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Target Practice

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Angi thinks she’ll never train another archer. Not after the Dovahkiin has come, and gone, and saved the world—after you’ve trained the best to be the best, the bow is a little heavier in the hand, the arrows a little more crooked in flight.

Still, she puts the targets up in the morning and paces out the distances to mark lines in the dirt. Sights down an imaginary enemy and pretends to nock, draw, and release. Going through the motions. Doesn’t look at her quiver hanging behind the door. She puts the targets away at night so the straw won’t get wet and rot. She feels like sodden straw sometimes herself; chalks it up to getting older. Sadder, maybe, too.

Angi goes hunting about once a week; it’s just about the only time she strings her bow and checks the fletching on her arrows anymore. She hunts rabbits, mostly. It’s not worth it to drag home a deer without the Dovahkiin around to devour it. She had her suspicions about that one, especially some nights when one moon or the other was full.

One day a new girl, a Redguard, climbs up the mountain to her camp. She’s not alone, like the Dovahkiin was; she scrambles up over rocks with a panting dog at her side and a hooded woman treading more softly behind her.

“This isn’t right,” the girl says to her companion. She sits down abruptly in the rocks and wipes sweat from her face. “I don’t think we were supposed to climb up this far.” She looks around. “And I don’t think the glade would be so close to someone’s house.”

“Are you lost?” Angi calls down to them. She won’t admit it to herself now or ever, really, but she hasn’t liked being alone since the Dovahkiin left.

The Redguard gets back to her feet. “Who are you?” Her hands glow—a mage, then, not anyone Angi wants or needs to know.

“Name’s Angi.” She glances pointedly at the girl’s hands. “And if you try anything stupid I won't hesitate to put an arrow in your head.”

The girl’s companion laughs then, just loud enough for hearing. But the Redguard ignores her.

“You’re Angi?” she says. “Oh, wow. It’s an honor.”

Angi’s not sure if the girl’s mocking her; she narrows her eyes. “How do you know who I am?”

The girl waves a hand. “The Dragonborn told me about you.” She unbuckles something strapped to her and swings it off her back—“She told me if I wanted to get serious about archery, to find you. But I got a little sidetracked.” She grins at her companion, who still doesn’t lower her hood.

The something in the Redguard’s hands, heavy, wooden, and deadly-looking—“What is that?”

“You like it? One of the Dawnguard researched how to build it.” She flips it over like it weighs nothing and offers Angi the butt end. “It’s a crossbow. The Dwemer used to make them.”

Angi looks it over without putting a hand on it. “It’s interesting,” she replies cautiously. “You wanted to learn archery from me? With this?”

“Well. I had a longbow before I joined the Dawnguard. But this is regulation issue, I guess.” She smiles; it’s an expression that’s all teeth, just the way the Dovahkiin used to smile. “I haven’t told you who we are, have I?”

“No.” Angi is wary again.

“I’m Thandiwe, and this is Serana, and that noisy fellow down there is Sceolang.” Thandiwe shrugs when Angi gives her a baffled look. “I didn’t name him.”

Sceolang barks. Wags and lolls out his tongue. Angi absently reaches down and scratches his head.

“You want me to train you? To use that?”

Thandiwe turns to Serana. “I think we have some time, don’t we?”

Serana shrugs, and for a second Angi sees the sunlight catch in her unnatural eyes. “If you think it’s more important than what we were doing before,” she says pointedly.

Thandiwe has the grace to look abashed at that. “I guess not.” She turns back to Angi. “But I can come back and learn from you? When we’re finished saving the world?”

Angi laughs then, thinks that she must have done something to amuse the Divines, to keep having these world-shaking girls showing up on her doorstep. “All right. But I’ll need to study that—that crossbow of yours before I train you.”

“It’s a deal,” Thandiwe says happily. She bows—Angi is surprised at that, and oddly touched—and then they take their leave, heading back down the way they came.

Angi turns back to her cottage, and for the first time since her friend, the Dovahkiin left for Sovngarde, feels like perhaps she might actually take a little target practice.