Thin rays of light peek through the window, birds have started singing and chirping, the mill creaks loudly as it cuts down log after log. Morning has officially come and the village wakes. The noisy tavern has returned to being silent as a grave with only some of its current clients wandering about down the hall to get their meals before departing. Few of the rooms were still occupied, and in one of those, a fake couple spent the night on the same bed.
The snapping of twigs could be heard no more, indicating that the fire must have already gone out for a while. The outside noise becomes busier and busier by the passing of time, yet Kaidan didn’t want to open his eyes just yet. The furs his bed offered are just too warm and soft; he’s pretty sure there’s nothing that could make him rise up from this heavenly comfort. That persistence was pretty short lived when the unsheathing of a blade was heard right next to him.
With speed and reflex seasoned from numerous battles, Kaidan rolled over just in time to dodge the dagger which stabbed the bed instead. Darting his eyes up, he comes face to face with the woman he had shared this bed with, eyes flooded with angry confusion.
“Hey! Are you still drunk!?”
His question fell on deaf ears as the woman, having success fully pulled out the dagger, swings the blade towards him once more, huffing with great effort due to her injuries. “Where in oblivion did you even get that!? Wait, were you hiding that this whole time? Nevermind, just stop this instant!” Luckily for him, it’s easy to disarm her when she’s wielding the weapon with her injured arm. He easily evades her feeble movements, taking the confrontation around the room until his back was against the door. Before he could open it completely, his roommate manages to push all her weight at his direction. But Kaidan has more leverage in this kind of combat. He swiftly redirects the attack as he sidesteps, hopefully reducing her impact at the door. The door slides open as she collides on it with a loud thump and Kaidan winces at the sound that escaped her.
'Geez. That definitely did not felt good for her arm.' He cringes at the sight of her curling in pain on the stone floor.
Her figure trembles as she strained to get up, and he silently wished she’d snap out of whatever’s gotten into her already. Instead, a much more furious pair of blue eyes locks on him. “Come on, what’s wrong with you!?” He shouts, but his frustration is only matched with more grunting and aimless slashing.
Finally fed up with her, Kaidan takes direct action and deflects the next downward slash, griping tight of her arm just enough until he gets a pained whimper from her. She inhales sharply as her wounded arm starts to sting, making her let go of the dagger. The man eases a bit but was caught off guard when she catches the blade with her right hand. She was shoved away but was quicker this time around, being able to give him a light wound as the steel cuts through the light fabric of his shirt. Stumbling back to the bed, Kaidan lets out a loud curse as he shuts his eyes tightly and raises a free hand for defence.
But the dagger didn’t hit him.
“Kaidan? Wait—what the hell?”
The woman finally spoke as if she just broke out of a trance and threw away the dagger she’s pointing at him. Kaidan quickly opened his eyes, taking full view of how disoriented his companion is. Her face is making at least six different confused expressions in rapid successions, if that is even possible. It’s evident that she’s still not fully in there yet with her eyes darting around the room, in her dress, her limbs. Okay, this is just confusing him now as well. The red eyed swordsman clears his throat and it seemed to catch her attention. Good.
“Uhh.. You remember my name?”
“You’re... Free? That means...” Further falling into perplexity, her hands started to glow and produce faint hints of fire in it as she enters into a ‘combat ready’ kind of posture.
“Whoa, whoa. We’re in an inn! In a village!”
Kaidan held his hands up, trying to calm her down. She drops her magic, entering a new realm of bewilderment, much to his awe. He never knew a human face can create such varied expressions for but a single emotion.
“Village? Where’s Cyrelian?” She whispered, frowning.
“Cyre—who? The Justiciars, you mean? We already defeated them, remember?” Kaidan relays to her, part by part.
Her eyes sparked some acknowledgement, “I... I-I yes.. We... were in a carriage..” she stammers nervously and realization washes over her. “Damn bloody memory!” She growls, hitting her head multiple times then burying her face in her hands.
Kaidan notices her ears flush as humiliation engulfs her. “Hey. No need to be ashamed. Both of us had a rough journey. You especially with all that excruciating spell still probably fiddling with your brain.” He comforts her and she nods slowly to his words, “Also...You probably drank too much for your limit, though. That’s why...” Kaidan flails his hand on the scene they created. Furniture having stabbed marks, lantern and candles off the table, one chair is missing a leg, that empty barrel of mead squashed to pieces. “...yeah.”
Falling face down on the spot beside him, the woman lets out a long, dragging groan. “I am cursed. You’ll probably be safer if we part ways...” She says out loud, her words muffled on the furs.
Kaidan dismissively asserts her, “Oi, don’t be like that to yourself. Whatever they did to you is not your fault.”
Her back shudders with her sarcastic laughter, “Are you sure?” She flips her face to his direction but remained planted on the bed.
“Of course I’m sure. What’re you saying?” He raises an eyebrow but didn’t receive any response.
Just like on cue, the stairs creaked. Footsteps treading on it halted for a second and they heard a woman gasp. Rushing on the open door, a ravishing dark haired beauty appeared, wearing a concerned look. She crosses her arms, red lips forming into a firm line and her curled locks drapes over down to her waist. The shade of her green dress and the outfit itself compliments her shape and fair complexion really well, though the attire was a bit lacking in this kind of cold weather. But who cares what other people want to wear anyway? That’s right. It certainly is not you. Her wrists and neck were adorned with a matching set of unique jewelry but it was her mesmerizing icy blue eyes which was the jaw dropper. Well... at least for you. Kaidan didn’t seem so pleased with the captivating human in front of you both—that’s to assume he even found her captivating to begin with. Landing your eyes on his brooding expression gave you the impression that he didn’t. Why is he more concerned about getting kicked out of an inn? 'Why aren’t you?' The voice in your mind automatically responses and you wonder how weird it would make things if you yelled the words ‘SHUT UP’ right now.
“Well, well. You two sure seem so full of spirit this early.” She raises an eyebrow at the two who gawked at her in return. “I heard loud thumping and grunting over here so I came to take a look.” Playfulness briefly flashes in her eyes, “Not that I barge in on every room where thumping and grunting can be overheard. It’s Heart’s Day yesterday and it would just be impossible to not hear a lot of those inside tavern walls.” She quickly backtracks while giggling. With both of them aghast from what they’ve just been informed, the woman dissolves in laughter, “Oh dearest, you should see your faces! Haha.. I’m Zorya, by the way.” She breaks into tears, wiping away a drop with her finger.
Having troubles finding your voices only fuelled her amusement. She takes a moment to breathe and let it out with a fresh wave of calmness shrouding her. “Alright travellers, I promised those two to watch over and make sure you guys start your journey with enough supplies. I’ve already given Anduniel my word so I won’t let either of you off without at least eating.” She says, presenting a dazzling smile spread widely across her face.
“Anduniel? Where’re they?”
You practically zoomed out of the room at the mention of her name, leaving Kaidan at loss for a moment. “That was fast.” He mumbles to himself. The lady followed up, “I thought they told you they’ll be leaving before daylight, my lady.” “Daylight? Oh no... We haven’t gotten to bid them farewell.” You send Kaidan a sad look to which he just scratches the back of his neck like it’s no big deal. 'Maybe for him.' You rolled your eyes.
Zorya watched your shoulders slump and gave you a comforting pat. “No worries. If gods smile upon you, you’ll very likely to meet again along the roads or in another tavern.” She smiles warmly, “Come, my lady. I’ll have the cook prepare you and your companion a filling meal.” And the two of you nod in compliance.
Gold coins made rattling noises as some of it spilled out of the bag Zorya just dropped on your table. “What’s this?” You asked, slicing through your last piece of roasted goat leg.
“Anduniel and Lyra made a lot yesterday. Lots of generous tippers, too! They really worked earnestly, you know.” She slides in a chair beside you, “By the time they were leaving, Lyra’s voice was already scratchy and dry. She said she never had that much fun in the whole year.” Zorya’s eyes twinkled with delight as she recalls the celebration.
“Anyway, this is only a small portion of what they earned. They wanted you to use this in purchasing sufficient supplies for your travels. This,” she reaches on her back pocket and takes out a slightly bigger and heavier bag of septims, “..is for the smith outside.”
You basically felt your eyes transform into saucers! You bet Kaidan’s making the same—no. No, Kaidan is busy wolfing down a hearty bowl of horker stew. He’s practically not even moving his eyes off his food. You scoff lightly at this. Of course he doesn’t care; he’s already got himself a fine set of strong armor and essential weapons. What did you get out of that prison again? Right. A bunch of papers and burnt garbage of an outfit. But back again on this brutish man who won’t even let you get a share of that ale, ‘for valid reasons’ he says. He probably doesn’t own a home with how much knowledge he has about camping and his constant travels around the northern continent just like he told you last night. Which leaves you to be the one who’ll benefit more from these spoiling. Wait, that isn’t so bad after all! But despite the idea, a lump forms in your throat.
“Zorya... We can’t accept all of these. It’s too much.”
Your previously silent companion chokes on his stew. Zorya covers her mouth to stifle a laugh. 'Ah, so he’s listening after all. Oops.' Awkwardly ignoring what just happened was hard with this pretty lady beside you turning into an obvious shade of red from holding back her breath. “Ahem. My friend, consider your companion’s uhm.. Opinion.” she giggles, her eyes momentarily loomed over Kaidan while he acts as if nothing happened but you could feel how anxious he is behind that mug of ale.
“After hearing what actually happened to the two of you in that... Place... I can see why those ladies want to impart you their gift.” The woman reaches for your hand, taking it in her own. Its softness and warmth easily fought off the cold better than the fireplace behind you did. You almost didn’t want to let go. “You’re injured and if you go out there, you really need some proper gear to survive the roads.”
Hesitantly looking over at Kaidan for advice, he only gives you a nod towards the money. “Well don’t keep staring at each other. The smith’s shop won’t be open all day.” he finishes his bowl and walks away from the table without care.
“Wha—hey! Is that a no or yes?! OH!”
“Come now!” Zorya pulls you away, flashing you a gleaming smile as she called for her sister to guard your things until the three of you gets back.
Shopping for gears didn’t take long. With a purse brimming with gold, most of the item in the store is practically available for you to pick on. The question is which ones can you actually work with? You look over your shoulders and see Kaidan asking for arrows and some minor tools which you presume are for basic maintenance like armor and weapon repairs. Zorya on the other hand, is busy scouting weather resistant items. You stood in the middle of the store, searching where you can throw yourself at. Slowly, you pick up the pace, feet taking you to the leather section. 'I’m not built for heavy lifting. I can cast some spells but I don’t have a solid count on how many I remember. Maybe I can work with lighter armors until I figure it out.' Brushing your fingers through some leather bracers, 'I think there’s also those shirts sold on the dressmaker’s place that caught my eye earlier.' You smile to yourself as you find pieces that suit your taste.
The vendor huffed as he placed on the table a sack full of Nordic arrows. “You sure you want all of these, lad?” The blacksmith asked with a hint of suspicion in his tone. “Aye. As many as your quiver can hold. Won’t know what’s lurking out there.” Kaidan impassively responds, his eyes fixed on examining the quality of an arrow he picked.
“Hmph. I may not be the best smith in Skyrim but I put in all my hard work in crafting those. Quality won’t be an issue here, only how much of my items you can actually pay, boy.” The big brute tells him almost provokingly.
Irked by the blacksmith’s attitude, Kaidan drops more than enough gold pieces on the table.The old smith cracks a smug smile behind those bushy beard of his, “Going to battle eh? ‘Cuz it don’t look to me like you’re gonna use these for just animals. And truthfully speaking, you’re built ain’t that of an everyday hunter. You know, these arrows can pierce better than the ones they ship to Solitude. Can’t expect the Imperial City to care much about our war with those elves flooding their streets...” A whiff of yesterday’s wine comes out from his mouth as he rambles. Kaidan kept his thinning patience firmly intact.
Ever since Ulfric Stormcloak marched in on Solitude’s gates and murdered the High King of Skyrim, thus igniting the civil war, all anyone ever wanted to know is who you worship and which side of the war you’re in. If you believe in standing up for your people’s culture and faith, you’re a rebel. If you believe the best chance to drive back the Aldmeri Dominion is through patience and preparation, you’re a traitor. It’s a damn circus—Hell, maybe that’s even why there’re rarely traveling entertainers around at all. Daedric Princes must be laughing their wits out with all these blind hatred polluting the hearts and minds of the people.
“...so as I was asking you earlier,” the blacksmith grounds his drifting thoughts back to their conversation—well, it was more of a monologue but still. He takes up a weathered glove to scratch his messy beard and leans in, “Which side are you fighting for?” Wow. That went exactly the direction Kaidan was expecting it to. Religion and Politics. What a gods damn surprise.
Kaidan flinched; surprised by the sudden interruption of a voice he’s familiar with but also thankful for its timely distraction. The woman stands next to him, placing a pair of bracers and some smaller plates. She asks the smith for variants and some of his best leather sets. Looks like she’s going by lighter covering. 'Here’s hoping she’s most effective in that. Otherwise she’ll just be the easiest kill out there next to goats.' He evaluates her choices in silence.
“You met on a battlefield or something?” Counting her coins, the old man gives Kaidan a nod. “Curious. How can you tell?” She feigns interest but her companion could see through all that rubbish. He can clearly see her lightly tapping those slender fingers on the table as a sign of impatience. Like him, she just wants the nord to keep talking to deflect questions. They can’t have anyone knowing they escaped from the Thalmor.
Proud and flattered, the blacksmith puffs his chest out and is more than eager to sing. “I’ve been in this business for decades, lass! I can tell what kind of person a customer is and the fights they get in or prepare for.” He tells them both, filled with pride as he spoke stories of some of his notable encounters while packing their items. “I can tell the two of you are dressing up for more than just wilderness bandits.” He chuckles, “You make a good combination. One who can take a beating while the other one is light on her feet.” Kaidan gloomed at the thought. Sure, he can act as a shield but he hopes he’s doing it for something worthwhile if it comes to that. Handing his companion a steel dagger, the brutish old man holds it back just before she can take it from his hand. “This is freshly forged, lass. But if you don’t mind sharing, where do you plan on pointing my creation at?”
“I don’t know why that’s any of yo—”
“It doesn’t matter. If it threatens our family,” Kaidan interrupts, wrapping his hand on top of hers, and her hand stiffens like it caught frostbite, “that dagger goes through their chests.” he gives a side glance to her. She’s downright petrified. 'Just play along for a while, woman. I’ll apologize later.' his thoughts protested. It’s already uncomfortable enough trying to be sweet with a total stranger. On the back of his mind, he knew he was to blame for improvising so suddenly, but hey, haven’t they been doing that ever since they arrived here? Just need to get through today and they can get their precious privacies back.
Seemingly satisfied, the blacksmith drops it on her reaching hand and lifts up a neatly wrapped leather coat along with some protective pads and carefully pushes it towards her. She was quick to pull away from Kaidan’s grasp, calling Zorya to help her with the items as she storms out of the shop with nothing but a mumbled gratitude to the old nord.
“Quite the adventurous type, isn’t she? You better think about settling fast before she gets taken from you.”
“We’re in Skyrim, lad.” The blacksmith snorts as if he’s talking to a dimwit. “If it ain’t the weather or those in the wilds, it’ll be this damn war that takes adventurers like you. Just like how it took my sister.” He gives Kaidan the quiver and arrows he asked for earlier. With that conversation only taking for a darker turn, the swordsman, loss for words, spun on his heel and ran after the two.
You turn aside at Zorya who’s snapping her fingers at you and you shove your hand beneath the bag sitting on your lap. “I said I found what you’re looking for, my lady. How many do you want and which colours so we can have it customized the soonest?” Zorya held up three different long sleeved blouses, ideally worn under common chainmail or leather armors which leaves arms unprotected. Blinking confusedly, you cleared your thoughts.
“Can I have white, black, and darker shades of red for those? See if they can have it re-fitted with the armor we bought.”
“Thank you, Zorya.”
Sighing deeply, you take out your hand and close your eyes. 'It’s nothing to fuss over.' Trying to pep talk yourself out of it didn’t work. 'I don’t know what the problem is.' The pounding in your chest still continues to go faster. Putting your other hand over it and pulling it close, you still feel it lightly tremble. Were you embarrassed? You weren’t heating up like you did last night. The brain might be a mess but you at least know how to distinguish between getting butterflies and whatever is making you uneasy right now.
'Wait. Did I just actually think a stranger gave me ‘butterflies’? Just how deep is the damage of my mind??'
But why is your pulse through the roof when he took your hand? A debate in your head ran wild as you struggled to focus.
Finally resorting to taking deep breaths, you try to steady the nervous beating of your heart. Tracing heat the contact left on your skin, your mind works out the earlier scene. Simulating in your memory how slow and abrupt—yet so gentle the touch was. His hand was firm and rough. It was just fitting of someone whose life was just as he told you when you were drinking. Underneath that intimidating and mysterious vibe he gives off, Kaidan is careful and values honor. He’s aloof for good reasons but he isn’t uncivilized. He did come back for you at the prison, watched over and made sure you get proper treatment for those wounds since he can’t use magic, and played along just so you can have a room to stay in even if he was obviously uncomfortable about the idea. He knew to trust you despite you being unable to assure him how far your damage stretches and he didn’t get angry after your hallucination early this morning. Kaidan is putting his faith in you and you know he’s not doing it just because you got him his sword back. He’s a stranger, yeah, but he’s not a bad company. If anything, he’ll make a good friend—if that’s something he wants to have. You remember how he grasped on your hand. It was also warm, but unlike Zorya’s it sparked a different kind of sensation for you. Like he knew you were in need of comfort. And your heart sank like a gaping hole, sucking you in from the inside until you are nothing but part of the void. It was unbearably painful because you did need it. And yes, it was comforting. But it wasn’t enough.
You weren’t enough.
You opened your eyes to a room shrouded in total darkness, kneeling and suddenly crying. The only light present was the meagre light coming out from the shaky palm you’re holding out. You couldn’t see anything clear from your swollen eyes. The other hand was holding someone. Holding him. Kaidan? No. It isn’t him. Your grip on the hand tightened but so did your chest when you felt the heat fading. “No!” you weep desperately, keeping the flow of healing energies directed at the body lying in front of you. But he didn’t stopped bleeding and your tears kept pouring out. You strained, so much that your head started to severely ache, pushing every last bit of magicka out of your body to close the wound in his stomach. But you’re not skilled enough. He keeps telling you it’s okay in between hushed whispers and wheezing. It's not okay. Nothing is. But he kept that comforting grip on your hand anyway until the end. It’s as if time is toying with you, as you knew you were shouting again and again and again to what seemed an endless loop of despair, yet you couldn’t hear anything. Even as lights slowly pierced through the growing cracks of the roof, there was nothing but darkness in your heart.
Forcing your eyes to snap open, you find yourself still seated on the bench inside the tailor’s shop. This is real. Your quivering hands press hard against your mouth as you muffle a gasp.