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HELLO! THIS IS THE DEDICATED MOD LIST.

THIS PORTION WILL ALWAYS BE THE FIRST CHAPTER SO YOU CAN CHECK FOR CHANGES!

^___^

 

I do love spending time to write even if I'm not that good. :) I just find it therapeutic among other things. If I'm slow in publishing I must ask for forgiveness. I'm only able to write the story during my free time in my job. I mostly use phone and only use PC when I'm about to publish a chapter. hehe :)

 

**Mod list so far (confirmed to join/is already in there)**

 

Follower mods:

- Kaidan 2

- Inigo

- Auri (Song of the Green)

- Lucien Flavius

- Anna NPCs (I'm still undecided if they'll be in the LDB party but I really like to keep them around for future encounters)

- Vilja

- Rumarin (From Interesting NPCs but I haven't ran through all of it so I might not be able to accurately include ALL of 250+ npcs)

 

 

Immersion and gameplay mods”

- Campfire

- Frostfall

- Diseased - diseases system overhaul

- Holidays at Skyrim (This also helps me keep tabs on how much time has gone by from chapter to chapter, bc I have bad memory. IT IS NOT DUE TO SKOOMA I ASSURE YOU FRIENDS)

- Andromeda - Standing Stones of Skyrim

- Spell Research

- Forgotten Magic Redone (bc having too many spells in this story would be ridiculous, I'll just make it appear that they're improving and mixing it through -spell research- like a normal mage lore-wise would)

- Thunderchild

- Vigor Combat and Injuries

- The Notice Board

- Thieves’ Guild for good guys

- Dark Brotherhood for good guys

 

 

Landscape and places mods:

- Aspens to Cherry blossoms

- Legendary Cities TES Arena Skyrim (Uhhh might slightly refer to this bc I don't want to believe Skyrim is that empty)

- Towns and Villages enhanced

- JK's Cities

- Lanterns of Skyrim

- Peach trees of the Rift

- The Scarlett - A Buildable Ship

Chapter Text

001

Blank Slate

 

 

                 The candles on the chandelier flicker as it gently dances with the soft breeze entering the room. Casting your eyes downward, you can tell there's a barred window not far behind you as moonlight passes through it and you sit there, tracing the shadow it creates in front of you. ‘Must be a really big chair. Or it's just the angle of the moon.’ You thought idly to yourself when all you can trace is a rectangular figure draping down the few steps that elevated your chair. ‘Or throne. This is definitely a throne.’ You quickly follow up. You let out a chuckle only to feel how dried up your throat is and wondered when the last time you had a drink was. It already feels like an eternity just staring at nothing before it dawned to you that you don't recall anything that happened prior to this moment. Your body feels like it's been numb for a long time and your memory is as blank as you feel right now.

                Very slowly, you depart your gaze from your bare feet and let it wander around the darker parts of the room. Whether it was to try and adjust your vision or forcefully trigger any sort of memory, it barely made a difference. Finally, it rests on the spot at the end of the room, where a pair of Thalmor Wizards seemed to be in a discussion, their backs turned on you.

 

                “Permission you say? You were given permission to test these on prisoners we've finished interrogating. This one just came in from the latest and is still under questioning along with the other.” Scolded the first one and you try to focus your attention to them.

                “I-.. I did not know that, Cyrelian. I swear.” The other one wasn't cowering; he was just smaller than the other. But the panic in his voice confirmed the mistake on his part. “I thought you only needed the Blades agent and it said in this report that there's t—”

                “Three. One is being transferred here and the other two prisoners are being brought in together, you idiot. We could have already obtained useful information from one of them by now if only you just read more carefully and gave her the standard one instead of that experiment which you should've saved for that filthy, Talos-worshiping dog we caught.” The taller wizard called Cyrelian sharply replied.

                Even with their backs facing you, you could see, or to be exact, clearly picture him as he brought up a hand to his face out of sheer exhaustion from this conversation. “Jephre’s Bones, go on.” He finally sighed. “Try and see what you could do with this one. If it's useless then you can use her for tests however you see fit but send me a report beforehand.”

 

                How you knew what they are at first glance gave your disoriented mind a bit of a shock but it was easily overcome by another emotion—anger. The very shape of those robes makes your blood boil and something inside of you screams of wanting to get even, like they've stolen an important thing from you. Did they?

                You lean your body forward, and the amount of effort it takes you to do so makes you reconsider for a second if you've really regained consciousness or is this all but a dream. Once more, you attempt to pull yourself up until you feel something cold as ice dig into your bare arms and chest, stopping you from further movements. Furious, you catch your breath and gather up every bit of strength you can to break free of your chains. The act was obviously in vain as it only caused you to learn the hard way how weak and battered your body is. Your thigh starts to sting quickly and you see blood slowly spreading through your ragged clothes, indicating a wound must have opened with your struggle.

 

                The clinking of metals easily caught the attention of the two mages and they turn around; Cyrelian taking a defensive stance.

                “Oh no need for that.” Says the short mage, “Like I've already assured you, this reformulated version of Isael's spell not only conceals the memory but also their ability to tap into magicka.” He explained, as they start to walk towards you.

 

                “Who...?” You managed that much before you start coughing up, “Why am.. I..? Where's this...?” You could barely finish a word with how cracked your voice is.

 

                “See it works! Thank the stars!” Shorty delightfully remarked. They stopped a few feet away from your throne. “Did you know we had to keep wasting premium potions to prevent you from using your cheap tricks and spells? Now we can finally save resources thanks to my genius.” This talker definitely reveled in the state you're in. Or is it the result of his work? You really couldn’t tell.

                He leaned towards you with a mocking grin. “She couldn't even cast her flames right now and her hands have been free of binds ever since she was moved here. She doesn't remember anything!”

                Cyrelian, with the permanent scowl in his face, just shook his head in disappointment, “Which is why exactly I've been sent here to endure your blabbering.” He said, raising his voice. “We need information about the Blades she could possibly have—which you sealed away as well!”

                You wonder how much longer he can keep his cool with this idiot by his side.

                “Of-.. Of course! Yes.. Just give me until tomorrow. I'm sure I can bring back her memories and mix a potion to make her comply. She'll willingly give us information in no time.” He assured the other.

                Cyrelian didn't appear pleased with it but was way past done with this chatter box so he nodded and excused himself to tend to the other one.

 

                With the grumpy one gone, the other mage started approaching you with a small journal that he took out of his robes. He scribbled some more and paused, examining your condition, never knowing you're examining him as well.

                ‘This buffoon is less cautious and more curious. Definitely a scientist more than a fighter.’ Exhaustion easily sets in you, making you break the eye contact first as you hung your head low. Finally, he places the journal on a table not far from you and went back moments later with a glass of liquid.

 

                “My spell effectively locked your memories and magical abilities. To your perspective, we might as well be just meeting for the first time. But you don't need to know my name.” Gods, his voice. No wonder that Cyrelian fellow wore such an expression the whole time he was talking with this one. He continued to ramble on for the next minute on how he came to successfully fusing two different spells and something about using two words to unlock it due to his research still undergoing progress, completely losing you upon mentioning “The Great Aldmeri Dominion”. ‘Torture might be better than this—wait. Is this torture already?’

 

                He offered for you to drink. “I'm your master. You will address me as such. I'm in charge of you, so I expect you'll be more obedient this time.”

                “The... Hell is.. This?” You coughed out most of those but you managed. Your master, as he'd like to be addressed, simply gestured for you to accept it. “You're parched. We'll be talking from this point onwards so I want you to drink. I won't ask again.”

                You know you shouldn't but he's right. The urge to quench your thirst grows too heavy to resist and you're soon gulping down to the last drop whatever it is inside the cup he holds. You finish it in mere seconds and while you relish the fresh wave of comfort it brings, the mage has already dragged with him a table filled with journals and what looked like small bottles of potions.

 

                “We'll start. Do you know who you are?” He said, picking up his notebook once more, ready to write. “What? What's in that dri—... No.. No I-I don't.” ‘What did he do? There must be something in that drink.’ You thought as panic seeps into you. “What do you know about your past?” “Nothing!”

 

                “Do you know the man you were brought with?”

 

                “Y-... No.” Even a quick attempt to lie is fruitless and it’s the confirmation you need to know that you’ve been subjected to some kind of mind control. He continued to provide you with a series of questions and the way you immediately respond to it makes you sick. Your mind is still yours but you find yourself unable to deny him of answers, much to your horror. He won’t be getting information from you, not when you don’t remember anything so it’s most likely he’s just performing some light test. Even still, you wish you would have put up some more fight to it. As if your pleas have been heard, he stops, satisfaction plastered on his face.

 

                “This potion is expensive, even for us,” he rolls a tiny vial between his fingers “and we only use it when we’re sure it’s needed. You’ve caused too much trouble but obviously, the information you have is too good for you to take to the grave. You might or might not hold the information we want but seeing your affiliation with the Thieves Guild will certainly grant us useful ones.” The mage casually reveals. “A declining guild like that will still hold useful contacts. Securing their survival in exchange of information when needed will prove to have mutual benefits. Once I’m done with you and my superior knows about this success, they’ll surely grant me more resources for my projects.”

 

                ‘Thieves Guild? What's he talking about?’

 

                And he continues, “The potion's effectivity depends on the amount of consumption. I assume you'll be out of it any time now.” He says, changing the topic. “The water I gave you had a drop or two in it. Just imagine the effect of a pure solution.” His wicked smirk grows wide as he admires the liquid inside the small bottle he wore around his neck. “Ah, but as you just experienced, it always gives up the truth, doesn't it.”

                A scoff escapes your mouth. “Yeah, the truth is you can fuse spells together and make me speak against my will but you can't shut your damn mouth.” Even under the dim light you catch a glimpse of how his jaw clenches but he keeps his cool.

 

                ‘So I do have valuable information, if he can't kill me... yet. I would have picked a swift death on the spot rather than listen to this idiot for another minute.’

 

                “Yes, it's a shame my spell can't erase that infuriating attitude you have.” He sighs, “No matter, I can fully expect the potion will keep you cooperative the next time I come back for you. You can protest all you want. I’ve enchanted this very room to be as quiet as a grave.” The elf snickers and walks away with his journal. “Be a good dog and rest. It will be your last.”

 

                You thought about acting on your anger once more and lash out as he makes his way out the door but you resisted, minding the wounds and not to mention, the unhelpful results of throwing a fit. ‘I've got less than half a day to figure out how to get off these chains...’ Analyzing your situation doesn’t really give you much hope. ‘How does one get out of chains? I certainly won't make it in this state.’ You rest your head back, trying to calm yourself; not wanting to go back and forth on how and why you’re here. Seconds turn to minutes and pretty soon, your heavy eyes and worn state leads you into the alluring embrace of sleep.

 


 

                Comforting.

                That’s the word. Your body and legs are chained on a large chair, left without sustenance; you have a very old, thin rugged cloth for a trouser with barely but a basic upper garment to hide your bosom. You are a prisoner of the Thalmor, which you’ve recalled nothing so far except that they’re pompous sadists as you’ve just witnessed earlier. So you never really thought a throne in an empty room with a window behind you would provide such warmth and light in the middle of the night.

 

                In the middle of the night.

 

                Suddenly opening your eyes, you are greeted by a being mantled with brightness like you’ve never seen. Being blinded by a bright, and it’s really bright, light didn’t really crossed your mind since this room was nothing more but a dark and cold one the last time you were awake. You let a few seconds pass by before trying again, this time with more caution and a slight hope that this is just a hallucination. As if acknowledging your reaction, it reduced its glow until the figure is floating in front of you; its luminosity toned down enough for you to see how it took form of a lady robed in fine garments.

 

                “Your heart and mind is clear, my child. Long have they attempted to reach out to you.”

 

                You’re not sure if the lady is speaking at you or in your head, but you hear her words clearly.

                “...Who?”

                Now you said that, but you weren’t really confident if you meant the ones seeking you or the lady in front of you. The woman simply waved her hand towards you and the chains that binded you slowly loosened as it was torn asunder until they were nothing but merely tiny specs of light. It was as beautiful as it was terrifying. “I uhh... I assume I’m next? Just be quick, please.” You clung nervously to the armrest, eyes tightly shut and your will to fight gone. How could you even hope to defend yourself against such power? At least it’s not that noisy Thalmor who’ll be ending you.

                But instead, you felt an undoubtedly real and soft hand touch yours, and for the first time since you saw the flickering of candles, you felt safe. Without daring to look up and show how stupid you must look right now, you grasped the lady’s hand. All of a sudden you feel the energy of your body being restored.

 

                “Although you remember them not, all of them have always watched over you. Their love for you lives. Witness how it has made you strong.” She spoke softly and the light in her briefly extends through you, closing your wounds and mending your bruises wherever it passes. It is a sight to behold for sure. No other kind of restoration could ever be this immensely powerful. The power is held, the energy that just coursed through you—it’s otherworldly.

                You couldn’t help but laugh nervously, “Am I dreaming again?” you said, unable to stop your voice from shaking as you watch and feel the warmth of her light flow through you. This is in no way a common restoration technique. How you knew didn’t matter, you could just simply tell. She returns your grip with a comforting one and now you meet her eyes clearly, golden from the radiance that she emits. “I cannot return them, for such a thing is beyond the realm of my power. But now their love has given you life.” Her voice is soothing; filled with nothing but love and compassion of the purest form.

                “I.. Thank you, but...” Knowing there is nothing to be suspicious of but also at loss to what her words meant, you ask her, “Why are you doing this, my lady?” My lady. You’d laugh at yourself but your instinct got the better of you when you responded.

 

                ‘Wait.’

 

                You started to think as the bright lady smiled when she let go of your hand and moved to the bottom of the throne. She lifts both her hands, inviting you to come to her, and the warmth of her smile pierces through your doubting mind. ‘Maybe that’s it. Since I don’t remember anything...’  With trembling limbs, you lift yourself from your seat. Taking a step and with growing confidence you make your way to her, confirming with every movement that this is reality.

 

                “Approach, my child, for this is where your new life begins.”

 

                Her voice echoed, welcoming you in a motherly embrace once you reached her. You return the gesture, inhaling the divine sensation, wrapping your arms around her as her radiance engulfs your whole being.

 

                ‘I’ll have to trust my intuition from here.’

 

Chapter Text

002

Unbound

 

 

            Cyrelian stood impatiently outside of the prison cell, arranging several reports. He’s been busy enough dealing with the transferring of Talos worshipers every now and then with other outposts. Then this new and insufferable mage has been assigned with them for the rest of the month. Divines only know if that person wasn’t working for their cause, he would have slain him the first time he spoke. No, the list doesn’t ends there; the interrogation with this specific man is making absolutely no progress. The high elf merely held in his fury, seeing how the man still refuses to spill information despite the interrogator’s blade carving his skin. It had been his fourth visit in this cell. The mongrel in chains should know it is only for the fact that they’ve confirmed his ties to the Blades that prevents them from executing him immediately. The craftsmanship of the sword he possessed definitely belonged to those pests. They’ve had him and his female companion for almost a fortnight and barely got anything out of him except empty threats, if not a bit of short lived satisfaction from beating him until he passes out.

            As for his companion, Cyrelian keeps it professional and doesn’t meddle with prisoners who aren’t assigned to him but he does check on his colleagues’ progress reports to be sent to their superiors. According to the reports of his fellow mage, the girl had been unconscious for days, and has been hysterical since waking up.

 

            First, she tricked one of the head securities into thinking she escaped, which resulted with the ones guarding her cell beheaded as punishment for insolence. She was then heard laughing as she remove her invisibility spell, revealing she never escaped in the first place, and thus greatly humiliating the one who called for the execution. Cyrelian recalled hearing this girl plead for mercy when he passed by her prison cell a week ago, saying she was ‘bored and won’t be doing it again’. The only thing she got was a wasteful amount of magicka suppressing potions.

            The elf scoffed as he read. Why they let such an atrocity pass by is beyond him. He just figured the lunatic was scheduled for interrogation the next day as it confirms in the next report. It says she admitted the sword’s relevance to the Blades upon the first session of questioning but begged the interrogator to ‘bring her to her companion first so she can secure his safety’ before confessing. Of course her pleas were rejected by a slap across the face.

            A dog does not give orders to their masters and that was exactly what the interrogator had said before she tackled him and, despite having her hands cuffed together, plunged in all her fingers on his face. To skip the gruesome details of the act, it only noted that she disfigured him. Apparently, the magicka suppressant was starting to wear off during the session which must have given her the audacity. Their colleague will recover, but the report mentions severe burn damages done to the eyes—or what was left of it. As for the girl, she underwent punishment for the next few days in a new room but was kept alive.

            “So I’m assuming that’s the reason our premium potions took a huge slide this week.” Cyrelian mumbled to himself unamused and continued to review the piece of paper in his hand.

 

            It appears the girl was beaten half to death before they sent her to the new wizard who’s in charge of her now. Assigning him to extract the information she has and dispatch her the soonest, Cyrelian could only chuckle wryly.

            They’ve had their fair share of violent prisoners before but they haven’t suffered casualties in a long time. If that prisoner had only been assigned to him as well, he might have finished the job much earlier, albeit messier. But it’s not in his best interest to handle more prisoners when the paperwork keeps piling up.

 

            “Cyrelian, I didn’t know you were there.”

            The interrogator greeted him and glanced back at the prisoner, now only barely conscious with all the new wounds and fresh blood pouring from his face. “He’s far from giving up yet. I’ve been doing this straight for hours the whole week and he’s not breaking at all. He just keeps repeating his denial.”

            “Oh, don’t tell me you’re growing tired. You’ve done longer before and I’m sure you’re enjoying his agony. Men are weak. Especially the stubborn ones who refuse to bend. They’ll break, they all do.” Cyrelian simply responded as-a-matter-of-factly. “Speaking of which, do everyone a favor and give the other prisoner a try if you’re growing bored of this one.” When he didn’t hear a reply, he removed his attention from the papers and met the interrogator’s eyes.

 

            “Did you hear what I said?”

 

            The interrogator slightly opened his mouth, and with a bit of hesitation spoke, “Jephre’s knees, surely, you jest! I do enjoy the pathetic screams of these lowlifes but after what happened to the other, I’d pass it. After all, I heard the newcomer has already got her under control and will no doubt be done with her soon after.” he told Cyrelian, wiping his hands and returned to his work, refusing to gaze upon the wizard’s baffled expression. This Blades-hunting business is just one of the many things the Dominion will triumph over but he admits it can get on the nerves sometimes.

            The high elf walked away from the prison cells, disgruntled. He can’t believe what he just heard. “She successfully sent two guards to their undeserved deaths without dirtying her hands, stirred conflict within the security, relieved a Justiciar of his vision, consumed several of our rarest resources, struck the morale in this outpost... and she’s still drawing breath. I’d soon start asking who really does the hurting here.” he said to himself, frustration seeped into every word. Just as he neared his room, he couldn’t help but curse under his breath and wonder if his temper couldn’t be more tested today.

 

            “How goes the interrogation with your prisoner?” His fellow mage beamed.

            The day’s almost over and it looks like things are looking up for this one after their conversation earlier this evening. He’s a younger elf, given away by his lack of seriousness in this kind of work. Though the devotion to his research is unnatural, but that’s what anyone would expect out of scientists of his type. For what reason this fellow chose to serve the Dominion is not of his concern and he’s certainly not interested in knowing about it.

            Mistaking the older elf’s silence as an invitation, he proceeded, following Cyrelian to his station. “My prisoner is proving to be sharper when sane. She wasn’t violent or loud, though I highly suspect she was analyzing the situation while I ran some tests. I’m afraid I’ll have to finish my work when I get back there. Even if it meant using this expensive potion I’ve been saving.” He rubs the bottle warily. “Waiting for tomorrow will just bide her more time to come up with something. I can always request new subjects—”

            “Potion? What potion?” Cyrelian snatches the item away as the other protested. “You had this the whole time? We’ve been wasting stocks on those filths for the past week!” He sneered as he instantly recognized what the liquid inside is and shoved the other mage out of the way, going for the prison cells.

            “No, Cyrelian, wait!” The mage swiftly threw a spell to seal the doors, angering Cyrelian even more.

            “You dare! Should I write up a report on this interference as well?!”

            The young elf hurriedly took his potion back. “Please, you must forgive me. This is not as easy to come by especially in this wasteland. I haven’t been sent a potential subject in a while so I accept the blame for any delays. But I swear I had nothing to do with the entire ruckus she’s been causing! Just let me secure this one, alright? Here.” he searches the drawers of a nearby cabinet and takes out a smaller empty bottle, pouring in a few drops of the potion. “Use it to your prisoner or whatever. I was about to ask for your assistance to begin with but nevermind.” he says and stormed out fuming, leaving Cyrelian to get back to his duties. Tonight, they might finally obtain something worth reporting.

 


 

            ‘That old one will never understand just how useful mine and Isael’s spells are with interrogations and many more when I’m fully done combining them. Ha! And he calls himself a wizard while all he cares for are paperworks!’  The Justiciar jeered in his mind as he strode off. “Success only comes from hard work and a ton of patience. I possess both! I’ll make them see that!” He muttered upon entering the prison on the lowest floor and locking it behind him. Upon securing the door, he re-casts a soundproofing spell on the room before he starts his work. He then loosed a ball of light on the table he left near the throne earlier, barely missing the prisoner who just finished reading the words on a scroll—

 

            “What in oblivion..!?”

 

            He quickly caught up how you’re miraculously in the best of shape, free of chains, free to take your turn. Instinctively, he charges energy to conduct a defensive spell but he’s already too late. You faced the scroll at him and briefly saw the widening of his eyes as the seals burn the paper, releasing the spell. A blast of green light hits him before he can react. He staggers and goes limp, falling face down on the dusty, cold stone floor like a lifeless corpse.

            “Well that was louder than I hoped.” You started walking towards another table filled with tools. Picking up the sharpest equipment you can find, you turn your attention to the motionless mage. “I have you to thank for the strengthened enchantment of this room.” Turning him over, you search for his necklace while your other hand holds an embalming tool against his eyes. You hear weak groaning and see that he’s very much still alive despite the effects of the paralyzing spell. “Don’t you worry about that. That’s only gonna poke it if you move.” You joked but only got louder, angrier protests as a response. Retrieving the bottle, you inspect its components and took it. For a moment you consider having the scum consume the potion but a better idea sparks in you. Hurriedly searching his cabinet, you weren’t disappointed to find a few more bottles labeled as “magicka repellent”. You grab one and made him drink it, waiting for the substance to take effect. The corners of your lips curl up ever so slightly. “Now let’s talk about your spell.”

 


 

            The Justiciar wriggled in vain against his restraints. “You said so yourself, almost everything in this room is enchanted and strengthened so I don’t understand why you’re wasting energy.” You casually commented, feet crossed high on his table and a notebook in your hand.

            “I’ll have your head, but first I’ll keep you alive just enough for you to feel when I carve you flesh to flesh!” He shouted across from the throne where you’ve tied him up.

            “I see the spell wore off. That lasted long enough for me to drag you on a throne. I’d expect as much quality from fancy pointy ears like you folks.” You glanced up at him briefly and proceeded to read his journal and notes. The description of each act you did, and the beating, whipping, slashing they gave you and the man with stark black hair. It’s a little gruesome to visualize and you curse yourself for being at the peak of your creativity this time of the night.

            “How in Nirn did you escaped... Who helped you?! Answer me, dog!”

            “This dog is busy trying to read through your ugly hand writing. But do tell me, did I really do everything you’ve reported here... And what your ‘hospitable’ establishment did to me?”

            “Of course not! You did so much more, that’s why you deserved every ounce of torture they gave you, you madwoman!” You really didn’t expect him to respond so strongly and getting called like that hurt a bit. “Why else would I have locked away your memories before extracting information from you? You are but one of many good examples why we all strive to cleanse this land from Men—why we will always be the superior race!” He spat every word with spite. “Had I known you’d somehow manage to get free, then I would’ve gladly sent you to Oblivion myself!” ‘That’s a lot of words from someone who writes so little’ is what you wanted to say but you do not have the luxury to humor this fool.

            As he goes on with his rage-filled ranting you go through your compilation of letters and torn notes—at least the label says it’s yours. Most of it only looked like bounty letters, intercepted messages, recipes of food and potions, directions, until you come across one with a broken seal and which looked newer than the others. This must have been your latest letter. You flipped it open and it read;

 

            “THIS ONE HAS BETRAYED YOU AND HIMSELF... A LIFE BEHIND BARS WILL KEEP THIS ONE ALIVE...”

 

            More were written in between but was smudged with dirt and mud... Or is that bl.. Better not go into too much detail on that one. There’s a readable line at the end of it;

 

            “..SHADOW HIDE YOU.”

 

            With that out of the way, you got up on your feet and approached the mage. “I hope you got everything out of that chest of yours. Because I wasn’t really listening.” You mockingly greeted and he cursed you in return. “Now, now. I let you run your little test on me, didn’t I?” Grabbing a leather strip, you yanked it around his neck. It took a while, and between the elf’s pitiful struggles, the thought of just going all the way through with it crossed your mind. ‘How am I any different with them if I did?’ So you waited until he was weak enough from the choking before you grabbed the potion. “You’re parched, yeah? This should fix you right up.” You sneered, forcing him to drink a mixture of magicka replenisher and the liquid strange liquid. His golden eyes slowly dilated as you watch the substance takes over his mind.

            You step back, pulling the mage’s bindings with you. “You said earlier how your spell locks my memories and magicka but separately.” He followed you, and this time bowed his head obediently.

            “Yes. I can unlock both and reciting the ritual will only take a few moments.” he calmly responded. You assess the person in front of you, sensing that the high elf still retains his awareness of what’s happening in front of him but unable to respond to it until the potion wears off. Nodding your head, you search for a clear spot to perform the ritual. The mage does your bidding without delay and recites the phrase, and upon speaking the word that ‘unlocks’ it, you feel the magical energies of this world flow through you the same as how you’ve always been familiar with the air you breathe. The elf keeps the energies flowing until your ‘connection’ has been fully restored. Something inside you celebrated, though it failed to show on your face. It’s as if you’ve been able to think, feel, and breathe more clearly now. But your mind still hasn’t remembered what spells you have learned yet.

 

            “My memories. Give them back now.”

 

            The Justiciar charged his hands with magicka once more but looked at you as to ask for permission. “I am compelled to inform you that with my spell incomplete, I regret that I am unable to secure the amount of stress it might cause your mind once the veil’s uplifted. Is this truly your wish?” He asks wearing an empty expression and preparing to cast it again.

            You reconsider for a moment. Of course you want your life back. But with the state that you were in the reports, it makes you wonder, ‘Was it really a life worth going back to?’

            “I may not have enough magicka to assist you later on.”

            “Will it return everything, everything, my mind remembers?”

            A pause, and then he nods. “Yes.”

 

            If the potion wears off, you have to kill him. You know neither of the ritual nor how to safely cast it to yourself. This might be your only chance to remember. Or to restart. Run away, create a new name, a new life. It is but one chance in a lifetime. No. It’s not wise to drop everything. You wouldn’t lived this long if you’re as deranged as you’ve been told. A deep breathe, a strengthened resolve, your jaw tightens but you finally make up your mind. You stood ready and meet his eyes.

 

            “Do it.”

 

Chapter Text

003

The Mysterious Swordsman

 

 

            Labored breathing escaped him with every rise and fall of his scarred chest. Some new, some older. Even the slightest tilt of his head will inflict a different set of pain on his body. He’s been blinking in and out of consciousness these past days. If it’s not another Thalmor scum striking him, it’s the red of his pupils reflected on tiny puddles between the stony floors he sees before passing out. Sharp, clawed fingers forcefully yank his hair to lift his head up.

 

            “Answer me. What do you know of this sword?” Demanded the Altmer, holding the nodachi near Kaidan’s face as he leaned down. “The Blades? Where are they hiding?”

 

            His weary eyes shifted from the empty bottle Cyrelian held to the face of the bastard himself. Whatever the scum made him drink, he’s too weak to fight it. His mind screamed at the elf to gut itself from neck to groin yet his lips moved on its own.

 

            “Nothing. I already told you, over and over, I don’t know where or who they are.” He said in between raspy breaths. The Thalmor wizard then smashed the bottle on the prisoner’s head in a fit of rage.

 

            Days of resources wasted! Cyrelian regretted that he hadn’t involved himself more on this matter when the guards first brought them. He unsheathed the sword, its blade reflected moonlight like crystal clear water. Being held back by nothing anymore, Cyrelian was more than willing to cut down the pathetic life in front of him. “This is the last time I’m asking you. Conf—” The elf’s outrage was conveniently disrupted by a loud blast coming from the lower levels. The girl. He wore the nodachi on his back and quietly stepped out of the prison cell, leaving a bleeding Kaidan to lose consciousness. The scornful mage cautiously thread the halls and down the stairs.

 

            “Mara’s heart, save us! He’s dead! Alert the others!”

 

            Hearing one of the guards, Cyrelian prepared for the worst. He arrived in front of the room where the female prisoner was held in; taking in the full view of the dead wizard he was in an argument just moments ago. The corpse had a hole still smoking at the center of his chest; flesh and organs burnt brown on a considerable radius around it. Blood splattered all over him and the pile of bricks he’s found laying on top of. The room was supposed to be enchanted, everyone knew of this. Whoever did this had a very good focus or considerably strong spell to pierce through an altmer and a fortified stone wall. But there’s only one person other than their newcomer in that room—and she’s not in there.

            Everyone quickly spread out, warriors, archers, Cyrelian and the other mages to investigate and find the culprit. All cells have been locked with enchantments; living prisoners are being questioned or killed if deemed suspicious. This is the Thalmor talking to inferior races. Everyone is suspicious. Cyrelian roamed the halls, checked through each room, doubled back on any possible exits and windows. One by one, prisoners died and one by one, he noticed, so did his colleagues.

            The elf ran into a bedchamber and secured it shut. Preparing to make a final stand there.

 

            “By the stars!”

 

            Cyrelian raised his charged palms as fast as he spun around. “Just what in oblivion are you doing, Cyrelian?” The person complained upon his sudden intrusion. His fellow mage wearing a similar set of robes gracefully shifted her glance back to whatever she’s reading before he scoffed at the lack of vigilance. “What-.. Are you some sort of half-wit? There’s an escaped prisoner rampaging out there. Why are you just standing there?!” He growled.

            “Oh? I’m sorry if I’ve been unaware. These reports have been quite the page turner so I put on a nifty illusion spell outside just to keep the noise away.” The mage chuckled. Grunting at this simpleton of an altmer, Cyrelian turned his attention back at the door but caught on quick enough. He draws the sword on his back and points it at her. “I’m afraid you’re in no position to get your hands on those papers. Reveal yourself!”

            The person doesn’t react. Instead she places the book down and as her hands slide down the hem of the hood, her disguise dissolves.

 

            “That’s an interesting blade. Though I believe it’s not yours.” You coyly tell the Thalmor in front of you.

 

            Cyrelian draws the blade closer to your neck. “Hmph. Bested him I see.” He quietly states. “He might have been a damn fool in keeping you alive but he certainly was right about you being so much more dangerous with your sanity back.” the elf sneered at you. “Oblivion take you!” He cries, slashing the blade sideways and catching you off guard when he swiftly cast a flame spell at you while he retreats with the sword. You stumble back a bit; the thick enchanted cloth did well in protecting you against the fire. Figuring the elf was clever enough to know he won’t best you in a cramped spot with that sword he has, you set off in pursuit of him.

 


 

            The whole place was a riot. Chaotic enough that one would confuse it with everyone being under a frenzy spell. Kaidan sure did. He just regained full consciousness when he heard the prisoner opposite of his cell howl in pain. A Thalmor Warrior had slashed the Nord’s arm but not deep enough to cut it off. Thick dark red poured out, showering the man in his own blood. The armed elf stuck its sword slowly on the gap, and Kaidan was the damndest of all fools that time for instinctively following it and saw how it agonizingly tore the man’s limb, toying on its flesh, revealing tissues as the blade prodded. Muscles, bones.. Kaidan looked away but couldn’t shield his hearing from the man’s cries. It wasn’t that he’s not used to the sight, but he couldn’t handle the idea of him being in that man’s shoes. He could only avert the fearful and hopeless gazes of the rest of them still breathing. Amid the wailing of other prisoners, some of the guards were screaming back. Something about the location of a woman who escaped and is responsible for the deaths of several Justiciars.

 

            As his eyes caught a glimpse of a bluish white light cross the place, so it did struck a Thalmor and knocked him off his feet just as fast. Another flash. A buzzing zap and one guard on the ground became two.

            “What in Mara’s name is happening?” Kaidan mumbled, straining what little energy he has just to see what’s happening behind the stone pillars that blocked his view. The three remaining guards readied themselves; two hurled a spell towards the stairs to the main hall. The flickering light grows brighter and brighter as it neared Kaidan’s range of view, and he couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw the Storm Atronach with its arms filled with growing electrical charge.

 

            “By the gods... An atronach!”

            “Ysmir’s beard, help! Somebody!”

            “Just let me get home to my family! Anyone!?”

 

            The remaining of the prisoners has already gone into panic. Others have already taken their own life at the very first sight of the Atronach. ‘Probably thought it’s sent to kill everyone in this prison.’ Kaidan thought to himself. An atronach, a Storm atronach of all things. Gods know it only takes one quick moment for it to fry up even the strongest orc into crisps. The others have been here longer than him, so that may explain why they are so quick to give into hopelessness and fear. He didn’t let his guard down even when the elemental daedra battled against the high elves of this place. But he observed. He held his breath and felt like his heart dropped when the daedra passed by his cell and ignored him.

            Soon the struggle of the Thalmor soldiers reached a dead end when Kaidan overheard growling and barking coming from the lower floor. Those things feasted on the elves, gnawing at their armors and limbs. They must have gotten one, hearing a loud blast which sent the creature sliding far enough for him to witness when it’s magical essence dispersed like ash to wind as it ‘died’. With a deafening explosion, he assumed it was the atronach that did the killing blow. He waited for the conjured beasts to do something, kill him next perhaps, but it’s as if he didn’t exist. The wolves simply ran past through him and up the main hall while he hears the daedra move further down into the lower dungeon.

 

            He hung his head low, heartbeat loudly pounding in his chest too fast that he would’ve definitely laughed if it started opening his deeper cuts. Kaidan partially accepted that he wouldn’t be able to escape this place, may it be either due to the Thalmor eventually killing him, or all of them dying together in this gods forsaken outpost. But there wasn’t a day that went by in his cell where he didn’t wish to be free of his shackles and dig his blade deep in a Thalmor’s throat, or at least die trying. And that untamed fury still stirs, especially when one of those dark robed bigots enter his vicinity—like this one silently standing in front of him.

 

            “This place is terribly cluttered with a handful of conjuration scrolls just lying around. You only need to read the words without stuttering to unseal it successfully. Of course, one mispronunciation can turn the scrolls backfiring or worse.” The voice was that of a woman. “Overall, it’s pretty useful. Don’t you think?” She pressed on casually when she didn’t get a respond from the man seething in his anger.

            Refusing to face whoever it is and give them the pleasure of seeing his tormented state, Kaidan lifted his head ever so slightly, spirit unbroken, and with all the consciousness he still holds, spoke;

 

            “When I get out of here, I’ll kill you all myself...”

 

            “Why, aren’t you as feisty as this piece of paper says!”

 

            Such an energetic greeting brought amusement to you as you smugly wave a torn page with a poorly drawn image of him. It had some scattered notes beside it which indicates key information about this person in front of you. “You’re not really in a position to be making threats here, you know...” You meant only to crudely tease him for his brashness. Instead, that seems to have sparked some life in him.

 

            “TELL ME THAT AGAIN WHEN I RIP THE SPINE OUT OF YOUR HE...”

 

            You crouch down, paying no mind to his reaction, to get a better view of his face. ‘Black hair ending just above the shoulders. Red tattoo. Red eyes. Red blood—wait, of course the blood is red.’ It’s definitely the exact person Cyrelian insists you were within his records. You don’t recognize him from your blurry memories. Trying later might be more productive. Although it’s a shame; you were hoping to remember at least something much more elaborate once you meet him. ‘Of course it didn’t have to be this hard if you only let the ritual finish in the first place.’ A voice in your head insists, but you shake it off. Focus.

 

            Kaidan was more than ready to spill the blood of whoever he was talking to until he saw them getting down on one knee in front of him and his mind immediately ceases its murderous train of thoughts. Under the hood is a person who is neither gold skinned nor an elf.

            “WHAT! Who are you?!” His tone instantly flips into something less hostile. “Wait. You're not with the Thalmor are you? Quick, get me free from here before more come!” He added in a hurry. Well, he isn't really gonna humor you with his arms chained up there. 'Did they use a similar memory spell on him? No all accounts said I was the only one sent to be tested on.' It looks like he doesn't even know you as well.

 

            'How convenient.'

 

            But even so, you still need to know why the Thalmor caught you with him. Were you two just at the same place at the wrong time? What was he doing that made him a target?

 

            “Who are you?” You asked, earning confused look from the stranger. But he answered nonetheless, “Kaidan... My name is Kaidan.” exhaustion evident in his voice. You've already made up your mind to track down this person and get out with him but now that you've come face to face with this man, nothing about him seemed to be threatening enough that the Thalmor would go out their way to hunt him directly. No. You need more than a name to determine whether he's to be trusted or not. “Why are you here?”

 

            “The Thalmor invited me to high tea. What do you think?”

 

            Ah, now you kind of understand why he's as battered as you were. You charged your hand with magicka. “Well... You must have been offensively terrible at it if they felt the need to beat you up this much.” You relentlessly spat back, a smirk uncontrollably forming on your lips. Kaidan blinked in utter bemusement. This ridiculous exchange is going nowhere. He shakes his head in defeat, taking into consideration how you're most likely just being cautious with a stranger like him as he is with you. “Look, I don't know... Some Justiciars ambushed me outside of Falkreath.”

            'Falkreath. Falkreath. That's a place I think.’ Your mind worked its best to search for the faintest familiarity. No, no you need more to go on.

            “There must be more to it.” You urged and he loses it.

 

            “Choking on my own blood and you want my life story?!” He snaps at the stranger. He's been tortured, starved, and derived of any humane treatment for days and the first person who has the capability of freeing him just gawks at him, playing a questions game. Of course he has every reason to lose his temper. But that must have taken her by surprise as it is honestly expressed on her face. Kaidan takes a breather and gives it another shot. “Please.... Just help me out of here.” He says it almost like a prayer. She doesn't have to kill those bastards who put him there; she just needs to aid in getting his freedom back.

 

            Approving the sincerity in his voice, you harnessed the magic charged in your hand. You stand back, using telekinesis until the metals bend and break apart. The man falls on his knees with both an exhausted and relieved sigh.

            “Ah, you're a life saver.” He catches his breath, taking the time to let his body adjust. Slowly, Kaidan felt a comforting yet faint warmth covering him followed by subtle trails of light swirling in the air. He traces the source, looking up to see you holding out an open hand at him as healing energies pour out from the very tip of your fingers. You notice how the light easily complimented the colors of his eyes like a pair of sparkling rubies while he watches his wounds as they close, almost in disbelief. “A healer? That's a special gift you have.” The man gives his thanks. You shrug, not really knowing exactly yet why your restoration skills are that efficient. “Let’s get you out of here. I’ve got a plan.” You prepare to leave, tossing him a recovery potion, and explaining that he should use it should he felt pain coming back as your magic isn’t some work of miracle that heals everything completely. ‘...Unlike what that light did to me.’  Your mind drifts to the events that led to your escape, but that part is too much of a mystery. Best spare it from the details.

 

            “Wait. There’s one more thing.” Kaidan speaks up, “One of the Thalmor got his hands on my sword.” he starts, and you could already tell which bastard he’s talking about. “I know I’ve got no right to ask, but I could use your help in getting it back.” Of course you do want to help and help you will but there’s one minor complication.

 

            You have to go to where Cyrelian is to get the sword.

 

Chapter Text

004

Abandoned Prison

 

            You just want to get away from this place due to reasons you can’t just convey openly to a person you just met—is that really hard to understand? But this man insists on getting his stuff back. Of course, even if you wanted to compensate him with a new set of armor or steel, neither of you have that amount of gold. The path he wants to take conflicts with the one you already had in mind.

 

            See here, the plan you have involves letting Cyrelian believe he’s got the upper hand while he flees into the deeper parts of the dungeon. Sending out a bunch of conjured entities pursuing him in that direction will make it appear that you are playing right into his trap. In truth, you actually just want to ditch him while you can confirm he’s still inside, quietly tiptoe out of this place, and wrap this plan up the easy way by burying the whole place through the detonation of all the fire runes you’ve found and planted on the way here. Raising a brow, you ask him, “The sword is that important?” Surely, it’s just a unique sword and not that significant. But Kaidan nods, “This isn’t me being sentimental. They kept asking me about it...” he explains, killing what little hope you’ve held out with his next words “If it’s important to them, they shouldn’t have it.”

            Granted that your plan in general is just in a form of a large scale homicidal prank, you decided not to bother debating for it. You guess it’s time to enact the much messier plan. “Alright. I’ll handle him. You probably should stay back.” Now it was the dark haired man’s turn to look surprised. “I’m not telling you to do this alone. I’m just asking you to help me get it back.” He repeats, obviously sounding like you’ve mistaken his request. You scoff, taking down your robes’ hood to look him dead in the eyes. “Get it back? I’m sure you’re amazing in whatever you do but the only thing you’ll be getting in that state is another round of beating.”

            “But I—”

            “But you what exactly? You’re unarmored, basically never use magic by the looks of it, and still worn down. If you want to, you can go ahead and be my meat shield as you get caught up in between us hurling fireballs at each other..” You point out sharply before he can even let his ego speak. Immediately forming a brilliant idea, you suddenly grab his hand, making him flinch a bit by surprise, and give him a key. The key. “...or you can free each living prisoner you see here, get them to safety, and let me use as many of their scrolls against them. And they’ve got plenty of it, I assure you.” You tell him as he eyes the item you just gave him. He looks up, lips pressed in a firm line. “What about you?” he asks, furrowing his brows.

           “I wanna kill these sons of whores. Trust me, this will hurt them.” and after a few moments of sizing up your words, he reluctantly nods, and you beam up upon finally coming to an agreement. “Then maybe I’ll save some for you just in case you insist on coming back to join the fight.” Even with your back facing him as you thread on towards your destination, you could’ve sworn you heard him chuckle.

 

           Kaidan never expected this stranger to aid him so willingly but while she does make condescending comments left and right, she does seem to make reasonable observations when she’s done talking. Checking each cell for signs of life, he used the prison’s key in freeing those who he can. Some are too traumatized to even respond and so he would just leave the prison door open for them. “This better work...” The swordsman grumbles under his breath.

 


 

            Darkness consumes your mind as you sneak down the stoned path. By now, that Kaidan fellow should have at least reached the upper floor with some others—if there were any, without complications. The atronach had swept that area clean of pointy eared bastards. You wanted to get out of this place as soon as possible so you can deal with the effects of the ritual but it looks like you’ll be having to go through with it and Cyrelian at the same time. As your feet take you further and further down the stairs, you mildly experience flashbacks from a while ago. Your body numbs and your sense of balance escapes you, forcing you to lean on one of the pillars as it triggers.

 

            The place shifts or maybe your vision did. In any case, you can’t see stairs anymore but a spacious room. One you were quite familiar with. One where you first saw those twinkling candles. Did time stop or is this happening all at once? Of all the times.... You really shouldn’t have turned down that stranger’s help.

 

            ‘Lies. It must have been just lies. Maybe they already erased my memories and are now trying to trick me again.’

            Those were the words that played on your mind as the mage recites the ritual for returning your memories. It didn’t come as easy as your magic. A stream of water finding its original path back to you compared to a tidal wave swallowing you whole as it returns. These are years, days, emotions, names, faces, context, reasoning—all breaching your very being at once.

            Confusion sets in.

            You see people dying before you, because of you, for you. People you love and loved you.

            The details in the journal matching the fleeting images of gold skin gripping tight a whip, countless punches and kicks hitting your body, the sound of bones breaking, getting almost drowned as they force down bottle after bottle of repellent on you, and the clunking of chains as it dragged against stone. There weren’t much words exchanged, but you hear them laughing, you know they are enjoying whenever you cry out painfully.

 

            ‘Are these really mine?’

 

            Feelings of anger and sorrow fusing together, fueling a hunger to kill. To kill him. You wanted to kill for a long time, and killing you did but there’s always one you’ve been building up to for a long time. The Thalmor? They’ve always been ever present at your losses. That hooded scum hitting you only sent you into frenzy. He’ll live, but you take pride in knowing he’ll always remember the feeling of someone slowly digging their fingers in his sockets and burning it so hot that it melts and bleeds the damn soft thing inside what he calls his eyes. Oh, did his screams reached the depths of hell!

 

            ‘Do I really want it back?’

 

            You keep your eyes at the magical energies circling the mage as your knees start to tremble. The thumping in your head gets louder and more painful by every second. Is it because of the effects of the spell or just your memories? At this point, it’s already too hard to tell. Each memory burns itself in you, resurrecting good ones, bad ones, and those which you’ve worked so hard to try and forget. Everything is crystal clear, even the fear. Especially the fear. For all your life, you’ve never overcome this one and now its jaws are ready more than ever to feast on you; eat you once more from the inside. Your mind swirls at the growing ache it causes you. The world—your world, is being made whole faster and faster but so does your monsters as well. With all the magicka flowing through you, you focused it into a beam of powerful lightning, piercing through the mage’s chest before he could finish saying the words. It didn’t matter if it drained all your current magic. Your indecision leaves you with images in your head; nothing which you can make sense of anymore, a dead mage, and a broken down wall. Finally, something good from all this chaos.

 

            With your magic interfering the steady flow of the ritual’s own power over you, the world shatters into fading pieces. Some intact, majority’s broken, others swiftly erasing itself as fast as it appeared in your mind. This, you might come to deeply regret later, but that’s a problem for another day. Right now there are no more monsters. No more haunting of past failures. Escaped from guilt.

 

            ‘And that’s enough.’

 

            You repeat the words as you open your eyes. You’re still at the stairs, shadow and moonlight accompanying you down these silent halls. That’s right, collect your thoughts. Lest you’ll fall apart if you allow it to scatter. You exhaled loudly trying to pump some confidence in yourself and remembered about the invisibility scroll you received from the lady of light. Recollecting your resolve and a renewed hatred for the Thalmor, you focused your mind in the present situation at hand. Escape alive, then you’ll have all the time in Nirn to decide what to do with your shambled brain. You hope so anyways.

 


 

            What was left of the high elves gathered and fought through the lower dungeons of the outpost. None of them had anticipated to have multiple numbers of their own summoning scrolls to be used against them. Keeping most of the tomes and scrolls in a secured room or two was smart. Unless someone who isn’t one of them got a hold of the said rooms. Apparently you did. You also made sure to release as much as you can. An inside attack was the least of their worry before you burned a hole through that mage’s chest. Oh, that fool did quite the damage to your mind but it allowed you to think and focus more clearly which can explain the intensity of your magic. Power is surging within your veins, you are in a state of confusion, and you hate the ones who put you in chains. Isn’t this just the perfect opportunity for you to go on a rampage.

 

            “Speaking of which.” You mumble as you arrive at the spot where your conjured beings are gathering. Even with the storm elemental’s combined strength with the wolves, the metal door wouldn’t budge. Of course the door’s been enchanted. They won’t last but your summons will disappear earlier. Brushing through the tips of the scrolls you have left on the belt of your robes, you pick out one you would miss the most. “I was expecting to use this last but I’m in a bit of hurry.” You sighed, examining the potent fire rune as you retreat back up.

 

            “Our scrolls have been used. Surely there’s someone working with her!” Exclaimed one soldier, waiting for Cyrelian and two other mages to seal the door with enchantments. “Don’t be a fool. We’ve encountered intellectual and even proficient scholars as prisoners in service of our cause. This one only got lucky because that newcomer was young, foolishly confident, but is more of an insolent moron than we assumed him to be.” Another one hissed back. Conjured daedra’s and beasts don’t usually last long in Mundus if they aren’t slain. All they have to do is to wait it out and reclaim their establishment. It doesn’t matter whoever prisoner escapes. The ones they have are either Stormcloaks or some heretic. Either way, the Empire will turn a blind eye should this reach them. The Nords however will regain a strengthened confidence no matter the story; all they need to hear is someone or something successfully destroying an outpost and any of those barbarians will think they can do it as well. As minutes passed on with bickering regarding logistics and political impacts of this issue, the atronach outside along with the wolves ceased assault. They are now aware that you are not as average as you appeared to them and are still clueless to where your limits are. Cyrelian expected you’d be conducting some plan, though unbeknownst to him that that plan has already been thwarted the moment Kaidan asked you to get his sword back. All of them prepared for combat.

            “Is it done?” One inquired in hushed tones. “It’s too early for that. You don’t think we’ll be keeping cheaply enchanted spells here don’t you?” The other noted. She is right of course. As silence fell on the group, the soft static and rumbling that could only come from the storm elemental can be heard. “Wait. Listen. It’s... charging?” The group slowly backed away, arming themselves with any protection if in any case their enchantment fails to repel the atronach’s attack. But should the defences itself fails, this old chamber was redesigned with a tunnel which they can use for escape.

            After a few seconds, it finally released a loud blast directed on top of the door. “What was that about?” It obviously didn’t go for the door.” Cyrelian asked. Without any delay, the walls started to tremble and all of them saw the crack branching from the top of the entryway crawl out onto the ceiling above, eventually giving in. The cave in got most of them, leaving only six elves alive. With the thick smoke and loss of their light sources, it was a total blur on what to do next. Those who survive immediately called out for each others’ aid. “Somebody cast a bloody magelight, damn it!” Cyrelian charged his energy instead to create a ward and was thankful he did for what came next. Having a few lit candles left, he could only vaguely witness how the others fell down as a wave of green light hit their general direction. “What in oblivion... is.. happening..!” The other mages were more resistant with the protection against magical forces imbued in their robes but they were affected along the other three spell-blades nonetheless. The high elf strengthened his ward, wary as he looked up the open floor above and desperately searched for the culprit.

 

            “Reveal yourself, trickster! The gods will judge your fate!” He called out, showering the ruins with a wall of flame but saw no one despite the coming out of light. But Cyrelian has been into battles and even the First Great War itself; he didn’t let complacency take place a second time. Balancing his magic to maintain a decent ward and empower the channelling of fire in his hands, he immediately spotted his prey when the smoke outlined an invisible figure. “Ha! Found you!” Taking no chance, he converted both the energy flowing through his hands into a charged fireball and sent it towards you. The twisted grin on his face was easily erased though when you emerged from the blaze, your invisibility breaking off and robes suffering from the fire, revealing your skin to be covered in iron. The mage hissed as you landed on him, your hands grasping his to stop him from casting. But he doesn’t let up and keeps the flames active, burning his and your iron skin away in the process. His resistance with magic is strong and so is his magic. In a matter of seconds, it overpowers and eats away the layers of magic on your skin with ease, leaving you with no choice. Bringing your head higher, you butt his chin and he loses his grip on you as you tear yourself and roll away from him. “Agh..! Bastard!” Using the high elf’s sloppiness due to the sword weighing him down, you stagger towards him and bring your dagger down his knee before he can recover. Laying on your back and leaving a howling thalmor, you heaved a deep sigh at the sight of the other mages quickly regaining control.

            In a fit of desperation, you search your pockets for scrolls with only a novice chain lightning still readable. You quickly recite—and thank the gods you were showered with fire earlier, lest there wouldn’t be any enough light to make the words visible. You raise it just in time before the first mage charges her blade at you, the dazzling sparks of light materializes into a single bright line that hits her and the others including Cyrelian. The impact knocks her on her back as you hear a loud grunt from your impaled elf. You snatch the short blade she dropped, slightly fumbling from exhaustion, and stick it deep in the elf’s chest. Twisting the dagger with all your might, you feel her nails clawing through your enhanced skin while her squalling drowns you into a state of delirium.

 

            Focus.

 

            Drawing in breath, you grab the nearest shield from a squashed spell-blade. “Oblivion take you!” He screeches. Finding a decent footing, you lift up the glass buckler to deflect the swing of another justiciar’s conjured blade. Stumbling back from the countered attack, the weakened mage would only take in a full view of the intricate carvings on their equipment before you bash it on his face and shove him towards a broken plank that’s been sticking out. The foolish bastard couldn’t even groan properly with all the blood he’s gurgling out of his mouth.

 

            “The gods are judging now.” You hissed through gritted teeth.

 

            Tossing aside the shield to grab the lifeless wizard’s dagger, you turn around; body starting to feel heavy but adrenaline’s keeping you functional. Seeing Cyrelian and the other one charging a spell doesn’t really give you an option to rest. So you take your pick, hoping that the skin magic would endure, and hurled the dagger towards Cyrelian’s chest. You watch the blade sink in his robes and flesh before the last mage manages to blast you with a paralyzing spell. “Damn you…!” The spell didn’t take effect immediately as you were still able to speak—even the mage looked surprised. Maybe it was the enhanced skin, maybe it was just the elf’s magic being very weak due to the present conditions. Either way, it pissed you off and so without care, you crossed the distance between you like a wolf with a clear shot of its prey, tackling the robed bastard. Much like the other, he claws at you as you stab him again and again with his own blade; him picking off your iron skin little by little and you doing the same with his life. Turns out, you need only to bury the knife in his neck to silence him.

            Slowly feeling your functions fade away, you hurriedly turned around to retrieve Kaidan’s sword when Cyrelian swings it at you aimlessly and he misses only by a few steps. Taking action while you can still feel your limbs, you grab a used torch and bash it against his head. While he staggers from his wounds and exhaustion, you gather your remaining strength and strike the hand holding the sword, which makes him let go of it. You swing your makeshift weapon back up and both of you finally collapse on your backs. ‘Is this over? Gods, it sucks to be paralyzed huh. I almost feel sorry for my victims.’ You internally whined. The paralyzing spell seeps into your nerves and slowly your body is unburdened of all control.

 

            A sinister laugh suddenly enveloped the smoke filled room, indicating Cyrelian’s still kicking it. ‘Well, talk about persistent.' You scoffed. It wasn’t as bad as you feel. You knew you gave your best. ‘If there’s any god out there I hope I do not have to suffer terribly long speeches before I am killed.’ You say in your mind, praying ever so religiously. On your peripheral vision, the other three spell blades finally started getting back up on their feet. Your heart sank for some reason as you watch their silhouette approach you; the world briefly flashes into a different one. A slower one. But this time you’re absolutely sure it’s the same room. The rubble, the erratic dancing of fires, bodies of the elves you just killed. But where did the hooded people came from? More thalmor mages? No, these are in deeper shades of red.

 

            No.. wait. Not now.

 

            “You’ve dragged this game long enough...” The voice was from Cyrelian but it sounded as if it was also from someone else. “Dragonborn.” The voice sent distorted echoes in your mind upon the mention of this word you’re not familiar with. You wish you could just shut your eyes while the episode you’re having blends in all too well with the scenario you’re in right now. Time plays painfully slow though you’re trying to convince yourself it’s just the spell messing up your mind. You struggle to make a move, hoping you would snap out of this dream if it was one. Up to this point, you always resolved you won’t run away if it’s time for your death but being warped in and out of this nightmare is about to change your mind. If you have to crawl just to get away from this horror then so be it. But despite your pleas, your body refused to move at all.

 

            Get out of my head.

 

            Tears form in the corner of your eyes and your blurry vision doesn’t help. The thalmor laughs, or was it him whose growl was monstrous and demonic? The screeching reverberates in your surrounding and it makes your head hurt. “Men will always be inferior to us.” Cyrelian speaks with wrathful satisfaction as you gaze at him in horror. But little did he know that the fear isn’t directed at him but to the menacing figure you see standing in his place. With a face contorted in an insidious smile, eye sockets empty and fangs soaked in blood, they sneer at you. You question your reality as you watch the person standing at your feet transform back and forth to that monster and Cyrelian himself with every breath you take. Behind them were shadowy figures laughing, just waiting for the elves to end your existence.

            Metallic scales poke at your back as you feel one of them pick you up and the rest unsheathes their weapons. One by one they chip away at your coating and it didn’t take long for their blades to weaken its magical binding on you. The blade hits your left shoulder all the way through your chest. You inhale sharply when the protective layer fails to block the steel as it rips through it and the upper layers of your flesh bleeds. Not falling behind the activity, Cyrelian charges, crackling light circles his hand, and he huffs as the maniac looses a shock spell at you. Electricity coursed through your every nerve and you fall to the ground, still as a corpse; your mind and body giving up from the direct damage it just took, but the world finally seems to come back to normal. Cyrelian’s mouth was moving but you could barely hear anything audible.

 

            The paralysis starts to wear off and your vision sways. Each blink feels like your head’s about to explode, and in those moments, you see an arrow through one of the soldier’s eye. Blink. Then another gets one through her neck. Blink. They turn towards the floor above, looking beyond the flames. The final one presents you with Cyrelian’s feet high above the ground. Some armoured person is lifting him up with a sword piercing through the elf’s back. Resting your eyes, hearing comes back to you just in time as the thalmor hits the ground. Heavy footsteps approach you slowly and you hear him mutter something before you completely black out.

 

            “Son of a bitch had it coming.”

Chapter Text

005

16th of Sun’s Dawn, 4E 200

 

 

            Hundreds and thousands specs of light scattered across the dark view, twinkling almost rhythmically making it even more mesmerizing to look at. For what seemed like an eternity, you feel absolute bliss—both in mind and body. Free of earthly burdens and a mind clear of worries. The universe lets you rest, your spirit, your soul light as a feather being carried by a soft breeze and placed upon calm waters to float steadily. The world shook gently, rocking back and forth, lulling you as you become more and more enchanted by this magical imagery.

 

            “Oh! Hang on, it’s kinda bumpy!”

 

            The tone was lighter, higher—a woman’s, and the moment she yelped, the ocean swallows you whole and spits you right back out. Hard wood hits the back of your head and you snap out of your lucid trance. The vivid light show was in fact the clear night sky and you’ve been staring at it for quite a while. ‘How long have I been sleeping?’ Without in need for much information, you immediately figured you’re in a carriage. Your eyes scan your surroundings while you try to recall what happened after you got paralyzed.

            On your right side, there’s a female sitting next to a lantern. Her pale and golden short locks neatly pulled back in a ponytail revealing her... elven ears? A Thal—no, her frame’s tinier than a warrior and she’s not wearing mage garbs. Plus, she’s holding a lute. A bard perhaps? But armed and in leather armor? Deciding you’re too dazed out to come into any conclusion besides that she’s not a threat, you tip your head to the other direction. There you see a familiar face wearing a pretty heavy set of armor. Not that he can’t move with it. He does seem to have the right build for that type of get up. It wasn’t old or new, though the scratches in it reflected by the light indicate that it did went through some battles from some time in the past. The man’s hair was gathered high in a bun with some of it not long enough to be tucked in. It suited him well. What was his name again?

 

            Kaidan. You remember that much. Good.

 

            Kaidan sat at the end of your feet, his face turned towards the direction your ride is going, arms crossed tightly with the sword resting on his chest. That’s when you realized he saved you from Cyrelian and the others. By reflex, you got up and by ‘got up’ it means you jerked yourself up only to be countered by the immense pain the sudden movement caused your body. You hissed, instantly getting Kaidan’s attention as well as waking up the elf beside you.

 

            “Whoa. Take it easy.” The red eyed man warns you, telling you that you still haven’t recovered from the battle. Haven’t you two won the fight? You’re good to go after that spell finally wore off you bet! “I think I’m fine already. I can now move, look—argh!” You made an attempt to wave your left hand and instantly regretted the act. Having your right hand reflexively reach for it, you felt medical bandages covering most of your left arm and chest.

            “Oww.” A silent whimper escaped you and Kaidan shares a chuckle with the elf for some reason.

            “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” The man shrugs as he aids the lady in steadying you to a sitting position you’re comfortable with. Kaidan looks away while the elf realigns the blanket covering your body. A brief moment of silence passed when the stranger picks up the cue, “My name is Lyra. Lyra Nightingale.” She introduces herself. “The one over there is my friend, Anduniel. We’re both adventuring bards.” You follow where she points, and see that there’s another elf riding the front of the carriage. Her waist long, thick hair was also styled in a high ponytail, and it nears the shade of bright orange under the lantern. She glances back, smiles and wave at you. “It’s a pleasure my lady. I’m glad we came just in time. Those Thalmors could be really cruel without reason.” The elf comments from her spot, barely shifting her head to keep a steady eye on the road. “Forgive me. That must have sounded a bit biased coming from a bosmer as I am. Why don’t I let Lyra do the retelling? I’ll just focus on the road.” She giggles. Kaidan wonders quietly if they are naive to be traveling the roads this time of the night or foolishly courageous. But the road you lot are following seems peaceful enough.

 

            Both you and Kaidan turn your attention to Lyra who bites her lower lip, thinking of where to start. “We came across some distraught citizens on our way to Ivarstead.” She says, “They said they’re running away from a Thalmor Outpost. So we followed the road until we arrived at the bridge overlooking the said outpost. We...” She paused to examine your reactions before continuing, “Ahem. We’re not really fond of politics but it’s hard to turn a blind eye when we saw the condition of those escapees.” Her thin brow furrows for a moment. “Andy and I agreed we’d help if there are more prisoners escaping so we searched for a way to get inside.” Your memories roll back to seeing an empty hall inside the basement room leading to a dark passage.

            “I see.” tilting your head, you meet her eyes. “I assume you found a tunnel somewhere near the place?”

            “Yes. That’s where we saw him carrying you in his arms. This man said you fought valiantly. And judging from what we saw, it was certainly quite the battle, hmm?” She nods her head at Kaidan who glances back at you.

 

            Yeah, some battle it was huh? If it weren’t for the bountiful amount of scrolls at your disposal, you would have burned to crisp the moment Cyrelian threw his fire spells at you since you already used the last of your magicka in healing Kaidan’s wounds. Hell, if it weren’t for some otherworldly apparition letting you free in the first place, you wouldn’t even be able to start your killing spree at all. 'Well at least I actually killed all of them. I hope. The last thing I really need right now is a surviving Justiciar on my tail.' and as you ponder on the consequences of your action, Lyra proceeds with the story.

 

            “The amount of blood and wound on you was alarming. But it was nothing a basic healing magic cannot patch up. Andy strongly suggests you visit a proper healer soon, though.” She brings her hands together dramatically and feigns a swoon, “Oh, it was most heroic and romantic, if I might add!” Lyra beams, “‘A young maiden prays for help and the Gods send the brave and mysterious traveler to save her. Together, they guard each others’ backs against their foes, coming out wounded but in the end, finding victory... and love.’ Turn that into an epic and a story like that will be written along with countless others in books for generations of music to come.” the elf hums and you see Kaidan sending you a look you could only interpret as awkward and uncomfortable. But he’s been pretty quiet throughout the dialogue. It only came to you that he’s the one who convinced these girls to lend you a helping hand and he’s just being courteous by letting this bard have her fun. So it falls unto you to do the talking.

 

            “Err.. Apologies. We’re not really in good spirits with the Thalmor, especially after what we did to get out of there.” You tell them in hushed tones, “Maybe having our details sang into a ballad would not be in our best interests?” you tell the bards as harmlessly as you could.

            Anduniel laughs giddily, “Lyra, oh dear, this is no time to be talking about your compositions. Please, forgive my friend. She’s just zealous when it comes to writing potential songs.” She politely notes, though amusement was rather obvious in her tone. “The Divines are good. I’ve been dreading to find inspiration for this special day in Tamriel and they’ve given me exactly what I’ve been asking for.” The blonde haired elf chirps, completely ignoring her friend. “Don’t worry. If it is to keep you safe, I’ll spare the physical details and your names. It is all I can do in exchange for letting me take elements from our encounter.”

 

            Noticing the tension leave Kaidan, you weren’t surprised when he finally found the confidence to speak his mind, “Special day in Tamriel? What do you mean?” he queries. “Oh.. Right. I hope my forgetfulness did not offend.” Lyra’s bright and jolly smile slightly drops as a tiny glimmer of sadness crosses her eyes. Of course she didn’t mean to forget that both of you were locked under a dungeon and lost track of time. Pretty sure a person with their profession doesn’t meet escaped prisoners very often.

            “Today is the 16th of Sun’s Dawn,” She starts, waiting if either of the people she’s talking to is familiar with it. “People call it ‘Heart’s Day’. It’s a commonly celebrated holiday even here in Skyrim.”

            Skyrim. Ah, now that’s where you are. It does ring a bell, but you’d need to find a book to properly reintroduce you to these names.

 

            “To be honest, Lyra and I were actually heading to Vilemyr Inn to play songs, earn a living you know, though we plan to finish the holiday by departing to Riften. The road can get a bit too crowded if we left with other travelers.” Anduniel informs the two friendly strangers behind from her seat.

            Lyra gasps and claps her hand. “Andy you’re a genius!” she exclaims lively, earning a bit of shushing from her companion to which she mumbles a quick apology. Her ears twitch a bit as she leans closer to both of you. “We did say we’re heading to an inn. As performing bards, they’ll give us free rooms and a meal. Our brave lady here needs a place to rest her wounds but I’m afraid we can’t spare you enough gold to avail one. Resting in the wilds wouldn’t be on top of my list, too.” she grins widely as she goes on, “During Heart’s Day, it’s part of the celebration for innkeepers to offer loving couples a free room to stay in. You two can pose as one! Come on, don’t tell me you wouldn’t take this chance!” the silly elf cheers like a child receiving sweets. You and Kaidan gawk at each other at the suggestion and you internally admit you’re too worn out to deny the temptations of a warm and cozy bed to rest on. “Why so silent? Don’t shy away from each other. You two make a lovely couple!” Anduniel calls out from her spot, sharing Lyra’s childish teasing.

            “I.. I don’t know if that’s really something my companion here would be comfortable with.” The snarky and ferocious man you met was actually fumbling with his words as his eyes refused to meet any of the girls’. You never thought Kaidan would look so stupidly funny grunting and looking away, flustered as he is. But then again you’ve only been with this man for a couple of hours. Maybe a couple more would help the two of you shake off the horrendous experience from that rotten prison.

            “Nah. Works for me.” You shrug, “We’ll consider it!” Kaidan counters just as fast and you held back a strong urge to laugh at him when he shifts towards you almost instantly, eyes wide with disbelief. “Alright. Whatever decision you come to, the offers only up until today.” Lyra couldn’t help smiling from ear to ear as she departed. Anduniel whistles, getting everyone’s attention. “We’re almost there, everyone. And among the early ones, too, I believe!” the bosmer cheers and Lyra excuses herself to take a seat beside the coachwoman.

 

            Kaidan takes in the scenery; moonlight giving the treetops a lush, crystal-like glow. Shadows casted on the dirt road are enhancing the tranquil vibe of traveling at night creates. Skyrim is a dangerous place, but traversing such a breathtaking land sure seems worth the risk. Not long after taking the turn, torch lights and colorful lanterns came into view. A few numbers of individuals can also be seen walking towards the same direction as several paths, including the one their carriage took, join the main road.

 

            “That's a lot of early comers. Is Ivarstead that big?” You inquired, without really having a picture what Ivarstead is although its name is no stranger to your memories. “Not really. Probably some of them wanting to celebrate first with Kyne’s blessings and there are also those who pay their respects by leaving supplies to the Greybeards up in High Hrothgar.” Kaidan explains. You nod, gently pulling away the blanket that’s been keeping you from freezing only to stop when you got a peek inside.

            “Wow, you guys didn’t really let me keep anything on except this luxurious pants.” You remarked at your old prison trousers, feeling a little bit sheepish for trying to get rid of your coverings earlier. “The robe you got on was blood stained and beyond repair. That elf, Anduniel, insisted to get you clean ones if they were to stop you from bleeding to death. It’s nothing to cry over.” He scoffs. There it is. That snippy tone you were greeted with before. Enjoying the way this man responds to your sarcasm, you prod on, planning to keep up the teasing.

            “Hey, I only got into that spot because I was trynna retrieve your sword.”

            “Don’t make it sound like I forced you to do it. I asked you to help me. You’re the one who got yourself almost killed until I checked in to save your hide.” He sharply replies.

            “Ha! I thought you only came back for the sword after I hopefully cleared the way for you.” You snigger back.

            Suddenly he leans closer than you’re comfortable with, his thick brows furrowed. “You really think I’m some lowlife scum who only thinks about his own skin?” You knew he didn’t really intend for it to steer that way but there’s a twinge of bitterness in his tone. “Is that why you think the Thalmor did what they did to me?” That didn’t take long. Though of course you can thank the fact that you don’t remember much about the time you spent getting tortured. He does, however, and it’s clear the memory’s still very much fresh. “Relax swordsman. I’m pulling your leg,” you chuckle, “I’m sorry alright?”

            Kaidan squints and groans. “I may appear like one of those brainless thugs with too much ego and zero intellectual capability but I wouldn’t leave a person who risks themselves like that..” He spoke gently, and with much more sincerity this time, looking intently to your eyes. “…Even if they were nothing but a stranger to me.” He says and breaks the eye contact before things get awkward. “I can’t thank you enough. I know you didn’t have to help me.” He says, eyes lowered as his fingers trace the hilt of the sword.

 

            Now you just really feel bad. “You know, I might just find your company more than amusing despite you being close to a mute.” You tease, but in hopes of lightening the mood this time around. “I dearly hope you do not snore so loudly.” and you watch as his solemn expression be overcome with bafflement. “Wha—you really plan on going through with it?” The man glances at the girls a few times as he questions his wounded companion. “Have you no dignity? That privilege is exclusively honored for-” “For couples. Yes. So we’ve been told.” you cut him off, and you’re not sure anymore if it’s just the increase in light sources but his face almost blends in with his tattoo given how flushed he is. “But where would you have me put in this condition?” You lean towards him, whining, “I cannot travel or hunt. Yet. Unless you’re planning on leaving me?” You pulled out your best pout but instead of disgruntling him, it seems like he’s actually falling for it. Silently waiting for a response, your mind began to pray, ‘Oh gods above please forgive me for taking such joy in this man’s pureness.’

            “No! It’s not that..” Kaidan began to look more and more conflicted, though you’re not really sure why he’s so worried about spending the night with you in the same bed. It’s not like anyone of you will be slitting the others’ throat when the other falls asleep. Wait, he’s not really thinking you’d do that to him, is he?

            The dark haired man takes in a deep breath, seemingly ready to spill out his thoughts. “Listen, I owe you my life, and I’m not a man who’s comfortable being in debt.” he pauses and you observe the man before you as he continues with little confidence, “Obviously, you could use the same help. Err.. If all of you really think this will help, then I’d be willing to give it a try. Kynareth knows I could use some mead and a warm bed.” scratching the back of his head, Kaidan could only sink in a pool of embarrassment as his companion bursts out in joyous laughter along with the two others.

 


 

            Wilhelm has never seen such life inside his inn for quite a long time since the war broke out. Having Anduniel and Lyra entertain the incoming guests with their talents surely is worth the deal. He would have even paid them twice if it weren’t for the holiday couples keeping his rooms occupied for free. But he always honored the traditions passed on by older generations. For now, a free room and a day’s worth of good meal is all he can ever hope to offer.

            “How are you doing, girls? You’ve certainly surpassed my expectations, I must say! Why, I even had to open much earlier because of these travelers eager for rest after the long road. You did this old man a huge help by soothing them with your songs.” He cackles, his voice echoes loudly in this medium sized hall, and you watch as he hands the two bards freshly made vegetable soups. They converse some more about work and income and the name Lynly or something was heard among those lines but you paid very little attention when all you could think about was your growing craving for a bowl of warm stew.

 

            “Ready?” Kaidan taps your shoulder. “I’m telling you right now, I can’t do all the negotiating here.” He shakes his head, complaining about something trivial like the lack of armor and protection in his common clothing. “It’s called common by the seamstress for a reason, my love.” Selling what’s left of your loot from the outpost provided only enough to get you medical supplies and a fresh set of simple attire. And he hasn’t heard a single complaint about how tight on the chest these dresses are. But the vendor insists on it if you want your dagger concealed. You wore the most charming smile your face can make and he definitely didn’t receive it kindly. “Don’t even expect me to-.. you’ve gotta be kidding me.” You hear him swear as quietly possible when the innkeeper made his way to greet you.

 

            “Another fine and young couple walks inside my inn! Should I start telling the villagers that my rooms are still open for the public and not just the newly wed?” Wilhelm enthusiastically showers the two with flattery as he guides them to an unoccupied table. “So, where did you two hail from? Looks like you caught the rougher roads.” He nods at Kaidan’s still visible bruises as he fixes the table. “Er.. We uhm-.. The road is uhh—” “You’re right. To be honest, we were camping just north of here when some roaming bandits caught us at a disadvantage.” Easily catching him, you nudge his arm lightly and he nods his head to whatever you’re saying. “Those heartless men took whatever they could while my husband was out hunting for food.” You fake a whimper.

            Wilhelm’s eyes were smeared with sympathy, “Ahh. A hunter! He does have the build for it, if not too much. Haha! I’m kidding.” the old nord engages, “But what about you, lass? By the looks of it, those wretches did more than take your belongings. I could recommend you to one of my acquaintances.” Innkeepers sure are talkative, but they’ve got good eyes. You nod and send Kaidan a quick glance, “I thank you, sir. If I were more agile I might have dodge that slash. Alas, my only option was to run where my husband was and he scared ‘em away already.” He seems to be relieved with how you’re improvising as Wilhelm definitely looks like he’s buying it. “I see. Gods have blessed you both. But earlier today, just when I was opening the store, I thought I saw the two of you riding in those elves’ carriage? Do you by chance have any relations with them?” He inquires, and your improv skills are being stretched by the second. “We uhm.. Met them a bit after we moved out. Anduniel was kind enough to offer us a helping hand and Lyra was the one who gave me first aid. They said they were going to Ivarstead as well so they had us join them.” You finish with a faint smile. You tug your companion’s hem under the table to ask for help.

            “I should have known! Of course. But you said you were heading here? Whiterun has a Temple for the wounded.” This man will keep talking unless his curiosity is satisfied. They’ve got to end the conversation somehow.

            The red-eyed swordsman gently puts his arm around you, careful not to put too much pressure on your wounded area. “Aye, it has. But it’s a special day today all across Tamriel.” He scoops you close and you play along, smiling as endearing as you can as you reach his hand and entwining your fingers. “We planned to climb the 7,000 steps and pray for Kyne’s blessing just as Mara has blessed our union.” He sighs, “Err.. Though, I’m not sure we’d be able to achieve that today. Maybe we’ll just find a safe place to camp outside after and pray to her there.” Kaidan’s warm gaze could fool anyone. Even Lyra and Anduniel who’re both busy gushing from afar as they consume their meal. It might even get to you if you weren’t aware this was your plan to begin with.

            “Bah. No need for that trouble, friends. The sun’s still high up and I’ve got more rooms in need of occupants!” Wilhelm flashes a wide smile, “Take one of my rooms, lad. It’s Heart’s Day today, Mara only knows, I’d be a cursed fool to turn away such a brave couple with faiths as strong as their bond! Here. That one’s the room first one to your right. Just a floor above us.” he tosses Kaidan a key. “There’s a bathhouse in the basement and I’ll have Lynly attend your needs right away. Blessings be upon you, travelers.” the innkeeper finally leaves your table as another woman greets you, taking your orders.You chuckle lowly when you see Kaidan grumbling as he drops the act and watch the two bards snicker at you from their barstools.

 


 

            The afternoon went along just fine. You hoped you would have done some investigation on your belongings and the swordsman’s connection with you and the Thalmor. But as it turns out, the spirit of celebration has seeped into your bones. As you dine on your bowl of stew, time flies too fast this day and before you know it, the sun has already set. People have come and gone and bards have played to their hearts content. Getting up from your seat, you followed the path towards the kitchens.

 

            'The whole morning has been spent on selling some loot and patching up my wounds. By noon, we visited a caravan nearby to acquire clothes. It was already past midday when we went here and got a room, bathed and ate… and then…' Listing down the things you’ve accomplished is a bit of a letdown. 'I can’t believe I’ve made too little progress with all the time passed.' You quietly peeked outside, watching men, women, and some children dancing and singing by the fire as Lyra plays the lute like a natural. Though you have a hard time recollecting if you have any idea of what’s going on, you allow yourself to be merry. 'At least they’re happy.' You smiled and thank the cook as he hands you another bowl. This time you decided to depart from the infectious liveliness of the crowd and eat your meal in the quiet company your room offers.

 

            “Is that your fifth bowl of stew?”

 

            The accusation made you jump in surprise. The one who spoke those words? Not so much. When you turn around, you see Kaidan coming up the stairs and taking a swig out of his drink. “Yes. And that’s your seventh bottle ever since you got out of the bathhouse.” You nonchalantly replied, unlocking the room. “It’s just ale. Something to fight the cold with. No need to sweat it, woman.” He chuckles lightly. A tipsy Kaidan is a happy Kaidan—you ought to take note of that. You return his smile politely and seeing as he’s also enjoying the celebration, you decided to leave him be. There’s always time to talk business tomorrow.

            You were halfway inside the room when you didn’t hear the door close. Upon looking back, the intoxicated man is leaning and holding it open, yet he hesitates to take a step inside. He didn’t intend to speak. Not yet. Not with the way he’s looking at you with those guarded eyes, burning crimson red under the light that comes from the small fireplace inside. It didn’t hold any ill intent. It just lingered. Sizing you up as if he’s still unsure whether you’re a threat to him or not. He’s a lot harder to read than you expected. Raising an eyebrow, you speak coolly, “Well are you coming in? You’re letting the cold in, Kaidan.” You let the name roll a bit on your tongue, trying to familiarize yourself with the strangeness of it. His stoic expression shifted in a slightly surprised one when you called him by name, though. A smirk forms on his face and he rolls his eyes, taking another swig.

            “You know, I’m curious about you.” He says, keeping his eyes locked on you as if you’re a cornered prey. His cornered prey. “You show up in a disguise, fresh and unscathed as a noble blood, yet you tell me you were brought in as a prisoner. With me. I was starting to think those bigots were just snatching any person they see to torture but now I’m suspecting there’s more to it, especially with how you single handedly decimated their outpost from the inside. I’m not in any position to judge… but what were you really in for?”

            ‘Decimated’ is a pretty strong word to describe a simple gambit.

            You placed your meal on the table nearby, and slumped down on a chair. “Is this the part where I tell sob stories about myself? Because I won’t. I can’t. To add to that, I really don’t feel like talking with the fires burning out due to someone holding the bloody door wide open.” You snap at him, arms crossed and patience riding into a wall. Being under medication sure is tough. It shortens one’s temper. To your surprise, Kaidan just laughs. “Huh. I feel like I’m the one being teased right now.” You quietly observe as he finishes his bottle of ale. “Well I don’t mind enduring your company either but I’ll be a lot more trusting if you would at least tell me something about yourself…” he slowly closes the distance as he speaks, voice sounding husky due to the slightly drunken state he’s in. Receiving no response, he shrugs, “How about a name, then? I gave you mine didn’t I?” He stands just a few steps in front of you.

 

            A name! Of course. Not much has happened ever since you woke up in the back of the carriage but it never occurred to you that you haven’t given him or anyone else your name. That’s an easy thing to solve if only you remembered it.

            Meeting his melting gaze, you stood up and brazenly entered his space, finding any words to say as he stares you down. Not one to back down from a double win situation, you gather your voice.

 

            “LYNLY IS THAT YOU? BE A DEAR AND COME OVER HERE!” You hollered, but in an unhurried way.

 

            Kaidan acknowledged the rushed footsteps heard on the wooden floor but kept his sights clutched on you. You admire the determination in his eyes, enjoyed it even, but you didn’t sought him out for an occasional staring contest. There’re questions in need of answers. Finally reaching your doorstep, a fair woman pops up in view, wearing a bright and polite smile on her face. “Yes, ma’am?”

            You greeted the young nord with a friendly wave. “It’s pretty late for us to bring the celebration outside. If it isn’t too much trouble, can you have someone take a barrel of mead here? We’d like to end this holiday with each other’s company.” Brandishing a small piece of jewel and tossing it to her, you winked and the maiden meekly smiles, her cheeks flushing. “Of course, ma’am. I’d be happy to help.” She chirped and disappeared into the halls. You return your attention to Kaidan, now with a more impressed opinion about you. “Where did you even find that jewel?” His teeth flashed with the silly grin spreading across his face. “Just found it on some wasted noble’s pocket.” You shrug, “Now close the damn door already,” you gently pushed him and he complies. "We’re going to need some privacy.”

 

Chapter Text

            “This is ridiculous. Are you sure you’ve read all of these right? You could’ve missed something.” Kaidan says in a gruff voice, taking a sip from the mug.

            “You tell me. I’m not the one chugging down mead while reading. Maybe you’re the one getting woozy.” You scoffed passed him and he grunts back, busy as a bee with his own set of pages. Swapping papers and readable contents, the two of you arrange the items by date on top of the bed.

            Kaidan puffs and sits on the edge of the bed, running a hand through his hair before bringing his mug for another swig. “Hey slow down!” You snatched the mead from his grasp, taking it for your own, and he protests but lets you away with it anyway. “I paid for these remember? I’ve barely touched it, so learn to share.” Casting him a side glance, you poured half to your mug.

            “Oh that’s rich coming from someone who won’t tell me anything except she remembers nothing at all.”

            “I’m saying I don’t remember a lot of things because that’s the truth!” You defend, “Why else would I seek you out when I could have just sprinted out of that damn prison? Oh yes. That’s because the damn report says we were caught together. It’s only logical to escape with the person you’re travelling with—or at least assume you’re associated with, yes?” You shoved his drink back, as you gulf down yours, pacing around the room. He gapes at the restless woman, probably wanting to say something as a counter argument but thought better to shut his mouth because he actually agrees. “Fair point.” He murmurs just before the liquid in his drink reaches his lips. “But—”

            Oh boy, here it goes.

            “Don’t get me wrong. I don’t doubt those mages can create such an abomination of a spell. The only thing is... I do NOT know you. I remember those bastards jumping at me, though, and then getting knocked out. I’ve been travelling alone ever since I took up some bounty hunting a few years back. Wherever the hell d’you fit in that picture, I’ve no clue.” The man breathes out the last parts of the statement, shaking his head as he got up and reach for the barrel conveniently placed on the table next to the bed. As he takes his sweet time to refill, your eyes widen and with speed fast as lightning, Kaidan finds a few more papers flying at his feet by the time he’s done replenishing.

            A groan escapes him, “Ysmir’s beard, woman. The hell are these?” The white of his eyes were almost hidden with how hard he’s squinting at the clutter growing around him. Settling back to his comfortable spot on the bed, he picks up several of it, as did you. “Look at these. Here. Bounty letters, are they not?” You push a handful of notes towards your fake lover, much to his discomfort. For a moment, he eyed you with contempt, and upon losing to the intense determination your eyes are holding, inhales deeply; the brown garment clothing his top rises and falls along with a heavy sigh. He skims through it swiftly, stopping short at one as his expression spoke recognition to what’s in front of him. “I remember some of these.” The sturdy man exclaims, “Over a half year ago, I think, I claimed these bounties. Collected the spoils myself from the hold’s court steward.” The corner of his lip curls up in a half smirk as he recalls his accomplishments. “Where’d you get these?”

 

            She simply wore a thin smile. “In my belongings.” She says, though was not really sure. Divines know she was only following the labels on that outpost. “So you’re some sort of bounty hunter, eh? Looks to me like you were after the same bounties I picked recently.” Kaidan’s face lightens up as if he’d discovered a great universal mystery. “I remember having a target before I was caught. Maybe you were out there running on the same path I took and that’s why the Thalmor brought you in as well. Those fools assumed we were searching for the target together!” He grins widely, indulging over his own brilliance.

            The woman raises an eyebrow, “So... You mean all this misfortune... Just because I was at the wrong place at the wrong time?” she asks with a dash of bemusement.

            The man drinking his mead just shrugs his shoulder, “Not saying that’s it but it’s the closest conclusion we have with all the evidence you have on you so far.” He offers her a tight smile.

            “That is absurd and unimpressive. But I’ll drink to that since I’ve nothing better going on for the moment anyway.” She chugs down and finishes her alcohol in a straight glug.

 

            After refilling the newly emptied mug, her icy expression further drops into a frown. “I don’t know why it doesn’t feel fitting at all. I don’t know a single thing. Can’t even remember my own damn name, and before you ask, it sucks. It feels like being dropped in the middle of the ocean with no paddles or destination, just an empty boat with the wind free to take it wherever it pleases. I just want to go home in a normal house with a normal bed and kitchen.” The woman sniffles and let out a wry laugh, sliding down on the floor and leaning her back on the bed stand. “I don’t even know if I have those. A family, a pet, something close to that like a best friend...” She drinks her fill and Kaidan observes her, worry forming in his eyes. “...Maybe an actual spouse or child?” He adds very suddenly, even surprised by his own boldness. The alcohol must have been hitting him too soon. You stared at him, eyes wide and dumbfounded as he mimics your expression. Without a moment later, both of you bursts into laughter.

 

            What a joy it is to be ignorant from all the bloodshed outside these walls.

 

            “Can you imagine? Me? With a CHILD? Are you finally drunk, my ‘brave and mysterious savior’?” You slurred in between laughs as you beam from ear to ear. “Alright. That was stupid of me to jump that far.” He chuckles and wrinkles his nose. “For a second, though, it didn’t seem impossible for some with your looks.” You stopped shortly and met his eyes. His face is slightly flushed due to the stronger beverage and there’s a twinkle of fondness in his look.

            “No,” Tilting your head so you can face him properly, you offer Kaidan a small and gentle smile. “I believe bonds as strong as that would call out to me no matter what. Those are ties etched in the heart and not easily dismissed by magic.” The smile vanishes. Turning your head towards the fireplace, you blink a few times before speaking up. “I think I’ve been already alone for quite some time before the prison. I just know it.”

            “Aye. I know the feeling.” He gives the lady a sad smile, though she wasn’t looking anymore to see it returned.  Just then, she raises her mug, wearing an expressionless face as small amounts of mead drips out from the gesture. “To scrambled brains.” She says, taking in large gulps of her beverage. Kaidan silently drinks and joins her in gazing at the fire.

 

            For quite some time, they just sat in their respective spots. Both drinking at their own pace as the crackling of firewood and muffled tavern music filled their companies. Both basking in each other’s silence and the comforting warmth the tiny fireplace offered. Both enjoying the present, knowing they won’t know what life awaits them once they step outside of this hall. Kaidan, for the whole time he’d spent inside that prison, and it did felt like a lifetime, never thought it would be this easy to fit right back into society. After all those nightmarish interrogations and the endless beating, constantly trying to make a dent in his being, every wounds he acquired from that place—he had loosened his grip on hope, but thanks to this woman, he’s now enjoying a barrel of mead and a warm bed in a free room, with his possessions back in his hands. The man owed her more than he’d like to admit. Maybe helping her along in return until she recovers wouldn’t be too bad to show his gratitude. By then, they can at least part ways properly.

 

            “What’s it feel like?”

 

            As if his mind decided on its own, he broke the silence. The woman didn’t look at him but stopped halfway to her next sip. For half a minute, she just kept swilling her mead, eyes cast down and looking forlorn. Feeling like he’d come off too invasive, he quickly muttered an apology, “I-.. I’m sorry. You don’t have to talk about it.” He blurts out and noticed how her shoulders tensed.

            “I’m trying.” She simply says.

            Clueless to what she meant, Kaidan could only respond in a way anyone would when presented with a confusing dialogue, “What?”

            “Said I’m trying.” She slurred a bit, despite her attempt to hide it. 'Oh. Mead’s kicked in, huh.' He wanted to take his turn in teasing her but his mind refused. “It’s blank.” She sips another, “Some falls back naturally. Mannerisms, habits, preferences in trivial stuff like food, color, flavour... then there’s my instinct. Fundamental stuffs like that. Combat reflexes and muscle memories. I guess the spell may have removed my memory but not who I am.” Though her words were swaying, Kaidan didn’t found any difficulty picturing what she’s trying to paint. “Is that so? Then wouldn’t that be the perfect ground for a fresh start at life?” Hearing her say those things made it sound so intriguing for him—despite the complete resentment in her face as she describes her situation. “Part of me thought of that. But that’s not how life is supposed to work.” The words struck deep to his core.

 

            Of course. It’s one thing to wish and actually experience it. How could he be so self centered? This isn’t about what he’d do in her position. He knew that. Although deep down inside, there’s a voice inside him that begs to differ. He’s doing whatever he can to somehow find redemption and despite all of that, Kaidan knew he’d take the opportunity to forget a lot of things in a heartbeat. But she was right. Life doesn’t let one forget what made them who they are today. It shouldn’t.

 

            With the creasing of her brows, the lady spoke hoarsely, “I think I made really bad decisions before. I don’t want it chasing me all my life.” Finally setting her eyes on him, she leans just close enough that she doesn’t touch his leg. “You read that mage’s research and heard my story. You want to know why I can’t give you a name? It’s because I’m a coward.” She sneers, “In the most crucial part of the ritual, I…” she pauses, eyes roaming away for a moment trying to find the right words to match the image she had but to no avail,“..let’s just say, ‘backed out’, for lack of better description. And now... and now all I have are broken shards of memories I don’t even recognize no matter how hard I try.” She smirks bitterly and goes back to drinking. “Until now, there’s a part of me still scared to find out how much of a mess I was before they captured me. I know... It doesn’t make any sense.”

            Sure, she was speaking unclearly, an evident sign of drunkenness, but Kaidan knew each sentence she just mumbled out was stained with disappointment.

            “You’re really gonna go for it despite being unsure if you’ll like the truth, yeah? That’s actually really brave, y’know.” His tone was more serious and she casts him a quick glance. He wasn’t drinking anymore, just resting his arms on his knees and staring her down again with those piercing red orbs. Heat slowly began creeping up her face. ‘Shouldn’t have drank too fast’ is what she says to herself but that’s just a poor excuse to deny her embarrassment from being caught off guard. She wasn’t really expecting him to be paying full attention to her ramblings. But it felt nice to have someone willing to listen and be patient with her as she collects her words.

 

            Despite being partly undecided, you nod, “Well it’s supposed to come back to me even when I ultimately delayed the process. I’m not sitting around waiting for how long that’ll take.” you finish the statement with a loud groan, “It’s such a bother, really. But if I don’t pursue this, I’ll just feel like I’m not really living at all.” you gazed at the ceiling, lids feeling slightly heavier than you’re aware of. Kaidan just laughs under his breath.

            “Agreed.”

 

            The two of you share the next hour talking about how noisy the Nords can be when celebrating in a tavern. Though nothing more personal has been shared as both of you take turns in emptying the barrel, you banter on, washing away the previous event’s fatigue with casual conversations. He shares his various experiences of holidays he knows of throughout his travels in Skyrim and some other provinces which you can vaguely remember due to your mind slipping in and out of consciousness. Soon enough, the swordsman receives no response from his companion and his initial assumptions were proven true when he leans over and sees you sleeping soundly with your back against the wooden stand.

 

            He can hardly picture her doing the things written on the Thalmor’s reports looking as she is right now. Then again, he’s all too familiar how deceitful looks alone can be. Worried that she might be uncomfortable, he scoops her up and lays her down to the side of the bed that’s touching the wall. Wouldn’t want her having a nightmare and fall off the bed only to accidentally cast a powerful destruction spell and burn the whole inn now, would he?

 

            Kaidan picks up the papers beside the woman one by one, wishing he was less intoxicated to do some cleaning up. As he organizes the mess, he realized he hasn’t talked that much with someone else in a long time. Even when he was out getting drunk with fellow bounty hunters on some nights, it never occurred to him to trade words this much with anyone, much less enjoy it. She could be that special or maybe it was the mead she bought that was extraordinary. It mattered little. There’s a great weight inside of him that’s just been lifted and he’s grateful for being able to feel such a thing.

            'Heh. Maybe this is why some people turn to prayers instead when in distress.' He chuckled to himself. This woman keeps surprising him—and he only knew her for about a day. A skilled caster, adept reader, healer, and has a thing for picking pockets as he just witnessed earlier. For a person taught and raised in a rather brutish way, he admits he lacked the poise and patience needed for addressing problems without the bloodying of his steel or fists. He wasn’t as hot headed and drawn to conflict as the next nord but he’s aware he harbors some similarities with their attitude. Surprisingly, this nameless lady showed promise not only in those previously mentioned but also in honest combat. She might not be that good but seeing that she’s almost a jack of all trades who can manage her own in some level, he was relieved. He just got his freedom back. But his stubbornness wouldn’t let him off without being able to repay the one who handed it to him. He was dead serious when he gave his word to travel by her side but it’ll just be a massive pain in the arse if he had to do some hellish babysitting. 'Accompanying her wouldn’t be too troublesome.' Kaidan thought as he packed the last piece of paper in the bag Anduniel and Lyra gave them.

 

            Those bards were also helpful. Skyrim could use more of those especially within the ongoing civil war between the Stormcloaks and the Imperials. What was it now? Three or four years give or take? After the Great War, the Empire has been terribly damaged and its forces, control, and power have exponentially decreased. That war included a lot of Nord blood spilled on foreign soil defending the Empire itself. It only made sense that these honor driven people will feel betrayal when that damn peace treaty was signed, effectively banning worship of Talos—the very god-hero Nords worship strongly with the other Divines. So when a considerable portion of this country rose up to rebellion against the Empire, it didn’t really surprised Kaidan. Though it wasn’t any helpful at all that these Stormcloak rebels want to make Skyrim independent and ripe for the Dominion’s reaping, the Imperials were just as bad when they started rolling over their backs and let those filthy Thalmors stomp on their lands and impose their doctrine. Either way, it didn’t made sense for Kaidan, if anyone asks him, and he would most certainly avoid picking a side as much as possible. Their homeland is torn apart as men spills his brothers’ blood, small scaled wars are breaking out on different parts of Tamriel, Morrowind buried in ash, High elves strutting about as they claim supremacy above all creatures, and the Empire not being able to do anything about it at all.

 

            It’s the bloody end of the world.

 

            His mind soon started to swirl and his vision blurring out of focus. The fireplace and even the small lantern on the table became hard to stare at without feeling his head nodding off. What was the word she used? Ah, woozy. That sounds a bit funny now that he tries to repeat it. But he’d be honest he didn’t really knew what it meant so he just made a low grunt in response earlier. All he knows is Religion and Politics are just terribly tiresome to discuss or even think about for that matter. Too tiresome, in fact, that he immediately fell asleep when his worn out body hit the bed.

Chapter Text

                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.

 

                Nords.

 

                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.

                “My side.”

                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.”

                “What?

                “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.”

                “Right away.”

                “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.

Chapter Text

            “Well, say something! I find it absolutely stylish and effective.” The black haired beauty giddily claps her hands and her accessories jingle along. Kaidan lifts his brows very slightly as he scrutinize your selected outfits. He stands still, crimson eyes travelling from top to bottom like the setting sun. His jaw tightens as he crosses his arms and it’s like an imaginary scale pops up on his head, tipping towards either disapproval or disappointment. There’s no sign of being impressed in the least bit—not with the way he’s keeping his subtle frown unchanging. Really, you wouldn't have noticed these things if you weren’t looking closely. It’s just hard not to when the focus of his attention is you.

 

            Trying to come up with something constructive and short is frustrating. She stood as awkward and tensed as she did ever since she came out of that room. It’s obviously customized. Commonly, people would go for just a recommended set but looks like Zorya went out of her way in dressing up his companion. She wore a white blouse underneath the dark leather and the tunic ends just above her knees. Chainmail embroiders her suit and bracers well—all the vital places are covered. A black sleeveless coat served as her outermost protection. For all he knows, she also bought another in shades of dark brown. It’s thick, although a bit lengthy for his preference, but easy to move with and without the sleeves a usual coat would have, she can swing her arms more if she needed to, giving her more freedom. There’s a similarly thick red garment hugging her waist that had several binders in it, probably for some waterskin or pouch. Her boots are made from weather resistant leathers as well; the types which are made to endure traversing snowy plains or mountains with harsher climates. Her lower part, save the footwear, is what is lacking in protection. Those kinds of pants may be equally made for travelling but not exactly for combat. The intricate pattern imprinted on it suggests that much. If an enemy gets an arrow or a slash through, it’ll be an easy disadvantage for her given how light she’s armored. She may be a healer but given her current injury, her magicka might not be as effective—that and healing during combat is gonna take a lot of toll. It’s not that he doesn’t trust her fighting prowess but during the outpost events, she said she was the one doing the ambushing. He still doesn’t know how flexible she is under circumstances in which she is the prey. Ah, but that’s where his word is going to be put into test. He can already visualize the amount of bruises he’ll get on the road, if worse comes to worst.

 

            “It’s somewhat alright.”

            “‘Alright’?!” Did Zorya just choked or chortled? Might be a bit of both.

            “She lacks warm clothes. I understand she’s going for a lighter load but this is Skyrim. Freezing to death is always never far off. Wearing those clothing will not be enough. Uhh..” Kaidan frowned even more, faint lines appearing on his forehead. “At least trade some of the other garments for a pair of scarves and gloves.”

            The ecstatic lady pressed a finger to her lip upon consideration, “I believe that I have overlooked that part. Very well.” She nods politely and takes off, carrying some items to trade with.

 

            You exhaled with relief and slid back to the spot you were sitting before. ‘Gods this whole suiting up is by far the most uncomfortable one.’ A chill ran down your spine just thinking back to how Zorya kept spinning you inside the tiny room as she puts different corsets and tunics on you. It’s near impossible how inhumanely fast she is with tying laces, but just look at her! Zorya’s definitely well practiced in mixing and matching clothes. Being able to keep up with her would be beyond your wildest dreams. You lazily tilt your head back, crossing both arms and legs. Looking to your left, you spot Kaidan staring at you from the other end of the bench. He flinches and looks away with the same grim look plastered on his face.

            “Does he have a problem?” Clearly getting affected, you kept looking at him with a blank expression until he shudders and breaks.

            And he does. “If this was about earlier in the smith I… I-.. Just that.. I didn’t mean.. I’m just sorry.” Getting that out sounded like torturing him; you should apologize.

            “For holding my hand?” You snort, “I’m not offended by that. It’s fine, we already went as far as sharing the same bed, didn’t we?” You joked and it felt nice to see his gloomy face lighten up a bit. “Forgive me for being sudden. It seemed to have sent a wrong message for you.” “Really? How come you were sulking and sweating when I found you here?” It wasn’t accusing, but he was evidently still worried about it. ‘Ah, so he thought it was that.’ You figured. Re-adjusting your collar and distracting yourself instead with the newly purchased boots, you politely decline him information.

            “I’m not really sure I wanna talk about that. Maybe some other things come to your mind?” You ask him, not wanting to leave things awkwardly like that. After all, he was kind enough to apologize for just thinking he offended you in some ways. You, on the other hand, have done nothing but make him uncomfortable since stepping foot inside that inn.

            He blinks. Once. Twice. He looks like an idiot. “Like the questions game you’ve been pullin’ at me when I was dying back there?” He is an idiot. A smug one, aye.

            “Like wh-.. Hey, I already apologized for that! An-and I didn’t know if... If—” You stammered, cheeks starting to burn a bit. Kaidan cracks a mischievous smile and laughs. At you. You would have told him he looked devilishly handsome if only you weren’t being embarrassed right now.

            “Relax, woman. I’m pulling your leg.” He tells you in a way you instantly recognize.

 

            Cocky bastard.

 

            “How long are you going to call me like that?” You send him an equally smug look. He lifts his bulky plated shoulder in a half shrug, “Until you remember your name, obviously.” “And if I don’t?” Your eyes met, both pondering how to answer your query. His were the first ones to wander away, “I don’t know. Pick a name?” he clicks his tongue, “Hey. Don’t look at me like that. Pick it yourself, geez.” The snarky bastard gets the better of you before you can speak out the obvious. Rolling your eyes, you grunt out loud and sink in your seat while he rests his arms on top of his knees.

            “Your input on my attire was nice, by the way.” You smirk at him. “I appreciate that.” For a man who rarely shows emotions with his face, his eyebrows are pretty expressive. “Is this some sort of trick?” he asks, waiting for you to laugh at his face or something. Shaking your head, you assure him, “No. Really. Zorya made a lot of input in which is comfier and goes better with what. Barely anything about combat durability, to be honest.” You shift your sitting position to his direction. “I’m glad we got your opinion.”

            He really was taken back there by a second or two. “Er… yeah, well. I guess it’s just the way I grew up. Being vigilant and prepared for the unexpected.” He lifts up an arm and scratches his jaw.

            “Your armor is gonna make lots of noise, you know that right?”

            Kaidan hums lowly, “I’m not as confident with light armor. Besides, it’s been like my second skin for years.” He opens and closes his palm, examining then thick garment enveloping it.

            You snort out a laugh. “Gods, that sounds awful.”

            “Hey, I can move and only make minimal noises with it, so what’s it matter anyway?” He defends his armor. Well it was pretty normal that he would, given that it’s probably the one he used in battle most. And he prided over his mastery of that heavy stuff on him, yeah? No doubt that hurt his ego a bit. ‘‘Not sentimental’ my ass.’ You scoff silently. “But what’s with you and those striking colors, eh? Doubt that gypsy picked it up herself.” Now he’s bouncing it back at you. How unpredictable.

            “Why, you don’t like it?”

            “I didn’t say that. But you’ll stand out like a sore thumb whether it be in the snow or forest lands.” He points out critically… which actually makes sense, but you like those colors, so the choice of palette is off the table for now.

            “Spare me the lecture and just admit I look at least good in it.” You snigger. Kaidan actually chuckles back, catching wind of your evasion.

 

            Ooh. He’s not taking the bait. You make a mental note of stepping up the game later on.

 

            Here he is again. Talking. Bantering. It’s not really the most intriguing topic but Gods be praised, he’s actually holding a steady conversation. She really is something. Something good or bad? It will reveal itself later on. Kaidan clears his throat and gives an answer. “Aye. And as far as preferences go, this doesn’t look like Nordic fashion at all. Err… and taking into account what you said last night, then by the looks of it, you aren’t raised as one either.”

            Her grin widens and amusement blooms in those ocean eyes. Guess it’s her initial reaction whenever she finds an interesting turn in conversations. It’s cute. Wait, did he just think of her as c— “Oooh. Why thank you, my lord. You look very handsome as well.” She mimics a noble’s accent which disrupts Kaidan’s thoughts.

            “That’s a… That’s actually a really good accent.” He edged towards her. Could she be..? Wait if she is, then how did she end up in the wilds?

            “Are you saying you’re impressed by my skill?” She giggles playfully, leaning her head on the wooden bench as the swordsman approached her.

            He shook his head, “Think of it, you could be noble or something close. I’m saying you are a natural in that accent.” But her smile falters at his dismissal.

            She went quiet yet kept a passive smile on. “And I’m saying you’re very observant. But you’re lame in picking up hints.” The woman cracks a grin and hops off to follow the gypsy girl. Did she just dodge him twice in a row?

 


 

           Air is about to become a luxury if Zorya doesn’t let go of the helpless lass from her tight embrace soon. She insisted on walking them out of Ivarstead after they finished buying a steed a little earlier than expected. With the two travelers’ bags fully geared with necessary items and provisions for the wilds, the three of them stood on the bridge to say their parting words.

            “It’s been such a pleasure spending time with you!” She squeals in your ear. The suffocating woman looked over to her companion for help but he mouths ‘play-along’ instead. ‘I’ll-kill-you’ she mouths back. Zorya pulls away and she has no idea how grateful the nameless lady was for it. “You look perfect for travel! But where do you two plan to go, my lady?” she tilts her head and looks behind at Kaidan tending the horse.

            “Far. As far away from those vile Dominion. We have to disappear from their scopes if possible.” He scratches the back of his head and sends his companion a fleeting glance before speaking again, “We’ll talk about it later on the road.” He reaffirms Zorya. The charming nord nods and returns her attention to the lady.

            She leans close for a whisper, “My friend, should you find yourself in a situation with this brute,” her breath tickles a bit and you peek at Kaidan who start to knit his brows together, “..just aim for his groi—”

            “Can we get going? Now?” he complains, causing the girls to share a short laugh.

 

            You puff out as the red eyed grump helps you pull yourself up on the horse. “Are you sure you’re both fine with just one steed?” Zorya asks, guiding you until you’ve settled firmly behind Kaidan. “Hmm. Aye, the rest of the gold will have more use than buying another mouth to feed. We’ll steer clear off the main roads. Thank you for all the help.”

            “Zorya, I hope we all meet again.” A tiny spark of sadness flutters in you.

            “And I pray you tell me your name next time, my lady.” The dark haired gypsy winks.

            Kaidan whistles and as the horse began to march away, both give Zorya a final wave.

 


 

            Refreshing breeze swept through them and its gentle caress has never been more invited. They’ve still got a few hours before sunset. That means the forests are still ripe with game and spots to clear for camping. Kaidan always felt at home in the Rift. Nature proved to be the best painter with the finest palette when he first set foot in this land during his younger days. For the very first time, he saw that Skyrim can offer more than deadly blizzards and wastelands. The red and golden trees under the sun, the lush greenery, vibrant colors reflected in the waters—this part of the country has always been the favorite spot of hunters and those who hated the snowlands. Even after all these years of nothing but growing chaos everywhere, the Rift never changed. It’s still the perfect place to find solace. But his back’s been feeling progressively heavier since a while ago.

            “Oi. Are you sleepin’ back there?” He nudges his elbow backwards and heard a groan.

            “What? I’m just resting my head on your cold and uncomfortably hard armor. You’re not gonna cry over this, are you?” The girl lazily replies, lightly tapping the plate on his back in an attempt to annoy him.

            Kaidan couldn’t help rolling his eyes at the response. “The guts of this woman. Puttin’ her guard down just like that.” He mocked internally. “You’ve been quiet. Remember something yet?”

            The woman only made a low grunt. “Feel a lot from this place, yes. Remember things? Not really. I wish I did. But I’m not really rushing it either.. It’s just this place…” She trails off and Kaidan felt the same weight slowly pressing on his back again. “It’s really peaceful.” She whispers softly, eyes wide in awe.

            “And beautiful.”

            “…and beautiful.”

            Both were thankful that the other can’t see the small smile forming on their lips.

 

            About an hour and a half of travelling straight going East has passed before the two decided to let the steed rest and set up camp not far from a nearby lake. Twigs made faint snapping noises when the sturdy swordsman got back to their spot carrying chopped woods and a bag of picked ingredients on his arms. He towers over his companion, who is just about done making a final knot to finish setting the tents. “Huh. You sure set those up fast for someone who lost her memories.” He remarks, giving her an approving look over her speed. “I guess. But what did I tell you? Muscle memory is amazing.” She smiles back.

 

            Piling up the woods and twigs, they help each other out in making the night’s dinner. From lighting the fire, arranging the cooking pot, moving a log to sit on, unpacking the beds, Kaidan couldn’t help but notice his companion’s excessive reliance on magicka to aid her work. Not that he had any right to tell her how she should utilize her abilities, but leaning too much on magic only seduces the person into abusing it.

 

            He doesn’t really have fond memories of magic abusers.

 

            Catching sight of this, the woman calls at him. “Thoughts?” He jerks at the sudden inquiry, spilling a bit of soup on his chest plate. He must have been looking at her long enough for her to catch him. His lady friend chuckles and used her telekinetic powers to get him a piece of cloth from inside her tent. “Wouldn’t want your skin to get stained or whatever.” She taunts harmlessly and went back to eating her share.

            “You use a lot of magic for someone working with the Thieves’ Guild.” He scoffs and his companion quiets down. “You didn’t think I wouldn’t notice that you tucked away one page on your bag last night?” Kaidan glances at the woman who fidgets as she refuses to meet his eyes. “It specifically states in it that whoever that Aringoth person is, he is to cut ties with the Thieves’ Guild in Riften. Now why a note as sensitive as that would just be floating around for a random person to pick up? Someone hired you to take it.” He explains casually as he continues with his food.

            Panicked, the nameless woman put aside her meal and got on her knees looking genuinely apologetic. “I was going to show you eventually, alright? I didn’t even know what that guild has to do with me.” She points to her head and makes this wriggling gesture with her hand signifying of her memory loss. “But since you’re sharper than your lids, I guess we’ll skip to the part where I ask for your help about it while suffering under critical judgement.” She clasps her hands and shuts her eyes as she brings it up her face. “So if we don’t have a destination yet, will you take me to this guild?” The woman anxiously awaited his angry response and it didn’t take long to finally hear Kaidan… snigger at her?

            “Psh. Sure thing. But you actually think I’d condemn you for being a thief or associated with one?” He holds her gaze this time; fire against ice. Mara have mercy on him, he actually finds her baffled expression right now cute. “You saved me and several lives from the prison that day. That’s what I know. That’s what matters to me now.” He made sure to emphasize the word, “I’m the last person on Nirn to ever judge someone just because of what they did in the past.” It weighed more for him than he anticipated, nearly bringing back a full loop of memories he didn’t want to revisit ever again.

 

            You eased a bit, mortification leaving your body. “Oh. Thanks… I-I didn’t really expect you to be the open minded type.” You say, lifting a hand up to scratch your cheek, “I don’t mean to offend, I mean I know you’re kind and generous, though not in a knightly way-.. I’ll.. I’ll shut up.” Finishing with an awkward smile, you did your best to endure and not melt under Kaidan’s uncontrollable smirking. “Can we take a break on this talk about me?” You feel sheepish hiding behind your hands. “Ohh, should I? I thought you said we should get acquainted if we’re travelling together?” His smug grin didn’t even falter in the slightest despite your persistent glare. If you didn’t know any better, he’s getting back at you for all the teasing.

            Maybe you should have left this rascal in that prison. ‘That’s not a good way to think about the one who saved you from those elves.’ Quickly shaking off the bickering in your head, you realign your focus and moved right beside him. Despite not really liking the way his steel plates poke your newly bought leathers, you still sat firmly. He chuckles lowly and takes a sip of his ale—wait, since when did he get that? That’s just weird. But it’s your turn and you’ll make it count.

 

            “Well, in that case, let’s talk about you as well.” You snatch his drink and took a swig, “What’s the story behind that sword you sent me dying over?” His eyes regard you with amusement and you made sure not to break the serious look you have on. He wipes his nose and leans over closely, too close for your tastes actually, grabbing the nodachi that you are stepping on. Oops.

            “Now that,” He starts, resting the lengthy blade on both your laps “..is the question on everyone’s mind, even mine. The sword belonged to my mother. I never knew her, but it’s my only real clue to finding out who she was.” You steal a glance at him and all the mischief is gone—replaced with a melancholic one that filled his eyes. It’s not hard to feel sympathy even for a stranger, but you wanted to avoid coming off as patronizing. So instead of whispering shallow words of comfort, your fingers found their way around the scabbard. You cooed at the craftsmanship unsheathed in front of you. “I see you weren’t lying when you said the Thalmor shouldn’t have this. It certainly looks unique.”

            Kaidan simply looked on as her fingers danced around the engraved markings of the blade. Him being in Skyrim wasn’t by coincidence; he had a purpose in mind. What brought him here has a lot to do with that sword. It was also because of that sword that the Thalmor dragged him off to that prison and met this person. Though it may be purely by accident that they met each other, he was still thankful either way. It’s been a long time since he actually partnered up with someone in adventuring.

 

            “So have you translated these yet?”

 

            The swordsman was lost for a moment. “Translated… what?” and he knew she was just as puzzled from his response. She points a finger down the blade. Pressed it against the engravings. “The markings here. What does it say in Tamrielic?” using magic, she commands the sword to be lifted with ease beside the campfire for better lighting.

 

            “Hey, easy with that now! Do you so carelessly use magic on a daily basis—”

            “‘Tovit kruziik.. qethse.. qethsehoko..ro..nne’? I’m reading it correctly, right? Right? Kaidan…?”

 

            The woman jerked her head back to her companion’s direction only to find Kaidan gaping in bewilderment.

 


 

 

Kaidan when he hears PC reading it. Haha I'm kidding. Just a joke. By Shor, I'll ruin the mood of this fic myself.

Kaidan not having any proper leads even with the sword being in his possession for a long time then some person he met on a prison reads it crystal clear

Chapter Text

            Nearby torchbugs buzzed quietly as they settled, filling in the silence of the camp. Soft glows reflected by the sword floating beside their campfire brightened the place. It came close to serenity if not for the oozing tension between you and Kaidan. Not that kind of tension, though.

            Without warning, the flames danced wildly, caused by a sudden movement in front of it. A baffled swordsman snatches his blade away from whatever invisible magic is holding it mid air. His blurry reflection greeted him as he brought it horizontally to see the markings himself. Nothing he’s able to read. It’s just scribbles for him.

 

            “Did you just read that!?”

 

            He exclaims down on the woman whose surprise only matched his. Nervousness takes over the person once more. “W-what? Is there a ritual there I shouldn’t have read!? Oh gods..-” she gasps, “No! It’s not a ritual. Look, just answer the question. Can you really read this?” Kaidan kneels in front of her, showing the carvings she just read out loud a moment ago. She nods, “Yeah.. But I don’t really understand it.” The inquiring man cocked his head. “What do you mean you can’t? You just read it. You understand it.”

            “Woah, swordsman. You hearin’ yourself? Those are two different things!”

            “At least just try again!” He inches the sword towards her. Kaidan knew he was being extra assertive, as seen on how much this woman’s brows are sinking. He can’t deny the ignition of hope filling him all of a sudden. She might be truly the closest one he can ask for help about it.

            “Right...” She squints and then beams. “How could I have missed it? Look here. Right here!” The swordsman tips his head closer to her. “Aye?” “You see this word? If used in a phrase or sentence, it translates to... ‘Stop being a dimwit and listen to me’.” The woman flicks his nose and he stumbles down on the soil. ‘Closest one who can help him’? Ha. It’s a good thing he didn’t say that or he’ll have to swallow those words right back up.

 

            Scoffing and dusting dirt off him, your eyes reflexively rolled when he sent you a scowl. “What the hell was that?! I asked you properly.” He fumed, going back to his seat. “And I...” you carefully stuffed the sword back in its sheath, “..answered properly the first time.” He takes the sword back when you give it to him.

            “I just told you, I may be able to read whatever that is but I can’t translate it.”

            His gaze travels down to the sword. “Sorry.. I just..”

            He couldn't finish. The man picked up his ale and dragged himself inside the tent.

 

            The rest of the evening went by without a word between the two strangers.

 


 

            Thunk.

 

            Trees rustled outside with the bracing winds as it entered Kaidan’s tent. Is it morning already? It’s still quiet and he could still hear the campfire outside crackle softly. It’s going to be about a day or two to Riften unless they take the main road. They won’t. They can’t. It’s too easy to be spotted outside the cities. There must be a way to get inside without suspicion. After all, it’s Riften of all holds. But he didn’t want to think about that yet.

 

            Thunk.

 

            “I told you over and over, I don’t know. I never knew them—argh!

            Thick, rusted cuffs pressed into his wrists as he balls his fist in pain. He had no other option but to endure as the interrogator slowly sinks his blade across his stomach. It didn’t matter whatever he told them. The blade cutting his skin open is a clear message that they believe otherwise. Long pointed ears and the sharpest bone structures he’s ever seen; their wicked grin only doubled the chill in his bones. It’s not that he feared them. He’d rather have his neck shoved into that dagger than relive the day he went to the farmer’s house. Despite the struggle for consciousness and focus, his darkening vision drifted him far enough and he couldn’t stop thinking, ‘Was this how that family felt when he stood in front of them?’

 

            Thunk.

 

            Relaxing under the cool shade of a tree was never this rewarding as far as his young mind remembers. The old man gave him some break. Said he deserves it for making it back alive. Hands beneath his head, he raises slim legs to stretch it out on the blue sky before crossing it back as he let it down. The grass tickled under his bare and calloused feet but who cares? He’ll finally be able to get a taste of that thing Brynjar’s always been drinking. His treat he says, ‘as part of the reward’. After scavenging and fighting his way back into the village, he couldn’t ask for more reward than a really warm bed and a load of goat roasts for his taking. Though he couldn’t hide his excited when Brynjar finally showed up with two bottles of what he assumed was his mead.

            “For not dying,” He grinned, “and for being one hell of a tough lad.” His old man’s voice was low and gritty. It had always been just as he remembered. It took him both his arms’ strength just to get the lid to pop open. The old warrior chortles at his effort, “Pfft. Hahaha! Worry not. You’ll get your strength back and you’ll get used to the taste.” How bad could this be? Brynjar always appeared merrier when he gets plenty of it so—THUNK.

 

            Birds fluttered away as soon as the tent flap flew open. “Alright, what’s going on out here!?” Nothing out of the ordinary except a couple of distant elks scurrying even further away, frightened by his yelling. He steps out and turns towards his companion’s tent to check it out. “Empty. Where is that woman this early in the morning?”

            THUNK.

            Head swiftly swinging on the direction of the sound, Kaidan easily tracks the source. Very lightly, he puts one foot in front of the other; careful not to cause too much noise. Like a moth finally catching sight of a flame, its flame, he strode down to the woman practicing on a tree just by the stream. Wait. He recognizes the bow she’s carrying.

 

            “Is that my weapon?

 

            Spinning around with a drawn arrow, Kaidan jumps back and curses. “First you take without asking, now you’re going to shoot me with it.” He praises sarcastically.

            “Up so early?”’And grumpy.’ But you can’t really say that when he’s caught you red handed with his bow. You observe with disinterest as he walks up towards the tree you’re using as target practice.

            “Well take a guess.” He picks off the arrows one by one. “Couldn’t keep my damn eyes closed with you hitting this tree again and again.” He scoffs, putting the items in the quiver. ‘By Ysmir, why would a capable magic user even bother with archery…’ Lost in frustration, he failed to notice he’s been picking a lot and on the same spot since the beginning. He looks back at the woman directly for the first time since he found her. She’s fully dressed with last night’s attire.

            Maybe she’s just about to bathe and if you hadn’t so promptly intruded then you could have...

            If his thoughts manifested into a figure right now, he would be sure to punch it in the throat without hesitation.

 

            If her brows are arching on its own, that’s probably because this schmuck right in front of her is giving her that ridiculous ‘confused’ face again. It’s been two days and she already lost count how many times they exchanged this look with one another.

 

            “Did you uh…” He points to you and the arrows, “Did you shot all these?” You nod, fingertips playing around the carvings of his bow. “And why exactly?” He thinks you wouldn’t notice him subtly eyeing you up and down; well he’s wrong because you’re now getting anxious of how you look.

            You shrug. “Just practicing.”

            “And you didn’t sleep.”

            “And I couldn’t sleep.” You pop your tongue, giving him a thumbs up for guessing correctly. He nods slowly, “You didn’t say you were a good shot.” He glances up the sky, changing the topic. Thank the divines he knew when to keep his nose out.

            Your feet crossed the distance between you two in three strides, “I didn’t know until I tried. I doubt I’m that good, though. Still much to explore.” You muttered as you offered him back the bow. Coming face to face with him under the sun gives you a renewed appreciation for his tattoo. It does look good on him after all. A bit faded but it perfectly matches the mystery enveloping his personality.

            “Hey. Hey, are you listening?”

            You take off your focus on his face and unto his hand pushing back the bow towards you. “I said we’ll test out how far your mastery goes.” He urges, “Go on and prepare. We’ll do some hunting before we hit the road.” Handing over the quiver he’d stocked with arrows, he gives you a light pat on the shoulder before heading back to your camp. Why do you suddenly feel like you’re about to come across something really inconvenient?

 


 

            Slow and steady. That’s what he said. So you made sure each time your foot touched the ground, it’ll be as light as you can make it. Your rugged swordsman trailed behind a few paces. His metal armor is a walking alarm but did he compromise? Gods, no—that’s why he’s throwing you out here to see if you can fit the job. Of course you can always fake it and tell him you can’t do it but he’s already agreed to take you to Riften without actual exchange but a decent company.

            ‘Yeah I can do decent.’

            Elks, foxes, rabbits. Most common animals to come out from the safety and covering of the woods for a drink. Where else better to bag a game than in these said locations? Finding a nearby tree to hide behind, you plant your footing as you crouch and search for your lunch. It’s the Rift. Even if the nearest open area or civilization is miles away, just find a body of water and wait for the food to bring itself to you. That’s what your overly charismatic companion told you anyway.

 

            “Over there.” Kaidan whispers at you from the next tree, brandishing a dagger in his other hand. Your dagger. He really had to get even, huh?

            You pull the bowstring in sync with your breathing. Bringing the nocked arrow at the direction he’s pointing, two elks stood by the river. ‘I guess he wants me to take the smaller one. No way in oblivion we’re gonna eat a full grown in one sitting.’ The shot is clear and Kaidan nods at you to go for it. It’s an easy target, to be honest.

            So why are your fingers trembling?

 

            He examines your posture. Solid angles, good for sniping. No wind to disrupt the trajectory and certainly no one else around but him. What’s she waiting for? Kaidan snaps his fingers at the girl.

            “Is it your injury?” he whispers.

            She shakes her head lightly.

            “Have you done this before?”

            “I can do it.” She says through gritted teeth.

            That’s not what he asked. She’s obviously hesitating even if she can. At first he thought her story would be much easier to piece together than his. But she just gets more and more mysterious with every passing moment. Well it’s still early on their journey. With luck, their journey to Riften will not be fruitless.

            “It’ll be days before we can find a merchant or a hunter. You gotta tell me now if you can do it or not.”

            “Shut up, Kaidan.” She hisses.

            “Then just let it go alr—”

            With a loud grunt, she releases the arrow but not before sending a glare at his direction. “You…”she fumes but a loud wailing interrupts them. Looking at each other, the two scurry towards the bleeding animal. Being the one carrying a lighter load, you get there first, nearly tripping on some rocks as you reach the young elk. An arrow sticks out just around its stomach. ‘Damn it.’ The poor thing squirms weakly as blood leaks out of its body. ‘Kaidan says we kill it.’ You kneel and place a hand on top of it, the other gripping the arrow, and you’re not sure if the shaking is from the dying animal or yours. Heavy footsteps reach you shortly after. “What are you waiting for? Don’t make it suffer any longer!” He drops the dagger next to you and turns around readying his retrieved bow. “What is it?” You ask but he quickly shushes you. “Quickly! Before some other creature trace that sound here.” He wasn’t asking anymore. ‘Wolves? Aren’t they nocturnal?’ Your mind opposes but nevertheless, you turn back to the calf with the dagger in your hand and your heart drops. Feeling life leaving the body under your palm… You’ve taken lives before; surely an innocent animal will pose no such hindrance? With a heavy arm, you raise the blade and the rabbit squeals in terror

 

            “Don’t push her yet. A lot of us can hunt.”

            “You’re not helping the situation. She needs to learn.”

            “You’re the one who’s not helping. The young lady was there. In the end, she was forced to do it… She had to.”

 

            There are echoing voices; male ones. They were right behind you yet… distant. One was gritty and rough and really scratchy, that it was impossible to belong to a human. The other was warmer, deeper but had a unique accent. They’re in the middle of an argument but they didn’t sound like they’re fighting. Your body remains frozen, staring blankly at the animal under your mercy. One moment a calf, the next a rabbit in a snare; your vision can’t seem to decide which is which but they are one and the same in your mind. Does it also hear how loud the pounding in your chest is?

 

            “I don’t see what this has to do with them, may their gods rest their souls. It’s just an animal.”

            “Animal or not, it’s still killing. She doesn’t need to remember what that’s like so soon.”

            “OH. My sincerest apologies. I-.. I did not see it that way...”

            “I can’t believe you sometimes…”

 

            The one with warm voice walks to your direction. You could hear soft crunches each time his feet brushes against the soil.

            “My lady? It’s okay. Don’t do it.” It was like hearing a ghostly whisper. Gentle and faded. Slowly, you seek his presence and turn your head to your left. He was tall, steel armored, and heavily built—even comparable to an Alik’r warrior. The sun blooms behind him and you catch a sight of his hair, black as ebony. “…do it.” He says, louder and with less distortion. Blinking your eyes, his features become clearer. You spot a familiar tattoo running down the right side of his face and a pair of crimson eyes, wildly staring at you. Kaidan?

 

            “DO IT!” His growl dispels the resonating white noise around you. “Damn it, woman! DO IT OR RUN!”

 

            Your eyes immediately darted to the far end of the forest, revealing several frostbite spiders making their way to you. You count more than three in full size. They can shower one with venom from medium distances and paralyze their prey effectively. Not really an ideal encounter.

            Kaidan draws and shoots one in its eye. The corpse rolls from the impact but more are coming and Kaidan wouldn’t be fast enough to deal with all of them, not with all of those trees giving them cover. In all viewpoints, you knew he was right. None of you are sure when’s the next chance you’ll catch food like this. Even if you did, both of you will be too hungry, tired, or noisy to keep up with the hunt. The provisions you brought are only about as good for one meal since bringing too much will slow down the journey; not to mention, the horse needs to be fed as well. He knew exactly these things to consider from the beginning. He’s also right about you. You can’t bring yourself to do it after all.

 

            The dagger hits the earth and with shallow breaths, you tightened your grip on the arrow. This isn’t like picking flowers. Once you pull, the animal frantically thrashes and lets out a shriek so bad, it spelled out nothing but agonizing pain. Small drops of sweat trickle down your face and you force your eyes shut, roaring as you yank the arrow from the calf. You couldn’t make out what Kaidan is yelling at your back but you knew those weren’t compliments. Blood begins dripping out of the tiny hole and your stomach churns at the sight of it convulsing. Despite wanting to throw up and your lungs being uncooperative, you hold down the wheezing creature and summon your magicka, converting it to healing energies. “It’s okay. You’re gonna be okay.” You ignore the haunting whispers carried in the wind and focus on closing the wound. Low screeches and squelching nearby indicates that Kaidan finally resorted to using his sword but you dare not to look back.

            ‘Just a bit more.’ You grit your teeth, pumping up as much mana you’re able to release to speed things up. At long last, right after the wound closes, the young animal takes only but a second before it bolted away from the commotion. Leather wrapped shoulders slump forward as you let out a short sigh. Suddenly, a force knocks your bag and drags you up on your feet.

 

            “WATCH OUT FOR THEIR SPITS! AND HURRY!” Kaidan sprints ahead of you back into the woods, knowing you’ll be able to catch up. Without looking back, you race to his direction. Running a streak of misfortune, your instinct steps up in time and you somehow managed to raise a thin wall of ice spikes in front of you. Leaping above with ease, you sent a quick glance and were briefly relieved to have widened the gap from them. But the chase doesn’t ends there. The two of you heard distant shattering after a few seconds and pick up the pace.

 

            After a few minutes of running after him, your lungs finally give up. “Hey! We can’t keep running that way!” You hollered, slowing down to catch your breath. There should be enough distance for now to take a quick rest. “We need to lose them.” “We won’t have to lose anything if you weren’t so indecisive!” He grabs your arm and continues to tread fast. “What’s the matter with you anyway!?” he raises his voice, taking a turn to where you left the horse and where the spiders emerged from. Oh. You just circled back. “Will you stop yelling already, geez. Just get the horse before those things come back here.” You get that he’s mad and he has every right to be, but… but what exactly? Being indecisive almost got you killed before. Now it did again and the two of you haven’t even taken a step closer to the answers you seek. There’s no argument here. You’re just simply wrong.

            “You’re quite unobservant for someone travelling the wilds before, huh? Or is this part just not recorded in your ‘instincts’?” He scolds, “Frostbite spiders don’t normally hunt together. Certainly never in that number. Something drove ‘em out of their nest. Definitely caught their attention when the animal cried.” He pauses to check if you’re catching up, “They won’t be going back in this direction. Not in a long time. They’ll probably find another place to claim.” He explains, still keeping a firm hold of your arm. From his rear you can see him clenching his jaw, “I expected a stray wolf or a bandit. Not a whole pack of those venomous crawlers.” He mutters, breathing out his frustration.

 


 

            “Oof!”

            Hard, rough ground and some bulking roots hit Kaidan’s back as he crashes down from the horse. “Kid...! Little help… Damn it!” Brynjar kept his hands locked on the wolf that had pinned him down. The old man groans as he struggles to keep the animal from biting his face off. It’s been three weeks after his first hunt. Brynjar made sure he was trained and recovered enough. Kaidan knew what to do but knowing alone isn’t always the same as understanding the situation. That, he finally learned when the wolf buries its razor sharp teeth on the warrior’s arm, something in him just snaps. Next thing he did surprised even Brynjar. He screamed and slashed and unleashed his fury on the beast. Before he knew it, he’s already kneeling on the dirt, shoulders heaving as he panted, hands wrapped around his mother’s blade, so tight that it hurt, and at the end of it—soft gray furs bristling against his nose. He’d slain the beast. The young man beamed at Brynjar, expecting praise for being able to wield the sword of such size. Instead he received a solid slap on the forehead. “You little brat. Look what the damned thing did to me!” His old man yells at him while wrapping the wounds with linen. He winces as he maintains the pressure, “Damn kid. The hell you reachin’ that sword for?” Kaidan stood still, shoulders hunched as Brynjar grumbles, “I told you, use the damn bow. What did I even teach you for if you’re not gon’ use it?!” his voice soaked in vexation and too much mead.

            “I’m sorry, I panicked.” The lad mutters, watching the gruff nord climb on the horse.

            “And there’s no shame in that. But you’re not gonna be safe forever, boy. You have to learn how to act accordingly in the nick of time.”

            Kaidan lifts his head up and meet a pair of cold, hardened eyes staring down at him. He nods his head at the kid to come and climb along.

            “Danger will come for everyone. That’s why we must be ready for it. Do you understand that, boy?”

            “Aye.”

 


 

            Upon finding the steed, he lifts you up, tossing his sack on you. “We could trade places. I can at least walk.” You try to convince him. “I won’t be much help up in a horse during combat. We’re far from settlements now. If there’s danger, just try and get away fast...” Kaidan stops himself for a second before parting his lips then closes it again. Instead, he takes off his bow and passes it once more to you. “And for the love of Kyne, use the damn bow.”

            Sheepishly nodding in compliance, you feel blood rising to your face. Never in your two-days-old memories have you ever thought getting berated by a stranger would be this humiliating. The journey hasn’t even reached half of its progress yet and you’ve managed to piss off the only person who decided to postpone whatever agenda he has to bring your sorry hide to Riften. You don’t even know what awaits you there. Being part of a thieving group makes it less appealing. Were you really that much of a scum? What if you’re nothing but a lowlife just as the Thalmor wrote down about you? Is there anything you can do to make it up to Kaidan?

            ‘Why am I even being conscious about his opinion about me? Am I that lonely?’

            “Watch ou—ugh!CLANG

            The sound of his armor getting hit catches your attention. Right before you could get a peek at Kaidan, a dull object sinks in your left shoulder and knocks you off the horse. The impact on the ground wasn’t that hard, thanks to your backpack, but it messed with your vision for a while. By the time the two of you got on your feet, Kaidan steps in front of you as if to cover or protect you. “W-.. Oh tell me this is a joke.” An exasperated sigh escapes your mouth. Surrounding you lot are bandits, which you assumed are the ones who scared off those spiders. They may be only wearing puny armors but they outnumber the two of you. That and most of them are equipped with ranged weapons. ‘Great. More dummies.’ You slouch in dismay. How many? This is gonna be mana draining.

 

            “Lucky day, men. Looks like these two are still early on their travels. Alright, put the sword down and hand over your… valuables.” The leader leered, but Kaidan shields you away from the dirty looks that ape is throwing at you. “I’ll tell you what, you turn around and leave us be. Maybe then I’ll control myself from spilling your guts for the creatures to feast on.” He sneers at them. This may be the first time you’re fully conscious to see his red eyes cloaked with murderous intent.

            The others cheered on, spitting taunts and provocations at him. Kaidan could feel his string of patience thinning by the second. He didn’t really want to spill blood this early in their journey but he won’t hesitate to pull that son of a bitch’s tongue if it shuts him up. “Mara’s tits, that’s terrifying!” The bandit’s eyes widen underneath his dented helmet and he laughs like a maniac, “Oh what are you worrying for? I’ll let you live if you put down everything, give her to us, and start running in fear.” The oaf flashes a twisted grin, licking his lips, “Hahaha! What do you say? We haven’t had a woman in weeks! We’ll be sure to feast on every part of her… Don’t worry, she won’t go to waste.” That’s it. Kaidan roars and pulls his sword to slice down the enemy only for the blade to hit a block of ice.

            ‘Ice?’

            The swordsman spins around to see your raised hands charged and illuminated with magicka. All the bandits are impaled up high, choking and gurgling in their last breaths. Their blood slowly crawls on your creation, painting a surprisingly beautiful shade of red on the crystalline canvass. It’s like watching art create itself.

            “That’s disturbing. Drop them down already. We can’t leave any traces that points to us.” Kaidan scoffs and his first words twisted in your heart just a little bit. Still you stayed your breath and cut off the magicka, turning the ice thin and too fragile to carry the weight. The bodies fell with a loud thud and you hear Kaidan grunting with disgust as his cloak gets a splotch of blood. “It’ll wash off. Let’s go.” He returns your bemusement. “You did this in a blink of an eye while you can’t decide whether you want an elk for lunch or not.” He taunts, though it’s mainly to express his annoyance. “That’s a story for another day, swordsman.” You snap at him and soothed the horse as you climb.

 

             “Woah—careful!” Kaidan catches your back when you slipped down. “What’s the matter?” He guided her around as she wobbles, right hand on top of her left shoulder.

            Hey injury. Shit. “Can I..?” and she nods, helping him remove the laces that bind her armor. Taking off her coat reveals her previous wound, bleeding through her snow white blouse. “Damn. Did the bolt get you?” “No,” she winces a bit and examines her coat and loose tunic. “None of these have been pierced.” Kaidan nods, “Must have opened it when you fell off earlier.” He searches their bag for a piece of cloth. “What are you doing? I can use healing magic.” She lifts her brow. There she goes again with magic doing everything. Bah. Better leave it, it’s not his body anyway that’ll get tainted with too much of that. He held her tunic in place, reflexively adjusting his eyes whenever the magic in her hand radiates brightly. Her brows knit together, looking away from the wound and then recasting her spell again. Whatever that means. But her hand keeps radiating the same fiery glow yet the stain seems to keep spreading through her garment.

            “Uhh… Are you sure that’s the right spell?” He asks and she frowned at that. “I know, I know, that sounds stupid. Sorry—” “No…” She exhales sharply, “It’s not working.” Her stare drifts away from him. She shakes her head, brows sinking further as she clears her throat and try once more. Nothing. “It’s not… It won’t heal.” She whispers in a shaky voice.

            Very suddenly, her hands slide across his cheeks, “Hey! W-what is it now?!” Kaidan jerks back and gently pushes her arms away. “Wounds? Bruises?” She raises her voice, “Do you have anything I can heal?!” The lady asks, voice trembling. Not entirely sure what the woman is fretting about, he takes off one of his gloves and offers his hand, blistered and slightly cut from the confrontation but nothing he deems painful enough. “Just scratches.” He shrugs. The anxious woman hover both hands above his, manipulating the magicka around them into restoring his wounds. Her magic blooms like before and they both spectate as the torn skin grows back and patches itself together like he’s never been wounded at all.

            “Why… but you...” She gasps. Her face starts to pale a progressively. Is that normal? “It’s not working on me!” She coughs out a sob, casting the spell on her wound again, “Kaidan! You can see it, yes? Why is it not working on me?” “I-I don’t know.. Just calm down-.. Hold on, hold on!” The woman starts loosening her blouse but Kaidan grabs the wrong arm and the cloth slides off completely, showing off her bare chest covered in thin cloth drenched in blood.

 

            “Damn… That’s..” His mouth suddenly went dry and he gulped down at the sight.

 

            Tears form in her eyes, her grimace transforming into that of terror. The wound that was already healing after they visited the apothecary, the one she’s so desperately trying to heal now has… festered.  “No… No, no! I don’t understand!” She sobs, casting multiple times. Dark veins appear to grow wider around the infection each time she applies her magic.

            “Stop! Oi! Can’t you see!?” Kaidan yanks her hand away. ‘Shor’s bones, she’s cold as ice.’ “You’re making it worse!” The lady tilts her head, denial has no doubt settled in those eyes. “But.. I’m.. I’m using healing spells!” She says in between coughs, like he doesn’t know the basic schools of magic. “I don’t give a damn what magic you use, it’s making the infection worse-.. Uhh, are you.. Are you alright?”

            Slowly bringing a finger up, she wipes away blood from her nose. “Are you poisoned?” Kaidan doesn’t know much about magical side effects but her sudden paleness and coughing, tag along that worsening cut, doesn’t look anywhere near damn ‘healing’ to him. Glancing up on him one last time, the lady collapses but Kaidan manages to catch her. The confused swordsman tried to shake her awake but to no avail. “Mara’s mercy, she’s burning up.” Left without choice, Kaidan sets off to find the nearest town on the map, leaving the group of corpses in the open.

 

            Looks like he’s skipping lunch today.

 


 

 

Here's a bit of tracking :) I'm expanding Skyrim in my fanfic so it'll take days for people avoiding the main roads to reach Holds. :)

 

 

Chapter Text

                Lively music played as the small tavern welcomed more and more patrons. Evening has set in and it’s about time guards from Fort Greenwall switch posts. Other than them, it’s mostly laborers and travellers stopping by. Today’s patrol seemed to be dull based on stories being shared by the fire. Still, an innkeeper never gets behind from the day to day news. A common thief, some animal caught in a trap and left to rot, bandits trying to sneak in the borders here and there. The only thing they look forward to after such a boring day is taking a trip to the bottom of their drinks. Warm stews to fight the cold are readily provided as well to those who have the coin. Even here in the Rift, the cool climate still finds a way to persist... and a good business minded person knows how to turn that into their advantage. Citizens went about with their usual night until they heard muffled sounds of hooves stopping right outside of the establishment. A raven haired visitor bursts through the door, breathing heavily and carrying in his arms a person wrapped in cloak.

 

                “We’ll take a room... Please.”

 

 


 

               Your insides twisted and turned, coughing continuously from a scratchy and sore throat. Unable to control it, you gag and your body convulses as it forces out the bile.

                “Here. Let it out.”

                Springing up from the bed and hurling yourself onto the bucket, your stomach squeezes, pushing the stuff up and out your system. Your ears start ringing and your head ached even more, refusing to open your eyes out of fear that they’ll pop. For several periods, you remember nothing between violently throwing up and hugging the bucket for balance when your body hitches. Since it already feels like blood has long abandoned your flesh, the only source of warmth you’re receiving is from the hand gently rubbing your back. Ever so slowly, slender and clammy fingers release your hair to creep up and get a hold of the hand soothing your nerves.

 

                “Hey? Hold on, I’ll get you some drink.” It was Kaidan. The swordsman brought you here. He didn’t really abandon you, huh.

 

                Kaidan squeezes your hand briefly before letting it go and you whine at the sudden loss of contact. Looking over your shoulder, you see stone floors and brick walls. Both your belongings sit beside a cabinet; your leather coat could be spotted hanging inside it along with your bloodied tunic and blouse. Hazy eyes look down and see that you’re wearing a brown robe draping down below your knees instead. It’s very plain but also comfortable especially in the current state your body’s in. There’s a fire pit at the end of your tiny room which illuminates only a portion of the lodging. ‘I don’t know where this is but I’d rather be here than freeze outside.’ Loathing how the chill slices through your very bones, trembling limbs begin to crawl as you drag yourself towards the embers.

                “I got you.”

                Your companion pulls you up in his arms and swiftly scoops in a chair with his other foot. He sits you on it, taking out a blanket which he proceeds to wrap all over you. Where did he get such an amazing fur? Heat seeping back into your limbs feels absolutely magnificent. Sensing his fingers brush the strands of hair away from your face, you muster up the energy to keep your eyes open as you look up on him. He’s dressed in his plain pants and shirt. Only his travelling boots remained from the set he owns. So he deems this place safe enough, then? Kaidan offers you a mug of what looked like tea and you reluctantly bring it close for a whiff. Green. Inhaling it before taking a sip, you thank the heavens for its invigorating aroma and splendid herbal flavour, albeit a little bitter for your liking. No matter, your throat desperately begs for its soothing effect against the soreness and each time you drink, you become the same as a plant washed over with life infusing rain for the first time in the long drought of summer.

 

                Seemingly functional enough, Kaidan allows the sick lady to gather her wits for the night. He grabs a chair for himself and settles down not far from her in front of the fire. They’ll set out once she gets strong enough for travel. He can do the body guarding; they’ll just have to be really careful. Ugh, just thinking about what happened earlier makes his skin crawl. He kneads on his brows, fatigue slowly finding him. ‘This is exactly why I never trust magic.’ Greenwall is nothing more than a military fort now and the apothecary shop there doesn’t offer anything above the usual health potions, poison cure, and medicine. The temple in Riften is more suited to treat whatever ailment she has, especially if it persists. The man didn’t need a mirror to know his face is still plastered with worry all over. He IS bothered. Never in his travels have he seen restoration spells backfire like that. NEVER. Maybe heal the wrong person, aye, but never the spell harming the caster.

                “Hey stranger...” He gazes up at her, “Why.. are you skinless.. He he.” Might it be possible that the spell affected her brain as well? She nearly died and the first thing she greets him with after saving her life is the same lousy joke she uses to poke fun of his armour. But he still gives her a relieved smile. “Glad you can finally talk now.” To own the truth, that’s something to be thankful about. Ever since he had her drink some health and cure potion, she just kept throwing her guts out, slipping in and out of consciousness for hours until a while ago. At first, he couldn’t figure out if her system is rejecting the cure but if it’s true that that’s just how the body expels the illness then that’s a lot of toxic element.

                She nods and takes a tiny sip before speaking, “You stayed. I’m glad.” She mutters as soft and audible as she can. Her voice remains croaky but looks like she’s handling it well. “Thank you.”

                Tired and weary eyes latch on her and she welcomes it with a grateful smile. ‘She looks different when she’s quiet. Feels like I haven’t met her at all.’ But who is he to say what her personality is? It’s been only a few days; he hardly knew her. “No need to be thanking me. I won’t have you dying right after I just gave you my word.” He assures the lady and she lowers her gaze back to her drink. “That’s nice of you.” Seeing her subtler side made Kaidan a bit conscious. She was really upset when she couldn’t use her magic. Not that he cares about it; she can probably handle herself even without trickery, so he wouldn’t fuss about that. If anything, he’d be much more comfortable around her if she showed some restraint in using her magic. But he understood how it felt to suddenly be unable to do something so common to him. Best not dwell on that matter for now. Frustration leads to a distracted mind and they can’t afford that for the rest of their journey.

                “I suppose you’ve already noticed how welcoming this place is.” He brings up, “We’re in an inn just outside Fort Greenwall near the city of Riften. They do welcome travelers but uhh, the inn’s not really meant for settlers so...”

                “I can travel.” She says, perfectly predicting what he was going to. “Besides, the cold is unbearable here.” The woman adds, sinking her face into the blanket after she finishes the tea. “Aye. We can sneak around the roads until we get to the city but we can’t leave a mess like earlier.”

                “We didn’t have a choice back there.”

                “Agreed. So we need to be more discreet from here on out. Thalmor spies are everywhere. We didn’t even have a solid proof that we cleared out the place. Besides, it’s only a matter of time before they find out. Maybe they’re even investigating it right now. We just have to lay low for now and be on guard. Don’t even worry about fighting, just follow me closely. I’m still familiar with the Rift—”

                “Kaidan...”

                The swordsman instantly stops raining down words when you call his name. He stares wide eyed at you like he’d caught a glimpse of the afterlife.

 

                “Why are you still with me?”

                Oh good. For a moment, he thought it was because he was talking too much. Coming back to her confusing question, he creases his brows. “I just said I’m going to keep you safe.”

                “You did. Twice. Look, don’t let me hold you back from your search. If this is about your debt, I’m afraid you’d already outdone yourself.” She points out straight to business.

                “And I’m afraid you did as well. Funny that we’re just getting even, eh. I think I’ll know when I’m fully paid.” He chuckles quietly and she follows next, “I never expected to come across such a persistent debtor.” She muses at him.

                The dim lighting does wonders to the woman in front of him. Wearing her long hair down the robe and with the fur resting atop her head... Dare he say she looks elegant despite the simplicity of her attire. Sighing, Kaidan rests his back against the wooden armchair and stares vacantly at the empty ceiling before he embarrasses himself.

 

                “I never expected to get out of that prison alive.

 

                He spoke each word so softly, almost like a whisper. You’re not even sure if he intended for you to hear that. Alas, curiosity wins.

                “Hey... What happened with the Thalmor?” You ask and hope you did not offend. This conversation has long been overdue anyway. If you’re both running from the Dominion, you ought to know why they took him in the first place. His eyes falls on you and after a moment of authenticating your genuity, the swordsman pulls his chair to your side. He got close enough that your arms brush yet neither complained about it. Is it the cold or is it possible that you’re growing comfortable with each other so soon? In any case, that was a damn good tea he got you and so he’ll hear no complaints from you tonight.

                “Aye. I guess I owe you that. I’d been trying to find a way to cross the border into Pale Pass.” He begins to explain. ‘Pale Pass. Pale... That’s one of Skyrim’s border outside Falkreath written in the map.'  You silently trace the name in your head. “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.” Dark loose hair black as midnight slides over the side of his face at the slightest movement his head makes as he goes on with his story. “It seems the Thalmor don’t need much evidence to bring in a suspect.” His tone sharpens, recalling the event, “They took one look at that sword, decided I’d be a good target for interrogation, and dragged me off to that prison.” He pinches the bridge of his nose, jaws clenching at the memory.

                Being reminded of the state he’s at; the bruises, his swelling wounds all over, body beaten black and blue... You never mentioned it but it took whatever’s left of your magicka to heal his already worsening condition. You waited a whole day before you were able to cast without having a headache. Suddenly, you press on with the topic, “Weren’t you scared?”

                That might have been a silly question but he was a long way from being broken in spirit when you saw him the first time and that takes strength of more than just the physical aspect. Unlike you who reacted in such a way that’s... You’d rather not find out.

 

                He chuckles softly, surprising the woman with the lightness of his tone. “Brynjar used to say, ‘If you’re not a little afraid, you’re not understanding the situation.’.” he replies, looking far into the flames. “Fear I can deal with easily enough. But...” He had to pause. The words, his words—it’s like it all got stuck in his throat for a moment. But he wants to get it out of his system. The man draws in a long breath. “There was a moment or two where I thought it might be really the end for me.” Despite his efforts, he couldn’t hide the twinge of anxiousness in his voice. He just hoped it didn’t show more than what was necessary. “The Thalmor would never have let me go... No matter what I told them.” He says, gazing deeper into the fire.

                Even after escaping, the torture he endured in that place is still freshly imbued in his memory. Every morning waking up to the burning sensation of hot iron digging against his wounds, and those bastards would drag him around to get lashed for hours. He’d be repeatedly whipped again and again, so much that his skin started to peel off; subjected to so much pain, maddening pain even, ‘till he passes out. The dark, cold nights wouldn’t even let him rest. Hour by hour his sore limbs gradually numbs, his lids weighed too heavy to resist sleep. But on the times he fell unconscious, his dreams consisted nothing but screams and wailing that synchronized with those imprisoned down with him. In these nightmares, people cry in anguish as the Dominion razes their lands. Their homes. Their families. Screams of the children watching with horror as they slaughter their parents.

                As he slaughters.... Well.

                It honestly pushed him to the edge. Haunting him until he slowly lose much of the fight for his morale and succumb to the idea that he truly deserved the suffering bestowed upon him. Several of those days, they wouldn’t even question him. Just throw him in a large cell with other defenseless and starved prisoners to be mercilessly beaten by Thalmor soldiers until one of the prisoners dies. The interrogator took great pleasure in carving him up whether he answers or not. In fact, he thought he was to meet his end when he was lined up for a session with more tools. But all of those took a complete turn when he was freed by this lady placing a hand on top of his and giving him a concerned look.

                “Don’t wander off too far.” Her gentle smile betrays the worry filling her eyes. That’s when he realized he’s got his fists curled so hard his fingernails bit into his palms.

 

                “I.. No.. It’s nothing. But... You faced down mortality, too. Perhaps you know the feeling?” He mindlessly searches her eyes for some sort of understanding, some kind of validation that what he’s feeling is just normal. But is it normal to question if he was worthy of salvation? That even after turning back from his previous ways, he still had it coming? Maybe he just wanted to know if she would still risk her neck for him had she known of the things he’d done before.

                “.... Kaidan.”

                Again with his name. The troubled man comes to his senses. Feeling stupid for asking the obvious, he anchors his gaze on their hands. Hearing her say his name feels like tripping on a minor shock spell. Or maybe that’s because she doesn’t really say it often. Still, it sparks a positive emotion. A sense of familiarity which he hadn’t felt for a terribly long time. Something that lifts them up one step higher than just being two people travelling on the same road or doing the same job. Not that she has to share the feeling. It’s best to keep fleeting thoughts like these to himself. He doesn’t want to make things between their travels any more awkward than it is.

                “Of course... Apologies. I didn’t mean to prod old wounds. But after all that’s happened, you’re still standing.” He mutters sheepishly earning a low chuckle from his companion. “You have my gratitude as well, swordsman.” She brushes her fingers over his knuckles and he relaxes under the touch. It’s far from her usual responses which tends to make fun of anything at any given chance. The person he’s talking to feels...

 

                Comforting.

 

                Yes. That’s how this situation makes you feel. Holding this person’s hand didn’t feel weird, not in the least bit. And it doesn’t have to be. You just wanted to extend your assurance. As he spoke earlier, it’s evident that he couldn’t help but relive some of his moments back in that forsaken place. ‘I shouldn’t have pushed. But I’m glad anyway that he shared it with me.’ You thought. For several long moments of peaceful silence, your hand rested on top of his, and the two of you shared the fire’s warm embrace. Both lost in their own thoughts. Both pondering what will happen next. It’s just like your first night. But you admit this feel much more natural than having to endure each other’s presence. Just then you feel his hand twitch and you slide your hand away, thinking he wants you to let go, yet it turns out the complete opposite as he flips it up to hold you in return.

                Your heart jumps a little at the sudden gesture and you wait for him to crack up something smart or embarrassing but he only kept his eyes fixed on you. His firm grip on your hand spoke for itself—he’s worried, though it doesn’t show on his face. “The Thalmor will come for us, won’t they?” You ask, all attempts in keeping up a smile cast away. It can’t be avoided. They may hide and run from them as long as they want. But they’ll always be in the list of targets. He squeezes your hand, “Probably, and we’ll be ready for them. Live and learn right?” a determined smile forms on his lips.

                “Live and learn.” You nod, slightly relieved by his courage.

                He stands up and reaches for your other hand. “Let’s get you some rest.” Without argue, you take it, and lean on him for balance as the two of you move towards the bed. One hand keeping the blanket in place and the other gripping his sleeve as you struggle to control your still wobbling legs. His other arm wrapped around gives you the opportunity to feel just how well built his physique is and you failed to suppress your envy for it. You better start getting in shape right away.

 

                “What about you?” She asks him as he sits on her bedside. “I’ll keep watch. Someone has to. Don’t worry, I’ll find rest the sooner you get better.” He tells his companion, and he doubles her blanket before wishing her a good sleep.

 


 

                The distant blaring of horns echoed throughout the area. Guards wearing Riften uniform and insignia flocked in as well as outside the tavern. “Sir, excuse me. Wh-what’s happening, why are you storming my establishment without notice?” the innkeeper woke everyone in the inn with his panicked cries.

                “Stand back, citizen. We’re just here to secure everyone.” One of the guards steps forward to explain the situation. “We need everyone, EVERYONE, to stay indoors. The fort’s currently fighting against a bandit raid. Our orders are to keep everyone safe. We fear some bandits may be ordered to ransack places outside the walls.”

                Mixtures of booing and distressed clamoring resonated from every corner of the inn as guards try to calm down the people flooding the main room. From the gap of the slightly open door, you peek at the commotion.

 

                “What’s that all about?”

                You could’ve sworn your shoulders jerked so hard it dislocated for a moment there.

                “Can you stop doing that?” you whispered, baring your teeth at him. After telling you he’ll stand guard, you knew it wouldn’t be surprising to find Kaidan sleeping on the chair when you woke up earlier. Poor thing must be so cold with only those clo-.. Is he wearing armor? “And since when did you equip that armor?” Kaidan, still half asleep, just waves his arms around in a ‘you-know’ kind of gesture, if you’re even reading it right. That’s an extremely vague and stupid answer. He opens his mouth to form an anser but you shush him, “Stop. No, don't answer that. You obviously slept in it.” You take a final peek at the door before shutting it tight. “Listen, the place is being raided by bandits.” You turn back to him and the swordsman quickly readies his sword at the news despite his disorientation.

                “Why are you doing that? We’re not fighting.”

                “You just said there are bandits—”

                “Not exactly here. At the fort. The guards outside are just here to fight off those who tries to run the place down.”

                “The main force will be focused on the fort, then.”

                “So we have to sneak out of here immediately before—”

                “...before the guards completely secure the area and prevent us from leaving. Aye.”

                You smirk at each other. “That’s not a bad morning exercise. You’re quick to catch on things, droopy eyes.” You throw in a 'compliment' which didn’t really impress him. The man does look adorable with droopy eyes, though. “Save your flattery for after we get out of this place.” He hurries towards your belongings. “And I don’t care if you’re better now. Quit fooling around in inappropriate times.” He scowls. ‘Alright, my lord.’ You snigger behind his back only to get snapped at another time.

 


 

                Once the two are fully geared and ready, both were relieved they rented a room on the first floor. With swiftness and discretion, Kaidan and the woman circles around the scattered crowd and into the kitchen doors leading outside. The forest area isn’t far off from the inn; a few turns, some sneaking, timely hiding behind trees and bushes on the right angles and the woman cheers as they’ve successfully entered the woods.

                “Hey, can I borrow the map? Uhm..” She turns around and finds herself alone, her companion nowhere to be seen. Without the luxury to call for him and compromise her location, the lady sat behind one of the trees in hopes that he’ll turn up. ‘If he doesn’t? I mean he has every reason to ditch you.’ She curses the thoughts away and tried hard to think of something else. Her mind takes her back the moment they had last night. It’s nothing special, but she knew they weren’t just simply strangers anymore. At least, not to her point of view. Friends? No. Not yet. Maybe acquainted is a better term for it. Kaidan trusts her enough with the horse and his bow—he kept her from dying, for the love of gods. They also share a goal at the moment. So he can be trusted. She should trust him in return.

 

                “Where did those bandits come from? It’s becoming a nuisance.”

                “You best be thankful for it. Looks like they’re coming out here in full force. Said it’s about their leader or something. We can clear them all now.”

                Those voices were from guards patrolling the area. Basing on the footsteps, there are about more than five. The woman sinks in her position and follows but kept an open ear as much as she can.

 

                “Aye. Who knew there were so many of them? I bet there’s gonna be more.”

                “Haha! More target practice. Good. We men could use more training. But what is it with their leader? Did he command the attack?”

                “Well that’s the first thing you’ll conclude but one of the boys caught their first fish outside the farm. He said things about taking over the fort someday and money, you know the usual. But then he also revealed the attack was to seek revenge for the death of their leader.”

                “Death? We’ve never had reports of our men or an adventurer bringing him in.”

                “That’s the thing. The officers had some men scout the place and they’ve found a handful of rotting bodies with large holes in them.. Like they were impaled. One of them was indeed the bandit’s leader.”

                No doubt, the ones they’re talking about are the people she and Kaidan encountered the past day. Hearing this, a fresh wave of anger and guilt quickly washed over the eavesdropping lady. It’s her doing. And once again, the swordsman was right. If they keep leaving a mess, it’ll keep coming back to them. In this case, the whole settlement has to deal with consequences which aren’t their doing.

 

                “Holes? Ha! Those fools must have tangled with one of those mages in the deeper part of the woods.”

                “Like a necromancer or a witch? By the gods, why aren’t we rooting them out?”

                “This bloody war has every men focused on defending and retaliating against the Imperials. If those mages don’t bother our people, then there’s no need to waste our numbers on them. Jarl’s decision, friend.”

 

                For several minutes, you keep track of them. Talks about patrol routes, bandits, and civil war consumed majority of the conversation but nothing about a ‘Thieves’ Guild’. It’s a good thing you’re light on your feet or you wouldn’t be able to tail them this far. Wait. Your hearts skips a beat upon realizing you didn’t keep track of the turns you’ve made. Sure, the settlement couldn’t be far but Kaidan might not be able to tell where you went and the same goes for you. Then all of a sudden, the marching stops. One of the guards spoke in hushed tones and you listen to them spreading out. ‘Shit. Did they find me?’ Trying to come up with an excuse came to an early end when a heavy and dull thing hits your back. You stumbled on the ground with a loud grunt, hearing wild, guttural cries close in on your surroundings. Despite the ache, you struggle to turn aside and find the person who attacked you. “Ugh. This is an ambush, isn’t it?” you groan weakly and watch as the bandit prepares to swing his axe down on you.

 

                “Gods damn it.”

 


 

 

Hi, in regards to our MC's wardrobe, I take heavy inspirations from Assassin's Creed's outfits and styles. Just in case anyone's wondering, but of course you can all visualize your LDB wearing any kind of Light Armor as I would rarely refer to what she wears until necessary. :) Thanks for sticking around!

Mainly Aveline's Gear

 

Some of these as well :)

 

Don't forget DreamBurrow's Regal Huntsman

Chapter Text

                Carefully treading the area and finding only but traces of his companion’s footsteps, Kaidan could almost definitely feel his face slowly contort in frustration. She has a habit of disappearing in critical moments, does she not? Just then, Kaidan spins around towards a tiny explosion not far off from where he’s standing. “That better be her or I’m gonna lose it.” The swordsman whispers gruffly to himself. He whistles to his horse and hope he’s going the right direction as they rush towards south.

 


 

                The bandit flew off like a weightless paper ball after taking in the full strength of your fire spell. Still hurt from the blow, you grab the axe and staggered towards the guards.

                “Help! Someone! I’m being—oh gods.” None of the guardsmen paid attention to your cries of help as all of them are busy fending off the bandits that outnumbered them. Ten? Twelve. Sixteen. Wait, there’re archers at the back. Damn bandits, stop multiplying! You conjure up a restoration spell in your hand to help your bruised back but were instantaneously reminded of what happened the last time you tried healing yourself. With the bandit loudly announcing his proximity towards you, you turn on your heel, swinging the axe around just in time and stick it in his neck. The blade didn’t decapitate him but it buried deep enough. Unfortunately for you, blood spurts stain your new blouse.

                 ‘Gross. At least I’m wearing black today.’

                One of the guards howled in pain, gaining your attention. With your companion not around to make the decision, you side with your guts and jumped in to help. You easily flick off the bandits from your safe distance, pulling them by their legs one at a time using telekinesis and flinging them away from the guards.

 

                 “What—hey! Who are you?!” They point their weapons at the woman. “Easy! Easy. I’m just lost... Look out!” She yelps as her magic barely stops an arrow inches away from piercing one of the guard’s neck. He draws his crossbow at her and yells, “Get away!” and her knees responded on its own. Before she can even get a clear picture of what’s happening or what to do next, she’d already sprinted on their side and the other guard tosses her a short sword as they all prepare for the incoming attackers. “Try not to die, men. Kid.”

                Blades met each other; clashing at any moment the wielders get a chance to swing them. Guards fought ferociously and so did the frenzied bandits. But while the barbarians outnumber them and occasionally gets a slash in, none of them felt any lasting pain. “Talos guides us, I feel twice as vigorous as I do in my best days!” one exclaims, and the others agree in chorus, fighting off the bandits with raised morale. It wasn’t long before they realize that the lady caught in battle is the source of their continuous rejuvenation. While she meets her foes in decent to equal swordsmanship, she throws a spell to as many of her allies as possible anytime she gets a safe chance instead of dealing a killing blow to her enemy. The guards know better as well than to let a healer on their side die before a battle ends. “Protect the kid!” The one in charge commands and all of them took formation, guarding the lost woman against their persistent enemies. It’s a sticky spot to get ambushed at, with all the trees and slopes rendering them clueless to where and how many more will arrive. Bandits came from all direction, but the ones using ranged weapons found it hard to penetrate the defense as the lady proved to be keeping a close eye on them while letting the Rift guards deal with those in close combat. Each time she snaps her fingers, both their stamina and strength are amplified and as they take out the outlaws one by one, she couldn’t contain the thrill building inside her.

 

                Now this is familiar.

 

                There’s just something about fighting within a group that makes her feel more...herself. She couldn’t quite put her hand on it yet but things are turning for the better so far. Her movements are more precise, her senses and focus more in synced, and her nerves are less jittery. Of course, it could have been just the fact that she has capable fighters protecting her. Still, she would note that every dodge, spells, and slash executed does not only compliment the movement of those she’s allied with but also effectively counters the enemies’ attacks. The longer she fights, the more her body remembers. And by the gods, does it remember a lot. Twirling through this chaos is a child’s play. It is equally confusing as it is exhilarating.

 

                “Bastards! Where are the others! Urgh!” The bandit snarls at the other as he retreats back. “They’re supposed to control this route!”

                “Don’t know! Those sons of whores should be coming from the hiding spot up north!”

                The archer from the back curses loudly at the news of delay, “To oblivion with them! Let’s get this over with! Focus on her, you idiots! Keep that bitch distracted!”

 

                “Get down kid!”

                “Back to the Fort! Go north! We can handle this!”

                “Run, lass! They’re after you!”

                The guards yell at you to take cover and retreat, all of them occupied with their own enemies. Shoving off a bandit after a nice jab on her throat, you quickly back off towards the said direction. Lots of the remaining bandits sprint after you like predators. ‘This is not the kind of attention a person would want!’ Your adrenaline fuelled senses keep you steady and fast but also out of control. Three more archers emerge from the higher ground, finally blocking your path. “Got you now, bitch.” One growls. Without dilly-dallying, the archers released their arrows all at once. A quick execution of telekinesis swipes the projectiles away but defending against the numerous barbaric men with no one to guard your rear is the problem.

                Charging both your hands and taking in a deep breath, you gather fire in your palms, ready for whatever that comes; though you really wish Kaidan would show up now.

                “Let’s do this.”

                You roared and your first fireball plucks off two enemies like pebbles tossed into water. Performing an evasive spin, you successfully disarm the first bandit to lunge forward, blasting him off with a second fireball whilst holding his sword. Noting the bit of time you’ve got, you release a wave of weak fire across the archers behind you as disruption. And with the window closed, you’ve officially switched to melee combat against two sturdy bandits, knowing you won’t have enough time to properly cast. Exploiting your enemies’ lack of proper armor and their heavy statures, you rely on your nimbleness and instinct; abusing the bit of luck you have and circling around them, making sure the archers wouldn’t get a clear shot as you hide behind the men swinging their heavy weapons. You evade easily enough and got in at least several cuts before your head collides with one of their warhammer’s handle. It’s hard enough catching up with your combat skills during a life and death battle, let alone be unable to heal yourself. But you’ve slowed them down for the meantime. You gathered dust and made sure they got close before you spilled it on their eyes. Regaining your footing, you quickly run past the howling bandits and unleash another wave of fire towards the archers. Magicka is largely depleted but it’s still enough.

                “You little vermin! I’ll gut you like a fish!” The bandit discards his bow and meets you with his dagger.

                “Make up your damn mind!” You scream back, parrying his attack. With the other two behind set to release their nocked arrows, you slash his knee, dragging his skinny body as cover. The arrow pierces his eye, but the other grazes your arm. You curse loudly as you tumble down on the dirt, instinctively charging a spell for your wound, which immediately turned into frost as the second archer prepares to pounce on you. The ice spike hits the person’s side, sending him reeling to your far right. “I’LL KILL YOU!!” The last of the archer shrieks with his axe drawn. Rolling over and casting a regular fireball at him, the bandit staggers back. “Yeah, I’ve been getting that a lot since a few days ago.” You murmured in between painful and short breaths as you rise from the ground, putting pressure on your wounded arm. The adrenaline’s still pumping but your body isn’t holding out too well. Sweat and bits of blood slides down from your forehead as your breathing becomes heavier. You take a few steps back, watching the bandits get up on their feet, and you blink to recollect your senses.

 

                “You can’t be an expert in everything, my lady.”

                “All of you have specialties.”

                “As we should. When you progress along, you’ll usually find yourself drawn to a certain... art. Does mastering the blade bring you no joy, my lady?”

 

                These are new voices. A woman and... That’s strange. The other voice is hers. She knows this, yet the conversation she’s hearing is alien to her.

 

                “I want to specialize in providing support.”

                “Hahaha. You’re already skillful in a lot of areas. But... Truly? A healer like them?”

                “Yes. But I want to assist all of you in more ways than just that.”

               

                “RRRAAARRGHH—”

                You flinch back in shock as the barbarian drops his sword and falls on his knees, just inches in front of you. He coughs up and gurgles out blood, bringing his fingers to the arrowhead sticking out in his throat. Processing what just happened in front of you, you froze up when you catch another one fly past your peripheral. You spin around, seeing a bandit hit the ground with an arrow on his head. Finally recognizing the material, you search the forest up the road ahead and held back the tears welling up in your eyes. It never occurred to you how happy you’d be upon seeing that terrible, terrible scowl on his face.

 

                Kaidan glowers as the two of you jog towards each other. He’s got an arrow nocked and blood painted most of his armor a dirty shade of red. “I TOLD YOU TO WAIT FOR ME!” He really must have yelled that on top of his lungs because your ears rang despite still being almost ten feet away from the fuming swordsman. See how sharp those crimson orbs are glaring at you? That’s it. You’re in for a scolding all the way to Riften and that is if you do not die from his harsh reprimanding first. Congratulations.

                “You have an awful habit...” he grunts, releasing an arrow on the enemy, “..of disappearing in the worst time.” He turns to face you, still scowling. “And you have an awful habit of appearing in the best time.” You fumble out a nervous laugh, “Hehehe. Er... Ahem.. Here.. Sorry.” Your eyes traveled back and forth from his grim expression then the armor before you settled down to completely avoiding his furious gaze and just heal him as fast as you can.

                “What happened? You walked into the wrong shower room or something?”

                “What happened is that you disappeared and so following your tracks lead me to a bloody gods forsaken ambush.” He snarls. Geez, talk about temper. “I got out alive and secured our belongings but they got our horse.” Kaidan grumbles. There’s no doubt that he slew most, or even all, of his foes. That also explains the missing back ups those bandits were going on about earlier. Oh that poor thing. No, not Kaidan of course. The horse! Why would you pity Kaidan when he’s very much alive and full of vigour as he silently scrutinizes your previous acts of foolishness? All you can do is mumble an apology. The swordsman lifts up a hand and you shut your eyes out of reflex. Expecting something mean, you found it surprising when he just groans and pats your head.

                “I gave my word to protect you. So I’m not abandoning you that easily.”

                A smile graces your lips then wilts just as fast when you hear him grumble the word ‘yet’ as he walked past you.

 

                Seeing the riot the place has become, the swordsman grimaces, knowing they can’t just leave these filthy bandits to fate. Passing on the bow to his companion, he then tosses her two vials of potions. “Make use of those if you wanna keep breathing.” He tells her as he unsheathes his sword. One is for healing, the other to replenish stamina. The woman gulps it down without question and happily joins him after the liquid takes effect.

                “I hope those did not have side effects.”

                “Only if you have to keep taking them in.”

                She gasps theatrically, “I’ll have you know I handled them long enough until you arrived.” Kaidan only scoffs out a laugh before he charged in. The woman lets loose a few more arrows as the remaining bandits return their fury. Feeling energized after the revitalizing drink, she confronts the enemy with renewed confidence. And when her arrows aren’t fast enough, she slides in, bashing a bandit with the bow before he can tackle Kaidan. “Thanks.” The swordsman huffs. He never fought beside a partner this close before, so he worried a bit when she stuck behind him that they would end up tangled. But he’ll improvise. The bandits surrounding them leaves them little to no choice anyway. On his honor, he will protect her.

                “Watch my back, will you.”

                “Yeah. Watch mine?”

                Taking a breather, they proceed to deflect each enemy attacks; parrying and striking with accuracy, and occasionally shooting when there’s an opening. To the woman, she was just closely watching his back. But to Kaidan, he was fighting alone. That and there’s a killing machine behind him. He would turn around and see a dead bandit that was just screaming at his back seconds ago and those he couldn’t reach would not even get a chance to draw their crossbow when her arrow finds its way to their chests. Kaidan knew she’s behind him the whole time, fighting by his side, he can feel her movements in the wind. Strange that he couldn’t get a proper glance at her as her figure would disappear from his line of sight every time he turns to strike a foe. Either he’d become slow or she’s amazingly fluid with her moves. A fight with the likes of these cutthroats can be unpredictable and messy once it’s started, for they are known to fight without honor. But the way she secured his back, ducking and stepping away in perfect timing with his sword; she swirled around him with such ease that he didn’t even have to mind his footing for she’d easily match her step with his. He couldn’t help but wonder if his companion had always been this skilled.

 

                It’s like being under the protection of shapeless force.

 

                One by one, the bandits’ numbers dwindled, and they drove them back until the last ones met their ends by having their heads decapitated by the guards. The lot greeted the two travellers and gave them gratitude for their help. Kaidan didn’t mind being recognized by guards, although he is taken aback by the amount of praise his companion is receiving.

                “We draw breath to this moment, thanks to the two of you. Especially you, kid. Those bandits easily outnumbered us but your quick reactions contributed more than you can imagine.” The captain claims. The woman only nods with a meek smile as she heals the rest of the guards. “And you over there,” He approaches the quiet swordsman, currently busy salvaging quivers from corpses, “we would be in more trouble hadn’t you delayed their back ups. I know it was by accident, still you have our gratitude, friend.”

                “Aye. What’s done is done.”

                “If you don’t mind...” Ohhh but he does mind. They should be halfway to Riften right now. Those words could already guarantee an eye roller.

                Not that he didn’t want to help. He just wants to get out of this place before the Thalmor get a clue on them. Neither he nor his companion should take a risk in this. Not yet.

                “The main attack is directed on the Fort. And this is just an ambush to secure a route. There will be twice or more of their numbers there.” The guard waves his hand on the corpses lying around. Ah yes, call for adventurers, call for the courageous. Bandits wouldn’t be a massive headache if not for this damn war tearing the country and keeping the leaders’ attention elsewhere.

                “What? That many?” The lady asks. “Aye, lass. Recent reports said the bandit clans are joining forces to throw us out. As if Imperials weren’t trouble enough.” One of the guards she’s healing spits out bitterly. “Looks like getting their leader killed pushed them to enact their plans earlier than supposed to. There are a lot of them but they aren’t very coordinated.” Another further explains.

                Kaidan looks back at the captain then on his companion. “We could really use as much help defending the fort. Our healers aren’t plenty and we’re thinned out enough as it is from fighting off those Thalmor bootlickers.” The captain makes one last appeal to the swordsman. “Uhh.. I dunno. We really need to get to Riften.” Kaidan scratches his head. “Riften? Without a horse? Alright we’ll make you a deal. If you help us up there, we’ll secure you a free ride and entry to the city.”

 

                Seeing the conflict in his eyes, you excuse yourself from the other men and approach them. “You should get going there, sir. I’ll talk to him.” You smiled politely as the captain returns the gesture. “Think about it, travellers.” He says as they marched up the road back to Greenwall.

                Once they disappeared from sight, the two of you glanced at each other. “Look. Those bandits from yesterday.. I’ve heard that was the leader. I killed the leader.” You tell him, staring into his eyes. “I know it has little to do with us. But I feel guilty for speeding things up into motion.”

                “You’re not seriously taking that offer are you?” Kaidan asks with raised brows. “Guards repel bandit attacks every time. They’re called guards for a reason.”

                “Oh, don’t get snippy on me. I couldn’t care less any more than you but... where did you even hide your pack?” You ask, suddenly wide eyed at the discovery of the missing baggage.

                “I buried it.”

                “You w—”

                “We can walk from here and pick it up.” He cuts to the chase before your eyes could expand to more than what he’s comfortable with. “Then we’ll be on our way to Riften. It’s just hours down Greenwall.” Trying to talk you out of it doesn’t seem to work as your pouting is already an answer. But that’s the kind of spirit that beat the shit out of those Thalmors so he couldn’t really complain about it now. Or can he?

                “Well, they can give us a horse if-we-help.”

                He squints, briefly eyeing you up and down, “Are you sure you’re still in condition? You already exhibited an impressive amount of skills a while ago.” Upon hearing him acknowledge your deed, you bit your lip, trying to conceal the excitement. “Oh that. I was also surprised with how naturally it came back. Weren’t you as well?” you giddily brought your hands together. The swordsman’s scowl broke into a half grin, “Sure it did.” Even he couldn’t resist sharing in your joy. “And you didn’t even use magic in there. Well bloody done.” You’re not really sure what he meant by that but he pats your head with an approving look on his face and that’s what matters. This gesture better not become a habit of his, though. But since he gave you a compliment, you’ll let this pass for now.

                “So does your debt extend to lending me a hand in killing bandits?”

                “Are you kidding me? And after what you just displayed? I’ll be glad to fight alongside you until that debt is repaid.”

 


 

                Shortly after arriving at the place of event, half of the enemies have already fallen but a lot of guards are also wounded. Few bounty hunters and capable men have aided in guarding the civilians, slaying a bandit when they come across one but they lacked healers. An adventurer lurched behind a stone pillar, covering the chest wound hidden under his destroyed chainmail. The bandit got him good, but he was the one who sank a knife down his enemy’s face. So here he is, struggling to keep his legs standing and eventually sliding down against the dusty old wall. He coughs out some blood and looks up at the bright sky through clouded vision. May Kynareth ease his passing to Sovngarde. It’s a good day to meet the gods. Succumbing to his wounds, the fellow closes his eyes as the warm embrace of death engulfs him.

 

                “Are you done? There’s a larger fight right over there.” Kaidan whispers to his companion as he tightens the grip on his sword. “Why did you even wait for him to lose consciousness before healing the poor lad?” he adds. The girl snickers silently as she tiptoes past the body and draws her—his-.. and draws THE bow. He ought to get her a weapon of her own other than that dagger. “Can you imagine his confusion upon waking up and initially thinking he’s a ghost. Hehehe.” She keeps her giggling to a minimum. Not that it doesn’t paint an entertaining scene to observe but they’ve got larger matters to focus on right now, namely, the barbarians rushing towards them. Kaidan hisses at his companion to focus and she just stares him dead in the eyes before uttering the words... What did she say? She already ran off to find a good spot. In any case, he knew it wasn’t nice. Gods watch over them, here comes the first enemy—

 

                ‘Four.... Five.... Six.... Sev—missed. Seven.... Se-.. SEVEN! Damn that orc to oblivion, why wouldn’t he die!? Nevermind. Kaidan will take care of him.’ You angrily exhaled with a groan as you release yet another shot on some other target. ‘Eight! Yes!’ Your silent cheers were easily cut short upon hearing a familiar scream from nearby. Instantly abandoning your perfectly elevated position in the empty carriage, you race towards the guards being pushed back from the gate. Kaidan calls for you but he will manage those two bandits just fine.

                ‘Perfect. They’re compressed together.’

                Confirming there’s no enemy in the retreating group, you hide behind a smelter, charging both your hands and focused a stream of healing magic towards them. Just then you hear something clash against the metal serving as your cover. A bandit falls dead behind you, scaring you a bit.

                “Glad to see you here kid.” The patrol captain offers you an exhausted smile, pulling out his sword from the back of the corpse. Splatters of blood decorated the Rift guard’s armor, and without a word you loosed a healing spell at him.

                “Many thanks. Ready to end this?”

                “That’s why we’re here, sir.” you nod, eyes reflecting the old captain’s determination.

 

                With a final and heavy grunt, Kaidan cuts the orc down. It makes a sloshing noise as the nodachi is slowly taken out of the bandit’s torso. ‘This journey gets more and more complicated than I suspect it would. I won’t go back on my word just because of this, though. Get yourself together Kaidan. Those weeks made you sloppy.’ He wipes away sweat from his face and quickly prepares himself to fight his way to you. But that proved to be unnecessary.

 

                Viewing from a distance, the swordsman stood in astonishment at the battle happening in front of him. Right in the middle of the fight, his companion stood her ground against a bandit; her dagger slicing through the man’s wrist, and on her other hand she charges a spell that emitted the radiance of healing magic. With a snap of her fingers, a wounded guard instantly sprung up on his feet and tackled the brute twice his size away from her. Hard for Kaidan to admit but she reacts fast. Devastatingly fast. But why is this even a surprise when she confronted those Thalmors head on during their escape?

                Amidst the chaos, red eyes followed her around. Her every step, every spell she throws, each evasion made her look like she’d choreographed the whole scene. She almost never bothers to look behind her. On times she does, it’s to heal the wounded. What she does, however, is twirl around the place, score some slashes and swiftly disarm bandits, granting an opening for the guards who are more than happy to take.

 

                Then it hits him.

 

                The confidence of the guards, the fervor in their movements—it’s her. All she has to do is heal the men as much as her magicka runs. In return, they watch her back at all costs. And that sly smile of hers is the only thing he needed to understand what’s happening. Kaidan lowers his sword, trudging towards a log and slumping down on it. He stretches his neck and relaxes, picking up a ruined piece of mantle to wipe the stains off his blade.

 

                This is no battle to her. It’s a dance.

 

 


 

 

MAY I PRESENT YOU, THE ALMIGHTY LAST DRAGONBORN EVERY MOD COMPANION IS FAWNING OVER.

 

hehehe oh gods

 

No, I-.. I didn't mean that!! Oh gods, I hope I'm not ruining any headcanons!

Chapter Text

                 It took several more minutes but the defense was a success. A group of scouts have been deployed to finish off the remaining stragglers. All of Fort Greenwall was filled with thunderous roaring of cheers and laughter. Nothing like a good bandit raid to appease the Nords’ hunger for glory in battle. This should keep them talking for a week.

 

                “That wasn’t so bad, right? I know you were watching.” You skipped towards Kaidan, placing back your dagger on its sheath. You fall flat on the dirty ground beside his log, not even giving any care to how much dirt your armor and clothes are getting. It’s all filthy and stinking with blood anyway. Shaky fingers reach for your brows and you wince, touching the stinging wound on it.

                “And here I thought you were untouchable with those acrobatic reflexes.” He smugly comments, making you chuckle. Gods, your lungs are being squeezed with every exhale. “How’re your scratches?” He asks.

                You return his gaze and stretch a trembling palm open onto the clear blue sky. “Is it okay if I tell you I’m aching all over? I think I twisted my limbs out there too much.”

                “Did you now? You should be ashamed of yourself. Go train some more.” He laughs lightly. It’s nice to see a stoic person like him smile. Even if it is at your expense. You take a deep breath as you close your eyes.

                That fight could have gone better and faster. There’s some truth in Kaidan’s joke if you give it a thought. You can’t rely on life and death situations to trigger your memory. What if it doesn’t? The body will remember even if you don’t, so you ought to train more.

 

                After wiping the blade completely clean, Kaidan notices the lack of dialogue from the body resting beside him. “Oi, there’s enough space beside me y’know. Don’t even expect me to wash your bloody clothes.” And when he didn’t get a respond, he leans over. ‘Divines grant me more patience.’ An exasperated sigh finds its way out of him upon seeing his companion sleeping dead as a rock.

 

                “Aha! There you are-.. Oh, what happened to the kid?” It was the patrol captain the two of them saved earlier. “Nothing grievous. Just knocked out I guess.” The swordsman shrugs nonchalantly. “Understandable. I’ll cut this short. You and other civilians who helped in the fight deserve a reward. And as per our deal, I’ve secured a ride for the two of you on Riften.” The captain grins widely under his thick beard. “No imperials, no charges, and certainly no bloody Thalmors. It’s all yours, if you’ll still take it. Right outside the barracks.” He points to the direction and Kaidan nods at the guard. “We appreciate it. You have our thanks as well, sir.” He says as he kneels down to pick up the woman.

                “Well if I may ask... Why Riften of all places?” The guard suddenly inquires. “I know, I know. It’s beautiful within the Rift, but the city itself isn’t exactly the friendliest.”

                Kaidan stayed his breath but revisiting what happened yesterday, he gave in. “We’re visiting the Temple. My companion still needs to be checked by a healer.”

                The guard almost cracks up but didn’t when he saw the swordsman’s humorless face. “A healer? Isn’t she an adept one already? Haven’t fought beside a warrior of their likes in ages. They’re hard to come by.”

                “Aye. However, she can’t heal herself for some reason.” He tried to explain what he understood but he was just as confused as this guard right now. “I brought her here because the last time she used some healing magic on herself, she ended up poisoning her system. It was…terrible.” Kaidan felt sick just picturing how fast she turned pale. Her veins ran blue and she was cold, almost close to a corpse before she burned up in a blink of an eye.

                The guard’s eyes widen with horror, “But she can heal anyone other than herself?” he pauses and grimaces upon receiving confirmation. “Could it be that she’s placed with a curse? Yeesh, gods! Go now, you two. Pray that Divines lift the vileness in her.”

                Kaidan could only try and hide how unsettled he is by the suggestion. The twisted nature of magic. Nords are wise not to trust the very thing witchcraft is born from. He bid farewell to the guards as he carried his companion to their carriage. A torn paper fell out of her pouch as he placed her down. Taking a seat inside their cramped space, he analyzes the item. It was old and stained with dried blood for the most part. “…A life behind bars…” He utters silently, reading through the scribbles and smudges as the carriage start to move. Well he didn’t understand a single bloody thing in that message except the note appeared to be written by one of those cats from the South. ‘Khajiit’ is what they are called. Not that he cared, but why would she keep this one undiscussed? If chances are good, finding that fellow can be an opportunity to shed some light to her past.

                ‘Geez… I shouldn’t pay mind to her story and just focus on my search while we’re travelling.’ He chides himself.

                Kaidan carefully stuffs back the note inside the pouch and studies her in the process. She didn’t look too young or older; she’s around his age if he takes a guess. Just what was she doing with her life before they met? Ah, but how can he say otherwise? With the things he got involved, the atrocities he’d done after his mentor passed away… he was quite the over achiever himself. Fretful eyes stuck on the fort as it slowly recedes from their view. His companion better get her strength for the next few hours. The city of thieves awaits them.

 


 

                You shudder lightly, the cool breeze of winter caressing your cheeks. Feeling the soft and inviting warmth of his hand rubbing your head, you scoot closer. He welcomes you with a friendly greeting and shares his blanket, wrapping an arm around your shoulder. “Mmm. You’re very warm.” You mumble, nuzzling comfortably. He smelled of nice old leather and faint hints of grass… and home. His fur tickles your face but it keeps your nose from freezing off. He chuckles lowly. “This one is pleased to be of service to you, my lady.”

 

                Opening your eyes, you find the good ol’ fur bag Anduniel gifted you under your head. You blink a few times. The skies are smeared with hues of lavender and blue, and the clouds streaked the heavens of thin whites and faded orange. A few stars twinkled faintly and people have lit their torches and lamps. It’s dusk. Letting your vision fall, you study the surroundings. You’re in a carriage; in a slightly more populated area than the last place you remember setting foot in. High walls tower over the stables and Rift guards seem to have more presence here. Hold on a minute. You quickly got up, alarming your companion who’s just about to get off the ride, “We’re here!” you gawk at him in disbelief. “Uhh… Yes.” The slightly confused man hops down the cart and offers you his hand. “Well, come on now. I hear the inns here are selling quality booze.”

 

                Passing under the city gates offered you a good look of the wall’s stonework. Lots of the design here carried out back to the old fort but these here are more intricate and obviously well funded in maintenance. As soon as you entered the main street, prying eyes didn’t waste a second in latching themselves on you and Kaidan further drags you beside him as you walked along.

                “No need to worry. Any cutpurse who tries to steal your coin, I’ll take their hands m’self for a trophy.” He places you on lead as caution drips in his tone.

                “It’s that dangerous here?”

                Your companion places a hand on your shoulder and starts to explain quietly, “Aye. Riften is home to the Thieves Guild and many of their so-called associates. It’s Skyrim’s worst-kept secret.” That makes sense of course.

                ‘A town crawling with Thieves; just what in oblivion were you thinking hanging around with them?’

                “You took a job from them. Does this place trigger no memories?” He whispers even quieter.

                “We just entered. I’ll update you if it does, silly.”

                The wary swordsman responded with a quick hum as both of you made your way to the center Plaza. Even when you kept your eyes solely focused down on the pavement, you can’t help the uneasiness building in your guts. The people directly avoided making eye contact with you, if not observing you like you’re some kind of freak. If it’s appearance, then the city is nice and simple enough. But the locals and even the nobles here look poor. It’s best to not linger around for too long. Talk to the priest, settle some business with the Thieves’ Guild, and run like hell.

 

                After a few more minutes of walking and trying to maintain an unbothered expression from all the peering gazes, the two of you reached the center of the city. The place is spacious and clamoring with tourists and locals alike despite the dark settling in. It’s an entirely different universe once you stepped inside the marketplace. Oh, you can happily get lost feasting your eyes on all these colorful booths!

                The ground is neatly designed in cobblestones and pebbles that match the architecture of the city walls. There’s a beautiful old wellspring that stood just in the middle of it all, surrounded by several benches offering rest to anyone who stops by. Underneath runs a stream that connects to the waters of Lake Honrich outside. Most of the construction under the bustling city center is made of wooden planks, leading to the piers, and so are the bridges connecting the plaza to the city. Now getting a good look at your surroundings, most of the city is actually spilling over the lake with majority of the establishments and residence being held up by structures largely made of wood. Only a selected few is made of entirely stones, and those are obviously owned by either a governing figure or the richest families.

                Other than the main marketplace, the rest of the city looked run down. Especially the area under the plaza.

 

                “Don’t let your guard down.” Kaidan pushes you lightly and grabs a hold of your arm as he drags you out of the crowd. “And keep your hands clutched on your valuables.” He warns, “Look over there, I found the Temple. Let’s keep moving.” Man, he seems to be taking this body guarding duty a tad too serious.

 


 

                Heavy steps dragged noisily and slowly across the wooden floor. Kaidan exhales through his nose, running his hands on the messy half bun. It turns out the head Priest, Maramal, was sent to Greenwall the same time they set out for the city. He will return first thing in the morning, greatly infuriating the restless swordsman. None of the other temple healers presented a better, less disheartening opinion than what Kaidan had already heard from earlier. But they assured him that his companion will receive the best treatment they can provide if they would be so kind as to wait for their leader’s return.

 

                Pushing the Temple doors open with great effort, the exhausted traveler heaved a sigh as he spots you still lingering around a statue of Mara. ‘Take a breather, man. You’re just tired. She’s not a burden. She’s just… lost for the most part.’ He collects whatever’s left of his patience and calls out to you.

                “Hey, are you with me or what?”

                You snap out of your musing and retreat to him. “Sorry. Let’s just find an inn to rest for now. I’m sure your body’s aching a bit from earlier as well.” You give his armor a light tap. He grabs your hand and guides you to walk slightly ahead of him, closing the distance between you two as much as possible. “Unless you are going to offer me some good rubbing on m’back, then no need. Someone have to keep an eye out.” You feel his hand gently usher you to another direction, “But sure, I’ll stop for a bottle of Black Briar or two… Or three or four.”

                “Oh? Brimming with coins now, are you? But I suppose we deserve some slack after losing the horse and getting caught up in that raid.” Agreeing with him is easy, especially when you desperately want a change of attire. A nice warm bath sounds nice. And only inns or bunkhouses offer those. Maybe you’ll take that third or fourth bottle of his with you when you do.

                The two of you bantered on quietly, walking side by side. But your mind had quite the difficulty forgetting the Statue back in the Temple. The attendants call her a Divine, and that her name is Mara. She represents love and compassion, and that Skyrim needs to remember her loving light in these testing times, or at least that’s what they said. You’re not interested in religious topics, though. You’re curious why the Goddess looked an awful lot like the glowing Lady who broke your chains.

 


 

                Keys jingled as you fumbled with it. Keerava, the Bee and Barb’s Argonian innkeeper, said one is for the bathhouse, three are for the cabinets, and one for the door. But when her partner, Talen-Jei, gave it to you, he wasn’t very clear on where in oblivion is the damned key for the room. Several curses escaped under your breath as you agonize to meet the bed waiting on the other side.

                “Calm down. Here, let me.” Kaidan appears out of nowhere and take the keys from you.

                “It’s frustrating! On the way here, I even dreamt about cuddling next to a speaking furry fellow and woke up crushing my fur bag instead.” You said and for some reason Kaidan froze solid for a second. “I don’t recall properly. It felt like we were really close, though. In a family kind of way-.. I mean.. We were travelling together. Oh dear, maybe that bag really was just comfortable.” You vented out. “I guess I’m just desperately in need of rest from being sick and caught up in a fight.” You sighed, shaking your head.

                He sends you a side glance, “Speaking furry fellow? You mean a Khajiit?” A khajiit? What’s that again? Oh. The cat people! You urge him to enlighten you and he does. “The ones who grew up in their traditional culture address themselves rather uniquely, never in first person, and they’ve got those southern accents you can’t mistake for any other race. They hail from a province notably known as Elsweyr. Feline ears, long bushy tails, claws and whiskers, you know, like-.. like cats.”

                He goes on a lengthy description, and you nod your head at every detail coming back to you until the lock finally clicks. With a gentle push, the door swings open, revealing a medium sized bedroom. You chirped at his success. “Do you know you look like a puppy with that face? Stop beaming at me.” He teases, stepping inside the room and placing his bag on your bed.

                “Woah! Why are you.. This is my room!” You confronted him as he sat on the mattress.

                He reluctantly casts you a glance, lying down to savor the soft, warm furs. “Do I look like I spit money? Two room’s too expensive. And there’s a lot of space in here for two lightly geared passersby.” He tells you, already halfway to dreamland.

                “You certainly know how to push the limit at times, y’know. Don’t tell me you’re gonna share a bed with me every time?” You ask, arms crossed and leather boots impatiently tapping the floorboards for an answer. The waiting was short, but the answer you got is nothing but a faint buzz of his snoring. Great. ‘That’s some otherworldly method of keeping an eye out.’ You scoff.

                Raising a brow, you lock the door behind and dropped dead on the space beside him. Well he’s not wrong, there’s still space enough for the two of you. It’s not like you mind being this close; you’ve gotten more comfortable around him for the past days after all. Funny how things between the two of you evolved in just a short span of time. From strangers sharing torture to strangers sharing a bed. Hey, that’s better by a hundred fold if anyone asks!

 

                Trying to close your eyes and continue your interrupted rest from earlier is clearly impossible with his noisy breathing. A good amount of Telekinesis can flip him over or place him on the floor without you breaking a sweat. But you’re not the oblivious airhead you appear to be. There’s not a single moment where he encouraged you to use magic aside from healing or cracked up even the faintest smile whenever you use magic in his vicinity. Just like most Nords, he’s not very trustful of magic. And so ever since noticing this, you vowed to minimum your use of it around him unless necessary. ‘Urggh but I want to just strangle him a bit right now!’ Coming to the conclusion that you can’t lift him on his normal clothes using only physical strength, let alone move the man stuffed inside that huge chunk of metal, you turn to the best solution... Give up.

                Sitting back up in frustration, you bared your teeth at him and groaned inaudibly; restraining every urge to choke your companion. ‘That ‘muffle’ or ‘silence’ spell-thing the Thalmor mage did would really be useful right now but-.. Damn it to oblivion!’ Tossing your arms up in sheer frustration, you stormed out of the room, cupping your face with those itching hands before it decides to shove a cloak in his mouth.

 

                The time for dinner’s just about done and more are going out than in the tavern. You slide in one of the empty tables in the far corner, wanting to dampen your temper with that bottle of Black Briar mead before you proceed to the bathhouse. One bottle became two then three and kept multiplying after that, or is that your vision doing the fancy tricks? Everything felt woozy before things got completely snuffed out.

 


 

                Waking up hours later with Keerava lightly patting your back, your head suffered from the pulsating ache and fatigue. “Passing adventurers like you do not want to fall asleep here. Thieves and burglars are all over the place. Even the guards can be bought.” She warns, explaining that a guard asked for you and upon locating, stopped by your table for a bit and quickly left without even buying anything. You give her your thanks along a few more septims as tip their honest service. Even the guards? That sort of explains why the patrol men held gloomy expressions upon hearing from you that your initial destination was towards Riften. None of them spoke against it, but you can just scratch it out as them not wanting to risk losing their jobs for testifying against the Hold they serve. After the concerned hostess left, you noticed a small piece of paper which wasn’t there before tucked underneath one of the emptied bottles. There’s a note, saying “I am ready” and you read the message written behind it.

 

                “My friend. I am ready to pay what I owe. Find me in Riften Jail. I will be waiting.”

                The letter is then marked by someone named “Inigo”.

 

                It didn’t made sense at first, but as you read it once more, all effects of the alcohol instantly flew off, taking your heart with it which you caged back right away. Numbing hands reach for the pouch. Thankfully, it did not get snatched, thanks to your companion. Taking out the only item of importance in it, you unfold the old stained note retrieved from the Thalmor prison, and the words written inside sparked agitation.

 

                “…A LIFE BEHIND BARS WILL KEEP THIS ONE ALIVE..”

 

                You almost bit your tongue from holding back a loud cry, remembering it’s already in the dead of the night. ‘Could it be? It undoubtedly came from the guard! It’s meant for me without mistake!’ Finally, finally, a possible clue appears! Forget the Temple of Mara for now! Be this one a foe or not, you ought to check it. No doubt they may hold information you seek about yourself. Could be anyone in a prison but your gut is just twisting with anxiety seeing the striking similarities of the contents. Hurriedly racing upstairs to take a bath, you lightly skipped through the inn, careful not to wake anyone but also swiftly moving.

 

                Maramal can wait.

 

                The Thieves’ Guild can wait.

 

                But you can’t.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

KAIDAN: WHAT IS YOUR NAME?

YOU: MY NAME IS--

UWU

 

Chapter Text

                There was no dream. No nightmares. No Thalmors. Certainly no cultists screaming for his head. It’s just dark. And his body found rest, actual rest ever since riding that carriage off to Ivarstead. Having his neck saved by someone didn’t turn out to be the biggest surprise. It was finding out that this ‘someone’ hasn’t got the slightest clue who they were prior to being taken by the Thalmor. But just taking in all the attributes and quirks she had displayed so far, no doubt she’s well trained and she hasn’t even remembered everything yet. Someone as skillful as that could only mean a path filled with harder challenges.

                Aside from the constant creaking of the windows outside and distant wolves howling in the night, there are nearby ones that kept pulling him out of his dreamless slumber. Like that of footwear and light items falling softly, some thudding and scraping sounds looping around on the floorboard. Blinking open his eyes, he catches a blurry image of someone moving by the lantern. Kaidan rubs his eyes for better adjustment and his jaw slowly falls open at the sight in front of him.

 

                She stood sideways from his direction, rid of her coat and struggling to tie the corset hugging her waist. The tunic hanged loosely, still unlaced, exposing much of her right shoulder. The woman, his companion, stood in front of him, stripped from most her clothing. The fabric tipping on the skin of her chest danced in rhythm with her movements, offering a tiny peek of the mounds beneath in an almost teasing way. And when she reaches down to pick up something on the floor, his eyes automatically snapped to the bottom hem of her garment, only to realize she wasn’t wearing any pants; or at least she was going to with the trouser she held in her arms. But that detail went right above over his head. ‘This is not a dream. I’m not in a dream.’ He kept repeating as his mind registers the shape of her legs, her thighs, and stopping short on the blessed curves of her hip. He absolutely had no idea why he can’t tear his gaze away and why blood keeps rushing in his head, though he wasn’t sure which one, but he isn’t about to find that out with her looking at him like that.

 

                “Hello?”

                The soft kindling inside the lantern was enough to illuminate two nervous eyes that snatched him of his breath. Kaidan stiffens—not in that way, the moment she called him. Really, he wanted to apologize first, but for some reason a different set of words spilled out of his mouth. “Did something happened?”

                Looking as dumbfounded as him, the woman returns the question. “What ‘something’?” She backs away a bit from the man rising on his position.

                Scratching his head and looking around, he shot her an apologetic gaze. “Sorry if this seems rude... But did.. Between us.. Did we do something?” he almost chokes out. Shor’s bones, this is stupid. He sounds stupid.

                “I’m asking you, what ‘something’?? You’re scaring me.” the woman panics a bit, not knowing what the hell should she answer him with.

                “I mean-.. You-you’re...” he gestures at her, having an internal turmoil on how to put his thoughts to words. “I guess what I.. What I wanted to know is where-.. Uh, why.. Why are you undressed?” He finally asks, flushed red as an apple. Numerous ‘what ifs’ flooded his mind that keeps multiplying by the second.

                The woman is then hit with her own share of embarrassment, her face being set ablaze after finally understanding what he meant and what made him assume wrongly. “No! It’s not what you think!” She scuffles back to the clutter of travel attire scattered on the floor, picking up more cover for her slightly exposed state. “I-.. We didn’t-whatever it is, just... Just look away please..?” she anxiously pleads and Kaidan abides to her request, equally flustered.

 

                For the next few minutes of tripping on words, the swordsman listened intently and was kind enough not to say anything that’ll take the awkwardness a level higher. You told him how you just took a bath and that you decided to change your clothes in the room since he’s fast asleep; also assuring him that nothing was done to him before he woke up, and the man just uncharacteristically nods his head to whatever jumbled explanation you spewed out until you finally got both your legs in a trouser. Why is it that whenever things between you and your companion are beginning to warm up, something inconvenient transpires and catapults the two of you away from each other again.

                “Right. Ahem. Why are you in such a hurry anyway?” He casts you a quick glance, still hesitating to face you after the scene moments ago. “I’m going to Riften Jail right away.” You whispered, working on your coat. “You are what?” he asks, slightly confused and probably thinking he misheard you.

                “I’m going to jail.”

                “What for?”

                Gods, is he still asleep? “No, not like that.. Uh, I’m meeting someone.” The clanking of his armor tells you he turned around to your direction. No need to face him back, you can almost trace the creasing of his brows with the way he scoffs. “Are you sure? In jail? In the middle of the night?” You shrug in response, diligently tying your laces.

                Hearing him approach, the usually stern looking man startles you as he casually takes over your work. You even surprise yourself with how easily you welcome him into your space. “You’re doing it wrong.” He mutters, standing just inches from you. You could almost feel the warmth of his breath when he breathes out. “I know. Zorya did it for me.” You bit your lip, stealing a glance at him. His eyes are firmly locked down on the laces of your coat. “You’re not allergic to asking for help, are you?” He gestures for you to watch. “I assumed you did not know how.” And he just grins at what you said, eyes lowered as he carefully shows you how wrong you are. “I said I’m not comfortable with leather, not that I’ve never had to work on one. Also, steel armours are held with laces on some parts.” He explains, looking up to meet your eyes. “Don’t cause trouble in the prison, yeah?”

                Maybe the alcohol still got some kicks left. You don’t recall his eyes looking this soft—in a good way. It’s always filled with worry, anger, or gloom or anything between those emotions. But never anything positive. Sure he banters, and laughs, and flashes his confidence in battle. But those are all empty and shallow smiles. The one he’s offering you now speaks of trust. ‘Or maybe you’re just reading into it too much.’ You return a shy smile and politely stepped back.

                “Curious. I thought you’d disagree. Maybe scold me a little about how it doesn’t fit the schedule.. Heh.” You fidget with your fingers, half expecting him to take back his words and say he’s just joking. Kaidan shakes his head, “I’m the one in your service. Not the other way around.” He blinks and all of a sudden, the smile fades and he’s back to being the same guarded person you met. His expression hardens, looking away from you.

                “After the prison, I still feel like we’re being watched so I’m being as careful as I can. Things aren’t exactly looking up if you noticed. Now I know I said I’ll keep you safe, but that doesn’t give me the right to take away your decisions. So I owe you an apology... If I came off harsh to you.”

                Shocking isn’t it.That those heart warming words were spoken with such coldness; you don’t even know how to feel about it. But if there’s one thing you got clear, it’s that he isn’t always excessively on edge like this.

                “I understand, Kaidan.”

                “I’ll be here when you return.”

 


 

                Following the directions Kaidan gave you proved to be simple enough. With the streets empty and the town guards slacking off, walking in the shadows of the Jarl’s residence, Mistveil Keep, is easy with your flexibility. Of course you aren’t completely invisible, some still saw you. It is troubling, however, how the homeless watches the streets better than those sworn to protect it. With light feet and quick movements, you successfully entered the front gate of the prison. Now there should be a guard stationed not far at a second door and who can be bribed according to your companion. Carefully approaching and asking entry in exchange for money, the guard was more than willing to cooperate, just like Kaidan said. Looks like your swordsman is more familiar with the city than he is letting on.

                From there, the path is pretty much straightforward. A somewhat spacious lobby, several seats and table, and some locked rooms which you assumed are not for visitors to peek on. There’s a note sitting on a bowl, confirming a ‘crazy khajiit’ taking residence in one of the cells. Making a turn, you accidentally come face to face with a guard.

                “What are you doing here?” She demands.

                “I-I uhh.. Um, there’s-..”

                Not waiting for any answers, the guard walks on shaking her head. “You lot from the Thieves’ Guild best make your businesses here quick. Keys’ are in the drawer over there.” She mutters without looking back. Disregarding the way your soul briefly left your body during the encounter, you gathered your breath with newfound conviction. The other guards posted around seemed to pay you no attention upon hearing you're from the guild and just went about with their own activities. “So the government here is that corrupt.” You murmured, carefully treading the cells one by one and taking the keys.

 

                Reaching a certain area, you hear someone talking in the next prison. The voice is croaky but in a pleasant way, and he is speaking with someone called‘Mr. Dragonfly’. Drawing close, you see a prisoner sitting by the table. He falls immediately silent and something above his head twitches. Ears. But for all that’s good and honest, you didn’t mean to spook the... ‘Khajiit..?’ Catching sight of the fellow stirred confusing flashes of memories. ‘The furs in the dream.. is from a khajiit.’ And he’s standing right in front of you, looking back with recognition at the woman outside his cell. It’s him, right?

                The one who wrote the letter.

                The one you travelled with.

                The one behind bars.

                It has to be him.

                You place one foot in front of the other like moving through thickened snow; shaking off the whispers and hazy images forming in front of you. The khajiit turns around to fully face you in equal pace and you felt your heartbeat grow faster. Gradually getting your vision to stabilize, you noted that it wasn’t the bad lighting of the candles on his table; his fur is actually blue. He wore only a simple trouser, same as you did while imprisoned. Scars made from scratches decorated his face and his hair is stark black. In that candlelit room, he carried eyes that shined curious and wide.

                Just like it always used to.

                Why does he feel like a stranger and yet look so familiar? No. Wait. Your mind pleaded to investigate every fact, but your heart begged to differ. And it hasn’t led you to unwise decisions so far, so what’s the harm in trusting it to bring judgement now? This is not just some desperate yearning for clearance of your past. He knows you—his eyes tell you so.

                So is it him? It has to. He has to be.

 

                Reaching the door of his cell, you stared at each other, loss for words yet fevered to say something. Anything will do, really, but your stupid lips remained sealed in a straight line. You hurriedly opened the cell and stepped in, still jittery but determined. Just when you’re about to pry open your mouth, he takes a seat and balls his fists on his lap, looking you straight in the eye like a dying man.

 

                “Come to kill me at last have you? Thank the gods, I can bear the guilt no longer.”

 

                That is definitely what you expected for an introduction. “Excuse me?”

                “I know I must die. Beware though, my newfound honour demands I protect myself.” The blue fellow spared no time waltzing around the topic. But heaven’s sake, you're not about to bloody your weapon especially when you don't have a strong enough reason to.

                “Wait. Do you know me?” you ask.

                “I am in no mood for jokes. Strike me down! Take your revenge!” He is eager to die for some reason. And at your hands at that.

                Still unconvinced, you prolong the conversation. “I.. Honestly have no idea what you’re talking about.” You let your eyes roam freely, as if a memory of sort would just be lying around on a stranger’s belongings. There're journals and a slightly damaged lute in the room, though. The most notable one would be the dragonfly in a jar which you already assumed is the one he calls Mr. Dragonfly. No clear memory surfaced. Only short flashes of you travelling and fighting beside several people whose names and faces are erased. One of them a khajiit like this one in front of you. “Uhm.. Who are you?”

                “You don’t remember? Ah, that is my fault also.” His voice breaks, “I am your so called friend Inigo. I was the one who tried to kill you—I tried anyway!” he quickly adds before you can say anything else. “I am guilty! Kill me!” the poor thing pleads with desperation. He must have regretted the murder deeply. Oh wait, you’re still alive.

                Leaning your back on the bars, you choose to find out first what actually happened before you decide whether to grant his wish or not. “You didn’t do a very good job did you? Why are you here?” This guy, Inigo, was quick to out himself upon being questioned. “After I shot you I finally realized my mistake and tried to turn myself in. Your body was gone. The guards did not believe me. They said I was wasting their time. I had to pay them to put me in this cell.”

                Now that note about the crazy Khajiit sounded reasonable from a guard’s viewpoint. Everyone’s paying to get out and Inigo pays to stay imprisoned.

                “It is where I belong. I needed to repent. I need to repent.” The trembling in his voice is not made up. He is sentencing himself to death. One thing came into mind that could put things straight. In your stained note it says someone betrayed you, ‘I can ask him if he wrote that as well.’ So you reach for your pouch only to find out you don’t have it anymore. ‘Damn it. Did I left it at the inn!?’ But there’s no turning back now. Getting the story out of him is your best bet.

                “Wait. So... If you thought I was dead, then why are you here waiting for me?”

                Inigo’s ears twitches, eyes were sparked with life all of a sudden. “I heard tales of a remarkable adventurer, both brave and resourceful, matching your description!”

                That can’t be good.

                 “What kind of tales?

                “A Thalmor outpost not far off Ivarstead was destroyed days ago. Then just yesterday, guards were talking about the raid in some fort and how a unique fighter contributed a lot in the success of the battle.” Inigo tells you but you remained silent. This will have to be discussed with Kaidan later. For now, you’ll hear out what Inigo has to say.

                “I knew it was you. It had to be! I knew you were coming for me so I waited. Are you going to kill me or not?” The khajiit straightened his posture, but you could clearly see through the distraught in his eyes.

                Putting aside your troubled thoughts, you refuse him. “Kill you for what? I don’t remember what happened.” You chuckled dryly. The fellow slouches down with a defeated sigh. “I see now that I must relive it again. Your memory is not what it was. We met on a job.”

 

                Kaidan clenches his teeth, unable to reveal himself from his hiding spot yet. The letter looked like a setup to him so he had her go through the main entrance and act as bait. Of course she did not know this was what he had in mind. And if he gets his hand on whoever is luring her in, she will never have to. Passing through the docks and entering the only known hidden passageway to the prison, Kaidan hoped he would catch the sender. But as it turns out, it really was just a meeting. What has him agitated is hearing that there’re news of them already spreading around and this khajiit has it instantly pieced together. Maybe he’s working with the Thalmor to root them out?‘Tsk. I need evidence before jumping in.’ And so the swordsman kept eavesdropping from the floor below.

                Inigo laid out every detail regarding the job they took. They were hired mercenaries by some lord, sent to get rid of his siblings so the lord may inherit all of their parents’ wealth. The khajiit was tempted when this foul lord told him that should one of them die in the mission, the other will get his companion’s reward as well. Admitting that he was hooked on Skooma and had a debt problem, he gave in and tried to kill his companion. Kaidan stood clueless as to why his companion keeps entertaining this person. But he trusts her judgement so far, so he’ll stay his sword.

                “We only knew each other for a short time but I had grown to like and respect you. We got on well and fought bravely side by side.” Inigo spoke with admiration then regret. “..I threw all that away for gold and skooma.”

                The swordsman shakes his head upon hearing that the deal backfired. The lord was killed by his own sister before that Inigo fellow could claim the prize. ‘Such is the tragedy of people succumbing to greed.’ He snorts. The khajiit asks for his death another time, insisting that he wishes to perish with his senses intact. Good. He'll enter the afterlife with honor at least. Kaidan waited for the woman to make the move. If it was him, a swift death will be merciful and if the khajiit turns out to be an enemy, then he'll make sure the cat regrets it.

 

                “No.”

 

                ‘What the bloody hell is wrong with this woman. Just be done with him already!’ Kaidan fumes. He won’t take chances, especially with word about them spreading like wildfire. And with the loss of their horse, their ability of covering great distances are badly reduced to a minimum.

 

                “You’re no good to me dead in this cell.” You tell Inigo. Even after hearing what he did to you, you didn’t find any ounce of hatred or anger for him in your heart. You’re not even sure you recall anything from this ‘Dupan’ job. But he just seems so familiar and you sense the truthfulness in his voice. Despite what he did, you know there’s still a lot of good left in him. Large portions of your memory is missing and broken, and until you piece them all back together, your instincts will take the lead and you will just deal with whatever happens next. Also, if he is as capable as he looks then you just found an ally to help you with future dangers. “Come with me. Fight by my side.”

                “I... fight with you?” The blue khajiit slowly rose up from his chair with hope dawning in those golden eyes.

                You nod your head, taking a few steps towards him. “Yes, Inigo. Pay your debt with the blood of my foes.” It's a bit dramatic but you boldly tell him anyway. The thought of the Dominion coming for your head soon doesn't bring much to be enthusiastic about, though.

                “Or die defending you... Yes! I accept!” His eyes glimmered with optimism, raising his fists in excitement. “I feel lighter in my heart now that you have given me this opportunity! It will be like old times.” It’s hard to deny him a toothy smile when Inigo’s energy is this infectious.

 

                Groaning in frustration, Kaidan sneaks back to the tunnel he came from. It is a lot easier to move silently without his armor—that he won’t ever deny, though he’ll always prefer a skin of steel. Slipping in and out of hidden passages like this is nothing especially when the guards are letting foul plays happen right under their noses. There’s an old ruined wall in the unused prison cell barricaded with only by a few planks. The other side of it leads to a sewer so none of the people here give a damn in keeping this area tightly sealed or secured. ‘They would if they only knew where the sewers led, though.’ Getting his footwear drenched bothered him very little. The swordsman’s main concern is his companion and her new ‘friend’. What the hell is she on? Did she expect to just bring him a stranger and he’ll whole heartedly welcome this odd looking khajiit to join their travels? The last thing they want is someone attracting more attention than the two of them combined. Aside from that, he could possibly be a Thalmor spy just waiting for a chance to slit their throats in exchange of gold. In any case, he’ll have to think of a way to talk some sense into her.

 


 

                “Are you sure you’ll be alright if I just go for a minute or two?”

                “I will be, my friend. I like it here! Don’t worry; I will not wake anyone up.” Inigo whispers at the end.

                Parting with silly grins on both faces, you left your unique and goofy companion to enjoy himself a bottle of mead. Fetching Kaidan shouldn’t be a problem. He’ll be thrilled to know you’ve actually found someone that helps unveil your past even if just a tiny portion of it. Also gaining another able bodied person to help in future complications should reverse his persistent frowning. Finally reaching the room, you come face to face with the swordsman before your hand could even touch that knob. He’d stripped off his armor and also switched pants. Here you thought he’d never think of taking a bath.

                “Oh. Good! You’re here. You won’t believe what I—”

                “Can we talk first?” He peeks out of the room, in search of something or whatever.

                “Yeah, we’ll talk! I’ve been meaning to tell you about-.. woah! Watch it!” To your surprise, Kaidan pulls you inside, not waiting for your compliance, “Just get in here for a sec.” He says and locks the door once you’re in.

                Rubbing your arm, you turn to the man who’s now got his brows knit together in a—you’d never guess what it is—that’s right, a scowl. Surprise, surprise. Maybe those Thalmors did rub off on him in some aspects, but don’t let him catch you say that out loud. “Kaidan, is everything alright?” Is this face a default? You surely hope it is not. His best features come out when his face isn’t all contorted and murderous like that. He exhales through his nose and walks forward. You reflexively back away from the menacing aura he’s giving off but he grabs your wrist.

                “What do you think you’re doing, taking that khajiit with you here?” He growls.

                “How did you..? Wait. You followed me, didn’t you?” Somehow, the thought pokes a tiny hole inside your chest which now stings. Did he just use you as bait? Whatever happened to his trust? How about the little talk you had hours ago, were those lies to get you going as well? “You didn’t trust me?” your voice shakes a little and he seems to take notice.

                His expression softens, loosening the grip on your hand but still maintained a grim tone. “I trust you. I don’t trust this city or anyone living in it. You’ve seen the guards. One word and they’ll sell us out to the Dominion. Even if everyone here hates the Thalmor, if it puts coin in their pockets, they won’t hesitate.”

                “He’s not. I recognize his presence. You know we can trust my intuition.”

                “That doesn’t mean we should be taking our chances like this—” Kaidan stops, seeing you place a gentle hand on his. You look at him with reassurance, knowing those sharp crimson eyes only mean to bring protection.

                “It’s alright, Kai.. I’ve got your back. They won’t take us.”

                The swordsman eases, letting go of your wrist and you cup his hand, lightly brushing your thumb on his calloused skin. He lifts his gaze but instead of hostility, it’s only worry pooling in his eyes now. Worry for you. Kaidan returns your comforting gestures by holding your hand. “And when they find us?”

                “We’ll be ready. Live and learn, right?” You smile softly. Kaidan bows his head as he cracks a subtle grin. “I’ll still keep a close watch on this new friend of yours. You know that right?” He tried to sound stern but his chuckles get in the way. You unlock the door, leading your worrywart of a companion to meet a new friend. “You do what you want. He’ll be your new friend, too.” You send him a playful glance as the two of you reach the stairs.

 

                Kaidan knew there was something about this woman holding his hand the moment he met her. It’s not her fighting capabilities and certainly not her magic. Her wit and attitude is something he liked but what was it that captured him the most? Ah, of course. It’s the spark of hope in her eyes whenever his are troubled. It’s her unexpected yet welcomed kindness taking action when he’s riddled with anxiety. In the past few days they’ve travelled together, he felt more comfort within the light of her presence than he’d experience in a while. Though the concern about the Thalmor is still far from leaving them in peace, he is glad she was the one he decided to accompany. She’s like a candle, shedding light to his thoughts and fending off the darkness enveloping him. She’ll be doing great things. That’s for sure.

                Upon arriving downstairs, the blue fellow greets the two of them with a smile. She calls his name and Inigo meets them halfway, nodding his head as he happily introduces himself to Kaidan.

 

                “Greetings. My name is Inigo. Pleased to meet you.”

Chapter Text

                “You don’t remember your name? What do you mean?” Inigo twitches his ears whenever he’s surprised. It’s quite adorable. You giggle at the face he’s making but to be fair, your tale’s pretty confusing. Even dawn has already arrived.

                “I was hoping you would know but ah, well. As I said, the mage in charge of me used his vile spell to lock away my memories. When he was unlocking it, I tore a hole in his chest.”

                “Yes, but why??”

                You swill your drink before bringing the tankard to your lips. Inigo watches on as you take a lengthy sip. “I don’t know, friend. I only remember what I felt when he was giving them back.” The alcohol keeps reminding you that you still haven’t slept properly. “It was like being in the middle of the ocean and a large wave is but seconds away from swallowing me alive. I was frightened... Really frightened.”

                “And this ‘ocean’... The ocean is the wizard’s magic? You were overwhelmed by the ritual?” he prods on.

                “No...They were memories.” You look at your blue friend sitting beside you. His eyes are brimming with intrigue. “Something inside those memories scared me down to the core.” You said, biting down on your nail. “It’s pretty disturbing to be affected by things you can’t even properly remember.”

                “No, my friend. It is hard to explain maybe, but it is not a crime to feel things. I believe it will come back to you.” Inigo places an affirming hand on your shoulder. “I’ll have your back even after that.”

                “What if I didn’t like what I find?”

                “That’s impossible! You are one of the most amazing people I ever met. I am sure of that!”

                The two of you bursts into cheerful laughter, causing Talen-Jei to warn you about keeping it down as most of the inn’s still asleep. Inigo mumbles an apology and goes back eating the sweetroll you gave him as a treat. “My friend, while I enjoy catching up with you, I am feeling a little uneasy with your companion over there.” He whispers, looking over his shoulder. Kaidan is drinking alone in a corner watching the two of you like a hawk. “Uhm... Kaidan isn’t ready to socialize yet. But he’ll come around.” You mutter, studying the man as well.

                When Inigo introduced himself earlier, he just glared at him and didn’t even bother to tell your blue friend his name as he dismissed him, going straight to the argonian to fix himself some Black Briar. Ever since then, he refused to be accompanied or join the conversation. He hasn’t moved from his seat for the past hour but his eyes are permanently fixed on your table.

                “I understand that his state of mind may still be suffering from being tortured by those bigots. But why is he glaring at me like that?”

                “He’s just suspicious... Well, upon hearing your story, I think. He’d sworn to protect me and... You did say you tried to kill me.”

                Inigo gasps and stands up. “What? Judging people based on their pasts! That’s really unfair.” He exclaims crossed-armed and stomps towards Kaidan. Shit. Maybe try to think of a cover up for your swordsman next time instead of letting the truth out just like that.

 

                His grip on the bottle tightens as the khajiit closes the distance. Very well then. It’s been a while since he brawled, ‘bout time he sees if he’s still in shape.

                “So,” The blue fellow approaches him, “you also owe her a debt, yes? Well, so do I!” He points a thumb on his puffed chest. “I don’t know what your problem is, but I assure you we are on the same side here.” He frowns down at the swordsman.

                Kaidan rises from his seat, taking the khajiit up to a challenge. “Are we? Cuz it’s bloody convenient for you to identify her just from hearsay, eh?”

                “She is the person I remember! I would recognize her smell from anywhere.” the cat turns back to their lady friend, “My friend, something is wrong with this brooding companion of yours. I think he is too paranoid.”

                “Kaidan, calm down! Inigo can be trusted.” You told him off, gesturing at Talen-Jei that you’ll handle it.

                “So he just walks into your life, confesses that he tried to kill you, apologizes, and you welcome him right back without being the least bit skeptic about his motives?” Kaidan fires back at the woman. “He tried to kill you. Kill you for money of all reasons. He’s just like any other cutthroat.”

                “Hey! That was a mistake I deeply regret! I plan to make it up to my friend now that she’s given me the chance.” Inigo’s ears turn back a bit and his tail starts flicking more.

                Kaidan picks up, showing his own agitation with clenched fists and gnashing of teeth as he spoke, “How then? Another arrow aimed at her skull when the Thalmor flashes you a bag full of gold?”

                “Thal-.. You are insane! I would never—”

 

                “Alright, cut it out!”

 

                The building argument ceased upon hearing the tavern door slam open followed by a woman’s voice. Two individuals wearing matching leather armors walk in. Its materials are closely similar and the patterns resemble each other, like a uniform. If they’re not guards, then that means they’re...

 

                “Vex! What are you doing here?” Inigo’s eyes shot wide open in surprise. The woman flicks back locks of yellow hair behind her shoulder. “It’s nice to see some action so early in the morning but we’re here to settle a score.” Her very voice was infused with impatience as it echoed throughout the empty bar. “Please, what is this about? We already paid for this month.” Talen-Jei cautiously approaches only to be blocked by the man accompanying Vex. “Shh. Worry not, friend. We’re only here for business. Like professionals.” The old man tells the argonian and Talen-Jei slowly backs off with weary eyes. “Just take your brawls outside. If you scare away the customers, it’ll affect both our businesses.” He warns and the two strangers shrug in compliance.

 

                “See.” Kaidan scoffs at you. “He’s even a member of the Thieves’ Guild.” He mutters, crossing his arms.

                “That cat? No way am I waking up this early just to talk to some stinky khajiit.” Vex sent a disdainful scowl at Kaidan and Inigo steps back as she walks past them, stopping in front of you. “We’re here because we heard you’re back.” She cups your chin and tilts your face side to side. “Enjoyed the vacation?”

                “Hey, get away from her!” Kaidan protests but Inigo holds him back. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you. Vex and Delvin said they’re only here for business.” He assures the swordsman, receiving nothing but a gruff response as he shoves him off. “Aye. You should listen to the cat, young man.” The old thief, Delvin, approaches them. Kaidan glares at them, analyzing the situation with caution. “The hell do you want with her?”

                Vex lets go of your face and drags you to stand in between her and Delvin, facing the door. “I want her out of my sight if you ask me. It’s Brynjolf who wants to see her.” She scoffs, “New clothes huh? And you fished out a new lover, I see. Think we won’t find out when you strutted in our territory?” Vex riles you up. “I-I don’t know what you’re talking about.” You frantically exchange looks with these two new intimidating faces.

                “Now, don’t take it out on her Vex. I know you’re still bitter about her job at Goldenglow but it did us all good in the end, yeah?” Delvin teases. “You shut it Delvin or you’ll be eating your own boot. He should be here any minute now.” She snaps at him which he responds with a laugh. “Don’t blame him if he’s runnin’ late. Lot of deals going awry these days, it’s a miracle Maven hasn’t cut ties with us yet.”

                The two thieves continued to bicker on for about half a minute before another one opens the front door. A red head man, looking around his late 30’s or older appears, wearing the same uniform as Vex and Delvin. He studies the people in the room as he walks in and you see the fullness of his green eyes when he examines you with astonishment.

 

                “So you’re actually alive, lass.” The man spoke with relief. “You disappeared from our radar weeks ago after your success at Goldenglow. What happened?”

                By now you should be celebrating, seeing as you don’t have to go through the trouble of tracking down the Thieves Guild when they’re handing themselves to you on a silver platter. But to think that you’re actually a member takes things to another twist. You gulp down a lump that wasn’t there before and clear your throat.

                “Sorry.. I-.. Do I know any of you?”

                “This is a damn waste of time Brynjolf. I’ve better things to attend to.” Vex moans in frustration. Brynjolf gestures for her to just wait some more, disgruntling the woman even further. Meanwhile, he sends your companions fleeting glances before asking who they are. “They’re with me. We’re traveling together.” “Together?” Lines form on his forehead, astounded by your answer. “Didn’t expect you to be a sociable type, lass. You just nod, disappear, and deliver ever since bringing yourself in The Ratway.”

                “Wait. Let me get things straight.” Kaidan interrupts, “She’s part of the Thieves Guild?” he asks the man.

                “Officially, aye. Thought you must have already known that, being her companions?”

                Inigo cheers, “That is amazing my friend! So you were also the sneaky thing who slipped in and out of that heavily guarded place and robbed them blind? Incredible!”

                “She is. Quite good isn’t she? But our business is just starting from there. First, we need to know what happened. I know affairs outside guild matters aren’t up for disclosure but we can’t have you disappearing for long like that. We’re short on talent and you’re one of the few people fit for the task Maven wants done.” Brynjolf sounds like he actually cares and not just because it’s about business.

                 “The Thalmor happened.” Even though Kaidan isn’t very approving of the situation, he allowed the discussion to go further. “She got imprisoned with me.”

                The thief looks back at you and him. “This looks like a sensitive discussion. People are about to wake up.” He calls for the other two and signals on Inigo and you as well. “Come down with us to The Ragged Flagon.”

 


 

                Carefully lifting your foot, you try not to step on puddles in broken cements as you make your way to the Flagon. “Well he isn’t wrong. The Ratway sounds fitting.” You murmured at your furry blue companion following Kaidan and Brynjolf who are taking the lead. Vex and Delvin lagged behind, guarding them in case some aggressive hobo decides to cross them. Even down here, the Thieves Guild doesn’t seem to have a nice reputation. The poorest of the poor, thrown and cast out by the world above to this smelly sewer city.

                “A Thalmor spell eh? And she saved you? Well. That’s not beyond her.” You eavesdrop on their conversation. Not like they were trying to be quiet about it either way. Kaidan lays out the things you guys have pieced and matched so far. You are taking up some bounty hunting and happened to be after the same route and target as Kaidan when the Justiciars ambushed the area. Thinking you are in a team, they brought you in as well. He didn’t went into detail about what happened with you and Inigo but he states the two of you probably met some time ago before you joined up the guild. Somehow, it made you feel lighter. Kaidan may not trust Inigo yet, but he respects your decision. You ought to prove him Inigo is here for good reasons.

 

                Making a final turn, your group enters a door at the bottom of the stairs. At the other side resides a spacious area, with a beautiful pool taking the middle spot. ‘If reeking sewer waters are their definitions for a pool, sure, go ahead. I’m not judging.’ You internally laugh at the thought of people lounging in with drinks in their hands. The imaginative train had to be cut short when Brynjolf calls the attention of the people sitting at the bar area. Guess they’re all guild members as well with the way they eyed you with recognition.

                “Well I’ll be damned. She lived and had a wardrobe change.” A woman with almond dark skin approached first. Redguard? “What of the uniform I gave you? I’m not making materials here out of magic.” She ask, but Delvin at the back quickly takes the shot for you. “Probably destroyed. Look we’ll tell y’all. Just sit down and let the kid breathe.”

                “This story better be true or you won’t get an ounce of share, kid.” Growls the only man who remained seated. His tone bordered to being sinister and you could already tell how pissed he is. Poking on Brynjolf’s back, he slightly tilts his head to you. “Uhm.. Is that...?” Your voice falters. The man emitted such an insidious feel. Even looking at his darkened expression makes you want to just cave in and hide. “Aye, lass.” The helpful thief responds, sending you a careful glance. “That’s Mercer Frey, our Guild Master if you haven’t recalled already.”

 

                Already two hours or more had passed just discussing your current state of mind and what happened. When you and your companions entered the guild headquarters, and it’s actually much better than the Ragged Flagon, they stationed around the guild master’s desk while the three of you sat near them. The group consisted of the officers, Delvin, Vex, and Brynjolf. The redguard woman earlier goes by Tonilia, the guild fence. Other members would chime in and have their own discussion about you at the back but was never an actual part of the forum. Mercer leaned on the desk, biting down on an apple and listened intently to your tale. Roughly around noon and they’re still bombarding you with question which you tried to answer to the best of your capabilities. Mercer then finally calls for a break to give you the chance to ask your set of questions. It’s a miracle that they let your two companions sit in the conversation. Of course they stayed silent for the most part, especially Inigo who just joined the party and would just clutch on your bag instead like a child on a trip. Kaidan only spoke to pitch in minor details on your journey together before arriving on Riften, but other than that, his guard is through the roof the whole time.

 

                “Does anybody here know my name?”

 

                For once in the whole straight hours of blabbering and debates, the circle actually fell silent. Even the members at the back seem to have lost their voices.

                “Is this a trick? Didn’t the elves include it in these reports?” Tonilia untangles her legs and slams the Thalmor reports on the small table they dragged with them. The blonde thief rolls her eyes, “I’ve read each paper over and over again, Ton. Her name’s not there. So there you have it.” Vex’s dagger like stares feel like a constant reminder that you did something to upset her. “No one here knows because you’re too occupied to tell anyone.” Her lips curl into a sardonic smile. You can only give Kaidan a clueless tilt at what the snarky woman meant. Inigo seems to be enjoying himself with all the stuff he’s hearing, though.

                “Guess what Vex mean is you’re a hard worker. Also from what I hear, you turn in tasks as fast as you pick them up. Delvin here was worried at first. He thought you were cheating in some ways but the results speak for themselves.” Mercer explained with that guttural voice of his. He wasn’t impressed at all but he didn’t sound disappointed either.

                Speaking of Delvin, the old man’s been murmuring something at the women about you. “Heh. Y’know what I tell ‘em? I even started to fear you were one of ‘em bloodsuckers. Never saw you take your rest at night here. Nearly damn told Brynjolf to give your bed away ‘cuz you ain’t usin’ it at all.” Even the members spectating at the back chuckles. “So anyway, you never stopped by much for mingling either. You take job after job like you’re in a competition. Oh, we all liked that spirit. Completed your tasks almost twice as fast as the others, too. You even ran me out of jobs to give! I had to send you over to Vex. Isn’t that right?”

                “Well, at first I was hesitant of course. My jobs aren’t as boring as the old man’s. So I gave you some jobs from my heist list.” Vex tells you, “But you are a relentless little rat. Just after a few weeks, you moved from sweeping tasks to high profile burglaries and shillings.” Inigo’s mouth is hanging wide enough for you to fit in another sweetroll. Looking over to your right, Kaidan gives you a smirk filled with silent awe. Is this really you?

                Brynjolf scratches his beard, nose deep in the evidence you gave them. “That’s actually what made us notice. I know you’re gonna be great at this job when I laid my eyes on you. That’s why after receiving a call from Maven for that Goldenglow job, we knew you’d be able to achieve what Vex didn’t.” He says, earning an empty threat from the displeased imperial.

                Receiving news of all these new information about achievements and skills you haven’t remembered yet feels weird. It’s like they’re describing a completely different person. “Uhm... Thanks. I guess? What happened after Goldenglow?” you ask.

                “We don’t know. You vanished with all your things. Your share of gold by that time was pretty big so we thought you ran off. We had to send someone else do the following tasks Maven had for us. But since you’re here again, I hope you’re ready to make business, lass.” Brynjolf tells you and you turn to Kaidan who parries your inquiring eyes with his own ‘make-your-own-call’ look. The guild master had other plans, though.

                “She can’t.” Mercer announces and everyone clamoured in confusion.

                “Why not? She’s the best fit!”

                “I know a legitimate Thalmor seal when I see one. Those damn elves are the last thing we want on our backs, especially with our standing in Skyrim.” Mercer shuts down the other members’ protests with one concise explanation. “Yeah, why not just sell her out then.” Vex smugly suggests. That’s a good joke. She’s joking right? Yeah, you should stick to that idea and avoid looking at her convincing face. “You think that’d be smart? We sell our clients, our contacts, our own to the Thalmor and it’s our loss. We don’t want to cross them either but there’s a way to put her talents into profit while keeping low. You, listen to me!” Guild master graces you with his attention and you freeze. Now you know your furry friend is nervous as well, but if he could only just stop swatting your feet with that tail of his...

                “You’re not allowed to take high profile jobs from now on until you shake off the Thalmor on your trail. Until then, do some menial task. Your share will be smaller of course but at least you’ll still earn something.” He says and walks away. “And I assume having your identity be protected and covered for by the guild is more than what you deserve for the amount of time you were absent.” Mercer adds before completely departing.

                Well, that’s an interesting discussion. “I guess quitting the guild will be more trouble than staying.” You look at your companions, both wearing approving looks. Look at the bright side; it’s nice to know you already have a job instead of being unemployed.

                The others start to walk away as well, save for Brynjolf who approaches the three of you. “We’re glad to have you back, lass. Listen, it’s better for all of us to take Mercer’s advice. For now, just try and stick to old Delvin’s paper works. Don’t worry. That means you’ll have more free time for adventuring. But stay in touch.” He says and hands you more pointers as he walks your group out of the Ratway. The man is careful not to say anything unnecessary, though he mentions how he recruited you and something about your first arrival here in Riften looking twice more scornful than Dirge.

                The way they describe you and reports noting on your behavior—it fits each other more than you’d like to admit.

 


 

                “Leave her be.”

                Inigo pauses, sliding back to his comfortable stool at the swordsman’s behest. “She needs our support right now.” He mutters, biting down on a salmon steak.

                Kaidan scoffs softly, “We are supporting her by giving her a break.” His eyes gently follow the ale swirling in his mug. “She hasn’t slept properly since arriving here. Top that with all the things she had to take in after her confrontation with you and the guild.”

 

                Lunch time had just ended when they were back up on the city again. Brynjolf proved to be surprisingly generous for a thief and paid Keerava for their stay until tomorrow. Their lady friend quickly requested solitude upon arriving at the Bee and Barb and locked herself in a room. With the two having nothing better to do at the moment, decided to stay in a room of their own and rest as well. Now it’s dark outside and the woman still hasn’t come out. This worries Inigo.

 

                “It is almost time for supper. One of us should wake her up.” Inigo insists on the man beside him. “Or at least bring her food.” He grumbles chewing on a fish. Kaidan remained silent, still unwilling to talk to the blue cat. Mara forbids he drink in silence after what he had to go through from the past days. It’s like misfortune is stalking him even after his escape. “I know it is hard to trust me; I don’t trust myself most times, too. But I really care for our friend.” The khajiit stands up, carrying his share of stew to deliver it to their companion. “And if you’re just going to let her starve, I won’t.”

                “Do what you want.”

                Inigo’s ear perks up, turning back to the brooding swordsman. He takes a huge gulp, wiping his mouth afterwards, “But just try and harm her, I dare you. I won’t hesitate to kill you.”

                The khajiit didn’t take offense but he told Kaidan with a straight face, “I respect how protective you are and I don’t hold it against you that you’re acting like that. But if ever our friend finds herself in harm’s way, I won’t hesitate either to take her place.” The blue fellow then disappears upstairs, leaving Kaidan to mull over his own thoughts on the situation.

 

                Unless he was hallucinating about meeting the Thieves’ Guild earlier, their options are severely reduced but they can still make it if they play their cards right. He was thankful that they’re on the same side in talks of the Thalmor, but something’s just not right with that Mercer Frey. Brynjolf explained, however, that if the Thalmor takes control of the guild, they’ll be the one in charge and not Mercer. And Mercer doesn’t want the idea of losing authority. They can also have the guild destroyed in a snap and that’s one of the major reasons the thieves want nothing to do with the Dominion, be it as their client or enemy. Given his companion’s proficiency in this line of job, they’re too reluctant to just throw her away—a wise move, given that she’s one of the guild’s top money makers. But the cover up for his companion’s identity is to protect the guild rather than actually her. Means if the Thalmor issue on her becomes a larger threat, Mercer won’t hesitate to get rid of her before they trace anything back to the guild. These notes came from Brynjolf himself and Kaidan can see the man does want to avoid her death. The best he could suggest earlier was to stick on areas with high Stormcloak influence as they are known to show no mercy to Justiciars, spies, or anyone revealed to be working with the Aldmeri Dominion. In days their lady friend’s not given a task, they can refer to the notice board spread across the city and do some fetching to make coins for themselves. Bagging a little game wouldn’t hurt as well. Food stores could always use fresh meats without doing the hunting themselves. Again, Brynjolf made it clear that should they do this stuff that they only do so inside Stormcloak territories. It’ll take for a larger event in Skyrim to turn the Dominion’s eyes before they lay off the investigation on the prison.

                Now regarding Inigo... “Tsk. Can’t just simply leave the city with him sticking with her all the time.” The troubled swordsman murmured to himself. Alright, maybe it was wrong of him to say that to Inigo early this morning. Maybe he’s really a person from her past. Maybe he really does mean well. Still, Kaidan can’t be blamed if he’s having trouble blindly trusting this khajiit. Time can only tell if he’s worthy of that or not and just like his companion told him earlier, they’ll be ready for whatever that comes. He’s not one to judge people based on their pasts, ‘Gods know I did worse in my time,’ the swordsman takes a swig. ‘But the one he tried to kill was her! As if I’m just gonna pass that lightly in m’book.’ The nerve of that fellow to accuse him of not caring for her! He does—quite a lot, in fact. He may not be as clingy and vocal about it but she knows he does care. Their companion can handle her own and is not a child to be constantly looked out for especially when she requires some time for herself. He shows his care for her by respecting her space. Guess that’s just one of the many things where he and Inigo differ from another.

 


 

                Grains of dust polluted the air, forcing a cough out of your lungs; uncontrollably hacking and wheezing before you could muster up the strength to turn yourself aside. ‘Dark.. Dust.. No. What happened here? Everyone... Where’s everyone?!’ Frantic thoughts ran wildly as you regain balance. It’s too dark but you know the house is destroyed.

 

                Find them.

 

                Climbing through the unsteady staircase took forever. Every movement is burdened with an invisible weight. Even running towards the door at full speed made it seem as if the floor is stretching endlessly; mocking your futile attempt to save them. You can’t. You weren’t here and now it’s too late. Someone’s watching.

 

                They found you first.

 

                Door after door, the room didn’t change. Mirrors slowly replaced the walls and tiles every time you enter another one. But it’s the same hallway over and over again, repeating in a maddening loop. Each room, another mirror in this ominous dark. Each hallway a different reflection of you.

 

                Keep running.

 

                Your feet kept moving, exploring the halls and never paying attention to the whispers inside the glass. All of them tried to reach out; all the hushed voices piling into a shrilling wail that chased you into the final door.

                Nothing.

                The mirrors are blanketed with nothing but shadows and its deathly silence. The only other person is standing at the end where a door is supposed to be and coming close reveals it to be a reflection of you. Staring at you with empty sockets, you tilt your head and it follows. Turning your face aside a few times still has it mimic your every movement. But this is not who you are. Slowly reaching to touch her cheek, blood started to drip out of its eyes, weeping louder and louder yet her face is twisting in a contorted smile. You swiftly put an end to the horrifying situation by stabbing your dagger through her head. Cracks branched out like lightning and everything shatters under your feet.

 

                Face your demise.

 

                The stone cold floor catches your fall and the impact leaves your head pounding in pain. The living room. Your fingers touches something sticky on the ground and you catch a whiff of metallic scent upon inspection. ‘Blood...?’ Summoning a tiny light on your palm, a trail of blood smears the tiles and you follow the traces behind a ruined couch.

 

                A woman robed in temple garments laid still in a dark puddle of murky red. She held a sword in hand but her other arm was filled with slashes, some too severe that you could already make out what the white thing in her gaping wound is. In fear of another illusion, you turn away before you hear her raspy voice. “...child.” she said and you drop down to your knees to attend to her. Conjuring up your best healing spell, the woman grabs a hold of your arm. “No...” her faded voice echoed throughout the place but you insisted on healing the dying woman. “Y..our... Ffh..--th ...-er..” she tearfully pleaded. Not understanding her words, you lean down and keep the flow of magic steady. “Y..r... –th..ther...”

                A short gasp escapes your mouth once you realize what or who she is pertaining to. “My... Father?” The woman gives you a lifeless glare. Your pulse starts picking up pace the way it usually does when something’s amiss. Suddenly, her mouth began to expand in a monstrous way and from her demonic screams, blood erupted, showering the lower half of your face with disgusting amounts of it until you couldn’t breathe anymore.

 

                Your body collapses down on the wooden floor, catching sight of your hand casting the healing spell on yourself before you lost track of what’s happening and since when did Inigo arrived by your side.

Chapter Text

          Half an hour had passed after Inigo came back from their companion’s room, failing to draw her out and simply left the food by her doorstep instead. Kaidan stopped chewing on his dinner the moment he heard a loud thud on the floor above—specifically from his companion’s room. His eyes snap to where the cat is only to find him already running across the tavern. Kaidan didn’t let up; shoving other patrons out of the way just to get his hands on him. Both raced for the stairs with Kaidan eventually reaching Inigo and slamming him against the wall. The khajiit wailed bitterly as he tumbles face first on the floor.

 

            “OW! What’s wrong with you!?”

            The swordsman immediately grabbed the furry fellow by his throat, “I’m not asking a second time, what did you put in that stew!?” Kaidan’s vision is drenched in murderous fury—oh, how easily can he break this fool’s neck with just one twist.

            “NOTHING! Look over there! She didn’t even touch it yet!” Inigo cries out, breaking free of the furious man’s grasp as they both inspect the untouched food. “Ugh. Something crashed inside.” Inigo coughs out, rubbing his neck in tender motions as he crawls up in front of his friend’s room. “Wait—She’s wheezing! I can hear her!” His ears twitched fretfully, trying to twist the door handle in vain.

            Without a word, Kaidan kicks the wooden door open, causing Inigo to say something about breaking properties and payment. But the two of them could care less about charges when they saw the woman convulsing on the floorboards and literally choking on her own blood. Inigo proved to be faster, scampering to lift her twitching form in his arms. But Kaidan stood petrified, unable to find what caused this until he saw yellow flickers of light fade from her hand and then it dawned on him.

            “Do you know what did this to her?! HEY!!” Inigo’s panicked cries fell on deaf ears as the swordsman looked on with complete horror.

 

            What did she do?

 


 

            “It’s a good thing you got here as soon as you did.” Maramal approaches two men waiting by the lobby.

 

            Everyone they passed by mirrored the terror plastered in their faces as they rushed to Mara’s Temple. Kaidan hauled their companion over his shoulder, yelling at Inigo to alert the priests as soon as he gets there. The head priest, Maramal, was finally back as promised, and he was quick to attend to their companion, much to their thanks. Inigo couldn’t stand whatever it is he’s hearing while Maramal and some others cure her grave condition, and kept pacing around the room, murmuring things only the khajiit himself could clearly understand.

            The swordsman was in the same spot, elbows on knees and face sinking in hands as a temporary escape from reality, though the distress is amplified by self criticism. He knew she needed to visit the Temple. How in oblivion was he able to forget that!? What a bloody idiot! Kaidan fought the urge to throw himself on a wall and smash his head in until it etches into that brain of his how big of dimwit he’d been. He was so absorbed in his paranoia. Nevermind how much he loathes to admit it; Inigo was right. There’s really something wrong with him. He kept thinking that the biggest threat is just looming around in this city, desperately trying to guard her from possible dangers when their main concern should be and is right in front of them. Her condition is triggered by self casted restoration spells, as far as they’d witness anyway, and is not something a simple priest can just dispel or cure like a common disease. Some kind of other magic is at works here.

 

            The raven haired man lifts his buried face upon Maramal’s arrival and the khajiit hops in within a second. The priest explained that through their skills and praying, they’ve expelled the harmful effects out of her body but the amount of poison in her bloodstream makes it difficult to declare her fully cured. Unless they can make a much stronger potion, their best hope is to find a khajiit caravan on the roads of Skyrim and buy it from them. Maramal offered shelter to their lady friend until then and keep the poison from re-evolving but requested that they hurry as the temple also attends to other patients or couples looking to be married.

 

            “Caravans... I heard a guard telling she bought something from there days ago just as when the khajiit merchants have departed.” Inigo informs the restless swordsman as they exit the building. Kaidan scratches the back of his neck, “If they’ve departed then that means it’ll be weeks before they make it back here. Damn.” Running a hand through his hair, an exasperated sigh escapes him. A gallon of poison cure from this city wouldn’t do if its solution isn’t strong enough. They need a stronger mix is what the priest said. If the khajiit merchants aren’t returning soon and if they can’t make one themselves, then they have to find someone who knows how or sells one. The two agreed the next day to find Brynjolf in the market stalls, seeing as he seemed to be resourceful and had shown genuine concern for their friend as well.

 

            Time moved excruciatingly slow when a life is at stake but the moment the first stall opened up, the two didn’t take long to spot Brynjolf selling some ‘mysterious’ elixir in his booth, and immediately approached him for information. “I see. The caravans will take too long to return. I’m sorry lads. I don’t think even old Elgrim here sell stronger cures as well.” Brynjolf rubs the back of his neck, sending the two men who gave him the news an apologetic look. Hearing what happened came as a surprise to him as well but Kaidan told him that she’d simply caught an infection which they’d overlooked from their travels. The swordsman was aware Inigo knew he’s spouting out rubbish, though for some reason, he impressed Kaidan by actually holding his tongue during the exchange. But even then, had he told the truth, there’s still no way any of them can explain her unusual condition.

            “A common poison medicine would do with the people of Riften as far as I’m concerned. That kind of stuff is most likely produced in harsher environments. Ah.” Brynjolf snaps his fingers, an idea flashes in the thief’s mind. “Closest one may be in Dawnstar. If you’re lucky, you might catch those merchants on the road as well or even a roaming alchemist themselves.” He tells them, advising them to take a carriage and also assuring them that they’ll keep an eye out for any possible Thalmor spies lurking about. Having confidence in the nord’s word, the two men set about on their journey, but not before making a final visit on their still unconscious companion.

 


 

            It was the blurry specs of light slowly washing off the darkness you’ve fallen into that first caught your attention. ‘What in oblivion just happened?’ It wasn’t dark like night. More like... buried underground kind of dark. You recall figures, illusions, faces that make your skin crawl to no end. They were meaningless to you now though you knew they were your memories to begin with. But until then, they’ll remain in dreams that relentlessly haunt your sleep. Warmth slowly crept from your chest that spread onto your limbs, letting you breathe with much more ease, and you allow yourself to sigh at the comforting feeling. It’s just like when the lady freed you of those chains. Wrapped in the safe embrace of her light. Little by little the numbness of your body fades and you feel the invisible weight disappear as the blinding light forces your eyes to squeeze open.

 

            “Ah, thank the Divines. You’re awake at last.”

 

            You screw your eyes shut in reflex, adjusting your vision and blinking in utter confusion at the woman currently hovering a healing spell over your torso. Letting your eyes have a look around, you immediately note that this is not inside the inn anymore. Based from the indoor design, amount of empty beds, and robes these people wear, it is safe to assume you’re in a temple. Although you must admit, this waking up to different places every time you close your eyes is starting to get in your nerves. While waist deep in thought of whether to learn a shock rune or not for “security” purposes or even bother sleeping at all, the healer finishes her work and excuses herself to have someone bring in some tea to better combat your ailment. What the bloody hell was that person talking about? “But I’m not sick. I just took a rest and then I-.. Is that blood on my coat? Again?” Your mumbling came to a halt upon recognizing the dark leather sitting on your bedside. Lost and surprised, your mind races with queries of what could possibly be the reason why you’re wearing brown robes again and why does this temple apprentice sound so depressing as she rambles about the poison in your body while handing over your tea.

            “Sorry. Where are my manners! My name is Jade. Or at least I go by that name. It’s not a secret in this town that I used to be part of the Thieves’ Guild.. Ah, but that was years ago!” She sighs then clears her throat, “I-I trailed off, geez. Forgive me. I brought that up because I knew I saw you before. You’re one of the guild’s new recruit aren’t you?” Wow. She knows just how to start a conversation. No, you absolutely do not mind people here rubbing it in your forgetful face that you’re a thief. Even the guards acknowledge you as an official one and even lets you operate right in front of them. Does that make your robberies legal? Wonder if the guards will arrest you if you’re thieving activities lack license.

            “So uhm, what I meant is Mara’s love can and will suffice more than—”

            “JADE.

            You put a stop on the woman’s incoherent blabbering about leaving old ways and embracing Mara’s love. She really needs to work on that shaky voice if she is bent on being a priest. Needs some work on how she preaches as well but that’s her problem to mind. Shaking off these distractions, you focus on things that matter. “Where am I? Mara’s Temple in Riften?” The woman nods her head and reaches something bellow your mattress. “In fact, those two gentlemen who brought you in left your bag and weapon here before they departed not more than two days ago.”

            All the stars in existence cannot deny standing witness as you choked on the news and spurt out a mouthful of green tea, like mammoths do with their snouts. “Oh! Oh my, are you alright?” Jade places the dagger on your bed and quickly fetches you a hand towel. In between coughing and wiping your face clean, you ask the woman through short breaths where the two of them went. ‘To find a cure that will exterminate the poison in your veins’ is what she said. Hah! Nice try sister. ‘No idea’ is what her face screamed. This is pointless. Two bloody days?! Feeling your patience border its limits, you leaped out of the bed with all your belongings, paying no mind to her request that you wait for them instead, and dashed out to equip your armor.

 


 

            Bumping open the tavern door, Kaidan slowly raised his shoulders, taking in a deep breath and letting out a sigh overflowing with exhaustion and discontent. It’ll be their third night on the road.The first night was spent on Vernim Wood, just north of Shor’s Stone. On the second night they stopped by Kynesgrove. Tonight they’ll be staying in Nightgate Inn and will leave at first light. For all he knows, that’s already fast given they came all the way from Riften. Of course, one should not miss the fact that they’d spent a huge chunk of their remaining gold hiring a private carriage which basically means a faster service. But with his companion’s life in line, this is already taking too long for him. While Brynjolf wasn’t kidding when he said it’s easy to forget the existence of the Dominion in Stormcloak territories, he seemed to have forgotten about the damned Frost Trolls and Sabre Cats apparently partaking in the patrols on the northern roads. Though they appreciate the number of hunters and guards keeping the roads clean and safe, they need to take care of whatever’s causing these wild creatures to wander on the main paths. Obviously, the guards haven’t figured that out yet much less paid attention to as they’re all so invested in waiting to bathe their steel with Legionnaire or Thalmor blood.

 

            “Okay. Okay. I get that she can read it. But I have just one more question. How come she can read it but not translate it?”

 

            For the love of Nine, of course. Of course. How can he ever forget that Inigo’s travelling with him when this chatterbox keeps buzzing with idle chitchats left and right? Kaidan didn’t had trouble convincing the blue khajiit to go with him when Inigo was the first one to voice out his determination to find that medicine, good weather or not, for his friend. This also worked for the swordsman as he didn’t want to leave his companion in the care of someone he didn’t fully trust yet. He didn’t trust the Thieves’ Guild either but her reputation in the guild makes her an asset which they can’t afford to lose along with their declining ‘business’. That’s another thing that’s got him in jitters and anxious on speeding up the journey as much as possible.

 

            “That had us both puzzled as well. But I didn’t push her that night. This is my search to make. I can’t go around demanding other people to solve these cryptic elements for me.” Kaidan replied and Inigo gave him an assuring remark as they sat by the fire.

 

            Over three days of sharing the back of a cart with no one else to interact with but each other, he had grown to tolerate the khajiit’s presence. At first, his idle chattering is annoying, it still is, but it is thanks to these nonstop commentaries that he discovered of the cat’s daily struggles of winning against his old habits. Kaidan, despite being the most skeptic on the khajiit, wasn’t able to deny Inigo’s sincerity as he talked about on their second day of journey the things that led him to skooma addiction, to the Dupan job, and how much he regretted trying to kill their companion.The swordsman was no stranger to regret and screw ups. And he knew all too well the eyes of someone tired from being haunted by their pasts.

            Eyes of someone tired from battling with their demons.

            That night in Kynesgrove, he could barely sleep soundly. Inigo’s story had his late night thoughts swarmed with his own share of bad life decisions. ‘Bad’ would be an understatement but he didn’t wish to dwell more on his past. Though speaking of which, he contemplated the way he treated Inigo on their first meeting, and only then realized that he might have acted in such a way not because he was seeing the strange looking khajiit as a threat but because he was desperate to avoid attracting attention. Knowing the Dominion has planted spies almost everywhere didn’t help quell his slowly growing paranoia either. That and ever since the prison, he and the lady always shared in making decisions, so it wouldn’t harm anything but his ego to admit that he felt a bit betrayed when she invites Inigo without his knowledge. But things are different now that he finally snapped out of his clouded thinking. Will he trust him with her life, though? Not yet, but does he trust Inigo to honor his words? He does.

 

            “When we get back, maybe we can all visit a library or find a book merchant. See if there’s anything useful out there that’ll give me a hint or two.” Kaidan tells Inigo.

            The cat wasn’t nosy when it was Kaidan’s turn to share this morning, but he paid attention enough to stretch this conversation until evening. How does Inigo even do that? Kaidan could already feel his throat dry just by listening to him theorize different scenarios for his past, both serious and silly ones.The swordsman planned to keep his stories short but by Ysmir, the khajiit is a talkative one. He almost couldn’t get a word in once the blue cat opens his mouth and have delightful banters with the coachman regarding the travels Kaidan made across Tamriel.

 

            She would have loved that. She wasn’t a talker like him but he knew she would enjoy it when people involved are as joyous as Inigo.

 

            Going back to their current topic, Inigo happily lays out different tasks they can all do together once they get back, Thalmor-slaying being one of those and as much as he’d love to break some Aldmeri skulls, fishing the attention of the Dominion would bring them no benefits.

            The two continued to banter on for the rest of the evening, with Inigo doing most of the talking as Kaidan enjoys his mead. He didn’t miss the way Inigo’s tone would hush down and drip with worry whenever he mentions anything concerning the state of their companion. The swordsman shares the same sentiment. It’s been days since they last saw her and even if he would never openly admit it like the blue khajiit, he does miss her, too. It’s not just because he’s indebted to her that keeps him from leaving. Was it because she didn’t abandon him when she could easily have? Perhaps. But he knew his attachment to her isn’t purely out of obligation.

 

            The same goes with Inigo. He was on the verge of losing his mind and even accepted his death on that day but she didn’t take his life. She had him keep it for whatever reason he’s yet to find out. It mattered little to him. She had given him a chance to fight by her side again. Prove the honor he finally found. Now is that time. What kind of friend is he if he would rather just sit and feign concern while his friend could be gurgling out blood again? If the gods exist, he only hopes they can hear his prayers each night and morning. Part of him wishes to just stay by her side until the swordsman gets back, but another part of him wouldn’t let him stand idle knowing he can do something to rid her of that poison. It’s just another day until Dawnstar. His friend is strong and stubborn against death, as demonstrated by his arrow. Despite the gruesome state he’d found her three days ago, Inigo’s faith is unshaken. She’ll be there when they come back, he knows this.

 

            “Excuse me? Have you two gentlemen got a moment?”

 

            The two men stopped talking, or rather, Inigo stopped his monologue about his repugnance on trolls as he and Kaidan looks up at the woman who approached them. She was lightly geared, wore thick gray winter clothes, and had her pale blonde hair fixed in two thin braids. It was quite late for a traveler, let alone a woman, to wander the snowy plains of The Pale.

            Reluctant to interact with others, the swordsman turns back to his meal sending a glance at the khajiit to take care of whatever inquiries she may have. “Can we help you…?” Inigo, being the one sitting closer to the woman took it upon himself to save Kaidan the trouble of speaking to another stranger; lest he accuses them of being another Thalmor spy.

 

            “Yes. Yes, oh please do. My name is Vilja. I came all the way from Dawnstar on foot!” The woman introduced herself, yammering quickly about the difficulties of travelling at nightfall without a horse and so on but what caught the red eyed man’s attention is the mention of their destination. “I was hoping to earn a bit more before travelling again but every business there seemed skeptic to let an outsider like me to work under them. Why, we people from Solstheim are just as much of a nord as they are!” She exclaims and Kaidan could only wonder since when did she and Inigo are seated so close like gossiping housewives. “Then this old lady said she’d let me work under her and might teach me some bit of training if I wanted, as long as I retrieve something her late husband failed to find.” Vilja gushes at Inigo who looked so invested in this conversation. “After putting those in my bag, she marked the cave here on my map but I don’t feel so sure delving in there alone. I was hoping you can come with me, you both look so capable.” The nord lady pleads the both of them, earning mixed reactions. “I know I sound desperate. And sure, working in an alchemy shop would be boring. You see, I came from a family of alchemists, but I don’t mind Frida’s offer so long as I can get paid. I just need to get that item and—”

            “Hold on.” Kaidan interrupts them. “You’re an alchemist?” He asks, easily catching the way Inigo’s ears twitched in realization.

            “The girls in my family are. I should be as well, though never seem to get the hang of it since I was always set on being a bard.” Vilja clasps her hands ready to take off to another rail of topics that has little to do with what she wants to point out. Inigo quickly notices Kaidan shaking his head in defeat and getting up. “Hey. Where are you going? Was it something she said?”

            Kaidan didn’t respond in the same brash manner he displayed on their first days together. Instead he just finishes his drink and took the bread from his dinner, never once meeting their eyes before he started walking away. “You should get some rest soon. We’ll depart at first light, Inigo.”

            “But wouldn’t we want to help her?”

            “HELP HER? Are you mad?!” It’s a good thing most patrons have gone home or are asleep. Inigo and Vilja didn’t expect him to raise his voice so suddenly. “Our companion’s back in Riften sick and unaware we left her. We’ve talked about this! You’ve seen what the poison does to her and she may be suffering from it again at this very moment and all you want to think about is helping some woman you just met?!” Kaidan ridicules them. “Here I was starting to think you might not be as bad as I initially thought. Was I wrong?”

            Luckily, Inigo has a surprising amount of patience for this brutish paranoid who didn’t even paid attention to Vilja’s story. “Lower your voice big guy, before the owner kicks us out.” He presses a furry finger up his mouth and eases a nervous Vilja. “Now I hope you got that all out of your chest and make sure you listen this time. I don’t know what happened to your hearing capabilities earlier, but as Vilja mentioned, that old alchemist gave her a portion of her strongest antidote and cures to combat the wild creatures that could be residing inside the cave.”

            Kaidan’s annoyed expression was immediately replaced with bafflement. “What?”

            “You heard him. Frida gave these to me to bring aid in the task she gave.” The lady searches through her satchel, bringing out several tiny vials containing liquid which the swordsman recognizes to be exactly the same with all cures in apothecaries. Vilja’s not fooling around, these are all authentic. All three of them stared in joint silence at the items before Kaidan attempted to utter a word.

            “Ah, ah. I suppose that’s enough. You do sound like this companion you speak of is very dear to you. Let’s make a deal.” Vilja quickly catches on first now that the negotiating table is open. “I need help in getting that ring. You need lady Frida’s strongest medicines for your companion. You know where this is going.” She shares a nod with Inigo. “Look, I want to help but I need help first. I won’t even need these if the two of you can keep me unharmed! Then I’ll gladly give these for free afterwards and we all go home accomplished. Please, mister.” The woman flashes him her best pleading face.

            Even Inigo is confidently buying into this. “What do you say? If we do this fast, we can go home sooner.” He enthusiastically backs her up. Running up his hands down his face reveals the faded red tattoo on Kaidan’s righter side of his forehead stretching down just above his jawline… and a drained expression.

            “Alright. Where’s this damn cave?”

 


 

            Somewhere on the snowfields of the Pale, just before the break of dawn, a Nordic Ruin lied open, burial urns and chests looted and robbed. Bones of the undead scattered about from the ruin’s stone grounds to the white blanket outside, and upon further looking, one hapless elf finds his back on the snow, a hand and boot pinning down his arms. The only thing he can do is take a sharp breath and look into the striking blue eyes of the woman above him as she holds a dagger against his neck.

 

            “I feel like we should get acquainted properly. What’s. Your. Name.” You growled, pressing the dagger just a little bit deeper until he winces and you feel him gulp down, pulse racing.

            “Rumarin.” The high elf croaks out.

            “I've gathered a bit of bounty just to get here, Rumarin. That sword is pure ebony. Where did you get it?”

Chapter Text

            Cold winds gust through the fields of white, giving any travellers of the Pale a fair warning of what awaits them should they continue without proper gear. For a professional adventurer like Rumarin, acquiring said gears is the natural thing to do; except he is short on money at the moment and have travelled across three cities only to find their notice boards emptied of fetching tasks. There are plenty of other quests put up by the government, but there’s no way in oblivion he’ll be taking on bandit camps by himself. So the high elf goes back to what he does best next to being insufferable—grave robbing.

            Rumarin had his eyes set on a certain Nord Ruin when he arrived at Dawnstar’s port days ago. The target place conveniently leads to his friend’s home in Windhelm, too. Maybe he’ll crash at his place for the meantime and make some coin in Windhelm. Trudging the snowlands under the stars weren’t this blissful in his memory, though that might have something to do with his memories of braving the winter breezes after dark being all during snowstorms. In any other case, may it be heavy snow or not, the high elf followed through with his plans of scavenging the ruin. ‘Yorgrim’s Overlook’ is what the locals call it. And before someone even attempts to dissuade him, no, he has absolutely no idea of the place’s history nor is he interested in knowing about it. He just wants to put some coin in his empty purse while everyone and their cousins or dogs or whatever are still asleep. It was never too early to loot some graves; if anything, it’s actually the perfect time, if not for all the wolves littering around during the dark. But sure, he can afford to break a sweat if it means he’ll walk away with full pockets. Bears, trolls, wolves, hell—even Ice wraiths, bring it on; just not all at once. Rumarin was more than confident with his conjuration skills and is fully prepared to face one of these spiteful beasts. What he was not prepared for is to come across a much more horrifying creature in this unforgiving cold.

 

            A woman.

 

            A loud woman.

 

            A loud woman running towards him.

 

            Oh no. The high elf turns on his heel, ready to sprint until he understood what she’s saying in those pitiful cries.

            “WAIT, PLEASE SIR! Oh, thank gods there’s an adventurer this early!”

            The woman slows down a few feet away from him, her twin braids bouncing in sync as she gasps for air. She looks like a ginormous, breathing cotton ball hunched over like that, wrapped with winter garb from head to foot. Not to mention her loud panting only makes this huge cotton imagery in the altmer’s mind more frightening.

            “Y-you’re an adventurer, right?” She warily meets his eyes and Rumarin, not wanting to be found out of his harmless ‘looting activities’, willingly plays along. “Yes... Of course. I’m just.. About to help some villagers actually. Heh. That’s right. I am, in fact, on the way back to the mill.” What other choice did he have? Also, the woman seemed to be very troubled. She’s got dirt all over those furs and she reeks of that foul smell usually present in burial chambers.

            A bright smile blooms in her face, relief showering her expression. ‘Now if it can only shower that scent as well...’ The frantic lady suddenly slides down something behind her back, revealing it to be a sword made of ebony materials. “I knew so. Please, I beg of you!” She says as panic starts to seep in her tone. “You have to help me. I asked two people to help me retrieve something in that cave but I was the only one who got out unharmed from there.” Her shaky finger points somewhere from where she emerged. “The ones who helped me are still trapped inside. I don’t know how fast I can call for help but you can do something to assist them in the meantime. Here!” She shoves the weapon to his chest and the baffled elf is lagging behind trying to process where this conversation is going. “Inigo told me to protect myself with it on my way back but I know you’ll make better use of it. I promise I’ll give you all my savings, just please help us out, brave adventurer!” the woman cries out.

            “I...”

            “Oh thank you! Thank you a million times! I promise to come back as soon as possible!”

            And just like that, the headstrong stranger disappears out of sight within seconds. It took about a full minute of gawking at the sword before Rumarin fully comprehends what the woman wanted him to do. Treading carefully the high elf finally reaches the cave that hasty woman wants him to look in to. “So her allies are in there? Huh. She must be twice as daft as I am to think they’d survive inside that crypt. Locals call it “Forsaken Cave” for obvious reasons.” He mutters to himself. That place is probably crawling with Draugrs and their eternal groaning. Grave robbing is only convenient when you’re just looting urns outside. Stepping into the actual crypt in small numbers is suicide. Even if those two people are still alive, who’s to say Rumarin will come to their aid? The high elf wipes the dirt off the sword’s hilt with his robes and smirks instead. “And who’s going to stop me if I don’t?” Chuckling, the altmer walks away, grinning proudly as he carried with him an item worth over five hundred septims.

 

            Today is his lucky day.

 


 

            Taking things back a bit after you stormed out of the temple, your feet immediately brought you to your recruiter’s elixir booth.

 

            “You surprise me, lass. I was about to send someone over and bring you this extra pie I got.”

            “Thanks Brynjolf. But did you perhaps caught wind on my friends’ whereabouts?”

 

            The nord thief could only stand in confusion as you marched over his stall in the middle of the day and immediately fired a question you should know the answer to. Brynjolf places down the pie he’d carefully wrapped up and scratches the side of his cheek. “While I’m glad you’re walking again, I’m afraid I don’t know.” He puffs out, “Although I pointed them out to Dawnstar for the cure, I can’t guarantee they followed through it all the way.” the man combs back auburn locks invading his face.

            “Dawnstar?” You cross your arms. “That’s way up North!”

            “Aye, lass. Sorry. Other than that, got no idea where else.”

            Muttering a simple thanks to Brynjolf, you snag the apple pie and went to the city gates.

 

            It didn’t take an hour before one of their fellow thieves paid him a visit.

            “Sapphire.”

            Brynjolf acknowledges the dark haired woman’s presence, not once taking his eyes off the bottles he’s wiping clean at the moment.

            “Thought you’d like to hear while things at the stables are still hot with the disappearance of a horse.” Sapphire remarks, and the man catches her drift in a heartbeat.

            “Figures. Didn’t expect her to set off so soon, though. But she’s always been fast and unrelenting since her first day.” He tells her. “Is that so? You better keep her in check, then. I like her spunk but that don’t mean Mercer favors this ‘unrelenting’ attitude of hers.” Sapphire successfully earns Brynjolf’s full attention this time and made sure to hold down his gaze. “Mercer appreciates an over achiever but not a challenger. Don’t let her die.” With a half smug grin on her face, the woman departs, leaving Brynjolf with something to think about.

 


 

            Huff

 

            The skies have turned purple and the shadows have towered over the roads now. It’s a good thing you’re lightly packed or you would’ve fallen off the stolen horse once those wolves replaced the guards previously pursuing you. Taking a slight detour to the woods, you easily silence them with ice spikes, granting you and the steed a short break. It’s amazing how long these creatures could run. It’s been hours since you lost the guards and the horse hasn’t even slowed down. Though you suppose it was exhausted galloping your arse away from Riften with the way it empties the pond of its waters. Soon enough, you re-emerged on the main roads near the city of Vernim Wood. A city is a good sign. It says you’re out of the Rift now. Your bounty for horse stealing won’t carry out here and you’re still on time to gather supplies. It means a new inn, a new bed, a new place to relax to.

            It means a new stable.

 

            Huff

 

            Winds are getting more and more freezing here. You see the soils of Eastmarch starting to turn white under the moonlit path as you ride further north. An arrow flies past your right, though you suppose that one’s aimed for you. “Hyah!” Your new and, without a doubt, illegally acquired steed picks up speed as you make a turn up ahead to the forestry, hoping that the mist will take their vision off you. The thick fog proved to be enough cover. Thankfully, no wild creatures or hairy spiders seem to be lurking around these parts. After some time of travelling on foot, the horse’s uneasiness becomes increasingly more apparent for some odd reason as you walk through the slopes, forcing you to go back to the roads in order to not lose your ride.

            “Are you serious? What if they see us soon?” You bitterly whined at the horse who didn’t say a thing. Taking a quick review of your locations on the crumpled map you swiped back in Vernim Wood, you marked down the city of Windhelm as your next stop. “Good. We’ll stop shortly at Kynesgrove but we can’t stay there. I’ve got a bounty now here in Eastmarch so I gotta keep moving, understood?”

            The horse nickers in response.

            Good. At least it knows what you’re talking about. Since when did you start talking to animals anyway? Oh well, that’s better than torturing yourself nonstop over your missing companions. You’ve been riding for almost half a full day, braving dangerous shortcuts and whatnot, risking little breaks outside civilizations due to the bounty you’d slowly built up from stealing horses… pfft. Stealing horses. You’re a horse trader not a horse thief. You borrow a horse and exchange it secretly for another one in the next town. They’ll get their horses back alive and well. Eventually. Ah, yes, the joy of adventuring. All this trouble and you still can’t find a trace of those two jerks.

            Just when you think you’re getting about to start on something good and productive, those two buffoons suddenly sets out without you. You understand it’s because you were currently recovering from an… ‘episode’? “Hmm. Pretty sure Kaidan straight up lied to the priests ‘coz both of us don’t have an explanation for whatever happened to me before the bandit raid.” You explained to the steed. “My point is, they could have sealed me in a cart so they can take me with them, at least...” you pause, “Wow I sound like an obsessive and desperate loser.” Sighing away those words, you change the topic before your mind uncontrollably hops into a rabbit hole of depressing thoughts. “Tell you what, I’ll trade you off in the next city so don’t worry. You’ll be safe.” You reach down and brush its hair and all of a sudden, the steed grunts as if in pain or distress. At first you thought it was something you did but hearing distant snarls puts you on immediate alert as well. Clicking your tongue, the steed dashes away, and whatever it is chases after you, their noises turning to monstrous growling that echoed through the dark. Keeping the horse at a steady pace, you look back and frustration rises, only being able to see figures on your trail. It was still in the dead of the night and everything’s covered in cloudy mist. For sure, these guards wouldn’t know how to release such a horrendous noise from their very human throats and neither would bandits, right? The steed is visibly terrified as well; something behind you is out for blood on reasons you can’t even tell. Further into the mist, you swallowed hard, expecting to get thrown or blasted off any second now and as you push on, something shiny flashes in front of you. Evading on instinct, the shiny thing zooms inches away from you and pierces something else at the back.

 

            fwip!

 

            Was that silver? Another projectile shoots at your direction, the thick fog masking its source while it makes thin whooshing sounds. Another two flies past you, then three, then you hear the snarling creature whine and cease its guttural noises. ‘Wait! They’re not aiming at me!’ Speeding up ahead, you trust the steed to take you where it’s not threatened, galloping for dear life until the fog starts thinning out. Finally, you get a glimpse of the people shooting those silver bolts.

            “MOVE IT QUICKLY, TRAVELER!”

            A hulking orc yells at you and you heed his call, not even slowing down to take a look behind what the ruckus was all about. All you knew was they wore a special looking uniform and were all armed to the teeth with silver.

 

            After you made it to Kynesgrove, the creepy scenario still hadn’t left your mind and you decided to actually stay the night until you saw several soldiers running to your direction. You swiftly hid behind the building, getting lucky enough to overhear some of the guards’ remarks.

 

            “Where are these damn vampires coming from?”

            “It’s a good thing those vampire hunters are around.”

 

            Nothing in that moment has made your hair rise more than learning of the creatures pursuing you about an hour ago. Suddenly becoming nervous of your surroundings, you decided to keep pressing forward; unable to feel safe with the settlement’s lack of walls. “I know we’re both tired, bud. Just a bit more. Remember my promise?” You ease the horse and it seemed to have worked. “Kynareth guide my path.” Trembling lips whispered a prayer in the cold wind, not even remembering which divine that name belongs to.

 


 

            Regret flooded your thoughts each time your boots sunk in the snow. ‘Should’ve stolen a thicker coat’ is the phrase that kept repeating in your dry mouth. After trading the horse for several coins and a special free mug of tea to fight the cold, you dropped the plan of borrowing the nice elf’s horse and decided to take his advice to stop by the wood mill for a rest. With fortune on your side, you found an abandoned tent not far from the mill and a usable campfire. You rested those tired limbs of yours for about an hour, working on a new plan now that you’ve given away your only mode of transportation.

            “I’ll come up with something.” You muttered, repeatedly rubbing your linen wrapped hands together before bringing it up to your face. “I’ve been saying that shitty line for hours! Argh!” you cried out in absolute vexation, instantly covering your mouth upon noticing the sun still hasn’t risen yet. Journeying from the Rift to the Pale in less than a day? That’s a damn good record not worth risking your life for. Crossing that distance without a full preparation or even backup plans, you scoff at your own idiocy. But if you die here, Inigo and Kaidan would have travelled for nothing. No, you must continue. Just follow the roads. Follow the roads. You haven’t even slept yet and you’re still just beginning to get accustomed to stretching your stamina like this. Well it’s a bummer but with all the luck you had all day, it ain’t surprising that it’s finally drained. You wearily trudge on, keeping to the roads and making the most of what’s left of your water with only a tiny ball of light from your palms to guide your path. Up until a few minutes of walking hopelessly, was it only then you saw something moved from afar. To oblivion with this mist. Bah. That’s probably your eyes playing tricks on you. Or is that...? You lower your stance and dismissed the light, carefully closing in to the moving figure you spotted. Thank the gods for the clear sky and bright moon tonight; it was that of a woman running away—and she’s pretty loud. You wait for the person to disappear into the winter fog before you deemed it safe to investigate what she was running from or where she’s running to.

            “Please don’t be a vampire.. Please don’t be a vampire...” You stepped as light as you can, though the snow makes it hard not to leave footprints. The main plan was to just peek whether she’s got company or not and try to tiptoe around unseen, but by spotting another pair of fresh boot prints facing the other direction, your eyes willfully follows until you slowly bring yourself in front of a cave. The marks didn’t seem to lead inside the dark tunnel. Instead it led further up the side of the hill, where you could trace out a silhouette of a ruin. Approaching halfway, you caught wind of a battle occurring not so far as you heard enraged yelling. Without a second thought, you turned around to get away until you realize the yelling person is getting louder and nearer. You spin in an instant and back away, evading the robed man in time as he runs past you. For a moment, you thought you’ve been overlooked and heaved a sigh of relief.

 

            “Hey! Are you just gonna stand there?! Help me!”

 

            Jumping back from the sudden call, you only realized he wasn’t running away but putting distance with his enemy—two moving skeletons. ‘Am I dreaming? What in bloody Nirn is this?’ You confusedly tilt your head at the approaching bone as it raises the war axe on its hand and prepares to strike you. Reacting quickly, the blade hits the stone instead as you yelped and tumbled over the robed man’s direction. Hand on your dagger, your attention got easily fished by the bright purple light growing in his hands. He’s using magic. Whatever spell he’s casting is making a loud thunderous noise and honestly taking too much time, so you took your chances and threw a fireball, tossing one a few feet back. Turning back your attention back to him, your eyes widened with awe as his magic formed into a physical and very ethereal looking bow, bound to the very palm of his hands. His other hand takes out an arrow from literally nothing and shoots the closer one down. You would have voiced out how amazing it was to witness it up close until your eyes latches on to the familiar sword slinging on his back.

 

            Rumarin manages to shoot the other one that got blasted away, thanks to his naturally fast mana regeneration and the human’s handy fireball. “Whew. That scared the wits out of me. Thanks for the help.” The elf turns to the woman and was confused as to why she’s giving him a death stare. “…Is there a problem?”

            “The sword. Where’d you get that?” She clenches her jaw, losing composure by the second.

            His figure tenses, inching the sword away from view. “O-oh. This. Ah.. It’s actually an imitation. Hopefully it’ll pass off as a warning to those ugly bandits. Heh.” The nervous elf tried not to get intimidated by that sharp look to his best but kept backing up slowly from the woman.

 

            “I don’t have time for lies. Hand it over.”

            “Oh. You’re one of them? Listen, I’m sorry about what I said. I take it back..! You’re not-.. You’re actually quite beautiful. Wait, I meant that as a.. as-..well, you know. Er..” The person chuckles nervously and recomposes himself. “Right. Now it makes sense who’re those people waiting behind you.” He moans in defeat.

            You instinctively flipped around; ready to deal with whomever it is he pointed out to, only to find the distant cave and no other traces of life nearby. “Wha.. Damn you.” You growled under your breath as you turned back and chase after the man running towards the ruin. Tired and at the edge of your patience, you did your best to hop through this snow but the person had longer legs and more stamina, and a very annoying way of taunting you like you’re a brainless idiot. ‘Alright. That’s it.’ Pouring all your focus in a single spell, your magic lifts him up from the ground and with one smooth gesture, forces the person to hit the ground. He groans out sharply from the impact; bet that hurt bad with the sword digging on his unprotected back when he crashed. You arrived but not fast enough so you made a leap and threw yourself at him soon as he was able to get up on one knee.

 

            “Urgh-! I.. I don’t think this is.. Appropriate—we haven’t even met yet!” Rumarin grumbles, struggling to break away his legs from the woman’s tight grasp. Bandits sure are desperate. Her strength’s flickering in and out and she looks deprived of sleep, which works for him because he can’t put his mind to conjure anything with her continually trying to tangle their limbs together. Once he got an opening, he pulled his leg off and didn’t hesitate to introduce his boot to her face, sending the hostile woman tumbling back. “Ha! Take that!” Rumarin cheers in triumph. He may not be outrageously skilled in physical combat but he knows a thing or two. But the stranger wasn’t quite done yet. Staggering as she gets up, the woman doesn’t even bother to wipe off her leaking nose and brandishes a dagger from underneath her bag. Kind of an inconvenient place to hide it unless she’s got fast hands—SWISH!

            By Syrabane, she does.

 

            ...Swish! ...Swish!

            How Rumarin was able to dodge all of those is beyond him. “Hey-! You know, I really like aggressive women.. huph! But I.. think..” He huffs, evading and ducking, rolling over behind her as she continues on her frenzied swings. “This is being a bit too aggressive for my tastes!” He shrieks as the blade barely scratches his face. The lashing’s lack of accuracy is obviously due to exhaustion. But she’s showing a pattern in her moves and not just mindless slashing—he’ll have to give her that. Just until then, he could’ve sworn he saw the corner of her lips twitch up when he ducks. Her knee connects with his jaw in an instant and the high elf was tossed back like a basket of apples, his back against the freezing snow. Gold coins and other loots scattered about but made minimal noise on this thickened field.

 

            “You’re quite a talker aren’t you...”

 

            Weight presses on his stomach and he knew this is it for him. Both arms are pinned beside him and unless he can perform some incredible acrobatic stunt, his lower half is useless in this position—save for his groin, but that’s not where this is going as far as he’s been informed. Rumarin managed to laugh despite the obvious shaking in his voice.

 

            “I find talking is the more sensible option here. Otherwise, you might give an elf the wrong idea with this kind of position. Hehe... Unless you’re up for it?” Gods, what the hell is he squeaking now... A slit throat wouldn’t come off as a surprise right this moment.

            Surprise flashes over her face for a second. “You’re an elf..?” The woman effortlessly flicks off his hood with a snap of her fingers and they both got to take a better look at each other. She doesn’t really look like a bandit now that Rumarin takes a closer inspection on her attire. He can also sense her affinity with magic given how easily she blends her combat ways with it.

            Her expression hardens and he knew her disposition is now tainted with the ever present bias of northerners against anyone with gold skin and pointed ears. Blue eyes pierced him, blank and cold as the half frozen waters of Yorgrim. “Where did you get the sword?” The dagger threatens to cut his nose.

            “Alright, I know. I get it. We can split the gold--” He spoke truthfully yet the lady moves and presses the dagger on his neck this time. He might as well slice his own throat against the blade with his uncontrollable trembling.

            “I feel like we should get acquainted properly. What’s. Your. Name.”

            Is he under a charm or does her growl really just turns him on as much as it scares him. If he survives, he will go to the nearest temple and have his brain cleansed by priests. He will repent until he is rid of this strange taste for—her dagger deepens, harder and firmer and he scrunches his face at the slight sting it causes.

            “Rumarin.” The high elf croaks out.

            Her steel cold face shifts into something more intimidating. “I've gathered a bit of bounty just to get here, Rumarin. That sword is pure ebony. Where did you get it?” Why is she so invested of where it came from? What difference does it make when ebony sells the same at any place regardless the place of its—oh. Could it be that she’s asking about something else?

 

            “A-..A woman gave it.. to.. me..” The high elf struggled to get the words out with your blade on his neck. It’ll remain like that until you get a satisfying answer. You didn’t voice out a reply but he seemed to pick up your facial response and starts to sing. Pleasingly enough, he spills out the details in less than five minutes.

 

            “Cave? That cave down there? And this woman.. She said the name ‘Inigo’?”

 

            By this time, your blade is back in its sheath. The altmer nods eagerly as you look on to the rising sun. A crypt of all places. Shor’s bones, what are they thinking? ‘And who the hell is Shor..’ You really need to get your hands on a book soon. A not so subtle grunt distracts your pondering.

            “So… If you enjoy being on top of me that much, and I must say I feel the same, maybe we can just find an inn on the next settlement. Agreed?” Rumarin awkwardly jests. He’s a funny exception from the average high elf. You pay no mind to his inappropriate remarks—gods know it’s not a crime to let fear manifest in weirder ways. And you’ve been a real bitch to him a few moments ago. Reluctant at first, the elf takes your hand and groans quietly from his aching body. Reading the signs, you waved a healing spell, taking him by surprise.

            “Sorry about earlier. I just want to find my friends.”

            “Well... That’s good. Wish there’s someone who’ll take me for a companion.” He mutters, “Here. Take the sword and good luck. Thanks for my bruises, too.. I guess.” He shrugs as he gives you the sword, but you reach for his arm instead. Who said this is where you part ways? Shaking your head, you switched the spell to that of fire. “How do I know you’re not lying? You’re coming with me down there, mister.” You clicked your tongue.

 

            You let yourself snigger as Rumarin drags himself bitterly towards the cave.

 


 

            “Inigo. Hey. You alright?”

 

            He couldn’t help it if his furs are all looking bushy. Inigo never liked crypts for many reasons, some personal. To think that they’d be stuck here for hours with limited supplies is just the worst. At least Vilja got her ring now and they’ve got their friend’s medicine. They have to make it back. Then they’ll go to a library and do some adventures like Kaidan promised. And he’ll be the one to tell his friend of this crazy adventure.

            Inhaling deeply, the khajiit pulls out his arrow on a Draugr’s carcass. It’s a dungeon of his nightmares but he won’t die here. None of them will. “I’ll be fine, friend. Let’s get the medicine to her.”

 

            “Aye.” Kaidan secures the vials in his bag, tightening the grip on his nodachi as he and Inigo look on to the ancient door they locked behind them. Weak groans of the undead echoed on the other side. “Let’s do this as careful as we can. We don’t know how many more are out there.” His words were dipped in equal mixtures of caution and hostility. The exit is still a long way up, especially with ancient magic getting in their way. But they’ll get out of here.

 

            Kaidan won’t keep her waiting.

Chapter Text

            Aside from the whistling wind, it was the droplets leaking from somewhere and echoing inside this cold, dark, unsettling cave that kept bugging Rumarin. Every sound it produces only reminds him that he shouldn’t be here in the first place. None of them should be. But the woman just won’t take no for an answer and threatened him to keep pushing onward. The high elf does her bidding, albeit unwillingly and the moment their eyes fell on that ancient Nordic design on the door is the moment he knew his dream of having a pie for a coffin is not gonna come true. Why? Because here’s what’ll happen—they’ll make a little trip inside in search of her companions, one thing leads to another and soon enough they’ll be prancing in this dungeon filled with Draugrs and skeletons, and die a horrible death.

 

            “I am telling you, you don’t want to do this.” Rumarin fidgets, refusing to be the one to open that forsaken door.

            “I don’t or you don’t?” She raises a brow at him.

            “Right. I don’t. And you don’t want to risk this as well.” He tries to talk her out of it. “Listen, I get that they’re important to you okay? But we’re not properly geared. We can’t waltz in there and simply yell their names. There are Draugrs in there. Draugrs!

            The woman studies him with doubt lingering in her eyes. “You’re not able to take down a few skeletons like earlier? I can protect us both if you need that.” She offers, thinking that’ll be enough to persuade the high elf. Rumarin simply shakes his head. Humans are sometimes inconveniently ignorant. Can’t believe she doesn’t know about Nordic crypts. But then again so do a lot of adventurers, that’s why only a select few can make it out alive of such places.

            “If you’ve been in one of these before, which I suppose not, you should know the undead here are raised by ancient magic. Their purpose is to protect the ruins, burial crypts mostly from intruders like your friends—and soon us.”

            The woman takes a short pause and then shrugs nonchalantly. “You’ve been looting their urns long enough to have a decent amount of experience against them. Should be no problem with you, right?”

            “Woman, you are out of your mind.” The elf sighs deeply as they both push against the door.

 


 

 

            Just a few hours back, all that could be heard from the stone walls are the rushing sound of heavy footsteps and clunking of steel.

 

            “huff... huff.. Inigo! Kaidan! I found a way!”

 

            It was Vilja. After gaining access to the main chamber, they got the ring she needed to retrieve but the room was completely swarmed with the undead in a matter of seconds. “Go! Now! I’ll be there!” Kaidan yells, fighting off as many skeletons as he can handle to stall them some time. Inigo backs Vilja as she pulls the chain to open the tunnel, providing ranged support for the swordsman. But the zombies keep coming in. That one loud Draugr must have woken up a lot of them. Things are not looking good for Kaidan down there either. The swordsman can only hold on so much and by the time the tunnel is open, the undead would have already overwhelmed him. Unless...

 

            “Inigo? Inigo! What are you doing?” Vilja exclaims as he puts on her his sword. “Protect yourself, Vilja.” He looks her in the eye with determination. “Our friend will not be happy if one of us dies. He needs help. But you need to go now. We’ll catch up!” Without even waiting for a reply, Inigo rushes down to where Kaidan is to attract the attention of their enemies away from the swordsman. Kaidan scolded him, but it didn’t matter any more. They’ll have each other’s backs until it’s clear. As soon as the tunnel opened up, the two screamed at Vilja to leave them, still caught in a crowd of vengeful bones. Unequipped with better armor, she scurries away, swearing she’ll come back with help but when she reached halfway to the entrance, a loud crumbling noise reverberated throughout the dungeon. The tunnel entry from the main chamber has collapsed.

            That was the last time the nord lady saw them as she hurried away from this forsaken place.

 


 

            “I am... telling.. you..! You-.. nggh...! don’t wanna d-..do this!!”

            “I don’t...!? Or.. uhhf! Or y-you don’t..?!”

            “BOTH! WE’RE NOT HAVING THIS CONVERSATION AGAIN, HURRY UP!!”

            Rumarin shrieked at the top of his lungs, an invisible force holding him up against the iron door as countless undead claws their way in. He could hear the spine tingling growls of the creatures from the other side. They’re just inches from him and would no doubt slay his sorry ass if not for the barrier separating them. Every pounding on the door threatens for a blade to get through; hell, even just one thin enough might go on and proceed to chop off his arm right away. What in oblivion is taking her so long anyway?!

 

            “Any second now would be great! I really want both my arms intact!!” The altmer cries out.

            “Then you should have stayed down when I told you so!!” You screamed, keeping the magical force as steady as you can in order to keep the door from opening without crushing Rumarin.

            “WHATEVER!! Just finish them!” He yells back in equal frustration.

            You would pull him out of his predicament in a heartbeat but you’re way too far in the middle of this hallway. If you pull him, you’ll have to deal with everything behind those doors fast. “GRRAUGH!” Not to mention, these horrifying Draugrs are piling up in the cramped space you’ve stumbled in. You’re stuck keeping both sides from overwhelming you. You maintained the stream of fire against the approaching creatures without lowering the amount of force in your other hand, lest they’ll get their sharp hands on that idiot. Honestly, you’re still bummed out that he got caught in the spell.

            When the two of you were chased into this narrow space, you knew there’s limited ways to fight your way through. Out of reflex, you released a wave of energy back at the door when the skeletons found you but you didn’t expect Rumarin to be caught in it. Before you could pull him back, another group emerges from the corner at the end of the hallway and, as mortifying as it is to admit it, you gave in to panic; resorting to showering the incoming foe with fire, all while the helpless elf endures serving as a makeshift barricade for the door.

            Blazing away the temporary life passed down on their bones, you wait until they thin out. ‘Just a little more.’ One by one, the undead falls and the path clears enough to buy some time. That’s when you coiled your magic around Rumarin. He yelps when you yank him back and you catch him, rolling together several steps onward. You didn’t expect him to be that heavy given he’s unarmoured. But maybe he’s not that scrawny under those robes—not that you’re interested in finding out, and judging by the dirty look he gives you, it appears you might have been too rough with him.

 

            With the undead bursting through and more coming in from both ends of the passage, the woman comes up on top of the still recovering elf. “Stay down this time!” she commands him. Though Rumarin’s head is spinning, he knew exactly what she’s gonna do with those embers building up in her outstretched arms.

            “Are you suicidal, woman!? We’re gonna get roasted as well in a space this little!”

            She grits her teeth, eyeing their enemies with furious determination. “Keep still, Rumarin.”

            “Do you even have enough magicka left?”

            This time she looks at him and the world seemed to have slowed down when she gave him a weak smile. She didn’t say a word. She was really brave; to have delved in a dungeon she knows nothing about, without guarantee if she’ll find anything out of all these trouble. But her eyes—now that Rumarin can stare at that magnificent shade of blues, her eyes were overflowing with fear that could even surpass his own. Screwing their eyes shut at the same time, Rumarin took cover as magic sets their surroundings ablaze, engulfing and shattering bones in a raging sea of fire.

            It didn’t take a minute for things to start heating up. If only her destruction magic is stronger, it’ll take a shorter amount of time to clear out this crowd. Rumarin felt something drop on his exposed wrist. Blinking rapidly as his eyes opened, attempting to adjust his sights to the blinding light of her fire, the high elf traces it to the trickle of blood from the woman’s nose. She’s straining, wild-eyed at their enemies and breathing heavier than moments ago. ‘Her mana won’t make it!’ His eyes travelled to her arms and realized how dreadfully close the fire is to her skin. ‘What are you gawking at? She’s losing control, stop her you idiot!’ Rumarin cautiously snaps her out of it, not risking touching her and disrupting her focus even more. “Hey! Stop!” He clenched his fists, mustering up the courage to take his chances.

 

            “STOP! You can’t save anyone if you die!”

 

            As if breaking out of a trance, her eyes widen. The flames thinned, gathering back to her palms which in a split second, bursts into a roaring thunderbolt, accompanied by frozen spikes impaling every living enemy on the wall. Rumarin was speechless. What just happened?

 

            “Haa-...”

 

            She sighed lifelessly, drained from excessive use of magic, nearly collapsing from the toll it took on her. Rumarin sits up and catches her fragile body. “It would have saved us a lot of trouble if only you pulled that trick from the start.” The elf raises a brow while carefully helping her up. “I don’t know what that is.” Her voice was suddenly hoarse and something about it felt different; the expression on her face looks so pained. “What happened to you? You look like you’ve seen a ghost. Wait... There isn’t one here now, right?” But she didn’t respond to it, not even a word. The woman kept staring at the ground with a conflicted face. She glanced up at him as if to say something but bit her lip and limped away instead, wiping her face. “Let’s just... Please, let’s just go.” She says voice slightly breaking.

 

            Was she crying..?

 


 

            His ears twitched upon hearing a noise. It sounded like somewhere inside the dungeon is crumbling. Looks like another part of the dungeon caved in, he just hopes it’s not blocking the entrance. Wait. Inigo’s ears perk up once more and this time Kaidan does not miss it.

            “What’s wrong?” He clutches his sword, putting away the waterskin he had in hand. The khajiit gets up, his ears twitched to a certain direction. Without another word, he gestures for Kaidan and they both sneak out of the room they hid themselves earlier. A few quick turns to the corners they’d rid of undead earlier and a stair leading to the floor above brings them to the main hall. “I think I heard yelling a while ago.” He whispers lowly.

            “Another person?”

            Inigo nods. “It was followed by some crackling noise. Like a lightning spell or something.”

            “Didn’t expect you to have some exposure in magic.”

            “My only exposure to magic is when it is used against me, friend.”

            The two proceeded to tread as quietly as they can in an attempt to discover where the noise came from. Finally stepping into a narrow hallway, both were taken aback, astounded by the sight of numerous draugrs impaled with glacial spikes in their heads. Charred bones piled up on each other while dark spots scattered around the surfaces backing up Inigo’s guess about it coming from a lightning spell. This must have been what the blue cat was hearing a while ago. Kaidan brushes his fingers down on the ice. “This is fresh. Someone’s been here.”

            “Could be the help Vilja’s talking about?”

            “Could be. But it’s too quiet.”

            Inigo tilts his head. “Maybe they’re good at sneaking as well?”

            “No... We gotta be careful.” Kaidan remains hesitant. The static in the air feels awfully familiar somehow. “Looks like they’ve cleared this part, whoever they are. Let’s try this direction, maybe we can—" The sound of Inigo’s boots making a loud crunch against the crisp remains on the ground cuts him off. The khajiit had crouched down and picked something up. He sniffs it and regards the item with sudden disbelief. Inigo quickly shows the swordsman a destroyed leather bracer. “Strange... It’s hers.”

            Hers?

            Kaidan takes it and is utterly disturbed by how similar it is to their companions. No. No this must be a coincidence. It just happens to have the same design with hers, that’s all. Still, they both press on with more resolve to see if there’s another living being here besides them.

 


 

            Rumarin is close to shaking in his boots and it’s not just because of fear. “You are terribly heavy for your height.” He grunts, an arm wrapped on your waist as you lean on him for support while limping up the stairs. Now, now Rumarin, that was too harsh. “Alright, I take that back. I’m just not built for lifting.” He murmurs in a defeated tone. The elf had been jesting ever since you left that place. Might be an attempt to lighten the mood, which you appreciate very much but for personal reasons, you couldn’t shake off the eerie memory that flashed in your mind when he yelled at you. The witch’s words resonated in your head and something just... Sparked. There’s just too much going on in your brain right now that you can’t process

            “Gods, you’re so quiet. I might as well talk to a draugr at this point.” The altmer gently helps you down upon finding an abandoned embalming room. Your labored breathing eases a bit as you slant your back against a shelf that had fallen down from long ago. Right now, you’re just thankful for whatever slight comfort you get without being jumped by a zombie for every gods forsaken minute. Rumarin’s surprisingly thoughtful of you. Or he’s worried you’d die and nobody’s going to protect him out of the mess you’ve dragged him in. “Hey. Thanks for helping me.” She finally broke the silence.

            Rumarin’s face lit up in relief, then anger, and then curled into a wry smile when he couldn’t decide what expression he should present you with.

            “Helping? Am I supposed to laugh? You threatened me to come with you. I never approved of this. I’m basically your hostage.”

            He bursts out, waving his arms in wild gestures to compensate for the lack of volume in his little tantrum. Can’t afford to attract those skeletons, right? No matter how much you want to take him seriously, those reddened cheeks didn’t go unnoticed even in this barely lit room and you stifle a laugh, causing his golden skin to flush even more. “You know what? Maybe I should have just left you back there.” He grumpily plumps down beside you. You nod lazily, “You should try. Do I look like I’m in shape to stop you?” A dry laugh escapes the elf. “And what—die on my way out? We both know your protection is what kept me alive this whole time. That’s why you’re wicked.”

            “Just playing my cards right, I guess.”

            “You play it well. Those people are lucky to have you on their side. Or did you just string them along?”

            You peek at him, trying to meet his eyes and the elf flinches back under his hood. “If they were just some part of a ruse, I’d never travel this far just to suffer in search of them.” You tell him with a blank face. What he said didn’t offend you in any way. Sure it sounded brash but he’s just as frustrated as you are in this situation. He rolls his eyes instead; too proud to apologize for the accusation. Then his eyes lands back to your blistered arms. “If you don’t mind me asking, why aren’t you healing those burns anyway? You’re skilled in healing aren’t you?”

            “Any healing would do actually, but for some reasons, every time I use healing magic on myself, I end up poisoned.”

            “You mean your self casted restoration spells are reversed? How unfortunate.”

            “That... Was oddly specific, but yes. Yeah, that seems like it. How do you know?” Your brows knit in confusion.

            Rumarin shrugs indifferently, “I don’t but... Hexes, curses, old magics and what not. Witches are involved most of the time when things are weird even to those who are no stranger to the arcane arts.”

 

            Witches....

 

            Putting aside your personal questions, you carry on with the topic. “I see.. So anyway, this is also why my friends are in search for a strong cure. They were supposed to be in Dawnstar but..” You hung your head low and sighed. “I don’t know. I hope they’re not here.”

            “Oh great. The power of friendship.” Rumarin scoffs.

            You let out a low chuckle, “Don’t pout Rumarin. I’m sure you’ll find some who’ll accompany you.”

            “If they are willing to travel with someone so insufferable.”

            “I know I would.”

            Rumarin jerks his head to your direction, studying your face several times in search of any signs of mischief. When he didn’t found any, the high elf gulps and laughs nervously before looking away. That must have caught him off guard. “Whatever. Be thankful I always carry a healing potion with me. Here.” He rolls a small bottle from his satchel which you gratefully consumed. ‘Was that excitement I saw flicker in his face?’ You were about to start teasing him again when you realized his attention is now fixated into somewhere else. “Listen. There’s clashing of steel.” He murmurs under his breath but you understood enough to quickly spring on your feet. It could be them! Rumarin obviously wanted to avoid it but has little choice when you dashed off towards the main hall.

 

            Gates slammed open, revealing a room filled of sarcophagi. You ran towards the other end and upon opening another door, you are met with a straight narrow bridge, suspended above the ground, its metal bars formed a cage-like barrier which separated you from the spacious room of the main hall. You hear a distant familiar voice, but it’s far into the room at the other end of the main hall. You could barely see who are inside but there are movements and shadows confirming of an ongoing battle. Taking a deep breath, you screamed as loud as you could—to hell with all the undead, all that matters is that you confirm the identity of those silhouettes.

            “What are you doing!? WHY ARE YOU YELLING SO MUCH!?

            The high elf bursts out of the door after you, panting heavily like he’d just used up all the oxygen in his system. Instead of saying anything back, shooting him a side glance should speak for itself; though you had no possible way of knowing if he got the message about how he’s also yelling. You point a finger towards the room where several draugrs are marching at. “Rumarin, please. I can’t just leave them.” Your voice cracked and it feels like your heart’s going to burst out of your ribs with every passing moment. He gesture towards the dozens of skeletons under them walking towards the commotion. “Take a good look at them. They’re going get swarmed in less than a minute. Let’s go now.. Even you can’t fight off that many.” Rumarin places a hand on your shoulder in an attempt to convince you. “If they are your friends... They’d want you to survive.” He speaks softer, gentler—what’s he so sad about? You’ve heard this before.

 

            You’ve heard that line before...

 

            Before...?

 

            Before I lost everyone.

 

            Tightly gripping on the ebony sword, magic took a hold of it, sliding the blade between the gaps and launching it down to the draugr closest to the archway and you soon hear its wretched bones shattering from the impact. That was just the opening act. Huge spikes of ice sprouted from the floor below as you raise it high enough to block the horde. Rumarin makes a crude comment about draining your mana as you dragged him back to the lower floor.

            “Shut up, Rumarin. I’m not losing anyone anymore.”

            And for once, the elf does stay silent.

 


 

            Bones fell on the floor one after another. “Inigo, stay back!” Kaidan warns the blue fellow to keep the distance as he tanks a wave of skeletons. If it weren’t for that draugr’s shouting they wouldn’t be cornered in this room. It’s only a damn miracle they’d survived this far with but a few scratches. They’re gonna run out of healing potions soon. Suddenly the khajiit jumps back from the archway. An approaching draugr crashes on the ground with its downfall being caused by a sword. Inigo’s sword. Both men had no time to fully comprehend the situation with how fast things escalated. One moment, they were struggling for their life, and then another, half their enemies had engaged in combat with something or someone over the other side of that frozen wall of spikes—which erupted out of nowhere.

 

            Amidst the battle, both groups can hear the other one’s struggle behind those spikes of ice. But every second that passes in this seemingly endless encounter heightens your fear. Those voices belong to your friends without a doubt. Shit. They’re all you have right now and you’re not gonna lose them so easily.

            Fighting with bare magic proved to be troublesome especially against a horde of undead driven to slay you.You hear the sarcophagi break open one by one and were only slightly relieved that they appeared at your side of territory instead of Inigo’s. Rumarin’s magicka potion could only replenish as much and you doubt you can push your limit so soon without critically endangering yourself.

            “Got any plans? Cuz I can always conjure a weapon but not my body parts..! WHOA!”

            He yelps as you lifthim up in the air, “Is the archway clear?!” You hollered, shoving away a draugr with the shield you picked up.

            “What does it matter!?”

            “RUMARIN!!”

            “YES! Yes it’s cl—"

            You hear his frightened shriek as you catapulted him as gently as you could over the other side. A loud thud and his empty threat dominated the restless groans for a second, relieving you of your worries. Now the floor is at your disposal.

 

            “What’s the matter with you!!” Rumarin swings an ancient battle axe lying around against the spikes in angry frustration. It took him all of his strength just hold the weapon up but he just can’t let her take those zombies by herself. Wait—why is he worried about her?! The elf kept cursing and hitting the frozen barrier until his arms numbed and his breaths grew short. His persistent attempts ceased when one of the skeletons turn its attention to him. Quickly ducking for cover, Rumarin opens his eyes to the sound of bones rattling as it rolled the ground. Two pairs of boots stepped into his line of sight, one belongs to a man and the other a khajiit.

            “Who are you?” The first one spoke while catching his breath. His voice is low and hostile, matching the sharpness his eyes projected. The high elf studies the wounded human equipped with a chunk of thick armor and postured to strike him with a longsword. “Did you cause this?” His raven hair is completely messed and tangled up, majority of the locks slipped out of his supposed bun and he looked down on him with contempt.

            The strange colored khajiit signals the man to lower his sword and he listens. Rumarin also noticed the blue khajiit has the ebony sword in his hands. “Stay your sword, friend. No need for unnecessary violence.” He convinced the swordsman in that rough, slightly growl like voices any khajiit has. This must be that Inigo, then. Before any of them could savour this meet and greet session, Rumarin felt a heavy shift in the atmosphere. He thought it was just the lack of ventilation from when she was burning the whole room earlier but it’s the exact heaviness in the air right now which the two strangers have seem to caught up on as well. They look up behind the elf; dust and fog gathers into a cloud while a fiery glow grows progressively brighter. “I don’t feel good about this.” Rumarin warns, quickly getting up to distance himself from the wall of ice.

            Not a moment soon, the area bursts into flames just like Rumarin had predicted, sending waves of magical energy rippling throughout the underground. Hope she at least has a backup plan to shield them if that happens. This is why he’s not particularly fond of mages. Let them reach certain mastery on their magical capabilities and see how reckless they use it. For some reason, his nerves are shot and can’t seem to calm down without knowing whether that strange captor of his is alright. The explosion easily conquered the spikes, melting and cracking the thick barrier she had put between them.

 

            Your knees hit the dirt filled floor. The last trace of magic burns out from your being and so does the adrenaline. It was hard to breathe through this smoke and with all the wounds you’ve acquired, paired with a budding headache from the forced release of magic, it was quite impossible to inhale without experiencing pain course through your body. Silence fell on the room the moment you roasted every undead in sight and you worried for your companions including the high elf. ‘They didn’t get caught up, did they? No...’ Coughing out the dust, you stand on shaking limbs and start taking small steps forward; a hand pressed on your unprotected arm to stop its bleeding. Each movement makes you feel like your flesh is gonna fall off. ‘Will it worry Inigo too much? I’m a bit scared to see Kaidan frowning at me again...’ You pondered, still not hearing any signs of life. Unwelcomed tears prickled your eyes and it hurts holding it back—anyone, just anyone please, let this desperate mortal know she’s not going out alone.

 

            Very soon, the smoke thins out and beneath those wild flames danced the shadows of three people you longed to meet. They rushed towards you when they confirmed it’s not a draugr dragging itself towards them. There were no room for words that moment. Inigo and Kaidan both had the same baffled expression with underlying hints of sadness and guilt. All weapons were discarded without a care on the floor when they catch your battered arms as you let yourself fall. You don’t care. All that counts is that they are very much alive and you can wrap your arms around them as you pulled them in, basking in their warmth.

            “Everyone’s here...”

            To say that you were relieved is an understatement. The betrayal and feelings of abandonment from being left behind, the comfort and joy of reuniting with them... all these mixed emotions had welled up inside you long enough, and after a second or two of them returning your gesture, the lump in your throat couldn’t bear it anymore. A soft sob escapes first, followed by tears uncontrollably pouring out of your eyes until you are nothing more but a weeping child. They didn’t meet you with scrutinizing gazes or flinch as your blood stains their equipment nor scold you for going after them. They let you cry it out, whispering their sincerest apologies and words of reassurance. Inigo almost chokes on his words and you could tell he’s also getting carried away from this emotional exchange. Kaidan saying he won’t ever leave your side again invoked a lot more emotion than he’d ever displayed from all your time spent together.

            “I should have known you would follow. I’m so stupid... I’m sorry we couldn’t find a cure sooner and that you had to go and—”

            “Kaidan, stop. It’s done. You’re alive and we’re all together again.” You cupped his cheek, knowing that the broken voice and lowered gaze spoke more for itself. He didn’t have to say anything. They don’t have to explain. It’s okay now because you understand. When people care, they tend to go to certain lengths and life really just has a twisted method of getting in the way. He nods, eyes closed, sighing deeply as he presses his forehead on yours while Inigo is fighting back his tears with your other hand comfortingly brushing his furs. Instantaneously, the shared moment is interrupted from a sound of sniffling not far off.

 

            “Oh. Pardon me. I’m just getting a bit weepy myself.”

 

            Rumarin stood awkwardly near the archway, wiping his misty eyes. Oh, poor Rumarin. Of course you hadn’t forgotten about him, but seeing your friends just let all the frustration out of the box. The two men regained their previous composure and cautiously regarded the high elf.

            “Rumarin, this is Kaidan and Inigo. You guys, Rumarin. He helped me find you.” You introduced them under your hoarse voice. Of course you left out the part where you forced him to accompany you. It didn’t seem to lighten up the mood but you should have known it’s not easy to make friends in a place like this. Rumarin gives a quick half wave and you don’t know if he’s trying to smile or what but his nervousness is screwing up his expression.

            When the two only exchanged eye contact and said nothing to the elf, Rumarin took up on himself to tell them he’s not staying. “I-.. I’m not staying don’t worry. I’ll just hang back until we find the exit and... go back to travelling alone. Don’t want to ruin your party with my existence. Heh.” He jokingly said but... Oh, screw it.

            “You can travel with us.”

            Kaidan’s wide eyes pierced you almost immediately, begging to reason with you. You figured he’ll always be the one skeptic in making connections. And without a doubt, this is about hiding from the Thalmor again. But you had enough of that garbage. Just thinking of living your life in constant hiding is exhausting. If the Thalmor finds you, it’s easier to be ready with more fighters to back you up.

            “Kaidan, please. He kept me safe with his potions this whole time. And his conjuration skills are amazing. If we’re running from the Thalmor, we can use his help.”

            “It’s only a matter of time before another conflict arises that’ll take the Dominion’s eyes away. We can stay low and make a living until then.” He insists.

            “How can you be so sure of that, friend?”

            “Inigo’s right. We can’t be sure. So if you want to be ready for them, Rumarin can totally pull his own weight.”

            The swordsman’s grumpiness is back, “Are you saying Inigo and I aren’t skillful enough for you?” Now you both know he’s not like that. The man’s trying to coax Inigo to somehow agree with him, and with Inigo’s slightly hurt expression, he just did.

            You squint, eyes still stinging from earlier. Suddenly, you feel light in your head as your body starts to give in to fatigue. “That’s not it, I—”

 

            “It doesn’t matter! I don’t mind.. I-.. It’s fine, friend.” Rumarin butts in. But he does sound dejected from where this argument is ending. Shit. He didn’t say it out loud but you knew he wanted to travel with someone. After all his help, it’s the least thing you can do for him at least until he’s satisfied. Damn it, your consciousness is already slipping. Your knees buckle and you collapse to the ground. Your companions readily come to your aid.

 

            Time for improvisations. ‘I’m sorry Rumarin.’

 

            “But... He said he’ll service me..” You fight to stay awake until you finish it. “..in .. in exchange of... saving his life-” Rumarin’s eyes widens as he catches a whiff of your scheme. “..even after he tried to kill me.” You pulled out your most desperate expression you can make, “Rumarin... You swore on your honor..!” puffing out the last of your words, you watch the scene unfold as Kaidan and Inigo buys your act and restrains a stupefied altmer. You give him a subtle apologetic smile. Don’t worry; they won’t kill you over that. They’ll let you decide on it. That’s what you wanted to convey to him but he just looks appalled. You wish he’d stop looking at you like that as your group navigates your way out.

 

            You’re just trying to play your cards right after all.

Chapter Text

                ‘Was I wrong?’

 

                The words kept repeating in his mind as he stared at her sleeping face. After a five minute self reflection, the pondering swordsman snaps himself out of his thoughts and back to reality. He’s seated back on a chair, warm and safe in an inn from the freezing embrace of the outside plains, and guarding the unconscious lady he’s indebted to inside a rented room. He eyes his companion with concern. Her armour desperately needs to visit a blacksmith so she’ll have to make do with that extra clothing Inigo brought with him. It’s a bit loose on the size, aye, but the cloth is thick and will keep her warm. She looks so tired even when she’d already been passed out for the whole day. Guess it can’t be helped.

                Given how worn and scathed her body is, she’ll require a huge amount of healing potion unless a healer miraculously offers them free service. The poison cure would be hazardous to her system if taken with another alchemical product due to its rather strong mixture. So after a short discussion with Inigo, they agreed to have her take the antidote first, just to be safe. They have to fix her wounds up the old fashioned way but at least the poison wouldn’t be a threat anymore. He has been keeping watch of her for the whole day while Inigo is stationed to guard that high elf, Rumarin. That guy didn’t look to be much of a fighter, nor an expert mage. But he’ll stay with them until their companion decides what to do with him. To be honest, he’d be fine with either killing him off or abandoning him in the wilds. Although he already expects Inigo and her will have an entirely different approach to this, so he’ll shut his mouth on the matter. Besides, the Dominion doesn’t appear to be rushing the apprehension of the suspects for the prison incident. They would have already been tracked days ago if those elves are completely focusing on them.

 

                Kaidan grunts in frustration. He was such an idiot, thinking she’ll stay put like a kid. Has he learned nothing from the reports and the time they travelled together? She was the one who freed him in the first place and wrecked that Thalmor prison, for Divines’ sake. She wouldn’t be here if he trusted her a bit more about the situation. Instead he couldn’t afford to root his feet in one place at a time and let his paranoia run the show. The swordsman toyed with his soup and bread, unable to bring himself to eat it when his anxious thoughts are stirring wildly. But like a candle in the dark, his troubles are washed away when he sees her suddenly cupping his hand. About time the lady wakes up, huh.

                He curiously followed her movement as she silently studied her surroundings. “Hey...” the man knelt by her bedside, her palms still enclosed around his. “How are you feeling?” The woman didn’t reply. Did she always look this harmless? For some reason, knowing that she allows herself to be unguarded around him gives him... strange feelings. A good strange.

                The swordsman wanted to greet her with a bit more cheer. Maybe drop a joke or two or tell her how good she looks when her hair’s down but those are easier said than done. She gave him a blank expression, waiting for him to say something more but when he took too long, she firmly brought his hand up to her face. Wait, what is she even—oh. She just took a bite out of his bread. Kaidan hadn’t realized he’s still holding the food which must have prompted her to go straight for it. Anyone would be famished after sleeping that much without sustenance. Unexpectedly, his next reaction was the least he thought he’d make. A soft chuckle comes out from him. She is cute, especially when she’s not trying to. It’s subtle and her lighter side comes out very naturally. This side of her is what makes her presence in his life so bright despite the things they do.

 

                “Heh. I suppose we should get you a proper dinner.”

 


 

                Your blue friend watches on as he chews on his supper. “Wow. I’m amazed by how many bowls of stew you can take in, my friend.” Inigo’s comment on your appetite echoed throughout the fairly empty tavern. You glanced at him behind the bowl you’re wolfing down. “If it’s properly made.” It is a good soup. Why wouldn’t you devour such a pleasantly prepared meal? Additionally, it works for warmth as well without having to wash your throat with booze. “When are we getting back to Riften?” The question made the whole table go quiet. Except for Rumarin. He’s making sloppy noises eating his share of stew. Haha, he’s got crumbs all over his face.

 

                “Did you mean all of us?”

 

                This time, Kaidan’s eyes travel to the elf, a whole new expression setting in his face, particularly disapproval. Right. You haven’t really mentioned the truth, more or less thought about how to bring it up without him flipping out. Inigo will most likely agree to whatever you decide—he’s sociable, has a healthy amount of humour, and is always willing to hear your reasoning first. The conflict will be with these other two. Kaidan is too distrustful of strangers and his current mentality is still clouding his vision to bigger pictures, though it is under recovery. He’ll flat out deny anyone who points it out but it shows no matter how hard he tries to suppress it. On the other hand, Rumarin—for the short amount of time you’ve known him—is kind in his own strange ways and caring, even giving away his potions to a dying stranger... which is also smart of him for acknowledging when he must submit to keep his life. For a high elf, he’s pretty low in confidence and far less condescending than the average altmer. His conjuration skills make up for it but he’s easy to intimidate though. Even if he’s sending obvious hints of eagerness to tag along with you, he’ll be too proud and awkward to ask for a spot in the group—especially with Kaidan strongly disagreeing with it.

 

                “Can we talk first?”

                “I think we should.”

                Somehow, hearing Kaidan say it like he’s been meaning to from the start makes you more nervous about it. You give Inigo and Rumarin a quick glance. Your friend already looks like he knows the story between you and the altmer but is keeping quiet for the sake of the elf. You slump your shoulders as you followed Kaidan upstairs, knowing there’ll be another debate which you are not mentally prepared for yet.

 

                Five seconds.

 

                Ten seconds.

 

                Rumarin clears his throat.

 

                “Hmm... that was awkward. Shame that he couldn’t just figure that out like you did.” His eyes suddenly darts to Inigo, in need of confirmation, “Wait, y-you do right? Oh geez.” The panic was valid. Rumarin just blurted that out without thinking twice if what he sensed earlier is true. It’s a good thing Inigo’s much more lenient than the dark haired human. His nod effectively calms down the altmer. “I do. And we should be thankful he hasn’t yet. Er.. He’s not really the friendliest one as you can see.” He mutters before taking a bite out of his meal.

                “Well... It shows.”

                “Anyway, now that they’re gone for a while, will you tell me now how you actually met? You look forward to travelling with her, yes?”

                Ridiculous. “What! Yes—I mean no..! Absolutely... Maybe? Not really.” What kind of observation was that? Why is it outrageously accurate? It’s that obvious?? Rumarin’s breath gets caught up in his throat and the curious khajiit just laughs at his stammering. “Hehehe. It’s alright to admit it. She is an amazing companion and friend. A good tale takes time, friend.” He assures him and the elf accepts it with just a bit of hesitation.

                He doesn’t really know how to put it properly into words but Inigo isn’t wrong. So he gives it a shot. “I.. Well. It’s really weird. Even though she beat me and forced me to do things without my consent at first, I grew to like her in such a short amount of time.” Inigo’s reaction is a little alarmed so the elf figured his phrasing could have gone a bit better but—..oh well, what’s done is done. Moving forward. “Wait. What I meant is she was terrified back in the crypt but she drove herself onwards basing only on hearsay that her companions were there. Maybe she was an idiot and a reckless one to do that but I saw how much she cares. That earned my respect.. If that makes sense.”

                Inigo muses at Rumarin’s words, a subtle smile unconsciously forming on his mouth. “I know what you’re saying. Most people would have just given up or retreated.” He felt bad that his friend went to that trouble but it warms his heart to know she cared that much.

                “Yes. I was happy enough lending a bit of help to reuniting friends, but then when I saw you greeting one another I...”

                He what exactly? Remembered his mentor? Parents? The merry group of travelling entertainers he grew up with and became his family? Those were decades ago. He’s taken a different path now but still, his words kept spilling. “I wondered what it would be like to have bonds like that again. I know it sounds lame.” Travelling alone has its pros and cons. He might take home all the spoils but some nights, flashes of people dancing and having fun around campfires would cross his mind, and he will curl up inside his empty tent whispering he doesn’t miss it... But he does.

                Now an opportunity has opened up for him yet he’s having the hardest time bringing himself to deal with it. What a bloody idiot.

 

                Inigo laughs yet once more. “It is not lame and I’m sure she’ll tell you the same thing. Welcome aboard, then! I know it’s sudden but it’s great to see her making another friend. I am still number one, though.” The khajiit sounded really cheerful about it. Rumarin will take it that he has no qualms with an additional person in their group. So the only one really causing a conflict here is...

                “That man, Kaidan was it? I can understand if he doesn’t want another wheel in your team. I can handle myself decently but I do look unreliable.” He sighs. Inigo’s dismissive wave caught his attention. “He’s just paranoid. I know our friend will talk him through it. But please don’t hold it against him. None of them are opening about it but it’s only been two weeks or so since they escaped. I’m sure their minds are still adjusting somehow, especially Kaidan.”

                That was an explanation that prompted more questions instead of giving answers. “Escaped?” Rumarin raises a brow. There’re only a few common things people escape from—prison, lairs, and marriages.

                “Yes. They’re both prison captives. And I think,” The blue cat takes sip of his drink, “that it’s still best to hear about it directly from them.” Two people escaping from prison and teaming up, huh. Sounds like a promising romance... Or a deadly journey.

 


 

 

                “Look, about Rumarin—”

                “No.”

                “I haven’t finished yet. He’s not really...”

                Kaidan’s raised brow and bemused face already puts a dot on your sentence. Your rented room in this Divines-know-where inn offered decent lighting for you to trace out those furrowed brows. “Aye, at first I thought he was a threat but it’s clear that he’s not.” He knows. Of course Kaidan would catch on soon given how you casually let Rumarin dine with you and the elf didn’t voice out any complaints.

                “But that’s not the problem here. What I don’t understand..” His voice hushes down but kept its sharp tone “...is why you keep wanting to add another person in our group when we should be laying low.”

                “Oh! You’re not mad I’m recruiting him?”

                “I’m not mad about you recruiting people. I’m mad that you’re doing it at a time like this, damn it!” He finally snaps. This kind of argument is unavoidable—it’ll always circle back to the damn Thalmor. Will he cooperate if you present the ridiculous idea you have? When you fell silent on the chair beside you, he backtracks, visibly regretting his tone, “I-I’m sorry. I didn’t mean.. I just got worked up. We both want to ensure we’re off the list but it’s not as easy as we’d like it to be.”

                “It’s not easy but possible. Right?” Now it’s Kaidan’s turn to quiet down. You took his silence as permission to state the obvious. “Don’t fool around, Kaidan. You’re smart. I know it already crossed your mind a few times.”

                “What? I’m not sure what you’re—”

                “We have to die.”

                 “Excuse me?

 

                Did he hear her right? The woman stands up and gives him the same look she did back when they first met in his cell. She’s been having the same thoughts, then. “Sooner or later, someone will trace the prison incident back to either of us. That’s what you said. So let’s give them what they want.”

                Exactly his idea before. He knew they’ll end up bickering about it when it pops in her mind but she’s missing the main point on why he hasn’t raised this kind of strategy before.

                “Absolutely not. I’m not going to risk your neck out there for this half baked plan.”

                “It doesn’t have to be! We just have to prepare fast. And I need you to trust me.” She looks at him warily. This plan is just too dangerous to consider.

                “Are you saying I don’t trust you?”

                “Do you?”

                “Of course I do..! But I don’t want you to be in danger because I-” care about you, “promised to protect you.” Very quickly she takes his hands. He couldn’t even flinch back from her sudden approach, still contemplating on how and why he almost let such words slip out.

                “Then protect me. And I shall do the same for you. Fight alongside me like you said you would.” The woman in front of him sure sounded confident. Might it be that she is, given the determination in her eyes. He keeps forgetting his place whenever he thinks about her safety. He’s a body guard, not a baby sitter. If this is her wish, then he’ll just have to keep her alive through it.

                “You’re impossible, you know?”

 


 

 

                “Ivarstead. Already?” Rumarin’s tone was dry and unimpressed like a town crier reciting the week’s biggest news on a script. “We just got here in Riften and we’re planning on heading out again.” Four people gathered in a single person bedroom after they’d arranged their belongings in a room of their own. Thanks to one of them being a member of the Thieves’ Guild, their stay in Bee and Barb is generously discounted. The altmer had every plans of visiting the bazaar during mornings and get some stretch not far outside the walls of the city to bag some game but this talk about their next destination is just too soon. “Adventuring is good, my friend. Besides, you can show off your skills out there, too.” Inigo whispers to the elf to keep it low while Kaidan is still unprovoked.

                It was a surprise how Kaidan easily let the high elf join the fold without a hitch. Or maybe he just didn’t want to argue about it since his head is in a much more pressing matter. Whatever it is that she and the swordsman talked about days ago, it seemed to have him occupied. He was quieter and mulling over something in silence. Kaidan barely exchanged words with them despite being in the same cart for hours and hours unless he was talking with her. The blue fellow didn’t want to interfere with them—though he admits that their late night murmurings with each other when they think him and Rumarin are asleep will surely raise suspicions from clueless onlookers. Either way, Inigo was glad the aloof swordsman wasn’t as hostile to the bladebinder—as Rumarin calls himself, as he was to him the first time around.

                                                                                                                                                           

                “The jobs in this city are... Hm.” Your lips pressed into straight line. The jobs aren’t exactly clean but so are you. This place is filthy and drowning in corruption at every corner. It’s sickening to see posted complaints about gang fights and street rumbles with the guards doing nothing about it. But due to some reason, you ended up amongst the ranks of these morally questionable folks so the confusion starts there. It’s not that you enjoy thievery. You’re good at it so maybe that’s why. Oh, now is not the time to ponder about it. “Let’s just say I prefer to resume my thieving activities elsewhere. Too many competitors here, you see.” What they see is you talking rubbish. Well since none of them has anything to say about it, you press on with the topic. “I only dropped by here to get a job around that area since it’s the closest one full of fresh game.”

                “Gold? You know I can easily get us money.” The high elf talks about it like it’s nothing. You wish that kind of indifference about the situation would pass on to you. You breathed out a soft chuckle. “Rumarin, grave robbing is tiresome and less rewarding. If you want to help with making money, I trust Inigo can show you other jobs that can earn fast.”

                The high elf gasps at Inigo, “Uh, no. Not like that.” He quickly snuffs out any inappropriate thoughts the altmer is getting. “But my friend is right. Ivarstead is a tourist spot so there’s bound to be some good loot there.” Yes. Also, Inigo is the only one who knows about your existing bounty in Eastmarch. The bounty in Riften was easy to handle—just a regular perk of being a Thieves’ Guild member. It means a lot that he’s got you covered in almost anything you decide.

                “We’ll set out after two days. Until then, do whatever you deem important.” Kaidan dismisses the meeting and was the first one to leave the room followed by an exhausted Rumarin.

 

                You notice Inigo still standing by your bedside when the other two have already disappeared. “My friend. I don’t want to be nosy but... That’s not the only reason why you’re heading to Ivarstead, is it?” He asks. Who are you kidding; you’re not running around with children. These are all experienced adventurers who might’ve travelled across Tamriel more than you ever did even with your memories intact. Half a minute passed with you just gawking at him before he mutters an apology and turned his back at you.

                “Inigo, wait. It’s not that I don’t trust you.” You followed him. “It’s complicated even for me right now. Will you give me time?” The khajiit glances at you and unlike Kaidan’s skeptic gazes, his only showed concern. “I don’t want to risk anyone. But I promise to tell you when I’m ready.”

                He gives you an assuring pat on the shoulders. “I will always have your back, my friend. It might sound empty after what I did but I’m ready to prove myself to you any time. I’m ready to die for you if the situation requires it.” He laughs. Inigo’s cheerfulness is infectious—something you thank the universe for ever since you invited him to join your travels.

                “Woah, don’t even go there, my friend. You are pretty intense.” You playfully pinch his furry cheeks and give him a quick hug. “I think we’re all tired from the journey. Say, do you wanna chat by the fire?”

 


 

 

                Keerava keeps sending worried glances over your table. Ah, the bottles of wine must have attracted her attention since you and Inigo keep on ordering and have yet to pay for it. Can you be blamed, though? Nothing like a good drink to lift up the spirits when talking about each other’s pasts. And your friend does take his sweet time revealing you his story. Of course, you barely remember yours; hence, Inigo takes the lead. Turns out, he had a very interesting childhood—being adopted with his elder brother and raised by a loving couple; a khajiit and an argonian who are both retired assassins. Extraordinary indeed.

 

                “Some found their union hard to understand. They were just mother and father to me.” He says. You’re glad to hear something about him and how he makes it clear that he doesn’t tolerate racism or any kinds of oppression. It must be nice to have fond memories of your parents. You feel kind of envious, if you’re going to be honest. A shame really, that his parents already passed. The way he describes them makes it obvious how he really loved his foster parents. Pretty soon the topic falls on to his brother, Fergus. The hour went by and all you could do is hold your tears back from the heart wrenching story. Needless to say, he was unable to finish it when his eyes fell on your flushed face.

                “A-are you crying, my friend? Forgive me, I didn’t mean to sound so depressing.” He sounded a little panicked upon hearing you sniffling. A warm hand pats your back comfortingly.

                “Sorry,” you laughed hoarsely as you wiped away some tears. The alcohol surely makes it easy to let out emotions. “I’m also sorry about your family, Inigo. But hearing your story... I just suddenly feel very jealous. I wish there were good times I can recall as well. Just like you.” You didn’t mean to steal his spotlight, but your mouth just kept blabbering on its own. “I want to investigate my past but as long as I’m being suspected, I can’t... That’s why I was planning to move against the Thalm—mhp.

                Even Inigo jumped a bit when a heavy hand presses down on your head. There’s that awful feeling again of someone looking at youwith annoyance.

                “What are you doing up this late at night?”

 

                Great, mother’s here.

 

                The pressure increases and your numbing head trembles under the grip. “Did you really just say that out loud?” Kaidan’s contemptuous voice is scaring away the melodramatic mood but not your buzz. “You two should be resting. We’re not staying here for a vacation.” Strict as ever. He lets go of the grip and rubs your head shortly after. Inigo didn’t have it in him to fool around with Kaidan when he’s flashing that stern look on his face. You doubt you could as well since his point is valid. So your blue friend gets up instead, bidding you a quick good night before paying at the counter and dashing off to his room.

                “Wha... He ran away. You scared him off.” You weren’t really sure if you were laughing or not but Kaidan’s unimpressed expression didn’t shift.

 

                The swordsman spared no time hauling you back to your room. You stumble forward to your bed, finally feeling the alcohol’s full effect after moving from your seat.

                “If you’re so loose lipped when you’re drunk then stop drinking too much.” He scolds, not missing how your figure swayed when you reach for the mattress. “I thought we’re keeping quiet about this plan? You didn’t meet me on time that’s why I searched for you and what do I find? You almost spilled it out—in a tavern of all places.” Is the room spinning? Just how many drinks did you have? Kaidan’s words went straight in and right out of your ears. You couldn’t even remember what it is you two are going to talk about. Maybe something about the plan again but that could wait until tomorrow. Sensing your disorientation, he sighs deeply and helps put you to bed.

                “Kaidan.” You grabbed his arm. Even without his armor, he’s built like a seasoned warrior. He’s no part of any military faction but he does give the impression of someone battling all their years. “Stay here.” You whispered too softly but you knew he heard it based on his reaction.

                “What? Are you drunk?”

                “Yes. And I’m asking you to stay.” This sounds so wrong but you’re too intoxicated to even care about appropriateness. “I was having a bad nightmare last time and.. I think I casted a healing spell on myself.”

 

                Kaidan almost forgot the very reason they left her about a week ago. “You want me to guard you while you sleep?” She nods upon being asked. “We can share the bed like before. Er... This might be too cramped for you, though. But I won’t mind. It’s you, after all.”

                Fair enough. She must have chosen him because he’s the one who sleeps the least during night among them. But he couldn’t help the slow flush creeping up on his cheeks when she blurted it out just like that. ‘Don’t get funny ideas, man. There’re bigger things to watch out for.’ He forced himself to divert the topic as he sat at the end of her bed. They started out this way, so why the hell is he feeling strange doing it again now? No. Think of something else. Clearing his throat, he throws a question at her.

                “These nightmares... What are they about?”

                She was silent for a while, probably finding the right words to answer him with. “They were memories, I’m sure of it. They kept repeating. I think it’s an important one. But...” She gazes down at him as if to make sure that he hasn’t left. “The place is... ruined. People are dead. And I keep getting an intense feeling it was because of me.” She was slurring from alcohol and weariness but her eyes are fighting to stay awake. Fighting to replay such a horrible dream.

 

                “What always gets to me is that I never wanted any of it to happen.”

 

                At that very moment Kaidan froze. Her words echoed through his mind, intruding digging, forcibly dragging him back to his memory of what they did in the farm. What terrible things he allowed to happen to that family. How many innocent had he left to die mercilessly in exchange for power he shouldn’t have meddled with from the very beginning? No—

 

                “No. Stop talking.” Kaidan takes you by surprise when he slightly raised his voice. ‘Did I say something offensive?’ No, you might be drunk but you can still identify his tone when he’s angry. But why would he suddenly stop you without reason? “You don’t have to strain yourself trying to remember it.” That sounded like a poor excuse even for him but your slipping consciousness isn’t up for nagging right now. Finally, he lays down beside you, eyes glued on the ceiling but you can sense he’s a bit stiff. The small space is probably uncomfortable for him.

                He glances at you a few times, “The hell are you staring at me for? Go to sleep.” He always sounds brash when he’s defensive about something—that’s what you wanted to point out but thought it wouldn’t be best to tease him tonight. Being in between him and a wall feels nice in this cool night, although that might send a wrong signal if you voiced it out. “Let’s talk about something else then.” You proposed, shifting your position into a comfortable one with your hands gathered under the pillow.

                 Dark brows rose in confusion. “We’ve been chitchatting for nights now.”

                “And I still know nothing about you.” This time, he cracks a tiny smirk. You feel him relax a little, turning his head aside so you’re facing each other now. “What’s got you curious?” There’s a glimmer of amusement in his eyes which boosts your confidence.

                “Hmm. What brings you to Skyrim?”

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

                There’s a really nasty urge inside you to make some crude joke whether said feet led him to the prison as well but you bite it down. “There’s more to it than that, surely? Haha.” Both of you laughed quietly and you’re thankful the tension’s slowly breaking. “Aye, isn’t there always?” It’s soothing to hear the warmth of his voice. Despite the heavy feeling of being drunk, you long to hear his voice some more for it somehow provided you with security.

                “To own the truth, I’ve come back to Skyrim to learn something of my heritage, my bloodline.” You let him pause, “The few clues I have pointed me here but it takes time to decode. So, I’m paying my way by collecting bounties.” The swordsman explains. Lifting your head a bit, you study his features. “Huh, ‘bloodline’? I see... You don’t really look like a Nord now that you mentioned.” And he laughs at you and further goes on a bit about how he doesn’t know his or his mother’s race and that he doesn’t know if he still has any blood relative out there.

                “All I have is a hunch, but I need proof.”

                On your first night in the wilds he did reveal that the sword might hold some information about his mother. “Perhaps I can help you solve this? I mean once we get rid of them.” Kaidan seemed a bit taken back by your initiative but showed appreciation for your offer. “You’d do 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.”

                “So we should find a way to identify the meaning of those marks, right?”

                “Right.” He reaches for your eyes and brushes his hand down on it. “Maybe we can find out about you as well. Get some rest now. I’ll make sure you don’t burn the entire place.” He speaks gently and you see him close his eyes when you peeked a bit.

                It’s always nice to put him in a lighter mood. Before, it was disheartening to see him act the way he does—free of chains yet still a prisoner of his worries. Kaidan mostly spends the day brooding, but whenever he’s with you, he manages to put down his guard and just joke around even for a bit. A part of you wishes he can slowly warm up to the others as well. The other part wishes you’re the only one he can be this relaxed with. It’s odd... Being comfortable to this kind of closeness despite knowing so little about each other. But it’s not unwelcomed. If it’s Kaidan, you feel like you can always trust him. There are still a lot to smoothen out in the long run but he’s reliable. The challenges you will face will require a stronger trust with each other before it can guarantee a success. And just as he promised to protect you, so will you hopefully lessen his troubles with this plan. It won’t solve all the problems, you know this. But if it meant raising the chances of thawing that distant attitude he puts up, it’ll be all the reason you need to help him.

 

                That night, you fell into a dreamless slumber—but not before whispering Kaidan a compliment.

Chapter Text

            The insides wrenched, producing a loud squelching noise as Inigo pulls out the sword from the bandit’s stomach. Blood and guts spilled out from his rounded belly. It was messy but he had no choice since the bloated idiot kept reaching for his face even after getting stabbed. He certainly has no need for additional facial scars. Are bandits this desperate to take the fight on a main road? Guards march these paths all the time—who do they think lights up these lanterns after dark? Ah, well. Guess those bandits found an opening since the last squad just passed by half an hour ago and they saw a carriage passing by unguarded. Their mistake. Carriages don’t stray far from patrols unless the client’s assured them of security. In their group’s case, their nameless companion booked a deal to Ivarstead. They’ll have to pay more and protect the carriage themselves in exchange for not waiting for patrols as they journey on, hence exposing the whole group to possible dangers, but that’s something she and the human embodiment of paranoia agreed on anyway. Inigo could only wonder what they’re planning on doing in Ivarstead.

            “They will bother us no more.” He grunts.

            “Don’t be so sure.” It was Rumarin. The high elf readjusts his robes and sends his weapon back to its realm before taking a seat beside their friend on the carriage. Like her, he didn’t need to get up close with bows as their weapons. Also an endless supply of magical arrows at his disposal really makes a lot of difference. Inigo checks up on Kaidan instead since they seem to be fairing well.

            The swordsman met him halfway, flicking his steel to rid the blood coating it. He sure knows how to take in a beating looking at how he didn’t seem to be hurt anywhere but still managed toleave a trail of corpses behind him. The blue khajiit could only wonder how he is so fast under that heavy armor. One thing is known—Inigo will always admire his effortless and remarkable form while in battle. Kaidan displayed a certain discipline in almost every move he executed. A discipline not commonly acquired by self education. Whoever his mentor was, he taught him well and he surely learned the style as if it were his second nature.

 

            When their coachman had calmed the horses down, he mentions his thanks and hops on the front seat. “Ah..! That one’s running away!” the nord exclaims, landing his eyes on a staggering figure making for the higher grounds. Probably as far away from the main road before a patrol arrives.

            “I’ll get on it.” Kaidan and Rumarin say in unison, drawing their own bows.

            “Do we have to? Leave it. Won’t she learn not to return here?” Your nonchalant objection was met with appalled faces.

            It was only the carriage rider who made an effort to explain to you. “Miss, I don’t know how long you’ve been in this province but bandits here are as stubborn as the cold. They’re wild, pig-headed, unforgiving.” He goes on, slowly moving the ride to keep the running bandit in sight. “It’s best to kill them off or else that one’ll come back here with more to ambush a different group. Their next victims might not be able to fight back or even protect themselves like you lot.”

            Why is this necessary? Rolling your eyes with a sigh, you hopped off the cart and lazily raise your hand to charge it with magicka. After getting a clear angle, the essence forms into a crystallized spear made of ice and you hurled it towards the person with a loud huff. The bandit gets impaled as you expected and you catch a glimpse of blood spurting out of her when she hits the tree. It’s similar to an insect getting squashed after one crushes it. She twitches weakly and—geez is that her entrails? Life thankfully leaves her shortly after. You shrug off the disgusting image, returning to your place next to Rumarin.

 

            “You don’t have to like it, you know. But it’s part of what we do. Ask anyone!”

            “I know.” You muttered, leaning back on the wood. Kaidan would have already made a snippy comment about it but he’s quiet and acting like nothing happened. ‘It’s because you used magic, dummy.’ Kaidan’s not an infant; he can witness a few tricks without having his spirit leave the body. But... Maybe it does bring back some bad memories in the prison. You should try to dig up something about that one of these days.

            Back on present matters, you appreciate Rumarin trying to comfort you about it. But that’s not really the case. It’s just too much trouble to keep entertaining them whenever they appear as they slow down the journey. They can all go and die on some other patrol’s swords for all you care. And that’s exactly why there’s a slight fear building in you regarding the matter. How will your companions react to your apathetic views concerning others’ lives? You wish it were not so but this is how you truly feel. If it doesn’t affect your companions, you couldn’t bring yourself to care at all. You suppose that’s not how a kind or honorable person would view things, but each day it becomes more apparent that you’re not exactly in league with that sort.

 

            Then there’s Kaidan back in his shell.

 

            He hasn’t talked much the morning after you asked him to sleep in your bed. You wonder if the side of him that’s more open is only available during nights. Sighing is the only way you can conclude all the questions running simultaneously in your mind right now. You want to pull off this plan? You have to pull out Kaidan from his own cave first.

 

            Your mind unconsciously wanders off to the conversation you had nights before arriving at Riften.

 


 

 

            “Why are we running? Let’s help them! I’m the best healer in our group!”

            Each word’s induced with panic and terror. Your lung almost explodes just trying to keep up with the one dragging you away. Stupidity gets the best of you and you look back to your camp in desperation, young and still filled with naive hope. A hope soon crushed when you see your people slaughtered like animals.

 

            ‘Those murky red robes. I know them. Those people were in our mansion!’

 

            How.

 

            After all these years.

 

            HOW?

 

            That encampment in the forest is completely hidden from civilization! Everyone contributed a lot in making it a new home. You were all supposed to be safe here for a long time. Someone broke the rules. No! Doubting anyone will do no good. They must have found a trace of your group.

            You yelped loudly as you get yanked out of your ruminations.

 

            “I told you not to look back! This one will take care of you so keep moving!”

 

            This is.. Unusual. The khajiit. She’s wrapped in that leather armour and the hood covers her face. You can’t see what she looks like. You’re running towards where? Shouldn’t you run back to your companions? Your family? If you stopped running away you could save them. You could save at least one this time.

            “Don’t even think about it, _____!”

            What was that? You’re sure she called your name but your hearing blurred on that part.

            “Even if you go back, you wouldn’t be able to save anyone because they’ll kill you first!”

 

            “You can’t save anyone if you die!”

 

            The voice echoed, halting your movement. You looked around, searching wildly, but only finding endless numbers of trees at all directions stretching further into where you can’t figure out anymore. Where did that alarmed cry come from? The voice sounded familiar.

 

            “My lady! Don’t stop, we must hurry away from this place. It won’t take them long to notice your absence.” She’s facing you now, but her face is—you can’t take a proper grasp of her look. It won’t or rather; it refuses to register in your mind. Your brain won’t recognize the color of her eyes even though you’re staring right through it now. Suddenly your vision blurs, tears welled up without warning and you grab her as you let out your emotions.

            “What is wrong with you, _____!?” Even the name you just spoke isn't recognizable when you try to remember it. “We could have fought them off! My presence would have made a difference!!”

            “Enough of your nonsense! Focus. Have you already forgotten what they did to your family?! What makes you think we stand a chance?” her scratchy voice was firm and harsh but you can sense how hard she forced those words out of her.

            “No!” Your protest sounded more of denial. Why be stubborn now of all times, kid? “I... I don’t...” you breathed out sob after sob, “I don’t want to always run away. Not anymore.” All the bitterness behind your words poured out like waterfalls. All your life, always like this. You can’t remember the root cause but you’ve always been on the run, always avoiding recognition, always in hiding.

            The khajiit grips your shoulders tight—enough that you can almost feel the tips of her claws dig in through the sleeves of your thick fur armor. “What do you mean!?” an enraged roar escapes her; “All of them back there told this one to protect you. They all willingly faced a losing battle just so you can run away and live! Remember that!!” she yells, shaking you to listen to her words carefully. “My lady, whether this destiny is true or not, if you have to keep running away just to live, this one will gladly put her life on the line so you may keep breathing.”

            Just then her eyes widen and she shoves you away. You see a bolt of lightning hit her, sending the only living companion you have rolling back. Her blurred name echoed into this maze of a forest as you cried it out.

 

            “My, my, you’ve grown. But you never learn. You’re only expanding the list of names dying for your cursed existence.”

 

            The moment you turned your sights on the wretched venomous growl, a strange cloud of smoke is already flying straight to your direction. But you caught a sight of the hag’s vile sneer before your arms instinctively fly forward in defense of the incoming attack.

 

            You jerk awake with a flash of white light spreading out above you like rippling water. The transparent field quickly diminishes with the full return of your consciousness. Eyes wide open and heart beating erratically. Your hands are slightly lifted above your chest, same as you positioned it in your dream. Pulling your hand back as you rose, you double checked your surroundings inside the tent. When you made sure nothing is damaged or out of place, you exhaled a relieved breath you didn’t know you were holding, whispering to yourself in the process. “Damn it... It’s becoming more and more vivid.”

            Of course, having vivid dreams for a lucid dreamer like you means much. What you worry for is that you’re also a skilled mage with an arsenal of spells, ranging from helpful to disastrous, etched into your system like you were born with it. One mistake and you can end up starting a wildfire or loosing a healing spell on a shoe. The khajiit wasn’t Inigo for sure. This was completely different from the ones where you’re inside a ruined mansion. But you’re being pursued all the same. Now’s not a good time to pile in more questions. “Ha.. I should get some air...”

 

            Stepping out quietly from your tent, the chilly evening breeze of Eastmarch greets you with a soft kiss on the cheeks. The fires’ almost out, all that remains are embers but your companions, along with the carriage rider, seem to be sleeping soundly inside their own little tents. You wrap a scarf around you before sneaking towards a much more spacious area outside your camp. It’s a clear night. The stars twinkled behind the mesmerizing dance the northern auroras displayed—something you hadn’t gotten the chance to appreciate when you were knee deep in snow searching for Inigo and Kaidan.

 

            “Kaidan...”

 

            Speaking of which, “Please... You’re really going to give me a heart attack if you keep sneaking at me like that.” No response was heard but you feel him closing in until he stood next to you under the night sky. He didn’t disrupt your stargazing but you sense his eyes lingering on you for a while.

            “Yes? Are you alright?”

            The question visibly shakes him a bit, seeing that he quickly averted meeting your eyes when you turned on him. He must have already thought about your proposal earlier today.

            “Hmm. I just heard you leaving your tent.”

            Or maybe not.

            “Heard me? Really...?” He remained unfazed despite you starting to goof around. “N-no. Actually it was Inigo who heard you. But he said he’s too sleepy so he asked me to check up on how you are doing.” The red eyed swordsman confessed. Of course it was Inigo. You’ve already shown how sneaky you can be and only those blessed with enhanced hearing can tell when your foot touches the ground. “Thanks. I just wanted to get some fresh air.” You offered him a polite smile which he returned with a nod. He then starts to awkwardly excuse himself as he walked away. “I see... Well then..”

            “Isn’t there anything else you’d like to discuss?”

            The swordsman stops. Shoulders stiffen like a criminal caught in the act. You let him take a moment before he mustered the resolve to address his concerns.

            “There’s another outpost around Helgen. There’s not much place to sneak into. If you insist on doing this, we need to draw a Justiciar or an Emissary out into the woods.” He spoke as if giving a report. “Good.” You replied, “I can scout around for targets and replacements.” You tell him, gazing back up on the sky. He’s still not confident about this proposition. But until he has anything better to come up with other than hiding for gods know how long, all he can do is keep shooting skeptic looks at you.

 

            “Replacements? Hey, this isn’t going to be a two-man operation isn’t it?” He prods on. Funny. Kaidan thought he didn’t want to discuss anything about it yet but here he is. She shook her head slowly, starlight reflecting in those ocean eyes. “Then are you going to ask those two to play a part?” “I don’t wish for them to get involved.” She responds quickly. The silence between them isn’t very comfortable unlike most days. That’s because they’re waiting on each other... Or rather she’s waiting for him to say it. The person basking in moonbeam in front of him is the same one who pulled off that chaos in their prison. Of course she’s willing to play and pay. But that doesn’t mean he is mentally prepared to do the same.

 

            “Who are you going to replace us with?”

 

            Finally. You thought he’d never speak about the main issue here. You cross your arms, wrapping yourself to prolong the warmth. “We’ll find someone. They have to be human, of course. Should resemble our build as much as possible, too—”

            “Oi. Do you hear yourself? We’re going to throw lives in exchange of ours?”

            You stare at him blankly. What’s the matter with him, it’s not like he hasn’t killed before? Tilting your head in a certain manner conveyed your response perfectly.

            “Aye, I don’t carry the cleanest record either but this is not how we should do it. Can’t you just flash ‘em a few tricks and be done with it?” The swordsman fought every bit of urge to raise his voice. “Isn’t there a better  way?”

            By ‘better’ he meant cleaner because his honor wouldn’t let him comply with such a deceitful tactic. Deceit is what the Dominion does best if it meant gaining them more authority and power. He doesn’t actually think you’ll abduct an innocent civilian, does he now? “We’ll have scums take our place, swordsman. It’s not that hard to find ones easy enough to fool.”

            “This is different, woman. We send bandits to their deaths to defend ourselves—”

            “And tell me how is this gonna be any different?” You engage, “Whether I strike first or retaliate, the main point is killing to survive. We’re no stranger to this concept. It’s not always honorable but honor will not suffice against the Thalmor’s cunning ways.” Kaidan’s objections desired for a release in the form of words and it’s showing in his grimace but while he tries to collect it, you take the chance to state your mind. “We’re just making the first move, alright? I'd throw in a whole bandit camp in a sea of fire if it meant to keep you alive.” Cold words suddenly slipped out instead and you didn't mean it to sound like that but he clearly didn't receive it well.

            'Don't worry, Kaidan. You're not the only one here questioning what I just said right now.'

            He exhaled, lips tightly sealing the frustration budding inside his throat. From anger, his hardened expression melts into that of defeat. Kaidan didn’t say a word but instead, he turns around, finally putting a distance between the two of you with heavy steps and clenched fists. He’s stubborn in his own way, you respect that.

 

            What’s gotten him on edge is that this plan you revealed to him involves using magic as a form of deception. If there’s one thing you noticed ever since travelling together, it’s that he puts a lot of weight in honest combat. Honesty is good but when you’re seconds away from dying, instincts will always rule over, and whether you use magic or not will not matter as long as it takes you away from harm’s way. Complying to such strategies probably makes him think that you’re no better than those magic abusers. This is the first time since your escape that you’ve devised a plan involving others’ lives. You understand him somehow—self defense is one thing and plotting to sacrifice someone to die in your place is another. But right now, there’ll be no use in questioning the morality of the situation. It’s either both of you or them.

 

            As you send the night sky a final glance, you resolved it in your heart that you’re not going to lose anyone anymore.

 


 

            After that exchange, Kaidan became quieter but slowly came around. Every night, the two of you met for a short discussion by the campfire. He was dubious but he heard you out nonetheless. It’s still obvious how he’s uncomfortable with fishing out individuals to take your places. He even questioned at one point if you couldn’t just keep up the illusion for the whole show. You knew it was just guilt taking over. So you explained that whoever they’ll encounter will want an ‘evidence’ to bring back when they make a report and that you can only keep the illusion up for one person. He should also take note that your illusion skills are yet to be tested. To cut things short, you’ve built a pretty solid foundation for the stage. Now all that’s left are tests, actors, and a place.

 

            “Are you okay, my friend?”

 

            Inigo’s calming voice pulled you out of your thoughts. ‘Oh. He must be talking about the bandit.’ You flash him a warm smile which he gladly accepted and returned.

            “You know, not all bandits wanted to end up the way they do. Some folks just can’t seem to appreciate the fruits of honest labour. Eventually greediness gets the better of those types.” Carriage riders sure know how to fill in awkward silences. Sometimes they just talk too much but it’s not unwelcomed. Travelling this vast land will be too unbearable without a bit of human interaction—unless the client is a mute, then of course understanding must pave way. Anyway, the nord rider continued to reveal his personal memories of village bullies turning to banditry, stuffed with some of his opinions about such lifestyle, “What’s sad is sometimes, few of these young people would always get rejected or thrown out of their jobs that they start thinking they’ll never find a fitting opportunity. They’d rather die like a barbarian than sit amongst those who beg in the streets. It’s a shame. In a certain perspective, they’re just fighting for survival as well.”

 

            Isn’t that just how it is?

 

            You wonder how many times he’d share this kind of story through all his years of being a rider. For a moment he caught everyone’s attention. Everyone except Kaidan. Your aloof companion just sat there almost sulking as Inigo and Rumarin began to trade stories of bandit encounters. While it’s interesting to learn that Inigo used to be a bandit himself, your eyes stayed anchored at the sullen look on Kaidan’s face. Hearing those might have caused some hesitations to resurface again.

            The first night on the road went smoothly. Your team stumbled upon hunters and decided to share the fire. Even managed to get a good deal from their current stocks. The next day was just as peaceful—there were more patrols and the amount of travelers and adventurers in the area tells that they’re near the humble settlement of Ivarstead.

 


 

            “Okay. Will someone tell me now what she’s doing in that tent?” Rumarin quietly disturbed the peaceful dinner the three of them were having around by the fire.

            Sure, he’s willing to bet half their camping gears are fenced items and of quality materials as well but how can she stay in such a place for too long?

            “Guild business.” Inigo grumbles, chewing on his supper while keeping an eye out.

            “She’s been there for a week...! How does she even sustain herself?” The altmer rarely pulls his hood off but now that he does, his widened eyes seem so much bigger. He spots Kaidan taking a swig, cleaning his sword and armor while pretending he didn’t hear him just now. “And you, too. You’ve been disappearing during the day. We don’t even know if you’re coming back.” He scoffs.

            The swordsman sheathes the sword, suddenly giving Rumarin one of his mastered frowns. “I’m not a child. I sure as hell don’t need you monitoring what I do in my free time.” He snaps at him. It’s damn easy to have the tension sky rocket when Kaidan’s a participant. Inigo quickly steps in to prevent a fight but the high elf stays frustrated and retreats back to comforts of his tiny little tent.

            It’s not that he’s bored or regretting his decision. He’s only a bit worried about her. And he also feels like everyone’s hiding something here.

 


 

            You comfortably leaned back to the towering pile of clothes and gear, your fingers gently tapping your hip. Ivarstead’s inn is less occupied than the last time you stopped by. But still you couldn’t risk your or Kaidan’s identity. Not that you’re unwilling to act like his lover for a second time—it’ll be fun to fool around with him again, though his mood is in question. So your group set up camp somewhere on the outskirts of the settlement after resupplying. While you’re tasked with switching up official documents—or in the guild’s term, ‘paper works’, the pay will be pretty rewarding once you come back. For now, your last share should suffice for a whole month. Hunting can also earn coins.

            On that side, you gotta admit it was pretty amusing to see a confirmation of both your bounties when Rumarin noticed it at the request board. Containing vague descriptions about you and Kaidan, the piece of paper signed by the Dominion gave you a perfect grasp on how much they know. Alright. You’ve got roughly less than a month to get this show on the road.

 

            “Hmm.. This is just heart-breaking.” You quietly mused, reading the journal Inigo gave you. Once you entered your tent, you holed yourself in it for most of the days reviewing and sorting documents but somehow, you ended up distracted with Inigo’s journal wide open on your desk. The blue cat told you earlier that a journal might help keep track of things since he admits to having a bad memory due to his former skooma addiction. Oh hey, that’s actually handy. ‘I should try and get a journal for myself.’ Just in time, you hear someone call your name.

            Waiting outside was no other than Kaidan himself. His upper garment’s laces are a bit loose and hair’s damp so he must have just finished taking a bath not long ago. He held a small basket filled with some ale and meal.

            “Hey. You hungry?”

            You couldn’t help but giggle, “Yeah. Famished. I’m sorry I didn’t watch the time.” You cleaned up to make some space as you invited him in. “Hold on. I have something for you.” He reaches something out of the basket and handed it over to you. “It’s Nord Warhorn. Carved from a bit of tusk.”

            Brushing your hand over the item made you feel giddy. Kaidan giving a gift? Awesome! ‘But... What do I need it for?’ As if he read your mind, he clarifies the item’s purpose. “Use it if we get separated. Not that I’ll leave your side on purpose. But if we lost each other, I’ll hear it and I’ll be able to find you.”

            “Thank you, Kai. I’ll use it wisely.”

             His eyes flickered with surprise at your bright smile but managed to keep it under control. Not bad, swordsman. Not bad. “Look. I’ll get straight to it.” Kaidan gets your attention when his hands left the basket in front of you. “Apologies. I know I’ve been... Absent.” But ‘absent’ doesn’t sum it up. He was missing, didn’t talked, always wandering away. You could hear Rumarin’s complaints yesterday. He was distancing himself for some reason. All that aside now, your ears are open to whatever he wants to say.

            “I already made my peace with what we’re going to do so I’m doing my part. Don’t be mad that I didn’t tell you, alright? I wandered around for the past days and I think I’ve come up with something better regarding the plan.” He says and proceeds to share his thoughts with you. “You’ve been lurking around the outpost...!” you hissed, “You could have been killed. I was supposed to do it.”

            Kaidan gestures for you to keep it down. “Look, just trust me on this. We get them to this place, pull off the plan, and it won’t be just us who’ll get their freedom back.”

            “But you’re asking me to include those two. I’m not sure I can watch over everyone with my position in this.”

            The swordsman pats your head, “They can handle themselves. Just trust them. I’ve gathered enough information to secure our safety.” He assures. “And it’ll also feel lighter if the lives we give up will free more in exchange.” You couldn’t come up with anything to say in return. It’s like your voice left you when he said that. As he excuses himself from the conversation, you’ve just received a handful of thoughts to ponder on for the rest of the night. You know you’re not a heartless murderer, but to what lengths are you willing to take when it comes to the people you care about? Is it because you don’t remember your past or have you always been this willingly selfish? The answer is shuddering to even think about. You feel bad for what you’re about to commit, but he is your priority here. A stranger or a friend. The answer is very clear. And nobody with your capabilities can keep their hands clean forever.

 

            ‘No, stupid. Don’t even go there. Not now!’

 

            Dammit, Kaidan. This was supposed to be a simple lure and trap tactic. But you couldn’t ignore the chance of destroying another outpost, either. This better be worth it.