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Lead Me Not into Temptation

Chapter Text

The ashen air blows dust into my lungs as I step off the ship. Gjalund, the Nord who gave me passage to this island, speaks to me as I start to walk down the dock--something about him hoping I can find out what is going on around here--but I pay him little mind. My foreign surroundings take up far too much of my attention for conversation.

It is early morning, and the rising sun paints the sky a yellow that seems almost unnatural. To the right, I can see a large edifice built with the Imperial architecture of Cyrodiil, but in front of me further back is a tiered building constructed of sloping lines that look almost like the shell of an insect. The grounds are coated in a grey ash, with a path forged through it to the town. The few trees that stand are dead and snapped in half, or layered in so much ash that they may as well be. Beyond everything and out into the sea, I can see the Red Mountain spraying its contents into the sky, unending.

I continue to walk down the dock, but before I am able to cross the boundary into the town, I am approached by a Dunmer wearing fine clothes. His stature is small, but I can tell by the way that he carries himself that he is high-ranking.

“I don't recognize you, so I'll assume this is your first visit to Raven Rock, outlander. State your intentions,” he says, placing himself in from of me to block my path.

Stopping to stand in front of him, I respond, “I'm looking for Miraak. Do you know him?”

“I . . . I'm unsure. I swear I know the name, but I cannot place it," he says slowly, his eyes nearly glazing over. His reaction is unnerving--trance-like.

“Can you tell me anything about him?” I ask.

"I don't think so. I'm not . . . The name has something to do with the Earth Stone, I think. But I'm not sure what," he says.

His facial expression remains far away, so I decide not to press any further on the subject, hoping that someone else in town will know where I can find this Earth Stone. “Why are you so suspicious of visitors?” I ask him.

"I have to be. As Second Councilor, the security of Raven Rock is my primary concern," the Dunmer says.

“I can assure you I am here with only the purest of intentions,” I say. “My name is Fjoara Ebonhand.”

“Adril Arano,” he says, and he steps slightly aside to let me pass.

“It has been a pleasure to meet you,” I tell him, smiling politely as I walk forward.

He only nods. "Just remember, Raven Rock is sovereign territory of House Redoran. This is Morrowind, not Skyrim. While you're here you will be expected to abide by our laws. We’re watching you."

Arano’s words are somewhat foreboding, but my sense of purpose remains unwavering. As I continue into the town, I realize how little of it there actually is. Three more of those insect-like structures form a semi-circle around a well in the center, but they are much smaller and look more like homes. A couple of these buildings have small shops set up out front, and there is a smithy in one of the low stone shacks that line the coast. The two Dunmer who tend their shops look presentable enough, but it is quite clear that this settlement lives in relative poverty. The remaining building has a guard standing at the door, and a sign that reads “The Retching Netch”. I haven’t the slightest idea of what a netch is, but I figure the building for a tavern and enter.

Once inside, I am met with a small horseshoe-shaped ground floor level with tables and benches lining the walls. Standing in front of the fireplace against the back wall is a Dunmer stirring food in a cooking pot. At my entrance, he turns around and welcomes me to the “cornerclub” before returning to his cooking. Sitting at a table in the corner nearest to him is another Dunmer who, by the looks of his armor, must be a mercenary. I opt not to speak with either of them and make my way down the wide set of stairs in the middle of the room that leads down into the rest of the interior. The room at the bottom is far more immense than what the building appears to be from the outside. The ceilings are vaulted with a network of supporting archways below and the furniture is so sparse that my footsteps echo in this cavern as I approach the bar. The Dunmer tending it looks up at me with surprise as if I am the first person he has seen all day, and it is then that I realize how empty the inn is.

"Welcome to the Retching Netch Cornerclub, home of the finest sujamma that will ever grace your lips," he says when I am near.

“Sujamma?” I ask as I take a seat at the bar.

“As if it wasn’t already apparent that you’re not from around here,” he says, producing a tankard from underneath the bar and pouring drink into it from one of the yellow clay jugs that sit on the counter. He slides it over to me. “An authentic Dunmer recipe, but with my own personal twist.”

I hold the mug up to my lips for a moment, getting a whiff of how potent the liquor is, but drink anyway. The taste is bitter in an earthy way but pleasantly warm as it slides down my throat. I set the tankard on the bar, pressing the back of my hand to my mouth so as not to shudder from the strength of the drink.

“This makes mead seem like cow’s milk,” I say after a moment. He laughs and moves to refill my mug, but I hold a hand out to stop him. “Unfortunately, I find myself on your island for business, not pleasure.”

He looks at me curiously. “What business could you possibly have on Solstheim, outlander?”

“I’m looking for Miraak,” I answer. “Can you tell me anything about him?”

The barkeep’s eyes fog over in the same way Arano’s did, and the similarity in their reactions to the name “Miraak” causes me to grow somewhat concerned. “The name is familiar, but I am not sure where from.”

“I had a feeling you would say that,” I respond. “What about the Earth Stone?”

Instantly, the life snaps back into his eyes. “Oh! The Earth Stone. It’s directly west of Raven Rock, just outside of town. I’m not sure what interest it would hold to someone who isn’t Skaal, though.”

“That’s what I’m trying to determine,” I say as I rise to my feet, setting a few septims on the counter. “Thank you for the drink and the information.”

"Safe travels, outlander," he says.

“It’s Fjoara,” I call behind me as I start up the stairs.

“Geldis,” he calls back.

When I reach the top landing, I notice that the Dunmer mercenary has moved to lean against the wall by the exit as if he were waiting for someone. I pay him no mind as his services are not needed. However, when I approach the door, he pushes himself off the wall and saunters over to me. I equip myself mentally to dismiss his pitch.

“I couldn’t help but overhear that you’re headed to the Earth Stone,” the mercenary says. “An interesting choice of tourist destination, outlander.”

“Well, if you had been listening properly, you would also know that I am here purely for business,” I say, looking him up and down once before lazily glancing away to emphasize my disinterest.

“I wouldn’t dare think anything else,” he says with the hint of a smile. "Teldryn Sero: the best swordsman in all Morrowind is at your service . . . for the right price.”

I pause for a moment as if in consideration. “And what might that be?”

“Five thousand septims,” he answers, the smile spreading to both sides of his mouth.

I let out a loud laugh, and I see the Dunmer at the fireplace startle at the sound of it. The grin on the face of this mercenary touches every feature now. He knows the game I’m playing at.

“For that price, I think I’ll go it alone,” I say, pointedly resting a hand on the pommel of my sword as if the beams of light radiating from its hilt didn’t already catch one’s eye. “That’s not to say I wasn’t capable of it to begin with.”

Teldryn humors me and drops his gaze to where my hand lays. “Is that . . . ?”

“Dawnbreaker? Indeed it is,” I respond, cutting him off before he could finish his sentence.

He appears to be genuinely taken aback at this and studies my face for a moment, a single eyebrow raised. “Who are you?”

“No one you will ever know,” I answer.

He shrugs. “My loss, I’m sure.”

“I might disagree,” I respond. “Now, if you’ll excuse me.”

Teldryn opens his mouth as if he were going to speak, so I pause before walking away to let him, but he just closes it and shakes his head before returning to his seat in the back of the room. At that, I finally leave the tavern and make my way to the Earth Stone.

Chapter Text

I hear the clang of hammers on stone before I see people. As I draw nearer still, a low, synchronized chanting reaches my ears. " Here in his shrine, that they have forgotten. Here do we toil, that we might remember. By night we reclaim, what by day was stolen . . .” When the Earth Stone, a massive shard of rock rising from the ground, comes into view, I discover a group of people building an unusual structure around the stone. It is composed of a series of pointed arches circling the stone, whose appearance is far more precise and harsh than the organic construction of Raven Rock and the stone itself. The sight of this alone would be enough to realize something was amiss had it not also been for the hypnotic state the workers seemed to be in--swinging their hammers and chanting in perfect rhythm.

When I reach the Earth Stone, I notice a Dunmer wizard standing a distance away from it observing the situation. He is evidently not compelled by the force of whatever is driving this construction, so I approach him in hopes of learning more.

"You there . . . You don't seem to be in quite the same state as the others here. Very interesting. May I ask what it is you're doing here?" he says, turning to me when I reach him.

“I'm looking for someone named Miraak,” I respond.

He thinks for a moment, appearing to grow frustrated as he tugs on his goatee. “Miraak . . . Miraak . . . It sounds familiar but I can’t quite place . . . ,” he says. His expression then suddenly lights up. “Oh. Wait. I recall. But that makes very little sense. Miraak's been dead for thousands of years."

“That cannot be. In Skyrim, a group of his cultists attempted to assassinate me, claiming that he is soon returning,” I say. “Then, I when I arrive here, no one can seem to tell me what’s going on, despite the fact those cultists were from Solstheim.”

“Fascinating. I hadn’t considered that Miraak could be the source of this strange behavior,” the wizard says. “I'm afraid I can't give you any answers. But there are ruins of an ancient temple of Miraak's toward the center of the island. If I were you, I'd look there.”

I nod. “Thank you for your help,” I say, reaching out to shake his hand. “My name’s Fjoara.”

“I am Master Neloth of House Telvanni,” he responds, reluctantly returning the gesture with an air of slight distaste. The tone in which he announces this suggests importance in the title, but I am ignorant to what it means.

I bid him farewell, and return to Raven Rock. The day has grown old, and I decide I best retire for the evening. It would be unwise to travel across foreign land in the darkness where I could be ambushed by threats. At home in Skyrim, nighttime does not halt my travel, but that is only because I know the roads and regions to their fullest extent. Besides, I am curious to learn more about the history of this island—perhaps I can gain insight into Miraak and his presence here, past or present.

As it is now nearing evening, people have closed up their shops, and the only people left outside are the guards. Although when I enter The Retching Netch, I find it scarcely more populated than it was this afternoon. There are are a few people on the first floor, but they look to only be poor miners, so I cannot imagine they would have much to say. I walk downstairs and am met with an equally vacant room; it is only Geldis, his worker, the mercenary, another collective of miners, and the Breton who was tending the smithy earlier. I decide to approach him, greeting him and asking if I can have a seat in the empty chair at his table. When he grants me permission, I practically fall into the seat with exhaustion. I pull off my gauntlets and set my sword next to me against the wall. My travels have finally managed to catch up to my body, and it is a relief to rest.

“You look just as out of place here as I do,” I say to him. “What brings a Breton to Raven Rock?”

He laughs. "A fine question, and the one that I hear most often from visitors to our town. I wish I had a more romantic tale to tell, but I was simply seeking my fortune and chose Raven Rock to ply my trade. Besides, knowing how to repair bonemold armor wasn't very useful in Riften."

“Who taught you that?” I ask.

"I had a friend over there, a dark elf named Vanryth... a very talented armorsmith. Spent a lot of time with the guy swapping smithing techniques. Learned a heck of a lot, including how to repair bonemold. After he moved on to greener pastures, I decided to pack up, move out here and put those lessons to the test. Been here ever since," he says.

“How long has that been?” I ask.

He thinks for a moment. “Must be about a decade now.”

“Do you know much about this island, then?” I ask.

“A fair amount, sure.”

“What about someone named Miraak?”

His eyes cloud in the same way everyone else’s had, and I sigh with disappointment, telling him to forget that I asked. This will likely be the last time I attempt to ask anyone this question. I am probably better off visiting the temple the Dunmer wizard told me about and uncovering for myself what may lie there.
At that moment, the tavern worker brings a drink over and walks away without saying anything. I look around the room to find out who gave it to me, and am not surprised when my eyes land on Teldryn to see that he is smiling, holding his own drink up in my direction. My present company follows my gaze and chuckles when he discovers who I am looking at.

“Already managed to find yourself an admirer in the short time you’ve been here?” he asks.

“No, he just wants my patronage,” I reply, picking up the mug and taking a swig. I am expecting the harshness of sujamma, but am instead met with the familiar honey taste of mead. I am surprised by his consideration.

“Teldryn is a very capable spellsword. He’d be a strong ally to have watching your back,” he says. “Been a while since he’s had an employer.”

“Likely because his fee is quite high,” I respond, returning my attention back to the table. 

The Breton nods. “But worth every copper from what I’ve heard.”

I still can think of no compelling reason to hire him other than it is better his death than my own, should it come to that. Perhaps that is reason enough. It is also quite apparent that Solstheim is very much different from Skyrim, and it could serve me well to have a guide to cut down on the time I have to spend wandering lost. Still, I cannot justify the price he wants me to pay for his services.

“You’ve piqued my interest,” I tell him. “Besides, I should thank him for the drink.”

“Of course,” he says. “The name’s Glover Mallory, by the way.”

“Any relation to Delvin Mallory?” I ask as I stand up, retrieving my sword and gauntlets.

“Yeah, he’s my brother.”

“Ah. He’s a good friend of mine. We do a lot of business together,” I respond, smiling in a way that should indicate everything else I cannot say. Glover returns that smile, and I know he understands.

“Give him my regards next time you see him,” he says, and I assure him I will. We part ways, and I walk to Teldryn’s table, wordlessly taking a seat next to him.

“So nice of you to join me,” Teldryn says, looking quite pleased.

“Glover told me a bit about you,” I say without acknowledgment.

“All good things, I presume?” he asks.

“I’m willing to make a deal with you,” I say, ignoring him again.

“What do you have in mind?” he asks, suddenly growing serious.

“2,000 septims, and twenty-five percent of anything paid to me while you are in my service,” I respond.

“Less than half my price,” Teldryn says, and I can hear in his voice that he is more entertained than insulted. “A very . . . tempting offer.”

“Tell me about your last patron,” I say while he rather dramatically mulls it over. “How long might it have been since you had one?”

At this, he looks quite perturbed, so it is clear I finally struck a nerve. “I can’t help that Solstheim is not the most prosperous place to work in.”

“Right, and now I am offering you work,” I say as I rise to my feet, gathering my belongings. “If you decide to come with me, we leave first thing in the morning. I hope to see you then.”

He says nothing as I leave the table and find Geldis to purchase lodging for the night. Once I pay him, he leads me to my room and leaves me to my own accord, wishing me a good night. I place my sword in the weapon rack by the door then go about removing my armor, afterward putting on the tunic for sleeping that I carry with me in my backpack. Once I am settled, I sit down in bed and write in my journal, recounting the day. When I am finished, I set it aside and lay down to rest.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

I awake in the morning from fitful sleep. There is much that weighs on me because of the path I was given to follow, and at times my mind will not quiet. I came to Solstheim in seek of momentary reprieve of what I must eventually face in Skyrim but the guilt becomes heavier with every second I am away. I know of the danger I am putting so many people’s lives in, but I know there are destructive forces I must also contend with here. I am only one person, and it often seems I am pulled in many directions that I cannot possibly fulfill at one time. The pull of my destiny is always strong enough to overcome the storm in my mind, though this battle is a frequent one. When I see Dawnbreaker beaconing to me from across the room, I am reminded of my strength and everything I have already accomplished. Eventually, I rise out of bed and begin my day.


A short time later I leave my room, armored and ready to face whatever lies ahead today. It is still so early in the morning that when I enter the common area, no one is there. No one, that is, except for Teldryn. He sits at a table pulling apart a hunk of bread, and looks over at me as I approach. When I am at the table, I set the coin purse containing his payment down in front of him.


“Good morning,” he says, taking the coin and tucking it away into the backpack on his chair. “Where are we headed?”


“Miraak’s temple,” I respond, waiting to see if he gives me the same response to the name as the others did, but the sharp features of his face instead show recognition.


“I know where that is,” he says.


“What do you know of Miraak?” I ask, my voice rising with excitement at the fact he’s able to speak to me about this.

“The same as you: very little.”


“Then how do you know about the temple?”


“When I arrived here last year, all of this-” he waves his hand in the air “-had long been happening. I had a lot of time on my hands, so I tried to investigate. Nothing came of it.”


“Is your late arrival the reason you have not been affected the same way?”


“Perhaps, but I think it’s much more than that. There are others who aren’t affected, but the numbers are very few.”


“Why did you fail to tell me these things yesterday if you knew this is what I was after?” I ask, crossing my arms.


At this, he smirks in the way I have begun to associate with his inflated sense of self. “I would’ve, had you just asked.”


I huff and walk away from him. “I need to eat, then we leave.”


By this time, Geldis has awoken and taken his place at the bar. I greet him and order a light meal then take a seat on one of the stools to wait as he goes into the kitchen. A moment later, he brings me a plate with a piece of bread and a small jar of honey on the side. My stomach sinks with disappointment at the offerings, but before I can say anything, I see him looking behind me curiously at Teldryn.


“Odd for him to be awake this early in the morning,” Geldis says in a low voice. “It’s rare to see him before midday sometimes.”


“He’s in my service now,” I tell him.


“I’m glad to hear that,” he says, smiling. “Perhaps it’ll raise his spirits some.”


“I wouldn’t be so sure. My life path often leads me to dangerous places,” I say, spreading the honey on my bread. “My last two followers could not undertake the challenge.”


“He might surprise you.”


I shrug. “I’m willing to give him the chance.”


After this brief exchange, Geldis leaves to tend to other things in the tavern. I finish my breakfast quickly, but still feel hungry. The food here clearly leaves something to be desired, but I suppose I should have known it would be based on the arid environment that surrounds me. It would be unreasonable to expect the quality of food I am accustomed to in Skyrim, especially having lived wealthily in the city of Solitude most of my life. Still, I find myself craving the more lavish offerings of the Blue Palace.


I neaten my plate for Geldis to collect, then return to Teldryn who still sits where I left him. He looks tired, which worries me, but I hope that once we get moving he will become more alert. He barely acknowledges me when I approach him, only slightly tilts his head in my direction as he continues to stare off into the space in front of him. I take the chair across the table and attempt to catch his gaze, but am unable to.


“Are you absolutely certain you are up for the job?” I ask. “It would be a shame for you to get yourself killed on the first day.”


“What?” he asks, and when he finally meets my eyes, the light floods back into his own.
“I asked if you’re sure you can handle yourself.”


He furrows his brow. “Of course. Are we ready to get going?”


“I am if you are.”


“Then let’s be off,” Teldryn says as he stands up, straps his sword in its scabbard to his waist, pulls his gauntlets on, and picks up the odd-looking goggled helm that sits on the table, tucking it under his arm. Lastly, he grabs his backpack and slings it over his shoulders. I prepare my own weapon and armor, and we finally leave the tavern.


The dawn’s air is surprisingly cold, and I am suddenly regretful I only brought steel plate for this journey. Without saying so, I decide to let Teldryn take the lead as he presumably knows the route we are taking. He takes us out to the edge of town on the side of the Imperial-built stone wall where we pause and he turns to look at me.


“Do you have anything to cover your face?” he asks.


“No, I don’t usually wear a helmet, only a fur hood when it is cold. My circlet is enchanted,” I say, reaching up to touch it briefly. I decide not to clarify that it is actually the Aetherial Crown and that an unfathomable magicka flows through it. Teldryn looks up at it, then me, and shakes his head, muttering something like “you incompetent Nord n’wahs” under his breath, which I pretend not to hear. I don’t know what an “n’wah” is, but it certainly is not a compliment. “Why do you ask?”


“In Skyrim, you have snow storms. In southern Solstheim, we have ash storms. Difference is, snow melts when it gets into your eyes and nose. Ash does not,” he says, dropping his pack to the ground and bending down to root around in it for something. At last, he pulls out what he was looking for: a worn piece of red fabric. Much to my dismay, he hands it to me. He cannot possibly be asking me to put this near my face.


When he senses my distaste, he sighs, reaching for my arm and placing the face-cover in my hand before I can protest. “It’s clean, just old. Put it on underneath your hood.”


Reluctantly, I fasten it around my head just below my eyes. It does indeed smell clean, so my confidence is restored. I then retrieve my hood from my pack and put it on, tidying up my long, dark braid inside of it.


Teldryn looks at the rest of my condition as I do so, then closes up his backpack and puts it back on. He pulls his helmet on over his head, peering at me through its small, circular goggles. It really is quite unusual in appearance, almost like a skull, but one of a very strange and otherworldly creature. “Your armor should be sufficient, but you ought to consider better head-protection. You’re not in Skyrim anymore, outlander.”


I grimace in annoyance. “You’ll call me only by my name while you serve me.”


“Sure thing, friend,” he says with a smile casually thrown back at me as he begins to walk forward, resuming his earlier path.

Chapter Text

We travel without making conversation. Teldryn lingers a few steps behind me, as is his duty as a mercenary, but close enough that I can still sense the direction he’s taking in our route. He walks with a sense of ease, but I keep my left hand on the verge of readying a destruction spell. The landscape I saw yesterday with my arrival is even more alien in its untamed form. The skeletons of dead trees litter the rocky, ash-coated hillside, and there is not even the slightest hint of greenery to be found. The only flora that seems to be alive is the hardy brown grass underfoot at times, and a few variations of wiry, spiny plants. I do not like the looks of this place, and it puts me on edge.

Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of massive tentacles dangling from the sky. My breath catches in my throat, and in one fluid motion, I draw my sword and form a fireball in my hand, ready to lunge forward and attack. However, I am yanked backward by my knapsack and nearly fall to the ground from the force of it.

“Fjoara! What in Oblivion are you doing!” Teldryn hisses near my ear as he steadies me on my feet from his sudden pull. “Those are netch--harmless unless provoked!

It is then that I receive a full look at what frightened me so severely. They have clustered in a group of three--two adults and an offspring. Their shape is a large oval with a thinner tail--or perhaps head, though they have no discernible face--protruding from it on one end. On top is a scaled tan shell, and their fleshy bellies and multiple tentacles are a glowing blue. They hang suspended in the air, bobbing gently and emitting a docile pulsating bellow. Though they are great in size, it is clear that they are no danger, and I am embarrassed by my overreaction. I sheath my sword and diminish my flame, saying nothing as I resume walking.

We continue for a few more hours, still ever silent. Our path takes us on an almost continuous incline and we are weighted with our armor, so it would be a waste of precious energy to speak. Fortunately, there are no threats posed to us, real or imagined, so we do not have to expend ourselves in defense either.

In the late afternoon, the ash wasteland starts to give way to snowy pine forests almost reminiscent of Skyrim. It brings me a feeling of peace, and I am grateful for this scenery in an otherwise arduous journey. However, my serenity is interrupted when we are met with the massive skeleton of a dragon resting half-submerged in the snow. This is a sight I am acquainted with, but when we walk past this skeleton, a few more appear in the distance. Then many more after that. Unease blooms in my stomach, and I stop suddenly to turn and look at Teldryn. I do not know what the expression of my face is, but he chuckles when he sees it.

“Not afraid, are we?” he asks, and though his face is obscured by his helmet, I can still sense the smirk he wears behind it. “The temple’s at the top of this next hill.”

His smugness is maddening. I turn around in a huff and continue walking forward. As we near the base of the hill, a set of wide stairs come into view, a familiar set of arches stretching over them. We make our way up, winding around the slope. I get my first glimpse of the temple itself about halfway. Even when seen from a far distance, the structure towers over the landscape, its own arches like daggers piercing the sky.

We arrive at the top a few minutes later, the temple looming over us. Teldryn pauses, and removes his helm, letting out a low whistle. He takes in his surroundings while I quietly stand behind him fiddling with my gauntlets. I try to ignore the sound of hammers pounding and the drone of chanting emitting from inside the temple walls.

“Astounding,” he says.

“What about it?” I ask.

“The last time I was here this was in ruins,” Teldryn responds.

“When was that?”

“Six months ago.”

I am shocked by the implausibility. A construction of this magnitude should have taken many years to complete, not mere months. The implications of this conjure deeper dread inside me. What otherworldly forces had reached their hand into Nirn?

“And that doesn’t worry you?” I ask, incredulous at his nonchalant attitude.  

“No, it’s actually quite fascinating,” he answers, grinning. “Are we ready to go inside?”

“If we must.”

Teldryn grins mischievously. “Lead on, then.”

Without hesitating, I approach the wooden scaffolding on the side of the temple and walk up to the top in a way that I hope comes off as confident. To compensate, I lengthen my strides so that he nearly has to jog to match my pace.

At times, I get the impression that Teldryn believes me to be a meek, foolish woman, and it aggravates me. Never have I been one to seek the approval of others, but there’s something about him that has me aspiring to gain his. Rightfully, he is the one who should be yearning for my praise. If Teldryn only knew who I am, he would realize his place as a lowly Dunmer sellsword. Yet, I somehow don’t desire to tell him. It’s almost as if I wish for him to make his own judgment of me without my title framing my choices. What is it about him that forces me to stifle my ego so that he might show his own?

When we reach the top, we watch everything unfolding in front of us. The temple itself is built like an arena with its characteristic arches circling the edges and stairs rolling down beneath them on all sides. In the center is a monolith closely resembling the Earth Stone. It is enclosed by more arches that form a dome inlaid with a ceiling which mimics that of an insect’s wing. Dispersed amongst all of this are dozens of emaciated workers swinging their hammers and chanting with the same inhuman consistency I witnessed yesterday. My instincts scream at me to flee from the danger that surely awaits us, but I quiet them and step to the bottom of the temple. Behind me, Teldryn readies his sword. Despite his earlier confidence, he is just as much on edge as I.

"You must fight against what is controlling you! We must leave this place! Ysra, can you hear me? You must leave this place!"

My ears pick up on this disturbance in the atmosphere and my eyes scan the area for its source. It is a woman’s voice, desperate and impassioned. In the corner of my vision, I catch a glimpse of bright orange hair and quickly look over. She is a Nordic warrior wearing a set of glistening carved armor. Hanging from her waist are two war axes, one similar to the style of her armor, and the other whose blade resembles opaque blue ice. She moves between people, pleading with them to awaken and come with her. Eventually, she notices us watching her and strides over to where we are.

"You there. Who are you? What brings you to this place?" she demands.

“I’m Fjoara,” I say, choosing only to respond to her first question.

“And I’m Teldryn,” my companion adds. “Who are you?”

"I am Frea of the Skaal."

I remember hearing this word--Skaal--mentioned by the tavern worker I spoke to yesterday. Perhaps it refers to a tribe or a settlement of some kind.

“What are you doing here?” I ask her.

“I am here to either free my people or avenge them.”

“What’s happening to them?” Teldryn asks, glancing around the temple. “The same thing is occurring in Raven Rock, as well.”

“I’m unsure. Something has taken control of most of the people of Solstheim. It makes them forget themselves, and work on these horrible creations that corrupt the Stones, the very land itself. My father Storn, the shaman, says Miraak has returned to Solstheim, but that is impossible," she answers.

“It must not be. This Miraak tried to have me killed,” I say. At this, Teldryn looks over to me for a moment in curiosity.

“Well, then you and I both have reason to seek retribution,” Frea says.

“There are many people who have attempted to take my life, but I am not a woman of vengeance,” I respond.

“Hm,” Teldryn mutters to himself. “Many people? Maybe you’re not as incompetent as I thought.”

Neither Frea nor I pay him any mind. “That is admirable of you,” she says.

I shrug. “My life leaves me no time to occupy myself with petty qualms.”

“Then what is it you are here for?” Frea asks.

“It’s not apparent to me yet. The only thing I am sure of is that I need to put a stop to it.”

"Then you and I both have reason to see what lies beneath us. There is nothing more I can do here. The Tree Stone and my friends are beyond my help for now." Frea says and starts to walk in the direction of the stone.

Chapter Text

From the center of the temple suddenly comes shouting and the flash of chain lightning. Obstructed by the Tree Stone and its enclosure, the spell makes contact with one of the workers, but I know that he was not the intended target. We are. In the time it takes for the worker to scream and crumple to the ground, I have unsheathed Dawnbreaker, and flames rage in my free hand. Seconds later, the sources of the attack come rushing out at us, their tentacle-like masks and scaled brown robes an all too recognizable sight for me. There are six of them and only three of us, but I am not afraid.

When they are near, my companions run forward to meet them, Frea with her two axes slicing through the air, and Teldryn encased in swirling flames, gold elven sword in his hand. For a moment, their advance distracts the cultists and leaves me unnoticed in the background. This gives me an opportunity for a ranged attack, but I know I have only one shot before it draws their attention to me. Clenching my hand as I concentrate my mana downward, I stretch my arm out in front of me and release a fireball at the cultist nearest to me. It collides with his head, and he falls.

The three that remain after Frea and Teldryn’s attack begin yelling angrily as they search for the origin of the fire. When their eyes land on me, they zero in on my position and charge towards me. As I watch them grow closer, my mind becomes frenzied with panic. I know that I cannot take on the three of them at once, and my companions are nowhere to be found. My normally comfortable armor suddenly becomes so constricting as shallow breaths wrack through me. They are almost near enough to attack me, but I am frozen where I stand.

My demise is now but fifteen feet away from me, daggers glistening at their sides, gloved hands charged blue with lightning. So close I can hear it crackling. I cannot look at anything else. Cannot hear anything else. The crackle is a horrible insect burrowing into my head.

Then everything is silent, and my body ignites from the inside.

My thu’um thunders through the temple, throwing back anyone who is in the path of it. Their bodies shatter against the walls as men and embrace ground as corpses. I watch this happen, relishing in the sound of bones snapping and flesh tearing. My eyes lap up the blood that spills on the stone. The strength lent to me by my dragonkin consumes the essence of my humanity, leaving me feeling like I might soar the clouds the way they do. When I am not within myself, time is discernible. This state could last seconds, or it could be hours, but it always ends. Too soon.

Echoes of my Voice snake in the air as I come to, and I now register the scene in front of me as devastation. The last fragments of sound finally dissipate to be replaced by the unaffected chanting of the workers I left alive. I sense Frea and Teldryn approaching from behind me, but I am forced to hold my position. The scorch of my dragonblood now antagonizes the inability of my mortal body to accommodate it, and it is all I can do to keep from dropping to my knees in pain. Never soon enough, this state too passes.

“I’m glad I wasn’t in the way of that,” Teldryn says, standing in front of me and removing his helmet. He starts to say something else, but Frea interrupts him as she approaches me as well.

“All-Maker preserve me. You are like him, aren’t you?” she demands, holding the blade of her blue war axe towards me, daring me to step closer.

I understand the question, but say nothing. The hostility in her voice is not unfamiliar. It is this response that often keeps me from what I just did.

“What does she mean?” Teldryn asks, looking back and forth between us.
Frea does not take her eyes off me. “As Dunmer, you are unfamiliar to Nordic legends. Your companion is what they call ‘Dragonborn’. She has the body of a mortal, but the soul and the blood of the dragon.”

Teldryn then looks into my face as well, but his red-hued eyes do not have the same harshness as Frea’s. Instead, they are inquisitive and almost…admiring. I meet his gaze for a moment, but the intensity of his stare makes me break my own. I remain silent.

“That sounds like quite the blessing,” he says after a moment, and my eyes flick back up to him in surprise at this response.

“Blessing?” Frea snaps. “Rather, an easily corruptible power. This Miraak whom we seek was the First Dragonborn. Instead of using his thu’um for good, he chose to serve the Daedric prince Herma-Mora. This choice was what severed Solstheim from the mainland of Tamriel.”

Teldryn laughs. “Nords really do have such absurd tales. That can’t be poss-,” he starts to say, but I interrupt him.

“Frea speaks the truth. I do believe myself to be Dragonborn, though I had not known of the treachery Miraak had committed until now,” I say to him then shift my attention to her. “But I assure you that my power is my own. I serve only myself and the innocent who depend on me. I’m here to put a stop to Miraak, whatever that may entail, not to follow in his footsteps.”

Frea starts to lower her weapon, but her eyes are still narrow slits of suspicion. “Perhaps this is the reason Miraak attempted to kill you.”

“Now knowing what I do, I’m inclined to believe so,” I say, reaching behind me to pull the note from my knapsack and handing it to her. “I retrieved this missive from the body of one of the cultists.”

With rapt attention, I watch her read, trying to avoid Teldryn as he attempts to bring my focus to him. Eventually, he gives up and speaks without having me look at him.

“This is quite the little detail to keep from me before I joined your service,” he says. “I had you pegged for the typical dungeon-diving adventurer, certainly not some sort of Nordic hero.”

At this, I whip around to stare him directly in the eye. “Never call me that. I didn’t ask for this burden.”

“Fair enough,” he says, holding his hands up to placate me. “All I’m saying is that a bit of forewarning would have been welcome. I would’ve adjusted my price.”

“Clearly, this is not something I go around touting,” I say, crossing my arms. “We already agreed on our terms. If you seek a better payment, you can find employment elsewhere.”

“No,” Teldryn says, his face breaking out in a grin. “I wouldn’t have charged you anything at all. This is the adventure of a lifetime.”

I pause for a moment, not having anticipated the enthusiasm he reacted with. Instead, when I look into his face, I can see that his excitement is earnest; in fact, he radiates it. His smile is wide and toothy, and he practically bounces on the balls of his feet—the picture of a child waiting with anticipation to open gifts on Saturalia. It’s almost as if he has suddenly been given renewed purpose in his life.

“Keep the coin,” I say, sighing. “I doubt I’ll keep you around very long anyway.”

Before he has a chance to respond, I turn to Frea who has been waiting for me to finish my conversation with Teldryn. Her weapon has been reholstered and remorse is written on her face as she hands the note back to me. I fold it into a small square and stuff it into an outside pocket of my pack.

“I have misjudged you. Forgive me,” she says, eyes downcast.

“Of course. No harm was done,” I respond.

“If you would permit me, I still wish to accompany you into the temple,” she says, her gaze moving to look for a moment at her incapacitated people.

“Yes. Your help is of value to me,” I tell her.

She gives a small smile of relief. “Thank you. Let us go, then.”

At that, I begin walking to the Tree Stone and into the structure that encloses it. I find that the ground slopes downward, spiraling around the stone to a door that leads inside the temple. Placing my hand on the cold, engraved steel, I glance behind me at my two companions. Teldryn nods and Frea smiles, both in encouragement. I take a deep breath and push the door open. It groans on its ancient hinges and a cloud of dust rushes forth at me, but I step inside.

Chapter Text

The door opens into a hallway that slants downward deeper into the temple. The torches dotting the walls wash over everything with a dim orange glow. When Frea closes the door behind her, usable light becomes scarce. I cast a spell of candlelight before proceeding further down the hallway. With the hall now saturated from the ball of light that hovers over my shoulder, two rooms on each side of the corridor come into view. I peer into the first entrance on my left to find a meeting room of some sort: a group of tables and chairs encircling a burning firepit in the center of the space. For a reason unbeknown to me, I decide to enter and take a seat in the largest chair at the head of the room. As I sit, my companions eventually make their way in as well.

“We should search these rooms for things that could be useful to us,” Frea suggests, looking at me curiously. Teldryn, silent at her side, looks at me too, but his expression is one of amusement. It’s then that I realize what it is I’m doing, and I immediately push myself out of the chair.

“Good idea,” I respond, occupying myself by digging through the dust and grime-covered shelves that line the back wall. Satisfied, Frea walks into the room that adjoins the one we’re in. When she is out of earshot, I sense Teldryn approaching me.

“Listen, Fjoara,” he begins, removing his helmet. I stop my search to look at him. “If your plans are different from what you told Frea, I need to know now.”

“What?” I ask, furrowing my brow. “What are you saying?”

“I don’t give a damn what you do, but I’d like to be informed of our next moves before I find myself in an…undesirable situation,” he says.

I scoff, now understanding what he is hinting at. “As I said earlier, I’m here to stop Miraak, not join him.”

I turn back to the shelves, crouching down to reach the bottom ones. There I find a dusty bottle of health potion which I uncork and hold to my nose. I cannot begin to imagine how old this bottle must be, but the syrupy liquid inside still smells sweet, so I put it into my knapsack. Gods only know what we might unearth within this temple.

When I rise back up, I find Teldryn leaning against one of the tables with his arms crossed, watching me. I return his stare, but find it difficult to interpret what he might be thinking. There is no outright hostility, though if I hadn’t known different from him, the steely demeanor he currently wears would certainly be taken as such. After a moment, he finally concedes.

“Just let me know,” he says as he leaves the room.

I make one last sweep, finding nothing, then walk back out into the corridor where Frea and him wait. I am certain that I hear them speaking to each other, but their conversation ends when they notice my presence. Suspicious but not wishing to cause tension within the group, I push the thought aside for now.

“I didn’t find anything,” I tell Frea, my eyes flicking over to Teldryn briefly.

“Ah, that’s a shame,” she responds, producing two small blue bottles from the satchel at her hip. She hands one to each of us. “I found only these, but the two of you should find them useful. I believe they restore magicka.”

I look down at the bottle, watching the faintly glowing blue liquid slosh around as I turn it over in my hand. My stomach tightens with guilt at her selflessness despite the fact I know she has no use for the potions. “Thank you,” I say, forcing myself to meet her eyes. Teldryn thanks her as well, and she smiles as she waves away our gratitude.

“Shall we proceed?” Frea asks.

“Ready when you are,” Teldryn says, his eagerness from earlier now returning.

Their attention falls then to me as if awaiting permission. Hiding my weariness at the thought of having to lead other people, I only nod and begin to follow the hall down to its bottom landing. There I find a door tucked into the weathered stone walls that was not visible from where we stood at the top. I stand in front of it, innately understanding that this door marks the true threshold between safety and the unknown. Having not realized just how long I have been standing here, someone places their hand on my shoulder. I startle from my stupor and whirl around only to be met with Frea’s kind face.

“We’re right behind you, Fjoara,” she says.

I shake the cobwebs out of my head. “Right. I’m sorry. Let’s go.”

Frea gives me a reassuring squeeze. Even through the steel of my armor, I can feel the strength of her grip. I relax slightly, reminding myself that she is a skilled warrior and that Teldryn can indeed handle himself as well. I also remind myself of my own capabilities, something that I seem to be forgetting with an increasing frequency, but I am unsure where the apprehension comes from. My fears sufficiently calmed, I pull the door open.

I step forward and my boot is received with a click as the ground seems to sink down one notch.

A pressure plate.

“Duck!” I shout, fabricating a ward spell in front of us. Barely a moment later, a swarm of darts dripping with poison comes pelting into the ward. My magicka is resilient enough to hold them off, and they rain to the ground after making contact. The assault lasts all of seconds, but adrenaline now rushes through my veins. When I am certain it is over, I release my spell and stand. From behind me, Teldryn begins laughing, though I fail to find anything humorous about the situation. I then hear Frea scold him with motherly disapproval and he immediately ceases.

Delicately stepping off the pressure place, I cast another spell of candlelight so I can better see any others that might be in the vicinity. There are none as far as I can tell, but I was still a fool to have gone forth without adequate lighting in the first place. I continue down the narrow corridor, this time with careful steps. Eventually, we approach a turn and the sound of voices floats our way. I slide into a crouch, holding a hand out behind me so that Frea and Teldryn know to stop walking. I reach up and snuff my light before moving forward to peer around the corner. Ahead is a guards’ room of sorts with a firepit and two cultists sitting down at a table eating. One of them has their back to me and the other faces in my direction, but I’m shrouded by the shadows where I stand. This should be a quick disposal.

I back away from the corner and straighten back up, motioning for my companions to come nearer. “There are two of them. One has their back to us, and the other faces us. I’ll take the one who faces away from back here. Teldryn, you may have to attack from a slightly closer range, but you should be able to get the other one with ease. Frea, follow closely behind in anticipation of any others who might appear. Our aim is stealth,” I whisper, and they nod with understanding.

I turn back to the corner and close my eyes to concentrate on imbuing my mana pool with ice. My fire spells would be far too destructive for this deed, so I must make a return to my Nordic heritage. My hand soon holds a blizzard, the coldness, brisk and invigorating, extending up my arm. I close my hand around it and start to walk into the path that leads to my oblivious target. Teldryn then comes to stand next to me, and Frea in back of us. Teldryn and I lock eyes. He smiles, waving his hand with a flourish as if to say “they’re all yours.

I look back to the cultists and bring my clenched fist out in front of me, aligning it in the middle of his head. In the seconds it takes for me to release my icy spear and lodge it in the back of his skull, Teldryn steps forward and aims a fireball at our other enemy. His flesh puckers then melts, and he falls forward onto his plate of food. It is over almost as soon as it started, and with barely a sound. Unfortunately, I am not inclined to believe that future encounters will always be as such.

We walk into the room where the cultists now lay dead. Blood pools over the table where their heads fell, but their robes are left clean and their masks sit on the floor at their feet. As I notice this, I am struck suddenly with a new course of action.

I turn to Frea and Teldryn. “How opposed might the two of you be to putting on these robes?”

Frea looks at me with confusion, but Teldryn grins. “Planning a bit of infiltration, eh, outlander?” he asks. “I like where your head's at.”

“Need I remind you what I told you earlier?” I reply coolly. His smile falters for a moment before shifting into one of gleeful defiance.

“I am not quite understanding what you mean, Fjoara,” Frea says. “Please elaborate.”

“These people believe me to be this ‘False Dragonborn’, and they might be seeking my capture. If you and Teldryn were to don their attire and make it seem as if you have done so then I’m certain we could get quite far into the temple. Most importantly, with minimal bloodshed.”

Frea nods. “I like the sound of this plan, but I’m afraid I would not know how to make myself appear as one of them.”

“Leave it to me, Frea,” Teldryn says. “I have quite a bit of…shall we say…experience with maneuvers like this.”

“How so?” I ask.

“That’s for another time,” he answers. “Let’s get on with this.”

At that, we begin the difficult task of disrobing the men and then dragging their bodies into the hallway we entered from. Once we have their clothing, Teldryn leaves to find somewhere nearby to change, while Frea remains behind with me. I stand in front of the fire and look into it to offer her a bit of privacy while she gets ready. The warmth is well-received by my body and I start to feel much looser as some of my tension recedes. I’m surprised by how much of it I seemed to have been carrying with me. It is a small wonder I have even been able to function through this.

“How did you discover you are Dragonborn, Fjoara?” Frea asks after a few minutes of silence broken only by the rustle of her armor as she removes it.

“It’s quite a long story,” I respond.

“I would like to know.”

“I suppose I can tell it,” I say, as I sit down on the bench that overlooks the firepit in anticipation of how much this retelling will take out of me. I take a moment to gather my thoughts, then begin.

Chapter Text

“I heard a rumor that a dragon was slain a short ways away from my city. I had always thought dragons to be a myth, so I wanted to see this fabled being for myself. I was able to convince my father’s huntsman to bring me to it. As it became, his guidance was not needed for the closer we rode to the dragon, the stronger I felt this pull drawing me towards it. When we arrived at its corpse, a miraculous thing occurred. I can’t quite commit the experience to words, but it felt as if I had been given this dragon’s entire lifetime. All of his memories, his knowledge, everything. His flesh then burned away and what was once a body only moments before had now become a skeleton.”

“They say that the Dragonborn can absorb the soul of the fallen dragon,” Frea says. “Is that what occurred?”

“Yes, I believe so,” I respond. “When it was finished, the huntsman, a normally staunch and diplomatic man, looked as if he had just seen an incarnation of one of the nine Divines themselves. He rushed me back home and my family began their frantic search to determine what had just happened to me. Despite the fact that I could not yet name myself for what I am, I understood I was destined to become someone who served a purpose that transcends their life and being. I was terrified for my family and for myself, so I ran away from my home shortly after.

“I traveled to The Rift, the farthest possible hold from Haafingar, and fell into work with the Thieves Guild for a number of years. I flourished in my time there, and I never again heard word of any more dragons. One night, however, a dragon came very close to attacking Riften. The guard was able to take it down before damage was done to the city and nearby properties, but not without many casualties. When everything had settled, I stole away in the middle of the night to find the dragon. I felt the same pull guiding me and withstood the same experience of absorbing its soul. It was then that I accepted I could not hide from my fate any longer.”

“But you did not yet know who you were, correct?” Frea asks.

I shake my head. “I was just as lost as I had always been, if not more. The only place I believed might hold answers for me was the College of Winterhold, so I took a sabbatical from the Guild to make my way up there. I did not want them to know of my situation, so I enrolled as a student and studied to be mage while I did the research on my own. Maddeningly, my efforts kept falling short time after time, though it was not especially helpful that I hadn’t the language to describe my experience. Another year went by, and it was one fateful day when a new shipment of books arrived at the college. In it was a text entitled The Book of the Dragonborn. I needed not even read a single word of it to know that I was holding what I had been seeking. Not only did this book give me my name, but it also contained pages written in a language I had never seen before but was somehow able to read and understand.”

“The language of the dragons,” Frea murmurs.

“I knew immediately that these words must be spoken out loud, but something told me I must go elsewhere to do that. I rushed out of the library during the early hours of the morning wearing only my mage robes in the fatally cold air, to the edge of the Sea of Ghosts. To the water, I spoke the three words of a Shout first in the common tongue, and then when nothing happened, in that strange language. I felt my blood burn as I was overcome with a tremendous sense of power, and for a brief moment, I parted the ocean in front of me.”

“Is that what we saw earlier?” she asks.

“Yes. It’s known as Unrelenting Force,” I respond. I pause in my speaking and close my eyes, a sigh escaping my lips. “There was something so bittersweet about receiving this new knowledge. It’s a relief to at last know who I am, but I’m now burdened to fulfill a prophecy thousands of years old.”

“When misrule takes its place at the eight corners of the world, when the Brass Tower walks and Time is reshaped, when the thrice-blessed fail and the Red Tower trembles, when the Dragonborn Ruler loses his throne, and the White Tower falls, when the Snow Tower lies sundered, kingless, bleeding, the World-Eater wakes, and the Wheel turns upon the Last Dragonborn,” Frea recites. “Is this correct?”

“Indeed. However, the book failed to provide the meaning behind the prophecy, so I am unsure of what--or who--I am to face,” I say, then turn around to look at her. “But it does say that I’m the Last Dragonborn. It all is meant to end with me, and if I fail…”

“You have assistance, though, do you not?” she asks me, face even and somber.

“I have been alone in my ventures thus far, more by choice than anything else. No one except for you and Teldryn knows who I am, and I don’t wish for them to,” I answer. “I did not ask for this. I do not know why I was chosen. I have never even seen a dragon alive, much less slain one, and yet that appears what my sole purpose is meant to be. This is the worst fear I have ever known.”

I drop my head into my hands, holding it with my elbows on my legs. The fire’s heat can no longer quell the anxiety that rushes through me. The bench shifts as Frea sits down next to me and puts her hand on my back. It is all I can do to keep my tears from falling in her comforting presence.

“I’m here to help you now,” she says. “When we are done here, we can visit my father and seek his wisdom. He will know what to do.”

“Are we ready to…” Teldryn says, voice appearing suddenly, but it trails off when I assume he sees my current state. “What happened here?”

“Where have you been?” Frea snaps.

I lift my head to look at what’s going on. Teldryn stands in the doorway cloaked in the cultist’s robes, tentacled mask held at his side. His eyebrows are furrowed and his mouth slopes downward with concern. “I went to have a look around,” he answers.

Frea stands up, crossing her arms and glaring at him. “Without us? You-”

“No, it’s alright, Frea,” I say, gently interrupting her. I then stand up myself and turn to him. “What did you find?”

“Very few people are present here right now,” he responds. “I don’t forsee us having much trouble at all.”

I nod. “Good. I’m ready, then.”

While I wait as Teldryn takes Frea to show her where she can stash her gear, it occurs to me that if I am to pose as a prisoner, I should not have Dawnbreaker with me. I am confident enough in my skill with magic, so protection is not my concern, it’s that I cannot even fathom the idea of anything happening to her. This sword is the only tangible testament to my accomplishments, and what would be left of me if I were to lose it? When my companions return, I have unstrapped the scabbard containing it from my body and clutch it in my hands. They notice what I’ve done and look at me with confused expressions.

“Are you alright, Fjoara?” Frea asks.

“I don’t think I would have this on me if I were a prisoner,” I respond.

“You’re right,” Teldryn says. “Do you want me to put it with the rest of our things?”

“No,” I say tightly. “I want you to take it.”

“Me?” he asks, raising an eyebrow. “Are you sure?”

“Absolutely not,” I answer. “But Frea has her hands full already, so you’ll just have to do.”

He chuckles. “I so love your confidence in me.”

I hand Dawnbreaker to him and watch with a hawk’s eye as he straps it on the opposite side of his body from his own sword. It looks very out of place on him—the delicate lines and sunlight of its hilt clash against the unsightly brown robes—but it will have to do. If he is truthful in his claims of past experience with similar tasks like the one ahead of us, he should be capable of making the sword go unnoticed despite the attention that it calls.

“If you put so much as a scratch on it, you might find yourself with its blade embedded in your chest,” I tell him. “You are not to use it, only to keep it with you.”

“You don’t need to worry,” he says with the threat of a smile on his lips. “I’ll guard it with my life.”

I glare at him for another moment then look back over to Frea. “Are you ready to go?” I ask her.

“I am,” she says.

“One last thing, Fjoara,” Teldryn says. When I look to him I see that he holds a length of rope in his hands. “If we’re going to keep up the facade, well, then…” he glances down at the rope and back up at me.

A knot of fear twists in my stomach. How am I to defend myself if my hands are tied behind my back?

“Yes, of course,” I reply without hinting at my reservations. He comes over and secures my arms behind me. When he is finished, I can feel a looseness in the tie he did. So loose that it’s as if I could break out of my bindings if I wanted to.

“If you twist your arms in opposite directions from each other, you’ll be able to release yourself,” Teldryn says to me, confirming my suspicions. When I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding, he chuckles. “You didn’t actually think I’d leave you defenseless, eh, outlander?”

He looks at me with a childish grin, waiting for my reaction to his deliberate betrayal of my wishes. I consider for a moment correcting him again, but I realize there’s something about the use of this word for me that I like. Perhaps it’s the air of friendly informality, or the way he hasn’t stooped to lick my boots after he found out who I am.

Back home in Solitude, I had become so accustomed to the delicate and inauthentic manner in which I was treated by my father’s court, and even by those whom I considered to be my friends. The luxuries and privileges afforded to me by my father being High King of Skyrim were beyond the common people’s most outrageous fantasies, but there was always a part of me who would have discarded it all for the chance at a real connection with someone. To be loved and respected for who I am, not because of who my father is, and certainly not because I’m now destined to become some sort of hero.

At times, I believe I would be better off as the thief I once was, melting into the shadows, unknown to and unseen by anyone. It is so hard to accept that my fulfillment of these roles is unavoidable. I know I just ought to relinquish myself to them, but there are still times when I feel excruciatingly lonely. I hold out hope that Teldryn or Frea will become more than just someone else who does my bidding, but what strength do my own desires have against this fate which binds me to its predetermined path? If these brief moments of Frea’s grounding compassion and Teldryn’s good-natured taunting are all I’ll be allowed in this lifetime, then I’m grateful to have at least experienced that.

Chapter Text

“Who do we have here?” the sagely old Dunmer cultist asks.

Teldryn and Frea stand on either side of me gripping my upper arms, which are still bound behind my back. We were led to him by another cultist whom we came across as we made our way into the temple. He sits behind a desk in a large room decorated with what appear to be dragon bones and brimming with all sorts of different books. He also wears a more ornately designed robe than the others and does not have a mask, so it’s clear he holds a position of power. I wonder briefly if this is Miraak, but then remember the wizard from yesterday who seemed certain that he is still dead.

“We’ve captured the False Dragonborn, Fjoara Ebonhand,” Teldryn replies from behind the anonymity of his mask.

The cultist regards me silently, appraisingly. His gaze makes me uncomfortable, but I don’t allow myself to look away from him. I can sense Frea also growing tense by the way her grip on my arm tightens, but Teldryn seems completely unshaken by the presence before us.

“If I’m not mistaken, your orders were to eliminate her, not bring her back alive,” the cultist says in a level voice that hardly obscures the threat behind his words.

“Yes, forgive us, serjo. However, we determined that she would be a greater asset to us alive. She claims to have knowledge on Hermaeus Mora,” Teldryn responds smoothly, betraying no hint of his lie. He gives my arm a quick squeeze, prompting me to speak.

I look frantically around the room for a moment before my eyes snap to a pedestal in the back of the room that holds a decaying book with a grotesque mass of tentacles pictured on its cover. Even from this distance, there is an unsettling energy about it that chokes the air and permeates through me. I realize immediately that this book is what we came into the temple to seek. From my studies at Winterhold, I recall that one of the artifacts associated with Hermaeus Mora is a book of esoteric knowledge called the Oghma Infinium. There is no doubt in my mind that the book here is also of Hermaeus Mora, and I will do anything I need to get ahold of it.

“Yes,” I say. “I’ve read the Oghma Infinium.”

“Impossible,” the cultist says. “The Infinium hasn’t been seen since the Oblivion Crisis. You continue to spread falsities even as you stand before me.”

He’s correct on all accounts, but I must persist. “Only the select few are able to read the works of Hermaeus Mora. If you would allow me to look at the book you have here, then surely I could prove I am one of those few.”

He says nothing as his stare continues to pierce through me. I hold my ground as strongly as I’m able to, but my stomach churns as I remember one unfortunate fact: That attempts at reading the Oghma Infinium have caused insanity in the people who are not deemed worthy of its knowledge. All it takes is a moment’s glance at its pages. This book is likely no exception to that.

“Very well,” the cultist says after another minute of tense silence. “You may release her.”

As he makes his way to the back of the room to approach the book, my companions take their hands off of me. The two of them quietly exchange glances with each other, and I can feel their disapproval even without having to see their faces, but I ignore them. This has to be done.

“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” Teldryn whispers as he steps behind me to untie the rope.

When my arms are free, I stretch them out and roll my shoulders, readying myself for an attack should I need to make one. “If something goes wrong, take Frea and leave without me,” I murmur to him as I walk forward to the book, sensing their shared horror at this new command.

The part of me that has accepted this as the only way move forward in my mission fights against my instinct to attack the cultist while he is turned away from me. As I grow closer to the book, I fight to force the panic out of my mind. I’m quite certain I’ll be able to read it, but I still shudder at the thought of what I might see. I have never desired to meddle with the Daedra, but it seems I was naive to think I’d be able to avoid it. The cultist turns back towards me, his face devoid of any emotion.

The book is much larger and much more putrid than how it appeared from further away, its cover moldy and almost diseased-looking. The energy it gives off is also substantially more potent; the air is so thick here that it seems like I’m swimming through it. I can feel my body recoil as I place my hand on the cover, but I refuse to let myself remove it. The cultist is an ever-silent presence as he stands watching me. I pull the book open, and for a moment I can see a mirage of swirling patterns on its pages before a black mass of something swallows me and my vision grows dark.

Before I know it, my eyes fly open and I’m met with a sight unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. The sky rages green with electricity and piles of rotting books form towers that stretch so high that they disappear into the storm above. Beyond the platform on which I find myself stretches an endless black sea, tentacles reaching out of it. Apocrypha.

I try to rise to my feet, try to speak, but my body won’t respond to the commands. It’s as if I’m a shell of myself, paralyzed, comatose, but still aware. From the sky, I hear a beastly roar, and a dragon dips down to land on the ground in front of me. Before I am able to react to my first sight of a live dragon, I notice a figure step down from its back and approach me curiously as if my arrival was unexpected. As they draw closer to me, I see that they wear a set of armored robes and a mask contorted into the image of a monster out of a feverish nightmare. There is no one else this could be besides Miraak.

"Who are you to dare set foot here?” Miraak questions, sizing me up as I remain on my knees at his feet. “Ahh... You are Dovahkiin. I can feel it. And yet, you have never slain a dragon.” He laughs with cruel humor. “You have no idea of the true power a Dragonborn can wield! Mul...Qah Div!” He Shouts, and from his body materializes the form of a dragon’s natural armor, but translucent and glowing orange like embers.

“This realm is beyond you. You have no power here, and it is only a matter of time before Solstheim is also mine. I already control the minds of its people. Soon, they will finish building my temple, and I can return home.” At this, he turns on his heel and starts to return to his dragon. At the snap of his fingers, two massive creatures draped in tentacles appear and loom closer and closer. Defenseless and immobile, I can only watch as they cast some kind of magic over me.

“Send her back where she came from. She can await my arrival with the rest of Tamriel.” is the last thing I hear before darkness washes over me and I slip out of my body once again.

 

 

Chapter Text

“Why isn’t she isn’t waking up?” Teldryn’s garbled voice says from somewhere above me and I feel a comforting summer sun-like warmth spreading over me.

“Give her time,” Frea’s distant voice responds. “She’s recovering.”

The warmth caresses me again. I sigh at its touch and my eyes flutter open to see myself awash with golden light as Teldryn’s healing spell envelops me. It’s a welcome sight, but the safety of my present situation soon reminds me of the contrasting danger of where I was only moments ago. At the reemergence of this memory, my mind tries to reject it as reality, but it’s unsuccessful. Panic rises in my throat as I bolt upright from my supine position. At this movement, Teldryn and Frea rush to my side.

“Where am I...where am I...is it over?” I ask, my voice shaking between frantic breaths.

“Shh...you’re safe, Fjoara,” Frea murmurs, reaching out to take my hand. “You’re in my village now. We have been by your side the whole time.”

“Gods,” I sob. “I was in Apocrypha...I met Miraak.”

Frea kneels down beside me, and I let my head fall into her shoulder as I choke back my tears. She wraps her arm around me and we gently sway back and forth. If it weren’t for the overwhelming panic consuming my mind, I know I would be mortified at this outright display of vulnerability.

“Here, Frea, let me…” Teldryn says in a low voice as I hear him cast a spell. A blanket of tranquility falls over me, and I let out a deep sigh as my panic loosens its stronghold on me. I allow Frea to hold me for a moment longer before I pull away and straighten myself up, wiping my wet eyes.

I look around and take in my surroundings for the first time: we are in a small, modest home quite similar to ones in back in Skyrim--nothing like the strange insect shell homes of Raven Rock. My armor has been removed, leaving me in my underclothes, and I’m atop a bed that is covered in furs. Teldryn sits in a chair at the end of the bed while Frea sits in one at my side. The concern is etched into both of their faces, but Teldryn’s is layered with a kind of eagerness as he leans forward in his chair towards me.

“So, what happened to you in there?” he asks.

“Teldryn!” Frea snaps, turning to him. “Have some compassion.”

I cannot help but to laugh at the way their dynamic has taken shape; Teldryn, the tactless, excitable child, and Frea, the weary mother who constantly has to correct his poor social graces.

“See?” Teldryn says, motioning to my laughter. “I’m a halfway decent mage--she’s fine.”

I nod. “Teldryn’s right. I’m feeling much better now,” I say to Frea before answering him. “I was in Apocrypha. I met Miraak and saw a dragon.”

His eyes widen with genuine disbelief at my words. “You were really in Oblivion? What’s it li-,” he starts, but is interrupted by Frea.

“What did Miraak say to you?” she questions.

“He told me that he plans to make a return to Solstheim.”

“What could he possibly want from us?” Frea asks.

Teldryn shrugs. “Power, glory, revenge. To name a few.”

“I’m inclined to think power,” I respond. “After all, he’s enslaved most of the island already.”

“Did he mention when he might attempt to make this return?” Frea asks.

“Once the construction of his temple has been completed.”

“All-Maker preserve us,” she breathes. “So soon.”

“What’s our next move, then?” Teldryn asks us both.

“We will speak to my father in the morning. There is nothing more we can do tonight,” Frea responds. “For now, we should rest. Can I get you something to eat or drink, Fjoara?”

“Both, please,” I tell her. “Thank you.”

She nods and leaves for the main hall of her home. When she’s gone, Teldryn walks over to the fireplace in the corner of the room and tosses another log into it. Almost as if the fire reminds me of the surely frigid temperature outside, I pick up a fur from the bed and wrap it around my shoulders. My eyes drift to watch him as he prods the fire. The spell of Calm he used on me was incredibly effective--I cannot recall a time when I was as at ease as I am now. Eventually, he notices my gaze, and that smirk of his appears.

“Like what you see, outlander?” Teldryn asks. Indeed, he too has removed his armor, and I’m now able to catch a glimpse of his muscles stretching under the thin fabric of his clothing. For an elf, he really is quite easy on the eyes, and I soon find myself wondering what it might be like to bed him.

“You’re welcome to find out,” I hear him say somewhere in the midst of my reverie. “For a human, you really are quite . . .”

“What?!” I exclaim, the daydream evaporating from my mind before he’s able to finish his sentence.

His smirk takes on a devious edge. “That was a very strong spell I used on you. It often has the unfortunate--or fortunate--side effect of behaving like a truth serum.”

“Did I . . . say that out loud?” I gasp as I feel my face heat up.

“For what it’s worth, the feeling is mutual,” he responds.

I sit dumbfounded as I struggle to find the appropriate words to reply with, but blessedly Frea comes through the door before I have to. Teldryn meets my eye with subtle seductiveness coloring his expression before he looks away and returns to his chair. Frea sits back down on her own chair and passes me the tray of food she brought in: an appetizingly fragrant, hearty stew and a steaming mug of tea. I set the tray down on the bed in front of me and waste no time digging into the meal with nary a thanks to her as my famine overtakes me. She and Teldryn exchange light conversation as I eat, but I’m far too engrossed by my plight to wolf down the food to participate.

“Thank you, Frea. That was delicious,” I say when I finish eating, feeling full and content.

“Of course,” she replies, smiling as she stands up and takes the tray out of the room.

Ordinarily, I would have been mortified to be alone with Teldryn after what just occurred, but I still feel the effects of the spell, and it takes away any trace of anxiety I might have. Still, I know better than to broach the topic again, especially after his confirmed interest. Yet, when I look over to him, I see that his eyes are closed with his head tipped back and arms crossed over his chest. Something seems to stir inside me, and I find myself unabashedly gazing upon him.

“I’m going to be at my father’s home for the night,” I hear Frea whisper from the doorway.

I force my eyes away from Teldryn long enough to wish her a good night before they return to him. When the front door creaks as she leaves, he groans at the intrusive noise and opens his eyes as he sits up in the chair.

“What hap--” Teldryn starts, cutting off when he sees me and the way I must be looking at him. Surprise flashes across his face, but is soon replaced with something I can only describe as lust.

The fire is so warm at my back, and it fills the room with a soft light that casts alluring shadows over his body. I hadn’t previously thought much of the tattoos that trace around his cheekbones and run down the center of his bottom lip, but I now see them as a wildness that makes me want him even more. As I look into his eyes which mirror what I’m feeling inside me, I realize there is nothing I need more in this moment than to feel his hands on me.

“Come here,” I murmur, voice silky and eyes heavy-lidded.

I can see the desire deepen in his face at my words, but he still takes his time coming over to the side of the bed where I am. He rests one knee on the edge of the mattress and waits to see what I plan to do. I pull myself up slowly to kneel in front of him. The fur falls from my shoulders, and his breath hitches sharply as he watches me slip my tunic off. Completely exposed before him, his eyes rake hungrily over my body, but he makes no attempt to close the space between us. Nor do I.

“Do you know what I want to do to you right now?” he says in a strained voice, and I can tell how difficult it is for him not to just take me right at this moment.

“Show me,” I whisper.

 

Chapter Text

Teldryn’s fingers thread roughly through my hair as he bends down to press his lips to mine. My arms find their way around his neck to pull him against my body, and he groans at the contact. He kisses me, mouth closed and desire restrained, until I take a hand and palm him through the outside of his pants, my touch drawing a moan out of him as his hands tighten in my hair.

Teldryn then pulls back to begin kissing up my neck and jaw as he simultaneously climbs the rest of the way onto the bed. “Lay down,” he murmurs when his mouth is at my ear

I waste no time in obeying his command, looking up at him from on my back as he moves to be on top of me. He meets my eyes for a moment, long enough for me to see the fire raging behind them, before he leans back down and his lips finds my breasts. My eyes fall closed and my breathing grows ragged as he sucks on one of my nipples, rolling it between his teeth. The intensity of the pain mixed with the pleasure he’s also giving me empties my mind until this feeling is all I can think of.

He releases my breast so he can trail his tongue down the center of my chest and stomach, stopping when he reaches my mound. For a moment, he does nothing, but I keep my eyes closed, and suddenly I feel him running his fingers between the folds of my sex. When he takes his hand away, my eyes blink open and I see him sucking on his fingers to taste me. It feels like my whole body is flushing with self-consciousness, but I’m unable to tear my eyes away from him.

“Already so wet for me, and I’ve barely done a thing,” Teldryn coos, running the same fingers, slick with his saliva, over my cheekbone.

His hand reaches back down and he slips his fingers into me, holding my gaze as my back arches and I cry out from the intensity of how it feels. His hand moves slowly at first, and he pulls his fingers out a couple of times to watch my body come undone with pleasure when he slides them back in. I no longer have the ability to feel insecure--I can only lose myself in his feverish red eyes and clutch at the bed to keep myself from screaming at every wave of ecstasy that seizes me.

Teldryn’s movements become quicker and his thumb begins to rub the area of my sex that he had been purposely neglecting until this moment. I now cannot help but to let myself get louder and louder, my hands clawing at his back. Teldryn allows me this indulgence briefly before he presses his free hand over my mouth and bends down so his lips are next to my ear.

“If you make another sound, I won’t let you finish,” he whispers sweetly.

I immediately quiet and nod submissively, but he doesn’t take his hand away. I’m glad for this. My hunger for his touch is insatiable. I close my eyes to concentrate on silencing myself, and suddenly his fingers curl against my walls. My eyes snap open at the climax I now feel building deep inside me, but it doesn’t take long and I whimper against his hand as my body burns with orgasm. When I’ve finished, he exchanges his hand for his lips and kisses me as he takes his fingers out, cupping my sex with his hand for a moment before pulling away from me and moving to the other side of the bed.

I lay there with my head swimming as I stare up into the rafters above me. By now, most of the spell has worn off, so my thoughts are reeling with the implications of what just happened. I had met Teldryn only two days ago, exchanged barely a meaningful word with him, and yet I find myself naked in bed with him. Never mind the fact that he is under my employ. I've had my share of sexual encounters in the past, but never so quickly with someone I barely know, and none that had ever left me feeling like...this.

“That was…,” I begin, and Teldryn looks over at me from where he sits with his back against the headboard. “...not what I was expecting.”

“And what might that have been?” he asks.

I’m unable to make myself say the words I’m thinking, that I was anticipating sex with him. “You didn’t even take your clothes off,” I blurt out.

Teldryn’s brow furrows in confusion until the realization dawns across his face. He grins at me. “You think I’m that easy, outlander?”

“Well, I…”

He reaches over and brushes his fingertips between my legs to silence me. When I startle at his touch, the humor in his smile morphs into something more wicked. “You’ll just have to wait,” he purrs.

With that, he takes his hand back and gets out of bed, walking to the door. “Goodnight, Dragonborn,” he says to me from at the door, then steps out, closing it behind him.

Chapter Text

When I wake up the next morning, I am alone in the room, but I hear the snapping of a fire roaring in the fireplace, so I must not have been for very long. I sit up in bed, rubbing my eyes, and notice a bedroll laid out in front of the fire. It must be Teldryn’s. After he left last night, I almost immediately fell asleep, so I did not notice his return. I ponder for a moment on where he could have possibly gone, but come up short on an answer. The entirety of yesterday was overwhelming. I would probably be better off moving on from it.

I push aside the furs covering my body and swing my legs over the side of the bed, but do not get up. As I sit there, my eyes are led to the window where I can see that it is snowing softly outside. It makes my heart ache for home. I know I have not been on Solstheim for very long at all, but it was never my desire to come here in the first place. I had done so out of obligation, knowing that this journey is part of my fate.

The day’s fresh wave of anxiety washes over me as I reminisce about the days when I did not know of who I am. Eventually, the feeling becomes so debilitating that I find myself laying back down in bed. I do not try to sleep again, only stare blankly at the fire as its flames lick the stone of the fireplace. I don’t know how long I had been there before I hear the door opening, but I make no move to acknowledge whoever has entered the room. They walk quietly, likely still believing I am asleep, and I soon see a pair of legs approach me on the side that I face.

“Oh, you’re awake,” Teldryn says, and I don’t reply. He stands there watching me for a moment, perhaps waiting for a reaction, but when I give him nothing, he sits down next to me on the bed.

“Fjoara?” he asks, and I know he must be worried because he used my real name, but I remain silent. Even if I wanted to speak, I couldn’t.

Teldryn takes my shoulder and gives me a small shake. I find myself letting out a quiet groan, but I’m still paralyzed. He stands there with his hand still on my shoulder, eventually removing it to reach for one of the furs discarded by my side and drape it over me. After, he gets into bed with me, but leaves room between us as he lays on his back, hands folded over his stomach.

“We’ll wait for Frea to come get us,” Teldryn says, a kind of mischief in his voice. “Azura knows I don’t want to be outside in the damned snow, anyway.”

Then, very much unlike him, he says not a single word more. We simply lay there side by side for what feels like an eternity, his steady presence drawing me out of my dark thoughts and back into this moment. I can almost feel my body thawing out the fear that keeps me in its icy grip. I do not know if this release is because of Teldryn specifically, or if it is merely the result of my being in the company of someone when I have so often been alone. Eventually, the tightness in my chest subsides, and it no longer feels like a struggle to take in breath.

A few minutes later, there is a light knock on the door to the bedroom. “Come in,” Teldryn calls to whomever it is, likely Frea, and they enter the room at his permission. He gets out of bed and walks out of my line of sight. I hear the door shut again. When no one approaches me after a moment, I assume that he left the room with Frea. I sit up and, indeed, I am alone once again. Yet, I manage to push the fur aside and leave the bed. I would not say that I feel completely well again, but I will be able to work through whatever stress remains.

As I begin to make my way out of the room, I pause in front of the window. The snow has picked up considerably since I last looked, and I think wearily to my armor. I was told that Solstheim’s climate was temperate, so I failed to bring anything that could keep me protected against the cold. Before I am able to reach the door, however, Frea opens it and walks in carrying a large bundle of fur and hide. When she sees me, surprise crosses her face.

“Oh! You’re out of bed already. Teldryn told me you-” she starts but cuts off when she seems to rethink her words. “I have brought you something warm to wear. A storm blew in last night.”

She walks over to the bed and lays out the contents of what she was holding: a thick, hooded coat and a pair of complementary pants. The workmanship on them is almost primitive and not very pleasing to look at, but they look to be more than suitable for the weather outside.

“Thank you,” I tell her. “I was beginning to regret my poor choice of apparel.”

“They’re not nearly as lovely as your armor, but I’m certain you’ll find them more comfortable for today,” Frea says then returns to the door. “I’ll be back in a moment with the rest of your things.”

As I wait for her, I sit on the edge of the bed, running my hand absently over the soft brown fur that lines the inside of the coat. It must be wolf pelt, so quite warm indeed. Frea reappears a minute later with my backpack, Dawnbreaker, and the Aetherial Crown. In the chaos of last night, I had forgotten all about my sword, so when Frea gives my things to me, I immediately unsheathe it to check that it is indeed still intact.

She smiles at my protectiveness. “He took very good care of it, but he did almost have to use it.”

“For what reason?” I ask, my eyes narrowing.

“When you read the book...what we saw was alarming,” Frea responds, but seems hesitant to say more.

I stand up suddenly at this. “What happened to me?”

“As soon as you opened it, tentacles appeared to reach out from the pages and wrap around you...,” she starts, gauging my reaction to my words. I nod my head for her to continue. “Teldryn and I were quite ready to attack--” her face twists “--the book, but only seconds later, the tentacles released you and were sucked back in.”

“I was in Apocrypha for much longer than a few seconds, though,” I say, disoriented by this new information.

“You collapsed and fell unconscious immediately after,” Frea says. “It took you almost an hour to wake up again. Perhaps this is why it seemed longer to you.”

I begin to feel lightheaded as I take this information in, but I force myself to continue the conversation. “What happened after that? How did we get here?”

“The cultist ordered us to take you to the chambers in the temple where they planned to hold you, but it was very easy to leave with you. My village is only a thirty minute walk from the temple.”

“Thank the gods it’s over now.”

She smiles at me and briefly touches my hand in reassurance. “My father is waiting to speak with you. I have told him as much as I could, but he still has need to understand what you saw.”

“Of course,” I say. “Allow me a moment to get dressed, and then we can go.”

After Frea leaves, I am left alone only briefly before someone enters the room without even so much as a knock. Luckily, I have yet to undress, and instead, am sitting down at the table under the window to transpose what Frea told me into my journal. I look up from my writing at the interruption to find Teldryn standing there wearing a similar coat and pants to the set that Frea gave me.

“I look just like a Nord now,” Teldryn proclaims, his smile wide.

“I beg to differ,” I say, putting aside my notebook. “Though if you covered your face...”

“Always so serious you are,” he says, smile turning coy. “Besides, wouldn’t that be doing you a disservice?”

I raise an eyebrow. “How so?”

“If I recall,” he starts, pantomiming himself thinking. “You couldn’t seem to look away from me last night.”

“Well, upon seeing you now in the daylight, I’m not entirely sure what I was thinking,” I retort with a dismissive glance in his direction.

Teldryn’s smile returns to mirth. “We both know you don’t mean that.”

Quite unfortunately, he’s right. Seeing him again today really only affirms my attraction to him, especially when that attraction is still present while I am no longer under the effects of the spell. Even so, I cannot permit this kind of distraction to undermine my true reason for being on this island. It was not, and still isn’t, my intention to let someone occupy any part of my mind for fear that it might hold me back from completing my mission. I must remind myself that I only chose to hire him so that my life is at less of a risk. If he were to ever become the risk itself, then I won’t hesitate to part ways with him.

So, why then is there still a whisper in the back of my mind telling me that he’s here to stay?

 

 

Chapter Text

I step outside of Frea’s cabin into her village and am thrust suddenly back into the image of Skyrim in times of old.  The homes here are nothing like the regal, stately manors of Solitude, but instead practical and built to withstand harsh weather. Indeed, powdery snow from last night’s storm blankets the rooftops and the surrounding pines that sit beneath the mountainside this settlement was carved into, but nothing looks any worse for the wear.

Frea leads me through the village, and everyone we pass makes a point to greet us even though they are all busy with their own tasks. I am unfamiliar with this type of treatment--Riften’s people were too paranoid of the Thieves Guild to be friendly, Winterhold’s too distrustful of the mages at the college, and at home, servitude masqueraded as warmth. I wonder how different a person I might have become if I had lived such a close-knit community.

As we begin to grow closer to the center of the village, I start to catch glimpses of a swirling white serpentine of magicka that flows upwards into the sky. Curious, I ask Frea what it’s for.

“It is a barrier against the corruption of Herma-Mora. Some of my people have succumbed to it as you saw at the temple, and others to the Wind Stone just outside of our village, but my father has been able to protect everyone else,” she tells me.

When we do reach the center, there is a small group of people kneeling on the ground with their palms upwards and eyes closed, each contributing to the magicka that’s formed in the middle of their semi-circle. Frea approaches an older man at the head of the circle and kneels down next to him. I stand next to her, unsure of what movement to make, but eventually decide to mirror her position.

“Father, Fjoara is here with me,” Frea says to him.

He does not open his eyes, but I can still feel his acknowledgment of my presence. “So you have seen things, yes? My magic grows weak, and so does the barrier around our village. Time is short. Tell me what you know."

“I read a book in the temple that transported me to what I believe was Apocrypha. Miraak was there, and I learned that he is orchestrating his return to Solstheim. He is compelling them to reconstruct his temple. This is what’s behind the strange behavior of your people and the rest of the island.”

“The legends speak of that place. Terrible battles fought at the temple, the dragons burning it to the ground in rage. What I feared has come to pass, then. Miraak was never truly gone," Storn says, then quiets for a moment in thought before speaking again. “Frea has told me that you are Dragonborn. Is this true?”

“Yes, it is. Miraak seemed to be Dragonborn as well. I saw him use his thu’um while I was there.”

“That is what the stories say. Perhaps you are connected to him, then.”

“What does it mean if we are both Dragonborn?”

“I am unsure. It may mean that you could save us, or it may mean that you could bring about our destruction,” Storn says, but his voice remains steady and even. “I have heard your story of lostness and wandering. I can sense that you are fearful of the abilities you hold as Dragonborn.”

He exposes something that I had been trying to obscure, and a coldness prickles across my chest like icy, razor-edged spears. I struggle against the truth being brought to my lips, but it tumbles out despite my efforts. “I have never wished to harm others, but the gods have given me a weapon that can speak an end to life with more ease than the sharpest sword, and with more devastation than the most powerful army. Yet, if I were to cast this weapon aside in favor of peace, I would bring upon an even greater destruction to all of Tamriel. Both my calling and the fear within me are inescapable. How am I to cope with being torn between these two parts of myself?”

“To make peace with fear is to strengthen one’s connection to the catalyst of it,” Storn says. “Your gods chose you to be the bearer of this burden because you possess the fortitude to endure it. In time, you will learn how your human self and your dragon self can cohabitate in the same body, but this will mean continuing along the path set forth for you. Your experiences will grant you bravery, and repose will find you in this lifetime.”

If there were ever a word that could calm the frantic spinning of my mind, then Storn had just spoken them all. My shoulders relax and my head bows as I close my eyes and let five years worth of unrest depart from my soul. Frea rests her hand on top of my own as she and her father allow me this moment of silence.

“Thank you, Storn,” I say finally. “Please tell me how I can help your people. I will do everything I’m able to.”

“You must go to Saering's Watch,” he answers. “Learn there the word that Miraak did long ago, and use that knowledge on the Wind Stone. You may be able to break the hold on our people there, and free them from control.”

“A Word of Power, father?” Frea interjects. “Is that what this has really come to?”

“I am afraid so, Frea. Miraak is behind what is happening to our village, and so the knowledge he gained as Dragonborn is at the heart of it,” Storn says to her, then addresses me. “Since you are Dragonborn as well, you too can wield this power, perhaps to a better end.”

This magnitude of responsibility formerly would have rendered me paralyzed, but I’m still awash in the inspiration Storn has given me, so I answer with confidence. “I won’t let this hardship go on any longer. You can have faith that I will use the power I gain to end it.”

“The All-Maker has blessed us with your arrival, Fjoara. May he shelter you in your journey.”

Chapter Text

I asked Teldryn to stay back at Frea’s house while she and I went to speak to her father because I feared his rowdiness might be disruptive, but he is not there when we return. This is now the second time that he has made an unexpected disappearance. It’s true that I did effectively dismiss him for the afternoon, but I assumed that he would have stayed here. He doesn’t know anyone in this village--where could he possibly be going?

As I consider the possibilities, each grimmer than the next, my mind clouds with worry. However, when I see his knapsack sitting atop a chest and his chitin armor hanging on a rack in the back of the main hall, I feel it dissipate. He would, of course, take his belongings with him if he were to leave my service. I confuse myself with the attention I now pay to his presence. Surely it would not be a loss if I were to no longer have it, especially when I have such a valuable companion in Frea.

As if guided by divine timing, she calls over to me from by the fire asking what I’d like for dinner. I tell her to give me a moment then go about removing the bulky outer layers of my clothes at the door. When I finish, I join her, sinking into a chair draped in thick blankets at the fire’s edge. I start to pull one over my lap to settle in for a while but am stopped by my guilt over her unwavering hospitality. Being waited on has never caused this feeling in the past, but those who served me had also never done so out of the goodness of their heart as Frea does.

“I can make something for us,” I say. “You’ve done so much for me already.”

I begin to stand back up, but she reaches over and kindly, but firmly pushes me back down by my shoulders. “No, you must conserve your energy, Fjoara. There is a long road ahead of you. Let me take care of all else.”

I want to finally speak my gratitude to her, but the front door opens and Teldryn comes bursting through with an exasperated groan as chunks of snow come tumbling off his coat and boots. I glare mercilessly at him as he pushes back his hood and runs his hands through the mohawk that has gone flat on his head. He catches my eye through my stare and smiles at me as if he were oblivious to the venom in my expression. When he shakes his head wearing the same bemused look that he’s given me so many times before, however, I know that he’s just choosing to ignore it. After he too has removed his coat, he comes over to the fire, taking the seat directly next to mine. I lean away from his closeness, but he doesn’t seem to notice, and even if he does, he’s unbothered by it.

“What’s cookin’, Frea?” Teldryn calls over to her where she prepares our meal. “Smells great.”

“Where did you go?” I ask him impassively, quiet enough so that Frea cannot hear. She has no need to be troubled by any tension between him and I. “For that matter, where did you go last night?”

He takes a moment to respond to Frea’s answer to his own question before he answers mine. “Worried about me, outlander?”

“No,” I say with a continuation of my previous tone. “I would just like to know where my coin is going if not to fund you protecting me.”

“I see,” Teldryn says, the humor draining from his voice. “Well, in regards to last night, after I finished with you, I went outside for a smoke but ended up having to take care of a few bandits who had made their way into the village. Before you woke this morning, I went with a few other men to wipe out the rest of the bandit camp, and after you dismissed me for the afternoon, I joined them for a meal. Does this sufficiently answer your question?”

I am angered by his disrespect, but I must hold my tongue. I cannot fault him for helping to protect Frea’s village, but my indignation still simmers right below my skin, especially at his so carelessly worded description of what happened between us last night. If Frea were not present, I would have no qualm with speaking my mind to him, but for her sake alone, I remain diplomatic.

“Yes, it does,” I reply. “Thank you.”

Teldryn rises from his seat, his movement smooth and calculated so as not to expose his aggravation, but I can plainly see it. He stands in front of me expectantly, arms crossed tightly like binding rope, as if in wait of my apology. When he realizes there will be none, he scoffs and walks away. I force my eyes to wait for a beat before I turn around to look at him. He approaches Frea and asks if there’s anything he can help with. This action surprises me, and I become even more surprised when she slides him a fresh salmon that he skillfully begins cleaning. I move my eyes away from him and bring them to look into the fire, beginning to feel even more foolish for my idleness now. I assign myself the task of tending to the fire, though it still blazes fiercely in the pit. As I lean forward in my chair to prod the logs, I let my mind drift away from here. Anxiety does not find its way to me, so time slips ceaselessly on by.

My thoughts go to the Thieves Guild and the people there whom I left behind to go to Winterhold. It has been almost two years now, so I wonder if they have managed to find their way out of the slump yet. Around the time of my departure, business had started grinding to a halt. The coin had never flowed easily to begin with, but it had become absolute destitution. Mercer Frey, the Guildmaster, was quick to lay blame on the other members for not doing their jobs properly, but Delvin once confided in me that he thought the Guild had been cursed. My own pockets were always flush with coin from the valuables I had stolen from the Blue Palace to fund my independence, so I hadn’t the need to be concerned with the situation one way or another.

Unlike most of the other members who were there out of necessity, my inclusion in the Guild was one of happenstance brought upon by a drunken night at the Bee and Barb. After I had spent the better part of that night really laying it on thick to a charming red-haired Nord named Brynjolf, he made a bet with me: steal a ring out of a strongbox in the marketplace, plant it on this poor old Dunmer with a target on his back, and he would give me five hundred septims for my success.

A childhood filled with sneaking around the castle to eavesdrop on important conversations and picking locks to get to forbidden places allowed me to put the ring in my pocket with ease. Yet, instead of victimizing the Dunmer, I returned to the inn and planted it on Brynjolf himself while he sat schmoozing with a member of the influential Black-Briar family. Later that night, he found me and asked me how it went, so I encouraged him to check his pockets. When he pulled out the ring...gods, the look on his face was priceless. I told him that I would not needlessly frame someone if I did not have a worthy enough reason to. Then I left, leaving him standing there astounded by my gall and the way I had managed to play him at his own game.

Brynjolf sought me out two days later and formally extended me an invitation to join the Thieves Guild. I accepted because, well, what better way to hide from my fate than to become a dirty criminal? Yet, I never would have expected it to become my home for the next three years--the first place I ever felt like I truly belonged. I know I will always think back fondly to this time in my life where I was not adrift in the dark ocean of the unknown. All I can hope for is that someday I will get back to that feeling once again.

“Dinner is served, your highness,” a voice says from on the outside of my thoughts, and a plate of food comes into my field of view.

“Excuse me?” I snap, the warmth of my nostalgia instantly vanishing. “What did you just call me?”

“You’ve just been sitting here while Frea and I slave away for you,” Teldryn fumes, shoving the plate into my hands. “It’s like you think you’re some kind of royalty.”

Panic seizes my chest, causing me to jump to my feet. Surely he does not know about my family. “I am nothing of the sort. I offered to help, but Frea insisted that she could manage without me.”

The faintest lick of flame begins to burn in Teldryn’s clenched hand, and though I am slightly taller than him, his anger makes it feel as if he looms over me. “You act as if you’re entitled to special treatment just because you’re this Dragonborn, or whatever the fuck everyone thinks you are.”

“How dare you say that to me!” I snarl, feeling the threat of my thu’um rising in the back of my throat. “I did not ask to be this way. You will never understand the adversity I’ve had to overcome.”

“Right, because it’s so awful to be a hero who’ll be lauded for the next millennia. Gods have pi--”

“Enough!” Frea’s voice booms over the fray. She inserts herself between us, grabbing my arm and pulling me behind her while she pushes Teldryn back with her hand against his chest. “You will not speak to each other like this!”

Her ferocity outshines both of ours combined, and we immediately sober. Frea’s hand softens on my arm, and she takes her other off Teldryn. I don’t look at him, don’t speak to him, and he doesn’t me, but our shared embarrassment hangs heavy in the air. I notice suddenly that my hands are now empty, and I find that my plate had fallen to the floor sometime in the midst of my rage. Most of the food still remains on it, but the sight is still salt in my wounds. I hear Teldryn quietly backing away from us and I look up to see his downcast eyes and the way he cradles the hand against his chest that only seconds ago held an intent to harm.

“I should go,” he mutters.

“There’s no need for that,” Frea protests. I was not still so stifled by my shame, I would too.

Teldryn says nothing as he walks to the back of the room and picks up his bag from on top on the chest. As he slings it over his shoulders, I can feel the breath being snatched from my lungs, yet I still cannot speak any words that might stop him. Any contempt I have for him immediately sheds as I realize the possibility that he might actually be gone this time. Frea steps forward to intercept him as he continues on to the front door. I silently sing my praises to her.

“Teldryn, this can be resolved. It is only a minor altercation,” she persists.

He stops to look at her, but his eyes are without emotion. “I don’t think I’m the right person for this job. You can protect her just as well—better—than I can. She likes you more than me, anyway. I hope all the best for you and your village, Frea.”

She accepts the finality in his words and moves aside to let him pass. My breath stills again as I watch him. He reaches the door, picks up his coat and sword from the hook on the wall next to it, and leaves without so much as a glance in my direction.

Frea and I are frozen silent by our shock, but she is fast to recover, returning to me and bending down to retrieve my plate of food from the floor. A shell of myself, she guides me back to my seat and places the plate in my lap. She then takes the place next to me that Teldryn once occupied seemingly only moments ago. I cannot eat in fear of being unable to swallow, nor can I bear to process what just happened, so my eyes wander to seek a distraction. They dart from the fire to the ceiling, then glimpse the bed where… Finally, they are drawn to the back of the room, and I realize that his armor is still hanging from the rack. He’d left it behind. Could that mean…? No, surely not. It was nothing more than a consolation prize, a reparation, to make up for what I had just lost.

Chapter Text

So, I’d done it again.

Seems like every time I have something good going, my recklessness gets the best of me and obliterates any possible chance of improving my life. In all my many years, I’d never had as worthwhile an opportunity as the one Fjoara afforded me. From the moment I saw her the first time she walked into the Retching Netch, I knew that she had quite the story to tell. With her absurdly fancy armor and a godsdamn legendary Daedric artifact strapped to her side like it was nothing more than a toy sword, Fjoara was cloaked in arrogance, but there was still a sense of naivety to it. Like she had no idea what she had gotten herself into. We were perfect for each other: she needed someone older and wiser to save her from inexperienced blunders and I needed someone who would bring me to the places where riches were found.

Everything changed when I learned that she’s actually this Nordic hero bestowed with an ancient blessing. I’ve never cared much at all for humans, and certainly not for their purported legends, but after seeing her shred dozens of men to pieces with nothing more than her voice? I was certainly convinced. Coin be damned--there was no way I wasn’t sticking around for the ride. Who else would ever be able to say they worked for the Dragonborn? She would be unlike anyone else I’ve ever accompanied.

Needless to say, I had countless many patrons in the past, so many that I’d forgotten the names of more than half of them. At best, they were unremarkable, at worst, they were downright deplorable. Before I left for Skyrim, traveling Morrowind with other Dunmer wasn’t so bad, but it often felt like we were two people on our own individual journeys even when we were fighting side-by-side. There was never a sense of camaraderie, only detached professionalism. I suppose it was for the better, though. Most of them ended up dying on me, so I was wise to not get attached.

When I first came to Skyrim, I only had enough gold to go as far in as the city of Windhelm, a wretched place where Dunmer were sequestered into little more than a slum. The name they gave it was truly a stroke of creative genius: the Gray Quarter. We were despised by the Nords of Windhelm and I couldn’t make a damned bit of coin because of it. In Morrowind, I was one of the best at what I did--sought after by many, superseded by none. Unfortunately, the matter of expertise held no strength in the fight against what they saw us as: foreign invaders in their perfect, pure city.

I was eventually forced to take jobs working for the very people who wanted nothing more than to see my suffering. I endured unspeakable cruelty at the hands of my employers: beaten within an inch of my life then left for dead in the darkest of crypts, made to commit heinous crimes even worse than the acts I’d already committed in my past, and a handful of other things that remain unmentionable. All for a pocket of chump change to keep me off the streets during the deathly cold northern nights. I was no longer a mercenary, only an expendable, worthless life with a boot on my neck. This hatred soon morphed into self-hatred, and I found myself staring down the bottom of an empty bottle more times than I care to admit. My only blessing was that it never became skooma. I dreamed every waking moment of leaving, but I was at the mercy of poverty and rendered useless by depression. So, in Windhelm I remained.

I see my decision to come to Skyrim as the second worst I’ve ever made in my life. The first? I won’t speak on that right now. Yes, indeed it had been my choice to leave Morrowind. Azura only knows what I thought I thought I would find in Skyrim that my homeland couldn’t give me. I suppose it had been my thirst for adventure that pushed me out once I was free from what kept me trapped there for decades. If I would have saved up more money instead of rushing to leave, perhaps I could’ve traveled to Cyrodiil. At the very least, a city other than Windhelm. I’d heard Riften was a better place for elves. Quite nice in the autumn, too.

After a long while of this futile suffering, I was finally given the means to escape. Gjalund, the only Nord with even a shred of compassion, owned a ship that made frequent passages to the island of Solstheim. One day, he offered to take me there free of charge if I would help him man his ship as he was down a member in his crew. He told me that there was Dunmer settlement on the island called Raven Rock, and although generally impoverished, would certainly be more hospitable to me. I took him up on his offer without even a second’s hesitation.

That was a year ago, now. I didn’t find work as a mercenary, but I did jobs for the guard from time to time clearing out bandit camps, fending off ash spawn, and the like. It was clean, easy work. What’s more, it gave me enough to rent out a decent room at the inn, repair my armor, and replace my sword, but I still fell short on the funds to relocate anywhere else. My life in Raven Rock was exceedingly better than the one I had in Windhelm, no doubt. I did honest work, made a few friends, and even managed to get sober. Yet, it was quite far from the trajectory I imagined the rest of my life would take. I wanted more than what Raven Rock could offer me.

So yes, when I saw Fjoara for the first time, I couldn’t think of anything else but the money. I didn’t care that she was a Nord, didn’t care what she planned to do on Solstheim. Hell, I didn’t even care if I’d eventually have to go back to Skyrim with her. All I knew was that if I ratcheted up my price tenfold, she would pay it. And she did. She paid me two thousand septims when I only valued my services at two hundred, and then as if I couldn’t get any luckier, she added in the twenty-five percent of her earnings part. Despite Fjoara’s innocent exterior, I could tell that negotiation was something she’d come in contact with enough times to understand the process--no one gets or stays wealthy by being foolish with their money. Therefore, I believe that she upped her offer because she genuinely wanted me to benefit from it. Whether or not she realized she was doing this, what I understood from it is that underneath it all, her heart is good.

Sure, her distaste for me was potent at the beginning, still is if I’m honest, but it was never dehumanizing in the same way I had been treated in the past. It was almost like she was trying to grapple with the tenderness that had at some point been weaponized against her, veiling it with brittle, half-baked contempt. It wasn’t her. This was apparent to me despite her best efforts to conceal it, and I wanted to discover who she really is. It started out as entertainment. I loved the way I could say some ridiculous thing and it would get a rise out of her without fail. Over time, I learned the precise ways I could do this, but the more I learned about her, the more my intentions became earnest. I had started to like her, and I wanted to help her shed away these layers of disguise. To show her that there is no shame in authenticity.

Of course, I’m not without my own baggage to carry. Decades of mistreatment had sowed seeds of anger within me and their thorns clawed at my insides whenever I was reminded of my trauma. I’m very, very familiar with this horrifying version of myself, but it’s always so hard to see through the blinding red of rage. She didn’t do anything wrong. It was me. It’s all me. Which is why I now find myself here, in the blistering cold of an unfamiliar place with nowhere to go, having just stupidly tossed away any hope of a better future with someone who quite possibly could have meant something more to me.

I’m not sure what I actually thought I would do once I’d stepped out the door of Frea’s home. Raven Rock is more than a day’s walk from here, and at night in the cold, this trip would prove fatal. This moment is the very epitome of my rashness. Everyone had gone home for the evening, so the village’s center now lays barren. The only sign of any previous activity are the lit braziers dotting the edges of the walkways. I shiver as I pull my hood tighter around my face and cast a spell of Foxskin over myself. I can keep warm by use of this spell for the time being, but my mana pool will definitely not sustain me for the entire night with continuous use. Gods, what had I gotten myself into? I couldn’t just swallow my pride and go back, could I? But that would mean taking the risk of seeing Fjoara again, so no. She wanted me to leave. She would have tried to stop me if she didn’t.

Now resolute in my situation, I set off further into the village. It’s a lot bigger than what meets the eye, so I’m quick to lose sight of Frea’s cabin. I walk for five minutes before I’m faced with a large, two-story building at the northern end of the village. It must be--what do the Nords call it--the greathall? I’d seen its grandiose presence multiple times today, but no one going in or out of it. It must be reserved for feasts or other special occasions. I can just ride out the night in there then leave for Raven Rock in the morning. When I approach the door, I find it unlocked and sigh with relief. I’m not sure what else I would have done if I couldn’t get in. I’d never been much good at picking locks.

I enter the greathall, pushing my hood off with the rush of warmth that greets me from the firepit in the center of the large room. First I’m grateful for the relief from the cold, but in the next second, it occurs to me that the fire would not be lit if the building were vacant. Before I even have a chance to make a defensive move, I feel a movement behind me and someone reaches around to press their blade to my throat. Gods, I’m fucked.

“You wear our clothes, but you are not one of my people,” the female voice of my assailant says. “Who are you? Speak, outsider, before I cut you down right here.”

I slowly raise my hands up where she can see them. “I’m with the Dra--” I stop myself in that thought “--I’m a friend of Frea’s. Teldryn Sero.”

The strength of her hold on me cautiously lessens. “Teldryn Sero? You’re the one who single-handedly defended our village last night.”

I risk a light laugh as the dagger leaves my neck. “Here in the flesh.”

“Well, then I owe you my greatest thanks.”

I turn around to meet my assailant and find a Nord woman, small in height, but very strong in stature. Her face is weathered and tough, conflicting with the delicate white nightgown she wears. She must have been preparing to sleep.

“It was no trouble at all. I love a good fight,” I say. She smiles in agreement--a woman after my own heart. Fjoara never seemed to want to crack a few skulls if she could avoid it. “I apologize for disturbing you. I didn’t think anyone would be here.”

“This is my home, actually. I’m Fanari Strong-Voice, the leader of the Skaal,” she says.

I make a sound of curiosity in the back of my throat, looking around at the interior of this building with its high ceilings, ornately carved wood, and the massive chandelier hanging in the middle of it all. “Nice place you have here.”

Fanari chuckles. “Well, it’s been the honor of my life to lead the Skaal,” she answers. “What brings you to my home, then? I thought you were the companion of the Dragonborn.”

“We just separated due to a...conflict of interest.” Ha. If that’s what you want to call it.

“I’m sorry to hear that. She seems like a wonderful person. Her arrival has brought a lot of hope to my people.”

“Yeah, Fjoara’s…” I can feel my voice soften when I say her name, so I immediately break off the sentence. “I hope she’s able to help you, but I won’t be around to see it. I’m headed back to Raven Rock in the morning.”

“Ah, so you were here looking for a place to sleep, then?”

“Yes. I failed to think that part through when I left,” I admit and Fanari raises an eyebrow at this crack in my previously composed veneer.

“You’re welcome to bunk here for the night,” she says, extending her hand towards the fire. “Though my men will be sad to see you go. They enjoyed fighting alongside you this morning. Your magicka is fascinating to them--something about a flaming woman creature?”

“A flame atronach,” I clarify then pause for a moment to process my surprise. Sure, they’d shared a meal with me, but I had just accepted it as payment for the job. “I hadn’t realized that. Nords don’t usually take kindly to us Dunmer.”

“The Skaal don’t subscribe to the same attitudes as the Nords on the mainland. What matters is that you, an outsider, risked your own life twice to protect our village. You are Skaal-friend to us now.”

“Huh. Well, thank you for that,” I say.

“Of course. You’re always welcome here, Skaal-friend,” Fanari says as she starts to head towards the stairway that leads up to the loft. She pauses before she goes up. “In case you are gone before I rise, I bid you safe travels on your journey home. All-Maker guide you.”

After Fanari leaves, I walk over to the firepit and unfurl my bedroll next to it. I don’t take off my coat or boots yet, only sit down on top of the fur not inches away from the flames. I imagine for a moment that I’m being engulfed by them. I’ll admit, at times things like this do seem preferable to going on any longer, but I know that my stubborn pride would never actually let me succumb to defeat and end my life. It’s the same stubborn pride that also won’t let me go back to Fjoara and beg for her forgiveness. I realize now that I want to.

It can be tiresome to always be the sidekick, the silent sword who blindly follows behind. To be a mercenary is to endure the loss of a large part of my identity as so much of it hinges on someone else. I accepted this when I had chosen this line of work for myself, but it weighs on me often. My conversation with Fanari has given me a different outlook. It’s never really occurred to me before that I could make an impression on anyone outside the confines of my work, that I could have an impact. I’ll never be as important to the world as Fjoara is, but I realize now that can still leave a mark on it in my own way, even if most of that is afforded to me by my supporting role.

Besides, if it weren’t already enough that I had started to like her, I had also found myself starting to care for her. It happened faster than I’d ever thought possible, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. It dawned on me when I saw her collapse after reading that book and it cemented itself when it took her so long to wake up afterward . For the first time in my life, I realized I would actually experience some kind of a loss if my patron were to die.

Then, after what happened last night, things took a turn for the worse when my care for her became muddled with attraction. I never could have dreamed I’d feel desire for a Nord. She is beautiful in a way that a Dunmer woman couldn’t compare to with her bright winter-blue eyes and the litheness of her body in all its soft curves almost too delicate for the power she has within her. There is a growing need within me to provide for her and ensure her safety, though I know she is capable of doing these things for herself. I truly have nothing to offer that she doesn’t already possess. Her wealth appears limitless, guidance and accommodation are given readily just because of who she is, and her abilities in combat dwarf my own—a spellsword, like me, but in combination with that fucking voice of hers, she’s a lethal weapon. What does that leave me with, then? Sex? No. I’m a sword for hire, not a, well…

Fjoara is superior to me in every possible way, but there is still a witlessly hopeful part of me that wonders if I’d be enough for her in spite of this. Is it too late to find out? I glance over to the front door of the greathall, seeing if I can picture myself reopening the one I had just walked out of. And...I can. Hurrying to my feet before the inspiration leaves me, I rush to the door, leaving all my things behind. I can return for them later. I’m outside in moments, striding back to the cabin with no concern for my impulsion, no time to wonder if I’m making the right decision. Within minutes, I’m outside of the closed door to the room where Fjoara is likely asleep. I don’t allow myself to hesitate as I quietly enter the room. I find her laying there in bed, but she sits up immediately upon my entrance.

“Teldryn?” Fjoara questions, her voice thick and dark. “What are you doing here?”

“I…” Gods, I really hadn’t thought this through, had I? She looks at me, but her eyes become more distant with each second that passes. “I...forgot something here.”

“What? Your armor?”

I hadn’t even realized that I did. “Yeah, it was—“ I start, but she cuts me off.

“If that were truly the case then you would have just gotten it and left, not be in here bothering me. Now, tell me what it is you’re really here for.”

“I...just wanted to apologize, Fjoara. For the awful things I said to you earlier.” She says nothing in response, so I continue. “My temper got the best of me.”

“That’s no excuse.”

I sigh wearily, my shoulders slumping. This is going horrifically. “I know. I just don’t know how to act around you when I--”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“My patrons never usually mean much to me, but I’ve started to...care about you. But you’re, well, you, and I’m just some hapless mercenary you hired to follow you around this disastrous island.”

“Teldryn...I don’t understand. Care about me? But you said--”

“Never mind what I said,” I interrupt her, stepping forward to sit on the edge of the bed. She looks at me warily as she moves to sit cross-legged, but the darkness has edged out of her eyes. “I want to rejoin you, but not to work for you again. I just want to be at your side through all of this.”

“I never wanted you to leave.”

“Really?”

“Yes,” Fjoara replies. “I’ve realized that you’re important to me too, Teldryn.”

I can’t help but smile. “So what do you say, then?”

“Yes, I’ll have you by my side again.”

Chapter Text

We had been traveling for what I believe to be two days, but time had started to meld together so that it became almost indiscernible. All I know is that darkness had fallen twice, but I had closed my eyes at it only once. Saering’s Watch holds an unknowable fate for me. Frea says it’s an ancient dragon’s lair, but she could not tell me what it might hold. There is, of course, the obvious answer, but surely dragons being brought back from the dead is an anomaly found only in Skyrim. Yet, I know I cannot claim coincidence that I would come to my power at the same time dragons started to rise again. Where ever I am to go, the dragons are sure to follow. After all, is that not what my purpose is?

For a Nord, there is no greater shame than that which is found in cowardice, but it would be impossible for me to ease my mind of all fear. I will never understand why I was chosen for this duty when there are thousands of other more capable warriors than I. If I had been allowed to retain my normal life so that I would have someday utilized my skills to be High Queen of Skyrim, then I would have still held on to my honor. But now I am unsure what of it remains, if any at all, or if I will ever join my ancestors in Sovengarde. My only solace is that I am no longer alone in my journey, that I have found someone who has chosen to stay with me.

I look over at Teldryn now. He sits atop his borrowed horse clutching the reins in his hands, his legs a vice around the saddle. When Frea informed us that the distance to Saering’s Watch is too far to walk, we learned he has never ridden before. Never even gone near a horse. We had to teach him how to sit in the saddle--shoulders in line with elbows in line with hips--and how to keep from falling out of it, but I don’t believe that he has felt comfortable riding for even a moment during our trip. While Teldryn is on horseback, he speaks nary a word, much less make one of his usual irreverent remarks. Though I would never admit it, I find sick satisfaction in finally being better than him at something.

As a child, it seemed like I learned to ride even before I learned to walk. My father’s stables were always stocked with the most well-bred of horses and the most experienced of trainers, so I was quick to grow into mastery. In fact, I was such a capable rider that I was introduced to some skills of mounted combat. The joke was often made that I am a better warrior on horseback than I am on my own two feet, and there was truth in this. There is something to be said about the power in having a horse beneath you, in the sharp, quick agility, in the deadly force of charging at your enemy. I was not and never will be inclined towards violence, but when I rode, I felt safe from the harm of it.

The times I was away from the Blue Palace in my younger years, I always had my horse along with me and a shortsword at my side. I was never allowed to go far, but I could ride the endless streets of Solitude on my own, or make the rare trip to the nearby town of Dragon Bridge with my brother, sister, and some of my father’s guard. My siblings and I were not to view the horses as pets, but I couldn’t keep myself from loving them. They were my protectors, not the guard. At times, they were also my closest companions in many a lonely hour. I had many of my own over the years, my last being a beautiful black mare named Kalina. She traveled with me from Solitude to Riften where she remains entrusted to Brynjolf while I made my journey to Winterhold and now beyond. I think of her now, the white mane and neck of the horse I’m riding so unfamiliar.

Teldryn, Frea, and I travel until the sun blooms orange and pink as it sinks below the horizon. We make camp in a secluded alcove of forest, and settle in for one final night before we reach our destination in the morning. The three of us sit on our bedrolls pulled up to the fire, the smoked smell of our cooking dinner draped in the air. I hear Frea compliment Teldryn on his riding and he quips back something about how he’d rather have a silt strider, whatever that is. I’m too far gone in my mind to inquire. My companions seem calm, but the opposite is true for me. I find myself rising to my feet wordlessly and walking to our horses tied at the edge of our camp. I lean against the trunk of a tree, and the horse I had been riding reaches his muzzle over to me and noses my hand for food. When he finds I am without any, he returns to grazing from the pile of hay below him.

“You seem really fond of these things,” I hear Teldryn say as he approaches.

My eyes flick up to him and my thoughts evaporate around me. “I love horses.”

He cautiously pats the neck of his own horse, afraid as if it might bite him. “They’re nice, I suppose. Nothing like a silt strider, though.”

“I heard you mention that to Frea. I don’t know what those are.”

“We use them in Morrowind for transport. They’re much faster than horses,” he answers. “There’s one here on Solstheim. Maybe I’ll show you one day.”

I nod but I have already begun retreating back into my head. I can feel Teldryn’s concerned eyes on me as I drift away from this present moment back to what I saw in Apocrypha. The dragon. The first one I had ever seen alive. I did not have to slay that one, but I will surely have to if there is one tomorrow. In Dovahzul, the word Dovahkiin translates to “Born Hunter of Dragonkind,” but I cannot fathom how I could possibly be born to defeat an enemy whose might so far exceeds my own. I am but one woman standing up against a legend as old as time itself. I can speak their tongue, yes, but I am only an infant garbling half-formed words.

“What’s on your mind, Fjoara?” Teldryn’s words break once again through my manifold thoughts.

“How can I begin to answer…” I murmur, but I am not wholly speaking to him as my body shrinks under the weight of what I imply.

“Huh, I don’t know,” he says, glancing in the direction of our camp. “Maybe Frea would…”

“I’m scared, Teldryn,” I say, my eyes falling shut to protect against the repercussions this admission will bring.

“Scared?” Teldryn responds. “What could you possibly be scared of?”

“What we might face tomorrow.”

“...you mean a dragon? Are you serious?” he pauses to let out a laugh, and my eyes snap open in anger, bracing for another fight with him. “Do you not even realize the power you have within you?”

“My thu’um? But that’s only…”

“Only what?” he questions, his insistence growing now more passionate. He moves back a distance and opens his arms out wide. “Use it, then! Use it on me right now.”

My eyes widen. “But that would kill you!”

“Yes!” he throws his hands up, returning to where I stand. “It would! Fjoara, you can kill a man just by using your voice. I dare you to say that you’re not powerful.”

“I’m not--” I start, but Teldryn holds a finger to my lips to silence me. His tactic was likely not to do so by way of making me melt under his touch, but it succeeds nonetheless. I look at him docilely, waiting to hear what he would say.

“I have lived many, many years. Longer than you could even comprehend as a human. And I have witnessed just as many inexplicable miracles. But I have never, ever seen anything like what you can do, Fjoara. And yet, you stand here believing that you are nothing.” He shakes his head, sighing.

“But that’s just it, Teldryn. I am something that I did not ask to be, that I do not want to be.”

He looks at me with a single raised eyebrow. “How does this narrative serve you? This is who you are. You’re Fjoara Ebonhand, Dragonborn, savior of all Tamriel, whatever it is. What use is it to continue to reject this when there is no escaping it?”

“I...I don’t know. There is none.”

“Exactly. You have been chosen for something that no one on Nirn can ever lay claim to. You ought to see the glory in that, to see the freedom you have to define what that means to you.”

“I…” I try to speak, but there are no words to convey what I feel, so instead, I step forward and wrap my arms around him. He doesn’t hesitate to return the gesture. I bury my face in Teldryn’s chest, breathing in the scent of sweat and smoke on his clothes. He holds me for a minute, and it’s comfortable, secure, nothing like the way he touched me that other night. Rather, his hand strokes my hair so gently. I think briefly of kissing him, but that would be to ruin this peaceful moment where nothing more is expected of me. We remain like this for a short while longer, then we separate and Teldryn leads me back to the campfire.

When we arrive, Frea looks up at the sound of our approach from where she stands tending to the fire. Her eyes flash with surprise at us and I then realize that I had been holding onto Teldryn’s arm as we walked back and still am. Embarrassed, I drop my hand, masking this movement by sinking down to the ground on top of my bedroll. Perhaps I succeeded in my subtlety because Teldryn seems indifferent as he returns to his own bedroll. Throughout this entire performance, Frea had been watching with increasing curiosity, but she sheds her interest for neutrality when I attempt to meet her stare.

There should be no cause for my embarrassment, but there is vulnerability in a display of affection. A revealing of intentionally obscured emotions. But then there is also the cultural shame in my choice to have these feelings for someone like Teldryn. An elf. And having Frea, another Nord, bear witness to this is a source of wary anxiety. What would she think of me?

I reach for my discarded fur cloak on the ground next to me, pulling it over my shoulders, hunched over, yearning for the warmth of the fire in front of me, or the warmth of who is beside me. Teldryn’s presence is both apparent and overwhelming, and I’m unable to decide. On one hand, I wish I were even closer to him, his arms around me, but on the other, I want to put an ocean of space between us.

For now, I am in an impasse.

Chapter Text

“Do you see those ruins up ahead? That is Saering’s Watch.”

They are there carved into the side of a mountain, the stone of their structure crumbled and softened by the passing of millennia. There is no dragon, at least none that I can see from our far distance, and only the wind stirring the tops of the trees, not the roar of certain death. I try to stave off these grim thoughts for now, but the heaviness of my breath is still seen in the white plumes of steam that unfurl from my lips. It is panic that holds my lungs captive, holds me captive. Teldryn’s words from last night echo in my chaotic mind, but they do little to quell the emotions this time. My companions and I ride steadily towards our fate, but the tension of nervousness blankets only me--the air around them is free and clear. They are ready for this. I should be as well.

“Let’s leave our horses and walk the rest of the way,” Frea says, bringing her mount to a halt and sliding out of the saddle. “It will not take us long to arrive from here.”

Teldryn’s approval of her suggestion is seen in the immediacy of his dismount. His riding had improved vastly in the three days of our trip--such length only due to the slower pace we had to take to accommodate his inexperience--but he still never seemed to grow secure in it. His horse is old and gentle, and its slow gait would have lulled me to sleep as we rode, but Teldryn seems to relax only when his feet make contact with the ground.

“Thank the gods,” I hear him mutter and my amusement at his expense makes me smile.

“I was so sure you would have become an expert rider by now,” I joke, dismounting.

“He has done very well for a beginner,” Frea says.

“For a beginner,” Teldryn scoffs. “Just wait--I’ll be riding stood up on the saddle in no time.”

I snort with laughter. “Now that’s something I’d pay a few septims to see.”

“Nonsense,” he says with exaggerated charm. “For you, my love, it’s all free.”

There is nothing more than playfulness in his words—I would be naive to believe otherwise—but I still feel a flutter in my stomach when he says this. It is difficult for me to rationalize the way he makes me feel because this is the first time I have felt anything like it. I am excited by the prospect, and I cannot temper down the joy in spending every moment of my days with him. Yet, as I stand here exchanging flirtations right before I am to carry out my noble deed, there is guilt. How can I so easily surrender myself to this feeling when I cannot even surrender to what my life asks of me? My own fulfillment should not come before the fulfillment of my destiny. How selfish of me.

“The two of you will be each other’s undoing,” Frea says with good-natured exasperation. “All-Maker preserve you both.”

Teldryn grins. “You give me no credit, Frea. I am nothing but positivity in Fjoara’s life.”

“Aye. I’ll remember that for the morrow’s next argument, then,” she says.

“Argument?” he asks, waving his hand dismissively in the air. “We’re merely two people with strong opinions.”

I’m on the cusp of interjecting when a ferocious roar at Saering’s Watch fills the frozen air with its sound. My stomach nearly leaps out of my mouth, and I whip around to face Teldryn and Frea, wanting to stall what I know is to come. Somehow, the prospect of them seeing my fear is more preferable to me than seeing the cause of it. Instead of focusing on me, however, they watch transfixed in the distance over my shoulder. My innate curiosity almost tempts me to look as well, but the breathlessness in my lungs holds me where I am, heaving and clutching at my chest. The roar shatters the air once again, and it is Teldryn who is the first to recover.

He whistles once, long and low. “I can hardly wait to sink my sword into that ,” he says. “Are we ready to get going?”

“Yes, let us go. The sooner we get the Word of Power, the sooner we can free my people,” Frea answers, then begins walking forward in the direction of the ruins.

I am rendered immobile where I stand, my hands now dropped to my knees as I gasp to catch a single, sufficient breath. The force of my efforts rushes through my ears, deafening me to anything else. All I know is that Teldryn still stands here with me; I can see the blurry brown shape of his boots in front of me. After an age, they step forward and I feel an arm around my shoulders as he pulls me upright. My teeth chatter against each other and I shiver, but it is not from the cold. Teldryn holds me steady to his chest while my legs threaten to turn to ash underneath me. Yet, the strength of his hold begins to free me from my panic in the same way his presence did the first time he bore witness to one of these attacks. It was not mere coincidence, then. There is something to be said of him.

“Do you remember what we spoke about last night?” Teldryn murmurs when my shaking lessens from gale-force to a barely perceptible tremor, and I nod. He holds me more softly now, lifting his free hand to brush the hair away from my neck with the very tips of his fingers. I shiver again, but for a different reason. I wonder once more if I should kiss him, if this may be my last chance to, but he speaks again before I’m able to. “Frea and I will be right there with you, but you won’t need us. You’re more powerful than either of us could ever conceive of being.”

I nod again, my voice useless for now. Teldryn’s arms fall away from me, and for a brief moment, panic threatens me again, but then he reaches out to take my hand. Even through the thick leather of our gauntlets, the fire of his touch burns bright. Suddenly, I can think not of Dragons, but only of the feeling of my hand in his. Much to my disappointment, Teldryn holds it only long enough to get me walking in the other direction before his hand slips away. It’s for the better, though. Now is not the moment for such distractions.

In this time, Frea had noticed we were not with her, and we rejoin her as she approaches us. “Is everything alright?” she asks, the familiar sight of earnest concern gracing her face.

“I’ll be fine. I just sometimes need to be...reminded of who I am,” I respond, glancing briefly at Teldryn who nods once solemnly. “I’m ready to face this Dragon now.”

Her expression becomes the same curiosity I saw last night as she looks between Teldryn and me. Had she seen the way he held me only moments ago? It seems like she desires to say something more, but all she does say is: “Wonderful. I am certain everything will go according to plan.” then starts again to walk towards Saering’s Watch. For a few steps, I am comfortable with letting her lead, but I must shake my complacency. It should be I who walks first into the fray. As Teldryn said, I am strong enough to.

“Frea, might I take the lead?” I ask, catching up with her and gently placing my hand on her shoulder to stop her.

She turns around with a surprised, but pleased smile. “Of course, Fjoara,” she says, then moves behind me to stand by Teldryn.

I inhale once deeply, letting my eyes fall shut, then continue the path forward. I can hear the crunch of my companion’s footsteps in the snow behind me, but I let the sound fade away. My mind must be emptied of anything that does not pertain to the task at hand. When my thoughts have, at last, calmed, I open my eyes.

The mountain slopes downwards underneath the arch that marks the entrance of Saering’s Watch. When we pass through, the land opens up in front of us. The edge of the deep, black ocean below the cliffs at one side and the ruins themselves staggered up the mountain on the other. It is on this side that I can hear the deep rumble of the Dragon’s breath from where it is perched somewhere in the ruins.

“I have been anticipating your arrival, Dragonborn,” comes a voice that sounds like it was conjured from the depths of the earth below us. “When I heard your Voice in the distance, I knew the time had finally come for me to meet my first worthy opponent in a thousand years.”

I turn to face the Dragon, my first worthy opponent in the twenty-four years of my life.

And my last.