Krosa, hoping that he could get some information.
“Looks like your flower is in trouble.”
“No kidding,” Brynjolf says, not really listening, already lost in his options.
“What are you going to do?” Vekel asks with a smug smile on his face.
“I don’t know. She can handle herself well enough, but—” Sounds of battle escape through the sealed door, and Brynjolf can only hope that Aiden either got away or Krosa’s somehow looking out for the lad.
“Brynjolf!" Aiden calls, rushing into the Flagon and crashing into him. Relief swirls through Brynjolf, glad the lad had enough sense not to get involved. “I ran as fast as I could,” he says, sliding to the floor.
“What happened, lad?” Brynjolf asks, crouching to his level. Vex and Delvin stand nearby, with others behind them, listening to every word. He'll have to be careful with what he says,
“It’s Krosa!” Aiden says breathlessly, trying to catch his breath.
“A group of Thalmor found their way into the Ratways. She’s fighting them right now!”
“ What? ” The Thalmor? Aiden doesn’t give him time to ponder, he looks helplessly to Brynjolf, grasping onto his arms.
"Oh man, Brynjolf, we’ve gotta help her! She can’t take ‘em all!”
“How many of them were there?”
“At least a dozen.” Brynjolf curses, getting up and pacing. How did they even— No. That doesn’t matter right now. There’s only one option, and Brynjolf’s going to need help. Those options are even less ideal, especially now with everyone either too drunk or holding a grudge against him. He turns to Vex.
She shakes her head. “Oh no. Like hell I’m going in there! If your friend was stupid enough to—”
“Please, Vex.” You’re the only one I can trust, he thinks, hoping she understands what he can’t say.
“Fine… But you’ll owe me for this.” Brynjolf can live with that.
“Do you have your daggers on you?”
She scoffs. “What kind of question is that?”
They make their way quickly and quietly, the tell-tale sounds of a magic battle growing less intense. A clap of lighting and a flash of purple light races down the tunnels, followed by a scream. The sound of blades clashing grows deafening the closer they get to the scene, and soon they come upon it. Sticking close to the wall, they survey the battle. Half of a wall is missing, blasted apart. Thalmor bodies litter the ground, along with that of an older man in strange-looking armor. Only a few are still breathing, too injured or drained to fight.
“What are we going to do?”
“Wait for an opening. Their magic should be drained soon enough,” Brynjolf says, watching their magical armor and wards flickering.
“What if we need to engage before then?”
“Be fast, focus on evasion. Distract them long enough so Krosa can finish them off unless there's an opening for a solid hit," he says, watching Krosa fight. She seems stronger than before , faster and more ferocious. "We don’t want to get in her way.”
Four against one, yet evenly matched. Krosa moves too quickly and savagely for them to pin her down properly, but they’re still pushing their advantage relentlessly. Brynjolf can see the signs of her struggling, tiring out and not as efficient as he’s seen her in the past. She moves with a lethal grace, around and under, between and through. She doesn’t stop moving, doesn’t give them the chance to overpower her.
“You know… I’m actually kind of impressed,” Vex states, watching the battle intently. “She’s a force to be reckoned with.” Brynjolf swells with pride hearing that, despite knowing that he has no right to. “And kind of a bitch, but I can respect that.”
“She is not— ” A new shadow dances along the wall, and Brynjolf barely has time to register what’s happening before there’s a cry as a Thalmor goes down, stabbed in the back by Aiden.
Krosa whirls around at the sound, leaving an opening for one of the Thalmor to cut into her side. She cries out, sword dropping out of her hands and clattering to the floor as her hands move to staunch the blood flow. She barely dodges the next blow, stumbling and falling to the ground in the process, two of them bearing down on her while the other turns on Aiden, taunting him as he backs the trembling boy into a corner. Brynjolf lunges from his hiding spot, Vex a step behind.
“I’ve got Aiden!” she calls, knives already soaring through the air.
Krosa hasn’t gotten back to her feet, only able to roll out of the way or kick out with her feet and throw whatever she can at them, all traces of gracefulness gone. Brynjolf makes it just in time to save her from a blow she could not dodge, coming between them, his daggers screeching against the steel of the Thalmor’s blade.
The elf snarls at Brynjolf, using the leverage on her blade to steer him into the wall. Brynjolf grunts with effort, already at the disadvantage.
“You shouldn't have bothered,” the Thalmor sneers, towering over him and applying more pressure, her gauntlets crackling with energy. Brynjolf’s own daggers starting to dig into his flesh, his efforts to push back useless. He kicks her in the knee, and she grunts, grip on her blade slackening. Brynjolf worms his way out, coming behind her and ramming her face-first into the wall. The elf falls to her knees, but before Brynjolf can finish her off, one of his feet is yanked out beneath him, and he crashes to the ground.
A Thalmor straddles him, hands encircling his throat. Brynjolf struggles against his hold, trying to lash out and loosen his grip. Black spots fill his vision, panic of death settling in before there’s a flash of red, and suddenly the weight is off him and air floods into his lungs, the shock of it nearly capable of knocking him out right there. He hears a grunt, and looks up to see Krosa straddling the elf, bringing a shield down on his head again and again and again.
“I think he’s dead,” he hears Vex call out from across the room.
Brynjolf turns to see her and Aiden making their way over to them, out of the corner of his eye he sees Krosa bring the shield down one more time, using its edge to sever his head, slowly moving to wipe blood from her face. The Thalmor Brynjolf slammed into the wall struggles to get up, but Vex finishes her off, Aiden giving him a kick in the stomach for good measure.
“ What in Oblivion were you thinking? ” Brynjolf thunders, voice low and hoarse from nearly being choked to death.
“I wanted to help.”
“You could have gotten yourself killed! You could have gotten us all killed!”
“Lay off, Brynjolf. Now is not the time,” Vex says, hand falling onto Aiden’s shoulder. The boy’s trembling, all color drained from his face, shirt torn and soaked in blood.
“Are you hurt?” he asks, getting to his feet.
“He’s fine, though I can’t say the same thing about your friend over there.” Brynjolf whirls around, seeing Krosa leaning heavily against the stairs, eyes closed, face contorted in a desperate concentration as her hands grasp her wound, flickering with a golden light.
“Krosa,” he breathes, making his way towards her, faintly hearing Vex say she'll make sure the others are dead as Aiden leaves to fetch a healer. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine,” she says, not sounding fine at all.
“You don’t look fine.” Brynjolf retorts.
“Then stop looking.”
“Lass, just let me help you.” Brynjolf reaches out for her, hand touching her arm before she jerks back and levels him with a glare.
“I don’t want your help,” she says, pushing off the wall to shove past him, but she collapses instead. Brynjolf catches her as gently as he can, all signs of consciousness gone.
“Well, then, it’s a good thing you’re in no shape to stop me,” he mumbles to himself, carefully lowering her to the ground. He turns her over, inspecting her side wound. Shit, he thinks, quickly moving to do whatever he can to stop the bleeding. That does not look good.
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Awkward is an understatement. Of all the healers Aiden could have asked for help, he had to choose the one priestess Brynjolf slept with. When Brynjolf questioned him, the lad only said that she was nice and good at keeping secrets. Brynjolf can only imagine what kind of secrets the lad has to tell. He certainly hopes it’s not the Guild’s secrets.
“Is she a friend of yours?” Ysolt asks, inserting the needle again, and Brynjolf can’t help but take note of the fact she’s far gentler than Krosa. And Krosa wasn’t even the one stabbing him multiple times with a needle.
“It’s… complicated.” The silence that follows is unbearable. “How do you know Aiden?” he asks after only a few moments.
“He likes to run errands for us, and there’s a priest in the temple who loves to tell stories,” she says with a soft smile, finishing the last stitch and cutting the thread. “He speaks highly of you.”
Brynjolf doesn’t say anything to that. He hasn’t had much time for the poor lad, and the Guild isn't the friendliest place at the moment, so Aiden’s probably been seeking attention wherever he could get it. I’ll have to remedy that.
“When can I take out the stitches?”
“You should come back in a few days and I will see what I can do. I’m sorry I couldn’t use any magic.”
“Don’t be. She needed it more than I did,” he says, recalling Ysolt’s face when she first saw Krosa’s wound. Brynjolf wasn’t sure if—
“There’s no need to worry,” Ysolt says softly, hand falling to his chest, gray eyes full of understanding.
“I’m not worrying,” Brynjolf says, trying not to read too much into it. He could tell from their first meeting that she was freer with touches than most.
“If you say so.”
Brynjolf sighs, wishing that Krosa was awake so they could talk— though he has no idea what she’ll be like. While he doesn’t have high hopes she will be any different than before, he also can’t get the image out of his head of her savagely attacking the Thalmor who was strangling him. At the very least, it means she doesn’t want him dead, and there’s a bare glimmer of hope there may be more to it.
“What about Esbern?” he asks, wondering what Krosa wanted with him in the first place, and why the Thalmor were involved. He would have forgotten about the man had it not been for Vex.
“I don’t have high hopes for him,” Ysolt says, hand curling into a fist. “Maramal is looking at him now. I used most of what I have on your friend. And the older one gets, the harder they are to heal.”
“I’m sure you did all you could, lass,” Brynjolf says, placing his hand over hers.
“I know I did,” she says, removing her hand to start packing. “It doesn’t make it any easier.”
It hits him then, a brief glimpse into the kind of life a priest of Mara would live. Always healing others, yet still having people die regardless of their efforts. He saw them as pretentious prudes, believing themselves better than everyone; they have a firm distaste for Dibella and her followers. And while Brynjolf isn’t one for worship, if he had to choose, the choice would be obvious. Yet it hadn’t occurred to him that there was anything more to them. Maybe he was too quick to judge. Or maybe it’s just Ysolt.
“What do you want for payment?” he asks, hoping it’s within reason.
“That depends. Are you paying me for my services or are you trying to keep this quiet?”
“Both,” he says, wondering just how much she knows about him to ask a question like that. I'll need to have a talk with Aiden. She studies him for a long moment, biting her bottom lip. Brynjolf tries not to let it distract him.
“Come by when you have the time. I’m sure I can think of something you can help me with,” she says, getting up. Brynjolf smirks, watching her leave. It’s not hard to figure out what she wants. And he wouldn’t mind it, not one bit.
Brynjolf puts his shirt on, collects the rest of his things and goes searching for the room Krosa’s in. Ysolt kicked him out as soon as he brought her in, and no amount of persistence could change her mind. Ysolt also told him not to disturb her, so there’s a fair amount of sneaking involved before he finds it and slips in.
Pale moonlight slips in through the small windows, giving Krosa’s skin the pallor of death. Her chest rises and falls in a slow rhythm, her face pale and pinched. She can’t even relax in her sleep. Ysolt said it wasn't likely that she'd wake up any time soon. He thought seeing her breathing would ease whatever tension he’s feeling, but it doesn’t. He’ll have to talk to her again, and he doesn’t have high hopes the conversation will be a pleasant one.
A scar peeks out from beneath the bandages on her chest, and more litter her arms, a few fresher cuts mixed in with the rest. Again, he realizes just how little he actually knows about her. There’s one more recent than the rest, pulled together by stitches. He barely restrains himself from touching it, and finds himself asking:
“What have you gotten yourself into, lass?”
“Again ?” Raysha exclaims, groaning. “Why?”
“You were sloppy.”
“I was not s loppy!”
Xariel smirks. “And too slow.” Raysha glares. “You're going to be fighting someone who—”
“I know .”
He doesn’t have to keep reminding her. She’s perfectly aware of what Krosa’s capable of, the danger she is. But even still, one woman against all of them hardly stands a chance, skilled or unskilled. Xariel doesn’t seem to get that.
“I'm only trying to help you.”
“I know ... Can't we just take a break?” Raysha flops onto the ground, the snow bleeding through the back of her clothes. The sun has barely made it over the horizon, casting the snow in a golden glow. She had never seen snow before coming to Skyrim and has found that it mostly hurts her eyes and numbs her toes. “We've been doing this all morning,” she states whimsically, dreaming of the day when she can return home.
“The morning's not over yet.”
“You don't have to ask, you know,” Xariel states, moving to sit next to her, a smirk on his face. “If you want to take a break, take one. You're the one in charge here.” She wonders if his constant attempts at reminding her are for her benefit or his. “But just know: no matter how hard you train, she's still going to be better than you.”
“Then what's the point?” Raysha asks, rolling onto her stomach and drawing in the snow. Another thing Xariel never fails to mention is the likelihood of her failure. It used to scare her, but now it’s just annoying. She’s not that bad at fighting. He’s said so himself.
“So you at least have a semblance of a chance and be able to last long enough to outsmart her.”
“What about the others? Won’t they make it easier?”
Xariel scoffs. “If you’re not careful, they won’t be there. Resorting to banditry may have appeased them for a time, but funds are still lacking.”
“That wasn't my fault!” Raysha bites out, getting to her knees. “I told him not to pay until after we had her and, when he did, not to give the full amount, but that moron— ” Xariel shakes his head.
“That moron was one you hired. Your decision and his decision are now one and the same to the rest. You may have appeased them for a time, but now we’re stuck here in the worst season of the year. How long before they decide it’s not worth it?” he asks, glaring at the falling snow. Xariel’s never complained about it, but the constant scowl he wears is surely because of his hatred for snow. The men have complained about it and living in a cave certainly doesn’t help, but it’s not like there are many other options. “Not to mention those who were stationed in Falkreath. You saw the bodies of their friends just as they did. They encountered someone capable enough to not just kill them, but tear them apart! Most people would prefer their lives over money they may never see again.”
“There’s nothing I can do about it. And there’s nothing they can do about it. They already agreed, to back out of it would be cowardly.”
“Still. No one here is loyal to you,” Xariel iterates, his hand falling onto Raysha’s knee. “You may have won their respect for a time, but it won't last. If they abandon you— or worse, turn on you— then you will be on your own against her.”
“Why would they turn on me?
“Money. Convenience,” Xariel says with a shrug. “You Redguards aren’t like the Nords. Honor is not enough for them; soon principle and public opinion won’t be either.”
“And what about you?” she asks, searching his eyes. “Will you abandon or betray me?”
“I will be there too. Nothing will change that.” Raysha huffs, wishing he was easier to read. While she wants to put her trust in him, he’s too secretive for her liking.
“Why did you agree to help me? What did she do to you?” She shoves his hand off her knee and gets to her feet. ”How do I know you want to get to her as much as I do?”
“My reasons are my own, and you know better than to ask. But I assure you I need to find her, maybe even more than you do.”
That can’t be possible . Her brother was everything to her, and she’s willing to do anything to avenge him. Alesan. She closes her eyes as his image flashes before her, the sound of his laughter making her heart soar before it settles into a hollow place in her heart. They’ll never argue and he’ll never tease her about her lack of interest in finding someone to love. Alesan was always falling in love; one look was all it would take for him. He made it look so simple. Everything was simple to him. And now he’s gone. All that love he carried and all the brightness he brought smothered by a murderous bitch.
“How do I make her suffer?” she asks, all loathing and malice.
Xariel raises his eyebrows, and says, “Well… first, you need to find her.”
“Ha-ha,” Raysha deadpans, kicking his shin.
He smirks, getting to his feet. “You also need to train… Now, are you ready to try again?” he asks, handing her a sword.
She takes it, examining it for a moment before slashing it at him. He’s quick to evade, laughing as he puts distance between them. Raysha doesn’t know why he finds fighting so exhilarating, and the sound of his laughter makes her blood boil. I’ll win this time. And I’ll win against her too. She can feel it in her bones— justice will be hers.
Remnants of a forgotten nightmare fade away as Krosa starts to feel herself slowly wake up, and she does all she can to reverse the process. She knows what will be waiting for when she opens her eyes, and she is not ready for that yet. The nightmares can have her.
But her body is stiff and sore, making her attempts futile. Krosa groans in protest; a hand falls onto her arm, warm and irritating.
“Are you awake, lass?”
“Unfortunately,” she says, her voice a pained whisper. She opens her eyes, gazing falling to where his hand is.
“How are you feeling?” Brynjolf asks, removing his hand and settling back into the chair, arms and legs crossed. Krosa shoots him a glare. “Not good then?”
“Where are we?”
“The temple of Mara. A priestess healed you.”
“Recovering in the next room. He’s not doing so well.” Krosa stops with her onslaught for a moment. Delphine will be furious if Esbern dies on her. She’ll probably try to blame me and say it was my incompetence that killed him. And it wouldn’t be entirely untrue. Krosa could have let him run while she held them off. He wasn’t that much help anyway, and having to look out for him at first only hindered her. He may have been an experienced fighter in his youth, but his old age rendered him almost entirely useless.
“How long has it been?” Krosa asks before she dwells on the fight any longer.
“A little more than a day.”
“And the Thalmor?”
“There haven’t been any others yet,” Brynjolf says, studying her. “Why were they—”
“It’s none of your business,” Krosa says, crossing her arms.
“It is my business when the damned Thalmor storm the place.” Brynjolf glares at her, eyes hard and angry. “Do you know how hard it was to convince my guild—”
“That’s not my problem.”
“You do realize I saved your life, right?”
“I didn’t ask you to.” Krosa sees his eyes flare, and for a moment she thinks he will lash out— part of her hopes for him to do just that. But it disappears as he sighs, one hand pinching the bridge of his nose.
“That’s not how it works, lass… And I seem to recall you returning the favor.” Krosa doesn’t say anything to that, and a few moments pass before Brynjolf speaks up again, “Why did you help me?”
“My goal was to kill the Thalmor, not you,” Krosa says with as much venom as she can muster, not looking him in the eyes.
“If you hated me as much as you seem to think, you certainly could have let him finish me off first.” Krosa has no answer for that, and she refuses to sit idly while he is bound to go on a verbal rampage. “Oh no you don’t,” he says, pushing her back down. “You’re far too weak to try that.”
“I don’t care. Let me go.” He listens, but hovers over, ready to stop her again if necessary.
“You’d barely be able to stand,” he states smugly.
“Then I’ll crawl.”
Brynjolf hesitates for a moment, disbelief coloring his face. “You are the most obstinate person I have ever met, do you realize that?”
Krosa doesn’t even know what that word means. “If you let me go you won’t have to deal with it anymore.”
“Get up then,” he says, sitting back down, a challenge in his eyes.
“If you can get up and make it to the door, you can leave.” Krosa hesitates. The effort she already put into the first attempt is working against her, her side itching and aching. “You don’t think you can do it, do you?” Krosa refuses to look at him. “A word of advice, lass, don’t run faster than you’re able. I’ll bring you something to eat.”
“I’m not hungry,” she says, but the mention of food makes her stomach growl in earnest. Krosa refuses to blush.
“Your stomach seems to disagree with you,” he says, and she can hear the smirk in his voice. “Stay here.”
There’s not much Krosa can do otherwise, so she waits, closing her eyes against the light of the sun peeking through the window. She doesn’t know how she’s going to get through this. It’s bad enough that her whole reason for being here may wind up dead and useless, but now she has to deal with Brynjolf and his persistent helpfulness. She doesn’t doubt that he’s trying to win her over again, nor that he will be overly charming about it. It’s a ploy, Krosa reminds herself, that’s all it is.
It doesn’t take him long, and he returns with a bowl of soup in one hand and a cup of water in his other. It’s all she can do to keep her mouth from watering at the smell. Recently, she’s been eating nothing but dried rations. Delphine said it was in their interest to keep away from inns and taverns as much as possible. Krosa could see the logic in it then, but now she wonders if it’s really worth it. Food has always been something Krosa has thoroughly enjoyed.
“Can you sit up or do you need help?” he asks, handing her the bowl and placing the cup beside the bed.
“I’m not completely helpless,” Krosa bites out, sitting up as carefully as she can and shoving a few spoonfuls of the soup in her mouth before ditching the spoon and bringing the bowl to her lips.
“I never said you were,” he says lightly, a trace of humor in his voice. Krosa ignores him. When she finishes, she goes for the water next, but Brynjolf moves it just out of her reach. “I’ll let you have it only after you answer one of my questions.” Krosa glares. “What? I answered all of yours.”
“That’s not the same.”
“You don’t even know what I’m going to ask.” Krosa knows exactly what he’s going to ask, and Brynjolf knows it too. “Why are you so determined to believe I betrayed you?”
“Why are you so determined to make me believe you didn’t?”
“Because I didn’t!”
“So, what? You’re saying I somehow misinterpreted everything ?” Krosa retorts, crossing her arms defiantly.
“Yes!” Brynjolf exclaims, nearly jumping out of his chair. “If I did sell you out, do you think I’d care what you thought of me just to try to hand you over again?” Krosa stiffens and watches as understanding dawns on his face. “Is that what you think I’m trying to do? Win you over so I can do it all over again?”
“Possibly.” Though, she can also see it being nothing other than his ego— not being able to bear the thought of someone hating him or seeing him for what he is— but that point doesn’t serve her argument well enough, so she leaves it unsaid.
“And that’s enough for you? The possibility? The slight chance that I may not be worthy of your trust?” Krosa doesn’t say anything, doesn’t even let herself think: she will not allow him to have any sway on her. “Well. I guess that’s it then,” he states, and Krosa ignores the tinge of dejection staining his voice.
“Yeah… I guess it is,” she says, doing her best not to stain her words with emotion, ignoring the sinking feeling in her gut.
“Another word of advice for you, lass,” Brynjolf says as he gets up, “Sometimes things are worth the risk. Keep that in mind the next time some poor sod tries to befriend you.” He pushes the glass within her reach before leaving without another word.
“Do you need help with that?”
“I’ll manage.” Krosa doesn’t even know why he bothered asking. Ever since he arrived, he’s been pestering her, watching from a distance. She hefts the large sack of grain over her shoulder and marches past him.
He whistles, keeping stride with her. “I’m impressed a little lady like you can manage such a feat. How do you do it?”
“Ah, yes. A little determination goes a long way.” He comes in in front of her, forcing her to stop. He holds a hand out to her, holding a yellow flower. The same one she’s seen him twirling in his fingers the whole day with a stupid smile on his face.
“A flower,” he says, all charm and smile. ”For you.”
“Keep it. I have no use for flowers.” Not to mention the sack of grain isn’t getting any lighter and the sun is only going to get higher.
He shrugs. “You can still like them regardless,” he states, taking a step towards her and placing it behind her ear. “It looks good on you.”
“I don’t want it.” She rips it off and throws it at him.
“I won’t tell anyone,” he says in all seriousness, bending down to pick it back up, watching as a petal falls from it in the process.
“You won’t have to,” Krosa says, pushing past him to start walking again. There’s no hiding things from the master of the house. Someone’s always willing to spill another’s secrets to get into his good graces. She hopes he will take the hint, but he persists.
“Surely they won’t have a problem with you having a flower.” Confusion graces his features, and it’s all Krosa can do not to roll her eyes. Clearly he doesn’t know how things work here.
“They’d say I stole their property.”
“Even if I told them I gave it to you?”
Krosa shakes her head adamantly, dropping the sack onto the cart with the others. “That will only make the punishment worse. You’re not supposed to be talking to me, so please leave.” She still has a lot of work to do. He listens this time and Krosa doesn’t see him for the rest of the day. When night falls, she makes her way back to the servant’s quarters, muscles sporting a familiar ache. She flops onto her bed with a heavy sigh, ready for sleep to take her.
But something isn’t right. Her pillow smells strangely fragrant, and she sits up, looking under the pillow only to see a crumpled yellow flower and a note. Fury comes to her first, then relief that no one else found it yet. She picks up the note, using the light of the moon to read it.
‘What can I say? I’m determined.’
Idiot, Krosa thinks, shoving it into her pocket quickly. She moves to throw the flower out the window, but it does smell nice. She brings it closer to her nose instead, inhaling the pleasant scent. Maybe it’s worth it. She pulls out her journal from its hiding place and places the flower and note inside.
Krosa refuses to be played again, to be so vulnerable and easy to manipulate. Just the brief memory is powerful enough to set her skin crawling and heart pounding. She gulps down the water when she feels a tug in her throat and nearly decides to throw it at the wall. Breaking things always was so satisfying. Before she can make up her mind, a woman enters, wearing the orange and yellow robes of a priestess.
“Oh! You’re awake?”
“Clearly,” Krosa says, slamming the cup onto the table.
“I didn’t expect it for another day at least.”
“Then why are you here?”
“To check on you,” the woman states, making her way across the room, eyes falling on the empty bowl. “Who gave you this?”
“Brynjolf.” Just saying his name itches her insides. The priestess sighs.
“I told him not to bother you, but I should have expected it. He wouldn’t stop worrying.”
“I don’t want to talk about him.”
“Sorry… Can I check your wound?” she asks, and Krosa nods. The woman unwraps the bandages, poking and prodding at the wound. “How— Do you know healing magic?”
“Yes, but I’m not the greatest at it.”
“So you haven’t tried healing yourself?”
“Hmm.” The woman wraps Krosa back up with a new bandage, using far less than she did before. “Your friend passed away last night,” she says quietly once she finishes.
Of course he did, Krosa muses, Nothing ever goes right for me.
“He woke up once before he—”
“What did he say? Did he say anything?”
The woman pulls out a sheet of paper and hands it to her. “He wanted me to give you this. Made me promise not to read it.” The note is barely legible, full of ink blots and scribbled writing. Krosa knows better than to ask the priestess for any help, and struggles through it.
‘Tell Delphine I’m sorry, and I hope you know my death isn’t your fault. As you know, I would have died anyway. Go to Jarl Balgruuf. He has what you will need. And if by some miracle Etienne is still alive, I hope you find him. He can also help you. There are things I told him that won’t be in those texts. I’m afraid I can’t be of any more help.
It’s funny. I was so ready to accept death before. My whole life was spent running and hiding, knowing that one day I will die. There were some days where I’d wait for it to take me, some days where I nearly took care of it myself. And now here I am, hoping that death does not claim me, but I’ve never been good at hoping. So, for whatever it’s worth, I hope you find the help you need. You’re going to need it if there’s any chance you will defeat him.
P.S. Don’t let Delphine be too hard on you. As I said before, some things are hard for her to accept. She can be difficult, but she is determined. Tell her I wish we could have mended what happened between us, and I forgive her wholeheartedly and I hope she does the same.
Krosa doesn’t know why the note hits her in the gut, or why tears sting her eyes. She had only just met him. The priestess clears her throat, and Krosa looks to her, welcoming the distraction.
“I’ll leave you alone now. At this rate you should be good to go by tomorrow if you wish— but only if you’re careful not to aggravate the wound. I used most of what I had on the inside damage… And if Brynjolf comes back tell him I—”
“He won’t be coming back,” Krosa states, frowning.
“Oh… Are you sure about that?”
“He has no reason to.”
“Alright then.” She heads for the door, turning around one last time. ”Let me know if you need anything.” The door closes behind her, and Krosa’s left alone again.
Please leave a kudos or review! I like knowing what people think!
Brynjolf doesn’t want to believe things are over between them. But what was there really? Maybe he’s been fooling himself this whole time. Krosa certainly thinks she was fooled. Her blatant lack of trust used to be charming at first— just another one of her quirks, but now it only grates on his nerves.
“Trouble in paradise?”
“Shut up, Vekel.”
Brynjolf hopes that the others will be able to pick up on his lack of a good mood. He has no interest in talking to anybody at the moment. Slamming the door to his room, he throws himself into his desk chair and puts his head in his hands with a deep, elongated sigh. What am I going to do now? he wonders, leaning back into the chair to stare at the stone ceiling. Maybe he should have handled the conversation better, but it was hard not to let it upset him. He doesn’t even know why it bothers him so much. It’s not like he expected anything different.
His bed calls to him temptingly from the corner of his eye. He fell asleep in the chair earlier, only dozing off for a few hours. Exhaustion creeps on him now, and there’s an annoying kink in his neck. He sighs again, massaging his neck and looking to the mess of papers on his desk. He never did finish his report for Mercer. It’s funny how much had happened and yet he’s back here again as if it was all just his imagination. If only that’s what it was. He opens the top drawer of his desk, digging around for a match to light the candles with. Then he shuts the drawer quickly, eyes falling to the one below, mind turning to what lies within and what it could mean for him.
Not today, he tells himself, but he should definitely do it before she leaves and he’s sure Krosa will be doing that sooner than she should be. He should have till tomorrow at least, and that will also give him time to think of what to say, if he plans on saying anything at all. He may just have Ysolt give it to her with a note. Krosa would likely prefer that route. He doesn’t know which choice is better yet and decides he has time to think about it. Feeling a little lighter, he lights the candles, ready to work on those reports.
Somebody knocks on the door, and Brynjolf sighs.
“Come in!” he shouts, glad that he didn’t think to lock it in his rampage.
Mercer comes in, scowling as usual. “Are the reports ready?”
“Vex told me everything.” Of course she did. Brynjolf waits for Mercer to go off on him, but he never does. “How’s your friend doing?”
“She’ll live,” Brynjolf says, eyeing Mercer suspiciously.
“You don’t sound very happy about that.”
“I am, it’s just… things are complicated at the moment. Between us I mean,” he says,
Mercer scoffs. “I’m sure it is,” he states, leaning against the desk. A few moments of tense silence pass, and Brynjolf can only wonder what he’s thinking, before Mercer speaks, “Don’t bother finishing the reports right now. Tonilia said she can sell the Thalmor’s gear for a good amount before the day is done, so you should be able to include that as well.”
“There should be enough for both the vault and Solitude. Maven will have to wait.”
Brynjolf shakes his head. “No. We’re putting it all in the vault. We need everything we’ve got. In fact, I think you should pull from your Solitude funds. It’s an unnecessary expense.” He had felt this way for a long time but he had been trying to please Mercer by avoiding any unnecessary confrontations. Now that they’re this desperate he sees no point in delaying; Mercer can get as mad as he likes. It’ll just have to be one of those days.
“We need to have a back-up plan in place,” Mercer reiterates, using his hand to emphasize the fact.
“We need to focus on the actual plan more than the back-up one. We can’t just give up on this place. Not yet,” Brynjolf says. Not after everything that happened. He needs something to go right for him, just this once. His whole life can go to shit for all he cares if it means the Guild remains.
“You’re the only one attached to this place, you know. Everyone else will only complain due to the inconvenience.”
“I’ve lived my whole life here, you know that,” Brynjolf says, crossing his arms. Mercer would never understand why Brynjolf feels the way he does. All Mercer cares about is profit: the rest is just a way to make it. Brynjolf isn’t sure if Mercer even knows what feelings are. “And this is where Gallus wanted the Guild to be,” Brynjolf continues, hoping that will awaken something in Mercer— he was Gallus’s student too, after all.
Mercer sneers, “This was the most convenient place for Gallus. There was no other reason he chose to be here.”
Mercer looks at him, considering. “We may be left with nothing.”
“We already have nothing.”
Mercer sighs. “We’ll see how much Tonilia can get us, then I’ll consider it.”
“Thank you.” It’s not what Brynjolf wanted, but it’s better than nothing. Besides, it gives him time to figure something else out.
“Is there anything else we need to address?” Mercer asks, already heading for the door.
“Not at the moment.”
"Then I'll take my leave."
Brynjolf lets out a breath as soon as Mercer leaves, followed by a small, satisfied grin. That went far better than he expected. Now all he needs to do is decide how he plans to give Krosa her stuff back. He smirks at the thought. It isn’t the first time he’s done such a thing. There have been many jobs where someone wanted the Guild to steal back what another person stole. But this is going to be an honest exchange , he tells himself, and there’s no promise of a reward.
“We were not looking for you,” the man states, no emotion in his voice.
“Who’s this for, then?” Nazir asks, holding up the scroll. He has tried washing the blood off, but the paint came off with it, leaving only a faded swirl of colors.
“The one who murdered the leaders of the Da’Vam clan.”
What? The information swirls in his head, testing the waters to find someplace to settle. They’re gone. But no, that can’t be all—
“She fought in the arena under their name,” the man continues, and Nazir almost misses it.
“She?” No. No, it can’t be. “What was her name?”
“I— I don’t— I can’t remember. I— I don’t even know what she looks like.”
“That’s probably my fault,” Gabriella says unapologetically. “I may have been a little overzealous in my methods.”
Nazir sighs. “What can you tell me?” he asks, and the man looks between him and Babette.
“You heard him. Tell him what you know.”
“Our leader, Raysha, has a personal vendetta against her, but Raysha’s young and inexperienced. She has someone training her, a Dunmer, he’s the real threat. I— I don’t know what else to tell you.”
“How many of you are there?”
“Twenty spread out amongst the holds, though they should be regrouping soon.”
“Spare me… please.”
Nazir raises an eyebrow and looks to Babette who shrugs. Nazir studies the man, trying to find a hint of humanity in his eyes. If there was any fear or pain in them, it’s not there anymore.
“No… I don’t think I will,” Nazir decides, stepping away and turning to Babette again. “Kill him.”
“But I want to—”
“No,” Nazir says, hand falling onto her shoulder. “I’m not taking any chances. I can find you another toy to play with.”
“I want this one,” she pleads, but Nazir knows her too well to fall for the innocent look in her eyes.
“You promised!” she shouts, stomping her foot.
“I said you could have a turn with him. Time’s up.”
“You’re not in charge,” Babette says, scowling and crossing her arms. “I don’t have to listen to you.”
“Astrid wouldn’t want you to keep him either.”
“Children, children,” Gabriella drawls, moving to stand between them, “do I have to separate you?” They both turn to glare at Gabriella, who only smirks. “I think we can all agree that Astrid can settle this. So stop bickering.”
Babette sticks her tongue out at him, and Nazir only rolls his eyes, saying unsavory words under his breath in Yoku.
“I know what that means, you know.”
“I don’t care,” Nazir states, leaving the room. He already knows who Astrid will side with, but that’s not what’s relentlessly pushing against his mind. After all this time, the Da’Vam clan is dead. Just like that. While that is enough of a shocker on its own, the real shock is the possibility that Krosa may yet be alive.
His lips were chapped and cracking, mouth dry as the desert he’s in.
“You’re lying,” Nazir says, heart sinking.
“She called out for you many times, but you weren’t there to—” Nazir’s fist connects with the bastard’s jaw and lunges at him, ready to pound him into the dirt, but the others leap at Nazir, holding him back by the arms.
“Why? She had no part in any of this!” Nazir cries, struggling against their hold on him. They bring him to his knees.
“She was someone you cared for,” the bastard states, wiping blood from his lips, “and you needed to be taught a lesson…We told you there would be consequences if you didn’t pull through.” A swift and hard kick to the gut follows the words, and Nazir doubles over, not knowing which pain was worse.
“What are you going to do to me, then?”
“Nothing. For now, you get to live. You know how Vander loves his games,” the man says, before punching Nazir in the face. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t have our fun first.”
Nazir goes to his room and starts packing, ignoring Festus’s curious gaze. He needs to see for himself. He needs to learn what he can, and there’s one place he’s sure to get the answers he needs. He needs to go back to Hammerfell.
Krosa can’t get away. No matter what she does, it’s licking at her heels, threatening to overtake her. Echoes of words said long ago chase after her, letting her know just how cornered she truly is.
“Don’t be afraid, little one, I’m only trying to help.”
“You belong to us now.”
“So, girl, you like killing?”
“Don’t bother trying to escape.”
The endless fighting. The bleeding, the crying. Knowing that nothing will ever change. Sand in her eyes, itching her throat, sticking to her skin.
Through corridor after corridor she runs, her lungs constrict against her chest, rattling with every staggered breath. Her feet pound into the earth, one foot after the next in an endless rhythm of desperation.
The tunnel seems to expand, the light getting dimmer, blocked by a shadow from something she doesn’t know. She stops dead in her tracks when the shadow takes the form of an eye, darkness swirling like tentacles. She has no idea what it is, no idea what it wants. She risks a look behind her, trying to decide which horror she’d rather face— which one would give her the best chance to survive and escape. Only there’s nothing there. A feeling of wrongness washes over her, her gut tightening painfully. She knows something is there— something has to be there, and then she sees it.
A dark figure peeks out from behind one of the corners.
Her heart twists as it slowly gets closer, the end of the tunnel shortening while it stays where it is. There are no eyes, no facial features, but Krosa can tell that it’s smiling. She knows the eye is still watching her. Memories or imaginings, the known or the unknown. Both are watching and waiting, still far away yet closer than they should be. She falls to her knees, covering her eyes, too scared to look either way. Not willing to make the choice, hoping they will pass over her if she simply doesn’t give in to their demands. But she can still feel them creeping up on her, closing in.
Closer. Ever closer.
“What are you so afraid of, that you allow yourself to be surrounded?” a voice says, swirling around, echoing off the walls. “Look at you, you can’t even stand and face your fears with dignity.” Krosa doesn’t care. She just wants to be free, wants to be safe. “How do you expect to face Alduin when you can’t even face yourself?”
The voice is right. Krosa knows this, but still it cuts her deep, images of all her fears flashing before her eyes. Of everything she hates about herself— all the mistakes she made. Footsteps sound against the stone, and Krosa can feel someone hovering over her, the owner of the voice.
“Poor Savos. Poor Sinding. Poor Brynjolf… Two of them are already dead because of you, what a plague you are, a killer through and through. Maybe it’s a good thing that you have no one left to care for you, no friends to name, no family to go home to. They’d only die in the end. Well, that or betray you,” the voice cackles. “Can you really blame those who do? You make it too easy.”
“They wouldn’t—” Krosa starts, but clamps her mouth back just as quickly.
Vaermina stands before her, grinning maliciously. Then she walks off, leaving Krosa alone in the encroaching darkness, the whispers and voices bouncing off the wall, and her own treacherous thoughts swirling inside her. She can feel herself caving in, folding over and over in on herself, wrapping too tightly that she’s suffocating.
“Fight back. Don’t let her turn you against yourself.” Krosa jumps, about to lash out when she realizes the voice is coming from within herself, but it’s not her own. Tentatively, she reaches out, having no choice but to hope for the best.
“Who are you?”
“Someone who can help if you only let me,” the voice says, and suddenly Krosa’s thrown into another scene; this time she’s watching a battle between two versions of herself. Her pain is immense, anger absolute. She only wants to kill, to end her suffering. She’s about to do it, about to land the final blow when someone comes up from behind. With a cry, she turns around leaving herself on the ground to face a man with an axe that she crushes beneath him.
“No,” Krosa says, realizing what she’s seeing and who the voice is coming from. “No, I don’t want your help.” Krosa doesn’t think it’ll even be help she’s going to receive. It would only be a trick, revenge for what Krosa did.
“You don’t have to be afraid.”
I’m not afraid , Krosa almost bites out, but then she’s back in that corridor, with the eye on one end, and the shadow figure on the other. Still frozen in place, still as terrifying as before.
“I’d rather be afraid than dead,” she says instead.
“What?” Krosa asks, shaking her head. That voice was closer than the others, and far too loud.
“You have to break her hold over you,” the dragon states, fading away. “I can help, I can prove—”
“Krosa, wake up.”
Krosa jolts awake, fist flying the moment she sees a dark figure hovering over her, feeling its hand on her shoulder.
“Ow!” the figure exclaims, hands flying to their face. “Damn it, Krosa!” She knows that voice.
“Brynjolf?” she breathes, trying to settle the wildness of her heart. “Sorry, I—” she starts before stopping just as quickly. Maybe she’s not so sorry after all.
“You what? Don’t tell me you want to take back your apology.”
“No, I just—” She shuts her mouth again and looks away.
“Well, at least you’re starting to get your strength back, lucky me,” he says, hand massaging his jaw.
“Is it broken?”
“No. It’s fine… Maybe a little,” he replies, flinching when he touches what must be a sensitive spot. “Shor’s bones, lass. You know how to pack a punch.”
Krosa rolls her eyes, she’s punched way harder than that before. If she wasn’t hampered down by injury, he’d be on his way to a healer or knocked out cold. “What are you doing here?”
“Here,” he says flippantly, handing her a traveling pack that looks a little too familiar. “I was just going to leave it until I saw your fitful slumber.”
Krosa stiffens, hating the fact that someone saw her so weak and vulnerable— and even more that that somebody was Brynjolf. The dream is still raw and fresh and his witnessing it only makes it so much worse. Though, his presence does help distract her from the nightmare’s usual effects.
“You didn’t sell any of it?” She asks, digging in the bag and catching sight of Savos’s amulet. She thought for sure that would be something he’d sell. She pointedly ignores the needling pinprick in one of her vital organs. Everything else seems to be there as well, save for some food that likely went bad. She sets it down on her lap, looking him in the eyes for the first time.
“Why would I do that?” he asks matter-of-factly.
You had no problems selling me out , she thinks but decides it’s not worth saying. He’d only deny it anyway. But what if it is the truth?
Silence fills the air between them, and Brynjolf breaks the gaze, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. “I should probably—” Krosa doesn’t know why, but the thought of him leaving terrifies her more than if he would stay. Not while the room is still dark and full of shadows.
“What happened?” Krosa asks, regretting it instantly. Of all the things she could have said to get him to stay, it had to be that one? What’s wrong with me?
“I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re referring— Oh.” Krosa can see the shock on his face, and the possibility of hope. She doesn’t give him any time to process.
“No. Nevermind. Forget I said it.”
“Why? Can you not bear to hear what I would say?”
Krosa frowns. “I already know what you are going to say.”
“Truly? Word for word?”
“You know what I meant,” she says sharply. Brynjolf is silent for a moment, and part of her hopes he’ll just leave like he did the day before; part of her hopes he doesn’t.
“I do blame myself,” he says quietly, looking down. “That’s why I’ve been so patient… or trying to be, at least.”
“I said I don’t want to hear it.”
“But I think you do, lass. Why wouldn’t you?”
“You’ll just lie about it.”
He looks at her, eyes blazing with emotions Krosa doesn’t want to decipher. “And if I did, that wouldn’t change what you thought, now would it? But if it was the truth, you’d have to admit that you were wrong. And what would that mean for you? That there is someone you can trust?”
“You’re a thief. How trustworthy can you really be?”
“That didn’t stop you from trusting me before”
“Which was a mistake.”
“You were going to give me a chance once,” Brynjolf says.
Krosa hesitates. Because he’s right. She was willing, once, before all this started. She remembers going back to Riften after the job, excited and ready to try something new. Wanting to please a friend. Giving him a chance was something she desperately wanted— but how would he know that? She never told him what she planned, she only asked for more clarity. Granted, it could be interpreted that way by him, but there’s something odd about him saying that now. They were talking about trust, not chances.
“When did I say that?” Krosa asks despite knowing the answer. But she needs to read him, to figure out if what she suspects is true.
“It was implied,” he answers, and Krosa can see how still he is, trying not to fidget or give anything away. That’s never a good sign.
“You read it didn’t you?” Brynjolf doesn’t say anything but that was answer enough. She can see it written all over his face. She pulls the journal out of her pack, flipping the pages to her last entries. There it is. Her own words talking of chances and weighing the risks.
“I can’t believe you.” Krosa struggles a moment, wondering whether it's worth it to reign in her anger and what she should do either way. Yelling at him won't get her point across, no. Yelling is too nice. Her hand clinches into a fist, bunching the fabric of her pillow beneath him. Now there's an idea. Krosa doesn't give it anymore thought. She chucks her pillow at him. His grunt is muffled by the fabric, and he catches it when it falls. A pillow is not good enough.
Brynjolf watches her survey her surroundings, and he starts backing up a bit, pillow raised in defense. “Lass, there’s no need—”
She throws a cup at him, followed by silverware, other dishes, and whatever she can find around her, the sound of clattering, clanging, and breaking sound throughout the room as he dodges and deflects, putting more and more distance between them. He didn’t even realize how many dishes she had acquired, and wonders for a moment about her large appetite.
“Stop throwing things!” Brynjolf shouts, ducking behind the pillow when the metal pitcher of water comes at him, whatever water was left in it spiraling across the room.
“You are the most despicable, arrogant, entitled person I have ever met!” she cries, hurtling the last of what she has at him. She gets out of bed and opens the drawer to the end table, nearly breaking the damn thing off. She grabs an ink well, about to throw it. But her hand lowers and her eyes narrow. “Why are you smiling?
“I’m not smiling,” he insists, but is unable to hide his grin and curses himself for his tendency towards mischief. “You have horrendous aim, lass,” Brynjolf says, dodging an ink well, quill, and small book that wouldn’t have hit him regardless.
It’s not the most intelligent thing to say, but he’s enjoying this far more than he should, despite the guilt that still tugs at him. But he never was one to dwell on such things anyway. And he just can't help it— if she can act like a child, then so can he. Too lost in his own amusement, he fails to see the drawer flying through the air, landing with a thunk on his forehead. He grunts as he falls on his ass.
“Satisfied?” he asks after a moment, lightly touching the offending area with a wince. When she doesn’t answer, he opens his eyes to see her leaning over her bed, one head in her hand, and the other on her wound. He gets to his feet. “Are you—”
“Leave,” she says, voice thick with something Brynjolf can't name. Brynjolf detects a slight tremble in it, and wonders for a brief moment if she's on the verge of tears. Everything about her looks miserable and the guilt returns, stronger than before. I really am an ass.
“Krosa—” She shakes her head, hand sliding through her hair. He doesn't take the hint, and speaks before she can. “I’m sorry… I should have said that right away. I had no right.”
She pushes off the bed to face him, looking at the ground before him. “How much did you read?”
“Most of it… Well, what I could, at least,” Brynjolf says quickly. ”I was desperate at first, thought it could help me help you but… You’re not the most informative person.” She narrows her eyes and opens her mouth, but Brynjolf beats her to the punch. “It’s hard to get anything out of you, lass, but that was weeks ago, just after you fled. I learned nothing and didn’t think there was anything I could do anyway, so I didn’t touch it for a long time. Barely even thought about it… Then just before you arrived, I read some more.”
“I— I couldn’t tell you—”
“ Bullshit .”
“I missed you, alright?" Brynjolf admits, shocked by his tone and by how true it was. "I was looking forward to working with you, and when that didn’t happen, I just— I–” He shrugs helplessly, not knowing what to say. He barely understands why, he’s met many people in his life who have come and gone, yet she was the first one who left an impact. “That’s all there is to it,” he finishes lamely.
“Bullshit,” she repeats, but it’s softer this time and she finally looks at him.
Brynjolf weighs his next words carefully. He may just need to dive in, throwing caution and permission in the wind. After all, why should he have to wait for her to want to hear it? That could be never, and he needs to say it. If he doesn’t nothing will ever come from all his efforts. Not when she’s in charge. Not when she's like this and he keeps making things worse. “I tried sending you a letter when the Alik’r arrived.”
Krosa crosses her arms. “I didn’t get a letter.”
“I’m aware of that, lass. I assume the Alik’r or one of the guards commandeered it somehow.”
He doesn’t take the bait. “I was going to warn you when you arrived, and there were a few ideas I had in mind of how we could deal with it.” Surely she remembers him trying to lead her away and keep her quiet, or maybe she found some way to turn that against him as well.
“What were those ideas?”
“Remember when we met and I offered to—"
“Pull one over on them." Krosa finishes slowly, mind at a far-off place for a moment before continuing, looking into his eyes at last. "That’s what you were trying to do?”
“I was going to ask you first. I knew it would have been a risk you may not have wanted to take.”
“And how did you know that?”
“I didn’t have your journal then, but the Alik’r told me why they were looking for you."
“Did you believe them?”
“I know you better than that.”
Krosa shakes her head slowly, a sardonic smile on her face. “No. You don’t. You don’t know anything."
"Then tell me,” Brynjolf urges, risking a few steps forward. He sees her close in on herself, pulling back whatever branches she was offering him.
“Do you see what I mean, lass? You never tell me anything.”
“And what about you? You haven’t told me anything about yourself, and I don’t go prying and digging into things I have no right to!" she says, coming up to him and shoving him in the chest. "I don’t owe you anything, and you’ve taken what wasn’t yours to take— why is that surprising?” She laughs, a hollow and bitter sound. ”That’s what you do best, isn’t it?” she says wondrously, making her way back to the spot by her bed, arms crossed and all sign of anything between them gone, leaving only empty space. “Maybe you didn’t betray me, but I still don’t see a reason to trust you with anything, not when it means so little to you, despite what you believe.”
Brynjolf tries to say something, he really does. But all words die on his lips.
“What happened in here?” Ysolt asks, coming into the room. Neither of them say anything, they only look away sheepishly. Krosa is slowly turning red and the priestess turns to face Brynjolf. She scowls at him, grabbing his arm. "You are coming with me.”
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Chapter 5: Temptations of a Blind Rage
"I never thought I'd have to scold a grown man as if he were a child," Ysolt says, pacing. “I don’t care who started it.” She stops her pacing to turn to him. “I told you she needs to rest and you were not allowed to visit, so you being there already proves you were in the wrong!”
“I was just giving her some of her things!” Brynjolf says, trying not to sound like a petulant child. “I didn’t think it would turn out like that.”
Ysolt scoffs. “Don’t pretend like you didn’t sneak in there earlier. She told me you were there before.”
“I wasn’t trying to!” Brynjolf exclaims, voice cracking. It takes all that he has to keep from telling her everything and getting the chance to explain himself… But what would I even say? And why would he tell Ysolt of all people? It’s Krosa he wants to tell, and Ysolt has nothing to do with any of it. So, he shuts his yapper before he gets ahead of himself and regrets it. By the Nine, Krosa really knows how to unsettle a man. Brynjolf sighs at the thought, suddenly noticing Ysolt is looking at him expectantly.
“What did you say, lass?”
“I said: Do you understand?”
Ysolt exhales slowly, pinching the bridge of her nose. “If you visit her again, you’ll be thrown out and fined, unless she specifies she’s okay with seeing you.”
Which will never happen, Brynjolf thinks, before saying, “Aye, lass… I understand.”
“Good. I’m sorry it has to be this way.”
“Don’t be. It’s not your fault she doesn’t want to see me,” Brynjolf says, trying not to sound too dejected. He doesn’t believe he was all that successful, but Ysolt doesn’t seem to notice.
“If you don’t mind, what did you do?” Ysolt asks after a few moments.
“Lots of things, apparently,” Brynjolf scoffs, mind going back to everything Krosa said to him. He’s sure that her list of grievances against him will only grow in his absence. Despite her claims otherwise, he does know her pretty well. He may not know much about her past, but her temperament, personality, and overall bearing is too apparent to ignore. I’m going to have my work cut out for me, he thinks, if he’ll do anything about it in the first place. Maybe he’ll just let her be alone if she wants, after all, it is her decision. There would be no point in pursuit if Krosa decides it’s not worth it. It would certainly save him a headache. And what am I even pursuing? Friendship? That’s it?
“I’m sorry lass,” he says to Ysolt before his thoughts take over again, “but I should get going. I’m poor company at the moment.”
If Ysolt tried to stop him, he didn’t notice. It wouldn’t have made a difference anyway. His thoughts are a fog: a swirling mist, heavy and tumultuous. He tries to understand them at first— tear them apart and reason with them— but it doesn’t take long before it becomes too exhausting to bother. Riften is quiet for once, the world forgotten as Brynjolf makes his way back to the Flagon.
“I need a drink.”
“I can tell,” Vekel says, pouring him a pint. “The first one’s on the house.”
“What? Why are you giving him free drinks?” Delvin calls out from a few tables over.
“Because he doesn’t hang out here every hour of every gods-damned day!” Vekel shouts and, for a few moments, the room is quiet.
“Well that shut him up,” Brynjolf says, glad for the distraction. He takes a few sips of the mead, wanting nothing more than to drown himself in it. But it’s too early for that. “Do you know if Tonilia had any luck with the weapons and armor?”
“Oh yeah. You should have seen the look on Mercer’s face. She wasn’t able to sell them at full price due to the damage, but she got a couple thousand silver out of it. Your friend sure helped us out there.”
“She’s not my friend,” Brynjolf says. “She made that clear enough.”
“Was it that bad?”
“Yes— No… I don’t know,” Brynjolf sighs, taking another drink. “Her opinion of me could hardly get worse at the moment.”
“You’re not going to try and fix it?”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to do,” Brynjolf says, and clearly he’s terrible at it. He can’t fix anything. “Maybe I should just stop, though. It only makes things worse.” He pushes the tankard away, tired of its tastelessness. When some of its contents splash out of it, Vekel gives Brynjolf a disapproving look. Brynjolf doesn’t have enough energy to look apologetic.
“You know, I’ve never seen you so worked up over anything before,” Vekel says, taking the tankard away.
“You said that the last time you were trying to get me to spill the beans.”
“I did not.”
“Well, you said something like it at least,” Brynjolf says, mind turning to that day. It wasn’t even that long ago; he was so hopeful then.
“I don’t think you should stop trying,” Vekel says as he starts wiping down the counter.
Brynjolf blinks. “And what makes you say that?”
“It’s just a thought,” Vekel says with a shrug, not looking up.
“Do you have any suggestions?”
“I don’t know what the problem is, so I can’t really give any worthwhile advice.”
“Nice try,” Brynjolf says with a smirk. If Brynjolf wasn’t already wary of him, the ploy would have worked.
Vekel laughs. “It was worth a shot, but I am serious about not giving up.”
“Even if I did want to try and mend things again, I’m not allowed to visit her,” Brynjolf says, slumping in his chair. And he doesn’t think it would be a good idea anyway. It would only annoy Krosa to no end. What should I do?
“I’m sure you can find a way in,” Vekel says, and Brynjolf sighs.
“Not this time, I’m afraid. I’m sure Ysolt would have someone guarding the door to her room.”
“Don’t you start,” Brynjolf groans, getting up from his seat.
“Well now you got me interested,” Vekel says with a grin.
Brynjolf only shakes his head, and waves goodbye as he walks to his room. He’s worse than a mother hen, Brynjolf muses, trying to muster a small smile at the thought, but it quickly turns into a frown.
“I don’t owe you anything!”
“You’ve taken what isn’t yours to take, and why is that so surprising?”
“That’s what you do best, isn’t it?”
“You’re no son of mine.”
Brynjolf freezes, remembering that day and everything associated with it. He shoves the memories away just as the tears sting his eyes.
“I didn’t say worthless.”
Brynjolf knows what he needs to do. He grabs a quill and a sheet of paper, then starts writing.
Krosa, I know I’m not your favorite person at the moment, but when you get over yourself and find yourself in need of help—
Brynjolf crosses it out quickly and tries again a few moments later.
Krosa, here’s a list of things I know about you and where that information came from. Following it will be an equal amount of information about—
“No, that’s stupid.”
Brynjolf sits there for a while, staring at the paper, foot tapping incessantly on the ground. He stops when the sound starts to annoy him, but it isn’t long till he’s tapping the desk with the quill instead. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea— wait. I know.
This goes on for an hour at least, the cycle seemingly never-ending. When his hand starts cramping, he starts writing with his other one, doing his best not to leave smudges. When he finally does have a version that he’s happy with, he sighs in relief.
“There. That’s not so bad,” Brynjolf says, massaging his hand. But maybe he shouldn’t give it to her. It’s not like she’ll read it anyway. What was I even thinking? Brynjolf thinks, getting ready to crumple it in a ball and toss it with the others. Quit being such a coward. He gets up quickly, shoving the letter in his pocket, and he walks out the door, setting a pace that will keep anyone from disturbing him.
When he gets to the temple, Ysolt stops him in his tracks.
“I promise I wasn’t going to sneak in. I was just going to ask you to give her this,” he says, holding the letter out to her.
“I can’t do that.”
“What? Why not?” If this is another one of those damn rules, I swear—
“She’s not here,” Ysolt says with a look of pity. “She left hours ago.”
“So. You failed.”
Krosa shrugs. “That happens sometimes.”
“Don’t give me lip,” Delphine sneers, crumpling the note. “You have no right.”
“I did what I could.”
“It wasn’t enough,” Delphine states, and Krosa can’t argue that.
“So what are we going to do now?” Krosa asks, wondering if Delphine will take Esbern’s advice or come up with her own plan of action like usual.
“We leave for Whiterun tomorrow. Don’t disturb me till then,” Delphine says, walking away. Krosa hears Delphine mumble to herself, “Some Dragonborn.”
Krosa misses what else is said, but it’s not hard to put two and two together. Krosa makes her way to her room, feeling heavier than usual.
Aiden came by for a visit before she left, apologizing profusely for nearly getting her killed. It wasn’t hard to forgive him, and he took her gratitude and acknowledgment of his bravery very well— so well that she wonders if that was what he was after in the first place. He also tried to get her to give him sword lessons, which she had refused as nicely as she was able to. The fact that he kept referring to it as ‘a stabbity class’ did not help his case.
Brynjolf didn’t show his face again, and Krosa’s not bothered by it. Not in the least.
Krosa sighs, hand brushing through her newly dyed hair. She studies a piece of it, still not used to the darker color, and she wonders again what to do with it until it grows to her preferred length. If only she knew how to braid. She tucks it behind her ear and looks around the room helplessly. She’s not hungry, her sword doesn’t need sharpening, and she has no quill to write in her journal with.
Krosa reread it furiously as she travelled, wondering just what Brynjolf saw: what he may remember from it; what he thought. She’s glad there were parts he could not read. The ones that truly matter. Part of her still can’t believe he did such a thing. Part of her was hoping he’d lie to keep the peace. But— No. It’s not worth dwelling on. There are more important things. Here she is thinking about him , when the whole world is on the brink of falling apart. Pathetic.
The walls seem to close in around her, getting darker and more cramped. I can’t stay here. She needs to do something— anything.
Krosa leaves the Inn; the turbulent winter wind is welcome company. The sky is dark and the sun, covered by layers of silvery clouds, moves slowly across the sky. It’s been dark the whole trip from Riften to Riverwood, cold and bitter. Gray and bleak. Krosa finds that she actually likes it. It’s something to feel, after all. Something to keep her awake and alert, something to distract her from the constant fire inside. She’s used to the feeling of burning, thanks to the creatures taking up residence inside of her.
There was a dragon she spotted on her way back, but she avoided confronting it. Krosa doubts she can take one on alone, but that isn’t the real reason she avoided it so adamantly. She doesn’t want to do anything to fuel that fire.
Fire has been an often occurrence in her nightmares. Cities burning— one close and fresh, one foreign yet familiar and far away. Then there’s a world in ruins, ash falling like snow and Krosa can’t do anything but walk through it and see the bodies beneath the rubble. Running. Fighting. Beasts she can’t slay, winged with scales or with two hands and feet. People she can’t save.
She falls to her knees, spent and sore. The snow turns to ash, staining the white with gray. Black. Red drips from her lips, staining her hands, running down her legs. Her throat constricts in a silent scream— one that no one can hear as she struggles to breathe. Drowning in an ocean of fear, fire, and blood: an ocean of torment, an ocean of dread.
Krosa shakes her head, trying to banish those images from her mind, those feelings from her heart. Even awake she can’t escape from the nightmares. Trembling, she goes to the woods, grabbing an axe sticking out of a pile of wood on the way.
“You don’t stand a chance.”
“Alduin will be your undoing. Maybe he’ll be doing you a favor: you won’t have to suffer if everything comes to an end.”
Hacking and slashing. That’s what she does. The trees don’t stand a chance against her wrath. She thinks only of the blade of the axe and the next tree she plans to tear apart. Every hit perfectly placed, stance perfectly balanced, swing perfectly in control.
“Don’t listen to them. They will say anything to hinder you,” a voice from inside says, and Krosa rolls her eyes.
“And I should listen to you? Why?”
“We’re more alike than you know.” Krosa resents that. “You crave power, control. It’s natural for you, really, considering what you are. Yet you have neither, or so you think.”
Krosa scoffs. “And what do you want? Me to give you power or control over me? Not going to happen.”
“You know, if you wanted to chop firewood, you’re doing it all wrong.” Krosa spins around, the dragon’s presence disappearing in an instant. A tall, gangly teenage boy is watching her, leaning against a tree. “I saw you take my da’s axe,” he says with a shrug.
“I— I needed to borrow it for a moment,” Krosa says, hand tightening around it.
“I won’t tell no one, if you bring back some of that wood and chop up some more for me. I wasn’t in the mood for it myself, but my da says it needs to get done.”
“Why doesn’t he do it then?”
“He says I need to learn more about self-discipline and control. Apparently, chopping wood will teach me— well, that and a whole list of chores he has me do everyday.”
“And you don’t want to learn?”
“It seems like you need it more than I do— not that I’m saying you’re undisciplined. Your form is great— as in— I mean.” Krosa raises her eyebrow. The boy clears his throat and stands up straight. “Clearly there’s somethin’ you need to get out of your system, and there’s things I want to get out of my system that doesn’t involve hacking at logs.”
Krosa rolls her eyes. Teenagers were never her favorite, especially the male variety. But, it’s better than trying to do anything else or nothing at all, so Krosa accepts.
“Cool. Just don’t let my da see ya,” the boy says, then saunters away with all the grace of a newborn calf. Krosa takes in her surroundings, wondering where she should start.
Winter. The snow. The cold. As a Nord, Ulfric has a natural resistance to it, an endurance and hardiness of heart that allows them to persevere through the darkest of days and coldest of nights. Tullius doesn’t have that advantage: it is true that there are Nords fighting alongside him, but his army consists of enough outsiders to not truly make it a significant force. Ulfric never utilized this before. After all, war in winter is seldom a profitable thing. But that’s going to change. This is going to be the year the war ends. He can feel it as true as the storm that’s coming on the morrow.
His trip up the mountain may have been fruitless, but his attack on Falkreath was not. When his men first heard the news that the war will continue as before, they took it as gracefully as they could. Well, as gracefully as Nords can do anything. It took Ulfric a little more convincing than usual. They’re eager to have the war end, yes; however, they expected rest and recuperation, not blood and battle. Their attitudes changed after taking control of Falkreath.
The gate of Riverwood comes into sight— the first stop of his Whiterun campaign. He knows it won’t be as easy as Falkreath, and if he wants to win the battle as cleanly as he wants, he’s going to need some help from both the inside and outside. Again, his men grumbled when they heard the news of how soon they would be moving, but Ulfric won’t back down. Not on this. They can have their rest when the war is over and Skyrim is mine. And then they can rest more comfortably than they would have otherwise.
Ulfric passes through Riverwood’s gate without a problem, dressed as the average passer-by. How different the town looks, covered in white. Smoke escapes through the chimneys of every house within, billowing through the skies like a dark rolling mist. The sound of a smith working at the forge, someone chopping wood, and the howling of the wind puts a smile on his face, and the smell of hearth-fire reminds him of home.
He will not let his home be destroyed. Not by elves, men, or dragons. If only I can get the Dragonborn by my side, Ulfric muses. But there’s no time to start the search, and he’s not about to use any resources for such a purpose— not until Whiterun is his. The Dragonborn would have a hard time avoiding the meeting with most of Skyrim under Ulfric’s control.
But first he needs to ask for directions. His last visit to Riverwood was when he was tired and delirious from injury. While it’s not very kingly, he’s not supposed to be high and mighty, just a simple traveler— his pride can take it. Gerdur told him a lot about the people of Riverwood, and he knows better than to ask the blacksmith or the inn-keeper. It wouldn’t be worth the risk.
“Excuse me,” he says, coming up behind the woman chopping wood. The woman stiffens, axe falling to the ground. “Sorry for startling you, but—” Ulfric doesn’t get to finish.
The woman bolts.
Shit. Ulfric is quick to follow, not going to let her get away. If she’s an Imperial fanatic, or worse, a spy, she could ruin all his plans. Jorleif did tell him to be wary. He catches the end of her cloak and yanks it back, bringing her crashing to the ground. He’s quick to pin her there, though she nearly escapes after ditching her cloak.
“ Krosa? ” he asks when he sees her face.
“Let me go,” she says, struggling against his hold.
He doesn’t listen— in fact, he tightens his grip on her. “Why did you run?”
“I didn’t want to talk to you, now let me go !” she says, and he acquiesces after a few moments of consideration. Once she’s on her feet, she asks, “What are you even doing here?”
“I could ask you the same thing,” he retorts, towering over her. “Weren’t you planning on fleeing Skyrim with your tail between your legs?”
Krosa seethes, rolling her eyes before turning and walking away.
“Where are you going?”
“Away from you.”
“Ah, of course. Running away again, what a surprise.”
He should have expected the punch. What he could never expect, however, was how fast it came and how hard she could hit. His head whips to the side with the force of it, and he stumbles, nearly losing his footing. It takes him a second to process that it even happened. There’s a fire in her eyes, a fury that escapes her every breath and he knows she wants a fight. Ulfric’s fine with that. She needs to be put in her place.
Krosa’s ready for his attack when it comes, dodging and attacking simultaneously. Ulfric barely manages to deflect her kick to the knee, and his elbow connects with her face. She stumbles but recovers quickly with a swift knee to his stomach and punch to his face. He deflects the punch, but the knee lands true. She backs away before he can react. They circle each other, both more careful and calculating than before.
She’s faster than him, more ferocious, but Ulfric is stronger and more composed. He lashes out once, testing the waters. Kick, punch, swipe, dodge— every exchange of blows is evenly matched. Despite his annoyance, Ulfric can’t help but be impressed. He knew she would be good— better than most others he fought. Even when deflecting her blows, it hurts (though he’s proud to see that it seems he has the same effect on her).
But impressive or not, the odds are not in her favor. Already she’s tiring out, sweat staining her face as her arms tremble slightly. Ulfric feels it pulling at him as well, but he still has plenty of stamina left. If there’s one thing Nords are good at— besides drinking and sex— it’s brawling.
Krosa doesn’t stand a chance
Krosa falls into the rhythm of the fight, letting it overtake her. Punch, kick, dodge, swipe— every hit fueling her fury. It’s all she feels, all she knows.
“Can’t you see why I want you to fight for Skyrim? You’re a fantastic fighter, one of the best I’ve seen! You could—”
Krosa doesn’t want to hear it. She knees him in the groin and he doubles over with a grunt before lunging at her wildly. She uses his momentum to throw him into a tree. He lands with a thud and the tree shudders in response. Without warning, she’s covered in snow, the barrage of it nearly knocking her over. Ulfric doesn’t miss his chance. He lands a kick to her stomach that sends her flying and crashing into her wood pile.
Krosa’s had enough of him. Him and his flowery words and endless arrogance and pride. She starts chucking logs at him as he comes closer, slowing his progress. Him and his damned purpose, his pointless war, his stupid offers.
“Vander, stop. She can’t take any more.”
“She can and she will,” he says, bringing down the whip.
Krosa cries out, tears mixing with the blood on her face.
“After all I’ve done for you, letting you live, giving you a place to sleep, giving you food to eat — and this is how you repay me?” he shouts, whip coming down again and again, and soon Krosa loses all sense of pain. All sense of consciousness. The darkness overtakes her, but the darkness is no friend.
The next thing her hand falls on is the hilt of the axe.
“Kill him. He’ll kill you if given the chance.”
“Tear him apart.”
“Show him the power you possess.”
Time seems to slow as Krosa’s hand tightens around the axe. Fire flows like blood, her heartbeat thuds in her chest as something in her ignites.
Krosa wakes up to darkness. Where am I? What happened? She sits up, hand going to her pounding head.
“Teach him a lesson.” She remembers Ulfric.
“He’s asking for it.” She remembers her fight.
“Show him the control you have.” She remembers the fury.
“You don’t even need the axe.”
“No. No no no no—” Krosa can’t remember what happened. Was it even real, or was it a dream? A nightmare— Vaermina’s newest creation? If it was, Krosa will kill her, but if it wasn’t— She feels her body for wounds, groaning when she feels the bruises. Oh no. She creates a light and looks down to see blood staining her hands.
Author's Note: Sorry for the wait! This chapter was very hard to write, if my beta-reader didn't help me out this would have taken a lot longer! So what do you think so far?
Chapter 6: Lonely Hearts and Restless Nights
Delphine hates waiting. It’s all she’s done for years now, and while she can find solace in the fact the waiting had a purpose to it, this time there is no higher purpose. The Dragonborn is late. While it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise since it was obvious from the start Krosa is more of a brute than an intellectual, Delphine still has a hard time believing anyone could be so pitifully inept. After their first encounter, the damned woman has shown no initiative, no drive, and she only does as she’s told. She hardly speaks and when she does it’s the equivalent of a babbling brook. All she seems to be able to do is eat, fight, and sleep.
Skyrim is full of meatheads, but Delphine had hoped the Dragonborn— who was meant to save the world — would not be one of them. And she’s not even a Nord, Delphine sighs. At least it makes things easier for me.
She reads the note one last time before setting it aflame.
If only Esbern were here.
It would have been nice to have someone she can rely on. It would have been nice to have a friend after all this time. Esbern and her rarely got along, but they always had each other’s backs. He will be avenged, Delphine decides right then and there. She doesn’t care how or when. She will find a way to make the Thalmor pay. Her mind is already swirling with possibilities and plans. Soon Delphine won’t be the one who needs to hide.
When the fire reaches her fingertips, she drops the note and watches it burn until there’s nothing left but ashes.
“Don’t you think he deserves it?”
“He’d only get in your way.”
“A killer like you would—”
“Don’t listen to them. Listen to your surroundings.”
She hears footsteps and tries to school her heartbeat, shoving her hands between the crevice of her legs. There’s the rattle of keys and a sliver of orange light as the door slowly opens.
“So, you’re awake. I thought I heard something,” Ulfric says, closing the door quietly behind him.
“You seem… relieved,” Ulfric says, settling into a chair beside her bed, candle flickering.
“I thought I killed you.”
"And why did you think that?” he asks, tone suggesting he did not think she’d be capable of it in the first place.
"The blood on my hands—” Krosa says, feeling them itch in recognition.
He raises his eyebrows. “There was no blood on your hands.”
“Yes there is,” Krosa says and looks down at her hands again, this time there’s nothing there. She curls her hands into fists. “I’m losing my mind.” Krosa’s not sure if dragons can snicker, but it certainly feels like they are doing so.
“You’ll lose more than that when Alduin has his way with you.”
“There will be nothing left.”
“He will devour everything… But he’ll save you for last.”
“I’ll have to agree with you on that,” Ulfric says with a smirk, and she nearly jumps in response.
Her mind goes back to the axe. Did she try to kill him and he stopped her? Did she even try it in the first place, or was it all just a really convincing nightmare? The only person who knows is sitting a few feet away from her, looking at her suspiciously.
“What happened?” she asks.
“I won’t answer unless you tell me what was going through your head during the fight,” he says, and Krosa tenses at the thought of recalling all that had passed in her mind— all that had been said or felt— she’s not sure she can relive it without acting out. She had never felt such fury before, such hatred… and she can still feel what remains.
“It's been inside you all along, there’s no point in denying it.”
“You’re more like us than you realize.”
“Maybe there’s a spot for you by Alduin’s side.”
"You have to learn to control them."
Krosa huffs angrily, wondering why in the world that dragon is still trying to get on her good side after what it tried to get her to do.
"You misunderstood my intentions." It says in reply.
"You owe me an explanation,” Ulfric states, tone demanding. Krosa needs a few moments to remember what their conversation was even about.
“I wanted to kill you.”
Ulfric scoffs. “That much was obvious.”
“I was losing control,” she admits quietly, and he only gives her a look. “The voices—”
“Voices?” he asks, eyebrows raised.
“The dragons—” Krosa says quickly in her defense, before pausing. She can’t tell him about that. Who knows what he would do if he knew what she was. “Vaermina, she—” Krosa starts, but stops again. She doesn’t even know how much of a part Vaermina played in all that— still doesn’t know if the whispers were a dream or not. Once again, Krosa doesn’t really know anything at all.
“I see,” Ulfric says slowly, drawing her back to the present. “How long have they been tormenting you?”
“Admitting it won’t make me think any less of you,” Ulfric states humorously, and Krosa breathes out a small laugh.
“Almost a year, I think," she says, remembering the old priest and the deal she refused to make. "She was tormenting a whole village until I put a stop to it… and they’ve gotten worse since— since—” Krosa goes quiet, cursing herself. She can barely even finish a sentence. What must Ulfric think of her now? He probably thinks she is even more cowardly and pathetic than he did before.
“Helgen?” Ulfric finishes for her.
Krosa stays silent, working her jaw. Why does he have to be such a damned know-it-all?
“Trauma is a hard thing to overcome,” he says, and it takes Krosa a moment to realize he's not patronizing her. “I’ve had my share of it and so have many others… What happened at Helgen—”
Krosa shakes her head vehemently, the fabric of her blanket bunching up in her fists. “I don’t want to talk about it. About any of it.”
“Alright," Ulfric says, and Krosa closes her eyes as she tries to loosen her taut muscles. There are several moments of silence before Ulfric speaks up again, “You didn’t try.”
Krosa looks at him blankly.
“You dropped the axe. I pinned you down and you started to panic, said you couldn’t breathe. Then you passed out. That’s the only reason why you’re still alive. If you had tried, I would have killed you outright”
Krosa wonders if that would have been best, before quickly shaking those thoughts away. She can’t die. For once in her life, she has more of a purpose— a reason to live. But now, more than anything she wishes that it all could just end so she could finally get some rest.
“You do not need to fear death.”
“The world would be better without you in it.”
“Alduin will rule in your absence.”
“Where are we?” she asks Ulfric timidly, distracting herself from their newest rampage.
“And the time?”
“Hard to tell, though I would assume late morning.”
“But it’s so dark,” Krosa states, eyebrows furrowing.
“That happens in Skyrim. The sun rises later, falls sooner, and the thick clouds of winter block most of the light we would have had.” Krosa only nods as she tries to make sense of it, and Ulfric smirks. “There’s also the fact that the room’s window is blocked with a heavy curtain.” He says, getting up and pulling it open. The room immediately brightens, not enough to hurt her eyes, but enough to know that the sun really has risen, even if it can't be seen. “It helps with insulation.”
“Oh.” Idiot, Krosa thinks, relief settling into her shoulders. So there really was nothing real about it, or it was only blown way out of proportion.
Delphine is going to be in hysterics for her being so late. Krosa sighs at the thought of that confrontation. She'd rather stay here and make small talk with Ulfric. Neither of them say anything for several moments, and eventually Krosa decides to succumb to her fate. “Can I leave?” she asks, only then realizing that Ulfric still might have some form of retribution planned.
“By all means," Ulfric states, getting to his feet. "I’ll show you out. I have several things I need to get done now that this has been dealt with… But there was one more thing I wanted to ask.”
"What is it?" Krosa asks, moving to follow. He doesn’t answer till they reach the front door.
“Why haven’t you left Skyrim?”
“I wasn’t able to.”
“You said there was only one more question,” Krosa says, mustering up a smirk, and Ulfric breathes out a huff of laughter.
“Yes, I suppose I did,” he says, stepping around her to open the door. “My offer from before still stands, if you ever find yourself interested.”
“I won’t be.”
“We’ll see… If you’re thinking of travel, I’d be careful,” he calls out as she starts walking, “there’s a storm on its way.”
Ulfric closes the door behind her. Galmar would be in an outrage if he learned Ulfric let her go freely, but Ulfric knows she can be useful, whether she wants to be or not. And after today, he doubts she'll feel any animosity towards him. Or if she did, it would quickly be replaced with shame and make her more likely to comply with his wishes. Either way, she’s of more use to him alive than dead, even if she’s still an unknown variable.
Confident in his analysis, Ulfric makes his way to the kitchen.
“Is she not staying to eat? I made enough for all of us.”
“She wasn’t hungry,” he says lightly, knowing if he did offer she would have refused anyway. But Gerdur doesn’t need to know that. “Did you get the chance to make that map I asked for?”
“Here it is,” she says, placing the rolled map before him on the table, followed quickly by the soup. “I also circled the best houses and routes to avoid.”
“Thank you, Gerdur. When this is all over, I’ll be sure to properly thank you for your efforts,” Ulfric says, bringing the spoon to his mouth.
“There’s no need,” Gerdur says with a wave of her hand— cheeks turning pink.
“You’ve done much and asked for nothing, not to mention you’re a fine cook. It will be done.”
“Alright. I suppose I can’t rightly refuse you.”
“Where are you going?’”
“I’m sorry, lass, I’m just not feeling it today.”
“ Brynjolf—” Sapphire scoffs, but Brynjolf doesn’t want to hear it.
“Find someone else to sleep with!” he shouts, slamming the door behind him, ignoring the obscenities she throws his way. If she trashes his room, he won’t let her come back, simple as that.
“That was quick,” Delvin snorts as Brynjolf passes by his table, but Brynjolf doesn’t give him the satisfaction of a reaction or reply. Everyone knows that Delvin is the quickest.
“Where are you going?” Vekel calls after him.
“Out of this damned place!”
“What’s got him in a tizzy?” Brynjolf hears Delvin ask, but Brynjolf is through the cistern door before he can hear Vekel’s reply.
The people of Riften lose a lot of coin within the next few hours, but still Brynjolf itches for more. It’s not enough. Nothing is ever enough. He feels heavy, mostly due to his bulging pockets, but also— there’s something else. Brynjolf can’t name it. He isn’t even sure if he wants to. Being confident has always been one of his traits, same with being convivial. But not today. Not for the past few days. All he knows is there’s something missing and nothing feels the same.
“Brynjolf? Is that you?” Brynjolf spins around to see Ysolt standing there, looking worn out; her orange and yellow robes stand out amidst the darkness, but even they are sad looking, the colors fading and the edges frayed.
“I’m afraid it is lass,” he says with a smirk.
“I was hoping to run into you soon.”
Brynjolf raises his eyebrows. “Is there something I can do for you?”
“I want to cash in on that favor.” Brynjolf forgot about that. “Walk with me to my house?”
“Lass, I—” Oh, how should he say it? “I’m afraid I’m not really in the mood tonight.” And he’s not sure he’ll be able to perform properly.
“It won’t take long.” It would certainly be better than with Sapphire, so maybe it will be different with her. And there are other ways. The memory of their time together before certainly helps warm him up to it.
They say nothing else as she leads him to her house. When he first saw it, he wasn’t sure they’d be able to do much with the space. It’s more organized than it was then, but still cramped. He takes off his cloak and starts working at his clothes. Let’s just get this over with.
“What are you doing?”
“Undressing, lass. That’s usually the first step. Well, second technically, but you know what I mean.”
“No. No I don't—” Understanding dawns on her face and she smacks his arm. “I didn’t mean that!” She exclaims, pacing. “What is wrong with you? Is that the only thing on your mind!? And you think I would— Ugh!” Brynjolf doesn’t know who is more embarrassed.
“In my defense—” he starts, but she gets there quicker.
“Look. Sleeping with you was a mistake.”
“Oh no, please don’t—" she starts, hand going to her forehead in her panic. "I didn’t mean it like that. I just, I regretted doing it almost immediately.”
“If your goal was to put it a little nicer lass, you’re not doing so great,” Brynjolf says as lightly as he's able.
“I’m sorry. It wasn't you, you were— nevermind.” Her face is nearly purple from blushing so hard. “I was having a bad day— several, actually, and I just— I was so—”
“Lonely?” Brynjolf tries for her, and she nods. He studies her, not sure what he’s looking for.
Nothing about her is striking, though she’s a far cry from being homely. A touch more color to her features would do the trick, as would a change in apparel. He hasn’t seen anyone that looks good in those shades of yellow and orange.
He doesn’t really know much about her personally, but she seems nice enough. She’s certainly a better person than most, not to mention her skills in bed. Capable, independent, sensitive… And she can make even him follow the rules. To him, she seems more than perfect for the role of a wife.
“How long have you been a priestess of Mara, lass?” he asks, hoping he’s not stepping across any boundaries or lines.
“Longer than I’d like to admit.” She says wryly, and Brynjolf smirks.
“So, no one’s caught your fancy?”
Ysolt sighs. “If only that were the problem… I find it’s the other way around. I— I guess I—” She clears her throat. “Can we get back to business? I’ve already had an exhausting day.” If Brynjolf had anything comforting or inspiring to say, he would say it.
“Sure thing, lass. What can I help you with?”
“Aiden says you specialize in finding things.” Thank the gods, Brynjolf thinks. He never did remember to ask Aiden what he's told Ysolt.
“That I do.”
“You’re late,” Delphine says when Krosa enters the room. Krosa only scowls in reply. “What happened to you?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“I leave you alone for one night, and you get into a fight?” Delphine asks, following her down the stairs.
“I said I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Fine. But a little more discretion from now on would be nice.” Their bags are waiting on the floor. Krosa grabs her own and shoves Delphines into her hands.
“Let’s just go. I heard someone say a storm may be coming.”
“I doubt it.”
The storm did come, but Krosa knows better than to say ‘I told you so’. It set them off schedule for two days, forcing them to wait in a cave. They weren’t the only ones who sought refuge within its walls, so there was a fight, easily won with the two of them. Krosa has to admit that, despite her age and Krosa’s dislike towards her, Delphine is good in a fight. They work well enough together, but that isn’t enough to soften the hard edges of their relationship. It doesn’t help that they’ve gotten dangerously low on food.
“What’s wrong with you?” Delphine asks the second day out of the blue. “You’ve been quiet the whole trip, and you’ve hardly slept.”
“I don’t see how that’s any different from before,” Krosa snaps back, not even glancing in her direction. Delphine only huffs in reply, before going to check the weather once again. Not much else is said between them. They seem to have come to a quiet agreement to stay on their side of the cave and not even glance in the other’s direction.
Krosa can’t stand it. Ever since Riverwood, her torment has been endless. The silence is filled with voices, and her dreams filled with violence. Her sword and dagger have already been over-sharpened, and there’s nowhere left to explore in the cave. Writing in her journal doesn’t help as it only leads to remembrance, ironic, considering a lack of memory being the reason she started keeping a journal in the first place.
That night, Krosa lies awake in the darkness, having given up on sleeping after hours of tossing and turning. The world seems so small, and Krosa so isolated from it all. She’s alone in her thoughts, the only thing present in the darkness that closes in: alone with those damned dragons in her head. Krosa can’t stand it.
“Are you there?” she asks quickly, before she can think better of it. At first it seems like the dragon won’t reply, and Krosa hates how her heart sinks.
“I’m always here, there’s little choice in the matter,” it says, the sound of its voice strangely comforting.
That sounds reassuring, Krosa thinks to herself before realizing it may have heard. There is no indication that it did, but Krosa knows she has to be more careful. She is not willing to risk giving them more power over her— something this dragon seems to know a lot of.
“How do I know I can trust you?” she asks, and after a few moments of silence adds: "I know the others’ names, why don’t I know yours?” The dragon laughs, a sound Krosa still hasn’t gotten used to… though it doesn’t sound as mocking as the others.
“You took that knowledge from them… You cannot take what I do not possess.”
“You don’t have a name?”
“All dragons have a name… I only do not remember what mine was.”
“I think I’ve finally thought of a name for you, little one,” Nazir says, and Krosa perks up immediately.
“Really!? What is it? What is it?” she asks, tugging on his shirt. Nazir places his hand on her shoulder to keep her from bouncing up and down.
“How does ‘Krosa’ sound?”
“Krosa?” she asks, testing how it rolls off her tongue, trying to decide if she likes the sound. “What does it mean?’
“I’m not sure, but I knew a Krosa once— or at least I think that was her name. She was a survivor— a fighter, just like you.”
“Krosa,” she says again. “Can you try calling me by it?”
“Of course, Krosa,” Nazir says as he ruffles her hair, and Krosa smiles.
Krosa frowns. Why does the memory make her smile but tear her heart to shreds? Why did he bother giving her a name if he knew he was going to sell her to the Alik'r? Did he actually care for her at first? Did I do something that made him stop?
“ You’re weak. You always were. ”
“ Who would want someone as pathetic as you? ”
“ You were only useful. A tool in his hands. If you sided with Alduin, you would rule over men like him. You would be a master, not a slave.”
“They fear you, that is why they are determined to tear you apart and use your fears and flaws against you to do it. Their words are hollow and worthless. Do not listen.”
Tears sting her eyes, and she wipes them away quickly, doing her best to shove their voices out of her mind. Unsuccessfully. Her heart beats wildly in her chest when she decides what she wants to do and her heart nearly bursts when the words escape her lips.
“You said you can teach me how to stop them from talking?” The sound of her voice aloud startles her, and she quickly reprimands herself. The last thing she needs is Delphine to think she’s crazy for talking to herself. The dragon only smiles, and Krosa barely gets the chance to register the fact that she can see its face before it speaks.
“I can teach you far more than that.”
Chapter 7: With Friends Like These
Hegathe. A decade later and it looks exactly the same. Nazir hates every bit of it. All this place brought him was pain and misery.
The golden glow of the sandstone buildings in the sun reminds him of his failure, of the money he owed— and the color of her eyes. They had been one of the first things he had noticed: red hair of all shades is common enough in High Rock and Skyrim, but eyes like that are rarely seen.
It must be a sign of something, he had thought; Redguards have always been more on the superstitious side. He should have made the connection sooner, but he was blindsided by the fierceness in her gaze and her struggle to survive. The fire in her eyes burned brighter than the fire claiming her home. He saw himself reflected in them, and the only thing he could do was help.
Why did he ever think he was capable of that? It was so against everything he had known. Everything he was taught. Everything he hates about himself. It all originated here . He only returned for Krosa’s sake.
“Nazir!” the giant of a man states, clapping him on the back. “I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever see your face again, my friend!”
“It’s about time I worked off that debt I owe you, don’t you think?”
“I was starting to worry about that as well. You disappeared before I could name my price.”
“I was taken by Corsairs.”
“Corsairs don’t ‘take’ men.”
“This one did, and he was a fine one, if you catch my drift.”
Vander laughs, a great bellowing sound that startles all those in proximity. Nazir ignores the hair standing on end at the nape of his neck: dealing with Vander could turn into a dangerous game if what he’s heard is true, but it could also have many benefits. Safety from both criminals and city officials is only one of them. Nazir only hopes their long history can make up for any grievances. Friendships built in the midst of war tend to be stronger— or so he’s heard.
When Vander is done laughing, he wipes tears away from his eyes and says, “I forgot you were such a riot. I suppose I can find some use for you.”
“There’s one more thing. I have a child with me who needs food and shelter.”
“What use do I have for a child?”
“Nothing yet, but I’ve been training her. She’s quite the fighter and fearless enough to steal from the pocket of a war general in broad daylight. But she will only work with me. And, when she isn’t with me, I need your word that she will be treated right. I want her to have as close to a normal life as I can give her. Add her needs to the debt I already owe you, and I will not refuse you anything.”
“When did you get so soft?”
“Since she came along, but only when it comes to her. You don't have to worry.”
“Hmm,” Vander says hums, stroking his beard as he considers the proposal.
Nazir was a fool to trust him, to believe in friendship. He never could have known just how different Vander grew to be after the war. War changes people, but that is no real excuse. It only brings out who a person truly is. Some people come out as heroes :worthy of respect, honor, and praise. Vander came out a monster, and Nazir a coward. If only he didn’t pretend to be anything other than that.
Krosa stares up at the dragon skull, wondering why she didn’t notice it earlier. She had heard something about some sort of dragon fight happening here, which is where the name Dragonsreach came from, but she always thought it was just a story. Even after knowing dragons are real, it’s still hard to believe. Afterall, the castle is mostly made out of wood.
It’s only been a day since Delphine and Krosa arrived in Whiterun. The whole trip ended up taking a week— something Delphine bitched about the whole way. Krosa is glad Delphine was the only thing she had to listen to. That nameless dragon really came through: there are no voices, and even her nightmares are more manageable now. However, the distance she initially tried to put between herself and the dragon dwindled rather quickly.
“Was he a friend of yours?”
“If he was, I can’t remember.”
“Do dragons keep trophies like this?”
“We don’t need to prove ourselves so artlessly.”
Flashes of destruction bombard Krosa, images of fire and screams. People in chains. The very sight of her sparks fear in their eyes. Flying through the air, powerful wings beating against the sky as she goes higher and higher, people, cities, and mountains getting smaller and smaller—
“Do you like it?” Krosa flinches and turns to see Balgruuf coming her way.
“No,” she states, and Balgruff laughs as he comes to a stop beside her.
“It used to only be a decoration— a reminder of greatness. Now people are either comforted or repulsed by it.”
“Comforted?” Krosa asks. How in the world would anyone be comforted by that?
“Seeing it reminds them that dragons can be defeated. It gives them hope, and hope is in short supply. Word of the Dragonborn’s appearance has only just started to spread,” Balgruuf says, admiring the skull like a trophy.
“One that he did not win,” the dragon comments, and Krosa rolls her eyes, even if she does agree that the swelling pride in Balgruuf’s eyes is ridiculous. The dragon’s disdain certainly is, even if there is more merit behind it.
“Do you know the story behind this one?” the Jarl asks, taking a seat on his throne.
“I don’t want to hear it. You should destroy it before—”
The Jarl waves her off. “What happened in Falkreath won’t happen here, I assure you. A skull is only a piece, and a small one considering a dragon’s size. The rest of it was taken to High Hrothgar, and Alduin would not dare go there.”
“I didn’t see any dragon remains there,” Krosa says, remembering the distinct lack of decorations in the cold gray halls. Even their library was shabby— though it was filled to the brim with ancient books and scrolls. Krosa suggested to Delphine they go there as well, since they are bound to not only have more information— but more correct information. Delphine wouldn’t hear it, even before their attempt to retrieve Esbern.
“I’m sure you didn’t,” the Jarl responds as a servant comes in with a tray of food and a bottle of mead. “It was a long time ago and the Greybeards are not ones for extravagance.” He thanks the servant and starts eating.
“Just to be safe—”
“Need I remind you that I am the Jarl here,” the Jarl says, voice booming through the hall. “ And I have extensive knowledge on the subject,” he adds, the volume of his voice turning down a notch, but the overbearing tone remains. “Your concern is noted and appreciated, but I will not stand to be doubted so gracelessly. It is only your first day as Thane, after all.”
“Stand your ground.”
“Fine. Have it your way,” Krosa says with a shrug. She didn’t even want the title in the first place, but he insisted there was no other way. And she would have said it, Thane or not. One thing Krosa can get used to that comes with the Thane title, is the allowance. She gets paid for being a Thane, regardless if she gets anything noteworthy done. If she had known that previously, she may have been more open to the idea.
The Jarl has apparently already lost interest in their conversation, and says nothing in return before going back to eating. So, Krosa leaves, glad she has her own money to spend after so long without it. She can feel the dragon’s disappointment as she turns to leave.
“It was a losing battle.”
“Only because you allowed it to be. His knowledge comes from books and feeds on the pride and blindness of men. Yours comes from the source, not to mention you have more power than he.”
“But he has more authority.”
“They can be one and the same if you wield it right.”
Krosa pretends she didn’t hear him and makes her way to the city square. Despite the overall grayness and chill, Whiterun is as lively and colorful as ever. And while it may be far from being as pretty as some sights Krosa’s seen, it’s comforting at the very least. Far better than the halls of Dragonsreach. She doesn’t know why that is.
The Bannered Mare is a place she should avoid. Too many people spend their time there and Krosa hates how loud it gets, but right now it’s the closest option for food. And food is something she needs desperately at the moment, as is a breath of fresh air. She can’t train, she can’t leave the city, she hates shopping, and she can’t read. Well, she can, but not as well as Delphine would like. So, all that’s left for her to do is eat.
Stabbing a knife into a slab of meat may not be the full experience of what she wants to do right now, but it will at least scratch the itch. And fill her stomach.
The archives of Dragonsreach are larger and far more grand than she imagined. All the Blades had was a cramped room and falling-apart books. Even records from over fifty years ago are in immaculate shape for their age. Esbern would have loved it, had he ever visited— maybe he did at one point, but the Jarl has no recollection of it; Farengar’s eyes suggest he may know something, but Delphine knows better than to ask.
“Do you not think you were a little harsh on her?” Farengar asks, and Delphine turns the page before giving him a look.
“I say it how it is.”
“No, you say what you think. There is a difference.”
“You haven’t spent days with her,” Delphine mutters, remembering the waves of agitation and turmoil wafting off Krosa. Whatever happened in Riverwood was eating at her. Delphine only hopes that whatever it was won’t affect their goal. And if it was only a personal matter, then Krosa needs to get her act together. They have a world to save, dragons to slay, and the Thalmor to destroy.
“Actually, I have,” Farengar says as he places another pile of books onto the table. “And she was far more pleasant than you have ever been.”
“Is that the last of it?” Delphine asks, eyeing the pillars of books and scattered candles.
“Good. Then you can leave.” Delphine immediately refocuses on her work, not wanting to waste one more second on such ridiculousness. If Krosa’s worth her weight, she can handle a few harsh truths.
If Esbern were here this would be done in a week. Since she has to do it alone, it will take at least a month— more if she comes across particularly challenging texts. Her grasp on Old Norse and Akaviri are shaky at best. All Blades were required to know their written form at the very least, and Delphine did her duty. But now she’s fallen out of practice and is a stranger to what was once familiar.
“This is for you,” a voice says, a letter falling into her lap, and Delphine looks up in time to see a servant leaving. She glares at their back. She had told the Jarl no one was allowed to know she was here— much less enter. After taking a look at the handwriting, she changes her tune. Malborn has finally gotten back to her.
“Hey! Yer in my seat!” a drunken voice says from behind Krosa. Krosa turns to see a young woman in leather and fur armor scowling at her, arms crossed. She reminds Krosa of a child throwing a temper tantrum and wonders again why Nords like getting so drunk.
“No, I’m not,” Krosa says, and the girl has the gall to look affronted.
“Are you calling me, a Companion , a liar?"
“Maybe you’re just mistaken,” Krosa says, not wanting to engage in any form of verbal or physical fight— which is clearly what the drunkard wants— but she’s also not willing to back down so easily.
“Oh yeah? That’s my tankard right there,” the girl says with a hiccup, finger pointing to the tankard sitting at the spot next to Krosa’s. Krosa grabs the tankard and places it in her hands.
“There. Now go find somewhere else to sit.”
The woman stands there stupidly for a moment, looking at the tankard in her hands as if it appeared out of thin air. “Hey! You drank all of it!” she exclaims, turning it upside down and shaking it to prove her point.
“No, I d—” Krosa doesn’t have time to finish.
The woman lashes out at her with a wild fist. Krosa doesn’t know if it’s her drunkenness or if the woman was already a terrible fighter. It takes Krosa a single, swift movement to catch the Companion’s fist and pin it behind her; Krosa slams the woman against the bar, Krosa’s barely touched plate clattering to the floor.
The woman struggles, but Krosa keeps a firm grip. “Try that again and—”
A strangled cry from across the tavern interrupts her. What in the— she turns just in time to see a male Dunmer running towards them. Krosa dodges his attack before throwing him across the room. He falls onto an unoccupied table, and the Inn grows quiet. The girl lunges at Krosa again, but is intercepted by someone else who enters the fray.
“Njada, Athis! That’s enough!” the man says, and the girl struggles in his hold.
“But she—” the woman starts, pointing an accusatory finger at Krosa. The man doesn’t even look Krosa’s way.
“You’re not full-fledged Companions yet. It can still be revoked before the ceremony.” The two exchange nervous glances. “Should I remove you like the embarrassments you are or will you walk out with whatever dignity you have left?”
“Alright, alright, we’re leaving,” the Dunmer says, looking stunned as he gets up. He gives Krosa a weird look as he heads for the door, and the girl sticks her tongue out at Krosa before following.
The man sighs, then turns to her. “I apologize for their behavior.”
“It’s fine,” Krosa says, ignoring the looks and whispers of the other customers. Maybe I should just leave. She can find food elsewhere.
“No, no, no. Please, stay,” the barkeep says, setting down a new plate of food to replace the one lost in the fight. It’s piled higher than before, and it looks like one of the more expensive meals. Krosa takes a seat, hating her weakness. “Show’s over,” the barkeep calls out to the Inn, and Krosa refuses to look over her shoulder at them.
“Thanks,” she says, before digging in. The barkeep nods before turning to the man.
“Vilkas, this is the second time this month they’ve caused a disturbance.”
“And they will be punished for it. It won’t happen again.” The man gives the barkeep a small handful of coins. “I’ll have what she’s having.”
Krosa frowns as he sits down next to her. When he opens his mouth to say something, Krosa says, “Don’t talk to me.”
“I just wanted to say you handled yourself well… and wanted to thank you for not maiming them.”
“That counts as talking.”
The man smirks. “And people say I’m rough around the edges.”
Krosa ignores him and continues scarfing down her food. When his food arrives he does the same, though he is far more graceless than Krosa has ever been. His meat is mostly pink and red droplets ooze from it. Krosa looks away before she loses her appetite. She always preferred her meat slightly charred.
“There’s wolf blood in him.”
“Focus on your senses. When you look at him, don’t just look, but feel and smell, the smell is the most obvious—”
“Is there a reason you’re looking at me like that?”
“No, of course not. Lost in thought, I am— I mean—” Krosa shakes her head, hating herself immensely. “Um—”
“Come with me. I’ve thought of a way to make you useful,” a voice says from behind.
“I hope it wasn’t too hard for you,” Krosa says, not wanting Delphine to know that, for once, she’s grateful for her presence. After all, it likely won’t last very long.
“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that,” Delphine says, turning to head out the door. “I’ll wait outside.”
Krosa sighs before getting up to follow.
“Who pissed in her drink?” the man asks, and Krosa summons the smallest twitch of a smile.
“She’s always like that.”
“I guess that explains your poor mood.”
“I’m always in a bad mood,” Krosa says, hoping he gets the hint. At least I finished most of my food , Krosa thinks, but she still gives her plate one last look of longing before turning for the door.
“Hey,” the man says, getting out of his seat and lightly touching her arm, “can I get your name?”
“No.” His eyebrows shoot up. “Sorry. I just— No. I need to go.” And go she does— as quickly as she’s able.
“I hate you.”
“It’s not my fault you are less than inadequate when conversing with those of your own species.”
“I still hate you.”
“Then stop talking to me.”
Krosa hopes that whatever Delphine plans, it includes slashing at somebody with a sword. She spots Delphine across the square in the only spot not crowded with people. When Krosa reaches her, she asks, “What is it?”
“I’m sending you to the Thalmor Embassy.”
“And you’re really going to do this?” Vex asks after barging into the room.
“I promised her a favor, lass, and this is what she asked for. So yes, I am doing this,” he says, shoving the last of his things into his pack.
Maven already left the day before, and Brynjolf is glad he won’t have to ride with her the whole way. He isn’t even allowed to talk to her or mention his name when he does get there. Vex follows him out of the room, and he locks it behind them, looking at her pointedly.
“What did Mercer say?” she asks when he turns to leave.
“He and Maven worked out the arrangements and they only think I will be there to lift some jewelry and information, so don’t tell anyone anything else.”
“It’s not like I’ll be missed here,” he says just as they enter the Cistern. Ever since the raid, most of the Guild barely talks to him or looks his way. They all blame him for it, and with that blame comes the blame of the Guild failing. Vex maneuvers her way in front of him, stopping him in his tracks.
“Don’t be a baby. People get upset, it’ll blow over. Everybody knows you do more for the Guild than anyone.”
“Careful Vex, or I’ll start to think that you have a heart,” Brynjolf says as he shoulders past her.
“I have sense , Brynjolf, nothing more.” Brynjolf makes it to the ladder. “Will you at least take someone with you?”
“Maven only has one extra invitation,” Brynjolf says. And it was supposed to be for her husband. He only wonders how that went down, though any man unlucky enough to marry Maven would probably be grateful for the relief of her absence.
“You men are pathetic. All this just to get laid?”
Brynjolf rolls his eyes. She’s grasping at strings now. It’s nice to know she cares, but nothing will sway him from this. If Ysolt had asked him to steal all the Jarl’s crowns, he’d do it just for the sake of doing something. He smirks at the thought of it. Now he does kind of want to try it. But to Vex, he only says, “No. I already got laid. I made a promise and now I’m fulfilling it.”
“Fine.” Vex shrugs, “Whatever. If you die I’ll spit on your grave and say ‘I told you so.’”
“Lass, if I die there likely won’t be a grave to do that on. You’ll probably never even get to see the body,” Brynjolf says, though imagining her doing that brings a smile to his face. It’s even better when he pictures her drunk as well.
“You’re an ass.”
“Yes, I do have a nice ass, and you’re welcome to leer at it as I leave.”
“I hate you!” she calls up to him.
“No you don’t!”
“And that’s how I could learn from them?”
“Yes, but I would not do so if I were you.”
“You could lose yourself in the process. Your hold on them is new, and your understanding of yourself is shaky at best.”
“Are you going to buy something or are you going to stand there and stare at the wall all day?”
“Sorry— I— Maybe you could help… me,” Krosa says, cringes, then tries again. “I need help.”
“You won’t find the kind of help you need here,” the woman sneers.
“I’m going to a party—”
“At the Embassy?” Krosa nods. “Well, why didn’t you say so?” the woman asks, tone changing drastically as she moves Krosa through the store. "“We have the largest collection of dresses and fabrics, imported from the very best seamstresses across Tamriel. I have personally dressed several of the guests, including Vittoria Vici herself, for the party—”
The woman goes on and on, Krosa struggling to pretend she’s even remotely interested. When it becomes apparent that Krosa has no skill in choosing the right apparel for such an occasion, the woman takes over, holding several dresses up to Krosa’s face. Krosa shuts her mouth through all of it, hoping it won’t last long, but when she notices there’s nothing in the pile but dresses, Krosa speaks up.
“Is it possible for me to not wear a dress?”
“Is it possible for pigs to fly?” the woman sneers, ”What kind of question is that? Now go try it on before I force it on you!” Krosa does as she says.
“You’re really going to let her order you around?” the dragon asks, and Krosa curses herself for forgetting to block him out. “How do you plan to confront Alduin when—”
“That’s different. Leave me alone.”
“She’s more of a dragon than you are.”
Krosa blocks him out as she puts the dress on, struggling with it more than she should. Apparently, the laces on the back need to be undone first and stepping into it works better than trying to put it on over her head. Why are dresses so damned difficult? The only positive she can think of dresses is the ability to hide weapons, which she can’t do anyway. At least, not until she’s in the Embassy.
When Krosa finally has the dress on, she steps out, refusing to look in the mirror first.
“Oh, I did it again. The dress looks marvelous,” the woman sighs contentedly, before getting back to business, “But you, on the other hand...” She reaches for Krosa’s hair.
“Do you even own a hairbrush? And look at those eyebrows! When was the last time you had a proper bath? Have you ever looked in a mirror? And— is there dye in your hair?” the woman sighs, looking longingly at a red lock of hair Krosa must have missed before.
“The dye stays,” Krosa says when the woman starts rubbing the dye away, leaving no room in her tone for disagreement. The woman drops her hair and steps back and looks Krosa over a second time.
“You’re a walking disaster.”
“I know,” Krosa says. I have been for a while.
The woman sighs again, looking Krosa up and down one last time.
“How much money are you willing to spend?”
“Whatever’s in here,” Krosa says, putting the coin purse she got as Thane on the counter. The woman opens it, greed sparking in her eyes.
"There's hope for you yet."
"You can do whatever, I don't care, but I refuse to wear anything that will make me stand out. Or does this," Krosa says, pointing to the contraption of a dress she's wearing.
"First of all, darling, if you think that dress will get you noticed at a party like this, you're fooling yourself. And secondly, there's nothing wrong with a little sparkle. But, I suppose I can work within those terms. Everyone needs a good challenge now and then,” the woman says, flitting about the room, as she throws more dresses on the pile and hanging some back up. “Now, we have lots to do and very little time. For future reference, people usually have their orders in at least weeks in advance and do not come in to browse the day of. The exception will cost you.”
Krosa was only half paying attention, so she only says, “Alright.”
“Good, now give me a minute to bring some others in, and we’ll have you ready in no time.”
Krosa leaves the shop, feeling like a plucked chicken, and despite particular orders not to, she finds herself touching— the dress, her face, her hair, her eyebrows . She feels like a completely different person. Not once in her life has she worn makeup, and somehow they managed to hide most of her facial scars. The dye they used to fix her hair only diluted the red, making it more of a reddish-brown than the almost black color she had previously.
The hairstyle took most of the time, and the women ignored her when she said to just leave it. Now, Krosa only has an hour left to make it to the party. Despite the crunch on time, Krosa finds herself almost running for the inn to throw on pants under the dress, deciding the comfort of knowing they’re there is better than the discomfort of having them there.
She flies out of the room, hoping she won’t miss the last cart ride to the Embassy. Arriving on horseback would draw attention to herself, and that is something Krosa needs to avoid at all costs. In her hurry, she fails to stop in time when someone walks right into her path.
Chapter 8: A Symphony of Bad Ideas
The impact sends her reeling, and Krosa’s certain the man crashes into a wall. Recovery would have been smoother if not for the dress and cobblestone streets. She falls over, pebbles digging painfully into her hands.
“Krosa?” the man says, and Krosa freezes before looking up and into familiar green eyes, cursing every god she knows the name of.
“ I— What— What —”
“You look, um—" Brynjolf starts and Krosa’s glad she’s not the only one struggling with words, but he clears his throat quickly, saying, “Are you going to the Embassy, lass?”
Krosa’s face falls. His asking could only mean one thing, and he’s certainly dressed for it.
“Should I take that look of disappointment as yes?” he asks, and it’s only then does she realize she never answered his question. But she hardly cares at the moment.
This could ruin everything , Krosa tells herself, refusing to acknowledge his skills are well-suited for what she’s here for. She is not prepared for this: it wasn’t part of the plan. He could get her caught and— and he'll be insufferably friendly and apologetic and helpful ; she doesn't want to deal with any of it.
“I don’t have time for this,” Krosa says, getting up and turning to leave.
“I assume that means you’re also trying to catch the last cart ride.”
That brings Krosa to a stop. Of course. Of course, of course , of course. Can I ever catch a break? “I can’t believe this is happening,” she mutters to herself, hand going to her temple to try and hold back the oncoming headache.
“Nor can I… I never thought I’d see you in a dress, lass," he says, and Krosa wonders if it's his attempt at humor. "And everything else is so— well, nevermind.”
Krosa gives him one last look before resuming her vigorous pace. While she would like to break into a run, it’d be pointless: she’d only look like a fool. Unless he doesn't make it in time. It's tempting… but it's not worth it. Rather than focusing on the man behind her, she turns her thoughts to the city instead, hoping it will help calm whatever is rippling through her.
The streets are mostly empty, as is the sky. The only lights come from the street lanterns, and Krosa hopes it won’t be just the two of them on the carriage.
Brynjolf doesn’t say anything, but he’s only a few steps behind her. And she’s painfully aware of that fact. He has to ruin everything.
It doesn’t take long for them to make it to the stables, and her brief relief is quickly replaced when she notices that no one else is there. She’s stuck with him. A new string of curses tumble to the forefront of her mind as they climb on, Krosa trying to sit as far away as possible without seeming too pathetic.
Krosa looks longingly at the carts ahead of them in the distance. He could have been on any one of those. If that damned woman from the shop had gone just a little quicker Krosa could have been on one of them. Why was he running late? Was it on purpose? Did he follow her here? She studies him out of the corner of her eye, trying to figure it out.
“So," he says, fumbling with his hands, "it’s a nice night for—”
“Please don’t make this worse than it already is.” It hits him like she hoped it would, and he stops talking. She shoves down the nagging part of her that feels bad about it. This is not something she—
“Why are you so scared of him?”
“I’m not scared. Go away.”
“Lass—” Brynjolf says and her gut twists painfully.
“I don’t want to hear it,” she says, crossing her arms and studying the dark landscape around them, only barely able to make out the shapes of trees and mountains in the distance. It’ll grow old soon, but Krosa doesn’t know what else to do.
“You’re still mad?”
“What do you think?” Krosa asks, though she wishes she didn’t say anything. Brynjolf surprises her when he doesn’t reply. She sneaks a glance at him to see him fumbling with his hands, brows furrowed. Something tugs in her chest.
"I do not understand."
"Don't lose your mind over it."
The wagon creaks and groans as it bumps and rattles down the road, filling the silence between them. Several minutes go by and Brynjolf still doesn't know what to say. Not knowing what to say is a rare occurrence, and Brynjolf found recently that only happens when dealing with Krosa. More than anything, he wishes he had the foresight to bring the letter he wrote.
It's hard to believe it's even Krosa sitting across from him. The red of her hair is muted and pulled back from her face in some kind of knot, and makeup covers the scattered scars on her face. It would be hard to tell her apart from any of the other women bound to be there. But her eyes are the same, and he knows that look of irritation and discomfort: it’s the same trademark expression he's grown accustomed to, even if the tinted lips are rather distracting
Brynjolf is glad she seems preoccupied with whatever’s on her mind, so she doesn’t notice his prolonged stares. He tries not to, he really does. The fact that the silky fabric of her dress peeks out below her cloak is no help. It’s almost impossible not to let his imagination wander, though he believes he’s mostly successful at it.
He's pulled from his battle when Krosa speaks, "I don’t have a lot, Brynjolf. But what I do have is important to me, and they are all I have. They are all I’ve ever had.”
Well. That's unexpected.
“I truly am sorry, lass," he says, hoping this means she’s less guarded and more open to explanation. "I— I guess I’m not used to respecting people’s privacy. I was treating you more like a question— or a target, I guess, rather than a friend. I realize that now.”
Krosa nods her head slowly, biting her bottom lip. Her fingers tap a relentless rhythm on her arm and it becomes increasingly difficult to stay silent.
“If it makes you feel any better, you’re just as withholding in your journal as you are in conversation. I didn’t learn much.”
Krosa only gives him a look.
“Is there any way I can make it up to you or— or even the playing field?” he asks, and the tapping stops, replaced with a glare.
“This isn’t a game.”
“I know that,” Brynjolf says quickly. “I just— I couldn’t think of any other way to put it.” Another rare occurrence that happens quite often in her presence.
“Is there a reason you’re so intent on winning me over?” she asks, voice full of accusation. Brynjolf only sighs deeply, trying to shrug off any irritation.
“I believe we’ve already had that conversation, lass. I like you. That’s all there is to it.” She breaks his gaze after a moment of consideration, and Brynjolf sighs.
While it’s not entirely untrue, there is more to it— Brynjolf just doesn’t know what else there is. He wonders if it’s the same with her, the feeling of some sort of connection between them, or at least wanting to feel it. It’s one or the other, but he still doesn’t know which it truly is.
“Why are you here?” she asks, shocking him from his thoughts. It seems she’s full of surprises tonight, and the night is only just beginning. He hopes it’s a good sign of progress and not a sign things can only go downhill from here.
“A favor for someone,” he says, and the suspicion in her gaze deepens.
“If I answer that, will you tell me why you’re here?” It’s a long shot, but worth a try. He sees Krosa hesitate, then slowly and surely shrink into herself.
The fact that she sounds almost regretful astounds him. Whatever’s been going on in her life seems to have drained her. She seems skinnier than before, and there’s something about the look in her eyes and the heaviness in her shoulders. A minute passes, then another before Brynjolf makes up his mind.
“It’s for Ysolt— the priestess who healed you—” he starts, but Krosa perks up.
“Wait. Did she charge something? She told me not to worry about it.” Shit.
“Then don’t worry about it,” he says with a shrug, avoiding her probing eyes.
“We’re here,” the cart driver says, and they both turn to see the Embassy looming on the side of the mountain, a brilliant light in the darkness around them. Brynjolf finds it ironic… though maybe it’s not so far-fetched. Tonight may just be a better night than he thought it would be, if the past hour was anything to go by.
Krosa abandons him as soon as they enter, and Brynjolf lets her go without another word. It’s not likely that she’s here for leisure, and he knows any interference is likely to end in disaster. So he spends his time flirting, stealing, and dancing as planned. Accomplishing Ysolt’s favor was pitifully easy, and while the information may not be what she’d want to hear, snagging her family heirloom should make up for it.
The Thalmor really know how to throw a party, Brynjolf thinks, surveying the room. They really spared no expense: golden dishes, diamond candlesticks, silk fabrics, intricate designs— all of which, he assumes, is a testament to their wealth and home country.
Or they would be, if they weren’t all fake. All it takes is an eye trained like his to spot the imperfections of the diamonds and the tell-tale signs of something being coated in gold, not made of it. Still, the wine is the best he’s had in ages; he only wishes he could stuff some of the bottles in with his collection, but there’s only so much room.
The guests wear fashions from all over Tamriel: some fitting in seamlessly with the elven decor and others contrasting greatly. Elven sentries watch from the walls, mixed with Imperial legionnaires and the occasional Nord in full ceremonial armor. Brynjolf assumes it’s supposed to show the unity of their alliance, but Brynjolf also assumes that no one really buys it.
He heads for the food after a particularly exhausting dance, only to finally catch sight of Krosa and a man who exudes confidence and sleaziness. From his clothes, Brynjolf assumes he’s a noble of some sort, likely from High Rock. The closer Brynjolf gets, the more certain it is that she needs rescue. She looks about ready to murder the man, which would surely ruin whatever she’s trying to do here. Brynjolf’s not going to waste his chance and swoops in.
“Krosa, lass, there you are! I’ve been looking everywhere for you.” He places his hand on her back, and feels her stiffen. “Are you ready for our dance?”
The look she gives him is priceless, but she keeps her mouth shut.
“You’re her escort, then?” the man asks, looking Brynjolf up and down. Brynjolf can see the judgement in his eyes. His clothes may not be the most expensive or fancy, but at least he doesn’t look like a pompous peacock. The man is even wearing a hat made out of the poor creature’s feathers.
“Nords don’t believe in escorts,” Brynjolf says, “a woman may come and go as she chooses.”
The man rolls his eyes. “I had forgotten how uncultured you people are here,” he says as he leaves to find his next victim.
Brynjolf moves in to whisper in Krosa’s ear, “I may be low on your list, lass, but please tell me he’s even lower.
“Congratulations,” Krosa says, sounding rather winded. When she turns to leave, he stops her bye grabbing her arm and pulling her to him.
“Oh no you don’t, lass. We can’t just say we’re going to dance then not dance,” he says playfully, and Krosa gives him a look he assumes was supposed to be a warning. Something’s off about it, but Brynjolf can’t put his finger on what it is.
“I don’t know how to dance,” Krosa says, and he holds back a grin.
“I can teach you, lass. It’s not hard.”
“I don’t want to dance.” She doesn’t even look at him. Instead, she looks around the room frantically, and Brynjolf’s hand goes to grasp her upper arm in what he hopes will be a comforting gesture.
“Krosa, are you… feeling alright?”
“I’m fine. I’m fine, I just—” Krosa takes a deep breath, hand going to her head. She tries to shake him off and run from the room, but she trips on her dress; Brynjolf steadies her, keeping her from making a scene. “Okay, maybe I’m not—”
The music, the people, the heat— the eyes, the voices, the lights. It’s a whirl of activity and sound. People bumping, laughing, looking, whispering . Her arms tingle, her back itches— it’s getting hard to breathe.
“ Something’s wrong,” the dragon says, and Krosa loathes the worry in his voice. “I think you’re—”
“I’m fine, I just—”
Voices distort as the room swirls, colors and shadows slithering around like snakes. Her heart throbs, jerking painfully in her chest.
She needs to leave— she needs to—
Fresh air hits her then, along with a chilling breeze, and Krosa breathes it in greedily. She’s on a balcony, and when the warmth on her back moves, she turns to see Brynjolf looking at her with concern.
“What happened?” she asks, trying to regain her senses.
“I don’t know, but you seemed sick. I thought some fresh air might help.”
Her stomach still clenches painfully, heart racing impossibly fast, head reeling. But the cold feels nice, and if she focuses on that, the rest of it seems bearable. Brynjolf leads her to the railing, and Krosa falls to her knees.
“Thanks. It was getting… hot and it’s hard to breathe in this thing and—” Whatever her stomach’s doing isn’t helping.
Brynjolf comes to her, crouching down to her level, hand on her shoulder. Krosa hopes the makeup hides her flaming face. “You don’t have to explain yourself, lass. Let me know when you’re ready.”
He stands and moves to the other end of the balcony, giving her some much needed space. There are several moments where she thinks she may expel the contents of her stomach over the railing. Tentatively, she reaches out with her mind to the dragon. He was going to say something— he may know how to help. But the dragon stays silent, and Krosa forces herself to take several deep, steadying breaths before pulling herself slowly to her feet. When she’s sure she can handle the worst of the pain, she turns to Brynjolf.
“Alright. I’m ready to go back in. Thanks again for— well, this,” Krosa says, gesturing to the balcony sheepishly.
“Don’t mention it, lass,” he says, holding the door open for her. “If you’re not up for dancing, what do you suggest we do?”
Krosa considers it, hating that she is, but he’s earned a little trust… and maybe she has been a little hard on him. With her body betraying her like this, a little help could make all the difference— not to mention the fact that whatever social skills she lacks, he has in abundance. Trying to convince anyone else to do this would have gone poorly at the very least. Krosa sighs.
“I need to get through the door behind the bar. Can you cause a distraction?”
“You can’t just use an invisibility spell, lass?”
“The room is covered with wards. Any attempt at spellcasting would be noticed, and a distraction would still be needed. I can’t risk anyone seeing me.”
“Does it have to be that door, lass?”
“Why?” Krosa asks, cataloguing all the things she gave to Malborn in her head. It’s nothing she’ll miss. Her sword and armor are still at her room in the Winking Skeever, though going in without weapons could be disastrous. Brynjolf surveys the balcony, peeking over the railing and at the walls of the monstrous building.
“I may have another idea.”
Krosa knows what he’s thinking. It’s a terrible idea, but she likes it more than Delphine’s plan. She doesn’t particularly trust Malborn, and there’s less chance of being spotted. If they can make it all the way to the back courtyard, she won’t have to try and remember the map Malborn drew for her. However, there is one problem...
“Don’t tell me you’re scared of heights, lass,” Brynjolf says when he sees her hesitation.
“I’m not. But in this—” Krosa says, looking down at the skirts of her dress before bending down and ripping the front of it. Brynjolf is speechless— but only for a moment.
“Krosa, what in the name of— are those trousers?” They are trousers, and Brynjolf’s hand flies to cover his mouth, because on her feet are a pair of fur-lined black boots, and there’s no going back from this. “It’s no wonder you were overheating,” he mumbles, struggling to keep a straight face. This was not the reaction he expected.
Krosa ignores him as she continues to utterly destroy the dress, before twisting and tying it all together to create some form of toga-like shirt. It’s not a terrible look, but definitely in need of refinement.
“There. That should work,” she says, expecting her work.
“Alright then, let’s get to it,” Brynjolf says, stifling his rising disappointment. He liked how she looked in that dress. Not to mention the plan might not work and the possibility of having to go with her original one. He decides not to mention either point. At least she likes the idea, he muses, and there’s dedication for you.
After telling her to let him go first, he starts to see all the flaws in this plan. The wind beats sharply against them, the frigid air stiffens his fingers, and the cold, slickness of the stone makes their whole path even more treacherous than it already was. The fact that he’s weighed down by a shitload of jewelry is no help either. The only light is from the dimness of Krosa’s floating orb, and the only warmth is from his own breath. Why didn’t she try talking me out of this?
When they reach a section of the wall completely encased by ice, Brynjolf turns to her, about to say they need to turn back. But she speaks up before he does.
“I’ve got this. Don’t move.”
Brynjolf says nothing as she maneuvers her way around him, glad that the cold freezes all thought and feeling. It takes longer than he’d like, but soon she’s on the other side. He rests his head against a cold stone— ready to start praying if that’s what it takes to get out of this stupid, stupid situation. But then he feels a wave of heat and turns to see Krosa melting the ice with magic. He should have let her go first.
The rest of the way is relatively easy— the stone still warm from Krosa’s magic. The fence, however, is another matter entirely. They both nearly tumble to the drifts of snow hundreds of feet below, but somehow manage to heave themselves over the fence without impaling themselves. They lay in a heap on the ground, trying to catch their breath.
“You’re crazy, lass. I cannot believe you went through with this,” he breathes only as loudly as he dares.
“It was your idea.” She shoves him, and he gets to his knees,
“Yes, a terrible one!” he exclaims, still in a whisper; his hands fly to his head, ready to tear his hair out. “There was nothing wrong with your original plan!”
“Then why did you suggest it?”
“It was a possible course of action, so I mentioned it. You were the one who started ripping your dress like a lunatic.”
She huffs, crossing her arms. “I don’t see the problem here. It worked, didn’t it?” Brynjolf doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. He always assumed she was more cautious than this. He saw his whole life flash before his eyes. Several times.
Krosa holds her hand out to him, and it takes a few seconds for him to realize why. Brynjolf takes it, and she pulls him to his feet.
“Aye, lass, I suppose it did,” he says, letting go of her hand.
“Do you hear that?” Krosa asks, whipping her head to the side.
“Hear wh—” Her hand covers his mouth, and she drags him to the safety of the wall. Just then, a Thalmor guard turns the corner, a light floating in his hand. The guard looks right at them, and Brynjolf nearly leaps into action, but Krosa keeps him rooted firmly in the spot. The guard’s gaze sweeps past them.
“Do you see anything?”
“No. Must have been the wind.” They stay like that for several seconds after the guard leaves. Well. That just happened. Krosa releases him and sinks into a crouch, head falling into her hands.
“Are you alright, lass?”
“Yeah. That just took a lot out of me.”
“I didn’t know mages could do that.”
“It takes a lot of concentration and Savos told me that only those gifted with a deeper connection to magic are able to do feats like that. Any of the Thalmor here can probably do it, and they wouldn’t get light-headed from it.”
“Savos, the Archmage of Winterhold’s mage college?” Brynjolf asks, and she nods before rising to her feet. “You’re just full of surprises today, lass.” Not only is she almost friendly, but she’s chatty .
“Blame the adrenaline. Let’s get moving.”
Krosa knew sneaking around the Embassy would be difficult, but there are far more guards crawling around the courtyard than Malborn said there would be. Far more than there was in the ballroom. It’s almost as if they were expecting trouble. Krosa let Brynjolf take the lead while Krosa erases their tracks. They don’t dare speak— even a whisper could give them away in the wrong moment.
Instead, they use hand signals which work well enough, though there are times when Krosa’s not sure what he’s trying to say. Right now, he’s signaling her to slit a guard’s throat, and she hesitates for a moment not sure if it’s the wisest course of action, but he hasn’t led her wrong yet. So she does just that.
The guard goes down quickly and quietly; Krosa catching him before he hits the ground and dragging him to the shadows.
“What’d you do that for, lass?” Brynjolf asks as soon as she’s within whispering distance.
“ You told me to.”
“That’s not what I meant! I meant the coast is not clear and you should stay where you are!”
“That’s not what it looked like,” Krosa says simply, laying the guard down, noticing then that his eyes are still wide open. Shivers run down her spine, and she closes them immediately. Somehow that doesn't make her feel better. In fact, her stomach clenches painfully, and Krosa is barely able to keep herself from groaning.
“It’s alright,” Brynjolf says, hand sliding down his face. “Okay. We can work with this.” There are several seconds of nothing, and Krosa wonders if he feels as addled as she does. “Put on his armor,” he says finally, and Krosa scowls.
“What? No, you put it on. It’ll be too big for me and I won’t be able to —”
“Well, it’s too small for me and it could come in handy. Just put it on.”
Krosa huffs, rolling her eyes as she does what as he says. Brynjolf helps her, and Krosa tries not to be too distressed by it. If she looked ridiculous before, she probably does even more now. “They’ll never believe it.”
“Not up close. Besides—”
Footsteps crunch in the snow, and they exchange a glance. Krosa hasn’t covered the blood on the snow from her attack. There’s no way it will go unnoticed. Krosa looks to Brynjolf, a question in her gaze. Brynjolf nods.
A few minutes later, they both don ill-fitting elven armor, and Krosa feels a lot better about all of this with a sword strapped to her hip. The only guards are those watching from the other side and seem to be in the middle of a game of sorts. Krosa and Brynjolf leave the shadows, crossing the rest of the way through the courtyard and entering the door to Elenwen’s Solar.
“Shit.” Brynjolf says, echoing Krosa’s thoughts.
Chapter 9: Revelations of a Sort
Alive. Krosa’s alive. Or at least, she had been for some time: time he spent living it up in a glorified cave murdering people when he could have been with her. Nazir doesn’t know what to do with this information.
It’s been about three years since she left, if the records are anything to go by. Records. Pages and pages of words and numbers, all telling the tale of her life in the Arena. Vander sure worked her for everything she’s worth. He made a fortune off of her— significantly more than the debt Nazir was trying to work off.
“She was my favorite competitor,” the keeper’s apprentice states, “betting on her was always exciting. It was impossible to tell if she would win a fight. Well, that’s until she became Grand Champion.”
“How so?” Nazir asks, closing the book after one last look. The dry heat already makes his nose burn, and the dust that flies up to his nose from the book only irritates it, and he has to hold back a sneeze. Void take it, I hate this place.
“Something changed, and all of a sudden she was unstoppable. The Da’Vam clan was lucky to have her, those bastards.”
“The Da’Vam clan?” he asks innocently.
“Yeah. Probably the most corrupt family to ever grace this city. City officials were always trying to bring them down— those who weren’t in their pocket, at least,” the apprentice states as he puts the book back with the rest. “Word is she was working with the city as a spy of sorts. Explains why they never charged her with murder, though many would contend that sentence anyway. Public service is more like it.”
Indeed. All that time waiting for Vander to find him, running and never settling until Astrid saved him, gave him a family— a greatly disturbed group— but a family nonetheless. Krosa had none of that.
“And what happened to the rest of the house?” he asks, knowing the group of Alik’r he killed must have been out there on someone’s orders. “Servants? Distant relations? Friends? Enemies?”
“Oh, the city was in uproar for a while. Many other clans tried claiming the top seat, but ended up taking out themselves in the process. The city guard snuffed out the rest. There’s only a few servants who’ve come forward with what they were really like. Turns out they treated the majority of their servants as slaves, even marking them with a brand as their property.”
The thought of Krosa wearing that mark sickens him. Everything about this place sickens him. He wishes he could find a way to make them suffer. Sithis take him, he would sell his soul to do it.
“Is that all you know?” he asks, barely masking his voice with a storming calm.
The apprentice taps his chin for a moment, before shrugging. “Yeah, why are you so interested in all this?”
“I’m a historian of sorts,” Nazir lies, getting out of his chair and looking around the small, cramped room for the exit.
“Then you should have heard of this, this is old news.”
“I’ve been away,” is all he says before taking his leave. And he can only imagine what went on in his absence. Krosa may not be the same person she was before, she may have come out worse off than even him or Vander. Or maybe she’s broken beyond repair, a shell of what she once was. Or she's dead— lost and forgotten somewhere, and this is all for nothing. Nazir can’t picture it any other way.
There are two things he can do: stay and gather more information while others are out there searching for her, or take the risk of blindly stepping into a plot he knows nothing of. Nazir hopes Astrid really did take Babette’s side and that pathetic excuse of a man still lives. There may be more they can get out of him.
He will not let them get to her first.
Brynjolf considers hightailing it out of there. Several Thalmor are scattered throughout the room, just a few short of the amount in the Ratways. They may be able to just walk through unnoticed. The majority of them are facing away; one or two from across the room barely glanced at them when he and Krosa entered. But if anyone tries talking to them the ruse would be blown, and all it would take is a good look to see their ill-fitting armor.
Krosa mutters something under her breath, and the next moment she’s gone. Brynjolf blinks, and the room is decorated with Thalmor bodies strewn all over the place. Some slouch in chairs, others litter on the ground, and one is crumpled against a cracked wall. Krosa is on the opposite end of the room, catching her breath. Brynjolf goes to her.
“What the fu—”
Krosa shakes her head and straightens. “Come on. We’re wasting—” Her gaze lands somewhere over his shoulder, and Brynjolf turns to see the table filled with platters of food. She can’t be serious. She goes to the table, striding with purpose.
“Don’t tell me you’re going to eat any of it,” Brynjolf says, following her.
“What? I’m hungry, and they’re not going to eat it,” Krosa says, gesturing to the bodies, eyeing the food like a starved animal.
Brynjolf doesn’t know what to think. “You’re a wonder, lass, that’s for sure.”
And maybe a little more dangerous than he originally anticipated. If she can do spells like this— He looks around the room again. Nocturnal’s bosom, he’s lucky he got off so easy all those times he pissed her off. Impressive his ass . She’s amazing . And maybe a little terrifying. Just looking at her sets his heart racing.
Brynjolf realizes he’s staring and quickly looks away before realizing she still hasn’t touched any of the food. “You’re not going to grab anything? I thought you said you were hungry.”
“I thought I was hungry, but now—” she drifts off, scrutinizing the food on the table with an odd look on her face. The closest thing Brynjolf can compare it to is disgust. “Now I’m not so sure.”
Should I be worried? This whole night she’s been acting strange. He wonders if it has to do with him, and he also wonders if that makes him egotistical for thinking that. But what else could it be? Though, to be honest, if he had room he may have tried pocketing some food as well. Especially the sweet rolls. It all looks and smells delicious.
“Well, in any case, lass, we should get moving,” he says, gently steering her towards the stairs. She lets him.
“Yeah.” She shakes her head as if breaking herself from a trance. “Yeah, we should. I’m sorry, I don’t know what that was.”
The halls are empty, and they peer into each room as they go, searching for anything good. He doesn’t know what Krosa's looking for, but he hopes she's not missing anything because she doesn't seem to be paying much attention. Only one of those rooms had an occupant, easily dispatched.
As they go down a set of stairs, Brynjolf knows they must be reaching the dungeons. Dungeons never do smell pleasant. The next door they open is cluttered with papers and drawers, and a map marked with dozens of little and big black, red, and blue flags. He's seen plenty of offices like this before. And considering the location, he believes he knows just what the office holds. Brynjolf takes a mental picture of the map as he enters and immediately opens a drawer. He grins.
“What is it?” Krosa asks.
“A gold mine, lass.” Brynjolf opens another drawer. And another.
“It’s a bunch of papers.”
“No. It’s information.” Information on all notable people and organizations in Skyrim from the looks of it. They’ve really been doing their homework. And Brynjolf knows exactly how to profit from it. “There was a pack in that last room. Bring it here.”
“Trust me lass, this won’t be a waste of time.
Krosa huffs then leaves. Brynjolf ignores her, eyes peeled for names he recognizes. Then he sees it— his name, filed with a few others in the Guild, and others he assumes the Thalmor think are associated with them. Brynjolf opens it immediately.
‘Nord. Orange hair, green eyes. Lives in Riften may be a leader of the Thieves Guild and associated with Maven Black-Briar. Not important but likely has information on important people. Only cooperative if there's enough coin as payment.'
Well, that’s disappointing. Though, flying under the radar is probably a good thing in this case. But he's also never worked exclusively with the Thalmor before. I'll have to be more careful. He puts it in the pile and keeps digging. The next name that catches his eye is Krosa’s. He pulls it out just as Krosa arrives at the door, pack in hand.
“This one’s on you, lass.”
“What?” she asks, rushing to him to look over his shoulder. “Did you read it?” Brynjolf can hear the suspicion laced into her voice. Oh yeah, there’s still that between them.
He shakes his head. "No, I did not."
She studies him for a moment, then holds out her hand. “Give it to me.”
He hands it over and takes the pack, transferring his pile while she reads. “Anything good?” he asks, turning back to the drawers. He’s only gone through half of them. “Mine was disappointing.”
It takes her a while to answer, but he hardly notices as he continues to search and grab as quickly as he can. Mercer will be more than pleased with all this. Brynjolf only hopes other dossiers are more informative than his own was. Some of them are thicker than others.
“How do they know all this?” Krosa asks, and Brynjolf stops rifling to look up at her. The startled look on her face unsettles him. He’s about to ask what they have on her, before clamping his mouth shut.
"They have spies everywhere," he says instead.
Krosa tucks it away slowly, eyes unfocused and far away. She grabs a paper and pen from the desk.
“What are you doing, lass?”
“Giving you a list of names. I’ll keep watch.” Brynjolf watches her for a moment, before turning back to the drawers. When she’s finished, she hands him the list and is out the door.
Something’s wrong. Krosa doesn’t know what it is but everything feels… off. Heightened, in a sense, leaving her feeling jittery. Her thoughts are slippery, her hands and feet tingly. She leaves Brynjolf to his treasure trove and makes her way further down the hall. The information the Thalmor have on her is troubling. She thought she was being careful: blending in, not standing out. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. It’s no wonder the Alik’r found her so quickly.
Krosa tries to reach out to the dragon. It’s been a while since she heard from him, and the fact that she was unable to draw power from him or the others for the Shout worries her. All her attempts are met with silence, but she can still feel them there. What are they doing?
A muffled cry echoes through the hall, and Krosa shakes it all off. Now is not the time to worry. She needs to focus. Delphine said that if Etienne was still alive, he’d be here, and it sounds like she’s coming up on the Thalmor’s dungeon.
Dirty is one word for it, as is gloomy. If Krosa had a larger vocabulary, she may be able to think of better words to describe it properly. The stench is the first thing to hit her, nearly making her lose the contents of her stomach. Voices can be heard, and Krosa sees shadows dancing on the wall as they come closer. She turns around and goes back to the office, reprimanding herself for getting distracted. Splitting up is the last thing they should do.
Brynjolf ushers her in when she appears at the door. “Can you do me a favor, lass?”
He digs into his shirt, and pulls out a handful of gold and silver necklaces. “Can you wear these?”
“Why?” Krosa asks, crossing her arms. He can’t be serious.
“They dig in when I wear the pack,” he says with a shrug.
“You can’t just leave them behind?”
“Why would I when there’s another option?”
“Fine. Whatever.” Brynjolf thanks her, then immediately sets to decorating her with the damned stuff. After the third necklace, she has to ask, “How much junk do you have stuffed in there?”
“I’ll show you later, lass. And it’s not junk , it's jewels.” When he’s finished he steps away and puts on the pack. “I hate to ask this, lass, but with these new developments, I have to. What are you here for?”
Krosa can see his point. “A possible prisoner,” she says, “and the dungeon isn’t far.”
“He may be dead.”
Delphine had also wanted information on Thalmor plots and plans; the woman was certain they’re somehow involved with Alduin’s return— or at least that's what she says. But Krosa's not sure if she believes Delphine; she doesn’t have an interest in doing so.
The information is likely back in the main building of the Embassy. Krosa forgot that was the reason why she was supposed to go through there in the first place. She hopes whatever Brynjolf found is enough information to keep Delphine happy.
“That’s all,” Krosa says, starting down the hall. Brynjolf follows close behind. This time when they reach the door to the dungeons, Krosa listens at the door before going through.
“Well. This place is dismal,” Brynjolf whispers, and Krosa nods in agreement. The place isn't very large— only a handful of cells lining both walls with a large iron door at the end of the room— but something’s not right. It takes her a moment to realize what. Krosa walks up and down the aisle.
"No one's here," Krosa says, ignoring the pounding in her head. Damn it, she sighs, hand running through her hair only to catch on one of the pins. "Do you think there's more areas or just the one?" she asks as she yanks the pin out and tosses it into one of the cells.
"I don't know. I would have thought that would be something you knew," he says, and Krosa doesn't like the look he gives her. "What does your prisoner look like?"
"I'm not sure." Krosa hoped knowing his name would be enough.
"Do you even have a plan?"
"Yes," Krosa says defensively, then relaxes a smidge. Brynjolf’s scrutiny is well deserved. "Kind of… at first." She can't remember most of it now.
The thought of even trying to come up with one makes her head spin. It takes all she can to stay standing, focused, and oriented. Her grip isn't as strong as it should be, and her stomach feels like it's flopping around. Whatever’s wrong with her seems to be growing worse. Should she say something or just hope for the best?
"Did you find all the names on the list I gave you?"
"Maybe we should leave." Krosa doesn't know what else to do. Brynjolf looks like he can't believe what he's hearing.
"Don't you think we should at least check behind that door, lass?" he asks, pointing to the door behind her. Oh yeah. The door.
"It's probably locked," she says, knowing it's a flimsy excuse.
He flashes a grin. "Lass, take a good look at who you're talking to."
Krosa stays silent, and Brynjolf says nothing more, and goes straight to the door. Krosa considers following him, but decides it's better to wait and watch for guards.
Several minutes go by, and just when Krosa is thinking about heading in, Brynjolf comes out with a skeleton of a man who is leaning heavily against him. The man’s arms are caked with dried blood coming from deep gouges on his wrist that look to be from shackles; his body was marred with scars clearly from tortured only.
"An old friend. He may not be who you're looking for, but he may know something."
"Can you tell me if there's a man named Etienne here?" Krosa asks and they both stare at her unblinking. "What?"
"He is Etienne, lass."
"Oh." That was easy .
Delphine can’t believe it. They have the lost, complete history of past Dragonborns. The book is big, tattered, and dusty. The Blades had a copy of it, but most of the pages were missing or unreadable and it was lost in persecution, as were so many things: her sister one of them.
Angi had been the keeper of their history, master of archery, and next in line to lead them. And she’d been only seventeen. Delphine had been twenty two and she was only ever the muscle, the enforcer, the brute. If only I was the one to die . Angi would have been better suited for all of this.
Delphine sighs, then opens the book, being as careful as she can. The papers crinkle slightly, and Delphine tries adjusting her grip.
This is not the original copy, nor is it a translation. I have taken what I remember from the original, information from other texts, and what I have found in my travels and compiled it together, trying to make it as complete as possible. Nowhere else will information like this be found compiled together, I also have written down where I have found this information and where more information can be found. Accompanied with the information are my musings, and I hope you remember they are founded on a scholar’s mind for questioning and— aside from the information given— I know no more than you. I hope all this work does not go to waste. And while my name cannot accompany this work, I hope it brings honor to me with it’s truth.
Delphine knows the handwriting. It belongs to Esbern, and considering the state of the book it’s either decades old or has been through quite a bit of rough travels. Delphine did remember him constantly working on something that he would never speak of. The next page is the Table of Contents, and Delphine baulks at all he has.
Prophecy of the Last Dragonborn………………....3
The Dragonborn Legacy...…………………………...12
The Question of Mankar Camoran……………….21
Disproving the Nereveraine………………………...52
The Dragon Empire……………………………..…...56
The Cyrodillic Dynasty……………………………...91
The Heirs of Dragonfire…………………………….123
The Slave Queen Alessia……………………………134
The Controversy of Olaf One-Eye………………..146
Wulfharth, Dragon of the North………………….169
Miraak and The Three Tongues …………………..188
Delphine doesn’t sleep that night, but she still doesn’t get far in her reading. The amount of information in so few pages is astounding, but what really gets her mind turning are Esbern’s musings. He believed there is a difference between Dragonborns— those chosen by Akatosh, and those born from the chosen. Blood vs soul.
Those born with Dragonborn blood are far weaker than those chosen by Akatosh himself, and as the generations go by, the weaker that blood gets until it’s nothing more than a title to hold. None are capable of a true Dragonborn’s purpose: killing dragons and absorbing their souls, thereby inheriting their power. While those chosen by Akatosh have the soul of a dragon within them, it is unknown whether prominent figures in history carried that ability since it was untested.
And that’s not all. Delphine rereads the paragraph that has kept her from going on.
“If it’s true that Akatosh can choose whom he pleases, is it possible to choose more than one? If the Last Dragonborn happens to fail at their purpose, can another be chosen to take their place? After all, The Last Dragonborn is only needed because of the failure of the First, if my information is correct. It may be possible that the Last Dragonborn refers to the one who will defeat Alduin, not the first blessed with the ability to do so. An interesting line of thought, but—”
A thunderous rumble ricochets throughout the room; the candles clatter onto the table in kind, some falling off the table. Delphine jumps out of her chair, quickly righting them all and putting out the flames. Shouts can be heard from beyond the door, and heavy, armored footsteps clang up the stairs. What is going on? Whatever it is, is it better to go find out or stay and maybe even hide?
“You know, lass, that wasn’t nearly as exciting as I thought it would be… well, save for our little outdoor excursion.” Brynjolf was happy to see that there was, at least, an escape plan. At first, he was a bit wary of trusting a random cart driver, but Krosa assured him that the driver was previously chosen and had already accepted the job.
“That means we did good… Despite a few poor choices.” And poor planning, Brynjolf thinks, but he won't hold that against her. He can tell there's something troubling her. There has been the whole night, and Brynjof has grown more confident that it's not whatever is between them. He just wishes she'd let him know what it was.
“Yeah, but… you know,” Brynjolf says with a shrug.
“What did you think was going to happen?”
“A fight to be honest, or a daring escape at the very least,” Brynjolf admits, and Krosa crosses her arms as she leans back in the seat, eyes closing.
“There was a fight. And we’re no longer there, so technically we escaped.”
“Both were easily handled. They don’t count.”
“Sorry it was so disappointing for you. Next time I’ll be less competent for your enjoyment.” Brynjolf assumes she was trying to sound playful, but there’s a tinge of annoyance in her tone.
“That would be greatly appreciated, lass,” he says, hoping things aren’t going to get awkward between them again.
“What is wrong with you two?” Etienne asks, causing them both to flinch.
"Well, she's terrible at planning and I am a good-for-nothing thief," he says, lightly, looking to see Krosa’s reaction. The lanterns on the cart sway in the breeze, making it harder to get a good look, and her face is always half in shadow. Her eyes are closed, brows furrowed, and a frown stains her face. Maybe she’s just tired, Brynjolf thinks, or hungry. Brynjolf knows he’s both of those things. Krosa’s attempt at going after the food makes even more sense to him now.
Time passes slowly, and soon Etienne falls asleep. It’s hard to tell if Krosa is asleep or not, but Brynjolf assumes not. Her body seems too rigid. She opens her eyes suddenly, and for a moment Brynjolf thinks she’s going to reprimand him for staring.
“I didn’t want to go in there again.”
Brynjolf blinks. “What?”
“And I hated that dress.” Oh.
“Please tell me you’re joking,” Brynjolf says, wondering why in the world she’d risk the job and their lives for that. While her dislike for social gatherings is prevalent, it’s still not reason enough in his opinion. And there was nothing wrong with the dress.
“I wish I was,” she says, cringing. “I— I think I was panicking— You gave me the easiest way out. And I’m sorry for acting so… weird the whole time. I don’t know what was wrong with me. I just—I didn’t feel like myself. I guess I still don’t.”
“I’m not going to lie, I was thrown off a bit—” She grimaces, and Brynjolf starts to worry. Is there an injury he doesn’t know about? “Lass, are you—”
“I don’t know. I think—” Her hand falls to her stomach, and her face turns sour. She tells the driver suddenly, “Stop the cart.”
“I said stop the—” she starts, but turns and vomits over the side, the driver slowly moving to a stop. Brynjolf leaps out of his seat to help her out. Her body shudders as another wave hits her. When she stops, Krosa tears off one of her gauntlets to wipe her mouth with her sleeve. There really is no saving that dress now. She doesn’t take her eyes off the snow, and Brynjolf follows her gaze.
“Is that… blood?"
"You said she was going to be here,” Elenwen says, closing in on the elf. She hates when people fail to cooperate— but even worse, she hates being betrayed. And this one betrayed her twice.
"She was!” the elf cries, tugging at his restraints. “I talked to her in Solitude just this morning!" Elenwen frowns, wondering if it’s about time to start the torture. She hasn’t gotten that far into the interrogation, but she’s in a mood. And she hates Bosmer. They’re sniveling, good for nothing, ugly, second-rate elves marred by their lack of decorum and civil society.
"No one came in or approached the bar with the description you gave, and no one has so much as fainted or vomitted,” she says, wondering just how she’ll make him scream. “The poison should have worked by now." The poison was expensive too, but she’d thought it would be worth the expense.
He shakes his head as she picks up a potion— one of her favorites. "I swear I gave it to her, please believe—” Someone barges in through the door, and Elenwen spins around.
"I'm in the middle of something," she spits out, but the guard is undeterred.
"Someone got through to the dungeons. Several guards are dead," he says through panting breaths. Elenwen straightens.
"And the prisoner?”
"How did she get through?" she asks, pacing. They had this night planned to the last detail. The whole party was just to lure the damned Blade and Dragonborn. It took everything she had to convince her superiors it would be worth the expense.
"She must have found another way in,” the guard says, straightening after catching his breath. “All guards in the main building are fine and reported no suspicious activity.”
"I didn't tell her anything, I swear!” the wood elf cries from the chair, and Elenwen rolls her eyes. She puts the bottle down, and turns to leave the room, locking him inside the darkness. She has more important matters to attend to.
"Have any carts left the premises?" she asks the guard as they make their way to the courtyard.
"One. I've already sent a team after it."