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    • By Sake in The Bee and Barb
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      The next two weeks passed by without fanfare – without the Dragonborn, everything was just business as usual. For the most part, everyone had forgotten he’d even existed. He was in town for a week, and then he wasn’t. It wasn’t unusual for travelers to show up out of nowhere and then disappear right back into nowhere, and considering the vast majority of Riften’s population had better things to worry about than the whereabouts of the Dragonborn, he’d become just another traveler passing through.
      Even at the Bee and Barb, evidently the Dragonborn’s favorite establishment, nobody really seemed to notice anymore that he hadn’t been in town. So, on one cold Tirdas morning, there was a breakfast only just big enough for the three people who were actually there. No pile of meat to satisfy the Dragonborn’s gluttony, no free-flowing mead. Just hot cereal, cheese, and tea.
      Azhani didn’t really mind. It was a simple life, but at least she had a roof over her head and food to eat every day. It was better than most of her life before then, even with Keerava’s eccentricities added in. It really was quiet, though. There was only so much to talk about when nobody ever really went any farther outside than the market, and only rarely would some trader get interesting information. Just a day ago, in fact, the Dunmer lady who had set up shop right outside the inn to sell her vegetables reported that the Jarl of Windhelm had been seen travelling through the Rift recently. Considering nobody actually knew where he was headed, that provided a good deal of conversation that morning, and even carried on to the next day, so there was still plenty to discuss on this particular Tirdas.
      “I keep telling you, this is a Stormcloak hold, nothing bad is going to happen just because Ulfric decided to come take a look at his land.” Talen had been trying to reassure Keerava ever since they first heard of the Jarl’s travels the day before. Now, he had one hand resting rather awkwardly on her shoulder.
      “Yeah, it’s Stormcloak land,” was the response. “But remember, he was captured in this hold once before. And he only got out of that one because a dragon showed up. If they get him again, things might not end so well.”
      “Oh, come on.” There was a slight thud as Talen dropped the tip of his tail to the ground. “Stormcloak, Legion, won’t really matter who controls the city, we’ll still be doing just as much work with just as much extortion.” He gave a sideways glance at Azhani, who was trying very hard to not look at either of them right now and just focus on her food.
      “Think about it, Talen.” Keerava turned around and pushed his tail aside with her foot. “If the Legion gets the Rift, they’re going to need a new Jarl, right?” He nodded, and she continued. “Well, there’s only one person around here I can think of that has enough influence and ‘leadership skill’ to be their candidate.” She made air quotes with her fingers as she talked.
      Talen dipped his head in surrender. “Maven?”
      “Fucking Black-Briar.” Keerava nodded aggressively. “I don’t know about you, but considering how she’s already got a hand in everyone’s pocket around here, I’d really like to see that bitch kept as far away from the Jarldom as possible, thank you.”
      Talen smiled as well as his facial structure allowed. “Mmh, don’t let her hear you say that. She’s got eyes and ears everywhere, you know. I don’t think she’d appreciate being called mean things.”
      Keerava rolled her head around as a substitute for doing so with her eyes. “Shut up.” Then she gave Talen a light kick in the shin. He seemed to get the message, and the room was quiet again.
      At least, it was for a little bit, but some big jerk covered in steel plates and wearing a red travelling cloak decided to barge in and interrupt the silence. He quickly scanned the room, before calling Talen over, by name, along with a beckoning wave.
      The two women looked over at him while Talen stepped forward, and Keerava was the first to address him. “Hey, Bjorn, where’ve you been?”
      The Dragonborn grabbed a small pouch from his belt and put it into Talen’s hands – he looked into it and his eyes lit up for a moment while Bjorn spoke. “Everywhere. I don’t have a lot of time, is, uh – oh.” He’d been looking around the room some more, but stopped once he saw the Khajiit seated across from Keerava. He walked forward a little and held out a hand. “Azhani, come with me, I need your help.”
      Azhani looked between him and Keerava for a moment before responding. “What? Why?”
      Bjorn was already starting to walk back to the door, and spoke quickly. “Uh, no time, we have to leave now, I can explain on the way. You coming?”
      The Khajiit looked over at Keerava again, who just shrugged and nodded. “Yeah, okay, fine, she’ll go,” Azhani said while she stood up.
      “Great.” Bjorn tossed her a white cloak. “You can wear that, it’s actually your size, I hope. Come on.”
      Azhani stood there a moment and pointed over at the stairs. “But, shouldn’t thi-“
      “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Bjorn was making a flurry of nondescript hand motions. “There’ll be time to do everything once we get moving, but we do have to leave, like, now.”
      Azhani threw up her hands and followed along. “Alright, fine.”
      The two gave a brief wave to the Argonians, and Azhani nearly stopped to say something but was rushed out before she could. So, instead, she spoke to the Dragonborn, as well as she could while trying to keep up with his brisk pace – despite her best efforts she always ended up slightly behind.
      “So, what did this one just agree to?”
      Bjorn looked over his shoulder but didn’t slow down. “Remember in the sewers a few weeks ago, when you told me to go end the war?”
      Azhani raised an eyebrow. “Yeah…”
      “Well, I figured out how to do it. Had to go all the fucking way across the country and back, but I can do it – we can do it, which is why you’re coming to Ivarstead with me.”
      “And why do you need this one, exactly?” Azhani nearly tripped over her own feet trying to keep up as the two headed towards the town’s southern gate.
      “Well, you’re going to be damn near the only person there who’s not some political leader or twenty dragons in a man’s body.” He laughed a bit at that and carried on. “Ulfric and Tullius and Balgruuf and whoever else shows up, they’re only going to care about what they can get for themselves. How they can benefit their side in the war. What you’re coming along for, is-“ He reached out to stop Azhani from falling over, as she had tripped again, but returned to his original stride as soon as she was upright. “You’re coming along so that they can’t ignore what’s happening to real people. Without you, all I’d really get out of them is some half-assed ceasefire that’ll be over as soon as Alduin’s not a threat anymore. But with you there, I may just get them to end this shit entirely.”
      He turned around once he got to the gate and waited for Azhani to catch up. They headed through as soon as she did, and found a cart loaded up with supplies a short distance ahead of them. There was a hooded woman who Azhani didn’t recognize already seated up front with the horse.
      “And you really think it can work?” Azhani asked.
      “I fuckin’ hope so.” He pulled himself up into the cart as soon as he got to it, then turned around and waved for Azhani to sit in the back with the supplies. The woman didn’t acknowledge her, but Bjorn decided to introduce the two anyways. “Azhani, that’s Serana, Serana, that’s Azhani, we’re all acquainted, good, let’s go.” He waited only as long as it took Azhani to get properly seated before he whipped the reins and set off.
      Azhani watched behind her as the town walls faded from view, and once they disappeared behind trees and over the horizon, she took to examining their stock for the journey. For the most part, she was seated among boxes of food. There were some blankets, folded up into a pile which she turned into her seat, and some bags filled with potions. There were a few fancy-looking ones that must have been healing potions. They were a very deep, luminous red that Azhani hadn’t seen on any other potions before. Granted, she didn’t handle potions very often, but still. She figured it was probably best that she not mess around with them – they were probably very expensive and rare, so breaking them or drinking them when they weren’t necessary likely wasn’t a good idea.
      Something else caught her eye once she put those healing potions back. There was a faint glint of metal coming off of something hidden beneath some clothes and a few more blankets. It wasn’t like Azhani had a habit of trying to take shiny things, or anything, but she still felt compelled to carefully rearrange the pile of clothes so as to better see what was hidden below. She wasn’t really sure what it was, since she’d never seen anything like it before. It was some sort of golden tube, with handles coming out of either end of it. There was a large jewel in the middle of it, and a few smaller ones near the edges. Azhani picked it up, slowly and carefully, and rolled it around in her hands. Below the center jewel, there was something that looked like it could be pulled on to make something happen. Maybe if she just-
      “Hey, wait, don’t touch that!” The hooded woman – who Bjorn called Serana – had turned around just in time to see Azhani attempting to open the device. The Khajiit’s hands flew up, and she dropped the thing and let it roll over to the side of the cart.
      Bjorn had pulled the horse into a hard stop and turned around to see what had happened once he heard the shout, and saw Azhani just sitting there with her hands up, shaking, looking at the two of them – more at Bjorn than Serana, who she found slightly unnerving, but didn’t really know why. The golden thing was still rolling around a bit without anything to keep it in place. “You didn’t open it, did you?” His question was answered by some rather violent head-shaking, so he sighed and turned back around, setting off once more. “Good. Keep it hidden, and, seriously, don’t touch it.”
      Azhani slowly brought her hands down again as she calmed down a bit. Her heart was still racing, but that would sort itself out. “What is it?” She shoved the pile of clothes back on top of it.
      The Dragonborn and Serana looked at each other, then they both turned to face the road. “Looooooong fuckin’ story,” Bjorn said, taking a deep breath. “That-“ he pointed over his shoulder with a thumb. “- is an Elder Scroll. We’re taking it to High Hrothgar. Not for the war meeting, though.”
      Azhani moved as far away from the Scroll as she could once it had been covered up again. “Why are we doing that?”
      “He needs it so it can teach him some Shout to defeat Alduin,” Serana said, looking over her shoulder just slightly. “Something about going back in time, I think.”
      “Yeah, like I said, it’s a really long story. It’ll take us a few days to get there, maybe I could tell it…” Bjorn shrugged. “Doubt you’d believe it, though.”
      “Hmph.” Azhani crossed her arms and just stayed seated in the farthest corner from the Elder Scroll. “And who is she?” She pointed at Serana without uncrossing her arms, just lifting a finger and directing it towards that general area.
      Bjorn and Serana looked at each other and didn’t say anything for several seconds. Bjorn finally gave the answer, “Old friend.” Then he turned around to watch the road again.
      Azhani nodded silently, and they continued on for a few minutes without anyone saying anything. In that time, Azhani finally calmed down completely from the Scroll incident. Though, that made her faintly aware of something. “Hey, uh, when do we stop?”
      The Dragonborn looked over at her. “I wasn’t planning on it until around noon or so. Why, do you, uh, need us to?”
      Azhani quickly turned away from him and looked out over the back of the cart. “N-no, no. Just, just asking.”
      Bjorn shrugged. “Alright then.”
      Just until noon. That wouldn’t be a problem at all.
      For once, she was right. The group had stopped by the western shore of Lake Honrich shortly after noon, and Azhani gladly took the opportunity to run off into the woods and do her business. She didn’t need to, really, but if this was going to be the pacing of the whole trip, it would probably turn out better for her not to risk it. The hardest part would be finding somewhere private enough, especially as they got closer to their destination and the woods inevitably thinned out. But that wouldn’t be a problem for another couple of days yet.
      Azhani re-dressed and started working her way back through the undergrowth, and she was suddenly hit by the gravity of their destination only being a few days’ journey away. They’d get to Ivarstead by the end of the week, work their way up to High Hrothgar, and if everything went according to plan, the Civil War would be over for good by the end of the month. She wasn’t really sure what to do with that information – she didn’t really have any home to go back to once the war was over and the dragons were dealt with. Of course, this particular war had only been going on for a few months, so it’s not like it specifically had any major effect on her, but it was still just one more thing out to ruin everyone’s lives. Apparently the last thirty years were really good at doing that. Even when there wasn’t some war going on, there would be some internal strife or some problems rebuilding, and then something else would come along and throw everyone back to where they were before.
      Even so, the chance of some reprieve from the endless conflict made Azhani hopeful that she could actually turn her life around. She’d probably have to stay in Riften for a while, and she didn’t really have any marketable skills, but still. There was a chance that she’d become something, and that was enough. She shook her head as she came out of the woods, crossing the road to head back to camp. None of that really mattered right now. They had a job to do, and frankly it was kind of exciting for her to be involved in something so important, even if she had no idea what would come of it.
      Azhani returned to camp to see the Dragonborn building a fire a little way’s back from the shoreline, while Serana crawled around in the back of the cart, looking through the various bags. She grabbed one, then jumped out of the cart and sat down with it under a nearby tree. Azhani looked over at her only briefly – it seemed to be the bag with the fancy potions in it, but something about Serana told her she’d be better off minding her own business. So, rather than taking a closer look to find out more, she took a seat by the fire, which Bjorn had lit just by touching it.
      “Alright, so, way I figure it, we can only afford to spend maybe an hour here.” He walked over to the cart and pulled out one of the boxes. He brought it over to the fire, opening it to reveal a small assortment of meats. “These are frost-salted,” he explained to Azhani while he skewered them and set them up over the fire. “They’ll last a while, but not the whole trip. Probably just good for today, really, considering I’ve already been hauling them around for a couple days.” He nodded in the direction of Serana’s tree. “Serana’s going to do our hunting, though, so we’ll be fine.”
      Azhani nodded, not really paying attention, since she was absorbed in watching the food being cooked right in front of her. As soon as she pulled herself out of it, though, she asked the first thing to come to mind. “Why bring her, anyways? Why not Lydia?”
      “Because of the Scroll.” Bjorn didn’t look up from his work. “Serana is the only person I trust to actually handle one, and since we won’t be able to take the cart all the way up to High Hrothgar, she’s got to carry it for us. I’d do it myself, but I don’t really want to take something that valuable to a war summit.”
      “So, why is she so special? You never mentioned her.” Azhani looked over her shoulder at Serana, but almost immediately turned around again to stare at what would shortly be lunch.
      “Uh…” Bjorn very briefly stopped what he was doing and leaned back a little. “She, uh… has a history guarding Scrolls. Kept one out of the hands of… a, uh… vampire lord, and because of that he didn’t conquer the world. So that’s nice.”
      “Vampire lord?”
      “Yeah, ever hear of the Volkihars?” He went back to getting their food ready, and Azhani just shook her head. “Well, then, it’s not all that important. Guy was crazy, guy was stopped, not, uh, not much to say about that.” The last few words almost blurred together as Bjorn tried to end the sentence quickly. Azhani didn’t seem to notice.
      Neither of them had anything else to say for the next few minutes, until Bjorn decided that the meat was properly cooked and brought it out of the fire. He handed some over to Azhani, keeping the rest for himself.
      The Khajiit decided she had something to say, but not before taking a few bites. Or, more accurately, eating half of what she had just been given. “What about her?” She glanced at Serana, who was now looking out over the river and at the wilds beyond the far shore.
      “Oh, she’ll be fine.” Bjorn hastily pulled a flask off his belt and drank from it before offering it to Azhani, who reluctantly took it after taking a moment to consider.
      She sniffed at the flask’s opening, then took a sip. It was some sort of wine unlike anything she’d known to come out of Skyrim. “This is good.” She took another swig and handed it back. “Where did you get it?”
      “It’s from Cyrodiil,” Bjorn said as he set the flask down. “Got it from some Baandari, actually. Only people who’ll actually risk hauling stuff around between provinces nowadays.”
      Azhani nodded. She finished off what food was left in front of her, then spoke again as she started leaning back. “About that. What exactly is your plan?”
      “Hm?” Bjorn looked over at her with his mouth full, swallowed, and gave his answer. “Oh, well. I don’t really have an actual plan.” Azhani glared at him, and he rushed to continue speaking. “Eh, I mean, I know what we’re doing, but it all really depends on whether or not these people will listen. Really, the meeting is just so that I can deal with Alduin, but I figured I might as well go one step further.” He took another bite and another drink, then went on. “Basically, what I did was: I took that old guy – Esbern – from the sewers over to some old Blades temple way out in the Reach, and then I was told I’d need to get a dragon to help me get to Alduin. They recommended I go to Whiterun, since Dragonsreach was actually used to trap a dragon once. So I go there, but Balgruuf doesn’t want me to call a dragon to his city unless I can guarantee that nobody’s going to attack it. And then…” He took another drink. “Then I went all the fucking way out to Solitude, asked Tullius to agree to a truce, he said no, so I told him to get his ass to High Hrothgar to negotiate one. Then I went to Windhelm and did the same damn thing with Ulfric. I, uh, picked up Serana right after I left Solitude, and on our way east we stopped by Winterhold, because I left the Scroll with the College.” He sighed. “Then I went back to Riften, and now we’re here. The plan is to get Ulfric and Tullius to stop trying to kill each other. If all goes well, the war will be over for good. At first, I just wanted to get them to agree to a temporary peace, and then they’d go right back to burning stuff down. But then I remembered that you gave me the idea to end the fucking war entirely, so now I’ve got to figure out how to do that without giving either Ulfric or Tullius anything they actually want out of a peace deal.” He let himself fall back onto the grass. “We’ve all got more important shit to deal with than their war. There won’t be any better opportunity to end it without letting any more people die.”
      “You did all that in two weeks?” Azhani looked over at Bjorn, with an eyebrow raised and her head cocked.
      “Yeah, I had Lydia go home once I had Esbern, and we got the fastest horse and most direct route possible to where we were going. That and getting to Windhelm and back to Riften took the most time. I can move really fast when I’m on my own. Only problem is it’s really exhausting, too.” He suddenly jumped up just then. “No time for that, though, time to get moving again.”
      He reached out with one arm and snapped his hand shut, causing the flame in front of him to fade away immediately. Then he picked his box back up, tossed it into the cart, and climbed aboard. Apparently, Serana had found her way back while he was explaining everything, so they only had to wait for Azhani to negotiate her way into the back again. As soon as their feline cargo was secure, though, they set off immediately.
      It wasn’t until well after sunset that the group stopped to make camp again. Or, at least, Bjorn was setting up camp while Serana made her way into the woods, and Azhani was hurrying along in a similar direction. In hindsight, it probably would have been a good idea to just drink from the river or something last time they stopped. Sure, she didn’t really have all that much wine, and only tapped into their reserves a little bit, but considering the length of the journey, it’d probably be smart to avoid alcohol altogether.
      She did have to give Keerava some credit, though, as she found a suitable location and got herself into position just in time. That “training” she had Azhani do was actually helping quite a bit. She probably wouldn’t have been nearly as dry by now if she hadn’t taken part in all that. Granted, her current situation couldn’t strictly be called “dry”, but it was still quite a bit better than what she was capable of at the start of the month. Quite fortunate for her, really, considering she only brought with her what she was wearing, and there didn’t seem to be any extra clothes brought along in her size. And it’d probably be considered rude if she were to ruin her own clothes, then borrow Serana’s and ruin those too. Hopefully that wouldn’t happen.
      At the very least, it wouldn’t be happening that night. Sure, that little bit of dampness that was there wouldn’t be particularly comfortable, but it was better than the alternative. It was also a problem for later – for right now, she’d just finished draining herself for a good minute, so it was time to get back to camp and see what Bjorn’s idea of dinner would be. Too bad she had to go so deep into the woods to feel decently private – it took a lot of work to pick her way out again, and even more work to remember what direction she was supposed to be heading in to begin with. If she hadn’t been in such a rush she probably would have remembered the path she took and wouldn’t have had to waste ten minutes wandering around trying to figure out which way was north.
      Once Azhani finally did find her way back to camp, she was a little bit surprised to see that the only person there was Bjorn, who had tossed some blankets out of the cart and onto the grass. He’d somehow managed to get all his armor off on his own, and he was sitting by the fire he’d made. If not for the firelight, Azhani might not have even seen him at first, since the padded clothes he was wearing were all completely black – at least, she wouldn’t have seen him if she didn’t have built-in Nighteye.
      Non-Khajiit vision problems aside, Azhani grabbed one of the blankets and dragged it over to the fire, lying down on it as soon as she’d gotten it positioned just so. A quick, lazy scan of the area showed that it was just herself and the Dragonborn at camp at the moment. Serana was nowhere to be seen, which meant she never came back from her trip into the woods when they arrived. More importantly, though…
      “Where’s the food?” Azhani pulled herself up into an almost-sitting position.
      Bjorn pointed over his shoulder at the woods across the road – seriously, if Azhani were any other race, he’d just be a floating head to her right now – and yawned out an answer. “Serana’s getting it.” He reached off to one side and produced a bag. “Some bread here if you want it, though.”
      Azhani shrugged, grabbing a piece of bread and nibbling at it. Wasn’t exactly high-quality, but she’d had worse. And there was still the promise of eating something that had only died a few minutes ago. When was the last time she’d gone on a proper hunt for herself, anyways? Months, years ago, maybe, considering she’d been entirely unarmed while wandering around Skyrim recently.
      There wasn’t much in the way of conversation in the few minutes it took for Serana to get back – and when she returned, she was hauling a decently-sized buck over to camp, holding it over one shoulder as if it were a barrel, or something. Azhani couldn’t help thinking that that definitely shouldn’t have been possible for a single person to do. But, then again, the Dragonborn was ten feet from her, too, so she really wasn’t in a position to judge what was possible and what wasn’t. Impossibility aside, it was happening, and now a deer had been dropped right by the fire, and a woman Azhani hardly knew was busy skinning it.
      Not that her familiarity with Serana really changed anything – the Khajiit was sitting perfectly upright, eyes trained on the deer as skilled hands shaped it into a form suitable for cooking. It must have still been warm, and smelled like it’d be delicious. In fact, she would have just reached over and grabbed a piece if not for the fact that there was a fire and a knife in the way. Azhani was a Khajiit, she could handle a little raw meat. But there were two humans there, and only one of her, so their need to have their food cooked outweighed her impatience. She did manage to tear herself away from what would soon become dinner, and decided to get some water instead. If Azhani were to go do something else, she’d feel less of a need to jump Serana and not bother dealing with the whole preparation process.
      That’s what she told herself, anyways, and it was partially true. The other part was that she was really damn sure that keeping some water for herself would be a much better idea than getting into the group’s supplies. Those were mostly beer – great for travelling with, sure… for literally anyone but Azhani on this particular journey. She’d already seen where that would get her, and that’d only get worse later. Fortunately, there was an empty waterskin on the cart, stuck under one of the several piles of cloth concealing the Elder Scroll. Not that she’d been trying to dig the Scroll out or anything – in fact she would have very much preferred to be as far away from it as possible, in case it did something crazy like explode and set everything on fire – but she’d been pretty sure there was interesting stuff stashed into those piles.
      She was extremely disappointed to find out that the piles pretty much only contained random cloth and some spare clothes, aside from the waterskin. At least she got something useful out of it. Azhani knelt down once she got to the shore of the Treva. She could still hear the sounds of camp behind her, but if she just focused on the river all she could hear was running water and the occasional owl or some other such creature. Azhani reached out into the river with one hand, letting a little bit pool up before bringing it back out to taste it. She wasn’t quite sure how the water looked just now, considering everything looked a little blue and washed-out thanks to her Nighteye, but it tasted fine. Not the greatest, considering it came out of Riften, but it would do.
      With the skin filled, Azhani headed back to camp, where the group’s dinner was already being cooked – the deer had been fairly completely stripped of fur and meat, with the excess meat shoved into a box nearby. Bjorn was keeping watch over the food to make sure it was cooking evenly, and Serana had gotten up to make sure the horse wasn’t getting into trouble – and to grab the bag of potions from the cart. Azhani seated herself on her blanket again and got back to staring at their food. She seriously considered just grabbing some off the fire and eating it right then, but decided that it’d look weird if she were to do that. It’s not like she was starving or anything, but this would be the first fresh meat she’d eaten in a long time. Why ruin that with something as silly as cooking?
      In any event, in the time it took Serana to get back to the fire and sit down with those potions, the Dragonborn had apparently become satisfied with the state of the venison in front of him, and distributed what meat had been prepared according to his idea of “even”. Which is to say, he gave himself the bulk of it, Azhani had a respectable slab for herself, and Serana only had enough to feed a child. That struck Azhani as rather odd, considering she hadn’t actually seen Serana eat anything at all since she met her – granted, that was only twelve hours before, but still. Serana didn’t really seem to care about it, which was even weirder. Serana was just sitting there, sipping on a potion. She’d occasionally prod at the food she’d been given and eat a little piece of it, but she seemed way more focused on her drink.
      Not that it was any of Azhani’s business, really. According to her understanding of humans, they didn’t strictly need meat. Not the way Khajiit did, anyways – as she understood it, a human could go for quite a while on just plants, especially if they got the right ones, but a Khajiit would starve pretty quickly if one were to try that. Maybe Serana was just one of that kind of human. Azhani had never met one before, though she always thought they were kind of interesting. They were like reverse Bosmer. Though, if those potions were all Serana ever put into her body, then they probably weren’t actually healing potions, and were instead some food-type-thing made specifically for her, and it’d be a good idea for nobody else to touch them. Yep. That made sense. Azhani could now eat comfortably having come to this entirely logical conclusion, though she still couldn’t look Serana in the eye without feeling weird about it. There was something about her that really did make Azhani uncomfortable, but she couldn’t pinpoint what it was. Maybe she was just racist. Maybe it was because Serana never seemed to take that hood off. Or both.
      Whatever it was, Azhani knew she didn’t really have any reason to think Serana would do something weird. The Dragonborn trusted her, after all. Azhani didn’t fully trust the Dragonborn, sure, but that was just because of the one little feature he shared with Keerava. He could definitely be trusted to keep people safe otherwise. And, ultimately, her concerns didn’t really matter all that much. Once her meal was finished, Azhani ended up being the first one out of the three to fall asleep. Whatever her concerns were, she could no doubt just ask about them in the morning.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~     
      “Fuck!”
      That couldn’t be good.
      “Mu alok ahst folaas tiid! Ruth shul… Alok.” Bjorn prodded Azhani with one foot, repeating that word. “Alok, alok.” He’d negotiated his way into his armor and was now running around collecting everything they’d strewn about the campsite the night before.
      “What’s going on?” Azhani sat up and rubbed her eyes.
      “Volost tiid, mu b-buh…“ Bjorn briefly stopped packing and took a deep breath when he saw Azhani’s look of utter confusion. “Krosis, I, uh… This is way later than I’d wanted to wake up, and now we’re kind of in a rush if we want to get there on time. Which I do.” He picked up all the blankets and carried them over to the cart under one arm. “So, uh, get in. We have to move fast to make up for lost time.”
      Azhani looked around for a moment, but quickly followed along and hopped up into the cart. Serana had apparently been sitting up front already and was silently waiting for them to leave. Bjorn haphazardly loaded up the cart with whatever was left and got his horse running as fast as physically possible. Azhani took the chance to ask a question. “What’s the rush? It’s a few days of a trip, no? What does it matter if we’re a few hours late?” She splashed her face with some water out of the skin she’d filled the night before.
      “And what’s up with the dragon-speak?” Serana chimed in with her own question.
      “Be a few hours late one day and we end up getting there two days after everyone else. Time really just goes nuts if you let it start getting away from you.” Bjorn looked over his shoulder just long enough to see Azhani give a slight nod. “And you know how the whole dragon-killing thing goes, Serana. I get their souls, but also their knowledge. That’s how I learn new Shouts – and those are just dragon words. At this point I’ve slaughtered enough of them for their language to be second-nature. Hardly even notice what I’m speaking in anymore.”
      “Yeah, but, I mean, why speak in it at all? When is a dragon ever going to want to have a conversation with you?” Serana was looking dead ahead as she spoke.
      “Because it’s a really great language for swearing in. It’s pretty much specifically designed for anger.” Bjorn shrugged. “And a dragon conversation is literally a fight anyways, so technically dragons come up trying to talk to me – or, at me, I guess – all the damn time.”
      “Uh huh. I’m sure they love you.” Serana folded her arms and bowed her head, as if she were trying to fall asleep sitting there.
      Turned out she did end up falling asleep, maybe. She was normally quiet anyways, but, still, she was hardly moving at all. So everyone carried on in silence for a few minutes – a few minutes which Azhani used to shuffle around through bags and piles, looking for something interesting. This, apparently, attracted the Dragonborn’s attention.
      “Whatcha doin’ back there?” He looked over his shoulder, and Azhani turned around to look at him as well.
      “Did you bring any books, or something like that?”
      “Uh, yeah,” Bjorn said. “Old ones, but they should be there somewhere, packed into some corner, maybe.”
      Azhani nodded and shoved her hand into a gap between one of the boxes and the side of the cart. Sure enough, she pulled out a worn-out book. The leather on the covers was beaten-up and torn in places, and the pages were brown, several of them seeming to have been slightly burned. The title was illegible, but the author’s name was still clear enough. “Quill-Weave? This one is not familiar.” Azhani settled herself onto the blankets from last night and leaned against the edge of the cart, gingerly flipping through the first few pages.
      “She was a writer from Anvil during the Oblivion Crisis. Kinda famous back home, obviously not so much up here.” The Dragonborn was looking at the road now. “I don’t know what happened to her, but I’m pretty sure she survived the invasions.”
      “And what about this? The dedications page, it says ‘K. M.’” Azhani pointed to the letters and looked over at the back of Bjorn’s head.
      “No fucking clue.” Bjorn threw up a hand and turned just enough to see Azhani. “Could be anyone. All her stuff from the Fourth Era has that person listed, but I don’t know why or who it is, and I doubt anyone but Quill-Weave ever did.”
      “Hm.” The Khajiit crossed her legs and leaned back as far as she could without falling out onto the road, and flipped around until she found the first page with an actual story on it. Azhani could tell pretty quickly why this Quill-Weave was so well-known in the Imperial Province, and she could guess where the name came from to begin with. If she wasn’t careful, Azhani could get herself lost in the book for hours. Of course, she had no intention of being careful. The abrupt start to the morning meant she was not in peak condition, which made the book’s distracting powers all the more useful. Only problem being that it’d eventually get to the point where a distraction wouldn’t work, but they’d more than likely have to stop for lunch before then.
      Or not. They could just keep following the road as it wound its way through the woods and make a lunch out of what food they had on the cart with them. That would work, too. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing – Azhani got to dig through what was left of the deer from the night before, and if they didn’t stop she’d have more time to read that old book she’d found. But, then again, the meat had already been salted and had dried out, so it wasn’t as good of a meal as Azhani had expected. In fact, it tasted pretty much just like cooked meat at that point, except it was cold and also salty. What a waste of perfectly good food.
      Fortunately, this was absolutely the primary concern for Azhani. There was nothing at all that could possibly have been more important than this issue. Salted food was without a doubt the single worst thing to have happened to Azhani that day. Absolutely. Not a single thing was more important or could possibly make things any worse than that. Not one thing. Not even something that needed her immediate attention and would only get worse over time, and also didn’t exist. Nope. That would be ridiculous. What on Nirn could make anyone assume there was such an issue?
      Probably the fact that Azhani couldn’t sit still. That would tend to give someone that impression. Of course, being in the back of a cart, surrounded by boxes, sacks of alchemical supplies, piles of fabrics, and the world’s most dangerous sheet of paper meant comfortable seating was hard to come by. Still, though, considering Azhani had been fairly stationary with her book for the past several hours, something was definitely amiss now.
      “Holy fucking Tiber.” Fortunately for Azhani, Bjorn wasn’t paying much attention. “Is this woman really still asleep?” He had to grab Serana to make sure she didn’t fall out of the cart. As it turned out, she was indeed still asleep. The Dragonborn sighed and looked over his shoulder once he was sure his companion was properly vertical. “Anyways, how’re you doin’ back there? Quill lived up to her reputation, I hope.”
      “What?” Azhani did her best to not move around too much. “Oh, uh… yeah, it’s, uh, it’s a good book.” She shuffled around and presser her legs together as discreetly as possible. “Hey, we’ve, uh, we’ve been on the road a while, yes?”
      “Yeah,” Bjorn sighed. “And we’ve still got another… two hours, almost, to make up for lost time today.” He quickly turned to look at something else – nothing in particular, just not at the Khajiit in his cart. “That, uh, that won’t be a problem, will it?”
      Azhani gave herself a little squeeze as soon as she was sure she wasn’t being watched. “Nnn-no. No. It’s fine.” She hoped he couldn’t hear the doubt in her voice.
      Bjorn responded with a “Hm”, and then the two refused to say anything for several minutes. Azhani couldn’t tell if the silence was making things worse. She was sure that a distraction would be really helpful, though, considering she now needed to add an extra two hours onto what had to be at least twelve by now. It wasn’t helping that the whole being-in-a-cart thing was just making the situation even more like Cyr-
      “Hey, if you don’t mind…” Bjorn decided that that exact moment was the right time to strike up a conversation. “Uh, what were you doing before you got to Riften?” Then he hastily threw in, “B-besides, uh, Guild… stuff… I mean.”
      “Before Riften?” Azhani shuffled around in a vain attempt to get comfortable. “This one… she, ah, she was wandering the, eh, the Empire. She l-left home as a girl, twelve years old, and just… went from town to town, to make money.” She was now lying down as well as she could in the limited space in the cart, with her tail wrapped around her legs. Only problem was she couldn’t get those to stop moving. “Bravil was closest big city to home that wasn’t… Dominion… so she st-started there.”
      Bjorn looked over his shoulder again, which caused Azhani to straighten up again as quickly as she could. “Oh, you’ve been to Cyrodiil? When was that?”
      Azhani winced from the effort of sitting up again, and her words blended with a low growl. “Brrrrrravil was… was… ten years ago.”
      “Ten years?” Bjorn turned back to the road and took a moment to think, and then he lit up. “Hey, I was in Leyawiin for about a year or two back in the ‘90s. Might have even seen you on the way back north.”
      Azhani shook her head. “Doubt it. No- nobody notices Khajiit in rags in the c-city where everyone is in rags.” Then she turned and looked at the back of the Dragonborn’s head. “Wait. You went south of the Jeralls?”
      Bjorn looked over at the shaky Khajiit with a confused look on his face. “Uh, yeah, I’ve been all over the homeland. Leyawiin, Cheydinhal… Even been to Kvatch a couple times.”
      “Kvatch?” Azhani leaned forward – as well as she could, anyways – and stared intently at Bjorn. She was even surprising herself with how effective a distraction this conversation was, especially considering the country they were discussing. “How is Kvatch? This one heard good things. She’s wanted to live there for years.”
      The Dragonborn shook his head. “No, no no no no. You do not want to live in Kvatch. It’s a bunch of touristy bullshit.”
      “Touristy?”
      “Yeah. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice place and all, but…” Bjorn took a deep breath. “But there’s fuck all to do there. Sure, looks nice, the people are nice, but it’s pretty much just a town full of shopkeepers trying to cash in on the Oblivion Crisis.” He turned to watch the road again and started using enthusiastic hand gestures while he talked. “Come see the town the Daedra destroyed, come see the house Jiub died in, come see the place Emperor Martin took a shit once.” He shook his head. “They even rebuilt the fucking arena, but it’s all just reenactments of either the liberation of Kvatch, the Battle of Bruma, or the assault on the Temple of the One - or whatever the fuck the Thalmor want us to call it now. Temple of Akatosh? What the fuck ever. Point is, they don’t do anything good there. Yeah, we get it, your town was destroyed two hundred years ago. You can stop making a big deal out of it now.”
      Azhani tilted her head. “So, what towns are good there?”
      “Honestly?” Bjorn shrugged. “None of them. Cyrodiil’s a terrible place to live. Can’t go more than a week without someone somewhere destroying everything. I mean, sure, I’ve never actually seen a Cyrodiil that’s not reeling from the Great War, but, still… It sucks. It’s home and everything, but with all the shit that’s been going on for the past thousand years, it’s not a great place to live.”
      “Oh. W-“
      “But!” Bjorn cut Azhani off. “Assuming nothing goes horribly wrong, I deal with the dragons, and the Dominion gets their ass kicked… I’d like to retire to Anvil.”
      The Khajiit’s legs crossed, un-crossed, then crossed again. Hopefully subtly. “Why Anvil?”
      “It held up really well during the Crisis, and even though it got wrecked by the Dominion it’s still pretty rich.” Bjorn reached for his flask and took a sip. “And, anyways, it’s a major port, but apparently it was a calm place with good people before the War came along and fucked everything up.” He shrugged again. “I dunno, it might never get back to the way it was, but it’d be nice. Anyways, you got any plans other than Kvatch?”
      Azhani shrugged and bounced her legs absentmindedly. “This one isn’t the plan-making type. Never had money for that. But, uh, she’s from Rimmen…” She shook her head. “No, this one left for a reason. It wouldn’t be home anymore.” Hopefully, Bjorn couldn’t see her eyes watering. It was better than if that moisture were much lower, though, but still. And if she didn’t deal with things soon…
      Bjorn looked over his shoulder again, then turned back immediately, realizing it was probably in his best interests to not get too involved. “W-well, there’s still Riften, right? Just stick with Keerava and Talen, things won’t be all bad.”
      “Aren’t they trying to get out of Skyrim?”
      “Y-yeah, they are. But they’re your friends, aren’t they? I’m sure they’d help you out with something once they don’t have to worry about keeping their lives together.”
      Azhani let out another low growl, trying to form it into a word instead while she shifted around. “Rrrrrrreally?” She hesitantly reached for her waterskin and drank a little bit. She didn’t really want to, for obvious reasons, but the one downside to using a conversation as a distraction was that it made her thirsty. And then that ultimately just made things worse.
      The Dragonborn nodded. “I don’t see why not.” He turned around just enough to see what was going on in the back of the cart and saw that Azhani had moved herself to be sitting on the floor, with her foot jammed underneath her. “Uh, you sure you’re okay?”
      Azhani’s response was to cross her arms and press herself even harder into her foot. “Fine.”
      “If you say so.” Bjorn rolled his eyes and turned back to the road.
      Of course, Azhani was most certainly not fine, and as soon as the Dragonborn wasn’t looking anymore, she got straight to doing whatever she could do to make herself last just a little longer. And she was definitely not thinking of the fact that the entire conversation they’d just finished could only possibly have taken up twenty minutes at most. That would have bad implications, plus it felt like it had taken more than an hour, so clearly that was the proper thing to believe.
      For all the “training” she’d received from Keerava over the past month, the one thing she never prepared for was the possibility that she wouldn’t be able to relieve herself in the morning. After all, why should she? There would always be an opportunity for that. Now she was mentally kicking herself – physically too, to some extent, and with a loose definition of “kicking” – the entire point of the training was to prepare Azhani’s tiny bladder for unforeseen circumstances, especially relating to work. Well, here was an unforeseen circumstance that she hadn’t been prepared for. Keerava would be disappointed. Or maybe just aroused. Either way, Azhani didn’t really want to consider either of those situations. The former was just shameful, and the latter was… weird, to say the least.
      The good thing was that Keerava wasn’t there. And, assuming no further Dragonborn interventions, Azhani would have some degree of privacy to do whatever she needed to. Well, not whatever, considering the one thing she actually did need to do was practically impossible. That would be varying degrees of rude and unsanitary. And possibly deadly – were Elder Scrolls waterproof? This was not the time to find out.
      So, Azhani sat where she was, rocking back and forth and occasionally shivering, despite the fact that she hadn’t actually taken off the cloak she’d received from Bjorn since putting it on the day before, and it was still just a few hours after noon so the sun still had quite a long way to go before disappearing below the horizon. The fact that the road had just recently turned to run much closer to the banks of the Treva wasn’t helping matters at all. It was close enough to hear – it still was before, but it could be ignored then. Now it couldn’t, and there was the bonus of not being able to run off somewhere farther away. If she could have done that, she would have a long time ago, but if she were to jump out of the cart somewhere, it’d take her far too long to find her way into a secluded spot in the woods, do what needed to be done, get back, and then find the cart again. It’d probably just waste even more time since the Dragonborn would either stop and wait for her or go back and try to find her once he noticed she was missing. For as much as she really wanted to do that and be done with it, it was not a good solution. She was in this mess because of wasted time, after all.
      What made things worse was that that was the only solution, really. Azhani had already pawed through the alchemy bags – for completely unrelated reasons – and found a bunch of little vials just a bit bigger than her hands, several of them stained with the remnants of that vegetarian mixture Serana drank. No big mixing jugs or anything. Nobody even takes those on trips like this anyways, especially not adventurers. Alchemy equipment just weighs them down to the point of immobility if they were to try to take some along and grab a bunch of loot out of whatever Ayleid ruin they were plundering. Plus, these vials were glass, so even if they were big enough to contain the rather excessive amounts of liquid they needed to, they’d make a lot of noise, so they wouldn’t be an option anyways.
      She had also given some consideration to grabbing up some of the cloth that was lying around the cart, shoving it all underneath her, and just letting loose then tossing the stuff overboard when she was finished. That idea was quickly dismissed, since everything that would actually be useful in that situation was either a blanket or an article of clothing. In other words, things that were far better off not covered in what was essentially cat piss. Sure, there were some apparently-useless rags and little scraps of cloth, but not only were those used to conceal the Elder Scroll, they also wouldn’t be anywhere near absorbent enough. And “absorbent enough” was becoming a higher and higher bar by the second.
      Then there was the much simpler choice, which was also the first one to be ruled out: Azhani could just give up and wet herself right where she sat. That would do by far the most damage, and it’d waste by far the most time. Pretty much anything touching the ground would be soaked to the point of being ruined, everything would need to be cleaned out, all the food would need to be destroyed and replaced… It was clearly the worst idea. Plus, even if she’d wanted to do it, she wasn’t really sure if she could. After all, she was very much in public. Sure, the road was deserted aside from the cart Azhani was riding on, but there were two people within arm’s reach of her that would definitely hear things happening. There would be no way she’d relax enough to let that happen, especially considering she was still extremely uncomfortable with Serana for reasons she still didn’t quite know. She’d forgotten to ask about that, and now was nowhere near a suitable time.
      So, having ruled out all possible means by which to relieve herself, Azhani was left with only one thing to do: wait as long as necessary. She knew it was possible, theoretically. As long as there were people around to see, her body would fight itself for her. She learned that in Cyrodiil. She also learned that relying on her bladder-shyness would just end up with her in pain, or worse, so ultimately even her only viable option wasn’t a very good one. What made things even worse was that she was pretty damn sure that her wait now was at least as long as it had been then – which meant it’d end the same way, if the next hour could hurry along and finish. And if it couldn’t, it’d end worse.
      If there were literally anything at all Azhani could do about her situation, things would be fine. But as it stood, all she could do was sit around and bounce and shake and just try to not have things end catastrophically. She couldn’t even see properly anymore, and all the sounds around her were starting to blend together into some formless roaring. At least, she sure did hope that was the many hours of urine in her messing with her head, and not something incredibly inconvenient like a giant, until-recently mythical, carnivorous beast about to fall out of the sky and cut off their path. Knowing her luck…
      As far as she could tell, though, she got lucky. She didn’t have to add “escape a dragon attack with an extremely full bladder and also find a place to take care of that problem at the same time” to the list of things she needed to deal with. Not yet, anyways.
      Her only real solace was that she was pretty sure she wasn’t the only one on the cart dealing with this problem of hers. She had no idea what kind of machine Bjorn was, but Serana would surely be in a similar position to her by now. At least, if she were awake, she would be. Possibly. Unless she woke up early and took care of it, and that was why she was already waiting on the cart that morning. But even then, enough time had passed for it to become a problem, right? But then, if it had become a problem for Serana, too, surely she would have woken up by now? Maybe Azhani was just doomed to meet only steel-willed, iron-bladdered women in the Rift. After all, that seemed to be the rule so far, given the amazing sample size of two people.
      Come to think of it, Azhani hadn’t actually met all that many other Khajiit since leaving home, and she didn’t remember anyone from Anequina other than her own family and that boy from Riverhold that she liked. Maybe everyone she’d meet would be way better than her, just because all Khajiit were cursed with completely useless bladders. Though, hers wasn’t exactly completely useless – it was doing its job, after all, and it was sticking out in front of her a good deal as if to demonstrate how good of a job it was doing.
      Why was she even thinking about that anyways? That was exactly the opposite of what she wanted to have on her mind. But then, she really couldn’t distract herself with anything else either. She couldn’t see or think straight, so she couldn’t read, and salted meat would make things worse, so she couldn’t eat… Azhani was really sure that things were not going to end well for her. In fact, she was ready to give up – wanted to, even, because at least then this whole situation would be over. There was just one small problem with that, and that was the fact that it was completely impossible. This was just Cyrodiil all over again; no matter how much she wanted it to be over, she wouldn’t be able to actually do anything about it until she was able to be alone. Which meant she had to just sit there for who-knows-how-long, waiting for that opportunity. The only good thing about this compared to Cyrodiil was that she at least had some idea of how long she had to keep waiting – not a very good idea, but some vague concept of time passing and time that still needed to pass nonetheless. She knew it was just a little longer, so she kept telling herself that, whispering it as she rocked back and forth on the floor of the cart. The more she repeated it, the more time would pass, so the truer it would become. Flawless.
      Eventually, it did come true. She felt the cart stop, felt some boxes bump into her as things settled into place… There was even some mumbling that must have been the Dragonborn saying something, but Azhani was in too much pain to understand anything that was going on around her. All she knew was that right now, she had to stand up.
      Just stand up.
      It’s not that hard.
       
       
      All she had to do was one thing.
       
       
       
       
      Just one, simple thing.
       
       
       
       
       
       
      Azhani was stuck.
      That just made her angry. Here she was, given a perfect opportunity to take care of what was extremely necessary, and she couldn’t get herself to stand up. It’d make sense if she were stuck on something, or under something. But no, she just couldn’t stand, and could barely move at all to begin with. After all that, she couldn’t let it end like this. She heard movement around her but couldn’t pinpoint it. As much as she didn’t want to, Azhani tried asking for help, but she couldn’t make a sound. She heard what sounded like a voice, but it didn’t seem to be talking to her. But then it got closer. Sounded female. Azhani still had no idea what the voice was saying, nor could she see the person it was coming from, but she tried to respond to it.
      Azhani managed to lift an arm and was almost immediately dragged to her feet. She then felt her body get pulled along the cart for a bit, then for a brief moment she was in the air, and then she was standing on solid ground again, leaning against something- no, someone else. She felt the weight of a body on one side of her, and what must have been a hand that had been placed on her shoulder on the other side.
      The person she was leaning on – Serana, most likely – spoke to her, but Azhani still couldn’t hear exactly what was being said. All she did was make an attempt to walk forwards, and fairly soon she was more or less being dragged along towards what was probably the woods. Her vision was still blurred, but she could see well enough to know what they were headed for. That, and it was the only logical destination.
      Azhani and Serana walked for a while, long enough to put the sounds of the river far between a sizeable barrier of trees – at least, that’s probably what happened, since the little roaring sound wasn’t there anymore. Azhani felt herself get propped up against a tree, then apparently was asked a question. She just nodded and waved Serana away, reaching down with trembling hands to undress.
      It took a little while, and she almost fell over getting into position, but eventually she was fully prepared to just let everything go.
      And yet she couldn’t. Hopefully she didn’t break anything, because she really needed to, but was just completely incapable.
      Azhani opened her mouth, but before she could say anything, she was jabbed in the abdomen. When that didn’t accomplish anything other than a single spurt, she felt pressure being gradually applied, and then fairly soon she broke down. Azhani closed her eyes and let herself slide down to sit on the forest floor as she removed what was probably sixteen hours of liquid from her system. Her senses came back to her after a few seconds, and she realized she’d ended up sitting on both her tail and the cloak she was so kindly given. Whoops. Nothing she could do about that now. That could all be washed once she’d finished.
      “Gods, I thought we’d left the Treva behind us.”
      Azhani opened one eye to look at the source of the voice. Serana was standing nearby, just close enough to help out if need be, but far enough away for it to technically be considered privacy. She didn’t really care at this point. Things had worked out for her, just barely. And, if she was honest, they probably wouldn’t have if she hadn’t gotten help. She was… a little bit grateful for that, though it was still really weird that Serana was watching her. Half because it was Serana and half because she was being watched. Though, Azhani had to admit, it was quite a spectacle. She’d never actually seen that much urine come out of her at once, and with such force. Keerava would have approved.
      It took a couple of minutes for the torrent to die down to what could reasonably be called a stream, then it took a little while for that to die off, too. Azhani was left sitting in what was now mud, panting, half-naked, and effectively soaked from the waist down. The cloak wasn’t in usable condition, her tail was thoroughly saturated, and her pants had taken lots of collateral damage thanks to her positioning. But at least it was over.
      “Need help getting up?” Serana had come closer and was offering a hand, which Azhani took. She was pulled to her feet surprisingly quickly, considering she was making no effort at all to actually stand up. “That’s all pretty much ruined, isn’t it?”
      Azhani looked down at herself. “Yeah. All ruined.”
      “Well, here.” Serana unhooked a piece of fabric from her shoulders – essentially a miniature cape – and handed it to Azhani. “You can wear that as a skirt, get to camp, and I’ll deal with…” She gestured to the pile of soaked clothes left in the mud. “…this.”
      Azhani nodded and wrapped the cape-thing around her waist. It was shorter than she would have liked, and she couldn’t really negotiate her tail into it very well, so just had to wrap the “skirt” over it and have her tail hang straight down, but it was better than walking around half-naked. At least, she felt like it was; a human probably couldn’t see any details, but Azhani still had some degree of dignity. “What about you?” She looked over at Serana and pulled her cloak off, slinging it over one arm.
      “What about me?”
      “Don’t you need to…”
      “No.” Serana was trying to collect Azhani’s discarded clothes without getting her own clothes wet or dirty. It was harder than it sounded. “I’m fine.”
      That could not possibly have been true, but it really wasn’t Azhani’s business. So she just shrugged and picked her way through the woods, after being pointed in the proper direction.
      Azhani was pretty sure she’d just sleep for the rest of the trip that day. She’d earned it.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~     
      The next two days were uneventful. A dragon flew by once, early in the morning on Turdas, but either couldn’t detect the group through the trees they were under, or just didn’t care about them. Thus, for the last leg of the trip, Azhani alternated between being asleep and reading the book she had dug up – it was about some monoliths in Cyrodiil that had constellations carved into them. Azhani had seen some things like that in her travels, but in her experience, the ones in Cyrodiil didn’t do anything at all, unlike their relatives in Skyrim. The book was based on the premise that they did do things, and was written well enough that Azhani generally couldn’t tell what time it was unless the cart stopped or it got dark enough that she had to light a candle.
      She did have another tool for sensing the passage of time, but to her surprise it wasn’t very useful until they got to the borders of Ivarstead – there was plenty of tree cover up until then, and by the time they got to the edge of town there was practically no travelling left to do anyways. Still, though, they’d skipped their usual lunch break on the last day because they were too close to town to justify stopping, so now she was hoping they’d get done weaving through the streets soon and stop by some inn or something. Azhani had been wearing Serana’s clothes since the incident on Middas, and they were a much better fit for her than she’d expected, comfortable, and she liked the way the light gray looked on her, so she really didn’t want anything to happen to them.
      Of course, given that Ivarstead was a small mining town, and getting smaller by the day, travel through the town was fast enough to not be an inconvenience. The inconvenience would be the time spent renting a place to keep the horse and cart, unloading the cart, and preparing the Elder Scroll for transportation. That was the hardest part. Serana already had a belt she could have attached the Scroll to, so that she’d be able to carry it on her back, but they couldn’t just have a Scroll out in the open for everyone to see and potentially steal. So, they had to spend a good twenty minutes wrapping the Scroll in the cloth they’d hidden it under, making sure that no part of it would be visible to anyone, and that the cloth wouldn’t fly off in the wind. Then they had to make sure that Serana could wear a cloak over it and it wouldn’t be obvious there was something there.
      “Because,” the Dragonborn said, after Azhani impatiently questioned him on the purpose of hiding it so thoroughly. “If there’s just this bundle of cloth on her back, it’d look kind of suspicious. And if she were to just wear the Scroll outright, the cloak could easily fly up and reveal it. Considering we still have to go through town, up the mountain, and sit through however long this summit is going to last, I’d prefer if we attract as little attention as possible.” When Azhani glared at him, he added, “I realize that is still a large amount of attention. Even so, it’s best that people don’t know we have a Scroll with us.”
      So, all Azhani could do was stand there with her arms crossed, absentmindedly tapping her foot. Sure, technically she had money for once. She got a decent commission on the money she’d “recovered” from Keerava, so she could have just tracked down the inn and rented a room for a little bit of privacy.
      She could, if she hadn’t left her coinpurse in Riften. That complicated things, all because she had a habit of not having money that needed to be carried around, and as a result didn’t normally wear a purse that had no practical function. Would have been really nice to have noticed that she didn’t have it with her when they set out. Thus, she could only wait. If nothing else, Azhani at least knew that they’d have to stop by an inn somewhere – it was already a few hours past noon, and the food they’d brought along had either been eaten already or sold off as payment for stable space. Or barn space, in this case, considering they had to store a cart as well. There was no way they’d attempt the 7000 steps without having had lunch.
      Sure enough, as soon as the Elder Scroll was hidden to Bjorn’s satisfaction, they set out down the quiet roads to the one place in town that could be called a “major” inn. To Azhani’s great annoyance, the Dragonborn stopped just outside the door.
      “So,” he said. “We’ve probably got time for a few hours’ rest, so I’ll buy us a couple of rooms, and we can get some food here too.” He gave a sideways glance at Azhani. “It’s a long way up to High Hrothgar. No sense starting on it unless we’re all fully prepared.”
      Azhani rolled her eyes and followed a little behind him and Serana as they all went inside. She even came up to the counter, but only long enough for Bjorn to slide a small pouch of money across the counter and hand her a key. Conveniently, the inn’s rooms were all on the ground floor, so all she needed was a short dash across the dining room to get to privacy. But, of course, things just had to be inconvenient anyways. Azhani whined a little bit as she remembered what she’d been using as a belt.
      Serana’s clothes, despite being close enough to Azhani’s size to be wearable, were still too big to not slide off every two seconds. Azhani’s solution to this problem was to grab a rope and tie it up into a complicated knot, thus serving as a tight belt. It did what it needed to do, but right now it was just annoying. She’d only decided on this solution that morning, when she was informed that their destination was near – she figured it would be pretty stupid to try climbing a mountain while also trying to keep her pants from falling off, and then most likely flying away because that’s just the type of thing a mountain would do to her. The makeshift belt did what it needed to, though, albeit a little bit too well. As a result, Azhani couldn’t do anything other than fumble around with it, trying to find the one little part of it that’d get the rest to come loose, and with the work she’d put into tying it that morning, that wasn’t easy.
      The fact that Azhani could still hear people talking and the bard singing also wasn’t helping matters. Among other things, it made it harder to concentrate on the one thing she very much did need to focus on. After a couple of minutes with no success, she moved over to the bed and sat down, still prodding at the mess of rope that was getting in the way of her relief. The large pale stain on her cloak was an unpleasant reminder of what would happen if she couldn’t get things figured out in time.
      She was rather amused, though. Pretty much any other time, Azhani couldn’t tie a knot to save her life. And now here she was, trapped by a knot she had tied so well that she couldn’t get it untied. Or perhaps not knowing how to tie a knot was the problem, and she’d actually done a really terrible job. After all, a well-tied knot would be secure, but come undone fairly easily. This was extremely secure, but that was about all it had going for it. Her right leg constantly bouncing wasn’t exactly making things any easier, nor was the fact that there was that little metal bowl constantly off to the side of her line of sight. Probably best if she were to just… slide that back under the bed for now.
      It took another couple of very annoying minutes for Azhani’s prodding at her makeshift belt to loosen it up enough to come apart. She wasn’t quite sure what she did, or how she managed to avoid breaking a claw doing it, but that wasn’t really all that important if it meant she could unwrap the unholy abomination of rope she’d created. Perfect timing, too – right as Azhani got her belt off and her pants a little bit down, she’d inadvertently let out just enough to create a little puddle on the bed, which was almost immediately absorbed into the sheets. Wasting no time, she turned around and dropped into a squat directly over where she was sure she’d seen the chamberpot last and started to release.
      Except that sounded more like wood than metal.
      It had only been for a few seconds, and her stream hadn’t quite had enough time to get to full strength, but it still took some effort for Azhani to stop herself. She knew exactly what she’d find if she were to look down, so shoved one hand between her legs to make sure she didn’t start up again, while the other hand fished around under the bed. After a moment that was just long enough to feel an unpleasant warmth on her fingers, she’d dragged the pot out and under herself. Her hand got out of the way just in time for her stream to start again in force. She was certain that everyone outside could hear, and she knew someone would end up paying for the damage to the bed and floor – it wasn’t much, but, still, they’d find a way to charge for it. Especially since the puddle on the floor would, sooner or later, soak into the boards and leave them marked fairly permanently. Azhani made a mental note to do what she could to not get the same room on the way back from the Greybeards’ temple. Or, ever again, really.
      About a minute later, Azhani stood up and dressed herself up again, this time making sure her belt would be much simpler, while still being effective enough to actually be a belt. It mostly did what it had to do, so she slid the chamberpot back underneath the bed with one foot – still not looking down; she didn’t need to to know that the puddle she’d left had found a way to get her feet wet – and then headed out into the main room as if nothing had happened.
      Though, apparently, in the time she’d been gone, something interesting had indeed happened. The Dragonborn and Serana were sat at a table with a large assortment of meats and other foods laid out on it, and there was a golden-haired man in very expensive-looking furs seated across from the Dragonborn. He had a Dunmer lady behind him and a balding (Imperial, as far as Azhani could tell, but that was only because all the balding men she’d seen had been Imperials) man seated at his side. There was also a handful of yellow-cloaked soldiers standing around, some of them carrying shields with a horse-head motif painted on them.
      They’d only recently arrived, apparently, since the innkeeper was just now handing out drinks to the well-dressed man and his companions, and Bjorn already had a few bottles scattered around on his side of the table. As Azhani got closer, she heard the Dragonborn trying to strike up a conversation in the brief moments there wasn’t either a slab of meat or a mug in his face.
      “So,” he said when he got a chance, “Have you heard anything from the others?” Bjorn gave a little nod of acknowledgement to Azhani as she took a seat at his side, but neither of them said anything. The Dragonborn was already getting back to work at the food he had in front of him, though, so at least he had an excuse for being quiet.
      “They say Ulfric should be here soon. No news about Tullius or those Blades of yours.” Now that she was close enough to get a good look at him, Azhani could identify the man as Balgruuf the Greater. She tried not to make eye contact, but he’d noticed her anyways. “Do I know you, little lady?” His Dunmer companion was looking at her, too, with an eyebrow raised and her arms folded.
      Azhani’s response was to quickly grab the closest edible thing to her and shove it into her mouth, shaking her head fervently. Bjorn gave her a sideways glance and turned to the Jarl as soon as he could actually speak. “Uh, no?” He had no idea what he was doing. He knew it, Azhani knew it, Serana knew it. That Dunmer probably knew it too. “Her name is Azhani. She came here with me from Riften.”
      Balgruuf kept looking at the Khajiit for a little bit, but then took a swig of his drink and turned to the elf behind him. “Irileth,” he said, before trailing off into some quiet instructions. Irileth just nodded and disappeared into one of the inn rooms, and the Jarl turned back to Azhani. “Nice to meet you, then.”
      Azhani gave a little nod and got back to eating to guarantee that she wouldn’t have to make conversation.  Plus, it was good food. She wasn’t exactly big on cooking meat most of the time, but the sausages at this particular inn were made exactly the right way with exactly the right seasoning. They were making her thirsty, though, so the first chance she got she managed to direct the innkeeper to get her some mead.
      “I don’t suppose,” Balgruuf said, leaning forward with a hand over the top of his mug, “that there’s any way at all to convince you to not bring a dragon to my home.”
      “Nope.” The Dragonborn seemed a little bit too happy about that, considering he was suggesting that a giant winged death machine should be lured directly into Skyrim’s center of trade. “You wouldn’t have come all the way out here if there were any other way to get rid of Alduin.” He finished off his current mug of whatever and waved the innkeeper over for another bottle or dozen.
      “I hope you know what you’re doing, then.” Balgruuf sat back and brought his mug halfway up, then stopped and went on talking. “You… do have a plan, don’t you?”
      Bjorn and Serana looked at each other, and Azhani looked around the room, not entirely sure what was going on. “I’m not going to lie to you, Balgruuf.” Bjorn leaned forward with both arms on the table, hands folded in front of his face. “I have no fucking idea what in Oblivion I’m supposed to be doing. I was hoping the Greybeards would tell me.”
      “So, what you’re saying is…” The Jarl calmly took a sip from his mug and flagged down the innkeeper for more. “… that you had me come all the way out here, to discuss a truce, so that you can execute a plan in my city that you don’t have yet.”
      “Well, yeah, that’s the gist of it,” Bjorn said, “but you’re missing the real point here. There are more important things right now. This whole dragon thing? Honestly, I can deal with that shit when the fuck ever I want. I could probably even go catch a dragon literally anywhere. It just so happens that your nice little castle was built specifically for that. But that’s not the point.” He filled up his mug with one of the bottles he’d been given, took a swig, and continued. “What is the point, is that I’ve got this amazing opportunity just handed to me right here, all because you just happen to be the most convenient way to get one of the things that I need. I’m not going to throw that away on some fucking dragons that I can yell at until they die no matter what you do.” He gave a little hand wave and drank some more. “No, I’ve got the chance to do something really important for everyone. Do you really think I’d go through all this effort just to get Tullius and Ulfric to stop fighting for just as long as it takes them to get back home?”
      Balgruuf shook his head. “I see what you’re trying to do, and it won’t work. Ulfric is too stubborn. You think he’d agree to give up on his quest to become High King? As long as he’s alive, he’s going to be fighting the Empire.”
      “He will give up, if I can pound into his head that the Empire isn’t the real enemy.” Bjorn tapped the table in time with the last four words. “I’ll have to see what kind of terms I can get for the end of the war, but if things work out, one way or another he won’t be a problem. More importantly, when the time comes, he’ll be a valuable tool in the real war. And I know he won’t turn his back on that opportunity.”
      The Jarl of Whiterun leaned back as far as he could as his eyes widened. “Are you suggesting…” He shook his head again. “You’re completely insane.”
      Bjorn chuckled. “Yeah, maybe.” Then he raised his mug as a toast. “To Tiber Septim,” he said, perhaps a little too loud. “To the Nine.” He downed whatever drink he had left and poured himself some more. Serana and Azhani quietly raised their own drinks – Serana’s being in a cheap goblet as opposed to the mugs and tankards everyone else was drinking out of – while Balgruuf muttered something under his breath. Azhani didn’t really know why she was joining in on the toast, but twelve years with the Dominion was enough experience to know that it was her chance to stick it to them. In spirit, anyways.
      After that, the meal carried on in relative silence, and once everyone had finished eating they just lounged around at the table instead of actually going anywhere.
      “Should be almost sunset,” Serana commented, with her feet on the table and her chair looking as if it could fall back at any moment.
      “Oh, yeah, you’re right.” Bjorn got up and stretched. “We should be going soon, then.”
      Balgruuf leaned forward. “You’re going to climb the tallest mountain the world, and one of the most dangerous, at night?”
      The Dragonborn shrugged. “Yeah. I want to get there first, and really, it’s not like it’ll be any different than climbing during the day.” He pointed at each of his companions. “Everyone’s got darksight. No big deal.” His eyes glowed blue for a moment as a demonstration.
      “Fair point.” The Jarl nodded. “I suppose I’ll meet you up there, then.”
      “Yep. You two ready?” He looked over at Serana, who worked her way out of her chair without knocking anything over or getting the Scroll out of position, and at Azhani, who gave a shrug and a little nod before getting up. “Alright, I’m gonna grab us some supplies for the climb, we can meet out where the steps start.”
      Serana nodded and quietly left the inn, but Azhani stayed behind for a moment. “Uhh…” she started, lifting one foot off the ground and wiggling it around a bit to demonstrate that it was, indeed, a foot. Problem being it was just a foot, and bare feet were not optimal for mountain-climbing.
      Bjorn looked over, raised an eyebrow, then nodded. “Oh, yeah, right, I’ll get you some boots too. Don’t know if anyone around here actually makes Khajiit shoes, but I’ll find something. Just, uh, go wait with Serana, I’ll be right there.”
      Azhani nodded and turned to leave, walking past way more city guards than she was comfortable with. Once she’d left the building, she took a moment to look around and see which direction she was supposed to be heading in. Down one road there was a cart loaded with more city guards, these ones wearing blue. Or, it looked like blue, anyways. It wasn’t quite dark enough yet to justify using Nighteye, but it was still pretty hard to make out colors at a distance. Whatever they were wearing, they must have been one of the other delegations that the Dragonborn had invited.
      That wasn’t exactly any of her business, though, and Azhani figured it’d be a good idea for her to leave before someone who did recognize her showed up. She heard someone behind her shout “Death to the Stormcloaks” as she walked away, and that only made her walk faster. That was something she definitely didn’t want to get caught up in. Fortunately, that wouldn’t be a concern, and soon enough she found herself at the bridge leading directly to the foot of the Throat. Serana was sitting on the stone railing, looking up at the sky and watching the moons come into view as the sky grew darker. She didn’t acknowledge Azhani until the Khajiit came over and sat next to her.
      “Never done this before, have you?” Serana continued looking up at the sky as she spoke.
      Azhani looked over at her, and then up at the moons. “Nope. First time.” She still felt weird in Serana’s presence, but considering they’d been stuck in a cart for the past four days and nothing bad happened, she couldn’t be that bad.
      Serana looked over at the Khajiit without moving her head. “It’s… a bit of an experience. You should be fine, though. Just hang back and we’ll take care of everything.”
      “You don’t have a weapon, though.”
      Serana didn’t say anything. She just held out her left hand, palm up, and a block of ice soon appeared. She moved her arm across the front of her body and the block turned into something that could be called a spear. Then she brought the ice-spear back and casually tossed it away over the bridge. “You were saying?”
      Azhani just nodded.
      “Y’know, it would help if you were to get yourself a knife or something.” Serana turned to look at Azhani. “Learn some magic, whatever. Running around defenseless is… kind of a bad idea.”
      “This one never learned how to fight,” Azhani said. “A knife would be useless in real danger.”
      “True.” Serana jumped off the edge of the bridge, reaching back and adjusting the Scroll to keep it properly positioned. “Tell you what, once we get done here, I can show you how. Or the Dragonborn could if he ever gets time. Either way, good skills to learn.” She looked over her shoulder just in time to see Bjorn approaching, with a pair of boots in hand and a bag slung over his shoulder. He’d even brought his sword from the cart and had it hanging off his belt. “Until then, though, just stay out of the way, alright?”
      Azhani nodded and hopped to the ground just in time to have those boots thrown at her.
      “Try those on,” the Dragonborn said. “They didn’t have any made special for Khajiit, but they should still fit well enough. Better than nothing, anyways.”
      Sure enough, the boots were a decent fit. Azhani slid them on without too much issue, and they fit around her legs nicely, and they were warm. They were completely the wrong shape for her feet though, and that would be mildly uncomfortable, but there was enough space there for it to not be too big of an issue. At the very least, she wouldn’t need to wear them very long, and could just take them off once they got to the temple. She walked back and forth for a bit to confirm that they were usable, then just shrugged.
      Bjorn took that as confirmation, so he set off towards the mountain. “Alright then, let’s get going.”
      Serana followed close behind, and Azhani took up the rear, making sure to keep her distance in case anything were to happen. There was still just enough light to see without Nighteye, and Azhani’s cloak, despite its damage, was warm enough combined with Serana’s clothes that the temperature wouldn’t be a concern. Bjorn had surely packed food and drink, so all they had to do was get to High Hrothgar.
      Still, Azhani couldn’t help but feel that there was something missing. Like she’d forgotten something.
      It didn’t take long to figure out what she’d forgotten. It took longer to figure out why, but even then, the answer was surprisingly simple, if a little contradictory.
      It was the alcohol. That was both the cause of this problem and the reason it hadn’t been dealt with earlier. Sure, Azhani hadn’t gotten drunk or anything, but she still knew it wouldn’t be the greatest idea to break the seal in town when she still had to climb up a mountain with no certain cover. She wasn’t entirely sure if that would even be a problem, but she still figured that holding on and taking care of the problem just once would be much better than the chance of having to deal with it constantly.
      Plus, in her own defense, she actually didn’t really need to go until they were already working their way up the mountain. She could have, but somehow, she managed to not feel it. And even if she had needed to, she wasn’t too keen on returning to her room, so odds are she would have been stubborn and tried to wait it out anyways.
      Fortunately for Azhani, that hadn’t been the case, and she wasn’t actually in terrible shape just yet – surely, she would have been by if she actually had noticed the need back at the inn – so she was fairly confident she’d be able to wait a while longer.
      The one problem with that was she had no idea how far they had to climb, it was fairly steep, and Nighteye was just making things blur together, so anything other than the path forward was practically invisible. At the very least, Azhani didn’t have to deal with any of the various things that were attacking the group on the way up. There’d be an ice wraith or some troll every so often, but Bjorn would Shout fire at it or Serana would skewer it and it’d be dealt with. It was slowing things down, though. Nature was putting her in this situation in the first place, it didn’t have to make things harder for her on top of everything else.
      Azhani was fairly sure they’d have to take a break somewhere along the line, though. They’d already been climbing for a couple of hours and they still didn’t really seem to be making much progress – though that could easily have been the Nighteye playing tricks on her. Even the Dragonborn couldn’t march on forever. Only problem would be finding somewhere to hide once they did stop. If the constant blue blur of what had to be a cliff face off to Azhani’s right was any indication, the mountain was rather unforgiving in that regard. She could potentially just go back down a bit, but she’d still be very much exposed, and still very much visible to her companions unless she were to find a part of the path that curved around, so she could use the mountain itself for cover. And by that point she’d end up alone and defenseless, so she’d have to bring Serana along to protect her, and that’d defeat the entire damn purpose.
      There was also the chance that they were already close and could make it all the way up to the monastery in one go. But considering the size of the bag the Dragonborn was carrying, that wasn’t all too likely. And even then, she wasn’t sure what sort of facilities the Greybeards would have. Plus, if their name was any indication, they were a group composed entirely of elderly men. That would make things weird, to say the least.
      The thunderous, earth-shaking boom of the Dragonborn Shouting a troll off the edge of the mountain brought Azhani back to reality, and it helped her realize two things. The first was that Unrelenting Force was not helping her situation at all. The second was that she was making things seem way worse than they really were. Sure, it was taking a while, and sure, there was still that constant feeling that something needed to be done. But Azhani had been through far worse just that week. Getting to that point again wasn’t high on Azhani’s list of priorities, but, still, until it actually got to that point, her situation could always get worse. And, technically, even at that point it could still get worse, but then she’d end up permanently damaged for it. That wasn’t something to look forward to.
      For now, all she could do was hope that they’d stop and eat soon, and that there would also be a bush or a cave nearby. Or just a big rock. Anything, really, as long as she could see it. For all she knew, she’d already passed by some perfectly valid cover, but she hadn’t seen it because it was too similar to the cliff face backdrop for it to get through the Nighteye filter. But then, if she couldn’t see it through Nighteye she wouldn’t be able to see it at all. At least, unless someone were to cast Light, but Azhani didn’t know any spells, Serana didn’t seem like the type that would use a spell like that, and the Dragonborn’s capabilities must have made something as crude and simple as Light seem like the kind of parlor trick one would perform at a child’s birthday party. And considering all three of them could see perfectly well in the dark, Light was, logically, entirely redundant. Come to think of it, this was a good lesson on the importance of redundancy.
      A lesson for next time.
       An hour passed and Azhani was really wishing that someone had learned that lesson sooner. It was cold, even with her warm clothes and cloak, and her attention had to be divided between climbing the mountain and… dealing with her other situation. And she would have greatly preferred being able to pay maximum attention to that. As it was, her need had escalated far quicker in the past hour than she’d anticipated, and considering there was still no indication that they’d be stopping any time soon, Azhani had to put some serious thought into giving up and just finding somewhere to hide. She could catch up to the others again when she’d finished.
                    The only problem with that idea was that, if the number of trolls and bears that had been Shouted over the edge of the mountain so far was any indication, she really didn’t stand much of a chance going out into some dark corner alone and unarmed.
      Azhani shivered and put a hand between her legs. She really didn’t want to ask for help, but she also didn’t want to take the risk. It was cold, she really had to pee, and that would only get worse over time. Plus, even if they did stop she’d have to get an escort anyways to get somewhere private enough.
      She didn’t really have much of a choice, so she sped up enough to get closer to Serana. After taking quite a while to confer with herself to determine that this was, indeed, the only valid option, Azhani quickly and lightly tapped Serana on the shoulder to get her attention. She tried to say something, but only managed to get out “Uh…”
      Serana turned to look at the Khajiit. “Hm?” A quick glance at the little dance that was going on there was enough to determine the problem, so she just nodded and stopped. “Hey, you go on ahead, we’ll catch up with you, alright?”
      Bjorn turned around – completely around, in fact, and he was now walking backwards along the trail. “Uh, sure, alright, don’t go too far.” Then he turned back to face the proper direction, and Serana set off back down the mountain, signaling for Azhani to follow.
      It seemed to Azhani like they’d just spent a few minutes wandering in circles, and for all she knew that really was what they did, but they did eventually find a dead tree with some thin foliage trying to reach through the snow around it. Serana gestured at the tree then turned so that she was facing away from it, and Azhani hurried over and found what she was pretty sure was the most well-covered location.
      There, she removed her pants just enough for them to not get in the way, dropped into a squat, and tried to relax. That wasn’t the easiest task, considering it was cold and there was someone standing just ten feet away. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and when she opened her eyes again, her Nighteye had turned off and there was the sound of a weak stream of liquid hitting the ground beneath her. The light from the moons was just enough to see rudimentary shapes, but other than that it was completely dark and Serana wasn’t particularly visible anymore. It was the illusion of being alone, at least.
      After merely a few moments, though, the illusion was shattered all at once. Things happened too quickly for Azhani to keep track, but she was pretty sure she’d heard the shrieks some troll and saw Serana jump in front of her. Azhani couldn’t actually see the troll, but she did see a lot more of Serana than she would have liked – there was a red glow to her eyes she hadn’t noticed before, and in an instant a stream of red magical something flowing from who-knew-where into Serana’s hand lit up her face. She was very clearly angry, and her mouth was hanging open just enough for Azhani to see a set of teeth she’d only ever seen on other Khajiit.
      Azhani didn’t even bother trying to stop her stream, she just pulled her clothes back up and ran. She didn’t know where she was running to, and she tripped over her own feet and more than a few roots and stones in the process, but she did know that was not a place she wanted to be. Azhani practically crashed face-first into the cliff wall, and as soon as she recovered she worked her way along the wall, keeping her hands against it to feel for any changes. Turning Nighteye back on hadn’t really come to mind just yet, and that uncomfortable warmth down below was pretty low-priority as well.
      After a few seconds of blindly shuffling around the side of the mountain, Azhani felt the rock curve around into some recession or cave. A quick look at it showed that, according to what little was visible, it was just a small alcove that dug a few feet into the cliff wall. Azhani followed the curve of the cliff face until she came to a corner, then put her back to the wall and slid down to the floor. She sat there for a bit, trying to get her breathing under control, and once she’d calmed down enough to think straight, she looked out towards the sky, just staring at it for a little while. Tears filled her eyes as she watched the sky-lights dance, and soon enough her head was in her hands. For the next few minutes, all she could do was sit in her corner and cry.
      Azhani didn’t know how long she’d been sitting there, nor did she notice that she wasn’t alone anymore until she heard a voice.
      “Hey. You okay?”
      Azhani looked up and, through a haze of her own making, saw the faint shape of a body resting against the wall opposite her. The form included two faint red lights. Azhani just pulled her knees up to her chest and pressed back against her own wall.
      “Yeah, I get it.” The lights lowered as Serana slid down to a sitting position. “I don’t suppose you’re going to talk, are you?”
      Azhani sniffled in response.
      “Alright. Sure.” There was the sound of fabric shifting around, but Azhani couldn’t tell what was happening. “We’ll just sit here for a while, then. But, uh, I don’t imagine it’d be all that great for you to stay here for too long.”
      Azhani grunted. She didn’t really want to acknowledge that Serana was right – just a couple of minutes ago, Azhani was warm and wet. She was still wet now, but she was getting cold, too.
      “Fine. Guess we’re sitting here until you’re ready to do something.”
      The two sat in silence for a couple of minutes, watching each other and not moving. Unsurprisingly, Serana was the first to speak.
      “You know,” she said, “there are worse things you could have seen.”
      “What?” Azhani’s voice was hoarse when she finally spoke, and even drier than normal. “What are you, exactly?”
      Serana shook her head. “That’s not something you want to know the answer to.”
      ”No.” Azhani growled. “No more secrets.”
      “Fine, fine.” The glow from Serana’s eyes vanished for a moment as she took a deep breath, then returned as she started to speak. “I was the daughter of Harkon Volkihar. Bjorn mentioned him. We had to kill him because he was trying to destroy the sun or… something.”
      “What, not who.”
      Serana sighed. “I was getting to that.” She looked over to the sky and continued. “The term for it is, uh, ‘Daughter of Coldharbour’, I think. Cursed by Molag Bal himself.”
      “Cursed?” Azhani raised an eyebrow. “Don’t vampires call it a gift?”
      “Oh, yeah, the ones who were lucky enough to get the disease, they call it a gift.” She shook her head. “But they don’t know…”
      “Are you trying to get this one to feel bad for you?”
      “What?” Serana’s head jerked over to look at Azhani. “No, no. You’ve got every reason to hate what I am. I know I hate what my father did to me.” She sighed. “But, really, it’s just who I am now. And I’m still the same person you met in Riften a few days ago.”
      Azhani loosened up a bit, keeping her legs pulled in close. “If you hate it, why not get cured?”
      Serana shrugged. At least, it looked like she was shrugging. Azhani still hadn’t turned her Night-eye back on. “I never really thought about it. And, like I said, it’s been part of me for so long that it’s just… me. Wouldn’t feel right to change it.”
      Azhani took a moment to look around, then went back to growling again. “What else are you hiding?”
      “I’m not hiding anything.”
      “Yes, you are!” Azhani’s tail fluffed out. “What about the Scroll? When you met the Dragonborn.”
      Another sigh, and the red lights disappeared for a second again. “You want to know about that? Really?” Azhani just nodded at her, so Serana continued. “Alright, well. That was my mother’s idea. My father had that plan of his to block out the sun and conquer the world. There was an Elder Scroll he needed for that, so I ended up sealed away with it. Dragonborn found me and we dealt with Harkon.”
      “When did all this happen?”
      Serana looked around before muttering something. Apparently, Azhani couldn’t hear, and when the question was asked again, another, louder answer was given. “It was… uh, according to the Dragonborn…” She put a hand to her mouth and spoke around it. “…a thousand years, at least.”
      Azhani shivered. That wet sensation was kind of comforting a while ago, but now it was just cold, and things were sticking and freezing. “H-how old are you, then?”
      “No idea.” Serana shrugged. “On top of the thousand years I was stuck looking at the inside of a box, I don’t really know how these last couple of eras work. Could be two, three thousand years. But, look, you’re fucking freezing to death here.” She stood up. “If you really want to keep talking, we can do it once we get out of here and find the Dragonborn, alright?” She extended a hand to help Azhani up, but the Khajiit just growled at her and pushed herself up off the floor. “You don’t trust me at all anymore, do you?”
      “Nope. But we’re stuck together for now, hm?”
      “Guess so.” She shrugged and pointed at Azhani. “But, you know, you’re gonna have to do something about that.”
      Azhani shifted around uncomfortably to acknowledge her current state. “Sure, but what solution is there here?”
      “Well, you’re wearing my clothes, aren’t you?”
      Azhani wrapped her tail around her legs and pulled her cloak tighter around her body. “What?”
      “It’d be really stupid for you to go out there wearing those. You’re soaked through. But…” Serana looked around at nothing in particular.
      “Are you serious?”
      “Well, yeah. I don’t see any other clean clothes around here, do you?”
      Azhani sighed and knelt to work her way out of her boots. She finally had to turn her Night-eye on again to see what she was doing. “Fine. But make it quick.”
      It took her a while to maneuver the ill-fitted boots off of her feet, and by the time she’d gotten them off and stood up, Serana was already naked from the waist down, holding her pants out in front of her with one hand and using the other to pull her cloak around for some semblance of cover. Azhani spent the next minute hopping from one foot to the other, trying simultaneously not to stand too long on the cold stone ground and also remove her own pants. Fortunately for her, at least, the latter task wasn’t particularly complicated, as they were glad to fall to the ground on their own once her belt was removed. Then she held out her hand and kicked her soiled clothes over in Serana’s general direction, moving her tail between her legs for whatever privacy was possible in such a situation.
      Serana dropped her clothes into Azhani’s hands and carefully picked up what was on the ground. Azhani had no problem dressing, but Serana had to inspect what she was to wear before sliding her panties on, and then stepping into and pulling the pants up over them. “Gods,” she said. “This just isn’t right.” She moved her legs around in some attempt to find a position where the cold wetness was comfortable, but unfortunately for her there was no such thing. After Azhani had worked her way back into her boots, Serana sighed. “Well, let’s go then.”
      “This doesn’t change anything, you know.” Azhani was trying not to look over at Serana and just stayed by her side as they worked their way up the mountain again.
      “Yeah, I know.” Serana rolled her eyes.
      By the time the two got back to the Dragonborn, he’d already found himself a shallow cave and lit a fire, already roasting some meat over it. He hailed his companions over as soon as he saw them. “Hey. What took you so long?” Then he got a closer look at them – Serana’s red top and thoroughly stained gray pants, and Azhani’s gray top and pristine red pants. “And, uh, what happened there?”
      “Let’s not talk about it,” Serana said, immediately rummaging through the bag of supplies Bjorn had tossed aside. She pulled out one of her bottles and a clean set of clothes, then went into the cave.
      “So.” The Dragonborn turned to Azhani, who had taken a seat as close to the fire as possible. “That seems like it was a bit of an adventure.”
      “Cut the crap, Dragonborn.” Azhani pulled her ears back, flattening them. “Why didn’t you say anything about her?” She pointed in the general direction of where Serana disappeared to.
      Bjorn folded his hands and brought them up to his chin, then took a deep breath. “So you found out, huh? Look, I’m sorry for not telling you anything, but I need you here. Would you honestly have come along if I told you we’d be travelling with a millennia-old Daughter of Coldharbour for a week?”
      Azhani shrugged. “That’s… not the point. Don’t treat this one like some child that needs to be protected from every little thing. This one is… not sure whether to trust you, but it’d be easier to decide if you stopped keeping secrets.”
      “Yeah, that’s fair.” Bjorn gave a little nod. “I just couldn’t risk having you stay in Riften. I told you already, you’re my one chance at making this thing work. If Serana’s just some friend, some person, there’s nothing stopping you from coming along. And I mean, really, she is just a normal person. She hasn’t actually done anything, right?”
      “Guess not.” Azhani pulled her shirt collar up around her neck as far as it would go.
      “See? I wouldn’t have brought Serana along if I thought she’d do anything to hurt you. What kind of hero would I be then?” He sighed and grabbed the meat he was cooking from the fire, handing a piece over to Azhani. “I may have a dragon soul, but I’m not so much like them that I’m going to put innocent people in danger to get what I want.”
      “You still should have said something.” Azhani already had her mouth full as she spoke.
      “Yeah, probably.” The Dragonborn pulled his flask from his belt and took a drink. “But, I mean, you’re not really going to have any major problems with Serana, right? Like, you can still tolerate her?”
      Azhani shrugged, gave a little nod, and kept eating.
      “That’s good, I guess. So really all that happened was she scared you.” The answer was another little nod, so he continued. “Well, I’m a lot more dangerous and scary than she is. You’ll be fine.”
      “You know,” Azhani said, having finished her food entirely. She spoke while looking around for her waterskin. “She said something about how there were worse things to see. What was she talking about?”
      Bjorn looked behind him into the cave and at the very faint red glow in the distance that indicated he was being watched. “Uh…”
      “Bjorn.” Azhani had her arms folded.
      “Right, right.” He turned back around and sighed. “She’s not strictly… uh, human.” Another swig from his flask and he continued. “That whole family, they can turn into these big vampiric monsters. Serana doesn’t do it – at least, I’ve never seen her do it – but I know she could. I don’t know if it’s anything like lycanthropy where you’re not fully in control of yourself while you’re transformed, but if anything, I’d guess that’s why she sticks to human form.”
      “Knowing she can do that doesn’t really make things any better…”
      “No, but you asked about it.” Bjorn shrugged. “Just consider yourself lucky that, whatever happened out there, you weren’t actually in any real danger. No more than you are with me, at least.” He stood up and stretched. “Anyways, you should try to get some rest. We’re going to start moving again in a few hours.”
                   Azhani woke up just before sunrise to Bjorn’s prodding. Or, whatever the equivalent of waking up would be, considering she didn’t really fall asleep. She tried, but in hindsight she probably shouldn’t have asked about Serana’s transformation. That wasn’t exactly a relaxing concept. So, instead she was just lying on the floor of the cave with a blanket for a while. Breakfast was had, and there was an unusual lack of conversation, and then the group continued up the mountain in silence. Azhani was hanging around a little farther behind than she had the previous night, only partially because of how tired she was.
      By late morning, they’d arrived at what almost looked like a fortress built into the side of the mountain. The Dragonborn said it was High Hrothgar, and when they went inside, they were apparently the first to get there. Not a surprise to anyone, of course.
      “Dragonborn.” An old man in loose, dark robes approached, and Azhani could tell why they were called Greybeards. “Is there something we can do for you?”
      “There sure is, Arngeir.” Bjorn set down the bag of supplies by the door. “I would have stopped by earlier, but that would have just taken way too long. Basically, I told a bunch of people there would be a meeting here to discuss a way to end the civil war. You guys are cool with that, right?”
      “Why would you tell them that? We don’t get involved with Skyrim’s politics.”
      “Exactly.” Bjorn pointed at Arngeir with both hands. “That’s why this is the perfect place for it. You guys don’t care, you don’t even have to do anything. We just need a big table, and I know there’s one right in there.” He pointed at a door behind Arngeir, who just sighed.
      “Fine. But I have to be there to keep the peace.”
      “Of course.”
      Arngeir turned to Serana and looked her up and down. “What did you bring the vampire for?”
      “Show him.” Bjorn nodded at Serana, who took the Scroll off her back and unwrapped it. Arngeir grabbed it and rolled it around in his hands.
      “I don’t suppose there is any way at all to convince you not to do what you’re planning?”
      “There is not.”
      “Then at least listen to my advice, Dragonborn.” He handed the Scroll over to Bjorn. “Alduin is the World-Eater. I told you this already. What you plan to do was done once before, and it only delayed him. He is an unstoppable force. When it is time for him to end this world, it will end, and a new one will be born in its place. Do not use this Scroll lightly. What you do with it may just postpone the doom again, not stop it. And if you do stop it, it may be worse than if you hadn’t.”
      “As long as I have anything to say about it,” Bjorn said, tucking the Scroll under one arm. “This won’t be the end.”
      Arngeir shrugged and walked away. The Dragonborn turned to his two followers.
      “Well then. We should have a few hours before anyone else gets here. There are some spare beds this way.” He pointed with his thumb and took off in that direction, so Azhani and Serana followed along. There were a few identical bedrooms all along one hall in the monastery, and every so often there would be a monk kneeling under a window as well. They stopped when they came to the end of the hall, and Bjorn pointed at two doors. “These should be empty. You take this-“ he gave Serana the Elder Scroll again. “-and I’ll go back outside and wait for everyone else.”
      Azhani went into one room and closed the door behind her as Bjorn walked away. It was a small room, and everything in it was dark. There was a sizeable window, sure, but the walls were the black stone the rest of the monastery was made of, the floor was made of the same thing, and what little furniture there was, was either carved from stone as well or was made of dark wood. There was a simple bed stuffed in one corner, with a few pelts over it but nothing particularly noteworthy.
      At the very least, to Azhani’s satisfaction, the room was properly-stocked. Which, essentially, meant that when she bent down and searched under the bed she found what she was looking for and was able to make use of it. And this time, her belt was loose enough to not be a problem.
      That taken care of, Azhani then kicked off her boots and crawled under the furs on the bed to get some degree of rest. It helped that it was much warmer than she’d expected of a bed in a monastery. Comfortable enough that she was almost drifting off to sleep…
      At least, she was until she heard some commotion going on outside. She couldn’t quite figure out what was happening, but it sounded like yelling. Serana seemed to have heard it, too, since by the time Azhani got out of bed, worked her way into her boots again, and looked out the door, Serana was already halfway down the hall and headed for the main door. Azhani followed along quietly, and when the two got outside, they saw that practically every delegation had arrived. Everyone was watching an argument between the Dragonborn and some Altmer lady. They were being backed up by someone who must have been a Jarl, judging by his fur coat, and an old man in Imperial armor, respectively.
      “I have every right to be at this negotiation,” the Altmer said, far too calmly for someone being accosted by the Dragonborn. “I need to ensure that nothing is agreed to here that violates the terms of the White-Gold Concordat.”
      “She's part of the Imperial delegation.” The Imperial tried to defend her. “You can't dictate who I bring to this council.”
      “Do you really think that we would sit down with that... Thalmor bitch?” The Jarl spoke directly to the Imperial soldier. “Either she walks, or I do.”
      “We’re not going to let you dictate terms to us before the negotiations even start, Ulfric.” The Imperial folded his arms and glared at the Jarl.
      There was a deep, low rumbling as the Dragonborn spoke. “That’s enough!” He looked back and forth at each of the men. “Both of you. Shut the fuck up.” He turned to the Altmer. “As for you... You have a lot of nerve showing up here. This is an insult. A mockery of everything we’re trying to do here. Get the fuck out of here. You don’t belong here.”
      “She’s staying wit-“ the Imperial tried to say something.
      “Quiet, Tullius!” The Dragonborn pointed at him and got in his face. “You knew what you were doing when you brought her here. How dare you? We are not negotiating with the Dominion!” He turned back to the Altmer. “You’re leaving. Now.”
      “No, I am not.” The Altmer crossed her arms. “The Empire agreed to the Concordat. Skyrim is part of the Empire. I cannot allow this negotiation to end with a violation of the Concordat.”
      “The Thalmor doesn’t rule in the Empire. This is an internal Skyrim matter.” Bjorn spoke in a low, harsh voice, almost like a growl. “Your government needs to learn its place, black-cloak bitch. You have no power here. You have no business here.”
      “I must-“
      “What you must do is leave!” Bjorn pointed past her, down the mountain. “This is not your concern. You have no voice here. You were not invited here. You have no right to be here. You’re not going to sit around and report back to your superiors in their glass towers about what Skyrim is doing.”
      “You’re going to regret this.” The Altmer tried to sound threatening.
      “No, you’re going to regret it, Elenwen.” Bjorn stood up as tall as he could make himself and stretched out his arms. “Do you know who you’re dealing with?” He was shouting. “I am the Dragonborn! You’re making a very powerful enemy! Leave now, or when I’m done here I will go to your Embassy and slaughter every last Thalmor agent in it, starting with you!”
      “Fine. But they will hear of this in Summerset.” Elenwen turned around to leave.
      “Good! Tell them their time is up. Tell them the dragons are back, and they’ll be coming for Alinor.”
      “Is that a threat?”
      “No, it’s a fact.” The Dragonborn said. “If you want to see a threat, I’ll gladly help you find your way down the mountain the fast way.”
      Elenwen gave a contemptuous snort as she turned around and left without saying another word.
      Bjorn turned to the Imperial delegation. “Watch yourself, Tullius. This is not a game. You try something like that again, I won’t give you the choice of taking the long route, you understand?” Then he turned around, took a deep breath, and addressed everyone. “Camp out here if you like. Meeting starts tomorrow morning.”
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
      “Is this everyone?” The Dragonborn was standing with his hands on the large, round table, just in front of an ornate stone chair with furs draped over it. It was late morning, and people were slowly filing into the room, including a Greybeard or two. Azhani was already seated just to Bjorn’s right, and to her right there was Serana. They were wearing matching outfits, since the only clean clothes that fit either of them were gray – though, at the very least, Azhani had dug up a proper belt. The Dragonborn himself was dressed in long black robes lined with fur, including a large collar wider than his head. Perhaps a little excessively formal, considering several other attendees were wearing armor.
      Azhani yawned while everyone else found a seat. She’d only woken up an hour beforehand, and wasn’t looking forward to sitting around all day listening to people argue about nothing. Unfortunately, Bjorn took his seat once everyone else had settled down, then waved a hand in the general direction of the Imperial delegation.
      “Our terms are simple.” Tullius stood up as he started to speak. “Riften must be returned to Imperial control. That’s our price for agreeing to a truce.”
      He sat down again, and Ulfric’s lieutenant – who apparently refused to stop wearing his bear-hat – immediately launched an assault on the General. “By Talos, the stones on this one!” He took a moment to laugh and went on. “You’re in no position to dictate terms to us, Tullius!”
      The Jarl of Windhelm leaned forward and nodded. “That’s quite an opening demand, Tullius.”
      “Ulfric, you can’t be taking this demand seriously?” His lieutenant turned to face him. “We can hold Riften against anything the Empire can throw at it. Besides, Jarl Laila will never agree to-“
      “Galmar.” Ulfric held up a hand. “We will do whatever I decide is in the best interests of Skyrim. Are we clear?”
      “Yes, my lord.”
      Azhani bent over and rested her head on the table as Ulfric turned back to look at the Imperials. “Come on, Tullius,” he said. “You can’t seriously expect us to just hand over Riften at the negotiating table.” He leaned back and folded his arms. “You haven’t been able to take it back yet. Why should we give it up now?”
      “Because,” Tullius started, holding up a finger. “Because… the Empire will offer you-“
      “Stop!” An old man at the far side of the table slammed his fist and stood up. “Are you so blind to our danger that you can’t see past your petty disagreements? Here you sit arguing about… nothing!” Azhani had to agree with him there. Currently, her tail was swaying around idly so she could pretend she had something to do. “While the fate of the land hangs in the balance!”
      “Is he with you, Delphine?” Ulfric turned to address the woman sitting next to the old man. “If so, I advise you to tell him to watch his tongue.”
      “He is with me,” she answered. “And I advise you both-“ Delphine pointed at Ulfric, then at Tullius. “-to listen to what he has to say, before you do anything rash.”
      The old man waved his hands around like a preacher. “Don’t you understand the danger? Don’t you understand what the return of the dragons means? Alduin has returned! The Wo-“
      “Alright, wait, hold on right there.” Bjorn stood and held up a hand, and Azhani straightened out and rubbed her eyes. “You talk about understanding danger, Esbern, but it’s clear you don’t know what this is really about. I doubt anyone here really does.”
      “What are you talking about? Alduin will kill us all if we sit around here doing nothing.”
      The Dragonborn leaned slightly forward. “Yeah, no, see, that’s what I’m talking about.” He folded his hands together and pointed across the table. “Alduin seems like a threat now, but very soon I’ll have the tools I need to defeat him. I even came up with a great plan to get to wherever in Oblivion he’s hiding out.” He looked over at Balgruuf for a moment then continued. “Ultimately, the whole dragon… thing… It’s not an issue, really. A divided Skyrim can still fight back against the dragons. A broken Empire can fight off the dragons for as long as they need to. There’s one enemy – the real enemy – that we can only fight together.” Bjorn shook his head. “I’m not going to deal with any of your bullshit political games. Nobody’s going to give up any land, because this war isn’t going to start up again once we’re done here. You’re not here to come up with your own terms for peace, you’re here so I can slap some sense into you until you agree to my terms.”
      Ulfric leaned forward in his seat. “And those terms would be…”
      “Well,” Bjorn started, “First of all, Skyrim will become an independent nation.” He carried on through the complaints from the Imperial camp. “The Empire will recall all Legions back to Cyrodiil and all Imperial diplomatic missions in Skyrim – including the Thalmor Embassy, since their agreement is with the Empire – will be shut down.”
      Tullius stood up immediately once the Dragonborn finished speaking. “Grant Skyrim independence? What, so that this lout can become High King?” He gave a dismissive wave towards Ulfric, whose response was calm.
      “It would be up to the Jarls to elect a High King.”
      “Even so,” Tullius said, “The Empire isn’t going to give independence to Skyrim for as long as he is a Jarl.”
      Bjorn pointed at Tullius. “What did I tell you about games, Tullius? Enough with your politics. Ulfric will stay Jarl, unless he gives up the office on his own.” He crossed his arms. “Anyways, the second term is that, when the real war begins, Skyrim, no matter who the High King becomes, will fight alongside the Empire.”
      Galmar muttered something to Ulfric, who turned to address the Dragonborn. “What’s the point of independence, then, if we still have to die for the Empire?”
      “Because, Ulfric,” the Dragonborn said, “You won’t be fighting for the Empire. You’ll be fighting for Tamriel. Independent or not, Skyrim’s going to be part of the war to come regardless of what you want. The real enemy is too big of a threat, to everyone, for us to pretend any one country can take them on alone. We’re all going to be fighting for our own freedom, and if we lose because we were too blind and stubborn to fight together, there won’t be a Skyrim anymore. There won’t be a Cyrodiil. There won’t be anything.”
      “What are you talking about?” Tullius had a look on his face that made him seem like he didn’t even know where he was.
      Bjorn shook his head. “You, of all people, Tullius, I would have expected to understand. You were there, thirty years ago. You fought them then. You know how dangerous the Dominion is.”
      “What?” The General seemed taken aback. “I do understand the threat from the Dominion. That’s why I’m fighting this rebellion, so we can get the Empire back together as soon as possible, and stop wasting men on a fight with ourselves when we should be trying to protect ourselves.” He slammed a fist on the table, and the sound it made reminded Azhani that the tabletop was made of stone and uncovered. “But giving up Skyrim entirely? Are you mad? Skyrim is a military asset, how is the Empire meant to defend itself with just Cyrodiil and High Rock?”
      The Dragonborn shrugged. “Well, that’s why part of the agreement is that an independent Skyrim would contribute forces to the war to come. Skyrim has been one of the most important provinces in the entire Empire, I get that. But if we’re going to wage a proper war on the Dominion, we can’t have internal divisions getting in the way of it.”
      The conversation went on like this for some time, with Bjorn trying to convince Tullius that an independent Skyrim would be more of an asset than a subjugated one. Or, at least, that was what Azhani had gathered that the conversation was about. She wasn’t really listening, and her head was on the table again. Just to make things worse, her chair was cold stone, her back was hurting just from sitting down like that for so long, and she was starting to feel a familiar discomfort. She tried to listen in on the conversation as a distraction.
      “… we’re going to have to take the fight to them,” the Dragonborn was saying in a grave tone. “If we sit around and wait for them to attack us, we’re going to have another sack of the Imperial City. Now, I was born just before the war started, so I have no idea what life was like back then, but even I know that’s not something we want to have happen again.”
      “How do you suggest we fight them, Ironside?” Ulfric was leaning back as far as his chair would allow, one hand on his chin. “We don’t have the manpower. We lost the last war.”
      “Correction,” Bjorn said. “The Empire surrendered in a war they were winning. All we ha-“
      “Wait, wait, wait, did you just say we were winning the Great War?” Tullius butted in. “What nonsense is that?”
      “Yeah,” Bjorn said with a shrug, ignoring the General’s rudeness. “Like I said, I was barely a child then, but if my understanding is correct, Hammerfell fought what was left of the Dominion to a stalemate after we left the War, and that was just one province. If Titus weren’t such an idiot, he could have fought back and won.”
      “What, so this is all the Emperor’s fault? Are you a damn Stormcloak? Emperor Titus acted in the best interests of his men – those Legions were shattered and exhausted, they wouldn’t have stood up in a fight anymore.”
      “Yeah, but we had more than just the Legions, didn’t we? Hammerfell, again.” Bjorn took a seat and tented his hands. “High Rock. Skyrim. They all had fresh meat. After Red Ring - again, accounting for the fact that this is all just from books - pretty much the entire Dominion force was destroyed, right? Hammerfell fought against what little was left over, and if we sent in the Nords or the Bretons against that, they wouldn’t have stood a chance.” The Dragonborn leaned forward and set his elbows on the table. “Titus was blind, and he threw away his Empire. Hammerfell left because of the surrender and then immediately proved the Concordat was idiotic, and now Skyrim is lost for the same damn reason.”
      “So, wait, what good are we supposed to be able to do against the Dominion?” To the surprise of most of the room, it was Ulfric’s voice ringing out with the question. “This Empire would be the same one it was at the end of the War – that Empire can’t beat the Thalmor.”
      Bjorn nodded quietly, then said, “Mm, yeah, that’s the hard part. To destroy the Aldmeri Dominion, we need to bring Tamriel back together. I reckon we need, at the very least, Hammerfell and Elsweyr.”
      “How do you propose we get… either of those? Hammerfell isn’t going to cooperate with the Empire anymore, and Elsweyr is Dominion-controlled.” Tullius spoke up and voices on both sides of the table muttered in agreement.
      “Well, I’m still working out a plan for Hammerfell, and I’m sure the leaders in the Empire could come up with one too, but, uh…” Bjorn nudged Azhani, who looked up at him. He spoke quietly to her, “You should say something; this is why I brought you here.”
      “What? This one was only a child when she left, she doesn’t know anything about these politics.”
      “No, but you left for a reason, right?” Azhani looked away from him as he spoke. “I’m not gonna make you tell me or anyone here what that was if you don’t want to, but surely you can come up with some reason the Khajiit would fight the Thalmor, right?”
      Azhani looked around the room – practically everyone was looking in her direction. She shuffled around in her seat for a bit before shrugging and standing up. Her heart was racing, and her bladder was starting to feel heavy, but she worked out a little speech anyways.
      “Anequina and Pellitine,” she started, “w-will fight for the Empire, i-i-if they’re liberated. Maybe. The Dominion…” Azhani took a deep breath and subtly pressed her legs together. “The Dominion is… the Thalmor… the Thalmor are cruel to the people there. People d-disappear, a-a-and if they come back they’re different.” She started speaking faster and pulled the little cape she was wearing around her as much as she could. “Nobody there likes the Dominion, but nobody fights back because they’re scared of them. The Thalmor hide behind the few people that worship them for bringing the Moons back, and everyone else has heard rumors of what happened to thi- to people who rebel…”
      Bjorn put a hand on her shoulder, and she sat back down as he finished for her. “The Khajiit are practically waiting for a foreign force to come in and show them that they can throw the Dominion out. They’ve been loyal subjects to the Thalmor for a century, and there are only so many times they can be told ‘but we ended the Void Nights’ before people start to see what’s really going on. If not to be rid of the Dominion, we have to at least liberate the Khajiit and the Wood Elves from this tyranny they’re living under. They were part of us once, for longer than most of our ancestors can remember, and more than that, we can’t let living people be treated worse than animals.”
      “So, basically, you’re suggesting that we go to war with a vastly superior force because of some silly sense of righteousness that means we have to save these people?” The armored lady accompanying Tullius, who Azhani heard be called Rikke, spoke up this time. “I mean, I’m all for helping people out, but is it worth all the resources and men we’ll have to throw at them?”
      “They’ll make it worth it if you rescue them,” Azhani said quietly, shifting around a little bit.
      Rikke crossed her arms. “That’s… hardly a reason.”
      “Oh, come on, Rikke.” Bjorn waved a hand at her. “If the Dominion invaded Skyrim right now, I guarantee you the Stormcloaks and the Imperials would drop everything to fight them. If the occupied lands are as bad as… well, we’ve all heard the rumors, and we’ve got a first-hand account right here.” He gestured to his right, and the Khajiit tried to shrink into her own clothes. “If they’re that bad, we just have to show up and they’ll immediately turn around and take down the Thalmor.”
      Rikke shrugged, and for a little while nobody said anything, so Bjorn spoke again.
      “So, is that it? We can all agree on an end to the war now? All hostilities cease as soon as the soldiers get word, Skyrim becomes independent, the Jarls will convene and elect a High King as soon as we give them the news, the High King will answer a call-to-arms when it’s time to fight the Dominion, the Thalmor will be evicted from their embassy in Haafingar and anywhere else they’re hanging around, and the Legions will go back home.” The Dragonborn crossed his arms and sighed. “I’m not forgetting anything, am I?”
      “Well, there’s one thing, but it’s not all that important.” Tullius spoke up. “You know of Vittoria Vici? Emperor’s cousin? Her wedding was meant to be in Solitude, and the Emperor himself was supposed to show up. It’s been planned for months.”
      “Bah, just treat the Emperor like a foreign diplomat and it’ll go fine.” Bjorn gave a dismissive wave. “Throw in some armed guards and make sure they aren’t just going to let some idiot into the kitchens, just because the dude’s wearing an apron and says he’s the Gourmet or Saint Vehk reincarnated or whatever. Typical foreign dignitary stuff, y’know how it goes.”
      Tullius shrugged, and everyone except the Dragonborn and his friends stood up to leave. Bjorn quickly called out to Balgruuf before the Jarl left and asked for Lydia to be sent to Riften, and then he rubbed the sides of his head and sighed.
      “By the fucking Nine,” he said. “I just did that, didn’t I? Fuck, I need a beer. Or three. Or ten. And some food. You hungry, Azzy?” He looked over at Azhani, who nodded enthusiastically. She’d only had a little bit of breakfast and had just gotten done sitting around doing nothing for several hours. Of course she’d be hungry. Well, and there was that other problem, but that wasn’t quite as important as she’d expected it to be. Still, she did feel the need to shuffle around a little bit every now and then.
      Bjorn stretched and headed for some other part of the temple. “Alright, you stay here, I’ll be back with food.”
      Once the Dragonborn left, Azhani and Serana were left sitting at the table, together alone in the room aside from the occasional Greybeard passing through.
      “So,” Serana started after several awkwardly-silent minutes. “You okay?”
      Azhani raised an eyebrow and shifted around again. “Fine. Why?”
      “Oh, nothing.” Serana shrugged. “It just seemed like, with the things you were saying about, uh…”
      “It is the past,” Azhani said. “No more talking about it. Not with you, anyways.”
      Serana nodded. “Fair enough.” After another quiet minute, she spoke again. “What about the future? Now that the war is over, what are you going to do?”
      Azhani shook her head. “Don’t know. Can’t do much without money. Riften is always an option, though. Might just stay there.”
      “Eh, well, a simple life is always a fine idea. And, hey, I imagine it’d be more stable than you’re used to, right?”
      “Past,” Azhani said, glaring over at Serana.
      “Right, right, sorry.”
      Thus, the two sat in silence for several more minutes, before the Dragonborn returned carrying a tray loaded with meat, cheese, and a large jug of beer. As loaded as one would expect from monastery provisions, at least.
                    Azhani immediately dug into a piece of meat, while the Dragonborn served himself a generously-portioned drink. He downed a quarter of what he had straightaway, then spoke between additional sips. “So, the plan now is… Tomorrow, we go up to the top of the mountain… I use the Scroll, learn what I need to learn… Then, we get back down the mountain, Serana finds her way home… We go back to Riften and rest for a few days, then I get over to Whiterun and end this whole dragon thing.” His mug was empty by the time he’d finished speaking, so he refilled it and grabbed himself some food.
                    “What will you do after that?” Azhani found time to ask a question after finding a moment where she wasn’t either eating or drinking in between rounds of eating.
                    “I dunno.” Bjorn shrugged. “Go home, maybe. Help prepare for the war with the Dominion. I’ve only been away a few months, but it already feels like it’s been ages.”
                    “So you’re… you’re actually going to do it? Fight the Thalmor?” Azhani looked over at the Dragonborn, took a sip of beer, and shuffled around.
                    He nodded in response. “Well, I’d hope it’s not necessary, but it’ll come to it one way or another.”
      “Well, when you go to Anequina, could you, eh…” Azhani twitched her ears and looked down at her drink, saying nothing more.
      “You want to come with me?”
      Azhani nodded and took another drink to avoid saying anything. She got the feeling that it would have been a better idea to eat something instead, considering that need of hers had escalated quite a bit recently.
      The Dragonborn chuckled. “Ah, well, learn to fight and we’ve got a deal.”
      “You could teach, no?”
      “Yeah, yeah I could.” Bjorn raised his mug. “Once we get back to Riften, we’ll see what we can do, eh?”
      Azhani gave a little smile and flicked her tail, then got to work on the cheese that had been brought out. For the first time since leaving Riften, she even engaged in pointless smalltalk with the Dragonborn – and Serana, though she didn’t particularly want to have a conversation with her just then – and over the next hour she was able to put more thought into what would come next for her.
      She’d already thought about it on the way over, of course, but now the war really was over. That was a real thing, and frankly Azhani couldn’t quite believe it. She’d sat through the whole debate about it, but it still seemed too good to be true. For once, at least for a little while, she didn’t have to keep packing up to move from one war-torn city to another every couple of weeks. Though, come to think of it, she had spent quite a long time in Riften. She could see living there for much longer, even if Keerava was… eccentric. And that reminded her of that slight problem – it had become quite important by now, and it’d need to be dealt with soon. Right after this beer, she told herself.
      Of course, she just ended up pouring herself another once the one she was holding ran out, and her thoughts moved to the planned invasion. She knew her home wouldn’t be anywhere close to what it was when she left. She wasn’t even sure if anyone she had known would still be there. Her sister would be floating around somewhere or other, if she’d survived so far, but beyond that… what was there for her in Anequina? Perhaps that was why she wanted to go back, to confirm beyond any doubt that it was no place for her anymore. To confirm that she was right to leave when she did. There was a part of her that wanted to find a reason to stay, too – a reason to doubt everything she’d believed for twenty-two years. It would be a much better world if none of that were true, after all. But then, if it weren’t true, what reason did she have for fleeing to Cyrodiil?
      That was the sort of question that kept up her pattern of telling herself “just one more” until, with the Dragonborn’s help, the beer had run out. Fine timing, too, considering she couldn’t ignore what her body had been telling her for the past several hours anymore. And considering what she’d been doing for two of those hours…
      Azhani stood up and stretched, the weight of her bladder now making itself fully-known. She had to bend over for a second to maintain control.
      “Going to bed now,” she said, not waiting for a response before leaving the room and heading off towards what was, for now, her room.
      When she got inside, she managed to surprise herself by first checking the little window to see the time – still before sunset, but not all that long. Apparently relief wasn’t a top priority, even though her need had gotten far worse just by walking into the room. She did almost immediately turn around and head for her bed, though, once she had confirmed that there was still daylight out. She bent down and reached under the bed, finding nothing.
      ‘What? It was here this morning…’ She stood up and looked around the room, one leg bouncing. She figured Bjorn might have tried to pull some trick, but he never had any time to get into the room while she wasn’t there. Odds were, some Greybeard came in to clean things up and forgot to put things back.
      How very convenient for Azhani. She had to question why stuff like this kept happening to her. Sure, it was normal for her to be in situations like this, but not all the time. At the very least, normally there’d be some dark alley she’d be able to hide in, and that would solve everything because literally everyone does that at some point.
      What made things worse was that she really didn’t have any options – she could go to another room, but there was no guarantee that any of them would be vacant, and if her room was missing a pot, odds were good the others were too. She couldn’t exactly go outside; it was quite the small space, and there were people everywhere. Plus, it was a mountain so there was no cover, unless she went downhill and found somewhere, but she was certain she wouldn’t be able to wait long enough for that.
      She lashed her tail in frustration. The gods really didn’t like her, did they? Especially considering there was now someone knocking on her door. Couldn’t even let her piss her pants in private, could they? Either way, she kicked off her shoes and jumped into bed, and then reluctantly answered, “Come in?”
      It was the Dragonborn who entered, closing the door behind him and pulling over a chair for himself. The last thing Azhani needed right now.
      “So, uh, that stuff you said about the Thalmor…” He rubbed the back of his head.
      Azhani grunted, rolled over onto her side and stuffed her tail between her legs as she felt a warm spot appear. “Not a good time.”
      “Oh, it won’t take long, I just have a question or two.” Bjorn leaned forward, resting an elbow on one knee.
      Azhani responded with a groan and rolled over onto her other side to face the Dragonborn. “You’re not going to leave until you get an answer, are you?”
      “I don’t think so, no.”
      “Fine,” Azhani said with a sigh. “What is it?”
      “So.” Bjorn folded his hands. “How much do you know about what the Thalmor are doing?”
      Azhani knotted her legs as the warm spot grew. “Nothing. People vanish, what happens then, only they know. Sometimes they come back, always as Thalmor.”
      “They have Khajiit Thalmor?”
      “Rarely.” Azhani grabbed her tail and pulled it farther up between her legs. “Mostly elf, Khajiit only if they need to. For… propaganda, things like that. We’re not technically part of the Dominion, but still they take our own people and send them back to make us wish we were.”
      “They haven’t… openly, uh, done… anything, have they? I heard what they did in Valenwood…”
      Azhani shook her head vehemently. “No, always secrets, always just… disappearing. Is… is that all?” This wasn’t exactly the best of topics for her to discuss on a good day, and this was surely not a good day.
      “Yeah, yeah, I just…” Bjorn looked around the room for a moment, then stood and walked to the door. “I just needed to know what kind of people we’re dealing with. Thanks.” Then he left.
      As soon as the door closed behind him, Azhani rolled over onto her back and groaned again. She had things under control for now, but something would have to be done. She did have one idea that hadn’t been totally ruled out for being utterly insane. It still wasn’t the best idea, but it was all she had.
      Taking a deep breath, she lifted her rear off the bed and slid out of her lower clothes, throwing them to the floor. She did the same to her shirt, then rolled over onto her front and held herself up on her forearms. The blankets weren’t quite covering her, and her chest was clearly exposed, but that didn’t matter right now – not like anyone could see anything through all the fur anyways. With her front half lifted up above the bed, she positioned herself so she was sitting on her knees, then spread her legs apart so her rear half was as low down as possible. She picked up her tail and wrapped it around one leg, then sighed as she let go.
      There was a faint pattering sound as her stream immediately hit the bed’s material and absorbed into it, but, being a monastery, the beds at High Hrothgar weren’t terribly high-quality. It took almost no time at all for the sounds to turn to the splashing of a puddle being made. Not that Azhani really cared, even if the puddle very quickly started to reach her feet. No, all she did was relax and slide down even further so that she ended up lying directly in it rather than avoiding it. As a bonus, she was able to press her face into the pillow to muffle any sounds she might make – and there were plenty of those.
      It took a minute for her to finish this time, at which point Azhani simply continued to lie around in her puddle for a while, not fully realizing where she was or what had just happened. When she did become aware again, she immediately moved the blankets out of the way and rolled over to her front to expect the damages. The fur on her belly was soaked, and there was a large pool of urine on the bed that wouldn’t be absorbed into anything any time soon. She sighed again, and gingerly worked her way out of bed, wiping herself off with the blankets as well as she could on the way.
      As she bent down to retrieve her clothes, she noticed something.
      A Greybeard had dropped off her chamberpot in the meantime, and no doubt saw what was going on.
                   Azhani covered her face with both hands and screamed internally.
      ‘At the very least,’ she thought, ’please let him think it was something else. By Azurah…’
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~     
      When morning came the day after the war summit, High Hrothgar was quiet. The dignitaries from the day before had already started making their way home, and the only sound within the monastery itself was that of a body covered in plate armor walking the halls. Of course, there was another set of feet moving behind him, but through either great skill or unnatural ability, they were inaudible even on the Greybeard’s polished stone floors. The two came to one particular room in the residential wing of the monastery, and on entering found a small black Khajiit on the bed, pressed against the wall and lying on top of the sheets as if to take up as little space as possible.
      Still half-asleep, she gave a slurred protest upon being prodded by the Dragonborn: «Nnnnn- Ten more minutes? There’s nothing to do today.» Then she curled up tighter.
      Bjorn stared blankly at her for a moment, looked over at Serana, then addressed Azhani again with a chuckle. “I don’t need to speak the language to know what that meant. Come on, get up, we’ve gotta get the Scroll up to the top of the mountain, and I think you might like to meet… uh… the leader of the Greybeards.”
      Azhani rolled over to look at the source of the disturbance with half-opened eyes. “Isn’t that Arngeir?”
      “See?” Bjorn just pointed at her. “Now you’re interested. Get yourself ready and meet us out back.”
      The Dragonborn turned and left without another word, leaving one barely-awake, half-naked Azhani lying in bed trying to figure out exactly what had just happened. On the other hand, why was this even a problem? By the looks of it, it was late morning already – Azhani would normally have been awake hours ago, unless something had kept her awake far too long the night before. Sure, the previous night wasn’t exactly the best – a quick prod determined that the bed was still cold and, somehow, still slightly damp – but that wasn’t enough to keep her sleeping for hours longer than usual.
      Then again, she did spend the last month in the same inn doing the same work day in and day out. She took a moment to consider that while she ran through her daily routine – staying in one place for more than a week was highly unusual for her, especially since she tended to get herself into trouble if she stuck around for more than a week. But then, considering the events of the past month, she still technically was getting herself into trouble, just a different kind of trouble and a lot more of it. She couldn’t help but think, again, that there was some god somewhere planning everything just to mess with her. A ridiculous notion, to be sure – perhaps only Sheggorath could be responsible, and Azhani had done nothing to anger him recently – but an entertaining thought nonetheless. It was an explanation, if nothing else.
      In any event, staying in one place for so long had made Azhani lazy. The trip to High Hrothgar had been a well-needed change of pace, and if the goal now was to go to the very top, it would be that much better. What are the odds that she’d ever get another opportunity like this?
      It took a little under an hour for Azhani to appear in the monastery’s rear courtyard. She’d been sidetracked by the food someone had left out in the open, and then she had to return to her room to make sure there wouldn’t be any problems. She was already wearing borrowed clothes, no need to make it any worse.
      The Dragonborn gave her a curt nod as a greeting, then set off immediately, Serana at his heels, leaving Azhani to run after them to keep up. From her position at the back of the group, Azhani couldn’t help but notice that everyone was travelling very light – Bjorn had only what pouches he could fit around his belt, plus his sword and a dagger, and Serana was carrying only the Elder Scroll, now not bothering to wear the cloak she had brought it up the mountain with.
      No doubt it would be a short climb, and a quiet one too; Bjorn had started telling a story about how this particular path used to be shrouded in magical clouds that he had to Shout away, so there wouldn’t be anything to disturb them. “Quite a good thing for us,” he’d said. “Means we can just get up there, I read the Scroll, then we go home.”
      “About time for something to be simple for you,” Serana had joked in response. “I’ve only known you for a few months and you never seem to be able to go more than two seconds without getting into a fight.”
      “I know, it’s getting annoying. I just want one thing to happen the way it’s supposed to. Is that so much to ask for?”
      Sure enough, things really were going the Dragonborn’s way. Nothing had attacked any of the group on the entire trip to the peak, the Scroll hadn’t been carried off by some bird of prey for no reason, it didn’t spontaneously explode, nothing. Thus, when the land flattened out, Bjorn took the Scroll from Serana and held it up above his head, walking towards a strange-looking wall a short distance ahead of them.
      “Paarthurnax?” He looked around and called out. “Het nii, ol laanaan.” The Dragonborn looked around some more, and just as he was turning to walk back to Serana and Azhani, there was a distant roar. Then the mountain started to shake, and a dark shape appeared overhead, spiraling in until there was a massive, battered dragon close enough to the ground that the beating of his wings was enough to knock Azhani over – not that she minded, she’d much rather be safely on the floor if there was going to be a dragon to deal with. She didn’t get a good look at anyone else in the time it took her to fall down, but it seemed like neither the Dragonborn or Serana seemed to care that there was a dragon directly above.
      She only got up again when the lack of wind indicated the dragon had settled down, and the lack of any other type of noise indicated nobody was currently trying to kill anyone else. Instead, the dragon was having a conversation with Bjorn.
      “Lost nii. Fin Kel. Tiid kreh... qalos,” it said, “Kos nid motmahus morah. Hi kos daanshaan. Kogaan Akatosh. Qethsegolle kos ahst him uth. Amativ.” The dragon lifted a wing as if to point in one direction, apparently towards nothing at all – though, looking a little closer it did seem like the air was a bit distorted. “Krongah qostiid. Drun fin Kel kotin fin Tiid-ahraan. Ni lingrah-tiid. Alduin fen meyz. Rok nis voskoraav fin grah meyz...” Now it was looking directly at Azhani, who was staring back at it, unsure of what to do and unable to bring herself to move at all. Thankfully, it turned back to the Dragonborn. “Wo kos fin Kaaz?”
      “Huh?” Bjorn seemed to have been caught off-guard by the question and looked back and forth between Azhani and the dragon for a few seconds before answering. “Oh, rek kos, uh… aan fahdon, hey,” he said as he walked up to Azhani, put a hand on her shoulder, and pointed up at the dragon with his other arm. “Azhani, that’s Paarthurnax, leader of the Greybeards.”
      Azhani gave a nervous wave and squeaked out a quiet, “Hello,” which seemed to be enough to get both Paarthurnax and the Dragonborn to leave her alone. Indeed, Paarthurnax merely dipped his head at her as a greeting, then immediately returned to his conversation with Bjorn.
      “Dovahkiin,” he said with what seemed to be a hint of impatience.
      “Geh, geh, amativ.” Bjorn gave a dismissive hand wave as he walked with the Scroll over to the ripple Paarthurnax had indicated earlier. He got himself into a fighting stance, putting the Scroll in front of his face with one hand poised to open it. “Here we go,” he said, pulling on the tab on the bottom of the Elder Scroll. There was a flash of light from the Scroll – blinding even under the midday sun – and in an instant the Scroll closed itself again and Bjorn had been brought to his knees, falling over onto his side where he remained motionless.
      Azhani started towards him to do… something. She wasn’t sure what, just something, but before she could make any significant progress, Serana had stuck out an arm to stop her and Paarthurnax had turned to address them both.
      “Do not touch him,” he warned. “He is through the Tiid-ahraan, the Time-Wound, in a vision. Move him and he may be forced out.”
      “And that would mean what exactly?” Azhani relaxed only slightly and backed away from Serana’s arm.
      Paarthurnax tilted his head. “I don’t know. The Kelle are unpredictable. It could do nothing, it could destroy his mind. Best to not find out.”
      Azhani looked over at the Dragonborn – he was hardly even breathing, though perhaps that was just hard to see under all the armor. “When will the vision end?”
      The distant call of a dragon rang out, and Paarthurnax’s head immediately sprung up to find the source of the sound. Serana had gotten herself into a combat stance as well, scanning the skies and maintaining little balls of frost in either hand. “Hopefully soon,” she said.
      The calls only got louder as time went on, and the Dragonborn still did not respond. Not until the mountaintop went dark from the shadow of a massive dragon circling overhead did he wake up. He pushed himself off the ground and staggered about for a moment with a hand on his head. As soon as he could properly function, he took a quick look around, then looked up, and immediately pulled both his sword and dagger from his belt.
      Evidently, the dragon overhead figured that was his opportunity to attack, so he dove until he was just barely above the ground, the wind from his wings nearly blowing all the snow off the mountain as he hovered there and accosted the Dragonborn.
      “Bahloki nahkip sillesejoor, Dovahkiin,” he yelled. “Dir nu ahrk saraan dez ko Sovngarde!”
      Bjorn just brought his dagger in front of him and widened his stance; Paarthurnax was the one to respond.
      “Lost funt. Lingrah tiid, Alduin! Dovahkiin! Zaan Dragonrend, aal mindok!” Once he’d finished speaking, whatever he was saying – Azhani wished they would speak Cyrodiilic so she could follow along – he took off and immediately engaged Alduin.
      The two dragons flew far above the peak of the mountain, locked in a vicious melee with each other the entire time, and the Dragonborn took the chance to run back to the rest of the group. Serana was throwing icicles up into the air, mostly at random, and Azhani had taken to sitting behind a rock where hopefully nothing would hurt her.
      Bjorn looked up with arms out by his sides, trying to make sense of the serpentine mass overhead. He would flinch occasionally when the shockwave from one of the dragons’ thunderous Shouts hit him, but otherwise maintained focus. It took quite a while, but as soon as the dragons overhead separated enough to tell one from the other, he took a deep breath, and Shouted into the sky above:
      “JOOR, ZAH FRUL.”
      The full force of the Shout took a few seconds to reach its target, and when it did the residual power of it was enough to blast Paarthurnax away and stun him, though he regained control after a few seconds and was back to circling overhead, waiting for a good chance to attack.
      The same could not be said for Alduin, who was covered in a blue aura and immediately crashed down to the mountaintop like a rock. “Fen naak him sil ko Sovngarde!” Alduin yelled and reared his head, unleashing a Shout as he came forward again: “Yol!” But nothing happened. He tried again, then a third time, and still nothing happened.
      “Hah! I didn’t know it would do that!” The Dragonborn stepped forward, and when Alduin moved to bite at him, he unleashed a brief Shout – the single word he used was inaudible through the blast, but Alduin’s head was thrown back long enough for Bjorn to deliver a mighty strike with his left hand, driving the dagger into Alduin’s neck. When it was pulled out, it took several scales with it, but Bjorn had to retreat before he could take advantage of the opening – Serana had instead thrown some icicles in that general direction, a handful of which had hit the small spot of exposed flesh.
      There was a cry of “-SHUUUUUUUUUUUL” from overhead as Alduin moved to attack again, only to be covered in flame. He looked up and tried in vain to Shout Paarthurnax out of the sky, but this only resulted in him having a sword plunged into his neck. The Dragonborn had to put a foot on Alduin to retrieve his sword, which now bore a healthy coating of black blood, and received a claw to his side as a bonus. When he stepped back, his armor looked as though it had been punched through, and yet the Dragonborn didn’t seem to notice.
      Indeed, he just lashed out again with his sword, and with the help of a distraction from Paarthurnax, he drove his dagger into Alduin’s muzzle, ripping out yet more scales. Alduin tried to take a bite out of Bjorn in response but got a sword to the mouth instead.
      Bjorn suddenly backed off just after that, and prepared a Shout:
      “KRII LUN A-aaaugh!“ His Shout went off unfinished and into the air just above Alduin as the dragon spun around and hit the Dragonborn with his tail, causing him to fly back and crash into the wall Paarthurnax had been resting on just minutes before. The aura around Alduin faded, and he jumped into the air and prepared a Shout of his own.
      “YOL T-“
      “FUS-“
      There was the sound of a great metallic explosion from above as Alduin came crashing back to the ground – his own Shout had amounted to little more than a puff of fire that was gone as soon as it had been summoned.
      The Dragonborn had worked himself to his feet in the meantime, and with a deep breath he added his own Shout to the mix.
      “JOOR ZAH FRUL!”
      There was a spray of blood included with the Shout, but Bjorn didn’t seem to notice. Alduin seemed to writhe in pain as the aura returned, and even Paarthurnax recoiled from the effects of the Shout, though he was in an entirely different direction. Serana took the opportunity to send a few icicles into the exposed flesh on Alduin’s nose, and the Dragonborn delivered a blow to the opening on Alduin’s neck.
      “Paarthurnax kos sahlo. Zu’u mul,” Alduin yelled as he lashed out at the Dragonborn with the claws on his wing-hands. Each strike pierced the plate like it was hardly there, and though Bjorn tried to maintain his stoic appearance, he had to turn aside and spit out blood before delivering a strike with his dagger. His stance faltered, and he stumbled backwards when the attack was done – Alduin took the opening and swatted at Bjorn again, creating a massive crack on the Dragonborn’s chestplate and forcing him even farther back. His reward for this initiative was an icicle to the eye and a blast of fire from above. He didn’t seem to care about either, though, and marched back into range of the Dragonborn. “Mar saraan ko Sovngarde,” he said, leaving his jaw open as he lunged forward for a bite.
      Bjorn rolled out of the way as well as he could and Shouted in retaliation.
      “Fus… ro daahhh.” Though his voice was soft, Alduin was still forced aside, and the Dragonborn himself was knocked back as well, leaving several bits of armor behind as he was forcibly rolled away.
      And yet he still stood up – his feet couldn’t seem to find a place to stay, and his breathing had become labored, but still he was standing.
      Alduin simply looked at this, then at Paarthurnax and Serana, and as the aura faded again, he yelled out: “Meyz mul, Dovahkiin. Nuz zu'u kos Al-Du-In, Saraaniin se Akatosh! Mulaagi zok lot! Nis kos kriiaan het, naal hi uv naan joor! Hi nis viik zu'u.” He took off, and as he left he taunted the Dragonborn. “Fen saraan fah ul... joor!”
      Paarthurnax flew off as well, and as soon as they were sure Alduin was gone, Serana and Azhani rushed to the Dragonborn’s side. He said nothing, and tried to limp over to Paarthurnax’s wall, though almost immediately had to resort to leaning on Serana.
      He left a trail of blood as he walked, and when they reached the wall he practically collapsed against it, leaning back and looking blankly up at the sky. He slowly raised his left hand and brought it to his chest, at which point it was engulfed in a golden light. Then the Dragonborn closed his eyes, only opening them again when Paarthurnax returned and took his place atop the wall.
      Azhani was the first to speak. “Are you going to be okay?”
      The Dragonborn stared at her for a moment, then answered slowly and quietly. “Haaah. He forgot to kill me. He’s just made me angrier.” Blood dripped from his mouth as he spoke, and he raised up his right hand to wipe it away. “Hey, where did the bastard go anyways?” He looked up at Paarthurnax.
      “I would not know. I followed him only as far as to know that he is gone from here,” the dragon responded. “One of his allies could tell us… Motmahus. It will not be easy to… convince one of them to betray him. Perhaps the hofkahsejun…”
      “You mean Dragonsreach?” Bjorn coughed, sending more blood onto the snow. “I’ve already got everything sorted out to lure a dragon there and trap him. Turns out the Blades were right for once.” He tried to laugh but ended up coughing again instead. “I don’t suppose you have a particular name in mind?”
      Azhani’s ears perked up. “Name? What would you need a name for?”
      “Dragon names are Shouts,” Bjorn replied. “Paar-Thur-Nax, for example, is a Shout. Shout a name, and you call a dragon. It’s, eh, a challenge of sorts.”
      “The dovve are prideful by nature, so many consider it to be shameful to refuse a challenge,” Paarthurnax added. “Especially from the Dovahkiin. And this particular Dov, he is… boziik. What is it? Like brave, but he does not think first.” He turned to Bjorn, who gave the translation as “reckless”, then continued. “He is reckless. Even among dovve, he was known for this. He would not refuse a call from anyone, much less Dovahkiin.”
      “So what’s his name?”
      “His name, Dovahkiin, is Od-Ah-Viing. Make the words your own: Od-Ah-Viing.”
      The Dragonborn rolled his head back and closed his eyes, and after a moment leaned forward again. “Odahviing. Understood.” He shook his left hand to shut off the healing magic and raised an arm for Serana to pull him up by. “Everything is ready. We have the trap, we can get the dragon.”
      “You’re not ready for anything in this state, tough guy,” Serana chided.
      “Heh, you’re right. So not everything.” Bjorn turned to look at Azhani. “We’ve got to back to Riften anyways. Might as well stay there until I’m in fighting shape again. And Lydia should be there by the time we get back, or a little after… I don’t suppose we could get a dragon ride there?”
      “I am needed here. I cannot be your personal transportation,” Paarthurnax said. He sounded annoyed, but Azhani couldn’t be totally sure since dragons seemed to always sound angry.
      “Ah, it’s just a joke, lighten up. Getting down the mountain is going to suck, though…”
                 “Deal with it,” Serana told him, leading him back down towards the monastery.
           
    • By Sake in The Bee and Barb
         0
      “Anyways, it’s not terribly complicated. Just gotta remember what day it is, is all. Might help to mark off days that already passed, so you don’t think it’s last week, y’know?”

                      “Right, but I still do not understand why it has nothing to do with the moons.” Azhani had brought her new calendar to the Dragonborn so he could explain it to her – she learned quickly enough, and was now working on a cup of tea and waiting for people to show up. It was her turn to do all the work after her little adventure the day before, so she really needed to wake up as much as possible.

                      “Yeah, beats me.” Bjorn shrugged and took a bite out of whatever monstrous sandwich he’d prepared himself. “Must be some Alessian or Ayleid thing. I ‘unno. Kinda weird, ‘specially since Sun’s Dawn has like two fewer days than normal for no reason at all.” He paused for a moment and briefly looked off into the distance. “Though, now that I think about it, that sort of nonsense does seem like some shit elves would pull… Must be Ayleid.”

                      Azhani’s nose twitched in amusement. “Yes, that’s flawless reasoning there.” She looked down into her cup, now half-empty. Seemed like just two seconds ago it was full. However that all disappeared, it was delicious, and Azhani needed more, so she held out her hand and shook the cup. “Hm?”

                      Bjorn grabbed the pitcher they’d been drinking from, but stopped and raised an eyebrow just before bringing it over. “You sure ‘bout that? I mean, with all the…” He gestured in the Khajiit’s direction and made a vague sound.

                      Her response was to flatten her ears and growl at him. “Do not mention that.”

                      The Dragonborn threw up his free hand and said, “Alright, alright. But, uh… what specific incident is it that we’re not talking ab-“ He cut himself off when he noticed Azhani extending her claws. “Uh, okay, yeah, all of them, alright, sure. Here you go.”

                      Azhani perked up instantly when her tea was refilled, and she gave an exaggerated purr. “Thank you, Dragonborn.”

                      “Uh-huh.” Bjorn leaned forward on the counter just enough to be at Azhani’s eye level. “Man, this is all wrong. I’m a dragon, I shouldn’t be afraid of some cat, eh?” He let his last few words trail off into a chuckle.

                      “Cats have claws, Bjorn.” Azhani tipped her head a little to the side, tripping up on the unfamiliar pronunciation of his name. “Can’t be a dragon with no throat to Shout with.”

                      “Oh, hey, you know, funny thing about that is that, uh…“ His attention was drawn away from the conversation when the inn’s doors opened. “Uh, hey, take over, will you?” He didn’t wait for a response before running off to greet his returning housecarl.

                      Azhani shrugged and looked over to the door, giving a little wave to Lydia and watching as the Dragonborn directed her to a table. Then she hopped over the counter and planted herself in the stool that would have usually been occupied by Keerava. She watched in silence, sipping at her tea while the two Nords had what looked to be a fairly energetic conversation. They were audible enough with how close they were to the bar, but Azhani wasn’t terribly interested, instead focusing on her tea and some of the things she’d brought down with her – her calendar and another book by Quill-Weave, once again borrowed from the Dragonborn.

                      After a few minutes of absentminded calendar-flipping and half-hearted reading, Bjorn got her attention again, speaking right to her. When Azhani looked over at him, he and Lydia had both stood up, Lydia headed for the stairs. “Hey, we’ve got, uh, some stuff to do today,” the Dragonborn said. “So you’re gonna be on your own all day. That gonna be alright?”

                      Azhani nodded and turned back to her book with a weak thumbs-up from the hand carrying her tea. She could hear the sound of his heavy feet taking the stairs, then several minutes later two sets of feet came down and over to the door. The Khajiit looked over and waved at them, the Dragonborn giving his typical half-assed salute in response– though now it looked out-of-place, as he was dressed in the same robes he’d worn at the summit at High Hrothgar, and Lydia was wearing formals of her own.

                      “You know you are going to be robbed wearing clothes like that, yes?” She couldn’t help it – she knew more than enough about that sort of lifestyle to tell that wearing fancy clothes in Riften meant you were either Maven Black-Briar or a mark. Considering Bjorn and his housecarl were definitely not Maven Black-Briar…

                      “Eh, if I were anyone else, yeah, I probably would. But nobody’s gonna fuck with the Dragonborn. See you later.” He gave another one of those salutes and followed Lydia outside. When the door closed, Azhani shrugged and turned back to her book, taking another sip of her tea as she did.

                      It must have been an hour or two before anyone started coming in, and for the most part Azhani didn’t have to pay much attention to them. Reach under the counter, grab a bottle, hand it over, get back to reading. Nobody had ordered any food, so aside from brewing more tea for herself there wasn’t anything all that complicated to do – for some reason people didn’t seem to be very interested in having someone covered in fur cook for them.

                      Nothing complicated until some very oddly-dressed men came in, anyways. A group of four had found their way into the inn and grabbed seats together at the bar, attracting Azhani’s attention just with how they looked. Their apparent leader – or at least, the first among them to take his seat – was mostly wearing the chitinous armor the Dunmer had made a tradition of, and the other three had bits of leather and steel. What was peculiar about him and his friends, though, was that they were all wearing various bits and pieces of Dwarven make, clearly worked on and polished up after they’d been collected. The leader wore the most of this old brass gear; his whole right arm was covered in Dwarven armor, he had a brass plate serving as a collar that attached to a piece for his left shoulder, and if his armor continued under his little kilt, his legs were covered in brass as well.

                      Three of the men had taken off their helmets; only their leader kept his, and it would have matched with the traditional style of what the Dunmer called “bonemold”, if not for the fact that the bottom of the helmet had been cut off so that the leader’s mouth was exposed. That blue chin of his was the only indication of the leader’s race while he remained silent – his companions included a Redguard, another Dunmer, and some lighter human that Azhani wasn’t sure of.

                      The lead Dunmer only spoke when his friends had settled down, and when he did speak his voice was deep, rough even for a Dunmer, and tinted with age. “Muthsera,” he started with a bow of his head, “you wouldn’t happen to have flin, would you?”

                      Azhani took a moment to process the appearance of these adventurers, speaking quickly once she realized she had to answer a question. “Oh, uh, sorry, yes, somewhere around here, yes.” Then she got up, turned around, and went to looking through shelves while the faceless Dunmer called out to her again.

                      “Two of those then, and two of whatever beer you have, please, sera.”

                      “Anything?” Azhani paused for a moment and looked over at the adventurer, who nodded silently. “Yes, just a minute.”

                      It took a little bit of rummaging to find Talen’s stash of foreign liquors – Azhani didn’t recognize half of them, and only even managed to find flin because she happened to recognize the Daedric F on the label. She grabbed a bottle of that and a pair of tall glasses, handing both off to the lead explorer, then reached under the counter for a bottle of whatever – smelled like beer, so good enough – and some mugs. The leader distributed the drinks and the adventurers gave a toast, then started talking amongst themselves.

                      Except the leader. The leader, drink in hand, was ignoring his friends in favor of the Khajiiti barmaid.

                      “So,” he said. “Been hearing a lot about the Dragonborn since I got to Skyrim. Know anything about that, sera?”

                      “Hmmn?” Azhani looked over at him and nearly choked on her tea – she wasn’t expecting anyone to talk to her about something other than drinks, and she’d just settled down again to relax in relative quiet. “Aahn, sorry. Um, the Dragonborn, you said? Yes, he actually lives here.”

                      The adventurer’s helmet hid his expression, but his voice indicated his shock just as well. “Wha-? Th- the- what? The Dragonborn? Lives here?”

                      The Khajiit gave a little nod. “Yes, for the last maybe, two, three months, perhaps? He is busy today, though. This one thinks he will be very busy for a while after today, too.”

                      “Oh yeah? How’s that?”

                      “For the past couple of weeks he was recovering from a fight with… what, Alduin? He is just waiting until he is healthy enough to fight Alduin again, and that is probably soon.”

                      “I see.” The Dunmer put his free arm up on the counter and rested his head in his hand. “I was hoping to meet him, actually, but that’ll have to wait, it seems. Wouldn’t want to delay a Hero any longer than necessary, after all.”

                      Azhani’s head found its way to a slight angle. “You could stay here until he has time, if you can afford it. Plenty of rooms open.”

                      “Oh, no, it’s fine, I was- well, we were just passing through, never planned on staying. My friend here-“ The adventurer grabbed the shoulder of the Redguard next to him. “-suggested we stop in for a drink, but we’re heading right back out afterwards.”

                      “Mhm.” Azhani made some vaguely-affirmative noise through a mouthful of tea from the cup she’d just refilled. “So, you are adventurers, yes? Going anywhere good?”

                      “Adventurer is… yeah, sure, you could say that. The Breton over there is more of a tomb raider than anything, but yeah. I’m actually on my way out to the shrine to Azura over in Winterhold, for right now. No idea how far these guys are going to follow, but that’s where I’m headed.”

                      The Khajiit shrugged while the adventurer topped off his own drink. “Azurah is as good a reason as any to go that far.”

                      “Yeah, she’s… she’s pretty important to the Khajiit religion, isn’t she?” Azhani nodded, and the adventurer continued. “Quite important to me, too, though I admit I haven’t been acting like it. Hopefully, if I go to her shrine, she’ll see I’m still here, still dedicated to her. And hopefully she’ll share just a little bit of her wisdom.”

                      Azhani shuffled around a bit in her seat and looked into the pitcher of tea. Empty. “Then good luck with that. This one has not known Azurah to talk to people very often.”

                      The other, younger dark elf chimed in at this point. “Some of the Daedra are more than happy to speak to the Dunmer, especially once we nixed the Tribunal.” He finished off his own drink and looked over to the more heavily-armored one. “Anyways, about time we head out again, isn’t it?”

                      The leader looked back at him. “Yes, we should be going. You guys set?” The two humans with him broke away from their own conversation and nodded at him, then the group stood and replaced their helmets while the leader slid a handful of coins across the counter. It was far too much for the little they’d bought, and Azhani was about to mention it when the lead adventurer addressed it himself. “I trust that’ll cover everything, and a little something for yourself, right?” He stood up himself and bowed his head, then turned to lead the other three out. “Thank you, sera.”

                      “Uh, no problem…” Azhani pawed through the money she’d been given while the adventurers made their way outside. Most of the coins seemed to be fairly old, and the images on them were different from what Azhani had seen throughout the Empire. The head-side had a picture of some elf instead of the Emperor, and the tail-side had replaced the Imperial Dragon with a depiction of Azurah’s Star. “Money is still money,” she muttered, sliding the coins into a little box under the counter.

                      With nobody else at the bar, Azhani got up with a sigh and went to grab a broom. With it, she headed into the dining area and went about cleaning up after the few people who had come in and taken seats at proper tables, still not ordering anything that needed to be cooked. Fortunately, there wasn’t a whole lot to get at – on top of the fact that everyone seemed to have a craving for bread and cheese today, either the regular clientele knew not to screw around with the Argonians, or they’d come to fear the Dragonborn and what he’d do if they didn’t leave the place in good shape. Whatever the reason, those still present started to hurry up once they noticed Azhani’s approach, and the few other tables that showed any signs of sentient activity were largely only marked by plates and bowls and a handful of gold.

                      Azhani first went around and collected all the payment that had been left behind, dropping it all into the large pocket of her apron. Then all the dishes were piled up onto an unoccupied table, and she got to work on the floors – which really amounted to absentmindedly pushing the broom around and waiting for something to happen, as there wasn’t a whole lot to clean up other than dust from overnight, and when the last few patrons who’d decided to take tables cleared out, they hardly even left crumbs behind.

                      That left Azhani alone in the bar with only her thoughts for company, at least until lunchtime proper came around. Of course, her thoughts right now weren’t the best friends – with no distractions, she found herself ever so slightly pressing her legs together and mentally berating herself: ‘That was a lot of tea, dumbass, of course this was going to happen’, and other such lovely mental notes.

                      Rude though her mind may have been, it was right. She should have known better. Things were going to get very bad very quickly, and it was her damn fault. Azhani groaned, speaking a drawn-out swear in Ta’agra. It wasn’t too bad yet, at least, but just knowing she couldn’t do anything about it was already making it worse.

                      Theoretically she could run upstairs, take care of herself, and be back down in five minutes or less, but both Keerava and the Dragonborn had put their trust in her to run the inn like a professional. And a professional wouldn’t run off and leave the bar unattended just because she had to take a leak. On the other hand, the place was totally empty, and there was very little chance of anyone save for the handful of regulars showing up, so odds were good she’d have plenty of time to sneak off. But what if someone did come in? She didn’t want to be responsible for turning away customers that thought the place was closed; or worse, her absence from behind the counter could very well mean anyone who came in would steal drinks or money and be out before Azhani knew they were even there.

                      So, realistically, she had no options. She could only hope Bjorn would return in time – and for all she knew he and Lydia had already finished whatever they’d gone out to do, and the Dragonborn was just stalling for time because he wanted a nice show when he got back. The more she thought about that, the more it made sense, but he wouldn’t really do that, would he?

                      ‘Sure, he’s an insufferable pervert,’ she thought, ‘but he’s not really a bad guy. He’ll be back and everything will be fine, I’m sure … I hope.’

                      For now, she needed a distraction, and she’d quite fortunately brought one with her. Taking her seat behind the bar, she picked up her book and flipped through it to find where she’d left off, pausing just for a moment on the very first page. This book, like the one she’d read on the way to and from the war meeting, was also apparently from the nascent Fourth Era – dedicated again to “K M”, with no other indication, as the Dragonborn said to expect.

                      It still made just as much sense as it did last time – none – so Azhani quickly moved on to where she was, shuffling around a bit to forget why she needed the distraction, eventually getting comfortable enough to lose track of time…

                      … until people started to come in and order drinks, meaning she had to pay attention to liquids again. For the most part it was a fairly easy task of simply handing out bottles and mugs, and glaring at Romlyn Dreth to silence him for once, but even so, the sounds of people pouring their own drinks from the bottles she’d given them weren’t doing her any favors. Azhani crossed her legs and draped her tail over her lap, hoping nobody would think anything of it while she tried to focus at least a little bit on her book. She was still well aware of the peculiar looks she was getting from people who came up to the bar, but it was more likely that they weren’t expecting a Khajiit to be serving them drinks – and not at all related to the fact that Azhani could just barely keep still, subconsciously and constantly jiggling one leg or twitching her tail.

                      Couldn’t be that much longer. By now her book was essentially just a request not to talk to her – she’d been on the same page for who-knows-how-long, and it was obvious that she wasn’t even looking at it, focusing instead on the door and the people coming in and out.

                      More accurately, on the occasional person. This was the Bee and Barb, after all. It was one of the better establishments in town, but that wasn’t saying much, and it still wasn’t terribly popular. But that didn’t much matter. Azhani wasn’t looking for customers; they’d just walk up to her anyways, and she’d tune in just enough to hear what they wanted, then try to tune back out again to save herself from the sounds. If she did everything right, she wouldn’t have to pay attention to them at that point, and she really didn’t want them to pay attention to her either. She’d managed to get her leg under control and stop it from bouncing, but her tail and ears were still twitching, ideally in a way that looked normal.

                      Azhani had no idea how much time had passed by the time she finally tore her eyes away from the door. Staring at it wouldn’t do her any favors – though she’d definitely keep her ears focused on it. Instead, she lowered her eyes to her seat, pretending like she’d gone back to reading. The Khajiit’s lower belly was visibly rounded and she didn’t dare touch it, for if she was full enough to get her tiny frame to bulge then she was also full enough to lose it if that delicate system were to be disturbed. In theory, anyways, considering in reality her body wouldn’t allow her to release her waters somewhere she might be seen. For a moment she glanced over her shoulder at the little patch of floor that opened up to lead far below the ground to the dungeon under the basement, looking away again almost immediately. It was tempting, sure, but disappearing like that would be incredibly conspicuous, and that would be just as bad as being in public.

                      So she just looked at her legs. They were locked together, constantly rubbing against each other, but if Azhani wanted to do more to help the pressure, that had to stop for a moment. She promised herself it would only be for a second, summoning with a quiet growl the strength to hold her legs still and spread them ever so slightly apart. Then she gingerly raised herself up off the barstool just far enough to fold her tail beneath her and pull it up between her legs, immediately dropping back to her seat and snapping her legs together again as soon as that was done. At any other time, Azhani would certainly have been bothered by the pain of her whole body weight resting on such a delicate instrument, but given her situation it was the more tolerable alternative.

                      Azhani then slowly brought a hand down to grab her tail once she was sure nobody was paying attention, carefully pulling on it so that it could apply a little more pressure for just a little while – she’d have to let go eventually and dedicate both hands to her job, but what little her tail was doing for her made her feel a lot better. And of course it didn’t seem like even remotely long enough when she had to release her grip as someone she vaguely recognized as a regular ordered a new drink.

                      Just her luck that it was something that wasn’t kept under the counter, so she’d need to go stand up to get. There was no way she’d be able to stand straight in her current condition – in fact, if not for the fact that she was in public, she was certain that she’d explode as soon as she got up – and she wouldn’t be able to move as slowly as she’d need to, but she had to try anyways. Once again she pried her legs apart and forced herself to her feet, leaning forward with her hands on the counter as the change of position caused a great surge of need to assault her, though only for a moment.

                      When it passed, Azhani’s tail flew back to its normal position and she turned around as casually as possible, taking weak strides that would have looked like a human trying to emulate the way she walked normally – a comparison she’d only even been made aware of when her sister had teased her for her posture on their way through town after a long day out together, as if she hadn’t been waddling along herself. But why was she thinking about that? She really hoped the Dragonborn would get back soon; it was no good if she was desperate enough for it to mess with her head. At least she was still clear enough to know what she was looking for and where to find it.

                      More excellent fortune for her that this particular drink was found in one of the lower cabinets. As sure as she was that her body wouldn’t let her break just yet, she really would have preferred not to tempt fate, but alas. It was the only way, so she forced herself into a squat as she pawed through the various bottles and tools in the cabinet to find what she needed. And though she tried to stay composed, her legs shook constantly again and her tail was absolutely furious. What Azhani really needed wasn’t in this cabinet, but right now she had to take things one step at a time. Get the booze and stand up again. She had to rid herself of that horrible feeling that her ocean of what once was tea was right on the border between in her body and in her pants, and for as long as she was in a squatting position her body would be trying to tell her that it was time to let loose.

                      Perhaps the only real bit of good luck for Azhani was that it didn’t take long to locate the requested drink, and as soon as it was in hand she worked her way back up to a standing position, knocking the cabinet doors closed with a foot once she’d composed herself. Then she walked back to the bar with that same silly stride as before, setting the bottle down on the counter and leaning against it with one hand. The other pulled out a glass from one of the shelves below, and when that joined the bottle she was tempted to let that hand help out between her legs.

                      But, no, this was one of those drinks where it was for whatever reason universally considered good form to never under any circumstances allow the guest to pour for themselves. Azhani didn’t really have much of a choice but to tear open the bottle in what was absolutely the incorrect manner, then subject herself to the deepest and foulest realm of Oblivion: pouring something into something else. Realm of the Daedric Prince of full bladders, of course. Sangiin, perhaps?

                      Azhani tried very hard to not listen to what she was doing, but had to force herself to look directly at it to ensure it was done right. It was really only a few seconds she was standing there with her legs knotted and ears conspicuously flattened, and Azhani knew that, but refused to accept that it was anything short of an eternity before she got to slide the glass over. Her tail went right back between her legs as she prepared to sit down again, but she was distracted by the door opening.

                      In came a very large, very loud man with his arms around a rather mundane-looking Nord lady. The man released his partner and waved her off in the direction of the stairs before quickly approaching the bar.

                      The Dragonborn spoke quickly, starting to back away almost as soon as he came close enough for Azhani to hear. “Hey, do you think you’d be alright for another hour or two?”

                      “Uh…” Technically, she’d be able to last until she broke something. She wasn’t near that point yet, so, sure, she could take another two hours. “Ah, well, I think s-”

                      “Great, I’ll try not to take too long.” He didn’t let her finish his statement and was already headed to the stairs when she tried to respond.

                      “W-wait, but I-“ But he was already gone, so Azhani just trailed off and muttered the rest to herself. “But I have to… nnn…” She straightened up and had her hands in tight fists at her sides. Her legs were inseparable and shaking as always while her tail was forced to keep down. People were looking at her, that much was certain, but perhaps they were merely brief looks of concern before they went back to their business. No doubt these people had seen Keerava in similar situations millions of times, no reason to act like this was any different. Staring wouldn’t accomplish anything anyways, and there was nothing any of them could do to help. Well, aside from all of them instantly leaving the bar so Azhani could run upstairs – or more likely to one of those washtubs in the kitchen area, at the rate things were going. And they just looked more and more appealing as time went on…

                      When the present wave of desperation passed, Azhani threw herself into her seat again, back in that same position as before, legs locked together with her tail firmly between them. Nothing she could do now, and now she’d definitely attracted the attention of at least everyone at the bar proper. Preferring very much to not deal with whatever they’d say or think of her, she grabbed her book again to at least pretend to be distracted. At this point it wasn’t likely that distractions would even work anyways. The only thing she could think of was how badly she needed to pee and how she’d just missed her opportunity to deal with it. All she had to do was say “No”, just say she wouldn’t be able to wait, and she’d be upstairs by now. But then that wasn’t true, and even with the state she was in she couldn’t bring herself to lie to someone she tentatively considered something resembling a friend. It was likely only late afternoon, so Azhani was sure she’d waited much longer in the past – like that one instance in that one province with the big white tower that she didn’t want to think about – so there was no doubt that she could wait this time too.

                      But of course, just because she could didn’t mean she should. Not like she had a choice, though, not with people around, but she really should have known better than to keep getting herself into these situations. She was twenty-two, for gods’ sakes, there was no excuse for the fact that it was easier for her to count the number of times it wasn’t her fault she either outright pissed herself or came close to it in the past three months. She could do it on one hand, even, which really only made it worse. And as much as she would have loved to blame the tea for being delicious and not herself for drinking way too much of it, this was definitely not going to increase that count.

                      All that was left was to hope that the Dragonborn would be done with whatever he was doing before Azhani ended up in real pain. But if he was doing what she thought he was doing – and he was, surely; no way would he be that excited for anything else – there was no way to predict when that would be. Azhani shoved a hand to her mouth to suppress a groan while she leaned a little bit backwards. It was bad enough knowing she’d gotten herself into this situation. What made it worse was that this wasn’t something she could get herself out of. She had nowhere to go, nothing to do, and she couldn’t even rely on her body giving out on its own without doing real damage. Even as a kid she never felt so out of control, and that was when she lived under the Thalmor dictators. She didn’t have a choice, and she hated it. Nothing she could do but wait.

                      Wait and give this guy a drink. Why did this guy ask her for a drink? Couldn’t he see she was not in the mood to deal with people right now? At least it was something simple, but even the little bit of leaning forward she’d have to do to reach under the counter felt like it added too much pressure. Pressure that wasn’t going to go anywhere – at least if she could wet herself just a little bit it’d be more tolerable, but that wasn’t about to happen, and her only hint of relief was when she sat back up again with a bottle in her hand and the extra pressure was gone, leaving behind the pressure of the entire Abecean Sea inside her. A marked improvement, truly. She slid the bottle over to whoever it was that had asked for it, and got money tossed onto the counter in return. At least she wouldn’t have to write anything down to keep a tab on this guy, but she’d still have to tolerate the sounds that came with being given a bottle of booze. This time she didn’t have to look at it, which helped quite a bit.

                      Her gaze ended up directed downwards again – her legs were doing what they had been the whole time, except they’d gotten faster, and her little balloon seemed to have gotten just slightly bigger. Azhani lifted herself off the seat for just a moment, quickly swapping her tail for one of her hands, digging in as well as she could without actually shoving her hand down her pants. Come to think of it, there was a part of her now that wasn’t there before that was tempted by such an idea. She was very familiar with this part of herself – it was a regular visitor, and now that she thought about it, it had been about six months since the last time it made itself known. And if it was here again now… Just more trouble on the way for her. Great.

                      That could be ignored for now, though. Her other hand hesitantly came to rest on her belly, just lightly enough to feel what was going on without disturbing anything. She couldn’t tell for sure without pressing on it – and there was no way that was going to happen – but it still seemed quite soft. Azhani let out a quiet mix of a whine and a growl. That meant there was still a good deal of room, so she could very well be kept waiting for a long time yet. More optimistically, it meant she wasn’t at her worst and would probably still be able to walk upstairs and look at least halfway normal if the Dragonborn came down soon.

                      But he still wasn’t coming – at least, not… yeah, Azhani was in for some very familiar trouble soon if that was how her thoughts were going. That line of thinking wouldn’t do her any good anyways. She had to focus on waiting. The thing that she’d be doing whether she wanted to or not. She had to focus on it and find a way to make time seem to go faster. As it was she couldn’t tell if it had been an hour or five minutes since the Dragonborn and Lydia had returned – hopefully it wasn’t the latter. Azhani threw one leg over the other, crushing her hand between her thighs. Between that and her tail, she’d be quite sore in the morning…

                      When she looked up again, she saw that there was nobody left at the counter. Money and some empty mugs or bottles, but no people. Leaning forward as far as she could without hurting herself, she looked over into the dining room. Quite a few people with drinks, and a handful had little plates of whatever food there was in the place that Azhani didn’t need to prepare herself. Looking off in the other direction, there wasn’t anyone hanging around by the door. Still in public, sure, but this was the best she was going to get if she had no idea how much longer she’d be expected to wait.

                      Another look in all directions to confirm that at least the general area was clear, and Azhani got up carefully, now bent forwards a little to allow her hand to do what it had to. Then she turned around and quickly scanned the kitchen for anything appropriate. Or, more accurately, the closest container that nobody would have to drink out of later. There was a little wooden tub on the floor by one of the counters back there, probably what would have normally been used for dishwashing, but now it was empty. The Khajiit made her way over to it with that same silly walk as before, bending over with a groan once she reached it so that she could grab one end of it with her free hand. Dragging it back over to the bar took a bit longer than getting to it in the first place, but she eventually dropped it by the barstool she’d been abusing with her bouncing for however long.

                      Then she sat down again, pulling the hand out from between her legs and instead grabbing her waistband with it. One last scan of the area to confirm that, yes, this counted as private, and her other hand joined in. In one slow motion she lifted herself off the stool and dragged her pants and underwear down to her knees, then sat down again and moved forward enough that she was pretty sure she’d get at least most of it into the tub on the floor.

                      And then she shut her eyes, shoved a hand into her mouth to bite down on, and relaxed. There was a muffled moan into her hand as she felt the flood just about to break free, and then…

                      “Hey.”

                      Of course. Azhani very nearly jumped, sliding back to sit entirely on the stool, which now was also host to a tiny puddle made by the spurt that was supposed to go into the bucket. She forced herself to stand up and hastily get redressed as the Dragonborn approached.

                      “You’re good to go,” he said. “I’ll take over from here for tonight.” There was a pause where neither of them said anything nor moved, so he spoke again. “You alright?”

                      Azhani had no idea what to feel right now. For one, she wanted to claw his eyes out for interrupting her. But then she’d also been given the opportunity she’d been waiting for the whole time. The obvious response was to stutter for a little bit before saying anything. “Uhm,” she finally said. “no, yeah, fine, thanks. I’ll just… Mhm.” Then she shuffled her way out from behind the counter and rushed to the stairs as quickly as she could in her state. Her regular walking speed, though it felt like sprinting. The actual climb up the stairs hurt even more than the walk over to them, but then it was a clear shot to her room.

                      Throwing herself at the door to open it with her shoulder, Azhani stumbled into her room and immediately stripped down again. All that was left was to squat down by her bed, reach underneath for… yes, there it was, right where it was supposed to be. With everything in position, there was no hesitation. Her stream started full-force immediately, and Azhani had to grab her muzzle with both hands to keep from crying out in ecstasy. And then she almost fell backwards, so one of those hands ended up supporting her from behind.

                      Azhani closed her eyes and let out a suppressed moan that trailed off into a purr that didn’t end when the flood finally tapered off. Shaking herself to throw off any excess drops, Azhani stood up and stretched, looking down to see what would have to be dealt with. It was good that she stopped when she did – any more and that little pot would have spilled over.

                      That definitely wasn’t normal for her, and as much as she hated to admit it, perhaps getting herself into terrible situations was actually working out well, in a really weird way that would probably turn on the Dragonborn and Keerava if they ever figured it out. She was still going to try to avoid getting into more trouble like that if she could, of course, but now she couldn’t deny that each time would help for future problems.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~     

      “Uh, hey, take over, will you?”

      Lydia stood by the door and watched as the Dragonborn and that little Khajiit switched places at the bar – Azhani hopped on top of it and shuffled over to the far side while Bjorn simply walked around to get out, then headed over to Lydia.

      “Hey.” He was avoiding eye contact for some reason and motioned in the general direction of a nearby table. “Here, uh, why don’t you sit down?”

      Once they were seated, Lydia had to break the silence while Bjorn looked around aimlessly. “What, no drinks or anything?” She was joking, of course – a drink right now wouldn’t be the best of ideas considering she’d just finished a decent bit of travelling. Still, someone had to say something.

      “Uh, well, I could get you something…” The Dragonborn was now looking at Lydia, still not quite making eye contact, and cleared his throat. “Ah, but, no, I actually wanted to, uh… Eh, you know what, it’d be a lot easier if I just got right to the point, so…” He dug around in his pockets for a little while, and when his hand came back up he dropped a round wooden amulet with a familiar holy symbol carved into it onto the table. Lydia glanced at it and shot a suspicious look at the Dragonborn.

      “What is this?”

      “Oh, that’s an-“

      “I know what it is,” Lydia said, leaning forward. “I meant what are you doing?”

      Bjorn waved a hand towards the amulet. “It’s kind of obvious, isn’t it?”

      “Sure, but…” Lydia sighed and put a hand to her head. “What made you think I would go along with this? It’s gonna take you more than a piece of wood to get what you’re asking for here.”

      “I know, and I know I’ve been a complete ass the whole time I’ve known you-“

      “Bit of an understatement there.”

      “-but at the same time you’re pretty much the only person who actually tolerates my bullshit for some reason other than not wanting to be Shouted to pieces. We’re in this together and you know it.”

      Lydia moved to say something, but paused, then shut up and nodded. “Alright, fine. But so far all you’ve used me for is carrying all the crap you don’t want to be bothered with. I don’t see any reason to believe that would change.”

      “Okay, first off, that’s exactly what you signed up for. Maybe not specifically with me, but with the Jarl, you knew what you were getting into. Second, you know by now that you have the option to not do things. Don’t go blaming me for your choices and the line of work you went into.”

      “Fair enough, but why should it be any different after… this…?”

      “Ah, well, because,” Bjorn said, holding up a finger as if stating irrefutable truth. “This situation we’re in now, it’s because someone else told you that you had to be here and do all this stuff. But this… this would be entirely up to you. I wouldn’t want to do anything that would get you to change your mind and decide, actually, no, you don’t want this.” He took a deep breath and continued slowly. “Look, ultimately, you’ve been the one consistent thing in my life since I got here. I am not gonna let that get away. I wouldn’t do anything that would make me lose you.” Then he looked down while Lydia sat in silence.

      She finally answered, speaking with a tone one would expect more from the Dragonborn than from her. “Okay, fine.” With a cheeky grin she added, “You’re not half bad anyways. I guess I could do a lot worse.” Then she held up her hands. “And I guess I did sort of willingly follow you to certain death a couple hundred times, so you must be doing something right. So, when are we going to…?”

      Bjorn perked up almost immediately. “Oh, well, we might be able to do a little something today, actually. Might have to wait a while but there’s some other stuff I’d like to take care of too, so we can get all that done. You just go put on something nice, I’ll come get you in a bit. Hey-“

      He’d stopped talking to Lydia, so she gave a vaguely-affirmative shrug and headed upstairs, and when she got to her room she dumped her bag onto the floor, tossing whatever bits of armor she could easily remove down to join it. Then she turned to the little wardrobe in her room – more like a glorified box, but still – and looked through what little she had. “Something nice”? She didn’t exactly have formalwear, never having been expected to actually do anything requiring it before now, but quickly pawed through the handful of clothes arranged in the… whatever it qualified as. There weren’t terribly many options, so she just picked the one and only dress there, a simple little black thing, easy to move in, comfortable, but still looked good.

      This was laid out on the bed, and Lydia sat down next to it, fiddling around with the strings on her sides to remove her armor. When both pieces of it fell clattering to the floor, she kicked off her boots and worked her way out of all the requisite padding and everything under it, ending up more or less naked when everything was dealt with. Oh, sure some things still needed to be covered, at least for practical reasons, but it was close enough. And as she stood there in her underwear, she was reminded of the consequences of her travelling – something she should have dealt with outside of town, but had decided against doing due to her proximity. Well, here was the perfect opportunity, and yet…

      Perhaps she shouldn’t. It was, after all, well under control, if slightly annoying. But more than that, this was a special day… apparently. Sure, it was weird and a bit of a surprise to receive a marriage proposal practically immediately upon returning to town, but it was still special.

      So why not give him a pleasant surprise for afterwards?

      It took a couple of hours to actually get to the temple. The Dragonborn’s business included walking up to the blacksmith, handing over a little sheet of paper with his measurements on it, and demanding head-to-toe ebony armor – for the both of them. He’d dropped a large pouch of coins onto the counter when the smith tried to confirm that the Dragonborn knew what he was asking for and pointed out the difficulty of just acquiring the materials. The smith didn’t really have much of a choice at that point, but as he didn’t know Lydia’s dimensions, she spent at least a good hour there just being measured.

      Then it was just a matter of wandering around town doing small trades and the like – Bjorn had sold his knife to someone and hired a courier to go fetch a different one from all the way in Whiterun, paying the kid extra to ensure that this particular dagger be brought over with the greatest of care, in the special box it already would have been kept in anyways. Lydia had seen it in its case once or twice – strange-looking thing, it was. Hardly looked like a real blade, considering the business end of it seemed to be made of some sort of rock. But if the Dragonborn said it was a knife, then it was a knife.

      In any event, by the time they finally reached the temple after everything else was done, Lydia’s minor annoyance had become quite a bit more annoying. Tolerable, yes, but now it would be the center of attention if Lydia weren’t actively doing something else, and even then it’d still be an ever-present reminder of her situation. All for a good cause, though.

      Still, nobody ever said she had to pay attention to anything in spite of it, so she was only vaguely aware of what was going on at the temple. It was apparently empty, and she could hear the Dragonborn speaking with Maramal, who eventually hesitantly agreed to do a brief ceremony for them while nothing else was happening.

      That did take a few minutes to get everything set up, though, and in the meantime Lydia was shuffling around ever so slightly, just to have something to do. She did have to stop once everything was ready, now needing to stand as still as possible right next to Bjorn in front of the altar while Maramal droned on. If she were to be honest with herself, she wouldn’t have listened to a word he said anyways, but now at least she had some justification for it – it wasn’t quite bad yet, but she still did have to focus to avoid moving around subconsciously.

      She heard the Dragonborn say something, then Maramal said something else and waited. After a moment, Lydia felt something prodding her in the side – Bjorn had elbowed her to draw her attention back to the real world, where Maramal, among others, were looking at her expecting a response. Blushing, she said something to the effect of “yes”, then Maramal said something else, and before she could fully process what was going on Bjorn had pulled her in for a kiss. She put her arms around him and returned the gesture, then the two broke off after a minute. Bjorn handed over some money to Maramal as a “donation” to the temple, then grabbed Lydia by the arm and excitedly led her back to the inn.

      She was left waiting in Bjorn’s – no, their room for a moment while he said… something or other to Azhani. It wasn’t important. What was important was that Lydia was sitting on a bed with her dress and everything under it tossed off to the side of the room. It was cold, and she had her hand between her legs for… several reasons, actually, not the least of which was because if she moved that hand a little higher she’d feel the ever-so-slight distension of her lower abdomen that made visible her predicament.

      She could wait, though. Would be better for both of them if the Dragonborn had his fun with this. Lydia moved over to lie on her back, wiping her hand on the sheets. It was hard to ignore the pressure now, but at least this made it more bearable. Bjorn entered soon after, locking the door behind him, and Lydia shuffled around a bit, looking up at him silently. He looked her over as he worked his way out of his coat and the shirt beneath it, chuckling once he got to her midsection.

      “So that’s how it’s gonna be, huh? Hope you know what you’re getting yourself into.”

      Lydia responded with an innocent grin betrayed by her eyes. “I have no idea what it is you imply, master. I am but a poor…” She paused for a moment to consider how to replace the original line, but when she looked at Bjorn he was clearly trying to suppress laughter. “Ah, fuck it,” she said. “I’ve got a pretty good idea where this is going to go.”

      “Well, it’s not going to go anywhere if I have anything to say about it.” He stood over the bed, looking down, with his crossed arms just barely concealing the great scar across his chest that still seemed fresh. “Now then, let’s see here…” Bjorn leaned forward a little and laid one hand on Lydia’s bulge, applying just a little bit of pressure.

      “Ah…” Lydia’s legs came together as a response, then parted shortly after the pressure was removed. “Don’t do that.”

      “Don’t do what? This?”

      “A-aah!” Her legs twisted and she tried to sit up, but the Dragonborn’s other arm blocked her.

      “Hm…” He slowly removed his hands, allowing Lydia to grab at herself. “That’s not all that solid just yet, and if you’ve still got everything under control after that…” Bjorn looked at her with a wicked grin. “Then I don’t think it’s as bad yet as you’re pretending it is.”

      “Hmph.” Lydia only spoke once she’d recovered. “Are you going to just tease all night or what?”

      “Plenty of time, my sweet. Plenty of time.” Bjorn watched as Lydia rolled her eyes at his choice of quote. “Ah, but I suppose we could find a way to speed this up, hm?” Then he walked across the room to his bag of adventuring junk, digging through it until he pulled out a flask. He shook it and, apparently satisfied, brought it back over to Lydia and handed it to her. “Here, drink this.”

      Lydia sat up slowly and grabbed the flask, opening it and looking inside. It was still mostly full. “All of it?”

      “Well, not all at once, but a good bit of it right now, yeah.” He waited while Lydia looked between him and the drink, then spoke again when he felt he’d waited enough. “Unless, of course, you wanna quit.”

      Looking between the flask and her new husband one last time, Lydia raised the flask as if in a toast, then chugged a significant portion of it with her other hand raised in a world-famous one-fingered gesture. And of course she immediately regretted her decision – not the latter part, which seemed to amuse Bjorn more than anything else. Oh, no, the problem here was that she’d decided to drink what she’d been given, and not only was it alcoholic but it also seemed to be going directly where it was least welcome. Fantastic combination, really… for the other person in the room.

      Even so, she probably would have downed it all just to prove a point, if not for the sudden surge that caused her to stiffen, throwing her free hand between her legs and forcing the flask away from her mouth. The lower hand felt warm and wet almost instantly, and Lydia’s leg twitched as she felt another leak about to break free. So she pressed harder, though evidently not enough to keep a new burst of warmth away from her hand.

      “What, already?” The Dragonborn had clearly meant it as a joke, but the touch of disappointment in his voice was real. “Sure hope you didn’t mess up these really nice sheets I’ve got here…”

      Lydia blushed as she looked back at the flask, handing it off to Bjorn again. “So this is how we’re spending the night, huh?”

      “Feh, maybe an hour if you’re lucky, am I right?” Bjorn gave a crooked smirk as Lydia worked her way into lying down again. “And in any case I probably should deal with that… situation downstairs, so I wouldn’t be able to spend too long messing around up here anyways…”

      “You’re seriously still – aah-“ Lydia knotted her legs and took a moment to recover from a sudden urge. “S-still chasing after the cat? Really?”

      The Dragonborn leaned in close enough for Lydia to feel the heat of his breath as he spoke. “Oh, now why would I do something like that when I’ve got you right here, hm? And, anyways,” he added, straightening up again, “it’s not like it was ever going to get serious. Doesn’t mean I can’t have a bit of fun with the shit she gets herself into. For now, though… I’m not sure that’s where your hands are supposed to be.”

      “Yeah, well, that’s where they’re staying.”

      “Mm, is that so? Didn’t think a such a strong lady would ever need to use her hands.” He ran a hand down one of her arms, stopping at and lightly grabbing her wrist. “And, besides, you’ve still got to finish that drink you started, so I know it can’t be that bad yet.”

      Lydia shook her head fervently. “Nope, nope, that’s- that’s not happening.”

      “What a shame.” Bjorn’s grip on Lydia’s arm tightened and with his other arm he grabbed her free hand the same way. “Still, you know I’m gonna need these out of the way.” He encountered no resistance moving her arms to her chest – though when her hands left the precious area they were guarding, she pressed her legs together even tighter. His own hands wandered ever so slightly as he sat down next to her. “Y’know, that armor doesn’t really do these justice…” Lydia’s only response was a slight moan as the Dragonborn did his work, slowly shifting his hands lower until they found something else interesting. “Hm, this seems to have progressed nicely… But just to be sure…” He pressed on what he’d found, only to be greeted with a gasp from Lydia and a quiet pattering sound behind him for a second. Fortunately for her, the pressure was gone in an instant, but only because the Dragonborn had brought that same hand back up to block her own.

      “Aah… I don’t think I can-“

      “Shh. Not much longer for you, but…” The Dragonborn slipped out of his dress pants and positioned himself near Lydia’s legs almost in one motion. “You’re gonna have to move these.”

      Lydia sat up just enough to look down at him. “B-but if I do that, I’ll-“

      “I thought that was the point, hm? Or are you just too stubborn to give up now? Ah, but don’t worry-“ Bjorn grabbed her legs and gently set about trying to untie them. “I’ll help you if you need it, but you gotta get your legs out of the way first.”

      “Nnn… Fine,” Lydia said, dropping back down to lie flat and surrendering her legs to the Dragonborn’s guidance. As soon as what little pressure they were applying disappeared, it was replaced with his hand – though it was hardly any help considering where his fingers were going. “Aah… Careful…”

      “What, still not going to give up?” He shifted his hand to reduce the pressure on the outside, keeping up his work on the inside. The response was a brief jet soaking his hand and a groan from Lydia. “Guess not. I’ll just have to try harder.” He brought his free hand up and used it to press long and hard on her bulge – but even so the resulting stream only lasted three seconds at best before Lydia’s willpower took over again.

      “Gods…” Lydia groaned as she fought to take back some control beyond just the few muscles below, though the Dragonborn blocked any attempt at external intervention. “Y-you’ll have to do better than that to get what you want.”

      Bjorn removed his other hand, eliciting a slight gasp from Lydia, and leaned forward. “We’ll see about that.” Then he worked both arms under Lydia and picked her up, rolling the both of them over so that she was on top.

      “What are you do- aaah!” The Dragonborn had pressed her close, holding her tight and letting her own body weight do the work for him. And it seemed his plan had worked, for there was a brief spurt that was followed by a steady, if weak, trickle. “Nn-haah…” Lydia’s head found its way to Bjorn’s shoulder, and her hands were firmly attached to his arms.

      “Isn’t that better,” he whispered. “I’m sure you can imagine how good it would be if you just gave in completely.”

      Lydia gave a weak struggle in the Dragonborn’s vice grip, still slowly and unwillingly relieving herself onto him. She sighed when she realized she’d already lost her little fight, and surrendered herself to what was already happening anyways. Pressing her face close to the Dragonborn’s neck, Lydia let out a muffled groan as she gave up her last scraps of control. The little trickle soon turned into a stream and then a torrent.

                   And then there was a Dragon inside her.

    • By Sake in The Bee and Barb
         0
      “I really don’t want to hear what Valen Dreth would have done.” The Dragonborn waved a piece of bacon across the counter. “I’m sure it’s something asinine like half of the other shit you say he did.”

                      Romlyn Dreth held up a finger as he took a spoonful of oatmeal. “Ah, well,” he said when the spoon returned to the bowl. “How would you know if you won’t listen, eh?”

                      “Sure, but, how about I tell you a story for once instead?” Bjorn tapped his free hand on the bar. “I’ve got all of Keerava’s records back here, I bet I can tell you the story of all the money you owe her.” He held another piece of bacon in his mouth momentarily and pulled out a small stack of books from his side of the bar. “Better yet, I could tell you the story of how all the money I owe her for room and board ended up on your tab instead.”

                      “You wouldn’t.” Romlyn shot a dirty look across the bar and went back to eating.

                      The Dragonborn just shrugged. “Nah, you’re right.” Flipping through one of the books, he continued. “Though, while I’ve got you here… Ah, here we are, ‘Motherfucking Romlyn Fucking Dreth’ – mm, she likes you, eh? Aaaaaand that’ll be two hund-“

                      “YOU KNOW WHAT I JUST REMEMBERED I HAVE A JOB.” Romlyn suddenly shot up and yelled extremely quickly. “I’m going to go do that now goodbye thank you such a shame you can’t tell me more about that debt right now…” He spoke as he backed away to the door, and kept talking even on his way out, but whatever he was saying trailed off into incomprehensible muttering by the time he was in the street.

                      At the same time, Azhani came downstairs, just in time to see Romlyn run out the door. She made her way over to the counter, rubbing her eyes. “What was that about?”

                      “Eh, just Romlyn Dreth things,” Bjorn said, dragging his plate to a more convenient location – which, of course, Azhani promptly sat directly in front of. “Looks like you slept well. Figure you’d be ready to try magic again today?”

                      Azhani licked her hand and ran it through her hair, which she hadn’t yet bothered to braid like she normally would. “Maybe something that isn’t going to explode in my face every time I try it.”

                      “Hey, that last one was almost not an explosion.” He took a sip of the drink he’d prepared himself, tried not to react to the bitterness, and went on speaking. “But, no, there’s plenty of other stuff for you to learn. Even other kinds of magic, but I’m pretty sure the only kind that can’t explode is the kind where you can accidentally summon a Daedroth that destroys the entire town instead.” He drank some more and stuffed some bacon into his mouth right after. “S’I’guess tha’s worse’n ‘splodin’.”

                      “Uh yeah maybe let’s not do that.” Azhani grabbed herself a handful of bacon, then turned her attention to Bjorn’s drink. “What is that? Smells familiar.”

                      Bjorn lifted his mug and shrugged. “What, this? I think it’s Argonian coffee or something. Way stronger than any of the stuff I’ve known to come out of southern Nibenay, anyways. I wonder how they can afford stuff like this.”

                      Azhani simply put her elbow on the bar, held out her hand, and made a beckoning motion, and Bjorn slid the mug over to her. She picked it up, sniffed at it for a bit, then repeatedly dipped her tongue into it. “Okay, I don’t know what humans think coffee is but if you think this is strong, you clearly have never seen the real thing.” She handed the mug back to Bjorn, who set it aside. “It is a bit different than traditional Khajiiti stuff, though – I guess Argonians have different taste.”

                      Bjorn leaned forward onto the bar, careful not to let his body touch the counter. “Weren’t you a kid when you left? I find it hard to believe a little girl would drink enough coffee to know quality, much less be able to tell the difference between stuff grown in Elsweyr and Black Marsh just by taste.”

                      “Well, not when I lived in Anequina, no, but the Baandari would always have some, and they always brought it from home. And of course whenever I had any it would be theirs.” Azhani shrugged. “I never did get as attached to it as they did, though, because I never needed to stay awake like they do.”

                      “And then drinking enough to stay awake would just cause more problems, eh?”

                      Bjorn chuckled, and Azhani glared at him. “Don’t go there,” she said.

                      “Heh. Sorry.”  The Dragonborn grimaced as he drank more of his coffee. “Gah. A-anyways, been meaning to ask… What’s up with the way you speak now? It’s, eh, more… human now, I guess.”

                      “Hm? Oh, you mean the ‘this one’ thing? That’s… that’s a cultural thing. We don’t really… have the same kind of pronouns in Ta’agra as you do, so our «this one»-“ Azhani made quotes with her fingers, saying the phrase first in her native tongue then repeating it in Cyrodiilic. “- is… I guess you’d call it formal? For people you don’t know, or you need to impress. The rest is more personal, for friends.”

                      “So, what, am I your friend now? I thought I you were still treating me like some crazy pervert.”

                      “Hey, I never said you weren’t. But I mean, I did kind of watch you almost get yourself killed, so that builds trust a little bit, no?”

                      “I guess so.” Bjorn leaned back as far as he could, reaching out behind him with his staff for more support. “And, uh, maybe not a good time to mention it but you… probably shouldn’t be leaning on the bar like that.”

                      Azhani looked down without a word, then after a second straightened up, pulling her shirt collar up to her neck.

                      “Though, I guess there’s not a whole lot to see there anyways…” The Dragonborn’s thoughts trailed off and turned into frantic stuttering as Azhani glared at him with a hand on her chest and a look on her face like he’d just killed her entire family. “Wait, no, I didn’t- that’s not- I meant- they- you don’t- but- the- ah, shit. I fucked up, didn’t I?”

                      “Uh, yeah, you did.” Azhani sighed, then got up and started for the stairs. “Right, so, uh, I’m going to go… change into something better.”

                      She wasn’t quite sure why she’d said that – she’d truly intended to wear what she’d come downstairs in, since she always wore an apron that would make it harder to tell she was wearing rags underneath. She couldn’t even remember if she had other clothes, since for most of her life even a second pair of pants would have been considered a luxury. Unfortunate, considering that same part of her life was when hauling around a second pair of pants would have made things significantly easier.

                      Of course, if Azhani’s current living conditions were any indication of what would have happened had she had such a convenience, she wouldn’t have known what to do with extra pants. The first thing she saw on returning to her room, after all, was a variety of pieces of what few outfits she had strewn about the room essentially at random. The room had a dresser in it as a matter of course but considering she’d never had any reason to use one before, she’d just end up forgetting anything she left there and be right back at square one.

                      Naturally, Azhani’s traditional rags joined the mess, ending up thrown in the general direction of the bed while the Khajiit seated herself on a stool facing a little mirror on the wall. While ostensibly there to get her hair in order, she couldn’t help but bring a hand to her chest, pushing up on her breasts one at a time and frowning at her reflection. Sure, Azhani had never needed to use support or anything, but they weren’t really that small. That’s what she’d keep telling herself anyways, even through the years where there were far more important things to worry about. Even so, for all her attempts to convince herself she didn’t care, it still kinda hurt to have someone joke about them.

                      A joke in bad taste wasn’t about to kill her good mood, though. She had a job and a place to live, after all. And as she got up from the stool with her hair properly tied up, she found several pieces of a simple outfit she wouldn’t even have if not for Keerava’s generosity. With a very lenient definition of “generosity”, anyways, considering Keerava probably wouldn’t have even offered the arrangement if not for the fact that it was apparently very easy for her to get her kicks out of her Khajiiti tenant’s… misadventures, but it was better than nothing. Though, Azhani did feel a little strange knowing that her situation was, albeit indirectly, being used for someone else’s sexual pleasure again. At least she wasn’t expected to do anything in that regard anymore.

                      And, really, she was barely expected to do anything to cover the actual business arrangement. Keerava and Talen normally covered all the necessary work well enough on their own, and even though they were away, Azhani would no doubt still be doing very little with the help of a legendary super-human like Bjorn, injured though he was. Assuming, of course, he didn’t decide to sit on the sidelines and let Azhani work constantly all day so that he could be entertained just the same as Keerava would be. With any luck he’d be smart enough to know better than to try that on someone with claws. A wet cat is a very dangerous thing indeed.

                      He wouldn’t be getting that opportunity, unfortunately. Not today, anyways. After throwing on whatever it was she’d picked up off the floor, Azhani went back downstairs and up to the bar, where the Dragonborn was clearing dishes and wiping down counters. All with one arm, even, as the other was still occupied by the staff he was leaning into.

                      “Hey,” she called out to him. “Would you be alright alone today?”

                      Bjorn turned to look at her and shrugged. “Eh. Probably won’t be that hard, doesn’t seem like there’ll be much noise.” He put his staff in front of himself and leaned forward onto it, one foot slightly off the ground to make up for it. “Why, going somewhere?”

                      “Just around town. Probably won’t get a chance when Keerava gets back.”

                      “Yeah somehow I can’t imagine she’d want to let you out of her sight.” The Dragonborn coughed then went on. “Anyways, you’re not planning on going outside of town or anything, are you? Really shouldn’t do that without, like, a knife or something.”

                      “No, wasn’t going to leave town. There some specific reason I shouldn’t or…?”   

                      “What, other than the dragons? Just the usual bandits and wild animals. Normally I wouldn’t be too concerned about getting mugged but the Rift, eh… reminds me of Bravil. And you’re pretty much the ideal target for a bandit. A woman, unarmed, with a nice ass, in some shady backwater part of the country is a very easy mark.” Bjorn coughed again, moving his staff back to his side for proper support.

                      “Wait, what was that after unarmed?”

                      “Nothing.”

                      “Uh huh.” Azhani raised an eyebrow but didn’t press the issue further. “Well, no, I’m not going to leave town, but I do have money-“ She tapped the pouch at her side, mostly to assure herself that she hadn’t forgotten her coinpurse again. “-so why not go out and see what people are selling?”

                      Bjorn just nodded along and shrugged. “Yeah, alright, you have fun then. I should be fine here, nobody’s going to try anything when they see who’s in charge today. I might even be able to scare some of them into paying off what they owe.” He chuckled for just a moment, having stopped abruptly and put a hand across his chest. “Ah… They don’t need to know I still can’t Shout just yet.”

                      “Don’t anger the dragon, right?” Azhani twitched her nose as if silently enjoying her own joke. “Eh, anyways, I should be back by sunset. If you scare all the customers away by then and Keerava blames me for it, I’m going to kill you.”

                      “Sure, that sounds fair to me.” The Dragonborn gave a two-fingered salute with his free hand while Azhani just rolled her eyes and headed for the door. “I’ll be sure to only scare Romlyn away.”

                      Azhani’s only response was a little wave as she left, and when the door closed behind her she took a moment to just stand there. She looked out at the little bit of town she could see from in front of the inn, admiring the sun’s early glow reflected in the canals and the lake, and feeling the crisp morning breeze run through her fur. It was going to be a good day. Or, Azhani hoped it would be. That other feeling that was just making itself known, though very faintly, wasn’t a concern. Must have just been the cold.

                      Indeed it was, as the slight twinge had faded away entirely once Azhani stepped into a well-insulated store – a shoemaker’s shop, more specifically, as Skyrim’s ground was decidedly hostile to bare feet, especially sensitive Khajiiti pads. How did she ever get by before? At best she’d have her feet wrapped up in crude bandages for a modicum of protection. That may have worked in the sands and savannahs of Anequina but the rugged terrain of the far north meant she needed something better.

                      There was the light tinkling of quaint little chimes overhead as Azhani entered, and she was immediately greeted by the man behind the counter before she’d even crossed the floor.

                      “Mornin’, miss. What can I do for ya?” He wiped his hands on a towel slung over his shoulder, then crossed his arms.

                      Azhani hesitantly approached the counter, looking back at her own feet and grabbing at the pouch on her belt to feel its weight. “Yeah, uh, this one needs… eh, unusual shoes. What would it take to have a pair made?”

                      The shopkeeper leaned forward slightly and looked down at the floor, where one of Azhani’s feet was idly pawing at the ground. “Well, can’t say I’ve ever worked with someone like you before. Had a few Khajiit in, of course, but they were all… uh, normal. No offense.” He moved on when Azhani just shrugged at him. “Anyways, I’ve got no idea what it’d cost. How high up your leg you gonna need ‘em?”

                      Azhani took a step back and turned slightly to give the shopkeeper a better view of her leg. “Half way to the knee, yes? So, right about here.” Then she bent over and indicated with her hand a space between her knee and her ankle, presumably because a human wouldn’t be able to tell one joint from the other.

                      “Uh huh.” The cobbler stroked his chin for a while. “Hm, I suppose I could have it done in a few days, if you just stick around here for a little while so I can get proper measurements. Or, if it doesn’t get too busy – and it never does, people around here will hold onto their shoes ‘til they turn to dust – I could be done by closing tonight, but you’d have to stay here the whole time, and that’s a good… twelve hours. Probably would be cheaper for both of us that way since I could be more precise with how much stuff I’m using, but it’s up to you if sitting around here all day is worth it.”

                      “Would it be alright if this one had measurements taken now, then she could come back later for all the rest?”

                      “Sure,” was the response as the shopkeeper produced a tape measure and perhaps far more paper than necessary. “It’ll take an hour or two to figure out what in Oblivion I’m supposed to be doing anyways. Just, uh, sit down right over there-“ He gestured to a bench off to the side, and followed Azhani over to it as the Khajiit took a seat.

                      Azhani shuffled around a bit while the shopkeeper did his work – he was being very professional, sure, but she was glad he wouldn’t be doing anything higher up all the same. Even given the limited area he was working with, though, she was still uncomfortable. She never let anyone touch her legs – only her sister, and only to wrap them for long journeys. Considering this man was most certainly not a Khajiiti lady, Azhani really would have preferred to not be in such a situation. It was a necessary evil.

                      Thus she sat there in silence, and after far too many awkward minutes, she was able to get up and leave. She gave a curt nod to the shopkeeper, who said something in response that Azhani didn’t hear in her hurry to go do something else.

                      It was still cold when Azhani stepped outside again, though the sun had risen to a more respectable height. The Khajiit looked around for a moment, bringing her arms and legs closer together for a little bit of warmth, and eventually decided on heading in the general direction of the important-looking buildings over by the city wall. There weren’t very many people out just yet, but Azhani still made sure to weave her way around the few that were in the streets, still using her old techniques for passing unnoticed through a crowd. Of course, given there was hardly a crowd at all to begin with, Azhani just ended up disorienting herself.

                      She took a moment to figure out what she was looking at. Seemed like some sort of temple, or at the very least some incredibly rich person’s massive house. What a silly idea. Nobody in Riften could afford something like that. Except maybe the thieves, but Azhani knew from experience they wouldn’t flaunt their wealth like that. Plus there were banners outside that had what was probably a religious symbol on them, and these people didn’t exactly seem like they’d be that fanatical.

                      Azhani shrugged to herself and headed towards the temple – no doubt she could learn something, and she’d never actually been inside a temple dedicated to the proper Imperial Divines before. Sure, there had been plenty of Khajiiti temples with shrines to similar gods in her youth, but they were always overshadowed by the Moons. Humans didn’t seem to be all that big on ritual either, she realized upon entering, as there didn’t seem to be much of note inside the temple other than a massive statue to some god and a lot of benches. She could remember the occasional sermon by the Moon Priests, but nothing was ever so formal as this – seemed like the entire purpose of these temples was to come in, sit down, and listen to someone talk for a few hours. Silly human traditions. Sad, too, because Azhani knew that humans would get utterly wasted on moon sugar, so they’d never get to experience its proper spiritual – and delicious – effects.

                      She was shaken from her thoughts by a voice – a Redguard in simple robes was talking to her. “Help you with anything?”

                      “Uh, yeah, actually. Two things. First, is there any kind of magic you could teach someone?”

                      “You want to learn magic?” The priest gave her a weird look for a second. “Uh, well, I couldn’t tell you any better than the absolute basics. And aren’t you the Dragonborn’s friend? He’s probably your best bet for miles.”

                      “Yeah, that’s what this one thought.” Azhani shook her head. “And, uh, you can explain the gods here, yes?”

                      “Of course, that’s my job.” The priest turned to sit on one of the benches, no doubt preparing some immense speech. “Well, first off I don’t know much about Nordic tradition – I mostly know the Imperial pantheon. ‘Course, they’ve still got the Eight up here. Or, I guess pretty soon it’ll be the Nine again won’t it?” The priest was thinking with his hands, pointing in various directions at absolutely nothing. “Anyways, everyone’s got the same basic Eight, I’m sure you know them under slightly different names.” He threw up his hands for a bit. “Now, I’m not going to pretend I know anything about how religion in Elsweyr works so I won’t even try to tell you how your names for gods translate to the Imperial names, but they’re the same gods in the end. Discounting, of course, all the extra ones beyond the Eight that your people have.” The priest started stroking his chin, ignoring Azhani’s glare – he was right to assume she was raised on the old pantheon of course, but that was still mildly racist. Plenty of Khajiit were being brought up on Auri-El instead of Alkosh, after all. “Anyways, the Nords have the Eight, and Talos, then… well, there’s Alduin, as much as I’m sure we’d all prefer that he weren’t a god. Then there’s Shor. I’m not exactly sure what he is, but I think he’s supposed to be some heroic warrior-god who fought for humanity. Far as I know they say he’s dead now.” Azhani shuffled around a little bit. She recognized the concept of a dead god – a Missing God back home – but she was always taught that he was an evil trickster. “There are Tsun and Stuhn, but I think they’re just versions of some of the Eight. Then there’s also Herma-Mora and Orkey. Orkey’s a villain like Alduin, I think. You’d have to ask someone more knowledgeable about him. I know Herma-Mora is just the Daedra Lord, I’m sure you’ve at least heard of him.”

                      “Is that it? What about Azurah, or Y’ffer?”

                      The priest raised an eyebrow at Azhani. “I don’t know anything about Y’ffer. I would assume it’s the same thing as Y’ffre, like the wood elves have. Empire doesn’t have a version of him, I don’t think. And, well, Azura’s a Daedra.” He crossed his arms. “Elsewhere in th- er, in the Empire, Daedra worship is… eh, it’s around, but to say it’s frowned upon is a bit of an understatement.” Then he hastily added, “Not that anyone would judge you for it, of course, as long as you keep everything clean. Uh, Azura’s normally considered one of the more acceptable ones anyways.”

                      Azhani crossed her arms. “Uh huh. Oh, and, uh, one more thing. Where could this one get something to help keep track of what month it is?”

                      “I suppose any bookstore would sell you a calendar.” The priest shrugged. “Honestly, I’m kind of surprised that wasn’t obvious. But then, plenty of people think star charts are obvious.”

                      “Our ‘months’ go by what phase the moons are in.” This guy was either incredibly socially inept or a closeted racist – sure he’d tried to save face, but still. Azhani wouldn’t have been surprised if it were the latter, considering Skyrim’s general isolation from anything not human. “We don’t really have names for any of those time periods beyond just describing what the moons look like.”

                      “Fair enough. If that’s all, I’m going to get back to work. You’re more than welcome to come back if you like, even if it’s just to be somewhere quiet for a while.” He stood up and waved, and Azhani gave an awkward little wave in return as she left.
                      A while later, perhaps a couple of hours, Azhani found herself wandering back to the shoe store. She’d found a place selling calendars and picked one up, but almost immediately regretted making the purchase once she realized not knowing what month or day it even was to begin with meant the whole thing was useless. Perhaps she’d have to ask Bjorn about it, since it would be useful being able to keep track of time like a human. It’d also help if she could track the passage of hours in a way that didn’t rely on her fluid intake – she’d be fine for a while yet, since she’d only just dealt with her annoying internal clock by finding a quiet place behind the temple, but she’d feel a lot better if her body sending warning signals wasn’t the only way to know that six hours had passed.

                      At least for right now it was a good enough system – she’d be in one place for who-knows-how-long, probably expected to either not leave or not go far, so it was good that she’d be going into it fresh. In any case, upon entering the store she went silently to the same bench she’d been seated at that morning. The shopkeeper took notice soon enough and approached with what was perhaps far too much leather and a good deal of peculiar tools – doubtless everyday objects to him, but aside from a few needles, knives, and shears, Azhani recognized nothing. Measuring tools, perhaps.

                      The shopkeeper tried to engage in conversation while he worked, but Azhani either ignored him or gave the absolute minimum responses, so he eventually stopped talking. It was weird enough having someone working with her feet, she really didn’t need them to talk to her too.

                      She was too tired for a conversation anyways. She couldn’t tell if that was because she’d been out since morning, or because she still hadn’t gotten used to getting proper amounts of sleep and her body was trying to force her to make up for ten restless years. Perhaps both.

                      It didn’t really matter why anyways. As uncomfortable as the situation was, Azhani still found herself drifting off to the sounds of shears working leather, only to be suddenly awoken by something poking her shoulder. It felt like no time had passed at all, but her slurred response and the lack of other noise proved it had been a few hours.

                      «Uhrrr… Nari? What are you doing…?» She couldn’t even remember any dreams, but clearly she had been pulled out of one, and it took her a while to readjust to the real world. And then she almost jumped off the bench before remembering where she was and why. Then she was awake enough to register that she wasn’t alone, and she was pretty sure she’d just said something. Something this man would have heard.

                      “You, uh, you heard that didn’t you?”

                      The shopkeeper nodded, having returned behind his counter after presumably prodding Azhani to awaken her. “Yeah, you’ve been talking in your sleep for a few hours. It all just kinda sounded like cat noises to me though. No offense.” He looked over at Azhani only briefly, now intently focused on his work, trying and failing to get a sole properly nailed to the shoes he’d made. “Didn’t really want to wake you anyways, but I’m almost done here…” He managed to get one of the shoes at the perfect angle and everything fell into place, but he still had to figure out the puzzle of the other one. “And, y’know, I’d quite like to get paid.”

                      Azhani rolled her eyes and stretched. “Mmm. Of course you would. How much?” She stood up and headed for the counter, a hand reaching for the pouch on her belt, though her weight having shifted meant something deep within her body was calling out to her. As if she needed any more evidence that she’d been there for several hours already.

                      “Let’s say… sixty-five, for the pair?” The shopkeeper seemed to be bending in impossible directions to get the second shoe to assemble properly.

                      “Sixty-five, you say?” Azhani looked through her coinpurse for a little while, subtly pressing her legs together, then just dropped the entire purse onto the counter. “This one has fifty.”

                      “Eh, fifty works too.” There was a shrug from behind the counter as the last shoe come together, then the pair was dropped onto the counter next to Azhani’s coinpurse. “There. If those don’t fit, then someone came in and used magic on them, because I made them perfect. Or, as close to as I can get for a first time with that shape.”

                      Azhani grabbed her new shoes from the counter and held them out in front of her. They looked almost like those weird high-heeled contraptions she’d seen on the rich elves and nobles in the Imperial City. “Pompous bitch” was the best way she was able to describe that sort of person in her youth and as far as she was concerned it was still the best way to describe what her shoes reminded her of. It was a reasonable comparison, of course. Seemed like the point of those monstrosities was to have a woman walk mainly on her toes and have the rest of her foot supported by a spike. Azhani always thought it was humorous that they’d want to emulate her walk, couldn’t even do that right, then would go on for hours about how the Khajiiti beggar in the corner had done everything in life wrong.

                      Now here was Azhani with shoes made specifically for someone who already did walk on her toes. And these were simple and functional, not some ostentatious mess built purely for the sake of whatever the current year’s Imperial fashion was to be. No, these shoes merely had simple laces up the sides, steel caps over the toes, and were made of good thick leather. They’d do exactly what she needed them to.

                      They fit well enough, too, which was to be expected of something that necessitated sitting around for who-knows-how-long. Of course, a high-quality product was not the only result of that time spent, and bending down to put them on made sure Azhani was well aware of that. She gave a little nod to the shopkeeper before leaving, taking a moment to look around right outside the shop’s door. It was quite a bit warmer than it had been earlier, and it seemed like it’d be sunset soon – still bright and warm, but people filled the streets and their shadows were getting longer. Very good for Azhani, as there were still some places she’d been meaning to see and she had every intention of returning to the inn by sunset as promised. That, and she had to deal with her own personal problems, and if she went back to the inn to do that she wouldn’t want to leave again.

                      Azhani’s current plan, then, consisted of wandering around in the general direction of the places she’d been meaning to visit and keeping an eye out for quiet, isolated alleys or some other such place. That was a bit of a skill of hers, as much as she’d rather not call it one. Years living on the streets had taught her how to identify from miles away quiet places wherein she could do her business in peace.

                      As it turned out, those skills weren’t very applicable in Riften. Now that people were actually out doing things, there was a considerable lack of quiet space in town. It seemed as if the back alleys in Riften were all designed for criminal undertakings – which, come to think of it, wouldn’t be very surprising for the home of the Thieves Guild.

                      On that note, perhaps the original idea wasn’t exactly ideal either. The flaws in a plan that consisted of hiding out in a confined space with one exit while being very much exposed were quite obvious. No, perhaps the best option would be to leave town. Only a little bit, enough to find some bush or something. And so she found her feet carrying her to the nearest exit, the south gate. Every so often she’d look over her shoulder, the sound of her own footsteps on the cobbled roads so completely foreign that she was sure someone was following her.

                      That wouldn’t have been all that much of a problem if not for the fact that the possibility of being followed – even if she’d repeatedly confirmed that was not actually the case – would very much throw off her plans. And, if she was honest with herself, it was making her condition worse, her need increasing by mere virtue of the possibility that she would be denied.

                      It would be alright if she could just get out of town, though, she’d keep telling herself. That was all she needed to do. Didn’t need to go far. She could probably even find a nice spot against the city wall if she really wanted to.

                      The closer she got to the city gate, though, the more Azhani thought the world had found yet another way to make one of her plans go completely wrong. The guards looked to be acting a little strange from a distance, but at first she’d just figured they’d been standing there all day. In their shaking she saw a bit of herself.

                      Alas, it wouldn’t be that simple. It couldn’t be, because the world seemed to love messing with Azhani. It turned out the guards each had a hand on their swords, and were looking at each other and back out down the road. One of them jumped when Azhani came up from behind, but then immediately resumed looking at whatever had frightened them so.

                      Azhani needed only look around the guard to see what the problem was. A little way down the road, there was what seemed to be a large snake stretched out, twitching slightly every so often. Looking just to the right, towards the river, revealed that it was actually the tail of something much worse.

                      Oh, sure, the dragon wasn’t doing anything – seemed to just be drinking – and it wasn’t all that large, for a dragon, but it was still there. Right next to a town. It had to have some reason to have been there specifically, and whatever that reason was it couldn’t be good.

                      They were only a minimal concern, but it wasn’t good for Azhani’s pants either. The little warm patch that had just appeared didn’t bode well, especially since both of Azhani’s plans were now out the window, and there was little chance she’d be able to get back to the inn on time – not that she’d want to show up there in her present state anyways. No doubt the Dragonborn would have devised some way to complicate things for her.

                      No, that wasn’t an option. But perhaps she still had a chance of sneaking out of town and into the woods, where hopefully the dragon wouldn’t see her? Well, the dragon itself defeated that plan fairly quickly. Still it wasn’t doing much, all it had done was stretch its wings and look over to the city gate, but even so, it knew Azhani was there, and it meant there was no way for her to leave town now.

                      So she did the only thing she knew she could do and ran off, plowing through more than a few people who had gathered to see what was happening. Azhani wasn’t sure where she was going, but she now had the strangest feeling that whatever could happen to her inside the city walls was much better than what the dragon could do. She found herself rounding a corner into the one alley she’d seen that didn’t have anyone in it, and pressed her back against one of the walls. The warmth had replenished itself and spread, and it seemed to only be getting warmer.

                      Naturally, that just sent Azhani into even more of a panic, and she started trying to claw her way out of the belt she’d been wearing while the wall she was leaning on grew darker. She eventually managed to get it undone, but by then it was too late for her and she slid down to the ground. The only effort on her part was to move her legs to make sure her new shoes would be spared from the flood she’d surrendered herself to. It was actually a bit of a disappointing flood, especially considering Azhani now just wanted it to be over as soon as possible – she was still in panic mode, heart racing and breathing fast and shallow, so the best she could do was a weak, slow stream that warmed her own rear more than it stained the ground.

                      Azhani could only sit there for the several minutes it would take to finish, occasionally pawing at herself as if she still had some hope of stopping. Only a trickle made its way through the fabric of her pants and out onto the street, so the puddle was mediocre and nowhere near a threat to her shoes, so her legs came closer to the rest of her body until she could grab at her knees. Her head was tipped upwards, resting against the wall and watching the light fade from the sky. Only now did she realize what had been happening earlier and why the wall was warmer than anything outside in Skyrim had any right to be, but there wasn’t anything to be done about that anymore.

                      When she finally finished and stood up, her pants nearly pulled themselves off with the weight of her waters, but she kept a hold on them and was subjected to another minute of waiting for them to stop dripping. That managed to create streams down her legs, finally allowing her to experience a sensation she never imagined she’d be able to experience nor did she ever want to. And these were brand-new shoes, too.

                      Eventually Azhani decided she’d been dripping long enough to be able to get moving, so she headed immediately for the inn – sure, she’d had plans, but there was no way she was going to get to them now. She walked as quickly as she could while also being careful enough to not get too much of the sensation of urine against her feet. As it turned out, that wasn’t actually all that quick, so Azhani felt another wave of relief as she pressed up against the inn door, finally home and just working herself up to actually getting inside. The inn was about as empty as it was in the morning, except for a few regulars at the bar who didn’t acknowledge Azhani’s presence when she did get herself inside.

                      Bjorn did give her a look, though, and he opened his mouth to make some comment, but was quickly silenced by a hiss as Azhani went upstairs.

       
    • By Sake in The Bee and Barb
         0
      It took little over a week to return to Riften – twice as long as it took to get to High Hrothgar in the first place – though with no more need to move quickly, the slower pace and more-frequent stops wouldn’t cause any problems. The Dragonborn seemed to think so, at least, for he had explained as soon as he could speak properly that Alduin was unlikely to leave his hiding place for quite some time, if ever again.

                      “We got each other good anyways,” he’d said. “Neither of us are going to be going anywhere any time soon.”

                      Thus, Bjorn and Azhani had returned to the Bee and Barb without any sense of urgency, having left Serana and the Elder Scroll in Ivarstead at her own recommendation. The place was, as usual, quiet, though several chairs and tables were displaced and the stock behind the counter was far too low for an establishment frequented almost exclusively by a small handful of regulars, none of whom were there just then.

                      Instead, there was only Talen, aimlessly sweeping around, and Keerava with her head down on the bar, though she straightened up when the door opened and the Dragonborn walked in leaning into a staff.

                      “What in Oblivion happened to you?” she asked, grabbing several mugs and a bottle from under the counter. “You fall off the mountain or something?”

                      Bjorn gave a light laugh as he sat down and grabbed the drink that had been put in front of him. “Yeah, almost. No but seriously, Alduin was there. Scared him off, but broke a whole lot of bones in the process. Probably won’t even be able to Shout safely again for another week.”

                      “Damn, that’s rough.” Keerava had pulled out another bottle just for herself and was drinking from it while they spoke. “You’re still gonna recover enough to actually deal with him for good, though, right? We’re not all screwed forever or anything, are we?”

                      “No, no, it’ll be fine.” He waved one hand dismissively and drank deep with the other before trying to speak again a little too soon. “Mmmh. Most annoying part is that all my armor is entirely destroyed. I’ve got bits of it that I can sell as scrap, but I’m still gonna have to get a new set tailored. I’ve got the money and all, but-“ Bjorn shook his head. “That is not cheap. I only got fitted for that set five years ago, and it was supposed to last at least thirty before it started to need major work done.”

                      Keerava leaned back as far as she could in a stool with no back, using her tail as support. “Somehow I don’t imagine these smiths account for dragon attacks when they figure how good their stuff is.”

                      “Apparently not.” Bjorn finished off the rest of the mug and filled it up again – Azhani, meanwhile, had barely gotten through half of her drink. “But, anyways, what’ve you been up to? You didn’t kill the joint or anything, did you? Looks emptier than it usually is in here.”

                      Keerava shot forward and stuck a finger in the Dragonborn’s face. “Hey, don’t you make fun of my shitty business tactics.” Leaning back again, she grabbed her bottle and continued drinking. “Ah, really though, you just missed New Life. All the free booze really puts me in the hole, but after everyone shakes off their hangover, business is a little better than normal for a few weeks. Pays for itself if they start buying Talen’s specialties. Even better if they buy them during the celebration, since it’s just the ale and mead that’s free.”

                      “Aw, I missed New Life? How’d I let that happen?”

                      “Don’t start complaining now.” Keerava waved her bottle at the Dragonborn. “You already drink free here year-round anyways.”

                      “Really? I thought you were running a tab.”

                      “Not for your drinks. Is it too late to say I am?”

                      Bjorn just nodded and drank more.

                      “Damn. Well, all that food and your rooms are worth more anyways.” Then Keerava turned to Azhani instead. “So, how’d that trip go for you? I don’t imagine that’s the sort of thing you do regularly.”

                      Azhani took a little sip, then leaned forward with one elbow on the bar. “One thing I learned,” she said, “is never to wear flat-foot shoes again.”

                      “You actually wore human shoes?” Talen had appeared at the far end of the bar, leaning against it with his broom hanging by his side. “How did that happen?”

                      “Well, you can’t exactly climb a mountain barefoot, can you?” Bjorn interjected, then looked over at Talen. “Well, maybe you can, with those scales everywhere, but I don’t figure that’d work out too great for a Khajiit.” He took a swig and continued. “And I’ve never actually seen her wear shoes, so I had to get her some – as it turns out, they don’t actually make anything for that kind of foot around here, so I just got her something. Better’n nothing.”

                      “And now I can go right back to nothing,” Azhani said with a flick of her tail. “It was, uh, an interesting experience, though.”

                      “Damn straight,” the Dragonborn said, lifting his mug, then turning to look down the bar. “Oh, uh, hey Talen, how’d that… thing… I gave you turn out?”

                      Talen tried to speak, but Keerava answered first. “Oh, right, how’d I forget about that?” She held out one hand over the bar and waved her fingers around, showing off an elegant ring fitted with three expertly-cut deep purple gems. “Almost murdered Talen when he showed this to me, ‘cause I thought he’d gone out and blown all our money on something so silly, but then he told me you gave him the stones for it.”

                      “I think the best part is that she still would have agreed if I’d just gone up to her empty-handed and asked,” Talen added, “but leading with a ring just makes it a lot less awkward. And the ring is tradition anyways.”

                      “Speaking of tradition…” Keerava was now leaning forward onto the bar with her arms folded. “I was actually waiting for you two to get back. Talen insists on a traditional ceremony, so we’ve got to go out to a Hist. Of course, I can’t just close down – ‘operating expenses’ are the same whether we’re open or not – so someone’s gonna have to watch over the place while we’re gone.”

                      “Ah, how convenient for you that I have nowhere to go for a couple of weeks,” Bjorn said, twirling his staff. “Where are you headed?”

                      “As far as I know there’s only one Hist tree in Skyrim,” Talen said, “and that might not actually be a Hist at all. I’m… kind of willing to overlook that, since we can’t spare the time or money right now to go to Black Marsh and back, just so we can get married, but it’s still going to be a while for us to get over to the middle of nowhere in Whiterun and then come home.”

                      “Uh-huh. Well, you know us.” Bjorn lightly prodded Azhani in the side with his elbow, prompting her to growl at him. “We’ll keep everything in working order for ya.”

                      “Great.” Keerava stood up and put a key she had pulled from her pocket onto the counter. “Here’s the key, I’ve got an order of mead coming in already. If you manage to drink all of it before we get back, find a Black-Briar and buy more. Don’t even look at any other meadery, Maven will have my ass if she finds out this place is serving anything but her booze.”

                      “Ah, too bad for her she’ll have to wait in line, eh?” Bjorn looked over at Talen with a stupid grin, and Talen tried to suppress a laugh while Keerava glared at the both of them. “Really though, it’s great that you two are actually doing this. Oh, and uh, if you don’t mind, could you take this along with you? I had it written up at the meeting, just show it to any Legion or Stormcloak guys you find.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a folded sheet of parchment, which he handed to Keerava, who then opened it and read it aloud:

      By authority of His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of Tamriel Titus II Mede

      On this day the Twenty-First of Evening Star in the Two Hundred and First year of the Fourth Era of Tamriel

      By the order of

      General Tullius of the Forty-Second Legion, Military Governor of the Imperial Province of Skyrim

      The Empire of Tamriel recognizes that

      The High Kingdom of Skyrim

      Has departed the Empire and is no longer an Imperial Province, and shall henceforth not be subject to the Laws of the Imperial Emperor

      And therefore the War against the Rebellion led by Jarl Ulfric Stormcloak of Windhelm has ended

      The Forty-Second Legion is hereby ordered to report to General Tullius in Solitude for reassignment, and any other Legion is to stand down and await further instruction from a superior officer

      Citizenship in the Empire of Tamriel is hereby revoked from all residents of Skyrim not members of the Imperial Legion nor Citizens of the Imperial Province of Cyrodiil nor of the Imperial Province of High Rock

      On behalf of His Imperial Majesty,

      Tullius

                      “Wow. So that’s what you were doing.” Keerava folded the order and pocketed it. “How in Oblivion did you manage that?”

                      Bjorn shrugged. “In my experience, negotiations tend to go a little smoother when you’re literally twenty dragons.” He paused, and when nobody reacted to his joke he went on. “And, really, these people were stubborn. Ulfric was satisfied just with independence, but Tullius of course didn’t want to let Skyrim go just like that. So I made a deal there: whoever becomes High King will pledge Skyrim’s armies to the defense of the Empire.”

                      “Doesn’t sound very independent to me,” Talen said.

                      “Oh, but it is. Sure, Skyrim still has to lend its armies to the Empire, but the important thing is that the laws of the Empire don’t apply up here anymore. No more Concordat, the Thalmor are getting kicked out, so the Stormcloaks are placated.”

                      Keerava leaned onto the bar and posed a question. “Alright, but that sounds like a whole lot of concessions on the Empire’s part, how’d you convince Tullius to go along with it?”

                      “Honestly, the promise of armies was enough.” Bjorn paused briefly and went on. “Well, sort of enough. I had to convince everyone that the Dominion is the real threat – and they are. The Empire can’t afford to fight stupid little wars up in Skyrim when it’s supposed to be fortifying the border with Elsweyr and that part of Hammerfell the Dominion grabbed.” He tried to take a drink from his mug, but found it empty, so went back to talking. “Tullius isn’t an idiot, he knows that. Ulfric’s not an idiot either. They both know who the enemy actually is, and they know neither of them can do it alone. Skyrim could maybe hold out in an assault a little longer than Cyrodiil could, ‘cause of all the mountains, but on their own they’d be fucked one way or another.”

                      Azhani was listening in absent-mindedly, sipping at her drink that seemed to refill itself. She was paying only enough attention to find an opportunity to join in. “Independent Skyrim is a better asset anyways,” she said. “If they willingly side with the Empire, they’ll fight better. Especially against Dominion armies that don’t want to be there.” Speaking of not wanting to be places, Azhani could tell she’d want to be elsewhere quite soon. How long had she been drinking anyways? How many times had she finished this one mug?

                      “Exactly. It’d still be better if we had the Redguards on our side, but when this war with the Dominion starts, I guarantee you’ll see Nords lining up for a chance to burn down Alinor in the name of their High King.”

                      “Their High King? Not ours?” Keerava cocked her head.

                      The Dragonborn shrugged. “Yeah. Didn’t I explain it to you? I’m from Cyrodiil. May be a Nord but I’m one hundred percent Imperial. Sure, I kinda… crossed the border into Skyrim illegally because Cyrodiil is a shitheap and I almost lost my head for it, but things actually might start looking up enough for me to go home when this is all over.”

                      “Huh.” Keerava walked out from behind the bar and headed for the stairs, followed closely by Talen. “Well, I’m going to go pack. Don’t burn the place down while we’re gone.”

                      “I’ll try.”

       
                      A few hours passed and the Argonian proprietors had set out with meager supplies for their trip – Azhani couldn’t tell exactly what they had, but it smelled like meat and there was a lot of clattering of glass bottles. Way more bottles than any sane person would be expected to need on a voyage that would take two weeks at most. Almost reminded her of how she’d been sitting in the same place for a while, slowly but surely working through the remaining stock of mead.
                      Of course, she was presently engaged in a conversation with the Dragonborn, so leaving to deal with the implications of her activities for the past several hours would be rude and, frankly, embarrassing.

                      “Never tried, no,” she said to the Dragonborn who had moved to Keerava’s usual seat.

                      “Really?” He leaned back and raised an eyebrow. “Never even considered learning magic?”

                      “It never really came up.” Azhani shrugged and watched her drink be refilled for the billionth time today. “Not much of a Khajiit thing anyways.”

                      “Yeah, sure, but how much of that is because you guys just don’t want to do magic?”

                      “Growing up, the only thing close to magic was the sugar rituals at the temples.” Azhani folded her arms. “And I’m pretty sure now that we were just getting high on the fumes and none of it was magic.”

                      “Alright, yeah, fair enough.” Bjorn stroked his chin. “But how about this: if you were born at the right time, you could have a lot of potential for magic no matter what. Do you know what constellation you were born under?”

                      Azhani shrugged and adjusted herself on her stool – sitting around for hours on end was getting rather uncomfortable, for several reasons. “We don’t really keep track of the stars. I know it was winter, but we track the moons more than anything.”

                      The Dragonborn shuffled through one of the pouches he carried with him and pulled out a small book, then flipped through to a page with a diagram of the moons. “Might still be able to figure it out. I assume you would know what the moons were when you were born.”

                      “Well, yes… is that the Firmament?” The Khajiit’s head was at an awkward angle to allow her to read the title printed along the spine – the cover had no information on it but a picture of one of the moons with a constellation drawn on top.

                      “A slightly more advanced, pocket-sized version of it, yeah.” Bjorn tapped the page he had opened to. “So, your moons?”

                      Azhani pulled herself into a more comfortable position. “Right. It was, uh, two dark moons.”

                      “Mhm. Give me a second.”

                      For a little while, the only sound was the flipping of pages, and then charcoal rubbing on parchment once the Dragonborn had procured those. Azhani shuffled around a little more while he worked – she’d definitely need to leave soon, but this was interesting. She could, of course, just head upstairs while nothing was actually happening, but knowing her luck that would be the exact moment the inn would fill up with customers and she’d be needed for work. Now that she was thinking about it, that sort of reasoning was exactly what kept getting her into unfortunate situations. All logic would dictate she should just leave, deal with the problem, then come back. And yet…

                      “So what exactly are you doing?”

                      The Dragonborn didn’t look up. “The lunar cycle doesn’t line up exactly with the actual months, but it’s still fairly predictable. You’re, what, twenty…”

                      “Two.” 

                      “179, right?” When Azhani nodded, he continued. “Hey, ‘70s kids, nice.” Then he cleared his throat – or tried to, anyways, and just ended up coughing instead. “Gah. Well, anyways, you can sort of predict where a particular lunar phase is going to land in any given month, since there’s always a pattern to the way they drift through the months. This book has information on every time each moon was full and new for the first fifteen years of the era, so I’ve got to just kinda… drag that along for a century and a half until we get to winter of 179 and see what comes up for two new moons.”

                      “I barely understood half of that but okay.” She leaned forward a bit. “What exactly are you looking for?”

                      “Well,” Bjorn looked up briefly then returned to his work. “Winter is three months, right, so that’s three possible dominant constellations. Atronach, Tower, and Thief. Plus, I guess, the Serpent, but I have no idea how that works. Anyways, out of those, only the Atronach does anything to magical ability, so if that’s actually what you were born under, that’s pretty great for you because it’d mean you’ve got a fuckton of magical potential.”

                      Azhani put one leg over the other. “There’s a catch there, yes?”

                      “Yeah, unfortunately, Atronach would mean you don’t make your own magicka, you’d have to get spells shot at you to get some or you’d just have to drink a potion or something. I mean sure odds are you just flat out can’t do magic, but if you were an Atronach the whole time, there’s your reason for it.”

                      “Great.” Azhani rolled her eyes.

                      A few minutes passed in silence, with the Dragonborn drawing his diagrams and various numbers. Azhani had just decided to get up and go upstairs when he’d finished.

                      “Alright, I’ve got something here,” he said. “There’s one double-new-moon at the start of Sun’s Dusk.”

                      Azhani dropped back into her seat. “Not that early into winter.”

                      “Then I’ve got another one in the middle of Frostfall? That sound about right?”

                      “I… guess? It wasn’t at the end of winter either so that must be it.”

                      Bjorn closed the book and put it away, followed by the absolute atrocity of a calculation he’d just finished working on. “Then if all that’s accurate, that’d make you a Tower. So, by all means, you should be perfectly capable of magic.”

                      “You say that now…”

                      “Hey,” the Dragonborn said, pointing across the bar. “How would you know if you’ve never tried, huh?” He opened up the hand he had pointed with and laid it palm-up on the bar. “Here, just try this, really simple.” Then he lifted his hand slightly, made a fist, and when his hand flew open again, there was a little ball of fire floating there. “See? Doesn’t take much, you just have to learn how to feel the magicka in your body and move it out. Ah.” Bjorn shook his hand, dismissing the flame. “Just don’t let fire sit in your hand like that, you’ll get burned.”

                      Azhani sighed and held out one hand in front of her. “Fine, I’ll try it.” She closed her eyes and tried to focus on… whatever the Dragonborn had told her to do. Though, she was shocked into opening up again when she felt the results of being a little bit too focused.

                      ‘Just get this done with and then go’, she told herself. Then she sighed again and tried again to focus, this time with her legs pressed together.

                      “Remember, just focus on your energy and feel it moving to your hand.”

                      “Maybe I could focus if you shut up.”

                      Azhani, of course, couldn’t see Bjorn’s response, but she had a feeling he’d done something with his hands.

                      She focused on her hand until she could have sworn it got warmer, then threw her hand open and looked at what she’d done. Or, the lack of things she’d done.

                      “One more try?” The Dragonborn was leaning into the bar a little bit, angled so that his injured side was facing the kitchen.

                      Azhani nodded and closed her hand and eyes again, again trying to focus on making something happen. After a little while and more than a single distraction from elsewhere in her body, she was sure her hand had warmed up again, and again she tried to cast… whatever it would be.

                      It turned out to be a spark and a puff of smoke, but considering Azhani was expecting literally nothing, she nearly fell off her barstool with a surprised squeak. When she recovered, she felt the secondary result of that incident, and immediately stood up with legs crossed.

                      “Hey, that was something,” Bjorn said, but Azhani was barely listening.

                      “Mmh, yeah, uh, I’ll be right back.” Azhani spoke quickly and rushed up the stairs before the Dragonborn could figure out what had just happened. Standing had made her situation quite a bit worse, and considering it had been several hours since she’d done anything about it, she didn’t have much time left.

                      By some miracle, though, she’d made it to her room without releasing anything she hadn’t already. Of course, Azhani was not going to take any chances, so as soon as the door was closed, her pants were on the ground and her chamberpot had been dragged out from under her bed.

                      She got herself into position immediately, and her body took care of the rest on its own. She was fairly sure it was loud enough to be heard downstairs, but then that was always something she was afraid of and it never seemed to actually be true. Except that one time…

                      Azhani sighed and flicked her tail. Whatever. None of that mattered. What did matter was that she kept getting herself into these situations, and that needed to stop. It did feel good though, so perhaps some deep part of her actually wanted her to end up like this. But that was silly, right? Surely.

                      Or maybe it wasn’t all that absurd. It was Keerava’s “thing”, after all. Then again, Azhani only took any pleasure in the release, as anyone would, not everything leading up to it as Keerava apparently enjoyed. Still, there had to be some reason she kept getting herself into trouble like that…

                      That would be something to determine some other time, though – it had been a good two minutes and now nothing more was happening, so Azhani dressed herself up again and headed back downstairs.
    • By Sake in The Bee and Barb
         0
      The rest of the day passed fairly uneventfully, and Azhani awoke the next morning to find Keerava once again standing over her with a candle before sunrise – though this time it was barely an hour until then, and the Argonian just walked out of the room without saying anything once she saw that Azhani was awake. Figuring staying in bed would not be the greatest idea, the Khajiit reluctantly got out of bed and went about her normal morning routine, yawning practically the entire time, before heading downstairs for whatever Keerava had planned for today.

                      As it turned out, the plan was “work”. “I don’t expect we’ll get another day off today,” Keerava had said. “But we should have a while before people start showing up.” Thus, they spent the time with breakfast. Talen had prepared some kind of stew – and also complained about how “this meat is going to go rotten if we don’t do anything with it soon” – and Keerava brewed more of her tea from the day before, so the three of them enjoyed their little feast. It quickly became apparent that there was a problem, however. The food wasn’t disappearing as fast as it should have, and the mead supplies for the day were as of yet untapped. Keerava was the first to speak up about this oddity.

                      “Anyone seen the Dragonborn?” She waited for the other two to look around and shrug, then spoke again. “Az, you were in the sewers with him, right? Do you know where he went to from there?”

                      Azhani shrugged again. “No, we went two different directions. He did say something, that he knows how to end the war, but he could be anywhere. Also Lydia mentioned that they were going to rescue some person from the Ratways. Maybe they took that person somewhere.”

                      “Huh.” Keerava gave a sort of half-nod. “That’s interesting. Well, wherever he went, I hope he comes back. He’s given us more money in the last week than Romlyn has in his entire life.”

                      “He’ll be back,” Talen said. “Sooner or later. After all, I… uh, hm…” He trailed off into some incoherent mumbling and took some quick sips of his tea. Keerava gave him a look but didn’t say anything about it.

                      She did turn back to Azhani, though. “So, what were you doing yesterday, if you don’t mind my asking?”

                      “Uh, actually,” Azhani said, eyes darting around and tail-tip flicking. “Could we go somewhere private, maybe, to talk about that?”

                      Keerava leaned back for a moment and raised what passed as an eyebrow. “Yeah, sure, right this way.” She picked up her cup of tea and led the way upstairs and over to her own room, where she sat on the edge of her bed while Azhani locked the door. “Alright, what is it?” She took a sip of her tea and then held her cup in her lap with both hands.

                      “Well, uh…” Azhani’s hands were working mainly at rubbing each other, and she was looking at everything in the room that was not an Argonian. “The, uh… Thi-“ She cut herself off and sighed. “I was told s- I need to collect money that you owe.” She rubbed the back of her head and managed to produce a nervous smile.

                      Keerava just moved her mug over to a nightstand and looked around for a moment. “You’ll have to be more specific. I owe money to lots of people. Black-briar, half of the woodworkers in town, Maramal even got his way in there somehow…”

                      “It’s, uh, it’s the Guild,” Azhani said, quietly.

                      “Guild?” Keerava tilted her head for a moment, but then straightened up again soon after. “Oh, right, that Guild. Well, I don’t know what Brynjolf thinks he’s doing, I already told the fucker I’ve got nothing. And you know that.”

                      “Yes, yes I do, and I told him that also. I said I couldn’t get you to pay, tried to make him forgive the debt, but he said to try anyways.” Azhani nodded a little bit too enthusiastically.

                      “Persistent little ass isn’t he,” was the muttered response. “Well, I do have some money saved up – most of it’s from Bjorn, actually. I was hoping to use it for getting out of this dump, but if the Guild’s sending collection agents, I guess I’d better pay up before they send the real muscle, right?” She chuckled, and Azhani followed along, though half-heartedly and unsure if she was actually supposed to be laughing. “Anyways, I do have one condition. I’ll give you the money Brynjolf wants, but only if you do something for me.”

                      “Do something?”

                      “Yeah. It’s, what…” Keerava leaned forward to get a better look out her window. “A little bit after sunrise now. You don’t get any breaks until sunset, and if that all works out, I’ll give you all that money. If not, tell Brynjolf I say he should see if he can fit bread into his oven.”

                      “What?” Azhani looked over at Keerava with an expression of absolute confoundment.

                      Keerava started laughing a little bit. “Oh, it’s, uh, it’s from a-“

                      “What?” It was now the Khajiit’s turn to tilt her head, very soon straightening out again and speaking quickly. “No, no, not that. I’ve heard of- that. Think I saw the play once, few years ago. It was… something. But, no, the first thing.”

                       “Oh, right.” Keerava’s eyes shifted about and she let out a quick breath of laughter. “Right, no, uh, it’s just, if I’m gonna pay that much money, I want to get a good show out of it, y’know?” She chuckled. “I’d get Talen to do it, but that’d take way too long before anything interesting happened.  Fortunately, you’re here, and I want to test you. I’m… fairly confident that you could pull this off, all you have to do is keep yourself dry for a few hours. Not hard, right?”

                      Azhani held up a finger and opened her mouth to respond but thought better of it and shrugged instead. At the very least, if things went according to plan, she’d get part of the money she delivered. And if they didn’t… She couldn’t really come up with a reason to go through with it if that were to be the outcome, but the potential reward could very well outweigh the rather large chance of failure. She certainly wasn’t making irrational decisions because there was some Elder Scroll somewhere dictating that Riften should be the site of some fetish story, or something. No, that would be absurd.

                      Justification aside, Azhani shrugged again and said, “Okay, sure.”

                      “Great,” Keerava said, picking up her mug and getting back on her feet. “Let’s get downstairs, then, we’ve got work to do.”

       
                      The first few hours of the “test” weren’t too bad. Azhani was limiting her drinking, as well as she could all things considered, and it took a while for her drinks from breakfast to get through her system. By the time people actually started showing up late in the morning, those drinks were making themselves known, albeit very quietly and certainly entirely manageable.
                      At the very least, she was having an easier time managing that than the two Argonians were managing their present situation – a situation involving, as expected by quite possibly the entire population of Tamriel, Romlyn Dreth. Except this time there was another Dunmer involved as well. Azhani heard them refer to him as “Indaryn”, and apparently, he was the one running the Black-Briar Meadery for Maven.

                      Evidently, he’d come to collect Romlyn, who had made himself extremely late for work in his quest to obtain breakfast at the Bee and Barb, and then sit around for a few hours telling stories. He was now trying to explain his situation while the Argonians were now, surprisingly, on his side. Or perhaps it wasn’t all that surprising, considering Indaryn was threatening to fire Romlyn, and this was clearly not a desirable outcome for the innkeepers.

                      Azhani wasn’t paying too much attention to all that, though. There were only a few people actually in the building at the time, but considering everyone else was preoccupied, she was the one not only bringing food and drinks to customers, but also preparing it herself. She was no expert chef, but fortunately nobody going to an inn run by an Argonian with hardly two spare septims to rub together expected all that much out of their food. And as an added bonus, the little Khajiit was practically unable to focus on anything but her work for the moment. She didn’t need to be distracted just yet, but if this were to keep up, it’d be quite helpful.

                      Of course, it didn’t keep up. It didn’t take very long for Romlyn to be dragged – literally – out of the inn, at which point Talen took over cooking and Keerava went back to standing around and occasionally pouring drinks, which left Azhani to wander around aimlessly with a broom when she wasn’t taking food to people or clearing tables. That didn’t last too long, either, and fairly soon everyone had left for that brief hour or two of actual work before they came back again for lunch, so now all Azhani had was her broom and her thoughts.

                      Even her thoughts would be taken away, though – her wandering and sweeping had brought her over by the bar, where Keerava was quick to strike up conversation. “So, how’re you holding up?”

                      Azhani looked back and forth between Keerava and her own feet for a little bit before answering. “Fine. Don’t know for how long, but fine.” She really was doing fine, which she didn’t quite expect. The pressure from the morning’s drinks was still very slight, now more noticeable than just a half hour ago, but still slight enough to ignore.

                      Keerava gave a little nod. “Well, that’s good. Hopefully you’re still staying hydrated, though. That’s, you know, fairly important.” As if to accentuate her point, she pulled out a mug that she had been keeping under the bar and took a long drink from it.

                      “Yeah,” was all Azhani said in response. She was actually getting rather thirsty, but considering they’d all be sitting down for lunch soon, she could deal with that then. No need to add any unnecessary fuel to the fire.

       
                      The next hour was incredibly uneventful. Noon came around, a lunch of various things made of chicken was had, and mead flowed a little bit too generously considering the price. There was also a distinct lack of Dragonborn, though as far as Azhani was concerned that was probably for the best – no need to let him see the condition she’d quite soon find herself in. And she was certainly getting there. She’d had a little bit more to drink than she intended, so that pressure was growing faster than she would have liked. It was still tolerable, for now, but getting to be harder to ignore all the same.
                      Even the little wave of people coming in to get something to eat didn’t provide as much of a distraction as it had that morning – in fact, it was probably getting to the point where all that running around was starting to make things worse. Fortunately, as far as Azhani knew, nobody noticed anything strange about the way she would stand whenever she had to stop running around. She kept her legs close to each other, and every so often she’d squeeze them together very briefly for a little bit of help. Just five hours left, or something in that area. Totally possible. Maybe.

       
                      Or maybe not. Hardly two hours later and Azhani was already putting a great deal of effort towards not dancing around. She was fairly sure there was a little bump in her abdomen by now, though that was about the only thing she was actually sure of at the moment. She’d stayed dry, sure, but now she was starting to doubt whether that would last much longer – though being in public and now dealing with a constant stream of people coming in and out of the inn was really helping her stay under control for the moment. It was kind of like Cyrodiil, only not as bad, now that she thought about it. Though, she almost immediately realized she shouldn’t be thinking about it and tried to focus on doing her actual job, which was going well enough, all things considered.
                      Of course, all her job consisted of just then was running back and forth between the kitchen and some table to get someone some food or refill a drink or something. It was quite tiring, and she found herself drinking a little bit whenever she got the chance, despite her body’s objections. Keerava was right, of course, couldn’t risk dehydration or anything like that. Still didn’t change that Azhani knew exactly what she was getting herself into. Hopefully it wouldn’t be too much longer, or there would start to be some serious problems.

                      She did eventually get a bit of a break, though – people had stopped coming in, the last few people who were actually eating anything had left, and everyone else was starting to gravitate towards the bar to throw away the rest of their afternoon into a mug, or two, or ten. That was, of course, something Azhani needed to have absolutely no involvement in, so she just grabbed up her broom and started wandering around with it like usual. Of course, there really was dirt that needed removing now, but mostly it gave her an excuse to walk around. If she stood still for too long, she’d either have her legs locked up together or she’d start doing a little dance. Not that she wasn’t still dancing anyways, it just wasn’t as noticeable if she walked around at the same time.

                      Azhani managed to shuffle over to a window, and looking outside saw that there was still a good deal of daylight out there, which meant she was still hours away from being done with this. It was starting to get darker, of course, as it was getting to be late afternoon, but not quite late enough for it to be near sunset. Azhani hoped nobody could hear the little whine she let out. To her credit, that was all she’d let out just yet – being desperate in public did have one advantage for her, at least. Of course, that advantage could very easily turn into another Cyrodiil, which she was now thinking about again, which was definitely not something she should have done. ‘Focus’, she kept telling herself. That was getting harder to do, though, considering there was only so much entertainment one could get out of a broom. And she was fairly sure that her bulge was visible now; sure felt like it was, and a quick, subtle probe revealed that it was indeed very round, but still had some give to it. Though perhaps pressing on it wasn’t the brightest idea.

                      Even so, she’d kept herself dry for this long, a little bit of extra pressure wouldn’t break her yet. It certainly wasn’t helping, though, especially considering the internal pressure just kept growing. The sun had to have slowed down since last she checked; surely all this time she’d been waiting had been enough for it to be sunset already. Of course it wasn’t, so she didn’t really have much of a choice but to get back to sweeping. It wasn’t helping as much as it had just a little while ago, but it was better than nothing. Certainly better than sitting around like Keerava was doing just now – though she was clearly not troubled by the same burden Azhani was carrying. In fact, Azhani could have sworn she saw Keerava leaving to go upstairs not too long ago, then coming back down and settling herself right back onto her stool behind the bar. It wasn’t like her to take a break like that, and Azhani couldn’t tell if that was some subtle way of messing with her. Whatever the point was, Azhani was a little jealous – here Keerava was, able to leave to take care of her own business whenever she wanted, all the while leaving her Khajiit employee to suffer through a full bladder all day long. And she was watching, too. Sure, she was trying to be subtle about it, but Azhani could tell that Keerava was looking over every so often to see what was going on. Funny enough, if she hadn’t been doing that Azhani may very well have leaked by now, which is probably what Keerava was actually looking for, but knowing someone was watching was enough to scare her body into submission.

                      How long, though, would that really help? That pressure just kept growing and getting more distracting, and sooner or later something would need to be done. More likely sooner than later, which was a real problem considering it still wasn’t quite sunset yet. It was starting to get closer and closer, though, but that ultimately just caused more problems – Azhani, of course, was constantly thinking about how much time had passed and how much longer she had to wait, and knowing that she’d be able to get what she needed for the Guild, and more importantly some sorely-needed relief, she couldn’t help but connect the two events. And that meant that as sunset grew closer, Azhani could only imagine the possibility for relief growing closer as well, which was not a very helpful thing to think about. Especially so, considering she was starting to let out little involuntary drips. There wasn’t really much she could do about that, so she just tried to keep moving, until inevitably a little jet of urine forced its way out.

      That really set things off. Azhani threw one hand between her legs and pressed them together as tightly as possible in an attempt to stop anything worse from happening – a successful attempt, but now a warning that things really had to be taken care of soon. The only question was if “soon” was even an option. The sun was inching its way closer to the horizon, so it would definitely go under soon, but that kind of soon wasn’t necessarily the same kind Azhani’s body was thinking of. A quick glance at Keerava showed that she was looking out the windows now, too. Considering the amount of money she had on the line, no doubt she was trying to will the sun to slow down. That was a little ray of hope for Azhani, though – if Keerava was getting concerned with how close sunset was, that meant it really would be quite soon. Though, considering her present state, the current question from Azhani wasn’t whether she could keep everything else locked up until then, but how much she’d lose waiting. Hopefully Keerava would be lenient with her definition of “dry”.

      As the last few minutes of her wait dragged on, Azhani hobbled over to a fairly-remote corner near enough to the bar to keep an eye on Keerava, but far enough that nobody at the bar would notice her. It was as close as she could get to privacy at the moment – she hadn’t tried it, but she was sure that if she tried to hide behind something or head upstairs Keerava would be running after her to stop her or hover around her to make sure she wasn’t trying to cheat. There was very little traffic near her corner, though, so it was private enough for Azhani to grab herself or wiggle around or do whatever she needed to do without having anyone see her doing it. There was only so much she could do, though, and another spurt found its way into Azhani’s panties, which were already decently soaked from the constant dripping. At least nothing showed on the outside yet, but if things didn’t hurry up that wouldn’t last long at all. Keerava was starting to look a little worried, so hopefully it would last just as long as it needed to.

      Azhani managed to get herself lost in her thoughts for a while after that. It was only a few minutes, but still enough time for her to let her guard down enough for yet another spurt to work its way out, this one slightly longer than the rest. Azhani was just barely able to get herself back to reality in time to put an end to it, but not before it left its mark on her pants – that would surely be visible if there was any light at all cast on her. She couldn’t stop herself from shaking all over, watching Keerava intently to see if her time was up yet, or at the very least hoping for something to happen that would stop her from being very gradually drained by those little drops she was losing. Something like Cyrodiil that one time, except also not because she wasn’t thinking about that. She was just about to think about it, though, when she saw Keerava sigh and turn around, looking for Azhani. Once she found her, Keerava subtly waved her over.

      On one hand, that meant that everything was over and she could do what she really, definitely needed to do two hours ago. On the other, she had to walk over to the bar. Where there were people. People who would notice her dancing and shaking and everything. Still, she couldn’t really ignore what would be her golden opportunity, so she ran over to the bar as fast as she could without looking like she was running. That caused her to lose a couple more spurts, but by then she didn’t really care.

      When she got there, she made a point of standing behind everyone seated at the bar, hoping none of them would turn around to look at her. Keerava grabbed a pouch from under the counter and came out to meet the little increasingly-wet Khajiit, Talen seamlessly replacing her as the barkeep.

      “Guess you win,” she said, directing Azhani over to the stairs and handing over the pouch.

      “Barely,” was the response – Azhani had both of her hands buried between her legs and it took a great deal of effort to remove one and collect the one thing she’d been doing all this for. Those spurts of hers weren’t slowing down, and there were obvious dark trails down her legs that were gradually growing longer and more numerous.

      Keerava looked Azhani over a few times and said, “Just make sure you let Brynjolf know that he’s an ass. Now, I’m sure you have something you’d like to be doing now.”

                   Azhani gave a quick nod before bolting up the stairs and into her own room. The door slammed shut behind her, and as soon as she was in the room she was already bent down to drag her chamberpot out from under the bed. Her body seemed to think that meant it was time to let go, though, so she didn’t even bother undressing as she felt a stream start and quickly pick up into a rush of wet heat down her legs. All she did was try to seat herself over her pot so that she wouldn’t ruin the floor, and for a few minutes stayed like that, pissing through her clothes into a chamberpot, letting out a sigh of relief. She was otherwise completely unsure how to react – the sigh was involuntary, but now she was thinking about whether or not this turned out well. After all, she did end up wetting herself anyways, but it was also in the privacy of her own room and after an entire day’s wait. She didn’t have very many clothes, but at least she had more than she came into town with, so she had something to change into. Still, she couldn’t believe she’d wet herself again. Third time in a week she’d properly done so, and before then she hadn’t done it at all for years. Things really weren’t working out for her, but at least now she had money, even if it wasn’t exactly a normal way to get some.