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Not by Choice nor by Chance

Chapter Text

“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.”

Chapter Text

Kaidan rose before the sun. He hadn’t slept much that night despite his exhaustion. Every sound roused him from fear that the rustling of bushes or the snap of a twig would prove to be the Thalmor. From all the thrashing about she did, it didn’t seem like his new companion had slept while either. Odette was still asleep, using her traveling cloak as a blanket and her pack as a pillow. She had insisted that he use the bedroll, much to his chagrin. He had relented when she argued that she hadn’t been the one tortured. He slipped out of the tent, letting her have more time to sleep.

He set out with his bow, hoping to catch some fresh game for breakfast. Better to travel on a stomach full of rabbit or deer, than on old bread.

After breakfast they would head to Eldergleam Sanctuary, then to Whiterun. With any luck, his debt should be repaid by the time they reached the city and they’d go their separate ways. Perhaps he’d pick up a bounty contract while he was there. Maybe see if the court wizard had something that might help him decypher the writing on his sword.

From everything the Thalmor hinted at, a book on the Blades might help. He would take any lead he could get, but the thought that his tortures may have aided him in his search for his heritage left a bitter taste in his mouth.

He returned to camp with a brace of coneys just as dawnbroke. He field dressed them and then relit the campfire. Odette came out of the tent as he was skewering the meat to cook. Her lowered hood revealed an untamed mass of brown curls. She had a comb in her hand.

“Good morning,” she said, giving a little wave with the comb. She sat across from him and began combing out her hair, wincing every once in a while.

“And to you,” he said, placing the skewers on the fire. “So, Eldergleam Sanctuary. That’s where we’re headed?”

“Right,” she said, giving her hair a particularly harsh tug. “If I’m remembering the map correctly, it’s somewhere east of here.” She gestured with her comb in a wide arc.

“That’s west.”

“Oh,” she said. “Well, Kynareth never blessed me with much of a sense of direction. Just an appreciation for traveling and nature.”

“Mean no offense, but you don’t strike me as the pilgrim type,” he said. She seemed like the type used to comfortable, city living. He turned the skewers over.

“Wasn’t really my idea,” she said, setting her comb in her lap. “I’ve been having nightmares for months now. Haven’t had a fitful sleep in gods know how long. I’m an acolyte of Kynareth, so on top of my own skill, there’s also Danica Pure-spring, she’s the priestess at the Temple in Whiterun. After I tried everything I know, and she tried everything she knows, she thought that maybe a pilgrimage to the Eldergleam might bring some peace to my mind. But I’m not too sure that it’ll do much good.”

“Have you considered that it might be daedra?” he asked. He checked the meat. It was still too pink to eat.

“What? Like Vaermina? Danica thought of that, but she thinks that if it was her, then it wouldn’t be just me with the nightmares. And, as far as I know, I haven’t done anything to inspire a daedric prince’s wrath. Not lately, at least,” she said with a smile.

Lucky you, he thought to himself. “Those nightmares must be horrible, to plague you like that. Perhaps talking about them may lessen them.”

She chewed on her lip and looked down at her lap.

“Sorry, shouldn’t have pried,” he said.

“No, no, it’s alright. And I appreciate it,” she said, looking up at him. She rubbed the back of her neck. “It just that...Well, let’s say the subject of the dreams is a touch embarrassing. Not like that, though. Not humiliating. Or personal. And, I suppose there’s no harm in telling you. As long as you promise not to laugh.”

“I won’t,” he said. He knew how haunting dreams could be. How terrifying even a farmhouse could become in a nightmare. “The mind can create terrors out of even the most mundane thing.”

“Dragons.” Her hands went to her hair, pulling it up from her face and into a bun.

“Dragons?” he asked, he raised an eyebrow. Perhaps he spoke too soon about mundane terrors. He cleared his throat. “You seem a little old to be frightened of fairy stories.”

“I know. Shor’s bones, I wasn’t scared of them as a child.” Her eyes grew distant scanning the treeline as if looking for those overgrown lizards. She seemed compelled to tell him more. “But in my dreams it’s the same. Always the same. I’m in some village I don’t recognize. There’s this distant sound like thunder, except there’s not a cloud in the sky. People are running around, trying to get indoors. And the sound gets louder, like a mountain falling on top of itself. Then the sky grows dark. But it's not from clouds, but a shadow. And I look up and there’s just wings; big, black wings blocking the sun out. And this thing lands and the ground shudders. And flames shoot out of its mouth and it burns the buildings to the ground. And it turns to me. And I can feel its eyes on me and opens its mouth again and I know I’m next. And I feel the heat. And...”

“But, well, it’s just a dream,” she said with a shrug, dismissing the whole thing.

“You’ve probably have heard this, but for what it’s worth; they’re all dead now,” he said after a moment. He pulled the meat from the fire and handed her a skewer. She took a bite of her food as if to show that she was done talking about it. “Dragons won’t be swooping down to eat you anytime soon.”

 

They had been walking for a hour when the fog set in. It did nothing to improve Odette’s sense of direction. Kaidan begun to think that they were going in circles and expected to look up and find themselves at the abandoned prison at any moment.

“We’re on the right path,” she said. “Or we went a little too far south.”

“There should a little mining settlement nearby. Darkwater Crossing. Maybe they’ll be able to point us in the right direction,” said Kaidan. “Or have a spare map.”

“Or both,” said Odette.

The fog steadily grew denser. Kaidan could barely see Odette, and she stood only a few feet away from him. He moved closer to her. “If this fog gets any worse, we’ll have to stop until it lets up.”

“I think I see people coming around the bend. Maybe they could help us,” said Odette. She walked further up the path.

He could start to make them out. Or, rather, he could see the glint of their armor and weapons. There was a crowd of them moving on foot from what he could gather. They were growing closer even as the two approached them.

“Stick close,” he said, keeping pace with her.

“Hello there!” she called out.

He grabbed her arm and pulled her to him.

“What are you doing?” he hissed in her ear. He thought he heard wagon wheels rolling on the path somewhere.

“Asking for directions? Wasn’t that what you wanted to do?”

For a moment, he couldn’t believe that this was the same woman who saved him from the Thalmor. Divines, how can she be so naive, he thought.

“Aye, at Darkwater Crossing. For all we know, they’re bandits.” Damn the fog and damn that woman.

“And for all they know, we’re bandits. Besides, from what I saw, they looked a bit too orderly to be bandits. Maybe they’re hold guards, or something,” she said, pulling out of his grip. She hurried back down the road. She stretched out her arms as if to welcome trouble. “Perhaps you can help us! We seem to be lost!”

The fog swallowed her whole.

A scream pierced the fog and then all hell broke loose.

He groaned as he ran after her. His hand was already reaching for his blade. It hadn’t sounded like Odette, but he wasn’t sure. He wasn’t proud of it, but the thought that his dept might soon be repaid crossed his mind.

As he reached the fray, someone struck his head from behind and a different fog took him.

 

Something jolted Kaidan awake. He heard what sounded like someone praying. The back of his head pounded. It felt cool, as if it were wet. He tried to touch it, but found his hands bound. Again. He groaned. The praying stopped. He opened his eyes and saw two stranger sitting across from him in a carriage. One in prison rags and the other in Stormcloak armor.

“Hey, you. You’re finally awake?”

Chapter Text

They waited for the headsman’s axe. Lokir, the horse thief, lay dead twenty feet away his blood pooling between the cobblestones. Odette stood next to Kaidan, so close her sleeve snagged on his armor. She scarcely recognized that the priestess was preparing their souls for Aetherius.

“Oh, gods, Kaidan, I am so, so sorry,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. She was vaguely aware that that was the only thing to leave her mouth since Kaidan had regained consciousness. A litany of apologies. “This is all my fault.”

“It doesn’t matter much now,” he said. He sounded tired. Hopeless.

But what could they do anyway? Even if they could break free and Kaidan managed to get his sword from the nearby soldier and she managed to cast a spell before being filled with arrows; they’d still have to fight through an entire squadron of Imperial soldiers. Not to mention any guards in the town. Or the Thalmor that had haunted the gate.

Kynareth protect us, she thought. Plead.

In her mind’s eye she saw her family. Emeric, Lothar, and Giselle. Who would let her siblings know that she died like a traitor? That she died alongside rebels whose cause she didn’t support? Or would they never learn of her fate and think that she just ran off again like she had those years back? Gods, they didn’t deserve that. Not again.

“For the love of Talos, shut up and let’s get this over with,” cried one of the Stormcloaks.

“As you wish,” said the priestess.

Gods that man must be mad, thought Odette.

The man pushed his way through his comrades to the front of the crowd. “Come on. I haven’t got all day.”

The axe flashed in the morning sun. Blood spurted from the man’s neck as his head fell.

“Next, the Breton,” said the Captain, pointing at Odette.

She stood, unmoving. Her feet didn’t seem to comprehend what was happening. Not that her brain was much better off though.

“I’ll meet you in Aetherius,” said Kaidan, catching her eye. She wanted to apologizes, one last time. Instead, she gave a weak nod and a weaker smile.

Far off came what sounded like thunder. Except not really like thunder. Some small irrational part of Odette that didn’t seem phased by impending doom thought that it was odd. There wasn’t a single cloud in the sky.

“There it is again,” said the redheaded Imperial soldier.

“I said next prisoner,” said the Captain.

“Nice and easy.”

Odette clenched her jaw and walked to the block, before anyone had to drag her there. Even if she refused to rush to it, she would face her death with at least a little honor. Until she nearly tripped over the corpse. Someone pushed her to her knees. She couldn’t bare looking into the basket in front of the block. She closed her eyes tight. The coppery smell of blood filled her nose.

Gods, keep my family safe, she thought.

“It’s in the clouds!” said one of the Imperial Soldiers.

“Sentries! What do you see?” said the Captain.

“What in Oblivion is that?” cried General Tullius.

Odette looked up from the block. If not for the pain from her bindings, she would have thought she was dreaming. Or would have hoped she was in a dream. There on the roof of the keep, landed the monster straight out of her nightmares.

“Dragon!”

The dragon roared. Meteors rained down onto roofs, burning and crushing as they fell. It let out another shout. This time Odette and the headsman flew backwards. Odette lay where she landed frozen from fear.

Hands roughly pulled her up to her feet.

“Keep your head low,” said Kaidan, crouching next to her. He shielded her head with one of his arms. Odette didn’t know how or when he was freed from his bonds. And she really didn’t care.

“Hey, you two, the gods won’t give us another chance,” said Ralof. He motioned for them to follow him.

They hurried to the tower. It looked to Odette as though the entirety of the Stormcloaks were huddled inside. They kept away from the door, like they were afraid that the dragon would kick it down at any moment. Odette doubted that even the stone walls could keep that beast out. Kaidan stood between her and the soldiers, as if they might decide that the two outsiders might be more trouble than the dragon.

Ulfric Stormcloak addressed his men. She didn’t pay much attention to what he said. Her eyes shifted over the harried group. Their bounds had all been cut. Dirt and sweat stained their faces and fear filled their eyes. All of them looked shaken. One of them retched besides the stairs. Odette looked at Kaidan. He looked no worse for wear, no worse than he had in the cart at least. His sword was still gone. The Imperials had confiscated it when they were captured. She felt stupid for hoping that he had found it. How foolish to hope for a miracle when it seemed like the gods had forsaken them.

“You alright?” Kaidan asked, turning towards her.

“Still have my head, so that’s good. Would be better without the dragon though,” she said. “But I’d settle just to have my hands free. How ‘bout you?”

Kaidan opened his mouth to reply when Ralof rushed by them up the stairs. “Oye, you two, this way,” the Stormcloak called.

They followed him up the steps. The roof had collapsed and a gaping hole lined the wall. One Stormcloak worked at removing the rubble. “We’ve got to get this cleared,” he said.

The dragon’s head burst through the hole. It spewed fire, catching the Stormcloak in its blast. With a burst of wind from its wings, it flew away. Odette found it absurdly comical, how it popped in and popped out like a gopher out of its hole. She might have laughed, if not for the stench of burning flesh.

Ralof ran up the steps to the hole. “Jump to the next roof!” he yelled at them.

Kaidan went first. The still sensible part of Odette was amazed at how he could move so quickly. His armor must have weighed a ton. The part of Odette that wanted to cry from fear was terrified that she would have to jump into the burning building next. The tiny, stupid part of her that always was around remarked that she was going out of the frying pan and into the fire, almost literally.

She hated that part of her.

There was no where else to go but down.

She jumped. She felt the heat brush against her, but not the flames. She landed hard on her feet and stumbled. Kaidan grabbed her by her binds and lend her through the burning building, not stopping until they were out.

The world was ending. Odette was convinced of that. Meteors still fell from the sky and the village crumbled to ruins. A few villagers and the redheaded imperial soldier took shelter behind a fallen building. The soldier looked at them.

“Still alive, prisoners? Keep close to me if you want to stay that way,” he said. “Gunnar, take care of the boy! I have to find General Tullius and join their defense.”

“Give me a sword, and I’ll help fight,” said Kaidan. He outstretched his hand, as if a sword would materialize in it.

“Even if I had one, I couldn’t arm you. You’re still a prisoner,” said the soldier, stopping in his tracks.

“You’re not serious?” said Kaidan, glaring at the other man. “You can’t just leave us unarmed with that beast around.”

“This might not be the best time for this,” said Odette. Besides, she thought to herself, at least your hands are free.

“She right,” said the soldier. “Follow me.”

So they did. Through the burning village. They hugged any wall they could find for protection. Not that they were sheltered overhead. The dragon perched on top of the wall. It arched over turning to face Odette. It’s red eyes stared into hers. Burning her. Challenging her. Something deep within her pushed her forward. Whether it was wonder or fear or instinct, she didn’t know. She barely knew that she was walking until she had stepped out of their shelter.

Kaidan dragged her away from it as it took to the skies.

“Have you gone mad?” he said as he guided her through a burnt down house. “Just stay close till we get that rope off you.”

They moved faster now. Odette nearly tripped on her robe. They ran past the Imperial’s defenses. The dragon was making short work of them. Near a charred corpse laid Kaidan’s sword. He seized it. Odette heard General Tullius yell something about the keep.

Hadvar and Kaidan pushed the keep’s doors open and let them slam shut.

“We should be safe. At least for a moment,” said Hadvar. He turned to look at them. “There should be some weapons around here. You should take a look.” His eyes narrowed at the sight of Kaidan’s sword. “Though I suppose you’ve already cover that.”

“That really was a dragon! Those wyrms were supposed to be lost to the ages,” said Kaidan. He strapped his sword to his back.

“On the bright side, me and children everywhere can finally face our fears of dragons,” said Odette. She let out a shaky chuckle. Looking up at the ceiling she blinked. Damn tears were clouding her vision. She’d be damned if she was about to cry then. “But that’s...that’s not much of a bright side, is it though?”

“Hey, it’ll be alright. We’ve survived it this far,” said Kaidan. He looked at her hands. “We need to get you out of those binds.”

Hadvar pulled out a dagger and walked to Odette. “Here, I can handle that.”

“Take a moment to rest,” said Kaidan as he went to the weapon rack that stood next to an interior door.

“I will. It’s been a while since I’ve had to run for my life,” said Odette, holding still as Hadvar freed her hands. She looked around as she regained her breath. Beds and chests lined the walls. She guessed that they were in the barracks.

“Don’t suppose you know how to wield a sword?” Kaidan called. He took a short sword off the rack and brought it to her.

“A little bit, but I’m rusty,” she said. She rubbed her wrists, and used a small healing spell on them. “Anyone need any healing?”

“I’m fine. Let’s just focus on getting out of here,” said Kaidan, handing her the sword.

“Agreed,” said Hadvar. He opened the door and they went deeper into the keep.

 

Odette squinted as she left the cave. How lucky they had been for that escape route. The gods had blessed them. Or perhaps all keeps had something like that. She didn’t know. Hadvar crouched behind a rock and he gestured for Kaidan and her to join him. The dragon roared and flew overhead. She watched it until it was a speck on the horizon. She barely registered that Hadvar begun to talk.

”Closest town from here is Riverwood. My uncle is the blacksmith there,” said Hadvar. “I’m sure he’d be willing to help the two of you.”

“We should head there then. Give ‘em some warning,” said Kaidan.

“It would probably be best if we split up though,” said Hadvar. “Look, I wouldn’t have made it today without your help. Thank you. Both of you.”

“We could say the same thing about you,” said Kaidan.

“Listen, you should go to Solitude. The Legion’s always looking for soldiers and we could use someone like you. You’re an excellent fighter,” he told Kaidan. He turned to Odette. “You should join, too. Gods know healers are in short supply.”

“I can only speak for myself, but I won’t be enlisting anytime soon. Can’t fight for an Empire that I don’t believe in,” said Kaidan.

“You really think we should join up? Really? After they just tried to execute us?” said Odette. She scoffed. “I think I’d rather face another dragon.”

“I understand that it might be a sore subject. But it was a mistake. Just think on it,” said Hadvar. He looked to the road. “I need to report back to Solitude. See if anyone else made it through. When I’m there, I’ll try to get your names cleared from what happened. I don’t think you’ll have any trouble, but try to avoid any Imperial patrols, just in case.”

“We’ll do that. Be safe,” said Odette.

He nodded to them and then headed down the road.

“Need a moment to catch your breath?” asked Kaidan.

Odette shook her head. “How about you? How’s your head? I didn’t get a chance to look at it after the ambush. Mind if I check it out now?”

“It’s nothing to complain about, but if it’ll make you happy,” he said.

“It would,” she said, then patted the boulder. “Sit.”

When he was situated, she looked over the wound. There was a nasty bump, but no lacerations. She cast a healing spell on him. Almost instantly the swelling went down. Kaidan sighed.

“That feels better,” he said. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcomed,” said Odette. The sun was high in the sky. “Gods, all that and it’s only midday.”

“Aye. When we get to Riverwood, I need a drink. Or two.”

“Or twelve.”

Kaidan chuckled as he stood. “That’s some heavy drinking for a priestess.”

“Acolyte. And Kynareth teaches nothing about sobriety.”

The two headed down the road. Odette silently prayed. Both in thanks for their safety and in hopes of not having to face a dragon ever again.

Chapter Text

Kaidan and Odette had risen before the sun. They had spent the night at Hadvar’s uncle’s house and thought it best to leave before the household woke. Naturally, the roads had been empty so early in the morning. Though Kaidan had been surprised by how quite his companion was. Bird songs and the river rushing by the road had been the only sounds to accompany them. Until they rested at the top of a hill.

“There it is. Whiterun,” said Odette, gesturing needlessly to the city. “It may not be much to look at, but it is home.”

Kaidan peered down at the it. He found Whiterun as unimpressive as he had when he last saw it. It had been a few years since he had travelled near the city and it had become even more rundown. The old stone walls remained toppled over, some so short that it would take no effort at all for someone to climb over. Most of the walls looked unguarded. Jarls never did seem to keep their holds maintained.

“The defenses here are worrying. There are no ramparts on the walls and the surrounding land is too flat. It makes the strategic layout of the city all but pointless.”

“Y’know, I never really considered that,” said Odette.

“Is your mind on commerce or society? It’s wise to be aware of your surroundings. Especially where it makes you, or your enemies, vulnerable,” he said. Even as he said it, he doubted that the woman had to worry about enemies. Or her safety at all, for that matter.

“Are you always so on-edge?” she said, raising an eyebrow at him. The corner of her mouth was raised in a teasing manner.

“I’ve been taught my whole life to be aware of my surrounds; one of the reasons I’m still alive,” he said, crossing his arms against his chest. “Saved me from walking into ambushes.”

Her face flushed at that and she looked away. “Well, I suppose that was a gap in my education. I mean, I’ve been livin’ here for nearly two years now and I’d always thought it was safe as houses.”

“Never too late to learn, though,” he said. “And perhaps you should. If you’re planning on spending anymore time on the road.”

She grinned and said, “I don’t know. I get the feeling that ignorance is bliss with that. Don’t think I’ll be getting any proper sleep here now that I know just how vulnerable it is, though.”

He chuckled at that. She caught his eye. She searched his face for a moment, scrutinizing. Like she was inspecting for a wound. Or like she was trying to read his thoughts.

“So, you don’t seem very fond of Whiterun and I don’t think that I’ll be able to get into too much trouble between here and the gate. If you’d rather, we can part ways here,” she said, after a moment.

It was a tempting thought. He could return to his own business. Pick up a bounty or two. Head down to Falkreath, maybe. Or up to Winterhold, see if he could find a book about the markings on his sword. Try to cross into Pale Pass again. He could go anywhere. Odette would be able to make it to Dragonsreach and inform the Jarl. She could do that on her own. Really, what was keeping him?

Your debt, said some small part of him, You think you’ve paid it? Some running for your life and thats all? Well done, keeping her out of that Imperial ambush. Excellent job, protecting her from that dragon. Glad to see how little your life is worth if that repaid a life debt.

Besides, what was his own business? A sword with marking he didn’t even know where to begin translating? Killing people for money?

“Hmm. We still have to see the Jarl. Besides, I’d planned on picking up a bounty contract or two while we were there. No sense in parting company yet.”

“I appreciate it,” she said, with a relieved smile.

The two rounded the bend. The roar of the river next to the road nearly covered Odette’s humming. The ground trembled faintly. As they past the meadery, Kaidan heard a scream coming from the nearby farm. A giant bore down on the farm with earth-shuttering steps.

“Shit!” yelled Odette.

“Find some cover!” Kaidan yelled at her as he drew his bow. He took an arrow from his quiver and shot. Even as he shot at the giant, he realised he was not the only one attacking it. Arrows flew at it from two other directions. A man in heavy armor charged it. The giant swung its great wooden club. With a sickening thud, the man was sent crashing into the ground. They ran past the stone fences; Odette to the wounded man and Kaidan to the giant, longsword drawn.

The giant swung. He jumped out of the way. He struck at its legs.A second later, his blows were joined by a woman armed with a sword a shield. Between their sword and arrows, they brought it down.

“Well, Farkas, you’re certainly lucky that we happened to be passing through. There, you should be feeling better,” said Odette. She looked up at Kaidan as he approached the two, sheathing his sword. “How about
you, Kaidan? Are you hurt?”

“Thank you, Odette,” said the man. He groaned as he sat up.

“I’m alright,” said Kaidan. He offered Farkas a hand and helped pull him up.

“Thank the gods for that,” said Odette, standing up. She dusted off her robes. “Farkas, you’re going to be sore for a while and you should still go see Danica, but you’ll be alright.”

“Farkas! You ice for brains, idiot! You were supposed to wait until we had it distracted!” cried the redheaded huntress as she drew near.

“Thought you did,” said Farkas.

“Thank the gods you were here to help,” said the Imperial woman. “Both of you.”

“Indeed, you’ve got quite the sword arm,” said the redhead. She looked Kaidan up and down. “You should come to Jorrvaskr. The old man is always willing to see strong, new warriors. And you might make a decent Companion.”

“I appreciate it. And I’m glad I could help. But the Companions aren’t for me,” he said. “I prefer to fight on my own terms.”

“Fair enough, not everyone is called to join,” said the huntress. “But if you change your mind, I’m sure you’d be welcome. Or if you get tired protecting wayward priestesses.”

“Aela, Ria. I’m certain you have business about payment for bringing down this beast. We won’t keep you. That is, as long as you don’t need any healing,” said Odette with a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes.

The redhead regarded her for a moment and then shook her head. She brushed past Odette, heading toward the farmhouse. The Imperial woman looked at them. “Thanks again for your help. We’ll be sure to bring Farkas by the temple later. Come on, Shield-brother.”

The other Companions followed after Aela, Ria walking close to Farkas as if she was afraid that he would fall over.

“Not that its my business, but it seems like there’s some bad blood between you,” said Kaidan.

“It’s really not worth getting into right now,” she said with a sigh. “Come on. I want to be done with this dragon business as soon as possible.”

The rest of the walk to the front gate was blessedly uneventful. Though, at that point, Kaidan fully expected something to happen. Like a bandit raid. Or perhaps a plague.

“Halt,” said the guard at the city gate. He peered down at them, like at any moment they might draw their weapons.

“Is there a problem?” asked Kaidan. He might give the guard reason to pause, but Odette surely didn’t. Short and plump and running around in priest robes.

“City’s closed with the talk of dragons flying about,” said the guard.

“Praise the gods that you should mention that. We have important information for Jarl Balgruuf. Riverwood calls for aid,” said Odette.

“We can send a runner to Dragonsreach with your information, but we’re under orders,” said the guard.

“Well, that won’t do at all. It would be best if the Jarl heard directly from us,” said Odette, her voice tensely pleasant. “What’s more, I live here. I’ve been on the road for a while now, and I’d like to be getting home.”

“I’m sorry, priestess. We’ll be sure to let Danica know of your return. Perhaps she’ll be able to bend the jarl’s ear. Though I doubt she’ll be able to find the time.”

“What do you mean?”

“During that last thunderstorm, a lightning bolt struck the Gildergreen. They’ve been trying to tend to it, but the thing’s now just firewood.”

“All the more reason to let me in. Danica needs all the help she can get,” she said.

The guard regarded her for a moment and after he decided that she wasn’t about to pull a dragon out from underneath her robe he said, “Aye, I suppose you’re right. But what about him?”

“He’s my friend. What about him?” Odette tilted her head back, as if trying to appear taller. Gods help them if they ever needed her to intimidate anyone.

“Don’t see much harm letting you in, but he’s a stranger.”

“He’s my friend. And he’s...in need of healing,” she said. “He’s very sick. But don’t worry. He’s not contagious.”

Kaidan gave her a quizzical look, but then covered it with a bought of fake coughing.

“He looks perfectly healthy to me,” said the guard.

“That’s because he is. For now. It took all of my skill to get him remotely healthy enough for travel. But he’ll soon be back on death’s door if you don’t let me take him to the temple,”said Odette. “His condition is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Danica is the only one who could possibly help him.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes. And the longer you delay us, the weaker he gets,” said Odette, placing her hands on her hips. “If you keep him out here, you are condemning him to death. Do you really want to sign an innocent man’s death
warrant? Do you?”

“Fine. Fine. I’ll let him in too,” said the guard as he moved to the gate. “Gods help you if he comes bearing a plague.”

He pushed the heavy wooden door open and shut it behind them. The two walked down the cobblestone street. Kaidan followed behind Odette as she lead him up a him, past houses. They kept a brisk pace, avoiding the busy market.

“Well, sir, You’re bout of wasting sickness seems to have past. And I must say, your acting skills are superb. It was the performance of an era.” she said over her shoulder.

“You could’ve given me some heads up.” said Kaidan.

“If I knew that I had to do it, I would’ve given you one. I wouldn’t worry about it. You did well enough that we’re in the city,” she said. She slowed to a stop when they came to the center of town. “Oh, gods.”

Lightning had charred the Gildergreen. Splitting it open. It’s bark burnt and showed where it had been struck. Already the branches were bare.

“It had been in full bloom when I left,” said Odette. “I don’t suppose even Danica can fix that.”

“It’s a shame. I’ve seen it before and it was a beautiful old tree,” Kaidan said, carefully. “But, we still need to get to Dragonsreach.”

“Yes. You’re right,” said Odette as she turned towards the steps that lead to the palace. “You’re right. I’ll speak to Danica about it, later. Dragonsreach first.”

The two climbed the stairs in silence. Dragonsreach was impressive, if only for its craftsmanship. But as far as its original purpose.

“Ah, Dragonsreach. Built to capture and house a ferocious, fire breathing dragon. Which is why it makes perfect sense to build it out of wood,” said Kaidan, when they were inside. That earned him a laugh from Odette.

Soon after that they were brought to the Jarl’s throne. Jarl Balgruuf sat slumped in it. As if the talk of the war did not worry him. As if the talk of dragons weren’t coming back. As if a giant hadn’t just attacked his
hold.

Nobles. Bah.

“You sought me out on your own initiative, well done,” said the Jarl to Odette. “But there is one more thing I need of you. I can not spare anyone else, especially since I may need to send men to the Rorikstead as well as Riverwood. Come, speak to my court wizard.”

Chapter Text

The Temple of Kynareth had grown to be less of a sanctuary and more of a Legion’s infirmary. Quiet prayers and compilations were punctuated by the moaning of the sick and injured. The strong incense they burned barely covered the smell of blood and vomit and other bodily fluids. But there was a certain isolation that the crowd brought with it. Easier to sneak past Acolyte Jensen than if the temple were empty. Odette didn’t have any patience for any of his usual snide remarks.

Nestled away in the alcove that held her bed, Odette opened the chest that held her things. She dug down underneath the books, the spare robe and cloak, crumpled letters from her siblings, the small coin purse half filled, an empty inkwell, a broken quill, and a few stray hair ribbons. Beneath all of that lay her old armor. She quickly changed her clothes, not wanting to keep Kaidan waiting too long outside. Tugging on the leather cuirass was a bit more difficult than she remembered it being two years ago. And she was certain that the breeches fit snugger than they had.

As she fastened her cloak back on, someone cleared their throat behind her. She turned around and found the priestess with her hands on her hips.

“I’m more than a little surprised to see you back so soon, child. I thought that you would be late, if you came home at all,” said Danica Pure-Spring. “Though, with how you’re dressed I suppose you’re not here to stay. It’s a shame. We need all the help we can get.”

“I’m sorry. I won’t be gone forever,” said Odette. She knelt down and stuffed the coin purse in the pack Sigrid had given her to replace the one that the Imperials confiscated. “Danica, there is no place I’d rather be than here. But the Jarl requested my help. I shouldn’t be gone very long. Gods willing.”

Danica frowned. It was poor imitation on the type a frown a disapproving mother might give her child. She said, “I seem to remember you saying something very similar to that before. Before you disappeared for years.”

Comments like that reminded Odette that they worshiped Kynareth, who had no teachings on compassion or forgiveness.

“But I still returned, and I’ll return after this, too. There’s nothing that will keep me from coming back, this time,” said Odette. Especially since a dragon and nearly losing my head didn’t stop me, she thought. “You wouldn’t have me forsake my promise to the Jarl.”

“No, nor would I have you forsake your promise to Kynareth,” said Danica, her frown growing deeper, if that were at all possible. Her gaze going beyond Odette to the pile of brown fabric that was her robe.

“I haven’t though!” said Odette. She snatched the robe from the ground and shoved it in the chest. “I’ll be back as soon as I can. And then nothing will be able to drag me from this temple. I’ll be the most devoted one here! Practically a zealot!”

Danica sighed.

“Very well. I suppose I can give you my blessing for the journey, whatever errand it may be. And, I suppose you may be able to help the Temple as well,” said Danica.

“Of course, I’d be glad to help,” said Odette, still on her knees.

“If you’re already planning on leaving the city, then you can retrieve the dagger, Nettlebane. It should be able to help restore the Gildergreen. You’ll need to travel to Orphan’s Rock, in Falkreath Hold. Be careful, it’s guarded by hagravens.”

The priestess turned to go, but stopped in her tracks. “Before I forget, how was the Eldergleam?”

“It was lovely. Very peaceful,” said Odette. The lie had already left her mouth before she realized it. Or even why she said it.

“I’m glad. That pilgrimage always gave me such peace, too.”

The priestess left without another word. How in Nirn will some cursed dagger help a dead tree? thought Odette. She shook her head. If it helped her get back into Danica’s good graces, she didn’t care minutia of it all.

After a moment, she reached under her bed. She felt the cool metal of the Orcish dagger she kept hidden there. Adjusting the sheath onto her belt, she was glad that she had left the keepsake her before her failed pilgrimage. She would've hated to lose it with her other things.

 

“I was going to suggest we find you some new gear, but it looks like you have that handled,” said Kaidan, eyeing her armor. He rose from his seat on one of the benches beneath the dead Gildergreen, picking up the pack that shared the bench with him. “I went ahead and stocked up for the journey. Belethor even had a map.”

“Wonderful. Thank you,” said Odette. The two walked down the steps towards the market. “Would you mind traveling with me again? After we get Farengar the Dragonstone?”

“As I said, I’ll travel with you until my debt is repaid.”

“Not to sound too terribly selfish, but hopefully that won’t be for a little while longer. I think I’ll need your help with some hagravens.”

“Hagravens? I thought you’d have had your fill of trouble after all this. What’s so important that you’d tangle with those monsters?"

“The Gildergreen. And proving that my devotion hasn’t...wavered,” said Odette. She sighed and ran a hand through her hair. She hoped to disguise the nervous gesture by turning it into a quick wave to Ysolda.

“You seem flustered,” said Kaidan, seeing through her attempt.

“Oh, guess I am a little. Danica sometimes has that effect on me. You’d think a healer and a priestess would have a bit more matronly manner. A bit more kindness than scolding. Or at least knowing that her scolding was because she cared,” she said with a shrug. “Anyway, it doesn’t really matter.”

They walked through the city in silence. Odette occasionally waving to people she knew. While she liked the people of Whiterun well enough, she was thankful that they managed to make it to the gate without anyone stopping her for a chat. She also thanked the gods that it seemed like there had been a change in the guards. No one asked about Kaidan’s miraculous recovery.

The sun drifted towards the west as they made their way to through the outlying fields. Odette heard the distant sound of cows mooing and horses neighing. A far cry from the chaos that overthrew the farms earlier that morning. No giant met them then.

“We should be able to make it back to Riverwood well before sundown,” said Kaidan. He looked at her. “Unless you’d rather head straight for Bleak Falls Barrow.”

Odette bit the bottom of her lip. A relaxing evening was a tempting thought, but she had promised Danica not to delay too long. “If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather just head for the Barrow.”

“To own the truth, a warm tavern sounds good about now. But I don’t mind sleeping out under the stars,” said Kaidan. “C’mon, then. We’ve got a while to go.”

 

Several hours and many miles later, Odette cursed herself for not agreeing to go to Riverwood for the night. She rubbed her hands together. It never failed to amaze her how vastly different Skyrim’s weather could be. Down in the fields she left her cloak in her pack after she had gotten too hot, but now in the snow coated tower that they had liberated from bandits she thought she might freeze solid. They stood on the rickety second floor of the tower, which was barely covered with what could hardly be described as a ceiling.

“There’s still a little sunlight left and if I’m reading the map right, we near the Barrow,” said Odette, her grip tight around the map. “Now, I’m no expert, but I think that being inside the Barrow would be a lot warmer than being out here.”

“No, we should make camp here. The tower’ll give us plenty of cover from the wind. And I don’t want to risk stumbling around the mountain side in the dark,” said Kaidan, already slinging his pack off of his back.

“What about the bandits?” The thought of sleeping with their dead eyes watching her made her shiver.

“If you’re worried more will come, don’t be. This place doesn’t seem very lived in. If they have any friends, I doubt they know the area well enough to travel by night.”

“No, I meant the dead ones,” said Odette. Stupid of you not to think of reinforcements, she scolded herself. Her original point now seemed foolish, but she’d already began to state it so there was no turning back now.

“What about them?”

“Well, we shouldn’t sleep near corpses. That’s highly unhygienic. Don’t you know that diseases can spread that way?”

Kaidan rolled his eyes and exhaled heavily. His shoulders were slumped. He looked tired. “If you’re really worried about it, then I’ll take care of them while you set up the tent.”

“Alright, fine then,” said Odette, placing her own pack down. She should have noticed how tired her companion looked earlier. She rooted around her bag, unsure how she could’ve lost something as large as her tent amongst the other contents. “Where’s…”

“It’s in my pack. Had to get a new one from Belethor,” said Kaidan, handing her his pack.

“Right, thanks for that,” she said. She quickly went about searching his bag, hoping to hide the flush on her cheeks. Idiot, she thought, how could you forget losing your things to a bloody Imperial ambush?

She had the tent set up soon after Kaidan descended the stairs. In another moment, Odette had a fire going, the magical flames burning on nothing but her magicka. As she basked in the warmth of the fire, she heard a grunt coming from below. She conjured a sword and quietly went down the stairs, worried that they had been attacked.

“Kaidan?” her voice almost a whisper.

Kaidan stood midway across the bridge. He hunched over with the weight of the body he carried over his shoulder. The body fell off over his shoulder down to the cliffs below. Odette, not knowingly, walked out to join Kaidan and looked over the side. The all four of the bandits lay broken below.

The two stood silent for a moment underneath the setting sun.

“They’re bandits. And they tried to kill us. Even a pauper’s grave would’ve been more than they deserve,” he said at last, as though he read her mind. Or at least her face. Her mouth gaping open like a fish and her eyes as big as the full moons above.

True they had been bandits. Odette felt no guilt over killing them, that was certain. And it wasn’t like theirs’ were the first lives she had ever taken. Looting, of course, never seemed like a problem either. But somehow the sight of Kaidan tossing the bodies over the bridge struck her. Like being thrown overboard, she thought and choked down the memory of water rising up to meet her.

For the first time since they began traveling together, she thought that it may have been a mistake.

She did not know this man. She trusted him not to kill her or do anything untoward, but she did not know him. His answer for the bandits drove home that fact. How nonchalant he had been with disposing those bodies. All she had was his name and that he was a bounty hunter.

Well, the stupid, reckless, optimistic side of her said, you’ll just have to fix that.

 

With a meager dinner in their stomachs and a warm fire between them, Odette decided that was the best time to breach the silence that hung around them. She cleared her throat.

“How are you doing, Kaidan?” she started, mentally kicking herself for perhaps the lamest start to a conversation she could think of.

“I’m doing alright. How are you holding up?” he said, looking up. He had been cleaning his sword before she interrupted him.

“I’m fine,” she said. She took a breath before she took the plunge. “Y’know, after all that’s happened, the only thing I really know about you is your name.”

“It’s not like we’ve had much time to talk. But, if you’re curious, now’s a good time as any,” he said, going back to cleaning his sword.

“Alright. So, what brings you to Skyrim?” she said. Safe a place as any to start.

“I’ve spent a long time wandering. This is where my feet led me,” he said.

She raised an eyebrow at such a guarded response. Not like you have any room to talk, said the small bit of her that might be her soul.

“There must be more to it than that, surely?” she said.

“Aye, isn’t there always? To own the truth, I’ve come back to Skyrim to learn something of my heritage, my bloodline. The few clues that I have pointed me here, but it takes time to decode. So, I’m paying my way by collecting bounties.”

“You don’t have any family to ask?”

“Not anymore. Perhaps I do have bloodkin out there, but I’ve never known them.”

“Oh, um, sorry to hear that,” she said. She chewed on the inside of her cheek before continuing. “You..er...really don’t look like a nord?”

“Well, aren’t you observant?" He said sarcastically. "I was raised by a Norrd and as one. But no, that Atmoran ice doesn’t run in my veins. I can’t be certain what does.”

“You don’t know your own race?” She regarded him. He was too big to be a Breton like her. Too fair skinned to be a Redguard. In her mind she guessed that he was an Imperial with maybe some elf blood mixed in there along the way.

“No. I have no Voice of the Emperor, no Dragonskin magic. I don’t know the race of my mother. All I have is a hunch. But I need proof.”

“Perhaps I could help you with your search?” she offered before she thought it through. Then she cursed the cynical part of her that said not to help. If she was running around not knowing who her parents were or not knowing about a part of her, she’d want help too.

“You do that?” He sounded surprised at that. “I suppose I could use the help. The best clue I have is my sword, but I’m certain we can find out more in our travels.”

“May I have a look at it?” she said, getting up from her seat and walking around the fire before he had an opportunity to reply.

“Aye,” he said as she sat down. He gently placed the sword in her lap. She had noticed before how different the blade looked from the Nordic greatswords. “In all my travels, I’ve never seen a sword with its likeness.”

“I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no weapons expert, but I agree. Not even in Stros M’Kai and gods know that port sees many unique things,” said Odette.

“Stros M’Kai? That’s a pretty far place for an acolyte from Skyrim to roam,” said Kaidan, raising his eyebrows.

“I didn’t always live in that temple. Spent a few years wandering my own self,” she said. She ran her finger down the side of the blade over the markings. It was...no it felt oddly familiar. It was like word she didn’t know how to pronounce. She didn't know what that feeling meant and shook it off. “What’s this writing?”

“Aye, that’s the heart of the mystery, I suppose. With any luck, it won’t just be something sentimental.”

“Maybe someone up at the College of Winterhold could recognize it?”

“That’s what I was thinking too. Those wizards are bound to have a book on damn near everything holed away up there.”

Her brow furrowed. “What language do you think it’s in?”

“I have a hunch. But I’d rather wait until I’ve got more evidence before I explain it,” Kaidan said, taking back his sword. He sheathed it.

“Why don’t you get some sleep? I’ll take first watch,” she said to Kaidan.

“You sure about that?”

“I am.”

“Well, scream if we’re in danger,” said Kaidan. He stood up and walked to the tent. “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Kaidan.”

Odette tapped her fingers against her knee. Well, she knew at least a little bit more about him. Or at least his reasoning for being in Skyrim. In the end her question left her helping with another mystery. But his past was a mystery to himself, though. Well, it hardly seemed like a quest that would involve too much danger. Travel up to Winterhold. Look for books about long dead languages. Surely not even Danica would hold helping Kaidan find out about his heritage against her. It would be the last thing she did before she returned to the temple, she told herself. Then a life of quiet contemplation and service.

Odette sighed.

Chapter Text

From the outside alone, Bleak Falls Barrow was impressive. It must be a shadow of what it was, thought Kaidan if this is what its ruins are like. He peered around the stonework they were using for cover. The arching statues and grand staircase lay covered in snow and a thin stream of smoke rose from besides what must have been the entrance. He counted two archers, one standing to the far left of the stairs and the other closer to the Barrows. He assumed then that one, maybe two more would be near the campfire.

So the bandits did have friends. Friends who were smart enough and had a large enough number to set more than one watchman.

“Be on guard. There’s two archers,” he whispered to Odette, pointing each out. “And I’m willing to bet at least one more back with that fire.”

Kaidan slid his bow off his back. He notched an arrow. The archer walked lazily back and forth on a weak excuse of a watch. He stopped. A moment later, he stopped breathing, too, with an arrow sticking out of his neck.

Next to him, Kaidan felt the temperature drop colder than the already frigid air. He lowered his bow and looked at Odette. Her brow was furrowed in concentration. Magicka crackled in the air between her hands, crystallizing into a spike of ice. Kaidan fought to keep his hackles down. No sense in protesting her use of the stuff, not when it could be useful in a fight. But that didn’t mean he had to like it. At least it’s not a fireball, he thought bitterly.

The ice flew through the air. It impaled the other archer.

Kaidan found it unnerving how someone devoted to one of the Nine seemed so comfortable with taking lives. But everyone had a past, now didn’t they?

Unfortunately, magic like that wasn’t subtle or silent. Another bandit -an orc in bare chested fur armor- cried out and rushed to the top of the stairs. Kaidan stepped out from behind the stonework, unsheathing his sword. The bandit charged down the steps, battleaxe drawn high above the orc’s head. Good, Kaidan thought, let the fool come down here. High ground was wasted on idiots who didn’t realize the advantage they had.

It wasn’t often that Kaidan had any trouble dealing with bandits. For the most part, bandits relied more on size and intimidation than skill. That might work against farmers or carriage drivers, but not against a seasoned warrior.

This time was no exception.

Axe met sword. Kaidan staggered back a little from the added force from the momentum. The bandit used the opening to raise his axe again. Kaidan blocked it once more. The orc used the axe more like he was chopping wood than fighting. He went to raise his weapon once more. Kaidan thrust his sword through the orc. The bandit died before he hit the ground.

Kaidan stood frozen for a moment. He listened above his own heavy breathing and the sound of the wind. No footsteps or gasps or voices. Satisfied that no more bandits remained -at least outside- he relaxed and sheathed his sword. He would need to clean it later. For now though, he got the sense that his sword-work was far from over.

Turning to face the stonework, he saw Odette peeking her head out from behind it. he called out, “Aye, that’s the end of it. Let’s go.”

 

“Well, at least we know there aren’t any more bandits,” said Odette, dusting the spiderwebs off her hands. She bent over to grab the dark elf’s bag. She frowned when she picked the bag up, like she had expected it to be lighter.

“I doubt anyone’s been this far in the Barrow in ages,” said Kaidan. He looked around the room. They stood in some sort of treasure chamber. Large urns lined the walls and in the middle of the room were soul gems carefully placed on stands on some sort of altar. “What do you think the ancient Nords used this room for? Offerings? Sacrifices to they’re dragon masters?”

“Probably parties. They seemed like a cheerful bunch.” She pulled something out of the bag. It was a dragon’s claw carved out of gold. “Now what on Nirn is this?”

“I’ve heard about those dragon claws. Supposedly, they’re a kind of key used to open puzzle doors,” said Kaidan. “Haven’t come across any meself, since exploring ancient ruins isn’t a habit of mine.”

“Huh,” said Odette as she turned the claw over. “So, does that mean there’s treasure down here?”

“What?” said Kaidan, raising an eyebrow.

“You lock a special door with a special key you must have something special behind it. And to me that says treasure,” she said with a grin.

“Could be. Or could be that there’s something dangerous that you’re trying to keep in.”

“I like my option better,” she said. She maneuvered the claw into her bag without dropping the bandit’s bag. Then she pulled a book out of the bandit’s bag and flipped it open. “It’s a journal. Let’s see what he knew about this thing.”

Kaidan was silent for a moment as Odette scanned the pages. Odd, how bizarrely comfortable the woman seemed to be. And how their fights with bandits seemed to affect her so little. Out of the robes she had been wearing, she could have been a completely different person than the woman who saved him from the Thalmor. He decided to ask her something that had been hanging around his mind since she left the temple the day before.

“I’m curious. Why travel in that robe if you had armor all this time?”

“I’d hoped that people would see the robes and think, ‘oh a priestess, better not rob or attack her. Don’t want to incur the wrath of the gods.’ Clearly, it didn’t work as I’d planned. It’s kind of sad, actually. The lack of piety these days.” She clucked her tongue, then turned the page.

He humored her with a small chuckled.

It was another one of those comments that he didn’t know what to make of them. He couldn’t say if she was being serious or if it was a poor attempt at humor or what. Any way, it struck him as an odd way for an acolyte to behave. Kaidan resolved to ask her about it later, when they had a chance to put their feet up.

Odette slammed the book shut with a sigh. “Seems he didn’t know anything you didn’t know. Also, he’s only guessing there’s a treasure.”
“Why are you so worried about treasure?”

“Mostly cause Danica complains about people not tithing enough. And it would help the temple help others. And, I never took any vows of poverty or the like,” she said with a wink.

Before he could reply, an ungodly moan came from beyond the threshold of the next chamber. He unsheathed his sword. The draugr shambled into the room. Odette shrieked behind him and a spout of ice formed over the undead.

“What the hell was that?” cried Odette, after the thing lay coated in ice so thick it could be used as armor.

“You’ve never heard of draugr?” he asked incredulously. From her accent, he had assumed she had grown up in Skyrim. If not that, she had said she lived in Whiterun for a few years. Surely, she should have at least heard of draugr.

“Course I’ve heard of them! I just...didn’t think they were real,” said Odette. She sneered. He wasn’t sure how a sneer could look sarcastic, but she managed it. “Kinda like how dragons aren’t supposed to be real.”

“And you’ve never seen any in your travels?” Perhaps she wasn’t as well traveled as he had thought.

“No, you don’t get many undead at sea. Especially not of the ancient Nordic kind,” she let out a shaky breath. “Gods, is that what we’re going to be facing down there? Gods. The smell alone...”

“There’s probably more. Stick close and I’ll deal with them,” he said. He waited a moment for Odette to collect herself and then lead her down, deeper into the Barrow.

 

“I think that’s it,” said Odette as she turned the last of the rings. The carvings of a bear, a moth, and an owl lined up on the puzzle door. They stood in what Odette had called the Hall of Stories. A name she remembered reading about somewhere, but could recall the title of the book. He left the riddles and puzzles to her. She had spotted the key to turning pillars earlier. And figuring them out seemed to make her happy.

“Be on guard. We don’t know what’s inside,” said Kaidan. He hadn’t sheathed his sword yet. The place had been crawling with undead. They weren’t difficult to kill, slow and stupid from decay. Odette had done well against them. Rather, better than he had expected her to do. The look of disgust had twisted up her face, but the undertones of horror and nausea melted away.

“Hopefully treasure,” Odette said quietly. She slid the golden claw into the holes on the door and turned it. There was a thud and then the door slid into the ground. “I suppose we’re about to find out.”

The stairs led them to a large cavern. The ancient nords had left this part of the mountain relatively untouched. A waterfall plummeted down from the ceiling, feeding into a stream that crossed the width of the crypt. They crossed a bridge to an altar. Up a smaller flight of steps lay a cist and a Word Wall stood as a backdrop.

“Well, if the dragonstone isn’t here, then it’s not…”Odette trailed off. Kaidan looked over to her. She moved silently to the Word Wall.

“Odette?” he called after her, sheathing his sword.

She continued on like he hadn’t said a thing. She stood before the Wall and outstretched her hand. A strange fear came over him. A dread that something would happen if she touched the Wall. He cleared the space between them, though not fast enough. Her fingers traced the carvings on the Wall as his hand landed on her shoulder. He turned her around to face him. Her face was blank. Her eyes stared through him, unseeing.

“Odette!” he said. He braced her shoulders with his hands. There must be some sort of spell, he thought. Some sort of ancient curse left behind to stop grave robbers.

The sound of the cist’s lid falling to the ground shook Odette back into herself. Her eyes cleared and she looked beyond Kaidan to the moaning behind them. Kaidan whipped around quickly, drawing his sword at the same time. Another damn draugr.

 

By the time they reached the lakeshore, the sun was low in the sky. No chance in making it to Riverwood before nightfall. Especially not with how slow they were travelling. Kaidan hadn’t wanted to push Odette too hard after whatever happened with the Word Wall. Odette seemed fine, but he wanted to be sure.

Though he didn’t relish the thought of sleeping out in the open so close to where he had been ambushed. It barely took him a second to realize exactly how close that was.

“My old campsite. This is where I was ambushed,” he surveyed the area. They were at the footholds of the mountain, sloping down into the lake. “Doesn’t seem like the Thalmor left much behind.”

The tent remained standing. Stones outlined where the campfire had been. He had spent a week camping there. Perhaps he should have moved on, but it had seemed safe enough surrounded by the lake and the mountain. And it seemed like he would’ve been able to see anyone coming before they spotted him. Apparently, he’d been wrong.

Odette set her pack down near the old fire pit. She turned to him. “Was this yours?” she asked, holding up the book of ghost stories that he had bought in Falkreath.

“Oh, that. Yeah, Just something to keep me entertained. Didn’t much like it though,” he said. He placed his pack down. “You can keep it if you like.”

“Thank you. Are we stopping here for the night?” she asked. There was a hopeful note to her voice.

“Aye, but we should keep watch,” he said. He left out, in case anymore Thalmor are creeping about. He doubted that they were, but he wouldn’t be caught unprepared this time.

He placed his pack on the ground near hers, the dragonstone added extra weight. He checked the pile of firewood he had chopped gods knew how long ago. They were in luck. It was still dry. He built a fire.

Odette sat quietly. Without her hood up, he could see her face clearly. Large eyes lined with kohl, button nose, small defined mouth. She was pretty even with the raised scars that crossed her right cheek, like someone had tried to sharpen their blade on her face.

“What happened before. When you looked at that Word Wall, it was like you fell into a trance,” he said after a moment.

“You didn’t see the light from the runes? Or hear anything?” asked Odette, though from her tone of voice, Kaidan suspected that she already knew the answer to that and was just hoping otherwise.

“Uh, no. All I knew about those word wall were that they’re usually some sort of memorial. Never heard about them being magic. But it’s clearly had an affect on you. Are you feeling alright?”

“It felt like the light was reaching out to me and the stone was speaking,” she trailed off and she looked at him.

“Perhaps some magical way of communicating. It’s the purpose of those memorials to deliver messages after all. The court wizard might know more,” he said. He looked at her, searching for some sort of sign of her still being under the trance. She seemed clear minded enough watching him beyond the fire. “Are you sure you’re alright?”

“I think I’ll be fine, I just don’t know how to explain what I saw.”

“Hey, there’s no pressure to. I’d rather you take it easy, than let some old magic scramble your brains,” he said. His questions would have to wait until morning. “How about you rest a little bit and I’ll set up the tent?”

“Ah, my ploy worked,” she said. When he quirked an eyebrow at this she gave him a weak smile. “Now, I get out of my evening chores.”

He chuckled at her and shook his head. “Aye, cunning plan indeed.”

She was a strange woman.

“Thank you. Y’know, for today. I kind of left most of the fighting to you, I’m sorry.” she said.

“Ah, don’t worry about that. Like I said, I am your sword and your shield,” he said as he stood.

“I just wish it didn’t have to be so literal,” she said. “I’ll do better next time. As long as we don’t come across anymore singing Word Walls or undead, I should be fine.”

“I’ll hold you to that,” he said. She was indeed a strange woman, but good company and she seemed like good sorts too. There were worse people to owe a life debt to.

Chapter Text

Kaidan was staring at her again. Perhaps staring was not the right word, like there was more distance between them then there really was. Looking was too mild. Peering sounded like he was looking down at her. Inspecting was close but rather clinical. Checking. Checking seemed right. Kaidan was checking on her again. In his own silent way.

Apparently the three times he had asked her if she was alright that morning on their way back to Whiterun didn’t satisfy him.

She couldn’t blame him too much, though. She probably would’ve been the same way if the Word Wall had affected him instead of her. Strange ancient magic wasn’t something someone should take lightly. That was one of the few of her mother’s lessons she had taken to heart.

But Odette was fine. So what if she couldn’t explain what had happen? It wasn’t an issue if she’d heard voices or seen lights that really hadn’t been there. Skooma addicts had that happen all the time. And so what if for one fleeting moment she had understood all the markings on the Wall? She couldn’t recall them again. Well, except for one word that still hummed through her head. She felt the meaning of the word more than knew it.

Fus.

The guards opening the door to Dragonsreach brought her out of her thoughts. She looked over at Kaidan, who now looked around the great hall as if something might attack them at any moment. Being so on edge probably wasn’t healthy.

“Thus ends my promising career as a grave robber,” Odette said as they climbed the stairs inside Dragonsreach.

“Over before it began,” said Kaidan with a half smile. Good. Lightening the mood was a good thing. “Perhaps it’s for the best. C’mon, there wasn’t even any treasure.”

“Not to mention the undead,” said Odette.

“Aye, though I’m not sure you’ll like hagravens anymore. Perversions of nature, those things,” he said with disgust and a sneer.

“I think I’ll prefer fighting evil, magical, bird women over rotten corpses.”

Odette and Kaidan lingered outside Farengar’s study. She heard the voices first and motioned for Kaidan to wait. No sense in interrupting the conversation and her mother didn’t raise her to be rude. But, well, it wasn’t really eavesdropping if they didn’t try not to be overheard.

“Time is running, Farengar, don’t forget. This isn’t some theoretical question. Dragons have come back,” said the woman. The voice was faintly familiar, but Odette couldn’t place it.

“Yes, yes. Don’t worry. Although the chance to see a living dragon up close would be tremendously valuable...Now, let me show you something else I found...very intriguing...I think your employers may be interested as well,” said the court wizard.

Odette shifted on her feet. The boards underneath her made a subtle sound.

“You have a visitor,” said the woman. She apparently had the ears of a bat.

Odette walked into the room, Kaidan close behind her. The wizard and the woman were hunched over the table, staring at the pair as they entered the room. Judging by her size, the woman was a Breton. She wore leather armor and a hood hid her face. A sword rested at her belt.

“Hmm? Ah, yes, the Jarl’s protege! Back from Bleak Falls Barrow? You didn’t die, it seems. Ah! The Dragonstone of Bleak Falls Barrow! Seems you are a cut above the usual brutes the Jarl sends my way. My...associate here will be pleased to see your handiwork. She discovered its location, by means she has so far declined to share with me.”

“Aye, here it is,” said Kaidan, taking the Dragonstone out of his bag and placed it on the table.

Farengar turned to the woman, “So your information was correct after all. And we have our friend here to thank for recovering it for us.”

The woman looked at the pair. Odette couldn’t make out the woman’s face underneath her hood, but she could feel her eyes scrutinizing her. Searching for something. Probably for a hidden knife or something.

“You went into Bleak Falls Barrow and got that? Nice work. Just send me a copy when you’ve deciphered it,” said the woman as she backed away from the desk. She pushed her way between Odette and Kaidan not saying another word as she left the room.

Odette watched the woman’s retreating figure for a moment, before turning back to Farengar. He was already engrossed in studying the stone. “So, we got you the Dragonstone. Is that all or?” she asked. She shifted back and forth on her heels. Having never played at being a mercenary before, she wasn’t sure how to go about asking for payment. That had always fallen on other crewmen. Or perhaps they wouldn’t even get paid and it was all an act of service for the Jarl. Perhaps she shouldn’t push. She didn’t think that the court wizard was a gossip, but it wouldn’t do for word to spread that she pressuring for gold. She did know that wouldn’t make Danica any happier with her.

“I suppose we should talk to the steward about payment,” said Kaidan, gods bless him. He crossed his arms against his chest.

“Hmm? What? Oh, yes,yes,” said the wizard, not looking up from the Dragonstone.

“Farengar! Farengar!” Irelith charged into the room, a guard close on her tail. “You need to come at once. A dragon’s been sighted nearby. You should come, too.”

 

They had reached the Western Watchtower before Irelith and the guards. It had been ripped apart. Half in ruin and still burning. And, gods, shouldn’t there be guards at the Watchtower? Odette paced back and forth behind the rocks that Kaidan suggested using as cover while they waited. She wasn’t sure what he meant they were waiting for: the guards or the dragon.

We’re waiting for a dragon, the thought hit her like a giant’s club. We must have lost our gods damned minds. All because we have ‘experience.’ Since when is running for your life experience in fighting.
Odette’s jaw hurt. She realized that she’d been grinding her teeth.

“You alright?” Kaidan asked, looking over his shoulder at her. He had been keeping watch on the Watchtower. Odette might have found that amusing, if not for the situation at hand.

“Wonderful. Just anxious to throw myself at a dragon,” she said. Irelith and the guards were headed towards them, still too far away for comfort.

“Listen, no one would think less of you if you held back. I mean, the Jarl sent you as a healer, after all,” said Kaidan. “You don’t have to fight.”

He had meant it as a kindness, but her hands tightened into fists at the words. She stopped pacing and looked at him. Her father’s face crept into her mind, unbidden. The look of unsurprised disappointment -and, worst of all, embarrassment- the Nord had when she last saw him on the steps of Jorrvaskr. Just go to the Temple, he had said, you’re no fighter.

“No,” she said, putting her hands on her hips so he wouldn’t be able to see that they were shaking. “You saw what happened at Helgen. They’re gonna need all the help they can get. Even the little bit I can give. I’m not going to hide while you and the rest of them risk your lives.”

“That’s brave of you,” said Kaidan. “I’ve got your back, either way.”

“You’re already here, good. No sign of any dragon now, though it sure looks like he’s been here,” said Irelith reached them. She motioned to her guards. “Spread out and look for survivors. We need to figure out what happened. And if that dragon is still skulking around.”

With bows and blades drawn, they stalked towards the tower.

Odette tried to ignore the fear pooling -no, flooding- in her stomach. Rising in the back of her throat, threatening to turn into a scream. Focus, she told herself, focus on your magicka. That was easier said than done. Especially with the smell of burning flesh reached her nose.

She started to climb the up the remnants of the tower. Kaidan was close behind her. He pulled her aside as a guard came charging out of the Watchtower.

“No! Get back! It’s still here somewhere! Hroki and Tor just got just got grabbed when they tried to make a run for it!” the guard yelled. He pointed at the sky, towards the mountains. “Kynareth save us! Here he comes again!”

Odette’s feet were rooted to the ground. The dragon was a fast moving, ever growing blur against the sky. Soon, it was close enough for Odette to make out its color. It’s scales were green, not black. A different dragon from Helgen, then. Which meant there might be even more, Odette thought.

Kaidan yanked her behind a fallen piece of watchtower. He aimed his bow. His arrow met its mark. Odette shook herself out of her stupor. She summoned her magicka into an ice spike. The dragon turned sharply around the tower and the ice missed. It swooped down, snatching one of the guards in its maw.

“Dammit!” she yelled.

The dragon roared as it flew past the watchtower. Except that the roar sounded more intelligent than animalistic. “Thuri du hin sil ko Sovengrade!”

“It’s coming back around. We need to move,” Kaidan said, grabbing Odette’s arm.

The dragon turned and flew back towards the tower. Kaidan pulled Odette towards another crumbled pile of stonework. Odette could feel the dragon’s eyes upon her back. She felt the air rush behind her as it flapped its wings. The hairs on the back of her neck jumped to attention. Some ancient, long buried instinct screamed at her that the dragon was about to strike. She wrenched her arm out of Kaidan’s grasp. She spun sharply on her heels, forming a ward as she did so.

Heat rushed over them as the dragon flew by. But the flames burned out against the ward, leaving Odette and Kaidan to continue not being human torches. Odette let the barrier fade away and shifted her magicka into another ice spike. This one hit the dragon’s wing.

Between magic and arrows, they forced the beast from the sky.

And, then, it talked. Not in the strange, guttural language it spoke in before. “I had forgotten what fine sport you mortals can provide!”

A guard got close to it. Apparently, too close as the dragon leaned forward and bit the man. The guard screamed. Its teeth around his middle, it shook its great head. After a final shake, the screaming stopped. The dragon spit what was left of the man out.

“Find some cover,” Kaidan hissed at her as he drew his blade. By the gods, he was going to charge that thing.

She should have listened to him. She could have covered him with ice and kept him healed from some relative safety. But she didn’t. Some stupid part of her made her conjure a blade instead. It was the same stupid part of her that always got her in trouble. And, because she was already being a brave idiot, she ran after Kaidan.

“You are brave. Bahlaan hokoron. Your defeat brings me honor,” the dragon said.

Kaidan reached the dragon first. He blocked its bite with his sword, teeth meeting blade. He beat its head back. With the dragon distracted, Odette ran to its other side. She struck at the beast indiscriminately. She didn’t know if her blows hurt the dragon as her blade hit its neck. Blood seeped up through the scales.

“Dovahkiin! No!”

Kaidan jammed his sword up through the roof of the dragon’s mouth. He pulled it out, his arms coated in the dragon’s blood. It roared a final wordless roar and then stilled.

For the first time that day, the world was quiet. Odette moved towards Kaidan. She caught his eye and gave him a little nod, which he returned. She was vaguely aware of the guards approaching them talking amongst themselves in excited voices.

“You alright?” she asked Kaidan.

“The blood’s not mine, if that’s what got you worried,” he said with a small smile. His eyes flickered over her. “I’m guessing it's the same for you.”

She was about to say something smart about investing in red clothing when Irelith yelled for everyone to get back from the dragon. The wind picked up, swirling around her. Roaring in her ears. She felt like she was caught in a hurricane. Then came the warmth, burning down into the chest, straight to her heart. Then it was gone. She opened her eyes, having not realized she had closed them. A word shouted across her mind.
Push.

“I don’t believe it,” said one of the guards. “You’re dragonborn.”

 

They were all singing now. It had gotten to that point in the night where people had enough to drink that no one really cared how their voice sounded, they’d sing enough to put any bard to tears. Probably from the pain. It made it easier to slip out of Dragonsreach. Odette sent a quick thank you up to the gods in general, unsure which of the Divines’ called wine and mead their own.

The autumn’s night air was crisp, almost too cold to be without a cloak. But it sobered her up enough that she was glad for it. But not wake her up, cementing the fact that it all wasn’t just a dream. She walked down the bridge and then turned onto the cobblestone walkway instead of heading down the steps. There with his back to the wall was Kaidan. He had slipped out from the feast some time before her.

“Leaving a feast thrown in your honor? Doesn’t seem very gracious, Dragonborn,” he said. “Or do you prefer Thane of Whiterun?”

She sighed and shook her head. “Don’t really think you have any room to talk about leaving. You came out here before I did. And you’re the one who struck the killing blow, dragonslayer.” It wasn’t very clever, but she was too tired to do clever. She leaned against the wall next to him.

“If they wanted me to stay, they shouldn’t’ve started singing,” said Kaidan.

“They’re still singing the dragonborn comes. Everyone’s too drunk to remember more than the first verse,” she said. “They’re all too sober to make any...inappropriate jokes though, praise the gods.”

Kaidan snorted at that and then clucked his tongue. “To think I’ve been traveling with the Dragonborn. You could’ve told me that sooner.”

“I didn’t know,” she said, her eyes widening. “Kynareth take my soul now if I’m lying, I didn’t know until after we killed that dragon.”

“Hey, I’m only teasin’,” he said, putting his hand on her shoulder.

She looked down at her feet for a second. “I’m sorry,” she said meeting his gaze. “Guess this has got me more off kilter than I care to admit.”

“I can imagine. Finding out the truth of your blood like that, when you don’t think you have anything to learn about it.”

They were quiet for a moment. An unspoken decision past between them and they began to walk, headed down the steps towards the center of the city.

“Gods, there’s no way that Danica hasn’t heard about this,” she said when they reached the husk of the Gildergreen. “Listen, when we go to Orphan Rock, can we stop in Falkreath? I need to tell my siblings. And make sure that they promise not to try to hunt dragons. We can probably find a carriage to take us in the morning.”

“Aye, we can. But what about the Greybeards?”

“What about them?” She recalled the great booming sound that echoed through Whiterun’s plains. All of Skyrim must’ve been able to hear those voices like thunder.

“They’re masters of the Voice. I’m sure they’d be able to answer any questions that you must have right now,” said Kaidan. He raised an eyebrow expectantly. “Aren’t you going to see them?”

“No,” said Odette. They can come down from their mountain if they want a Breton Dragonborn that badly, she thought.

“Why not?”

“Kaidan, all I want to do is find Nettlebane and then return to my duties at the Temple. And figure out your sword, too,” she said. It was mostly true. Though, perhaps fighting dragons was a better fate than cleaning sick off of the floors. She gestured towards the temple. “This is where I belong. I’m no fighter. And I’m not sure what cosmic mistake has happened, but I know I’m no Dragonborn. I’m just a temple mouse.”

“That’s not what I saw today,” said Kaidan. “You can always learn to be a fighter. Besides, you already have a pretty fine sword arm. Even if you do rely on magic a little too much.”

“Maybe I don’t want to be a fighter,” said Odette feeling the heat rise up in her face. That was a bold faced lie if she had ever told one. But hadn’t that road taken her places she didn’t like? It would be safer -better- if she were to stay an acolyte. “As I said, today was just a fluke. Both with the dragon soul eating thing and with the dragon not eating either of us. The gods didn't want us to die. Kynareth isn't done with my service yet.”

Kaidan was quiet for a moment. He studied her face in the moonlight, as if he looked hard enough he might be able to find a different answer. “No one can force you to take up that mantle. But perhaps you should consider that this may not be the path you should take.”

His wise words made her angry. But she didn’t lash out. “How about I sleep on it then?” She turned about to head into the temple. Her better self got the best of her and she looked back at the man. “I don’t think anyone mind if you slept at the temple tonight.”

“I don’t mind sleeping down at the inn,” said Kaidan. “It’s probably empty.”

“Meet you at the carriage at dawn, then. I want to be out of Whiterun early,” she said. And before Danica has a chance to talk to me, she kept that to herself.

Chapter Text

Kaidan was not a man for many luxuries. He might not have been the best judge when it came to what was a luxury, since he considered ‘beds’ to fall in that category. The whittling knife he had purchased from Belethor to replace the one he had lost somewhere between the Thalmor and Helgen was the extent of his indulgences. That, and the horker tusk that he had been carving. It would be a fine war horn when he was done with it. Even if it ended up in the hands of a merchant instead of Odette’s like he had originally planned, it would be worth the effort.

Besides, focusing on carving took his mind off of the surrealness of his current situation. Strange to think that he sat in a carriage next to the Dragonborn. Not that Odette seemed anymore willing to take up that title than she had the night before. They had snuck out of Whiterun like thieves and when the carriage driver said that he was more than willing to leave hours before he planned for the Dragonborn, Odette paid him extra to not refer to her as such.

If the gods had sent her to save them from the dragons, then Skyrim was in trouble. And for a reason Kaidan didn’t understand. Odette tried to convince him -and herself, it seemed- that she was just a temple mouse. But she was more than that, wasn’t she? He knew that from the start. Anyone willing to brave the Thalmor must be. She was capable enough in a fight. She seemed to have a nose for adventure or, at least, a willingness for it, having not turned down either the priestess or the jarl. Or himself, for that matter, agreeing to help discover his past.

Though she may have already abandoned that, he thought bitterly. There were larger things on her horizons, including hiding from herself, and his past did not seem to be one of them.

He steadied his knife as to be sure he didn’t make the cuts to jagged as the carriage climbed a hill.

Perhaps all she needed was time. And some encouragement. And even if she chose to continue with her plan, who was he to judge anyone? Especially when the decision seemed so harmless as this? Gods knew he had once devoted his life to something far worse than one of the Nine. Hiding from a life of fighting dragons was better than choosing a life of inflicting pain. Even if hiding from her bloodline seemed selfish when dragons had returned.

The carriage driver began humming, snapping Kaidan out of his thoughts. It was too loud to be described as to himself, but too quiet for it to be for his passengers. Judging by the moth eaten blanket that they had been given and the dirt that coated their seats, Kaidan guessed the driver didn’t have passengers often enough to worry about. He had welcomed their gold, though, and didn’t bat an eye when they’d told him they were traveling to Falkreath.

Kaidan sat next to Odette. The rocking of carriage seemed to be putting her to sleep. He nudged her arm with his elbow and leaned over towards her. He whispered, “Do you think he takes requests?”
“We should ask if he knows any sea shanties,” she said. She yawned and stretched. For a brief moment, he worried that she planned to ask the driver when she turned towards the front of the carriage. “Excuse me, sir, how much longer until we reach Falkreath?”

“We’re making good time. Passed the Guardian Stones already. I’d say an hour more, maybe two, Drago-...lass,” said the driver. He continued humming.

“Hmm. Should’ve brought a book,” she said. She looked down at his hands and gestured. “What are you doing?”

“This? Bit of scrimshaw. Just to, you know, keep the hands busy,” he said before returning to his work. He had already cut off the solid tip of the tusk. It would take some time to smooth the jagged end into a mouthpiece.

Odette must have been getting her bearings, since after a moment she said, “I think we’ll be passing my old home soon.”

Her voice had been quiet, as if she wasn’t really saying it to anyone.

“You grew up in Falkreath?” Kaidan asked. While there weren’t that many Bretons in Skyrim, he had guessed that she had grown up in the province.

“Yes. My mother was the Jarl’s court wizard and was granted a steading near the lake. We were allowed to keep living there, after she died,” she said, rolling her eyes at the word ‘allowed.’ “Till the Jarl wanted to use it as a hunting lodge. Not sure how much he uses it, Jarl Dengeir being so old. I was at the temple by then, but my younger brother and sister still live in the town.”

He decided to broach the easiest topic of siblings rather than disdain for nobility or her dead mother. “I don’t have any brothers or sisters. Must be nice having your clan so close.”

She gave him a sad smile. “We write a lot, though I haven’t seen them in a long while. Last time I saw any of them was when my older brother, Emeric, had business in Whiterun for the College of Winterhold. And that was six months ago. But I guess that’s more than I saw them before I re-committed to the temple.”

“Aye, I suppose your adventures before that kept you far from home, then,” he said. He was just curious, he told himself, not prying into her past.

Color flooded her face. “Right. Though, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t bring that up in front of them. It’s a bit of a sore subject. You see, I didn’t keep in touch as much as I should have when I went a roving.”

 

It was mid-afternoon when the carriage came to a halt at the city’s gate. Kaidan stepped down out of the cart. He turned around and offered Odette his hand. She considered it for a moment, before taking it and letting him help her down. After thanking the driver, the two wandered into town.

“We should head for the smithy. My younger brother, Lothar, is apprenticing for the blacksmith,” Odette said, taking the lead.

Falkreath was a small city, more of a town really. In the first few weeks of returning to Skyrim, Kaidan had spent a great deal of time there with it being on the border to Cyrodiil. He took on a few bounties on some bandits and spent the gold at the Dead Man’s Drink and on arrows at the smithy. He didn’t recall seeing anyone there other than the smith. He didn’t mention that to Odette.

“Hello, Lod,” said Odette as they walked the steps of the smithy. A man was bent over an anvil, his hammer froze in mid swing. He looked at the pair; dismissively at Kaidan and intently at Odette.

“Oye, Odette, is that you? Been awhile. If you’re looking for that brother of yours, he’s not here,” said Lod, after a moment.

“Have him out on some errand than, do you?” Odette said with a polite smile. “Any idea when he’ll be back?”

“No, no. I meant he’s not apprenticin’ for me anymore. Ran off to join the guards,” said the smith. “Talk of war and dragons got him all fired up.”

“What? When?” asked Odette, her face and voice full of disbelief.

Apparently, they don’t write as often as she says they do, Kaidan thought. He kept quiet and shifted awkwardly on his feet. Better not to get into people’s family scandals. At least, when no one was hurt.

“Oh, few weeks back. Back when the talk of dragons was just rumors. Have you heard about Helgen? Whole town got destroyed.” Lod glanced down at his work then back at them. “Look, I don’t know where the lad is now, but I think the guards put new recruits on the night watch. He might be home. Or at the tavern.”

“But he doesn’t drink!”

Lod snorted. “Been a long time since you were home, lass.” The smith returned to his work, indicating he was done talking.

Kaidan watched as Odette back down the steps like she was in a daze. She shook her head and then looked at him.

“Sorry about that,” she said. “I suppose we should’ve went to the cottage in the first place.”

“I have to ask why we didn’t, to own the truth,” said Kaidan. They walked the path past the graveyard. It was no wonder why Odette’s parents wanted their children to grow up away from town, if this was at its heart. The lingering dead must be a problem for such a place.

“Oh, um, that’s because I figured there was no sense waiting around the house if Lothar was working. That, and he’s...easier to get along with than my sister, Giselle. Thought I’d give my family the best chance to make a good first impression,” she said. She ran a hand through the strands of hair that had escaped her bun. “Guess that’s already been buggered up though.”

 

The cottage was small. An unkempt garden sprawled around the side and around its corner. No smoke came from the chimney. No light leaked out of the windows. Kaidan would’ve thought the place was abandoned.

Odette strolled up to the door and banged her fist against it. “It’s the Falkreath guard! Open up!”

Kaidan raised an eyebrow and then rolled his eyes when she gave him a wide, toothy grin.

No one came to the door.

Odette knocked this time and called, “Lothar! Giselle! It’s me, Odette.”

The door remained shut.

Odette tried the handle, then cursed. She pushed against the door. When it didn’t budge, she turned to Kaidan. “Would you care to break this down?”

“Really? Aye, sure, let me go bustin’ into your family’s home. That’ll go over well,” he said.

“I was just joking,” she said in a harsh tone. She sighed. “Sorry, that came out worse than I meant. You don’t happen to have any lockpicks, do you?”

“No, I normally just break the lock my own self,” he said, crossing his arms against chest. “And, no, I’m not going to do that here.”

“Damn, well, I guess they both must be out. Care for a drink?”

 

The Dead Man’s Drink was a good enough tavern. At least for a town like Falkreath, where most of the people there were already in their graves. The crowd was not a lively one -except for a group in the back corner- nor did it draw attention to outsiders. The patrons were used to hunters passing through the town wanting a drink and perhaps a bed for the night. So much so that there was only a fleeting look of recognition in the innkeeper’s eyes when Kaidan bought two meads.

He returned to the table Odette sat at and handed her a mead. She was staring at the group, now thunderous with laughter. She pointed to one of the men. He was shorter than the rest, but not by much, with dark blond hair and broad shoulders. He wore the grey-blue sashed armor of a Falkreath guard. “There’s the idiot,” she said. She gulped down a drink of her mead before standing up. “I’m going to talk to him.”

“Good luck,” he said, unsure what else there was to say, the realm of sibling-hood a foreign and distant land. “I look forward to meeting him.”

She nodded before crossing the tavern.

Kaidan took drink and let his thoughts wander to the strange twists and turns of life. One day, you’re being tortured by racist elves with a superiority complex and week later your watching the Dragonborn scold her brother. And grab him by his ear. And hug him. Kaidan turned his back to the scene and let them have a little bit of peace, unlike the rest of the patrons. From the sound of it, they were enjoying the little bit of theater.

“Excuse me, sir, I don’t normally do this, but erm...have you got a moment to talk?” asked a man behind him.

Kaidan silently cursed himself for not hearing someone approach him. He turned around. From the look of the him, the Imperial wasn’t a threat. Fine clothes, shoes without any traces of mud, and a sword that looked like it was more for show than for fighting.

“Aye, what can I do for you?”

“My name is Lucien Flavius. I’m a scientist, philosopher, amateur wizard, and something of a musician though I suppose that’s more of a hobby. I couldn’t help noticing that you seem...how can I put this...well acquainted with the less savory side of Skyrim?”

“Suppose you could say I am.Why?”

“I’m here in Skyrim on an expedition -academic mainly. I find the province simply fascinating! The flora, the fauna, the ruins -both Dwemer and Nordic- the architecture, the politics,” the man paused. “Trouble is, I’m really much of a fighter. I know a few spells and can just about swing a sword, but beyond that I’m pretty useless in combat! Skyrim’s no place for a milk drinker like me -not on my own, anyway! So I’m looking for someone to travel with.”

“Well, Lucien, can’t help you there. I’m already a bodyguard. You’d have to ask the woman I’m traveling with, though I don’t think she’d agree. She’s trying to keep her business as brief as possible,” said Kaidan. That’s what he was now, until they returned to Whiterun. Normally, he wasn’t one for bodyguarding. Too often people who hire bodyguards were either fools or cruel, or both. But he didn’t want to explain his life debt to some strange who openly admits to being a milk drinker. Not that Lucien would fool anyone with the way he was dressed.

“A pity, but far enough I suppose. If I’m still here when you find yourself free, please do stop by for a chat. I have a job you may be interested in.”

“Pardon the interruption,” said Odette as she approached. Her brother was close behind, eyeing both Kaidan and Lucien. Behind them, the crowd was silently watching, hoping for an encore. “Kaidan, Lothar and me are heading back to the cottage to finish...catching up, if you’d care to join us.”

“Aye, I’m right behind you.”

They brushed past Lucien and exited into the late afternoon sun.

 

Kaidan regretted following them as soon as they entered the cottage. The inside was more inviting than the outside had been. It would have been pleasant had it not been for the uncomfortable family issues at hand. He made himself busy by checking the bookshelf that took up a good portion of the wall space.

“I can’t believe you joined the guards,” said Odette. She tossed a few logs into the fireplace and with a flick of her hand a flame sprung to life. “And Giselle just, what? Up and ran away to Riften? Did you lose the ability to write? Why in Oblivion am I just hearing about this now?”

Lothar shifted uncomfortably in his chair. He looked thoroughly chastised, his gaze not raising from the ground. “Well, I was trying to figure out a way to tell you.”

“How about ‘Dear Oddie, how are you? Giselle and I are fine. Save for the fact that we have lost our minds?’ And how could you let Ellie run off like that?”

“I didn’t know she was gone until I found her note.”

“She’s just sixteen.”

“So were you when you left.”

“That was different.”

Most of the books seemed to be about magic, alchemy, or history. But there were a few about werebeasts and one Book of Daedra. Strange.

He turned around when he heard someone bang against the table. Odette’s hands rested on it as she leaned forward.

“Why do you even want to be a guard? Is it cause of the dragons? You’re not fighting dragons! You think you’re gonna get some glory, a little gold, killing one of those things? You think you're young and invincible? Gods damn it. You’re not allowed!”

“It’s not for the gods damn dragons!” The lad finally looked up from the floor. He face lit with righteous defiance. “It was Lavina. Mathies and Indara’s little girl. Some bastard tore her to shreds. Just like mother was. She didn’t say, but I think that’s the same reason Giselle left.”

“Don’t you dare use mother as an excuse!”

“I am not. You never saw her body. Saw how she was torn up, all blood and bone and flesh,” the lad closed his eyes. “I think the same monster that killed Lavina killed ma too. If not same man than the same type of monster. I don’t want that to happen to anyone else.”

“Oh, Lothar, I,” Odette fell silent. “I’m sorry. I just was worried. I know you have a better head on your shoulders than wanting to chase dragons. I’ve just been through a lot lately, I suppose.”

“What, at a temple? And since when do acolytes travel with bodyguards?”

“Oh, yeah, pardon me for being rude. This is Kaidan. He's been helping me with Temple business and other things.”

She told him what they had been through. She spared a few details. Like how they were captured and almost executed, exchanging that for just traveling through Helegen at the wrong time. He understood her wanting her brother not to worry.

“Dragonborn,” Lothar said. “Really?”

“Yeah, that’s how I feel about it too. I’d show you, but I’d rather not let all of Skyrim know.”

Lothar looked at Kaidan. “She’s shitting me, right? This is just some sort of joke?”

“No, I was there when she took in that dragon’s soul,” said Kaidan.

“Gods above,” said Lothar. “And you’re just planning on staying in Whiterun?”

“Yeah.”

“Why?”

“Because.”

“Ass,” he said, rolling his eyes. “Before you leave town, is there any chance you could see Sinding? He’s the one that killed the girl. Hasn’t told the guards much, but he may talk to a priestess before he’s executed.”

“If it’ll put your mind at ease, fine,” said Odette.

“I need to get going. I’m night watch,” said Lothar. He lingered at the door and turned. “For what it’s worth, I’m glad you’re back, Oddie.”

The cottage was quiet for a moment once the door closed behind him. Kaidan moved to sit at the table. He cleared his throat, hoping to dispel the heavy silence that filled the air.

“I know it’s not my place, but the lad’s just trying to do what he thinks is right,” said Kaidan. “And he’s not much of a lad anymore. Not at, what, twenty?”

“I know,” Odette sighed. “I know. I just worry. Mother and father being...gone. And Emeric up in Winterhold. I should’ve been here. I could’ve talked some sense into the both of them.”

“You’re here now. And we don’t have to rush off anywhere,” he said.

“You’re right, though I’d prefer to get temple business done quickly,” she said. She milled around the room for a moment before finding a bottle of wine and two mugs. She poured a cup for each of them. “I’m sorry for bringing you into my family problems. We normally get along better than this.”

“It’s alright,” he said, taking the mug from her. Even though it had been bloody uncomfortable. “Would you like to talk about it?”

She eyed him for a moment as he took a drink. Wine had never been his first choice. Even when he had been less picky.

“Maybe in the morning,” she said at last. “One good thing about all this, though, is that no one’s going to fight over beds.”

"Aye, you're right about that," he smiled and then added, "Oddie."

Chapter Text

Odette breathed in deeply once she was outside as guards pushed past her to get to the commotion. The previous night had been plagued with dreams of too big wolves; misshapen and angry and hunting her. She had shaken off the dream to go speak with the prisoner. The prison had been suffocating. The walls pressing down on her throat not allowing her to draw air. It took every ounce of will she had to keep her from running out of there while Sinding talked. His words hadn’t helped. She squeezed the ring in her hand harder. Damn that werewolf. And damn her too for listening to him and for letting Lothar talk her into it in the first place.

She knew their mother had been researching something dangerous when she died. An idiot could have figured out that it had something to do with werebeasts from the books she had collected. But she died over seven years ago. Whatever connections her brother believed there to be between their mother’s death and that gods forsaken werewolf were beyond her. Whatever that boy thought, the only person in Falkreath Sinding killed had been that poor little girl. And even if he had killed their mother, then so what? Nothing would bring her back. Not even necromancy. Lothar needed let the dead rest.

“You should slow down before you walk into something,” said Kaidan from behind her. He caught up with her easily, his long strides making up two of hers.

“Sorry,” she mumbled as she stopped. She didn’t know where she had been headed, and hadn’t really cared as long as it was away from the werewolf ripped his way out of his cage. She took a deep breath and decided to get over it. No sense in letting Kaidan see how distressed she was especially when she couldn’t even find a reason behind it. Better to play the fool then some nervous wench. She tossed the ring between her hands and said, “What do you think we should do with this? Throw it into Lake Ilinalta? Or perhaps take it to Vvardenfell and toss it into the Red Mountain?”

“I don’t think that’s wise. I don’t like dealing with daedra, but that seems like a quick way to get onto Hircine’s bad side. That’s some place I’d rather not be,” he said, catching the ring when Odette overthrew it.

She stared at him incredulously. “You’re not saying we should actually track down that white stag, are you?”

“All I’m saying is that we need to be careful. Daedric princes aren’t known for their forgiveness,” he said. He pressed the ring back into her palm.

The ring seemed smaller now. Like it was never meant to fit on a full grown man’s finger. Her thumb rubbed the wolf’s face carved into the silver.

“Perhaps Danica will have a better idea about how to deal with this. Or maybe we’ll come across some Vigilants of Stendarr and can pawn it off on them,” she said. Ignoring the impulse to try on the ring, she swung her bag off her back and then dropped the ring inside it.

Kaidan scoffed. “Don’t get me wrong, I can respect what the Vigilants do. But Stendarr is the god of merciful justice. They’re using him to validate their hunting of daedra, rather than owning the cause themselves,” he said. He shook his head and continued before she could say anything. “I know, I know. Never had an opinion in my life, have I?”

“Speaking about justice, do you think we can take him?”

“Take who? Sinding?”

“Yes!” she said. That seemed self explanatory. Why on Nirn would Kaidan even need to ask, she wondered. “He killed that little girl! We can’t just let him get away.”

“But it wasn’t of his own volition. It was his curse that drove him to it. Even not for that, daedra bring out the worst in people.”

“Cold comfort to that girl’s parents. ‘Oye, he didn’t mean to butcher your daughter. The daedra made him do it!’ And if he has no control over it, all the more reason to put him down. He needs to be stopped before he can hurt anyone else.”

“Did you hear a word that man said? He’s exiling himself. He won’t be a danger to anyone,” he said. His gazed past her. “Look, if I thought he was a cold blooded bastard, then I would have no problem bleedin’ him. But he’s remorseful.”

“How do you know?” She peered up at him.

Kaidan’s face was stern, but honest. His chin tilted up and his jaw set. Meeting her eyes he said, “Trust me on it. I know what remorse looks like.”

She let out a heavy breath and glared at him. She knew that if she went after Sinding, Kaidan would follow but there would be a rift that she doubted would heal anytime soon. “Fine. We’ll leave him for the guards to worry about.”

Odette ran a hand through her hair. “We should head to Orphan’s Rock. Gods willing, we’ll kill those hagravens before night falls.”

“Do you want to say goodbye to your brother first?”

“No. The boy’s dead asleep. No sense waking him. I’ll just write him when I get back to the temple,” she said. She couldn’t quite smother her anger towards Lothar, especially since he hadn’t sent word when their sister ran away. She bitterly added, “Perhaps that’ll help him keep in touch better.”

Kaidan gave her a sidelong glance but said nothing.

They left Falkreath without another word.

 

Odette spent most of their journey in her thoughts. Apparently, the world wasn’t the only thing that had gone mad. Her own family had followed suit. She imagined Lothar trying to face down a dragon or even a bandit. She’d shake off the thought only for her mind to turn to visions of her sister wandering out on her own. Of the dangers the world held for ill prepared, sixteen year olds who believed they were worldly. She chased those thoughts away guessing at Kaidan’s past.

Whatever lay in his past must be dark. Dark and shameful. Awful enough for a bounty hunter to feel remorseful for and he killed people for a living, even if they were horrible people who did horrible things. But, he wasn’t bloodthirsty or callous. Or a wanted criminal, at least not in Falkreath or Whiterun. And he seemed sincere enough with his talk about remorse. No one who seemed to value mercy so much could be a complete bastard. She could ask him about it later, but she sensed that he wouldn’t talk about it freely.

Just like she wouldn’t want to talk about what happened aboard The Ravenous.

“Odette,” the man said, dragging her out of her musings, “We’re getting close to Helgen. Be on guard.”

“Do you think that dragon will still be around?” she asked, matching his slowed pace.

“I can’t say for sure. Though, to own the truth, it's not dragons I’m worried about being holed up here.”

“What then? I doubt anyone would be willing to settle here anytime soon.”

“No one decent, at least. Bandits are vultures. This would make quite the stronghold for the enterprising outlaw.”

“Oh.”

They came to the town’s gate, which hung open on its hinges. It was eerily quiet. Odette watched Kaidan. He moved stiffer than he had before, his eyes shifting over the rubble. He had drawn his sword before they passed into Helgen’s walls, as if it was still under siege from the dragon. Odette expected to hear the echoes of screams or the dragon’s roars bouncing off the stones. But there was no living thing inside the walls except her and Kaidan. They passed through warily and as quickly as they could without running.

They remained silent even after they passed through Helgen’s other gate. Strange how small the town felt now, Odette thought looking back at it over her shoulder when they crested the first hill beyond it.

 

Odette had expected for Orphan’s Rock to look more sinister than it did. There should have been something more to it, like a tower or an ill lit cave. At least a disheveled cabin with deathbells and nightshade growing around it, like what the witches in High Rock lived in. Instead it was simply a large rock with a few tents hitched up on top of it.

Sort of disappointing.

“Do you smell magicka in the air too? It smells like a rainless thunderstorm,” Kaidan said next to her, his voice low. They hid amongst the trees, not yet spotted by the coven. He had his bow drawn. “Keep your head down. We should try to take as many of these witches from a distance as we can.”

She readied an ice spike as Kaidan loosed an arrow. A thud in the distances signaled that it had found its mark. Odette peered around their cover. A witch came into view, apparently investigating the sound. The witch screamed as the ice spike tore through her.

So much for sneaking up on them.

“Damn,” Kaidan said under his breath, before taking another shot. He sheathed his bow and drew his sword.

Odette cast another ice spike, but even as it flew towards a witch, she knew it was useless. The ice shattered on the witch’s ward, leaving the woman unharmed. She readied her own ward as Kaidan pushed past her, charging the witch. He struck quickly, the witch’s head falling to the ground before the rest of her.

Odette saw it before Kaidan did. The fireball thrown at him from atop of Orphan’s Rock. She leapt between him and the spell. Her ward negated the magic even as the heat rushed over them.

Kaidan caught her eye and nodded in thanks.

It seemed only the hagraven was left.

It was difficult to run both quickly and cautiously, but somehow they managed to do so. Though they had to stop every few moments to hide behind Odette’s wards to keep from being burnt alive. When they reached the top of the rock, the hagraven screeched out in frustration. They charged across the fallen tree that bridged the gap. Heat blistered in the hagraven’s hands as it prepared another spell.

It would be too close for Odette’s ward to stop. Especially when her ward was already weak from the magicka she had burnt through.

“Fus!”

The shout had left her lips before Odette even realized she yelled it. The hagraven flew backwards off the cliffside and landed on the ground below with a sickening crunch. Kaidan and Odette peered over the side. The hagraven lay broken below, twisted in unnatural ways that no humanoid creature could survive.

“Nice shouting, Dragonborn,” Kaidan said, placing his hand on her shoulder. He smiled at her, red eyes glinting in the sun. “Seems like you’re a natural. I wonder what type of powers you could have if you trained under the Greybeards.”

“Thanks,” she mumbled before shrugging off his hand. She went about searching the camp for Nettlebane. There was a chest in the tent on the rock. Seemed like a good enough place to start looking.

“And, well, thanks again. For saving my life. Seems like I’ll never be out of your debt,” he said.

“Breaking this lock would be a good start,” she said, wishing she had bought some lockpicks from Lod. She glanced back at Kaidan and from the stern look on his face, she could tell he didn’t appreciate her making light of his debt. “Sorry. Sorry.”

A moment later, the chest was open and Nettlebane was in the bottom of Odette’s bag.

 

Night had fallen by the time they had reached Whiterun. Neither one of them had wanted to stop in Riverwood when they reached the town in the middle of the afternoon. Especially when they learned that the innkeeper was out on business and the barman wouldn’t rent them rooms. So they pushed on through the dying sunlight.

Kaidan followed Odette to the city. He had insisted on doing so when she offered him another chance to part ways. He said that he wanted to ensure that she reached the temple in one piece. She felt like he was hoping she’d change her mind about staying in Whiterun, but didn’t push the subject.

The temple was less crowded at night than it was during the day. Still, a pilgrim or two lingered inside. One was talking to Danica in emphatic tones. The priestess dismissed herself from the conversation when she saw Odette.

“You’re back. Do you have Nettlebane?” she asked, even as Odette was pulling the dagger from her bag.

“Yes, here it is,” Odette said as she tried to hand it to Danica.

Danica held her hands up and stepped back a little. “I don’t really want to touch that thing. Now for the next step. I need you to go to the Eldergleam Sanctuary and retrieve some of its sap. That will help restore the Gildergreen.”

“But I thought all you needed was Nettlebane?” Odette asked, feeling more than a little blindsided. Though she should have expected this. Danica had a way of underselling what she needed people to do. If you agreed to cleaning up on of the sickbeds, she’d have you scrubbing down the entire temple by the end of the day.

“No, what we need is the sap. And to get the sap, we need Nettlebane,” Danica said, explaining it like Odette was a small, dim child. “Now, since you’ve been to the Sanctuary so recently it should be no trouble for you to return. Oh, perhaps you could take Maurice Jondrelle with you.” She gestured to the man she had been talking with.

Odette felt Kaidan’s eyes on her. She knew that if she turned around she’d find him with an eyebrow raised in question. Or worse, a disapproving look on his face. She didn’t look at him.

“Of course,” she managed to say, her voice only slightly higher than normal. “We’ll leave in the morning. If I may be excused, I would like to show my friend to the tavern. He needs a place to stay for the night.”

“Alright. Just don’t go sneaking off out of the city again,” said Danica. She eyed Odette suspiciously. “We have a lot to discuss when you return with the sap.”

They made it outside the temple before Kaidan said anything. He spoke as they walked “What did she mean? We never made it to the Eldergleam.”

“She doesn’t know that,” Odette said with a sigh. “Look, I didn’t want her to be disappointed with me. So I might have told her that I completed my pilgrimage and that my dreams are calmer now. I may have also failed to mention anything about Helgen or you.”

“So you lied to her? I might not be one to judge, but that doesn’t seem like the best way to get back into this woman’s good graces.”

“Trust me. It is. She already thinks I’m incompetent enough, I don’t need to give her anymore reasons to believe so.”

“Why’s that? You’re skilled healer,” Kaidan said, his eyebrows furrowed.

They past under the Glidergreen’s dead branches. A part of Odette wanted to curse the damn tree. “Look, I was about to take my vows when I left Skyrim. Disappearing for years on end doesn’t put you in many people’s good graces. She keeps expecting me to do it again. So she hasn’t let me take my vows yet.”

They stopped underneath the stone archway at the top of the stairs, looking down over the market. Kaidan searched her face for something. Honesty, regret, vulnerability, gods only knew. Whatever it was Odette didn’t want him to find it.

“If this is how she treats you, why put up with it then?”

He of all people would understand, if she told him the truth. Hadn’t he spoken of his debt only earlier that day? Even if her debt was to the gods, he would respect it. He would respect that she had sworn her servitude if they saw her safe home and they had.

But that would only lead to more questions that she didn’t want to answer.

“Where else am I supposed to go, Kaidan? Couldn’t go home when my little sister hated me. Couldn’t keep adventuring when every decision I made ended poorly,” she fought to keep her voice from rising. This was not something she wanted to fight over. “Listen, eventually Danica will realize I take my commitment seriously and it will be better. And if that means I have to deal with her shit right now, then I can handle it. Can we just leave it at that?”

Apparently, they could not.

“But you don’t have to, especially if you’re not under any oath.”

“Perhaps not. But I will.”

“You’re going to let an old woman turn you into a coward?” He crossed his arms over his chest, challenging her. She would not rise to it.

“I was already a coward.”

“No, you weren’t.” He sounded so sure of that. Infuriatingly so.

“How would you know? You don’t know anything about me. Kaidan, we’re strangers. I don't know you. You don't know me.”

“Perhaps we are. But I do know Cowards don’t jump in front of fireballs. And I know that you’d be a fool to want to waste your life trying to please an old hag so that she’ll give you something you don’t even want.”

“I want to be a priestess. I want to serve Kynareth,” she said through gritted teeth.

“Is being in a temple the only way you can do that? Legend has it that Kyne gifted the Voice to men. Using it would serve her.”

Odette scoffed and shook her head. Of course that’s what this had been about. “I’m no hero. If dragon blood flows through my veins, then it must flow through someone else's. Let them be the mighty dragon hunter. That’s not who I am. I’m just an acolyte who is making one final pilgrimage. With or without you.”

She thought he would take a while to reply, if he did at all. But he quickly said, though his tone was still angry, still heated. “I’m with you. My debt hasn’t been repaid.”

“Do as you will,” she said, bitterly. She felt small and mean. Abandoning any hope for mead, she turned around. She started up the stairs and called down, “We’ll meet by the gate in the morning then.”

Chapter Text

It surprised Kaidan to see that Odette and Maurice had beaten him to the city’s gate. What surprised him even more was that Odette wore her monk robes, with the hood pulled up. She studied her map intently. A parcel hung from one of her hands. The Breton man rubbed his eyes and glared at no one in particular, like the entire world was at fault for them departing from the city so early. He said nothing as Kaidan approached.

“Good morning,” Kaidan said. He had decided he wouldn’t bring up the previous night’s argument with Odette. Her insistence on the matter was beyond him. Though, he half expected the first words out of her mouth to be ‘I’m sorry.’

“Good morning, Kaidan,” Odette said, finally looking up from her map. Was it just a trick of the light or were the circles under her eyes really that dark? “I..um...Did you sleep well?”

“Suppose so. You?” he said. Alright, perhaps she would pretend that the argument hadn’t happened at all. That suited him fine too.

“Well enough to travel,” she said. She folded up her map, trying to keep the parcel upright as she put the parchment back in her pack. “But I think I’ll leave the navigating to you, if you don’t mind.”

“I was led to believe that you knew where you were going,” said Maurice. Kaidan knew his type; the suspicious, superior type that let others do the work for them. He’d be a pleasure to travel with.

“Kaidan sort of guided me the last time,” Odette lied, barely missing a beat, her tone raising slightly. He’d keep that tell in mind later. “I’m not very good at directions. Kaidan found me stumbling around some abandoned ruin or another on my last pilgrimage and set me down the right path.”

The lie chaffed him a little. It was harmless as far as lies went, though. And he did appreciate that she didn’t tell a stranger that he had been captured by the Thalmor. He doubted that Maurice had any connection to the bastards, but it was best to be cautious. Gods only knew who could be listening in, even then.

It did make him wonder if Odette ever could tied up in her lies, however.

“But does he need to be so heavily armed? We are on a pilgrimage. Our faith should be the only protection we need while we walk in Kynareth’s light,” he said with a glare at Kaidan.

“Aye, I’m sure you’re faith will shield you fine from arrows and dragon fire. Though you may wish you brought more than just your prayers if any bandits ambush us. Skyrim’s roads have gotten more dangerous. Filled with people who don’t care if you’re wearing a temple’s robe or not. But we will be keeping to the roads,” Kaidan said pointedly at Odette. She nodded frantically in agreement.

“A man of violence and a heathen. Wonderful,” Maurice said and then shook his head. “Very well, I shall allow you to lead the way. Leave me to my prayers and meditations, and I will leave the fighting to you.”

“That sounds like a fine arrangement to me,” Odette interjected before Kaidan could say anything. She smiled patiently at both of them. “We should be off before it gets much later. Unless you prefer to travel by moonlight. Though I don’t think either moons are full tonight.”

Maurice trailed several paces behind them, just out of earshot. Once they passed the stable, Odette turned to Kaidan. Her cheeks were flushed red. She handed him the parcel. “This is for you,” she said.

He opened it up. The sweetroll inside was still warm. She had done her best to keep the parcel from bumping against the glaze.

“I figured once we get back to the city, you’ll go on your own way. I want us to part on better terms than last night,” she said, pulling her hood a little further down around her face. She tried to hide her blush even though he had already seen how red she was.

“So you’re hoping to win me back over with sweets?” Kaidan asked. He took a bite of the sweetroll. It tasted good and fresh. He wondered if she had woken up even early to make it. The thought warmed him more than the sweetroll did.

“Thought you might be tired of hearing me apologize. It was either this or try my womanly charms,” she wiggled her eyebrows.

He laughed. That wasn’t something he’d be too opposed to, but he kept that to himself. After finishing the sweetroll he said, “Oye, listen, I won’t meddle with your plans for it if you don’t want me to.”

They crossed the bridge in silence, firmly away from Whiterun now.

“I wasn’t completely honest with you last night. I didn’t lie. I just didn’t tell you the whole truth,” Odette said after a while.

Of course, she hadn’t been honest to anyone else, why should he be any different? The thought soured the sweet taste the sweetroll had left in his mouth. But at least she had owned up to it. He didn’t say anything, waiting for her to continue.

“The reason I put up with Danica, the reason I want to stay at the temple, is because I owe Kynareth a debt. She’s seen me safe home when by all rights I should have died. When no skill or trick of mine could would’ve helped, she kept me alive.”

“Why didn’t you just say that in the first place?” he said. The whole thing seemed even more childish, now. After all, he was in her very same position. “I understand what it's like.”

“I know you do. It just...it leads to questions I don’t like answering,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

“I understand that, too,” he said. Somethings were best left in the past. He wouldn’t pry, not unless she did first. That he understood her reasoning made it harder for him to reconcile the fact that she was willing to sit back while the dragons put everyone at danger. “But I do have to wonder. If you indebted your life to the gods, perhaps then being Dragonborn is just a form of repayment.”

“Perhaps,” Odette said and sighed. “I’ll pray for a sign to see if that is the truth of the matter.”

“And perhaps we would travel faster, if the two of you stopped your inane chattering,” Maurice called out from behind them. “I’d like to reach the Eldergleam while my own feet can carry me.”

 

The roads had been blessedly quiet. No bandit attacks, no dragons, no Imperial ambushes, no Thalmor. It was enough to make Kaidan both thankful and suspicious. But he figured it was time for the gods to give him and Odette a little break. Once they reached the Sanctuary, he was in such high spirits that he even ignored Maurice’s comment about how he was right that faith was all they needed. But Kaidan’s mood improved even more when the Breton had left them to make his own campsite in the Sanctuary.

Even by the pale light of the stars, the Eldergleam was impressive. A beautiful giant of a tree. Its trunk the size of a house and its roots thicker than he was tall. The place gave him a sense of security, like it was naturally protected. He couldn’t decided if it was because something divine or because of the fact that it was inside a well hidden cave. Either way, he didn’t mind that they would be staying there longer when Odette declared that she’d wait until morning to collect the sap. They had unfurled their bedrolls, forgoing the tent. The inside of the Sanctuary was warm, almost hot. Odette scribbled something down on a piece of parchment by the magelight she summoned. She had not wanted to risk setting anything on fire.

Kaidan worked on the war horn as she wrote. He had to finish carving the design he started around the opening. After that all he would have to do was smooth out the edges.

“When I was sixteen, my parents sent me to Whiterun to join the temple,” Odette said. He looked up at her. She had pushed her hood off her head. Her quill was in its inkpot, but her eyes remained on her paper. “Before I could take my vows, my mother died. Her mother was still alive in High Rock and my older brother and I thought it would be better if she received the news from one of us instead of from a letter. So I took it upon myself to play messenger. From there it was one fool decision after another until...well, I told you I spent a few years sailing, right? Well, last time I was at sea ended with me getting fished out of the water by a passing fisherman’s ship. The entire time I was adrift I kept praying -begging- to get home. I promised in return my life and service. And Kynareth kept me safe. So I went back to the temple.”

She looked up at him for the first time since she began. “I just...I wanted you to know... don’t know why. Thought you ought to know why I’m so damn adamant about remaining an acolyte.”

“I appreciate it,” he said, still digesting what she had said. They were more similar than he had originally thought. He would let her keep whatever secrets remained in her past. Let her pick the path she believed she was destined for without another protest. “You know that I understand that type of debt and the responsibilities that come with it. Whatever you choose to do, I will respect it.”
And, when it was done, he would sell the warhorn to the first merchant he met.

 

The night passed quietly. In the morning, Odette had set about trying to approach the Eldergleam. Its great roots blocked any path to it. After watching her attempt to climb over them several times, Kaidan finally said, “Did Danica mention how we were supposed to get the sap?”

Odette slid down from the root. As he helped her off the ground, she said, “Well, she mentioned that Nettlebane was the only thing that could pierce the Eldergleam. But I’d rather not harm it.”

“Hand over that dagger,” he said. Going about slashing the tree felt barbaric, but he would do it, if she could not.

She pulled a lump of fabric out of her pack and handed it to him. He had to stop himself from rolling his eyes as he unwrapped the cloth. But he understood Odette’s precaution when he did so. The blade was as wicked as he would have imagined a hagraven would use for its twisted sacrifices. No wonder neither Danica or Odette wanted to touch it.

Odette backed out of his way as he approached a root. He kept the cut as clean and as shallow as the blade would allow, hoping to do as little damage as possible. The root curled back on itself as if it was jumping away from the dagger.

“I knew bring a man of violence like yourself to this Sanctuary was a mistake!” Maurice yelled out when Kaidan had finally cut a path to the Eldergleam. He changed the two of them, finger drawn. “Was that your plan along? To mutilate the Eldergleam with that profane weapon?”

“It's not what you think,” Odette said quickly, stepping in between the men hands out. “Kaidan is helping me retrieve sap for the Gildergreen. We’re under orders from Danica.”

The man was quiet for a moment. Kaidan recognized that quiet. It happened with some outlaws when they realized that the man who had cut through their ranks was a bounty hunter. It was the silent fury that would normally end with a blade drawn. Fortunately, Maurice was unarmed.

“Then allow me to help in a way that doesn’t harm this magnificent tree for some pathetic halfbreed.”

“By all means,” Odette said, stepping out of the way. She shot Kaidan a glance as the Breton passed by him. Kaidan slipped Nettlebane into his pack without a word.

 

Maurice stayed in the Sanctuary when they left. He wanted to pray for the repair of the roots. Kaidan didn't bother resisting the urge to roll his eyes at that. Odette didn’t seem anymore upset at the parting than Kaidan had been. She had been gracious, though, holding the sapling like it was a young child. He offered to carry it for her, but she turned him down saying that he was the better fighter and needed both his hands.

A statement that naturally jinxed their journey, as a dragon roared over head soon after they exited the cavern.

Taking down a dragon with only two people was harder than taking one down with an entire patrol of guards. Luckily, they had more cover than they did on Whiterun’s plains. They followed it to its perch; an ancient ruin backed with a word wall. Eventually, the beast’s lay dead, filled with arrows and sword wounds.

It dissolves into light and wind, tendrils of both connecting it to Odette. Her eyes were closed tight as the wind whipped around her face. As it faded, she stumbled a little before looking at him.

“Let me guess,” he said, sheathing his sword, “this is just another one of those cosmic mistakes, right?”

 

It was strange to be traveling by himself again. Stanger still was how quickly he had gotten used to his footsteps having an echo. He had spent most of his adult life on his own, but now the road seemed a little too empty.

They had parted ways at Whiterun’s gate. Odette would remain at the temple and help them plant the sapling. He would travel up to Winterhold. The letter stuffed in his bag addressed to Odette’s older brother, Emeric, and it enlisted his help in Kaidan’s search. He couldn’t help but feel disappointed that Odette wasn’t with him. He was sure she would have seen that last dragon attack as the sign she needed. Still, he had to admire her conviction.

Perhaps traveling alone again was for the best. Though he would admit to missing Odette. He tried to tell himself it was simply because she was a skilled healer.

The sun hung low in the sky as he passed the Eastern Watchtower. He was in no rush to reach Winterhold. The company of wizards wasn’t exactly something he fervently sought.

“Kaidan!”

The man turned around. Odette ran down the road towards him. She reached him out of breath and bent over trying to catch it. Through her panting, she said, “Glad I caught up with you. By the gods, you walk fast.”

“What are you doing out here, Odette?”

After a moment she stood back up and said, “Well, I said I would help you, didn’t I? I want to make good on that.”

“Aye, you did. But I thought your head priestess wanted you cloistered away?”

“She’s reconsidered. She said, that since Kynareth is the goddess of wanderers, well then her follows should be free to travel as they please. Is there any better way to praise her than to travel under her glorious skies and to spread her word?”

Her voice had an oddly cheerful quality to it. A levity that seemed forced to him. Kaidan searched her face, which was flushed from her running. There was a sadness in her eyes that made her wide smile misplaced.
He knew she was lying to him. Again.

“Truly? Are you sure that you’re not needed here? I don’t know how long this will take,” he said. And I’d rather not have anyone accuse me of kidnapping a priestess, he thought, or accomplice to whatever it is you’re hiding.

She held his gaze and said, “Yes. Trust me, Danica isn’t expecting me back anytime soon. I’m not exactly an indispensable member of the temple. I won’t be missed.”

“Alright, but if we’re traveling together, no more half truths.”

“Of course,” she said with a smile. “So, are we still headed for Winterhold? It would be nice to see Emeric.”

He looked past her. Behind her, the Throat of the World touched the sky. If it took three dragon attacks to make her realize that she couldn’t hide from being the dragonborn, how many more would it take to get her to go see the Greybeards? Another thought struck him. How was the rest of Skyrim fairing, without someone who could kill the dragons? They had seen three in less than a fortnight, was it worse elsewhere? He could not be party to just ignoring it all and hoping someone else took care of it.

Besides, winter was on the horizon and he didn’t want to climb the Seven Thousand Steps in a blizzard.

“Nah, change in plans. We should head towards Ivarstead. I think there are a few people waiting to meet you. And I think we’ve kept them waiting long enough,” he said. His own problems would have to wait. There were more pressing matters at hand.

Chapter Text

The room was dark, the only light leaked in from underneath the door. Noise from the tavern leaked in too, but there wasn’t much. The Sleeping Giant wouldn’t have been busy even if the entire population of Riverwood was inside. As far as Odette knew, Kaidan and her were the only travelers there. Which was good. She didn't want to be around other people. Not when she had been on the verge of tears since she ran from Whiterun.

Here she was again; kicked out and running away. Service and devotion used up. Now she was useless. Unneeded. Unwanted. A failure.

Some things never change.

She rolled over onto her side, facing the wall next to her bed. It had taken her eyes a while to adjust to the gloom since she left Kaidan drinking his mead. She should have just told him what had happened. Should have shoved her stupid pride away, but she couldn’t. The thought of letting him -anyone really- know that yet another place had cast her aside made her blood freeze. She didn’t know which idea was worse; the thought of him pitying her or the thought of him thinking something was wrong with her.

Her fingers traced the wooden wall’s grain, trying to find a pattern in it as her mind wandered back to Whiterun.



Acolyte Jensen had met her at the Temple’s door. Rather than letting her inside, he had said something about Danica wanting to know when she arrived and went inside to get her. The priestess carried a large sack as she walked out of the Temple and rolled her eyes at the sight of the sapling in Odette’s arms. She didn’t mask the disappointment in her voice as she took the sapling in exchange for the sack. It was heavier than it looked. Odette couldn’t help her curiosity and opened the bag. Inside were papers, books, ribbons, and armor. A sense of unreality came over Odette as she realized that they were her things. Her papers, her books, her ribbons, and her armor.

“I appreciate what you have done. I am sure that this seedling will rival the Gildergreen, even if it takes years. Though I suppose we’ll have to cut down this old tree. For now, I need to discuss another matter with you,” said Danica. She paused and looked up from the sapling in her arms. The priestess’s mouth opened and closed for false start, like she was still puzzling out what she wanted to say. “Your service here is at an end. It seems that the gods have called you to serve in other means. The Temple is no longer in need of you.”

The Gildergreen’s dead branches were still despite the breeze. The breeze didn’t seem to reach Odette either. She didn’t feel it on her face anymore. She didn’t really hear the noise coming up from the market. She didn’t really feel her own heart beating or the breath going through her lungs.

“What?” she said when she found the she could still speak. Her voice sounded weak in her own ears. “You mean being the Dragonborn? No, no, I’m sure it's just some sort of mistake.”

“Child, you cannot fight your fate or your nature. And while I do not claim to know where your destiny will take you, I do know that this is no longer your path, Odette.”

“Are...are you casting me out?” she asked, dumbly. Perhaps she had misunderstood? But even as she thought that she scolded herself for being an idiot.

“You are released from the oaths and vows you have taken in service of this temple. Though, I don’t suppose you ever had any to bind you.”

“But my place is here!”

“No, it’s not. The Divines know it never really was. May Kynareth guard you on your journeys, Dragonborn,” Danica said, turning away.



Danica hadn’t looked back -not even once- as she walked to the temple. That’s what hurt Odette the most. To think that she had spent the past two years of her life doing everything she could to prove her devotion and she wasn’t even worth a second glance. Two years of caring for the sick, cleaning wounds, making potions, scrubbing the floors, changing bedpans, and bending over backwards to do everything that Danica asked. And none of that mattered to Danica.

Fine, she thought feeling the tears well up in her eyes.

Tonight Odette would mourn for two years wasted. She’d cry for the life she could have had. But after that, she wouldn’t shed another tear over the matter. Because if Danica didn’t look back, neither would she.



 

Odette stretched as she got out of bed. She splashed her face in the small basin placed in her room then donned her armor. For the first time that they were traveling together, neither Odette nor Kaidan rose before the sun. They had discussed it briefly the night before and hadn’t found a reason to rush to Ivarstead, the little village Kaidan said situated on the foot of the Seven Hundred Steps. Kaidan didn’t want to linger, but conceded to waiting until after they visited the general goods store to leave Riverwood. Odette was grateful for that. Her pack was too heavy to carry up a bloody mountain.

Kaidan was already awake and eating breakfast when Odette left her room. They exchanged ‘good mornings’ as she sat down next to him. He handed her a plate filled with venison, cheese, and bread. She ripped off a piece of bread and popped it into her mouth.

“I have something for you,” he said as he reached into his pack. He pulled out the horn he had been carving the past few days and handed it to her. “It’s a Nord war horn, carved from a bit of tusk. Use it if we ever get separated, I’ll hear it and I’ll be able to find you.”

She ran her thumb over the design etched into the horn. It wasn’t intricate or flowery. Rather, it mirrored the carvings on his pauldrons. “Thank you,” she said as she placed it into her own pack. Or at least tried to. The books inside spilling out.

“Damn it,” she said.

“Little light reading for the road?” Kaidan asked, helping her pick up the books.

“No, I’m trying to clear out some of my things from the Temple. Danica said they need more space for, uh, potions. These seemed like a good place to start,” she said. “Besides, I’m a little short on coin.”

“You already went through the reward money?” he asked. “What did you even spend it on?”

She didn’t exactly regret being charitable -little Lucia needed all the help she could get- but she would admit to being impulsive before she had spoken to Danica. And then afterwards, well Odette was proud she wasn’t enough of a bitch to ask an orphan for her money back.

“It’s all in the Temple’s coffers,” she said. “Wanted to help out even though I’m not there. Seemed like the best way to do that.”

Kaidan raised an eyebrow and gave her a look that said he didn’t quite believe her, but he didn’t press the matter. “Aye, that’s very altruistic of you. But next time you should hold on to a little more of you coin instead of giving it all away. Keeping yourself alive isn’t being greedy.”

“You sound like my grandmother. In my defense, I didn’t think I’d need to worry about it. Leaving the Temple came as a bit of a shock,” she said and then added quickly, “Or, I should say, having the blessing to leave.”

“Y’know, I’m curious about what changed your priestess’s mind. She seemed dead set on you staying before.”

“I think she came to the same conclusion that you did. That being Dragonborn is repayment of my debts,” she said before shoving another piece of bread in her mouth. Kaidan didn’t need to know that Danica had known nothing of Odette’s debt. Or that he knew more about her than the priestess had, for that matter. Odette felt a strange mix of guilt and elation that she felt more of a connection to a man she knew less than a fortnight than to the woman she saw everyday for nearly two years. “Anyway, do you think the trader’s open? I know you want to get on the road.”

Soon afterwards, Odette left the Riverwood Trader, though her pack wasn’t much lighter than it had been. Unsurprisingly the books and robe did not earn her much gold. The entirety of her worldly possessions only worth a handful of Septims. Luckily, amongst the contents of her pack was something more precious. She shook her head at the thought of how happy Lucan had been to see the Golden Claw. What a strange curio for a general goods store to put so much worth in. It glittered on the shelf next to sacks of flour and second hand tools. In exchange for that, she was outfitted with traveling gear; though she already regretted agreeing to the small but heavy cast iron pot that Camila had pushed on her. At least now she and Kaidan could have stew on the road.




Odette wished they had a wagon. Preferably a covered one, like her grandmother traveled in. Or a couple of horses. Or at least a pack mule. She adjusted her pack yet again for the umpteenth time since they set out on the road, drawing Kaidan’s attention. He looked down at her besides her. Walking besides him turned her mind to exactly how tall the man was and how much he towered over her.

“I’ve still got room in my pack, if you need me to take somethings,” Kaidan said.

“Oh, thank you, but I’ve got it,” she said.

“Alright, then, suit yourself,” he said, clearly not believing her.

They fell back into the silence that had lingered since Riverwood. Kaidan had set a leisurely pace for them since they passed around Helgen. For how much he had wanted to leave the Riverwood, the man didn’t seem to be in such a rush to get to Ivarstead. Odette couldn’t blame him. The weather was lovely and it felt like they had the whole path to themselves. But it seemed to her that it was more than that. Kaidan was more at ease on the open road than he did in cities. Perhaps that had to do with wandering or bounty hunting or something, Odette thought, or maybe he just doesn’t like crowds.

It was a little thing that just reminded Odette how little she knew of the man.

Well, no time like the present to remedy that, she thought.

“Kaidan, I was wondering -since we’re going to be traveling together- would you mind telling me more about you?” she asked.

“Aye, what do you want to know?”

“Well, why bounty hunting? I mean, don’t get me wrong I have a hard time picturing you as say a farmer or something like that, but I’m sure there are plenty of other professions for an excellent swordsman like yourself.”

“Suppose you could say I was born in it. Or raised in it,” he said. “I was raised by a Nord, Brynjar. He was a bounty hunter, so I spent most of my childhood traveling Tamriel and crisscrossing Skyrim. Of course as I go on I’m finding there was more to it than that. The constant moving, teaching me how to live in the wilderness, teaching me everyday how to fight. I learned how to use a sword before I’d even learned how to read.”

“Sounds like you had an odd childhood,” she said. She knew it was different, but she couldn’t help but compare how her mother had taught magic to Kaidan’s experiences. Her mother had waited until she felt her children were ready and that was certainly well after they had learned to read.

He chuckled and smiled a faint smile. “For my thirteenth birthday, he took me on a hunting trip in the wilderness. And when I woke the next morning he was nowhere to be found. All he left me was some flint, a knife, and an empty water skin. It took me two days to get back to civilization, but I’d learned the importance of self-sufficiency by then.”

“What? Why would he do that?” she said, feeling affronted for thirteen-year-old Kaidan. Who in the world would do that to a child? Even if it taught them a lesson. And from how he said it, that seemed like a happy memory for Kaidan.

“I think Brynjar was running from something and he spent my whole life teaching me to defend myself from whatever it was,” he said and then sneered. “Not that he ever told me. He was always vague about his past and even more so about mine. Always promising to tell me one day and then dying before he ever got around to it. That run in with the Thalmor seems to have shed some light on it though.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. After a moment she quietly asked, “And what about your mother? Did Brynjar know her well?”

“He did. But no, I don’t know much about her. Only that the sword I have once belonged to her. Or so Brynjar told me. He also said that she was brave and beautiful and clever, but never anything actually useful.”

Kaidan shrugged, brushing that away, then said, “After his death, I took up the job of bounty hunting. It was all I knew, really, and it’s led me to some interesting places. And some other years, I...well, perhaps the less said about parts of my past the better.”

“You don’t want to tell me?” She pushed and then scolded herself for pushing. She had no right to his secrets especially since she kept hers so closely guarded.

“It’s not something worth retelling,” he said.

Another silence lapped over them. Odette watched as snowflakes began to fall. She pulled her cloak closed. They were nestled in the mountain path and it would only get colder the further they went. Fortunately, the clouds above were only grey instead of the dark that threatened a blizzard.

“What about you?” Kaidan asked breaking the silence. “What made you join the Temple in the first place? If I didn’t know better, I wouldn’t’ve taken you for the religious type.”

Another reason Danica kicked me out, Odette thought, even if the priestess hadn’t said it. Can’t have an acolyte who blasphemes in every other breath, can you? It hadn’t been easy, but she had done her best to break the habit of swearing like a sailor after years of being around sailors. Fucking waste of effort that turned out to be.

So much for leaving it in the past.

“Well, to be honest, it wasn’t really my first choice for what I wanted to do with my life. But when  then it was either that or marry the most self-absorbed arsehole in all of Skyrim,” she said.

“I... I wasn’t expecting to hear that,” Kaidan sputtered.

She laughed. “Oh, I know. I don’t look like the type of woman who has suitor’s fighting for her hand, now do I?”

“No, that wasn’t what I meant. You just don’t seem like the type to attract arseholes,” he said. “Then again, you do seem to put up with a lot of bullshit at that Temple. Maybe you have a patience for it.”

She shot him a disapproving glare and then brushed it off. It was true enough. And another reason not to fret over her predicament. “It’s my secret skill, attracting arseholls. Not that I think he was really in love with me,” she said, pressing a hand against her chest and fluttering her eyelashes. She rolled her eyes. “Especially not after I pushed him down the well.”

Kaidan laughed and said “Oh, I don’t know. There are some men out there who’re damned foolish enough to take that as a declaration of love.”

“In my defense, he was...handsy. And didn't know the meaning of no.”

“Then he deserved it,” he snorted and waved the comment away.

“Anyway, the one who was really pushing the union was his uncle. He was willing to give my parents quite the bride price to get his nephew off his hands. My parents knew I didn’t want anything to do with the boy. The only reason they even briefly considered it was because his uncle was the Jarl. And, well, it’s hard to turn down the Jarl. Even if he’s off his head. You need a damn good reason to say no and ‘you’re nephew is a man-child’ is not it.”

“Can’t blame you for turning to the gods, then. What did you do? Did you run away to the temple?”

She shook her head.

“My father came up with the idea that I should go on a pilgrim. To say that I -being a good and devote girl- wanted to see all the shrines and temples before I settled down. The hope was that’d buy us enough time for Dengeir to be taken by another stupid ploy.”

She remembered the disappointed look on Dengeir’s face when her mother gave him their final rejection. The abject horror of having to continue to take care of his nephew. Served the old fool right.

“My father was a member of the Companions, so on one of his trips back to Whiterun he took me along. Discovered I’ve got a knack for restoration magic and that I like helping people, so I ended up staying at the Temple of Kynareth instead of passing through. Danica welcomed me with open arms. She was much more welcoming seven years ago.”

She kept out how she had tried to follow her father to Jorrvaskr. Of Aela kicking her ass when she tried to prove that she worth being a member. Of crying when she first entered the Temple of Kynareth. Those little details didn't bear mentioning.

“I suppose my biggest regret from all of that is not fighting harder about starting with the Temple of Dibella.”

That earned her another laugh from Kaidan and she beamed.

For a moment she thinks that will be all. That it would just end at that and they could continue in easy, happy, silence. She hopes that was enough to satisfy Kaidan’s curiosity. Naturally, it wasn’t.

“And when you were traveling?” he said, his tone light and the corner of his mouth still tilted upward.

Of course that was coming. She cleared her throat. She studied the cobblestone road. The patches of snow were getting larger now. “Guess I’ve got some stories about my wandering, just as I’m sure you do too. But they’re probably better saved for in front of a campfire or in a tavern.”

He was quiet for a moment. She felt his gaze upon her face and she refused to meet it. After a moment he said, “I suppose we could swap some tales later when we get to Ivarstead. If we hurry, we could make it before nightfall.”

He walked faster, taking point. She sighed softly. Kaidan deserved to know more about her. He had been forthcoming when she asked him, much more so than she had ever guessed that he would be. While she slinked away at any question about her past. How was that fair, her conscience asked, what was so dark that it was worth lying about?

Nothing. But there was plenty to be pitied and she’d rather fall down dead than for anyone, especially Kaidan, to think of her as pathetic.

But would he pity her? Sure, Kaidan was kind and more compassionate than he seemed at first glanced. He didn’t seem like the type to look down on someone’s past mistakes. Maybe he wouldn’t think of her as some pitiable little wench. Maybe his opinion of her wouldn’t change at all and there’d be more trust -more friendship- between them. Or maybe he’d despise her for being Tamriel’s biggest fool and leave, which was worse than being pitied.

Her conscience spoke up again, shouldn’t he have a chance to make that decision for himself? Shouldn’t he be allowed to know more about the woman he was traveling with?

She kicked the snow and compromised with herself. She’d keep to her lighter anecdotes. Wouldn’t mention human sacrifices or failed mutinies or former lovers. Her past would only be the abridged version she’d present. She could play the fool, especially if it kept her in his good graces and kept him from thinking too much of her past. Or thinking of her as some sort of hero. Besides, he already thought that she still planned on returning to the Temple at some point.

She would tell him more. At least when she knew he wouldn’t leave her.

“Oye, Odette, frozen to the spot already? You’ve got to catch up,” Kaidan called from ahead of her. She didn’t realize that she had fallen behind so much.

“Just watching the snow. Missed it while I was out at sea,” she said as she hurried to reach him.

Chapter Text

The Vilemyr Inn was warm, quiet, and almost empty. It was the sort of atmosphere that Kaidan preferred in an inn. He couldn’t help but feel a touch spoiled at his recent travels. Walking the open road almost completely unhindered and nights spent sleeping in inns. It was almost enough to make a man grow soft. He wondered how long it would last. He had kept to the main roads for Odette’s sake, but he couldn’t shake the feeling like they’d need to leave them soon. It might be best for them to stick to the wilderness, especially as word of her being the Dragonborn spread.

“So, Kaidan, I was wondering, do we need to rush up that mountain? Or can we wait a day or so. Cause I talked to the innkeeper and he mentioned that they’ve got a problem with ghosts. Restless spirits wandering around the barrow. Which, y’know, wouldn’t be a problem if the barrow wasn’t almost in the center of town,” Odette said as she handed him a mug of mead. She sat down on the bench next to him. “I was thinking maybe we could investigate a little. To help them out.”

He took a drink of the mead. Kaidan had wondered when this would come up. Odette had been a little too willing to climb the Seven Thousand Steps. It was only a matter of time before she put a halt to it. He truly doubted that it was because she didn’t see herself as the Dragonborn, especially not after killing that second dragon. Having spent more than enough time in Skyrim, he could make a fair guess at her hesitation. He knew first hand exactly how welcoming some Nords could be towards anyone they deemed to be 'outsiders'. They were about as warm as Winterhold during a midwinter snow storm.

Odette mistook his silence as a need to explain herself.

“I figured, High Hrothgar isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. No reason to really rush up there. We could spend a day or so in town before we start climbing.”

“That may be so, but I’d rather spend that time preparing -gather supplies, hunting- rather than digging around some barrow. That ghost’s just stickin’ around the ruins, they’ll be fine. Least until we get back.”

A pout flashed across her face, but was replaced with a smile. She made a vague gesture towards the bar. “Well, now that you mention hunting. I wasn’t going to bring this up, but the lady who owns the mill, said she’d pay anyone to hunt down bears for her. She’s spitting mad about them ruining her lumber.”

“This is bear country, she should have thought about that before she set up a mill.”

“I didn’t know this was bear country. You didn’t mention that earlier.”

“After taking down two dragons, I thought it didn’t bear mentioning.”

She laughed. “And here I was beginning to think you’re always serious.”

“Least I don’t take everything as a joke.”  Hurt flashed across her face. His tone had been harsher than he meant it to be, coming out more insulting than teasing. He groaned. It was only that she had managed to side track yet another one of their conversations. “Listen, it’s good of you to want to help these people, but the longer we put this off, the more difficult that climb is going to be. I imagine the snow builds up there quickly during the winter.”

“It’s just that,” she paused, her eyes looking anywhere but him. “It’s just that I’d hate to waste a climb like that. Don’t fancy the idea of hauling up there only to be turned right around.”

“Why’d you think we’ll be shown the door?”

“Well, I mean, I am a Breton. And clearly not a warrior either,” she said, gesturing at herself. So he was right in that regards, that was what this was about. “I might not be an elf, but you know how the really traditional Nords can be when it comes to non-Nords. Greybeards are probably as traditional as it gets. They’ll take one look at us and send us back down their mountain. Or Shout us down.”

“Suppose that’s a possibility. But they’re looking for the Dragonborn. And have been from the moment you killed that dragon outside of Whiterun. I doubt that your race is going stop them from training you,” he said. He picked up his mug. Before he took another drink, he noticed the side long look Odette gave him. “And if they do, well, you’ve learned two Shouts on your own. Maybe we won’t even need them.”

“I hope your right.”

 

The snow fell faster and thicker the higher they climbed. Kaidan kept a slow pace. He paused at another one of the wayshrines. Beyond him the steps started up a steeper, more unforgiving incline. He looked back down the mountain. Apparently he wasn’t going slow enough, since Odette was still about ten steps behind him. She trudged through the snow which reached up to her knees. If they didn’t end up camping on the mountainside for a second night, he’d be surprised.

He turned back to the wayshrine while he waited for Odette to catch up. The inscription on it was caked in ice and snow. Kaidan scraped it off as best he could. Chips of ice wedged their way under his gauntlets. He cursed the wet gloves he’d have once they melted. Eventually, the words were barely legible. It read, “Kyne called on Paarthurnax, who pitied Man; Together they taught Men to use the Voice; Then Dragon War raged, Dragon against Tongue.”

“Interesting reading?” Odette said between pants for air. She slumped down next to him on the wayshrine’s steps.  “Gods, we must be close, right? After two days of climbing we should be.”

“Can’t say for sure. You won’t like the next bit though,” he said as he gestured to the steep pass.

She closed her eyes and groaned. “Could we take a break, please?”

Kaidan looked around. There were no wolf tracks in the snow. The sky held no threats of storms, just the perpetual grey of snow.  Right now, the biggest threat seemed to be the sheer drop off the mountain. “Aye, there’s no harm in a few moments rest,” he said.

“Thank the gods,” she said. She looked at him and smiled, “Or, rather, thank you.”

He returned her smile before he looked towards the path. If Odette had any complaints about the climb, she had kept them to herself. Thank the gods for that. It was difficult enough without having whining. But she was in good -if tired- spirits.

It was about midday. Good enough time as any to eat. Besides, they might as well give this break more of a purpose. Kaidan took his pack off his back. He heard Odette stand up and shuffle through the snow as he grabbed a couple of apples and a loaf of bread from where they were nestled.

“Oye, you should have a bite to eat while you can. Doubt an empty stomach would improve the climb,” he said as he turned towards her. His eyes went wide and he sprang to his feet. “Hey! Careful on that ledge!”

“I am being careful,” she said as he closed the distance between them. He pulled her back a handful of feet from the edge.

“Are you trying to go down the quick way?” he said. She hadn’t turned to face him yet.

“No. I was trying to see if I could make out the Temple,” she said. She pointed. “Look, you can see Whiterun from here.”

And that he could. There was Dragonsreach sitting lofty above the rest of the city. And Jorrvaskr, looking like a child’s toy boat turned upside down. And all the other buildings looking no larger than his thumb. He gazed past the city. Gods, he could see everything. “Good thing for us the Greybeards are peaceful. This view would give them quite the advantage if High Hrothgar was a fortress instead of a monastery. And it reminds you how far up we are.”

She turned to him and smirked, “Don’t tell me you’re afraid of heights.”

“Can’t say I am, but don’t you find being this high makes you a little uneasy?”

“Not in the least.”

“Must be your dragon blood.”

“Or my lack of sense. You mentioned food, right? I could eat a frost troll right now.”



Kaidan squinted in the dim light. The inside of High Hrothgar were almost as cold as outside. The thud of the heavy, ornate door echoed through the halls. He hadn’t known what to expect, but part of him had thought that the Greybeards would greet them. Or be looking out for the Dragonborn.

“You think we should have knocked?” he asked, his voice kept unconsciously quiet. It earned him a small, breathy chuckle from Odette.

“Closing that door probably worked better,” she said. She raised her voice to call out, “Hello?”

Like phantoms in their grey robes, the Greybeards emerged from the inner chambers. Kaidan had never before met a group whose name so fit them so aptly.

“So...a Dragonborn appears at this moment in the turning of the age,” said one of the Greybeards. Perhaps he was the leader or perhaps he was just the chattiest.

“I am answering your summons,” Odette said after a moment.

“We will see if you truly have the gift. Show us, Dragonborn. Let us taste of your Voice.”

Odette hesitated.

The man must be touched, Kaidan thought. Kaidan had seen the type of power Odette’s Shouts had. He doubted that any of the old men would be able to withstand it.

“Fus,” Odette shouted, directly at the old man. He wasn’t thrown back into the wall, merely stumbled backwards.

They were masters of the Voice. He guessed they might have a trick or two.

“Ah, Dragonborn. It is you. Welcome to High Hrothgar. I am master Arngeir. I speak for the Greybeards,” he said after he righted himself. Kaidan didn’t miss Arngeir’s eyes narrowing suspiciously at his armor and the hilt of his sword. Nor did he miss the hint of distrust in the man’s voice when he spoke again. “The man you have brought with you, Dragonborn, who is he?”

“You could ask me yourself,” he said, “My name is Kaidan.”

“He’s a friend of mine,” Odette said. She caught his eye and gave a barely there shrug.

“Perhaps it would be best if he were to wait elsewhere during your training.”

Kaidan bristled at that, standing taller and planting his feet firmly apart. He didn’t plan on drawing his sword, especially not against some old men, but he didn’t like the sound of that. Normally when someone suggested that a group splits up, they don’t have good intentions in mind.

That, or Odette’s assumption about the Greybeards was right.

“No,” Odette said quickly.

“It is only that I do not wish for your training to be...tainted by those that might look to steer you away from the path of wisdom.”

“If Kaidan goes, I go,” she said. She said it so quickly and with such ferocity to it that Kaidan couldn’t help but feel a little touched. It had been a long while since he had even that much loyalty that it warmed him.

Arngeir sighed. “Very well. Though I do request that he does not interrupt your lessons.”

Odette opened her mouth to speak, but Kaidan spoke before she had the chance. “Fine by me.”

She caught his eye and raised her eyebrow as if to ask if he was certain. He nodded. Odette needed training and answers. If he had to sit on his ass and be quiet for her to get them, then that’s exactly what he planned on doing.

Even if it meant a few new ones of his own going unanswered.



The auroras lit up the night sky in brilliant purples and blues. Kaidan had wandered out into the courtyard when the Greybeards had began their evening meditations. The monastery had grown suffocatingly quiet when that began. Kaidan needed to see the sky or at least hear the wind to remind himself that he wasn’t in a tomb.

It had been a fortnight since they reached High Hrothgar. A fortnight of practising with his sword in the snowy courtyard as Odette practiced her Thu’um or meditated. A fortnight of listening in to every conversation the Arngeir and Odette shared, in hopes of gleaming whatever knowledge the Greybeard might have about his sword. A fortnight of wandering the stone halls and reading old tomes, which were interesting if not at all useful.A fortnight of feeling like a ghost.

After their tense meeting, the Greybeards paid him no mind. Rather, they ignored him. Barely even looked at him during the meals they shared. He didn’t blame them for keeping to themselves. Especially after Arngeir explained how powerful their Voices were. What bothered Kaidan was that Arngeir refused to talk about hostility towards him or how his sword played into it. He wondered if the Greybeards had any bad blood with the Blades. Brynjar hadn’t mentioned the Greybeards more than just as history. Nothing to metter it the ill will Arngeir seemed to harbor towards him, even after he explained that it was his mother’s sword.

Not to mention the fact that they whisked Odette away and did their best to keep the two of them separated. Arngeir acted more like a chaperon then like a teacher. He seemed terrified by whatever damned influence Kaidan might have on her. He could count on one hand how many times he had spoken to her in private in the last two weeks.

Strange how much he missed her company, especially when they were still in the same place. He supposed it must be a natural product of being alone for so long. After all, when was the last time he traveled with someone? He shook his head as he tried to shake off the memory of the farm. As much as he hated to admit it, the Blooded Dawn had been the closest thing to companions as he had since Brynjar died. Even then he hadn’t felt this sort of camaraderie with any of the members. Except for Rosalind, but Kaidan still recoiled at the thought of her.   

He turned his mind away from fire and dremora, towards Odette. True, she might be a liar and a bit odd, but she was loyal, kind, and braver than she wanted people to think.

And, like clockwork, it was her who pushed open the door behind him and joined him.

“Beautiful night out,” she said as she rubbed her hands together. “If a bit cold.”

“I see you managed to sneak away from your meditations,” he said.

“Let me give you a piece of advise; yawn enough during those, and Arngeir will damn near chase you off,” she said with a smirk. “In all honesty, I saw you go out here and, well, I wanted to see you. It feels like ages since we last talked.”

“That it does,” he said, shifting his weight so he leaned against a pillar. “So, what knowledge have the masters of the thu’um shared with you? Anything about the return of the dragons?”

“They’re not really the sharing sort. At least Arngeir isn’t. Not freely at any rate. He said he’d tell me when I’m ready. And I don’t think it has anything to do with my Voice. Since I’ve learned things in days that took them all years to learn.”

He had overheard that much. That with the dragon speech in her blood, the thu’um was second nature. “Any idea when you should be done with your training?”

She shrugged, “Soonish. I think. Arngeir said he had a final test for me that he’d explain in the morning. Hopefully it’s not about meditation.”

“From what I’ve seen, you’ve learned a lot in such a short time. Perhaps he just wants to temper that with patience.”

“Says one of the least patient men I know.”

He rolled his eyes. Two weeks of waiting for the Greybeards to be done with her and he was the impatient one. Of course.

“Anyway,” she said, either ignoring his eye roll or not noticing it, “I wanted to ask you if I could see your sword again.”

An odd request, but perhaps she was able to get more information from Arngeir than she was letting on. Kaidan doubted it. While he was ashamed to admit it, he had done his best to listen in on their conversations. He was fascinated by the lessons -especially the history- and would have gladly sat in on them rather than skulk in the shadows like a rat. So far, nothing he had heard sounded remotely connected to his sword.

Still, he unstrapped it from his back. He kept it sheathed when he handed it to Odette.

“Arngeir has been teaching some of the dragon language. Too, y’know, read it. He said I should probably try to avoid talking in it unless I want to shout. While he was talking, I was thinkin’ back to when I first saw the stuff,” she said.

“The Word Wall in Bleak Falls? I don’t follow,” he said.

“No, not Bleak Falls,” she said as she unsheathed his sword and rested it flat in her hands.“On this.”

“That’s what those markings are?” he said. That certainly wasn’t what he had been expecting. After all, dragons had been the enemies of both the Blades and the Akaviri. Why -and what- would the Dragonguard have to write in their rivals language? “Are you sure?”

“I am. As sure as I would be spotting Tamrielic.”

“Strange that they would write in Dragon and not Akaviri,” he said quietly. Odette looked at him, her eyebrows shot up. Damn. He hadn’t meant to speak his musings out loud. It was still only a hunch, even if it was a strong one.

“Akaviri? But I thought they were all gone or dead,” she said. “That was your hunch?”

“Aye, I’ve heard that too. Didn’t want to taint our search or send us searching after ghosts,” he said. Though that’s what all this really is, he thought, dreading through the past to find his future. “I’m no mer. Or beastfolk. Only race of man left. Can you translate it?”

She stared at the sword for a while. Her mouth moved silently as her eyes moved over the markings. “Zu’u...kiin mindoraan Dovahzul. I think I could translate this for you. Might take some time to work it out though,” she said at last. She fumbled to resheath his sword, before he took it from her. He sheathed it and replaced it on his back.

“I appreciate it. Just don’t burn yourself out over it,” he said. “I’ve heard about a rare book written on the language; Dragon Language, Myth No More. There may be others out there like it that we could look out for.”

“Of course,” she said with a smile and placed her hand on his shoulder. It was a little awkward, since his shoulder was level with her head, but it made him return her smile. “The College of Winterhold is probably our best bet when it comes to that. After we finish up here, we could go there. They’ll have a copy with any luck. That is if I don’t work it out before then.”

“Thank you. You’ve shed more light on this damned riddle in minutes than I’ve been able to work out in months.”

“Well, I did say I’d help you. Don’t want to make a liar out of me like that.”

Except you already are , he thought. But there were worse sins in the world than lying. He knew that better than anyone and had committed more than his share. And Odette’s only hurt her. Hopefully they would have this mystery put to bed by the time she was dragged back to her Temple. After that, Kaidan wasn’t sure what he would do. But he did know that he’d miss her.