Sign in to follow this  
  • entries
    14
  • comments
    0
  • views
    465

11 - 15 | Season Unending

201 views

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.

 
 
 


0 Comments


Recommended Comments

There are no comments to display.

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.