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Not by Choice nor by Chance

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“Kynareth, please, save the rain for the end of my travels. I beg of you as your humble, albeit wet, servant,” said Odette as she pulled her hood further over her face. Her robe was soaked through, but she hoped her pack wasn’t. The trees above her barely gave any shelter from the onslaught. “Or lead my feet to somewhere dry.”

When Odette left Whiterun earlier that morning, Danica Pure-Spring had all but promised fair skies for the entirety of her journey. Odette knew that their Goddess could be a little finicky as far as the weather was concerned, but she couldn’t help but feel a twinge of annoyance towards the priestess. The pilgrimage to the Eldergleam Sanctuary was her idea after all. The weather had held for most of the day. Odette hadn’t traveled further than Riverwood in several years. Though the Eldergreen wasn’t too far from Whiterun, she wasn’t familiar with Eastmarch hold. Matter of fact, she wasn’t familiar with anything east of the Throat of the World.

So maybe she had taken the wrong turn a while back. She probably should have crossed the river by now. And she was certain that she the cavern the Sanctuary was in wasn’t on top of the cliff she found herself hiking up. She moved to the cliffside for a better vantage point. She stepped lightly on the slick rocks. The stretch of river below her was cradled by a broken down shack and what looked like the remnants of a fort. Not a cavern in sight.

Odette pulled her map from her satchel. She almost cursed the rain, catching herself before blaspheming her patron. Instead she thank Kynareth for water Skyrim’s crops and soaking her map through adding more than a little adventure to her pilgrimage. Lightning struck somewhere in the distance. The roar of thunder was muffled.

Kynareth, apparently, had no sense of humor.

The wind picked up and snatched the map from Odette’s hands. She reached for it as it went over the cliffside.

“No, gods damn it!” she said. Even as she cursed, she miss-stepped and slipped. She slid down the rocky cliffside. The stones ripped her robes and her flesh. She landed, bruised and cut, at the base of the old fort.

Well, she thought as she stood, at least it should be dry in there. Bad dreams are hardly worth this much trouble.

“Thank you, Kynareth, for such a fortuitous fall,” she said smoothing her robes and picking up her pack.

She pushed the door open and entered. Hanging moss hung from the stone ceiling and walls. Odette could hear water dripping further in the building. The air smelled damped and cold. She walked down the stairs, passing the leak in the roof that had allowed a small lake to form on the floor. A light came from the bottom of another staircase.

“Hello?” she called out, moving to the top of the steps. Her fingers twitched as she readied her frostbite. It was just a precaution. Skyrim seemed to grown more lawless since her return from High Rock.

A chair scraped against the stone floor. Odette heard a sword leaving its scabbard. “Who goes there?” someone yelled from below. They had an accent that Odette associated with High Elves. The elf moved into view.

“Uh Odette Fair-Winter. I’m an...an acolyte of Kynareth,” she said as the elf started up the steps. “I just...just wanted a place out of….out of the rain. You can put your sword down...please. It might make someone, you know, nervous.”

“That’s a likely story,” said the elf. “Who sent you, Breton? Hmm? Who dares spy on the Thalmor?”

“No one! No one sent me! I didn’t even know you were Thalmor unil right now! Please, I didn’t even know anyone was in here!”

The elf raised his sword. It glinted in the faint torchlight. Odette reacted purely out of instinct. She outstretched her hands. Tenderals of frost seized the elf freezing him in place. Odette did not cease the spell until ice coated the elf.

“Shit!” she said, stumbling back. Her heart hammered in her chest. It had been years since she casted anything other than a healing spell on another person. She had forgotten how exhilarating the mixture of terror and adrenaline could feel.

She could leave now, part of her said. There must be more Thalmor below, if the elf had been telling the truth, and they wouldn’t be pleased to find their comrade turned into an elf-icle. If she left now, she would have a running start. She could slip away and they wouldn’t know she killed him. She wouldn’t have to fight anymore.

But if they were Thalmor, then there was more trouble. The Thalmor had been the boogeyman parents used to scare their children with since the Great War. She had heard the rumors of people being dragged off in the dead of night, never to be heard from again. Torture in return for not forsaking Talos. The old tower was so isolated, divines only knew who they had down there.

Odette took a deep breath and went down the stairs.

Prison cells lined the walls at the bottom of the last flight of stairs. Aside from skeletons, the prison had been empty. Except for one cell. A man hung chained to the wall, his head bowed against his chest. Odette moved closer to the cell. She pulled at the cell door, only to find it locked. Whoever he was, the man must have given the Thalmor a lot of trouble for them to find it necessary to lock the door even with him chained to the wall.

The door’s rattling alerted the man that he was not alone, but he didn’t look up. “When I get out of here, I’ll kill you all myself,” he said.

“Easy now, I’m here to help,” said Odette.

The man’s head shot up so fast that Odette’s neck hurt in sympathy.

“What? Who are you? You’re not with the Thalmor, are you? Quick, get me free from here before more come,” he said.

“I will. I just need to find the key,” she said, scurrying away from the door. She hurried to a small table beyond his cell. A key lay on top of it. “Who are you?”

“Kaidan. My name is Kaidan,” he said.

“I'm Odette. Why are you here, Kaidan?” she asked. She returned to the cell and unlocked the door.

“The Thalmor invited me to high tea, what do you think?” He sighed, “I dunno. Some Justicars ambushed me outside of Falkreath.”

She crossed the cell. Kaidan’s hands were chained higher than Odette’s head. “Looks like your chains use the same key as the door. Thank the gods,” she said. She released one and then the other, doing her best to keep him upright as she did so. His weight nearly knocking her off her feet as he once the shackles were removed. Kaidan took a moment to regain his footing.

“You’re a lifesaver,” he said, rubbing his wrists.

Odette flicked a magelight into existence. It illuminated Kaidan’s wounds. Most were fresh, barely scabbed over. Long, cruel cuts and burn marks from magic. Odette flinched at the thought what he must have endured.

“Be still, now, I’m a healer,” she said, already casting a healing spell.

“A healer? That’s a special gift you have,” he said.

The glow from the spell died down. Odette did a quick inspection of his wounds. She wrinkled her nose. It was a patchwork job, but it would have to do until they were somewhere a bit safer.

“Alright, that should do it for now. Though I’d like to take a better look at those wounds later. Come on, let’s get out of here,” she said.

“Wait, there’s one more thing,” he said. “One of the Thalmor got his hands on my sword; I know I’ve got no right to ask, but I could use your help in getting it back.”

Odette blinked. “The sword is that important?”

“This isn’t me being sentimental. They kept asking about it...if it’s important to them, they shouldn’t have it.”

“Fair point. Where did he go?”

“Headed deeper into the prison, and with luck, he’s cornered like a rat.”

She snorted. “I wouldn’t trust my luck right now.”

“Then you’ll have to trust mine,” he said.

They walked through a hole in the brick wall. Odette unlocked another cell door, trying to do so as quietly as possible. She hoped to take the last Justicar by surprise. She had gotten lucky in the last fight, but she didn’t trust her luck to hold again with having to keep an eye on Kaidan. While he was probably more than capable, he was unarmed and unarmored, which put them at a slight disadvantage.

The prison seemed empty to Odette. She looked at Kaidan, opening her mouth to ask him if he had been certain of the direction the Justicar had went, before she snapped it shut. Kaidan raised a finger to his lips and nodded towards a staircase and motioned for her to listen. She heard the faint footfalls of someone pacing. Odette ready a ward in one hand and frostbite in another. She pushed her way in front of Kaidan. Careful to land on the balls of her feet, she ran the stairs.

The Justicars back was towards her when she cast her spell, an odd longsword strapped to it. Ice coated him as he turned, sparks forming at his fingertips as his released his own spell. The sparks died out on Odette’s ward. She focused on her ward, hoping to outlast the Justicar’s magicka. Soon, he would have to relent. That’s when she would go on the offensive.

Except the sparks kept coming.

Lightning bolt after lightning bolt hit her ward. An unstopping stream of electricity beat against her. She struggled to keep up her defenses. The ward shook slightly, threatening to break. She poured more man, more focus into it.

Kaidan charged into the room. He had found a discarded sword somewhere in the prison. The Justicar didn’t have time to direct his spell towards the man. Kaidan simply struck him down. He leaned over the body and took back his sword. “Son of a bitch had it coming,” he said.

“Glad I could distract him for you,” Odette said, shaking her hands. Wards always made her fingers ache.

The corner of Kaidan’s mouth twitched up.

“I can’t thank you enough. I know you didn’t have to help me.”

“Glad to help,” she said. She walked over to a chest in the corner of the room and opened it. “Are these your things?”

“Aye, that’s the rest of my gear,” he said.

“So, what’s the story with the sword?” asked Odette. She turned her back to give him a little privacy while he put on his armor. The thought struck her that it might be a little ridiculous, as she had already seen him half naked. But she hoped he appreciated the gesture, at the very least.

“The question on everyone’s mind, even mind. The sword belonged to my mother. I never knew her, but it’s my only clue to finding out who she was.”

“Are you decent?”

“Aye,” he said and frowned as she turned around. “Listen, I owe you my life and I’m not a man who’s comfortable being in dept. If you ever have need of me, I would be glad to fight alongside you till that debt is repaid.”

“I’d be glad to have you travel with me,” she said.

“I am your sword and your shield.”

“I think I’ve had enough of this place. Let’s get out of here.”

“Aye, the sooner the better.”

 

Outside the prison, the storm had passed. Secunda and Masser were full and bright in the night sky. Kaidan and Odette crossed the river and climbed the hill past the rundown shack, before setting up camp for the night. Odette said a little pray of thanks that her tent had not been soaked through and set it up. Kaidan had let her finish healing his wounds after he had lit the campfire.

“A good a place as any to camp,” said Kaidan, “though we should break camp early tomorrow. Dunno if anymore Thalmor are lurking nearby, but I don’t want to wait around and find out.”

“Sounds like a fine plan to me. Besides, I’m expected back in Whiterun in a few days. If I’m not back soon, Danica might send the Companions to drag me home,” said Odette, rifling through her pack. She found a mostly dry loaf of bread and tossed it to Kaidan.

“Then we’re headed there?” he said, taking a bite. “Can’t say I’m fond of cities, but there are worse places to be.”

“Not yet,” she said. “I’m on a pilgrimage to the Eldergleam Sanctuary. I don’t suppose you know the way?”

“Never been there myself, but I have wondered if I would ever see the Eldergleam,” he said.

“Damn. Well, I don’t suppose you happen to have a map? I sort of lost mine.”

“Aye, but it’s with my camp. Back in Falkreath,” he said.

“Damn,” she said. She moved closer to the fire. She studied Kaidan’s face for a moment. He was handsome, with his strange red eyes, the tattoo that ran down the side of his face, and his dark hair half pulled up. He was clearly not a Nord, even if his accent said Skyrim. Though the same could be said about her. “So, what happened with the Thalmor? If you don’t mind me asking."

“Aye, guess I owe you that. I’d been trying to cross the border into Pale Pass. In the meantime, I’d been picking up bounty contracts to keep some coin in my pocket. Must have drawn too much attention to myself. I’d been camping by the lake when they ambushed me. It seems the Thalmor don’t need much evidence to bring in a suspect. They took one look at that sword, decided that I’d be a good target for interrogation, and dragged me off to that abandoned prison,” said Kaidan, not looking up from the fire.

“Weren’t you scared?” asked Odette. She couldn’t help it. The thought of what Kaidan had to go through, the choking fear of it all, terrified her. Been dragged across Skyrim with no hope for escape and then tortured for gods knew how long. She shuddered at the thought.

Kaidan chuckled, “Brynjar used to say, ‘If you’re not a little scare, you’re not understanding the situation.’ Fear I can deal with easily enough,” he said. He looked up at her, his voice grew quiet as he continued, “But, there was a moment or two where I thought it might really be the end for me. The Thalmor would never have let me go, no matter what I told them. You’ve faced down mortality too, perhaps you know the feeling?”

She thought of her time in High Rock and swallowed hard, “More than you know.”

“Apologies. I didn’t mean to prod old wounds. But after all that’s happened, you’re still standing,” he said, reaching over and giving her hand a squeeze.

“The Thalmor will come after you again, you know,” she said when he let go of her hand.

“Probably. And I’ll be ready for them. Live and learn, right?” he said with a grim smile.

“Right,” she said. “We should get some rest while we can. Seems like we’ll have quite the journey ahead of us.”