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When Tharya said they were going to Whiterun, he expected a week or more of hard, purposeful travel. But Tharya did not travel. She wandered. She wandered first to Winterhold to check in on the College, breezing by her home entirely. And then she set a leisurely pace back around the Throat of the World, stopped in Ivarstead and Helgen. It took them nearly two months to get back to Whiterun. But they did get back. And her wandering had brought them home two months too late. Her wandering, however joyful it had been at the time, however carefree, had been cut short when she saw the collapsed and charred frame of her house lying in the eastern fields of Whiterun. Her wandering had been cut short by the Stormcloak patrols that had the city in the chokehold, forcing her to retreat into the woods like a hunted animal. Her wandering had been the fuel for her to mix up invisibility potions and hand him one, and then use her magic to climb over the rain-slicked walls of the city while a storm raged overhead.

 

Her wandering had brought her to the door of Breezehome, and to her family, and now it had brought her to a seat at their kitchen table while Miraak stood in the shadows across the room, near the fire.

 

“This plan of yours is insane.”

 

The Last Dragonborn knew it. So did the First. So did everyone at the table; her parents, her twin, her older brother and younger sister. Hell, any guard pulled in off the rainy streets would’ve said the same thing. But there was a look in her clear eyes that none of them cared to bargain against.
“It’s the only way to get close enough to Ulfric to challenge him. If he’s half the man he claims to be, he’ll have no choice but to accept a public challenge.”

“How will you get to Solitude?” Fjurkin Sun-Sword shifted forward, placing his elbows on the table and his chin on his knuckles. He eyed his daughter carefully, evaluating the faraway look on her face. She had his pale eyes, though hers were more ivory grey than sky blue, and his nose. But her mother’s mouth. Her warpaint looked drier than usual, cracking in some places. It would begin to flake soon; her preservation salve was wearing off.

 

Because she had his eyes, he could read the unmistakable look of distant resent in them. No doubt she was conjuring images of her burnt house, charred wood soaked and soft from last week’s sludgy snowfall. She had loved that house, loved her uncle for giving it to her, loved the land and its location. Fjurkin remembered seeing the column of smoke rise, the bitter taste of ash carrying on the wind. He remembered the soldiers stopping him from leaving the city, no matter how much he protested. Under control , they had said. Rage had filled his veins, and for once he had wished for the power of the Thu’um his daughter had been gifted with. And then all of Whiterun had been herded into the marketplace, a Stormcloak with a grating voice had stood on the steps of the Bannered Mare and held up a surprisingly accurate charcoal drawing of the Last Dragonborn’s face.
“You all know who this is,” the soldier sneered, waving the wanted poster at them. “And we know she has friends here. Family here.” Beady eyes fell to Fjurkin in the crowd, his beard shifting as his mouth opened to protest.
“This is where she was born,” to his surprise, the voice belonged to a woman dressed in a priestess’s robes. He recognized her as Danica, the woman from the Temple of Kynareth. If Fjurkin remembered correctly, his daughter had gone on a rather dangerous quest to restore the Gildergreen. Briefly his light eyes found the trees expansive branches hovering over the Wind District, blushing pink flowers blooming even in winter. “It is her home.”
“And she has betrayed it,” the soldier snapped before Danica could even finish her sentence, “she has betrayed her country, all of Skyrim! The High King demands you serve your country where the Dragonborn has not. You can all read money.” He pointed to the large number on the bottom of the wanted poster. “This is the reward for bringing any fruitful information about the Dragonborn named Tharya to the Jarl. Double it if you bring her to us. Alive and unharmed, by High King Ulfric’s orders.”

 

Fjurkin had hurried home after that, and hadn’t left again until the following day. Weeks went by and Tharya did not appear; though he missed his daughter’s laughter and stories, her brightness, he was glad she stayed away. Two weeks later, the Stormcloaks set a curfew in: all citizens off the streets by eight-thirty. A week after that, Ulfric imposed a tax on any shop that wasn’t readily producing arms and armor for the “growing” Stormcloak army. And on those shops, he slapped hefty monthly quotas. More soldiers came and were stationed in Whiterun, but travelers told Fjurkin it was the same everywhere. They told him in Solitude, the citizens were subject to unannounced searches of their person and home, and forced to house soldiers with them. Executions, harsh trials, and banishments were still taking place. Soon, only the Companions were allowed in or outside of the city, and one day a great many of them returned from wherever they had gone over a month ago with sealed lips.
“Tharya’s doing well,” Farkas told him when Fjurkin made the journey to Jorrvaskr, “she’s in Winterhold for now.” Lofrek and Jorstus returned with the Companions spouting heroic tales of killing vampires and age-old magic. He ushered them inside before their voices could be heard.

Winterhold, Fjurkin knew, was no safer for his daughter. 

 

Countless days later a new face arrived in Whiterun, but only for the afternoon. Fjurkin caught glimpses of him in the marketplace speaking to Carlotta. He went into the Bannered Mare and came out moments later. He was tall, dressed in dark robes, with earthy bronze skin and unruly brown hair. He had a simple wooden staff in one hand, but there was something off about it. It was not the staff he was used to, nor one befitting of his caliber of mage. Fjurkin could see it in the way he held the wood. The stranger left the city only hours after he had entered, and did not return.

 

Until now. Fjurkin Sun-Sword fixed the tall man with a questioning gaze, but his golden eyes were lost in the fire. The simple staff and his daughter’s were tucked into the weapon rack near the door. There was something new about his daughter’s staff. It was half as he remembered it, and half not; half golden spear. Briefly he wondered what had happened before looking back at Tharya at the head of the table.

 

“How will you get to Solitude?” He repeated.

“The roads are crawling with Ulfric’s men. I think he’s finally gotten himself some spies,” Freana spoke up. Freana, the second to last child and yet, besides Jorstus, the most mature, had made the journey from her farm on the western plains of Whiterun. Lilika, the youngest, was home briefly from the Bard’s College in Solitude, from which she brought horror stories of Stormcloak rule and treatment. Jorstus sat on the bench beside him, and Anari beside Jorstus. Lofrek leaned against a nearby wall. For the first time in recent memory, all seven of them were together, cramped around the dining table in Breezehome. Fjurkin only wished it were under better circumstances.

A clap of thunder made them all jump. It sounded too much like a heavy fist knocking on the door. Just now, that was the last thing they needed. 

 

At long last, the stranger spoke up.

Til los ni...undstrahhe? ” All eyes turned upwards towards him, but the question was aimed for Tharya alone.
“For Solitude?” She rubbed her hands over her face. “No, there’s only one road that goes in and out of Solitude.” Making incredibly vague gestures with her hands, Tharya mapped out the entire province on the table. She took a mug and placed it in the top left corner of her imaginary map. “Here is the White Coast and beyond it, the Sea of Ghosts. Between Solitude and Dawnstar is the bay, and on the left is the mountains that separate us from High Rock.” With her index finger she drew a line up the wood to the bottom of the mug. “This is the only road into the city.”
“Let me get this straight,” Lofrek placed his palms on the table, and Fjurkin looked away from the tall stranger in dark robes just as he freed his hands to rub his temples. “You want to turn yourself into the Stormcloaks, trusting that they haven’t been given orders to kill you on sight.”
“You’ve seen the posters--they got my nose wrong--but they won’t kill me.”
“So they’re going to bring you to Ulfric so he can kill you.”
“Ulfric and I are kin,” she stated finally, and a damp, unbreakable silence settled over the family. Anari’s features seem to fall. Fjurkin’s shoulders went taut. Lilika gaped at her older sister. “When we won the war he named me Stormblade . Kin to Stormcloak .” Jorstus cleared his throat awkwardly.
“I should’ve told you all long ago.” The blonde murmured, his gaze cast downwards.
“Ulfric has a reputation to uphold, whereas I...” Tharya shrugged. “Half of Skyrim barely knows who I am. If I kill my named brother, it won’t do much but tarnish what little notoriety I have.”
“How can you believe that?” Anari spoke for the first time, squeezing Freana’s hand across the table. “The people know who has saved them, darling. Hardly a set of eyes in all of the nine holds has not looked upon your face or your power.”

 

The Last Dragonborn was silent for a long, long time. She finished what was left of the contents of her tankard and set it down. Her pale eyes traveled to the stranger and they seemed to hold an unspoken conversation across the room, before finally he sighed.
“It is not your best plan, ahtlahzey.” His foreign language struck another layer to the air of mystery about him. “But we will make do, as we always have.”

Always? How long had he been traveling with her?
“Tomorrow I turn myself in to the Stormcloaks, then.” Tharya stood from the table, and almost everyone rose with her.
“Tell us what you’re planning,” Freana demanded, putting her earth-stained hands on her hips. Tharya only shook her head.
“Then you’d only know that much more.” 

“We are family,” Anari interjected, her voice soft and cool as ever.
“The Stormcloaks are just going to use that knowledge against you,” Tharya opened one hand and they all watched as her staff untucked itself from the weapon rack and flew silently into her fingers. “It’s better if you don’t know the details. Jorstus, is your armor still downstairs?” She made a vague gesture to the trapdoor concealed below a short stack of firewood.
“I’ll get it.” Jorstus nodded, moving out from between his parents.
“No, no. I just need to borrow it.”

 

Fjurkin decided it a safe measure to pull the curtains closed to block the light from filtering outside. The house hadn’t needed curtains before, but now, with the Stormcloaks jumping at even a sliver of movement after curfew, even shadows were fair game to be arrested.

Tharya sank into a chair near the fire and gestured for her tall companion to do the same. Lilika spoke to her sister briefly, and from what shreds of their conversation he could hear, Fjurkin learned his daughter would reapply her warpaint before leaving. Lilika disappeared upstairs with a bright smile on her young face.
“What happened to your staff?” The Nord took a position on the opposite side of the fire from his daughter, his gaze flicking temporarily to where Lofrek was shifting the wood pile off the cellar door.
“What--oh, right.” Tharya chortled. “It was blessed.”
“By?”
“Him.” She made a lazy gesture towards the dark-skinned man. He looked half-asleep but no less intimidating.
“Doesn’t look like any Divine I’ve ever worshiped,” Fjurkin laughed half-heartedly, but it was cut off by a pair of glowing golden eyes opening and landing on him.

“Oh, Auri-El, if that’s what you meant.”

The conversation felt over, and Fjurkin was ready to leave when his wife appeared, her gentle face framed by the firelight.
“I’m just going to sweep the room, darling.” She touched Tharya’s hair. “It’s been so long since all five of you were home, but there’s still a bed.” 

The stranger’s eyes flitted around the house for a moment before settling back on the door.
“I wish it were better circumstances, Father.”

 

Fjurkin met Tharya’s tired eyes with a strong smile.
“My sword arm is still here, if you need it.” Freana bustled down the stairs, wrapping her cloak tightly around her shoulders. “Where are you off to, at this hour?”
At this hour?” Freana scoffed, pushing her light hair under her hood. “I have a farm to run, Father. A curfew won’t stop me from going home.”
“Be careful,” he shook his head, “don’t tell your mother.” He kissed Freana’s sun-tanned forehead and watched her embrace her sister before scuttling out the door into the cold night.
“Thar!” Lofrek’s voice called up from the cellar, tossing a fur and leather ensemble onto the floor. “Here’s Jorstus’s old officer armor. I’ll leave it near the cupboard.”

Tharya didn’t reply. She stood when Lilika returned to her holding a bowl of black paint.
“Did Freana just go? I should be on my way,” Jorstus peered through the window into the night. “Sylgen is expecting me.”
“Sylgen?” Tharya barked out a laugh. “You aren’t...Sylgen? The tavern girl?” Jorstus narrowed his eyes at her. “Gods, I haven’t been home in a while.”
“No, you haven’t.” Jorstus clapped his father’s arm and gave the stranger a stiff nod before also disappearing into the late winter darkness.
“Well, I, unlike those two, have a sense of self-preservation,” Lofrek chided, shaking his head, “Lilika and I will be staying over, if that’s alright.”
Fjurkin laughed.
“Find a corner to sleep in, son, they’re filling up fast.”

 


 

“What is that, ahtlahzey? ” Miraak watched as Tharya straightened from the wash basin, the bowl her sister had delivered on the floor beside her feet. The Last Dragonborn sighed. 

“Now, don’t laugh. I know it looks...” she turned to him. “Wrong.”

He blinked owlishly at her, and then raised an eyebrow without saying a word.
“I took my warpaint off?”
“I see.”
“Okay, just checking.” She ran a towel over her face, paying extra attention to her forehead and cheeks, and then picked the bowl up. The dim candlelight exposed the entirety of her face to him. Of course it looked odd; he had only ever seen her with warpaint. Without it, though...her eyes seemed more blue. Less rock grey. The pink scar just below her eye commanded more visibility against her pale skin. Somehow it made her look less like the Dragonborn. 

 

She combed her fingers through her hair and then looked at him for a moment, as if weighing her options.
“Would you mind?” She extended the bowl of black paint to him. Miraak stared at it before sitting up from the headboard tucked against the slanted wall, and took it. She seated herself cross-legged on the mattress across from him, tying her hair back. It was only after he dipped his finger in the paint he realized, he had no idea how to do this.
“It seems self-explanatory until you sit down to do it,” Tharya laughed quietly, as if reading his thoughts, “I find it best to use your middle or first finger. Like this.” She reached out to trace her index fingertip from the center of his forehead down to his temple. “If it helps, draw a diamond.” She did so on his forehead. “And then draw lines connecting downwards to about here and below.” She touched his temple, and then her hand fell away and eyes closed. Carefully, he started.

 

“I was not aware you had so many siblings, ahtlahzey ,” he finally murmured after the first line on the left side was done. She had been silent and still the entire time, but he could feel her exasperation. No doubt the image of her burnt home was still fresh in her mind, fueling her veins with the sweet notion of revenge. He had watched a cloud of disdain and anger settle over her features that overcast afternoon, and it had not left her in the days since.
“Four,” she hummed. He swirled his finger in the black and started on the second line, spacing it just above the first one, dragging his fingertip gently over her eyelid. “I didn’t know Jorstus and Sylgen were...” Tharya trailed away. “Good for them.”

Was that jealousy he heard? Or regret? Miraak made no comment on it. 

 

Tharya’s hand remained over his until she was certain he had the bowl in a decent grip—his hands dwarfed hers, anyway—and her fingers crawled up his arm. He paid no attention to it at first until her palm flattened to his bicep, and he watched her eyes open and close. The scar beneath her touch began to burn.

 

“You liar! This was never part of our deal!” Miraak spit out a messy wad of blood and tissue, one eye forced shut from a rather large cut that split his forehead, eyebrow, and eyelid. His mask was torn in half on the ground, but the dreaded feeling in his chest told him there would be a new one waiting in his room, as there always was. Endless copies of the same robes and gloves and boots. Endless copies of the same mask.

“Our deal is whatever I make it to be,” Hermaeus Mora drawled, his tentacles shifting and extending from the black mass of eyes in the sky. Suddenly one darted for Miraak’s sword but he hacked it away with a yell, taking a few steps back. “You are mine, now.”

 

“Traitor,” Miraak snapped, his golden eyes furious. Whether he knew it or not, the first hints of black were stretching into the whites of his eyes, turning them stormy grey. Hermaeus Mora’s guttural, chilling laugh echoed around the infinite expanse of Apocrypha.

“You have no right to speak to me of traitors, boy.” The Prince hissed. Another tentacle flung forward at lightning speed, slimming into a barbed whip and slashing at the Priest’s arm. It cut through his robe and forced him to drop his blade with a cry. “You asked for my knowledge, and I have given it to you. In return, you will serve me to the next age.”

All color drained from Miraak’s face.

“The next age? ” He echoed, holding his shoulder. “That will be centuries yet.”

The whip-like tentacle inflated as Hermaeus Mora made an angry sound, and then wrapped tightly around the Priest’s neck, hoisting him into the air.

“Our deal is what I make it to be,” he repeated, and as one would fling an insect away, tossed the First Dragonborn into one of the many nearby bookcases with brutal force. “Remember that, next time, dear Miraak.”

 

Tharya was silent for a moment longer, but he knew she had seen into his past. She knew where the scar came from, what had happened to place it there. It didn’t make him as...uncomfortable as it had at first, her reading of his skin, but it was akin to a rude awakening. Things he had forgotten or pushed out of his mind. Finally, she spoke.

“Were you always this...quiet?” Her eyes met his, and a thousand answers touched his tongue, but not one surfaced from his lips. 

“Close your eyes.”

 

The third line came easier and the right side went quicker, and when he was done there were six solid black lines crisscrossing her face, glistening in the dim light. Sitting between his open legs was the Tharya he remembered.
“Have you ever considered going without it?”

Her eyes flicked open.
“What, my warpaint?” She chewed the inside of her cheek. “Why, you...you like it?”

He magicked away the excess paint on his hand and touched his thumb to her chin. The grey in her eyes had returned and the scar’s vibrant pink was muffled by the black around it. 

Hi los brit ahney reid.

She didn’t ask for a translation.

Chapter Text

There was a field. Never ending in all directions she looked, swaying perpetually in a gentle breeze. The grass touched her fingertips and tickled her wrists. The sun embraced her wholeheartedly, the breeze stirred her hair. It was early summer, if she guessed correctly, and all around her the world seemed...alive.

 

On the horizon there was a figure moving towards her, at a slow and leisurely pace. When they drew closer she realized it was Miraak. His silhouette had become astoundingly familiar to her eyes. The undying breeze curled its fingers through his hair, stirred the crimson robe that he wore and fell open around his chest. She began to walk towards him, seeing his golden eyes were turned to the left. When she followed his gaze there was nothing but the rolling hills of sunlight and grass, waving back at her so it looked as if it was all one big river of molten gold.
“I’m glad we came, dii fil,” Miraak was suddenly just in front of her, strong arms pulling her against him. He never looked away from the leftwards horizon. His skin was warmed from the sun and she could feel the way his dragonblood reacted to her, the way his dov seemed to waken at her presence.
“Where are we?”
“You jest?” Miraak sounded bewildered. She sighed into the fabric of his robe.
“You don’t wear red.”
“And you do not wear warpaint,” he laughed, a rich, baritone sound that enveloped her in the most affectionate of embraces.

But Miraak didn’t laugh, either.

 

When she opened her eyes again the fabric was pure white, an exotically beautiful contrast against his dark skin in the golden sun. But she took a small step away, pushing the plunging neckline aside. Miraak’s fingers curled around her wrists as her palms spread against his chest.
“Where’s your scar?” She shook her head, dragging three fingers diagonally across his flesh. “You should have a scar right here.” Tharya looked up to meet his eyes, searching for answers--

And twin orbs of pure black met her gaze.

 

She stumbled back in shock, hands coming up defensively.
“What happened to you?” Flames burst into her palms, ready to be used against this...pure version of Miraak. His face was untouched by any of the scars he’d suffered from Mora or the dragons.
“What do you speak of, dii fil? Put your spells away.”
“Where is your scar?” She repeated. “What happened to your eyes? I fixed them. We fixed them. Twice.”
“You are being ridiculous.”
“And you aren’t really Miraak!” She cried, edging away. “Just...I know this is a dream.” The Last Dragonborn seemed more exasperated than concerned or frightened. “Where are we?”
“Atmora.” Miraak huffed.
“Atmor--gods above. This is really just a terrible dream.” She placed a hand to her forehead. “Please, just let me wake up.”

When she took her hand away, he was gone. The world fell into darkness, and she was assaulted by the distinct feeling of being...rearranged.

 

There was a field. Never ending in all directions she looked, swaying perpetually in a gentle breeze. The grass touched her fingertips and tickled her wrists. The sun embraced her wholeheartedly, the breeze stirred her hair. It was early summer, if she guessed correctly, and all around her the world seemed...alive.

 

On the horizon there was a figure moving towards her, at a slow and leisurely pace. When they drew closer she realized it was Lofrek. Her brother’s silhouette was unmistakable to her eyes. The undying breeze curled its fingers through his hair, stirred the crimson robe that he wore, belted around the waist. She began to walk towards him, seeing his dark eyes were turned to the left. When she followed his gaze there was nothing but the rolling hills of sunlight and grass, waving back at her so it looked as if it was all one big river of molten gold.
“I’m glad you’re here,” Lofrek smiled, extending an arm to her and she happily slotted against his side, patting his back. He never looked away from the leftwards horizon. His skin was warmed from the sun and she could feel the way he sighed happily, putting his cheek to her hair.

And then it hit her.
“No, no, no.” She pushed herself away from Lofrek. “We don’t hug like this. You and I aren’t huggers.” She continued to move backwards, but no matter how many steps she took Lofrek seemed to be nothing more than an arm’s length away. She wasn’t moving.
“You’re joking?” An abrupt image of Miraak’s confused face and two words falling from his lips--you jest?--split her thoughts.
“No, shut up. I know this is a dream. Whoever you are, let me go.”

 

Above them a sickening roar broke the silence of the skies, and a dark dragon flew overhead. When Tharya reached for her spear it wasn’t there. When she tried to summon flames to her hands nothing came. The dragon circled, and she recognized its ruby red skin. Odahviing? His jaw hung open and between his razor teeth he plucked Lofrek from the ground. Her brother went without a sound.
“Lofrek!” She yelled against her better judgement.
“Why couldn’t you save us?” Freana stood in front of her. From the left, a Stormcloak general charged and cut her head off.
“Why didn’t you try harder?” Jorstus, next. An assassin in black and red armor snuck up from behind and slit his throat.
“Why couldn’t you just be normal?” Her father. A pointed blade pushed through his heart.
“Big sister,” Lilika blinked innocently at her, her pale hands stained with blood, her eyes gouged out, “why didn’t you come for me?”
“Why won’t you just die?” Anari stood alive for the longest, black eyes boring deep holes into her daughter’s skull, before a shock of lightning struck her and sent her to the ground. A Thalmor Justiciar stood with one open hand behind her.

“Why didn’t you try harder, sister?” She reeled around to meet her twin again. His stomach was torn open and gaping holes littered his entire body. Tooth-sized holes from a dragon maw, clear to the other side. She could see the sun shining through his gut.  Lofrek spoke as flames burst from his head, melting his skin and clothes away. “Why didn’t you try harder to save us? Why weren’t you strong enough?”
“Tharya.” A familiar voice came from her right. She spun to meet Miraak, a tentacle writhing through his chest. “May she be rewarded...for her service...as I am.” He was dropped into an unseen inky pool of tar. “Tharya,” one voice chanted, and then another and another.
“Wake up!” Lilika shrieked.
“Wake up! Wake up! Wake up! Wake-”

 

“-up, dii fil. It is only a dream. Wake up.”

There was a strong hand on her arm and a low voice filling her ears, gently shaking her back into reality. Her eyes flew open with a strained gasp, and when she looked up Miraak was hovering there, looking both puzzled and concerned. She swallowed thickly and groaned, screwing her eyes shut again. Miraak exhaled slowly, sending a cascade of warmth through her body when his lips fell to her forehead.
“Do you usually have havulonne, dii fil? ” He dragged his fingers through her hair.
“They aren’t nightmares,” she murmured, “just...dreams that border on unsettling.”

With a soft noise the Dragon Priest tucked both arms around her, placing his chin on her scalp and closing his eyes.
“I believe that is closer to the definition of nightmare than you believe it to be,” he replied.
“It’s nothing new.” She was rigid for a moment in his grip--whether from leftover adrenaline or the sudden closeness, she didn’t know--before forcing herself to relax. “About a year ago I was in Dawnstar when all the people were complaining about nightmares. A priest of Mara asked for my help in getting rid of them. Vaermina hasn’t left me alone since.”

Miraak’s body became a taut line of tension.
Gaas Deyra.” His tone was menacing.
“She doesn’t do anything outright,” Tharya tried to calm her racing heart, pressing the butt of her wrist between her eyebrows, “I don’t think she can. But she lingers. Maybe she’s just angry that I cut her off from a big feeding ground.” To her surprise the Dragon Priest’s fingers never left her hair, sliding timidly through it in an obvious attempt to soothe her. 

 

After a moment she turned onto her side, tucking one hand under her cheek, to be face-to-face with him.
“You were there,” Tharya whispered, finding it difficult to meet his eyes. Not after what she had seen. She was scared to see this was just another part of the dream, scared that if she looked up, they would be black again. Her fingers curled into a fist before stretching out to touch the three parallel lines that moved like brushstrokes against the canvas of his dark skin. “This wasn’t.”

“Then you know I am real.” She watched his fingers wrap around hers and bring them to his lips. “Dii fil, look at me.” He tipped her chin upwards. There was something new in his molten gold eyes, something she had never seen before. It both shocked and comforted her. It was...soft. Vulnerable. Affectionate, almost, if she dared to say it. Loving. His hair was more of a mess than usual from sleeping and his voice, however deep it already was, was lower and more...intimate. As if it was made for her ears only.

 

Without another word he leaned down to kiss her, and almost immediately after their lips touched the door was thrown open.
“Sister! I--oh.”

And just like that, the look was gone from his face, as if it had never even existed in the wildest depths of her imagination.

 

“Lilika, what time is it?”
Her youngest sister lingered in the doorway, pretty eyes stuck like glue to the shirtless Dragon Priest currently lying in bed. Tharya threw her covers off and moved to the mirror across the room, checking her warpaint. Dry, perfect, pitch black.
“This is darker than I remember.”
“Time? Oh, right!” Lilika strung her hands like a giddy schoolgirl in front of her. “Nearly ten.”
“Ten? Gods, I knew I was tired but not that tired. Get up, big guy.” She tossed a fur and leather cuirass at the bed. Miraak, eyes closed, didn’t even have a chance to dodge it. “Put that on. It’s Stormcloak officer’s armor.”

With minor muttering in Dovahzul the Priest sat up, throwing his legs over the bedframe. Thunk.
Niivve.” He hissed, rubbing the side of his head that connected with the slanted wall.
“Watch your goddamn language! My little sister is right there.” Tharya rummaged around in a rickety wardrobe, finally pulling out a dark cloak and winding it around her arm. “How many...muscles you have.” Lilika squealed, earning the Last Dragonborn’s attention. When she turned, Miraak was giving her a bewildered look. “Scars! I meant scars! How many scars you have. I should go.” With one last desperate look at Tharya the younger woman disappeared, fleeing down the stairs to the sound of her sister’s early morning laughter.

“Divines.” Beside the wardrobe were boots plated with blackened steel and gauntlets. Long, rigid talons of steel protruded from the knuckles of the gauntlets. The same spikes stuck forward out of the boots. “Put these on too. Do you want warpaint? It’ll come off easy, if it doesn’t have this salve in it.” Miraak had just finished shrugging the cuirass on, pulling at it to readjust the fit around his torso. “Although...you already look pretty Nordic. Perks of being Atmoran, I guess.” She smiled at him, and took her cloak with her to the door. “Come down when you’re ready.”

 


 

He was still for a moment after the door closed, before kicking off the loose trousers he slept in and more or less forced his feet into the boots. He examined the gauntlets with a scrutinizing eye; what practical value did the steel talons have? He made a mental note to not get too close to Tharya with them on. They fit snugly around his forearms, but the gloves were too short for his fingers and too small for his palms. It didn’t matter. Once their little charade worked out, he could be rid of them. Miraak bent to check himself in the little mirror, running his hands through his hair, pulling it away from his face. 

Get your hair out of your eyes, dii shulviin.

The voice echoed from the dustiest corners of his memory, gliding to the forefront of his thoughts. Dii shulviin. My sunshine. His mother hadn’t known much Dovahzul, but the Cult had more or less demanded it be learnt and taught wherever possible. She was always confusing the native tongue of their region with Dovahzul words. He, however, had been a quick study. He had taught her-

 

The Dragon Priest shook his head, closed his eyes and stood up. That had been a lifetime ago. The Cult was gone, Atmora was frozen over, and he had no doubt his mother, and whatever family there might have been, were long dead. Too stubborn to leave when the dragons came, so they submitted. Too proud to leave when the winters became fatal, so they froze.

 

Lofrek was at his sister’s side as he made his way down the stairs, pausing on the last step as all eyes turned on him. Anari looked sympathetic, Fjurkin impressed, and Tharya...

She gave a low whistle, looking him over from head to toe.

“Do not look at me like that.” He grumbled.

“You think Lilika will survive this?” Lofrek shook his head. “You should get going before she sees.”

“I'll be surprised if you don't get arrested for showing your arms in public, big guy.” The Last Dragonborn quipped.

Are you done?

“Yeah, sheesh. Relax, General Beefcake.” She checked his eyes for any signs of actual annoyance but found only exasperation. “The staff kind of ruins it, though.”
“I can help with that. May I?” Miraak handed Lofrek the staff after a moment of consideration. Closing his eyes, the illusionist passed his hands over the entire length of the magical device, leaving it hovering in the air. Before their eyes, the air seemed to shimmer and move, and the hazy image of a sword replaced the staff. Lofrek opened his eyes and the image cleared, leaving a steel blade in its wake. “Your sword, Captain.” He chortled and handed it over to Miraak, who tucked it into the sheathe that had appeared at his waist.

“Well, looks like you’re set to go.” Anari smiled. “Lilika went down to the stables, to pack some things in your saddlebags. Food, some bandages...a book or two. Some of your scrolls, darling, if you need them.”
“Any chance I’ll be getting those bags back?” Fjurkin tried.
“Sorry, Father.” Miraak hung back while Tharya embraced her parents, opening her hand to summon her spear into it. Anari tilted her daughter's staff downwards and tied a piece of twine tightly around it, holding a smoothly carved wooden rune no bigger than her thumb on it.

"For protection," she murmured, and lightly kissed her daughter's cheek. Anari moved to Miraak next, eyeing him for a moment, and held her hand out. When he took it, she squeezed his fingers, the touch of sympathetic magic waking his nerves.

"For guidance."

“Good luck to the both of you,” Fjurkin gave Miraak’s shoulder an awkward clap. “I never got your name, man.” The Priest glanced to the Last Dragonborn, who gave him an encouraging nod.
“Miraak,” he replied quietly, “dii faan--my name is Miraak.” 

 


 

The door to Breezehome was kicked open late that morning, and a guttural shout from a tall, dark man in Stormcloak armor pointing a sword down at a blonde mage rang through the district.
“You couldn’t run forever,” the man said, his voice low and guttural, but lacking any kind of thick northern accent. “Not from justice, Dragonborn.”

“Never did I think the day would come when I would submit myself to the tyrannical fist of Ulfric Stormcloak’s reign.” Tharya cried, getting first to her hands and knees and then to her feet. “But take me now, you scum of the earth. If only that I may spare Whiterun, my dearest home, which I love so... dearly.
“This is the end for you, Dragonborn.” Miraak pointed the tip of his sword towards her neck. “Come quietly, and your family...” he glanced back to the open door of Breezehome. Lofrek was weeping loudly and terribly for affect. “I’ll make sure their deaths are quick.”
“No!” She shouted, grabbing Miraak’s sword with both hands. He looked startled before steeling his face into an angry snarl. “If you’re going to kill them, kill me first! I cannot bear the thought of their innocent blood being spilled.” She forced the tip of his sword to the center of her chest. “If you are a man of honor and mercy, you will believe me when I say they didn’t know of my return.”
“Didn’t know?” Miraak barked out a bitter laugh, staged, but enough to send a chill down her spine. His teeth flashed. “Pray tell, Dragonborn, how could they not have known you were hiding in their cellar?

 

There was a crowd, now, beginning to form on the left. The marketplace had drained and now everyone was cramped into the street. Guards approached from the gate.
“I am a master of alchemical remedies. Invisibility potions are not hard to create. Though for you rat-brained Stormcloaks, I’d wager it’s akin to reading Aldmeris upside down.”
“Enough!” The Priest wrenched his sword back from her chest, slicing her palms and making her gasp. “No more of your theatrics, Dragonborn. Turn yourself in, and the High King may show mercy on you yet.”
“Forgive me, my dearest Whiterun,” Tharya now turned to address the people. She knew every face in the crowd, and from the looks of it, they knew her. “For what I do this day, I do for love, and for the hope that one day the High Throne will bear a worthy ruler.”
A sorrowful, solitary cry went up:
“Death to the Stormcloaks!”

“You,” Miraak snatched a nearby guard by the collar, “give me this. Send word to the Jarl. The traitorous bitch has been captured.” He approached Tharya with a venomous look in his eyes, forcing her hands together and binding them with the rope he’d taken from the shaking guard.
“That was really convincing, you know.” She breathed, just barely loud enough for him to hear. He tugged the rope in a silent question. “It’s not too tight. We’re almost there.” With one hand on his sheathed sword, Miraak placed the other hand on her back, and shoved. She nearly fell onto the cobblestones but caught herself at the last second.
“The High King grows impatient for your death, Dragonborn.” He snapped, pulling the rope again. He wound it around his wrist. “Best not keep him waiting.”

 

Lilika wasn’t at the stables when they got there.
“Which horse is yours, m’lord-” the meek stablehand trotted up to them
“The grey one! Imbeciles!” Miraak roared. “I should hang you all for incompetence.”
“Yes, of course, m’lord, my apologies, m’lord, just a moment.” He scuttled away.
“Gods, what a thespian you would make,” Tharya murmured. Miraak huffed, but watched as the teenager scuttled about the stables preparing Tharya’s horse. Without a word, she conjured a dim healing spell to her fingertips and the cuts on her palms began to knit closed.
“No one has called me my lord in...millennia.”
“Do you remember who the last person was?” She teased. He crossed his arms.

“Peyt,” he replied finally, “just before she died.”
“Who?”
“One of my...hm, vahdins.
“You had concubines? ” Tharya made a face. “How did they die?” His features darkened.
“Vahlok gave them up for tribute, once he realized...” his words trailed off. Not long after, the stablehand scurried over, with the dappled grey horse saddled behind him.
“Here you are, m’lord. So sorry for the inconvenience.”
"Incompetence.
“Yes, m’lord. Of course, m’lord.” He hung around nervously for a moment, loathe to hand the reigns over.
“Do I look like I give handouts?” Miraak snapped. With a disgusted sigh he tied the rope to the saddle, hoisted himself up and threw his leg over. “Come, Dragonborn. Justice awaits.”

 


 

They took the western road out of Whiterun. Past the rebuilt watchtower where she had first absorbed a dragon soul, past the structure that had set into motion the events of a prophecy that would forever change her life. Her horse, Knight, tossed his head, unused to the Atmoran on his back. Miraak went slow, but didn’t look back until Whiterun was a dwindling silhouette in the afternoon sun.

 

"When I find myself in trouble...Mother Mara comes to me....hmm, words of wisdom: let it be."

Miraak half-turned to her, but Tharya was paying no him no mind, wandering at a leisurely pace with her hands bound in front of her, connected to the rope on his saddle.

"Let it be, let it be, hm-hm...whisper words of wisdom, Mother Mara, unto me."

She caught his gaze just before he turned and smiled brightly. Miraak didn't return it. He let her sing, let her trail behind him as they walked past a run-down fort with the sun at their backs.
“Miraak?”
Ahtlahzey.
“Tell me about Atmora.” Miraak cleared his throat after a moment of contemplation.
“What would you like to know?” Now it was Tharya’s turn to think.
“Well, for one, what happened?”
“I...I am not entirely certain.” He replied, honest. “The climate showed signs of deteriorating just when I left. The last wave of immigrants departed in the First Era sixty-eight. Anyone left behind froze when the snows came.”
“The seasons never changed again after that?”
“The Unslaad Felniir. The Eternal Winter,” the First Dragonborn murmured forlornly. “That is what my kinsmen call it, though none of them remain. Many wrote books lost to time of Atmoran summers and harvests. It began in the First Era seventy; winter came that year and it has not ended since.”
“Mora had those books?” Tharya asked delicately, knowing she was treading thin ice with the mention of the Daedric Prince. To her surprise, Miraak only sighed to himself, his gaze far away and hooked on the horizon, as if he could see across the Sea of Ghosts to his homeland.
Geh. I have read them all countless times.”

For once, Tharya noted, he sounded unimaginably homesick.


“So...that makes you the last true-blooded Atmoran.” She examined his broad shoulders, his long limbs and dark skin. The last survivor of a race that had been either buried in the ice or succumbed to centuries of intermarriage and breeding across races, making Atmoran blood so diluted it was near impossible to pick out, if it was there at all. Here was the last one with the rich crimson his homeland had birthed him with. Here was the last one who remembered.
“Unfortunately so.” His voice was hardly above a whisper.

 

“Maybe we can lead a College expedition there,” she quipped, trying to lighten the dark cloud that had draped itself over him, “I’m sure it’ll be cold as hell but...wouldn’t you like to see it again? When this mess is all over?”

Get your hair out of your eyes, dii shulviin.
“There is noth-”

He was cut off by a sharp groan originating in his chest, and both arms clasped against his stomach. A familiar thwang cut the air and a second arrow embedded itself into his leg, and then a third nestled into his side.
“Miraak!” Tharya ran forward just as he slid sideways, crumpling out of the saddle and onto the stone road below. To her relief, Knight remained still, giving the Dragon Priest an inquisitive nudge when his body convulsed. “Holy--gods, Miraak, are you alright? Can you hear me?” She grabbed his shoulder and pushed him onto his back, just as he sputtered and coughed. A thin stream of blood escaped the corner of his lips. A guttural choking sound garbled from his throat.

 

Thwang.


A fourth arrow sailed through the late morning air and buried itself in her arm.
“Ah--shit! What the hell is this?” She pushed herself to her feet again, grasping for her spear. But it was tucked into her boot, out of reach. Even if she could get it, her hands were bound; what use would that be in a fight? 

The edges of her vision started to blur, and the horizon before her seemed to...tilt. All of Nirn was thrown off its axis. Below her the stones became uneven and unsteady, moving and shifting in the dirt like puzzle pieces.
“Oh,” she muttered, “poison.”

Promptly, she collapsed beside Miraak, moaning weak and empty threats towards their unseen attacker.

“Hush, Dragonborn,” a glass phial was pressed to her lips and though she was hardly coherent, she had no choice but to drink. A blurred figure above her sported bright blonde hair and a scruffy beard. “Drink this. You’re safe, now.” When she swallowed the liquid was bitter and burning, but the voice...the voice sounded so familiar. Who did it belong to? Who did she know...?

Hey, you. You’re finally awake.

A moment of clarity washed over her.
Ralof?

Chapter Text

Someone was singing. Their voice filled the room but gently, without a harsh echo, moving as they moved. The rustle of clothes and the tapping of a mortar and pestle.
“Sister?”
“Hm?” Tharya’s voice hummed in reply.
“Why won’t you tell me about him?” The other voice was high-pitched, more delicate, more quiet than the Last Dragonborn’s.
“Because his isn’t my story to tell,” Tharya sounded a bit vexed, as if she’d already answered this question before. Many times. “His name is Miraak. He was a Dragon Priest, and he’s Dragonborn like I am.”
“And he’s dreamy.”

Tharya groaned. Miraak could almost feel the roll of her eyes.
“Gods, Lilika, give it a rest. You shouldn't even be here in the first place."
"I wanted to make a difference," he could hear the pout in her voice, "like you."
"So you joined a rebel group in the mountains. Did you tell Ralof I was back in Whiterun?" Tharya asked.
"What if I did?" Lilika crossed her arms defiantly. Her older sister merely sighed, and then nodded to the Dragon Priest.

"Check his fever, the potion should be wearing off soon.” Her presence moved towards him, humming in her throat. Cool fingers landed on his thigh, which, by the feel of it, was exposed. The pant leg was pushed and rolled up past his knee, and everything below it seemed to be frozen in a state of numbness. 

 

A smooth and dainty hand draped over his forehead for a moment before pulling away.
“He’s cooling off.”
“Good. Could you go find his robes?” Light footsteps pattered away and the doors groaned shut.

 

Miraak blinked countless times against the light before he truly opened his eyes, unable to feel anything from the neck down. Even his cheeks were missing from his touch. He could just see Tharya’s figured hunched over his leg, and though her arms and hands were moving, the feeling was miles away, like a distant dream.
Ahtlahzey,” he croaked after a failed attempt to speak. She jolted a little bit, twisting to look at him.
“Hey, there you are, big man,” she sounded relieved, and turned her whole body to face him. “You’re looking much better.” He made a weak noise of agreement in the back of his throat. “Take it easy. Three arrows pumped a lot of poison into your system, but I think I got it all out. You’ve been unconscious for a couple days.” She patted his arm, but he barely felt it.
Kogaan.” He whispered hoarsely.
“I missed your voice,” Tharya smiled at him, “three days of incoherent groaning and wheezing...isn’t as attractive as you think it would be.” Miraak merely shook his head delicately, closing his eyes. "Beware! Hermaeus Mora will betray you as he has me! ” She imitated, pressing her chin downwards to make her voice deeper. She laughed for a moment, before standing and making her way across the room and out of his line of sight. “And, my favorite,” she cleared her throat, “this is the only way, Dragonborn. The only way I can be free. ” There was a thoughtful pause. “That was an interesting conversation.”

 

Tharya returned to the table, perching at his side and swirling a dark bottle.
“I was unaware I am so...” he swallowed. “Quotable.”
“You and I have matching flairs for drama,” the Last Dragonborn sent him a grin, “but when you said that to me, I...I wasn’t sure at the time, of what to think about it. But looking back I think it sounded almost like an apology,” she glanced at him but his bronze face was stoic as ever, “did you want to kill me?”

He was silent for a time.
“Perhaps not.”
“Perhaps?” He cleared his throat to speak.
“Perhaps if I had given time to more extensive reflection.” Miraak elaborated. “Yet I was so focused on taking your soul that I chose to ignore the presence of my real enemy.”
He watched as her features fell just the slightest bit. After a tight sigh she reached over to feel his forehead with the back of her sticky hand. Her eyes were burning with hundreds of unanswered questions which, for now, would also remain unasked.
“Well, Mora’s gone, and here you are.”

 

She made him drink the concoction she’d made, its sickly sweet aroma filling his nostrils and smooth liquid warming his dry throat. Slowly his body returned from the space between consciousness and blatant numbness. He remembered three arrows, each coming in quick succession, piercing his side, his leg, his arm. But each wound seemed gone now, healed over.
“Can we talk about that some time?” The question came with reservation and doubt. A touch of what he felt was meekness. “Apocrypha?” If he had the energy to frown he would’ve, but she was talking about the first time, not the second.
“If you wish to.”
“I would.” The Last Dragonborn returned to him and helped him sit up, and then stand, slinging one arm across her shoulders. “If that’s alright. I want to know about your imprisonment.”

 

“Sister!” Lilika burst through the doors with Miraak’s robes in her arms. “Oh, you’re awake. He’s awake.” She held the bundle of clothes out. “They’re washed.”

The trek back to the room Ralof had given her was slow and painful, and every so often he could feel Lilika wilt more and more under his weight. Though he didn’t prefer it, he transferred most of himself to Tharya, but she only gave him a little nod and smile. 

 

By the time the door was opened and he found his way to bed his head was swimming, vision tilting and gone awry. There was a few cracks in the stone ceiling where he could see the starry night sky. He tried to protest but Tharya snickered and insisted on tucking him in.
“You’re four thousand years old, take it easy.” She teased. He shot her a venomous glare. “Oh wait--four thousand twenty-eight. No? Four thousand thirty? Thirty one?” He gave her no answer, but with a light laugh she moved off the subject. “It’s almost the end of the year, you know. Almost 4E 204.”

Was it? He had lost track of time so easily in Apocrypha, it was a hassle to try and regain an internal calendar now. All he knew was that it was late winter, so...it made sense the year was coming to a close. Should be one of the last snows of the season. Tharya’s words from the tavern in Sea Point rang clear now.
“When?” Was all he asked.
“A week or so until Saturalia.” She shrugged. “Get some rest. You’ve had a rough time of it.”

 


 

 

It took three days for him to truly recover. From his confined space in Tharya’s room he learned he was in a place called Fort Amol. Not far to the north was a cave called Eldergleam Sanctuary. One night he had told Tharya that if Dexion had gone there to read the Elder Scrolls, and went through all the proper rituals, his sight would’ve lasted for years to come. She promised to bring the old Imperial there one day. To the southwest there was a little village called Ivarstead that the Last Dragonborn held in high regard. From her conversation, it seemed to lie at the foot of the Throat of the World, where the Greybeards remained reclusive and cryptic. Miraak had sat on the fort’s highest battlements waiting for the clouds to clear away from the ancient monastery, if only for a glimpse of the stone towers. But it never did. Somewhere in those clouds, Paarthurnax loomed at the Time Wound.

 

Even farther north lay Windhelm, and on the opposite edge of Skyrim, the Rift’s southern border, there was another fort that apparently held the same collection of Imperial and Stormcloak deserters that Fort Amol did. Every day he passed Imperial legates and Stormcloak soldiers--even a captain of the blue had joined. A pair of Dunmer were doing their best to supply the fort and a blacksmith had left Riften after hearing Tharya had come to Fort Amol. Occasionally people from Ivarstead made the trek, and once they saw Tharya, they stayed. 

 

They had their own rebellion brewing in the mountains of Skyrim.

 


 

Tharya made herself rare. She sunk into bed at night and tumbled out long before he woke up. Part of him missed her, her laugh, her sparkling eyes. He missed seeing her meticulously drawn warpaint, and, dare he say it, her mild pestering. It gave him something to think about. But without her, there was nothing but a drafty stone room, and a pilled rug beneath his feet, a fire he rarely tended to and a lumpy mattress. It was the kind of emptiness he had felt in Apocrypha, though that had been all the more damning. This was a shallow want for company, knowing he could very well find it if he chose to step out the door, but it was her company alone he found himself craving. 

 

So, one night, he ventured out to satiate himself.

 

For the end of winter the air held a bitter chill. The fort was quiet and still and he could only guess how late it was. He found himself wandering, as she did, aimlessly until his feet took him to the stables. Knight tossed his head and seemed happy to see him, but disappointed he hadn’t come bearing treats. Miraak contemplated stopping here. But Tharya...

 

He kept moving, back across the courtyard, and his footsteps grew silent when the methodical clanging of hammer on metal reached his ears. The smithy? Who was working the forge so late at night? Raucous laughter erupted from inside the fort, coaxing him back into the warmth...

But he moved towards the forge.

 

Ahtlahzey?”
She was standing at the anvil, silhouetted against the fiery glow behind her, pounding a red hot metal blade into shape with a tired but defiant arm. The forge spit up a bout of sparks and flames as he entered. She didn’t hear him at first, but once he moved closer and she moved away from the anvil to dunk the blade into a bucket of black water she noticed him.
“Gods, I didn’t see you standing there.” The Last Dragonborn started a little. Her cheeks and neck were coated in soot and ash. With a soft breath she swiped the back of her hand over her face, leaving a grimy black smear on her forehead. “How long have you been up? It's late.”
“I cannot think of anything else I have done besides sit in bed for days,” he grunted, lips curling into a frown. He watched as she lifted the blade from the water, examined the steam rolling of its sleek body in the night air, and set it down with a satisfied nod. “I did not know you were a smith.”
“Oh, hardly.” She waved him off. “I make things, more like it. Balimund can only do so much, but I swear there's something in the fire. Like it has a mind of its own. He adds salts to it regularly. The steel is-” She looked at him and beneath the soot, flushed. “I'm sure you didn't come for a lecture on smithing.”

“No, I did not,” Miraak said, “but if you have one, I'd like to hear it.”

Wonder danced across her moonlit eyes.
“Really?” She beckoned him closer. "I’m sorry I haven’t been around, how are you feeling?” His eyes traveled around the forge. Lines of swords, piles of axe heads without hafts. A couple shields that were still half-made.
“You’ve been busy,” he noted, picking up one of the axe heads. In it was carved a little swirling rune, and the metal thrummed with a weak but present magic. He turned to give her a look, but she was busying herself with lacing leather straps over a wooden handle. “You are enchanting these?”

Tharya looked up. With her face fully in the moonlight, he could see how tired she was. Working from dusk until dawn every day, even beyond sunset. Without a word she plucked a short nail from the table and held it where the straps intersected, gave it a few taps with a hammer and then did the same with a second nail farther up.
Ahtlahzey,” Miraak sighed finally, circling the forge. It belched flame as he passed and took the haft from her hands, pulling her to her feet. “You are working yourself into the ground.”
“These people deserve my best,” she frowned but he didn’t release her arms, “they came here for me, in some way. They want to get rid of Ulfric but not all of them are soldiers. Some of them are just farmers who know that Ulfric on the throne is bad and haven’t swung an axe at anything but a block of wood.”

“You cannot enchant every weapon in the hopes it will keep everyone alive.” He fitted his palms to her waist. “They have come to fight, and they should understand what that entails.”

She was silent for a moment before leaning up to his lips.

 

Her mouth tasted of sweat and steam and heat, but he only found that it served as a totem to her exhaustion. He moved forward so she was pressed against him, latching his arms around her to keep her from stumbling backwards into the table. She reached up to fist his robe but stopped.

"My hands are dirty," she whispered, looking up at him. Miraak moved to grab her palms and lift them to the light, examining them with mock interest.

"Yes, ahtlahzey, truly filthy. I have never seen worse." She gave him a quizzical look before bursting into laughter.

“Did you just...make a joke?”

“That remains to be seen.” He hummed thoughtfully. “Go to bed, dii fil. And bathe while you’re at it.”

Tharya grinned.
“It would be my pleasure.”

 


 

 

She drifted into bed not an hour later, burying her face in an understuffed pillow.

“Oh gods, my shoulders are so sore.” She muttered. Miraak was still for a moment before sliding towards her, clamping one hand over the shoulder she wasn’t lying on. “That hurts.”
“It is supposed to.” He muttered, a grin toying at his lips. The Dragon Priest pressed his thumb into the junction of her neck and shoulder before pressing his fingers into her taut muscles. “Though I believe if I lectured you on anatomy you would not stay awake to hear it all.”
“Awake or alive, at this rate.” Tharya scooted back into him and rested her head on his bicep, hooking one hand into his elbow.
“Miraak?”
“Yes, ahtlahzey.”
“Don’t die on me again,” her voice was quiet, strained, and her grip on his arm tightened, “I can’t take that. Don’t die.”
“Only if you promise me the same,” he said into the darkness, hushed and careful.
“I promise.” He flattened his palm against her shoulder.
Zu vaat.
Zu vaat,” she echoed.

 


 

 

Somewhere in the fort a rooster crowed relentlessly at the break of dawn. It woke him just enough to feel Tharya’s movements, untangling his arms from her body and trying to slide out of his grip.
“It is not yet light,” he found it within himself to lock her in his grip and bring her back down. “Fey.
“The forge,” she muttered in reply, but made little effort to escape him. No, the very opposite. She seemed glad for the hinderance, tucking herself against his chest.
“Will burn the same without you,” Miraak found his voice more gentle than he believed it capable of. He found her lips equally as soft, and though the long train of kisses was sluggish and lazy it seemed to finalize her choice to stay in bed.


“I want to go to High Hrothgar today,” she murmured against his temple.
“Hm. The Greybeards will no doubt try to keep you.” He gave less thought to his reply than he did to the warm trail he was creating down her neck.
“From you, or the rest of Tamriel?” Tharya chortled, fingers aimlessly mapping his back. “I couldn’t tell who would need me more.” The last word fell into a breathy gasp when his teeth found her pulse.
Me,” he growled.
“Miraak,” against his better judgment he allowed her to push him onto the bed beside her. In the dark he could just barely see her pale eyes or the scar below her right one, but he could feel her presence above him, her body tantalizingly close to his. Absently he traced the ridge of her cheekbone. “I want you to come with me.”
“You and I both know that is one of your less intelligent ideas.” The First Dragonborn groaned, rolling his golden eyes.
“I never said all my ideas were good ones.” Tharya’s cheek shifted against his palm as she smiled. “If Odahviing hasn’t already told Paarthurnax, and if he hasn’t already felt you...” His dov strained to meet the hand she placed over his heart. “He doesn’t know that I came back from Solstheim. And the Greybeards, damn, I’ll be surprised if they haven’t heard your Thu’um halfway across Tamriel by now.” Timidly she brushed their lips together. “Think about it, but either way I won’t leave without you.”
“You offer a choice and deny it in the same breath,” he sighed, “that is an interesting level of cruelty from you, ahtlahzey.”
“Truly.” She yawned and wilted against his chest, tucking her head below his chin. 

 

He stayed awake long after she had fallen back asleep, carding his long fingers aimlessly through her tousled hair. High Hrothgar. He should go, if Tharya wanted him there. But when had he ever made a habit of bending to the will of others? Now was no time to start.

 

He would go, if only to make her see how useless the Greybeards were. He would go to break her of their chains of meditation and pacifism. I know things that the Greybeards will never teach you--his words to her in Apocrypha all those months ago were true, whether she acknowledged it or not. 

 

He would go.

Chapter Text

okay everyone, try not to hate me! i'm SO bad at explaining armor so i'm just going to show you what tharya's armor looks like

head: none, although she wears warpaint (on the far right, but in BLACK)

torso: college robe in brown ; a grey ruana-type cloak over it but without the dangly bits (right image)

 

legs: steel nordic boots, knee-high or thereabouts

Image result for steel nordic gauntlets

arms: nordic gauntlets

Image result for steel nordic gauntlets

 

lmaoooo i hope not to make as many author's notes this time around but god...i'm super indecisive but i think i've finally settled on a good mix between Proud Nord & Talented Mage. enjoy! :)

Chapter Text

“How dare you! What foul influence do you hold over the Slayer of the World-Eater?”
“Arngeir, don’t be ridiculous. Even if he wanted to he couldn’t hold a foul influence over me.” She echoed the Greybeard’s words in air quotations, crooking her fingers.
“I disagree,” Miraak snorted from behind her, flexing his arms against the coils of magic holding them. The one around his neck tightened threateningly.
“He isn’t controlling me. Arngeir, let him go.” Tharya’s grip remained tight on her staff. She wouldn’t lift a hand against the Greybeards, he knew, but damn would that make for a good showdown. 
“He will stay with you as a fly on the shoulder of a bear until your importance runs out, Dragonborn,” the old man retorted, “only then will you see his true intentions. His treachery.”
“Arngeir. Let him go.” 

Arngeir gave a rattly sigh before turning to Wulfgar, nodding once. The wisps of magic fell away and Miraak stepped out of the shadows, rubbing his neck as he gazed around the monastery. A healing spell sparked at his fingertips and the barely visible bruising disappeared.
Kogaan, dii fil,” he threw one arm around Tharya and made a show of kissing her forehead, grinning like a bandit as he eyed each of the Greybeards in turn. “How quaint this place is.”

“I do not expect you to appreciate the beauty in serenity and simplicity, Abuser.”
“Abuser?” Tharya echoed, giving Arngeir a quizzical look. “That’s quite the title.”
“The First Dragonborn is deserving of such,” the Greybeard replied, folding his hands into the sleeves of his robe. “He does not share the same understanding with the Voice as you do, Dragonborn. The world may have forgotten him but we have not,” Miraak, disregarding anything the old man said, brushed past him and towards a tapestry hanging on the wall. “The First Dragonborn is a blatant example of what an abuser of the Way of the Voice looks like. Such was the arrogance of Nords that brought Jurgen Windcaller to meditate and build this monastery.”
“Then it is fortunate I am no Nord,” Miraak called from the tapestry, his golden eyes fixed on it. “How have you come by this?”
“He’s Atmoran,” Tharya tried to explain quietly when Einarth raised a white eyebrow, “very touchy about that kind of thing.” 

“This is from before your time, old man,” Miraak reached out to grab a corner of the thick tapestry, which Arngeir immediately slapped away. The Dragon Priest looked to him slowly with a flicker of anger in his features.
“Do that again and I will remove your fragile heart from your chest,” he said matter-of-factly, and turned back to the figure woven into the thick wool. “Answer my question, old man. How did you come by this tapestry?” At his side, Tharya smacked his arm.

“Master Borri came by it many years ago, Abuser,” Arngeir huffed, his frustration straining his usually calm voice. “If you must know. He insisted on hanging it quite recently.” Miraak dragged his gloved fingers over the dark threads, features still with contemplation. “Though he would not reveal his reasons.”
“Because he’d probably bring the mountain down if he did,” Tharya gave a weak chuckle, attempting to lift the heavy atmosphere Miraak had imposed on all six of them. Beside her, Borri only smiled.
“Do you recognize this figure, ahtlahzey? ” Miraak called her attention back to the hanging tapestry, letting his hand fall away. He circled Tharya as she stepped closer, an orb of pale blue light forming in her palm and hovering in the air above them. It illuminated the entire main hall, banishing the dark and dank light from each corner it could reach.

 

The tapestry was long and wide, heavy enough to remain still when a draft managed to pierce the walls of High Hrothgar. The edges were yellowed and ancient, and it was covered in a fine layer of dust that refused to be beaten out of the threads. Standing tall and larger than life was a figure clad in ornate forest green robes lined with solid gold colors, a cloak of white thrown over his shoulders. His feet were spread but flat against the ground, a staff standing vertical in one hand and a large book with a pointed silver star on the cover in the other. Behind him were columns of stone with intricately carved symbols, and above him, there was the tip of a black wing against the blue sky. The threads on the right side where the wing was were torn and scraggly. Had this piece been cut from a bigger picture?
She swallowed, her eyes trained on the golden mask affixed to the tall figure’s face.
“Is that...you?”

Closer to her ear than she thought he would be, Miraak hummed.
“Yes, it is.” He turned away to confront the Greybeards again. “You knew I would come here.” He stated, leaving little room for questions. “So, the Way of the Voice has gifted you minor foresight. Not quite the benefits you expected to reap, I presume?”
“We expect nothing from the Way of the Voice,” Arngeir argued, but he sounded exceedingly tired of the Dragon Priest’s mere presence. “It is a gift unto itself.”
“Of course.” Miraak chuckled icily. “Of course.”

 


 

He wandered the monastery while Tharya sat and spoke with the four elders. Occasionally her voice carried and he caught snippets of their conversation: about Solstheim, about Hermaeus Mora and Apocrypha, Sanguine. About the vampires and the Dawnguard, how much of a bastard Isran was, and finally of the burning of her house and the Stormcloak dominance over Skyrim. He heard Arngeir repeat that the Greybeards would have no say in the political situation of the world below and rolled his eyes. Power gone unused was power no longer.

“I’m just asking for peace talks, once this is all over.” Tharya pleaded, flicking some dust off her tankard. “This is neutral ground, and everyone respects you. Once I deal with Ulfric, we’ll need somewhere to decide what happens to him.”
“If, Dragonborn. Nothing but the past is set in stone, and even then, it is subject to the will of Time.”

Miraak resisted the urge to laugh. For all her trying, Tharya would get nowhere with them. They only restrained her power and encouraged inaction. “We have held your peace talks once before. Then it was unprecedented. A second time would only serve to create the belief we are willing to intervene in the world below, if enough people slaughter each other and the wrong ones claim power. We cannot do it, Dragonborn.”
“But you admit that Ulfric on the throne is a disaster,” Tharya tried, “he constitutes the wrong ones in power, right?”

Arngeir was silent for a moment. He knew Tharya was aware of the hole she’d backed him into.
“No, Dragonborn. I will support the notion of your quest for peace, but I cannot be party to it.”

“Is this why you wanted to come here?” Miraak crossed his arms and leaned against the stone archway, shaking his head. “To be denied and coddled by old men? You have a strange idea of friends, dii fil.” He watched Einarth’s eyes narrow at the nickname. So, at least one of them had a working knowledge of Dovahzul. Good.
“You aren’t helping,” Tharya said lowly, clasping him in an annoyed glare. “If you’re done preening yourself?”
“I am simply following the teachings of the Way of the Voice,” Arngeir bowed his head. “But I am not surprised it is so difficult for you to understand.”

Miraak rolled his eyes.

"Again and again with your Way of the Voice, hi wuth mey. You serve the Dragonborn, do you not? She has given you a request."

"We do not serve," Arngeir's eyes narrowed on the First Dragonborn. "We guide."

"You wish to restrain her power, as you have always sought to do. To bend her to your will and have her sit up here in your monastery and meditate on her destiny instead of achieving it. When she holds the greatest power in Tamriel!"

 

"Miraak, shut your big mouth," Tharya interjected, but Arngeir stood.

"And you, you would have her use her Voice for what? Domination, as you did? As you undoubtedly still do, First Dragonborn? Or perhaps for your Daedric master? Your Thu'um is untrained and unchecked. Every Shout you utter has been tainted with the power of hatred."

"If she had not been pampered by you stupid men she would have been able to defeat me," the Dragon Priest snapped, leaning into Arngeir's space, "instead I am here because you did not show her the true power she wields. You have made her weak.”
Enough!” Her voice hit them like a ton of bricks, making the monastery tremble. Dirt sifted down from the ceiling. “If you’re done provoking each other, I’d like to remind you that I’m standing right here.” She put her spear tip to the stone on the last two words. “Arngeir, Miraak no longer serves the Daedra. He may have once, but I can assure you he wants nothing to do with any of them--or at least I think.” Her angry eyes swiveled to the Dragon Priest. “I’m not sure anymore. I thought he was grateful I took him out of Apocrypha." The last shreds of patience fell away from her voice, exposing her anger like a raw wound. "If you thought I was too weak and pampered to defeat you so I chose to bring you to Tamriel instead, then maybe I don’t understand you as well as I thought.”
“The Greybeards have done nothing but choked your power off at its very source, ahtlahzey.” His voice was hard and condescending, but he hadn’t meant for it to be. He could deflate this situation now, if he tried, but the fire in his veins refused to be quenched. “Compared to me you are but an infant. You could do so much more, if only you shook yourself free of these...” he cast a disgusted glance to the four monks. “Oppressors.”
“An infant? ” Tharya echoed, moving closer. “Is that some compliment I can’t see through? An infant because you’re my nursemaid, and you’re going to teach me how to live? Last I checked, you’re the one four thousand years out of his time. Relying on me.

“Without you Solstheim would be mine. I can take my independence as I so please. It does not belong to you. But where would be without me? The next meal for Harkon and his clan? Lying at the bottom of the White Coast?”

“I’m not amazingly gifted like you!” She roared. The monastery shuddered like it was bracing from a cold breeze. “I don’t have thousands of years of knowledge at my beck and call. I know that’s difficult to understand for an almighty being such as yourself.”

 

He felt his jaw clench, hands curling into fists against his arms.

“Do you dare think I would not be in such a situation had Hermaeus Mora not robbed me from my time?”

Robbed you? You were working for him! ” She yelled, whipping to face him. “He set a trap and you walked blindly into it! You can boast all you want about the knowledge you accumulated from Apocrypha but you know what got you there in the first place? Your arrogance.”

In one sudden movement he curled his fists into the collar of her robes.

“Oh, what, are you gonna hit me? Are you going to tell me how much of a disgrace to the Dragonborn name I am? Shout me down? I dare you.” She sneered, grabbing fistfuls of fabric and twisting her knuckles into his deep violet robes. “Get off your goddamn high horse, Miraak.” She shoved him away, taking a staggering step back. “You’re in my era now. I killed Alduin. I lead the dragons into peace. And I didn’t submit myself to a Daedric prince for thousands of years.” His fists were tighter than he ever believed possible at his sides, leather gloves creaking with the tension. He could feel his nails digging into the fabric and his skin below. “We’ll never be on the same playing field, you and I.”

She turned to go.

 

Geh, but you seem content with being below me.” 

In that moment, he knew he’d struck a nerve. No, more than that; he’d played her like harp strings and then smashed the instrument to pieces, and the sickeningly sweet music continued, augmented and distorted.

“What did you just say?” She stalked towards him now, but he held his ground. 

“You heard my words, ahtlahzey."

“No. Tell me what you said.”

He leaned towards her.

“You seem content with being below me.” Miraak sneered. There was no going back now. The clear eyes he hadn’t meant to fall in love with were brimming with rage, boiling over with the need to Shout him against a wall or stick her spear through his gut. Behind it all, though, he could see shreds of hurt. The strips of her trust he had so recklessly torn up.

 

The fragile thing they had created was shattered, and he had broken it. The fragile thing she had held so closely to her guarded heart, the thing he had quietly nursed along to see what would happen and if it would bloom. And he had dragged it through the mud and stomped all over it.

“Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t leave you in that shithole of Oblivion,” Tharya snapped, her voice low and more icy than he’d ever heard it. “Now I realize I should’ve let Hermaeus Mora kill you.”

 

His blood ran cold.

 

She left without a word, but as the heavy doors to the courtyard slammed shut he jolted as if shocked. I should’ve let Hermaeus Mora kill you. When he looked, all four of the Greybeards were staring at him with cloudy countenances of disapproval.

“You have not changed, First Dragonborn.” Arngeir crowed, shaking his head as he walked away. “Perhaps you never will. Perhaps...that is for the best.” The old man disappeared down the stairs. Miraak stared down at the carefully cut stone beneath his feet, examining the delicate handiwork, his throat tight.

 

I should’ve let Hermaeus Mora kill you.

The fire and adrenaline flushed almost instantly from his body, leaving his fingertips cold and unfeeling. Something inside him had snapped, and with a shaky inhale he searched vehemently to find the broken cord. He was steel, ebony, dragonbone. He was unbreakable, invincible, unweathered and unbeaten. He was the First Dragonborn. He had waited four thousand years for his freedom, and the only reason he had obtained it...

 

Was because she had granted it to him.

 

This is the only way, Dragonborn. The only way I can be free. He shook his head. I think it almost sounded like an apology. Did you want to kill me? Yes, he had. But--no, he hadn’t. Perhaps not. He had seen her eyes through the slits of his mask and tasted her power, and he hadn’t wanted to kill her. Thousands of alternatives had rushed through his head when he held his sword to her throat. But he destroyed them all, one by one as they appeared, crushed them in the palm of his hand just like he held her throat during their battle. And in the end she had not even complained about it. In the end, she carried him to safety and brought him back from the brink of death. In the end, she was, and remained, the only reason he walked Nirn and the only reason he was alive.

Why couldn’t he recognize that?

 


 

When he wandered to the courtyard hours later, there was no sign of Tharya, but her footprints were still left in the snow. He followed them religiously, half-expecting every time he looked up she’d be standing there, snow in her hair and spear in hand. Warm lips pulled into a taut line. Gods, he wished she was. Mindlessly he climbed the mountain, never once disturbing her prints with his own but walking just beside them. The harsh wind pushed and pulled at him, his hair, his robes, but it didn’t slow him the slightest bit. And when her tracks disappeared, so did his resolve.

 

To the east, the first shreds of sunshine were peeking over the horizon.

 

“I wondered when you would come, Diist Dovahkiin.” A voice in front of him rumbled, making his shoulders jump. It was not the voice he wanted to hear. Without sparing Paarthurnax a glance, Miraak turned, searching the secluded mountaintop for a glimpse of blonde hair. Low lying clouds obscured even the monastery below. “She has left. Vod. No doubt she is who you seek so...desperately, Diist Dovahkiin.
Vod? Where could she have gone?”
“Zu dreh ni mindok. I cannot tell you, for I do not know.” Paarthurnax shifted on the crumbled Word Wall he sat on. “Where she does not have the wings to go, perhaps.”

Miraak was silent for a moment.
“Odahviing?”
Geh, Diist Dovahkiin.” Paarthurnax watched as the Atmoran gave a frustrated sigh, running one hand through his windblown hair and tightening it to a fist.

"You have come to...hm, hadriid. Meditate. Though not on the Rotmulaag, the words. Yours is a personal reflection, First Dragonborn." The wind billowed in his robes but Miraak remained still. His face was numb to the touch and lips cold and dry. 

 

Paarthurnax had not changed in the thousands of years since they'd seen each other. He had perhaps grown paler, and one of his horns was broken near the top. “Or perhaps you have come seeking nahkriin, cold revenge, for your vahdins. To crush an old dovah under your boot. But, niid, I can feel your dov, First Dragonborn, and it is sorrowful. The lovaas has become a dirge, a hymn. What do you mourn, Grutiik?”

Miraak's gold eyes strayed from the old dragon and landed on the starry sky, the majority of it covered by thick and ominous clouds. Perhaps it would snow again. After a moment he closed them and inhaled slowly, deeply, letting his chest expand until it could no more and letting the air out in an equally gradual measure. Without another word he seated himself in the snow, legs crossed and back straight, facing away from the wall Paarthurnax was perched on. The Atmoran took in another deep breath and let it out in the same manner.

 

“What do I mourn?” He echoed softly, placing the back of one hand in the palm of the other and touching the tips of his thumbs together. “I mourn everything.”

Chapter Text

“Can he hear us?”
“I believe not, niid. He is far in the depths of his hadriid. I do not think he has been there in some time.”
“I didn’t know he meditated.” Tharya’s voice was tinged with interest but he could tell she wanted nothing to do with him.
“All dov do, or should. Perhaps he has found some peace in it.”
“Geh. And perhaps I shall tear off his head,” Odahviing rumbled. He could only imagine him wrapped protectively around the Last Dragonborn like a loyal dog around its owner’s feet. “You should not keep him around, mal kro.”
Tharya was silent for a long time.
“He needs a chance to come to terms with himself.” She said finally. “He hasn’t been on a steady track since he left Apocrypha. Maybe he’ll finally stop battling with himself.”

Their conversation had reached him but only faintly, like a distant memory whose time and day he couldn’t quite place. He had not opened his eyes nor moved a fiber of his muscle throughout the night. The snow didn’t bother him even when the chill seeped into his ankles and legs. It fell heavier and could not melt in his hair so it stuck to it instead. He remained only vaguely aware of Paarthurnax’s presence behind him but that too slid away into nothingness, until he was enveloped in the void. A lukewarm, empty void, expanseless and dark in all directions. He had given up meditation in Apocrypha; it had done nothing but put him in immediate danger. Hermaeus Mora could enter his mind even with it so guarded, and it left his physical body open to any and all attacks. But before, when he had assumed this position more regularly to clear his mind, he had been able to travel through his memories. The places he’d been and people he had met or seen. He could devise spells without ever moving a muscle, dissect the most complicated tomes, achieve the inner stillness that he sometimes required.

And through the same meditation, he was able to retain what little memories he had of his mother. He had pulled them from the depths of his adult mind just as they were beginning to slip away, just as her lullabies at night faded from his ears. Althëa. She had hardly spoken of his father but he knew what features he had gotten from her and which he had not. Over the years he had carefully constructed an image of his missing parent, one that had been almost shattered when Morokei had taken him in. That, too, had been saved by his meditation. And one of the last times he had closed his eyes and laid in his thoughts in Apocrypha, he had engraved the image of himself and his brother and Morokei into his brain, every memory of Dukaan dragging him out for drinks, every memory of his vahdins touching his hair and slinking into his lap when he poured over tomes late at night, securing every memory he cared to in the vault of his heart.

They did him little good, now. His friends and family four thousand years dead and they all despised him by the end. Whatever faint glimmers of happiness he held onto with them he was sure they had erased from their minds.
Are you so sure, dii shulviin?
He shook the voice from his head and opened his eyes to the early afternoon sun. He felt frozen, but his joints cracked and popped like thawing ice as he stood. When he turned Paarthurnax only stared at him, and then gave a low sigh and nodded. The journey back to High Hrothgar was slow and contemplative, nothing like his wild chase from the night previous. Tharya had dug new boot prints into the fresh snow, tread through his tracks and her own alike. His breath stopped in his throat when he saw her sitting alone in the courtyard, occupying a bench that looked out over the expansive sky on either side of the mountain. What could he say? Should he say anything? Would anything he did quell her rage, or garner her forgiveness? Did he deserve that?

Without a word he slid onto the stone bench beside her, feeling, with an unmistakable twinge of guilt, her dov recoil from him in a confused kind of disgust.
Ahtlahzey—if I may. A moment of your time.”
With a withering glare she shook her head.
“I don’t have time for empty apologies.”
“You have a province to heal, I know,” he tried, “an admirable feat.”
“I’m not interested in your ass-kissing either.”

He floundered for a second, but it was all she needed to walk away, shaking her head.
So, he had ruined that too. But, no, he wasn’t one for giving up. A character flaw in some cases, admittedly, but his perseverance had earned him more than it had taken. Without a word he got up and followed her inside, slipping in as the heavy metal door closed.
“I only wish to make amends.” He followed her brisk pace into the main hall of High Hrothgar. “Ahtla-”
“You’re going to apologize?” She whipped around to face him, arms crossing. “Fine. Have a go. I didn’t think sorry was in your vocabulary.”
“It is,” he said defiantly, and then took a small step back, “but it is not enough.” The look of brief shock that danced behind her eyes was difficult to catch, but he saw it.
“How very noble of you. If you only stick around because I’m an elaborate way of stroking your ego, the door is just over there.” She gestured behind her. “I brought you back from the edge of death. I didn’t complain when you degraded me and my entire life, when you told me how insignificant everything I'd done was. Do you know all the terrible things you said to me for weeks after you got out of Apocrypha? I let you get accustomed to this goddamn world because I thought it was difficult for you. If my support and my pity is misplaced, then let me know, because I am more than happy to stop exerting myself.

“If you’re just waiting for the right time to leave, I’d say this is the perfect moment. Perfectly dramatic. If this is all I am to you, and all I’ve done for you, then I can’t keep it up anymore, Miraak, I’m not that strong.” He swallowed before parting his lips to speak, but his mind was blank. He couldn’t remember the last time that had happened. Words escaped him. All the knowledge in the world he had hoarded was useless. No spell could fix this.
“Neither am I, ahtlahzey. Neither am I.”
She was quiet before raising an eyebrow.
“You’re going to have to do a lot better than that.”

After taking a moment to bring the words to his tongue, the Dragon Priest took a lingering step forward.
“I do not know what you’ve done to me, ahtlahzey, but I...I cannot seem to recognize the version of myself I became in Apocrypha.” His jaw clenched and he closed his eyes for a long time. When he opened them again they were wet and glistening with tears he was vehemently battling against. “I...”
He reached out to touch her chin, lifting his gaze to hers. “I have spent four thousand years in an abyss of life,” his voice wavered and he damned himself for not being able to keep it under control. “And you, you have burst like the brightest star from the darkness and left me blind.”
She was staring at him.
“You have made whole a soul which was shattered and torn and devoid of any and all feeling,” his hands were like steel shackles on her arms but she didn’t shrug him off. His shoulders trembled. “You have made me whole but you have done it again and again and again. You have never given up on me, Tharya, and you are the first person I...I have felt I can be myself with. Not a Dragon Priest. Not First Mage, not Dragonborn, not Traitor.”

An errant tear slid from his lashes.
“But Miraak.” After a long, dense silence, she pressed her thumb to his skin and swiped away the single trail of wetness. Without hesitation he kissed her wrist, sighing against her skin. “Do not ask me who he is, for I do not remember him either. But I am waiting. He will come back to me.”
Tharya gave a strangled chuckle, her lips parting to form some reply, but she found nothing. He took both her cold hands in his own and, watching her clear eyes widen, fell to one knee.
“I am apologizing, ahtlahzey, because it would be foolish of me not to.” He shook his head. “I want your forgiveness, I...” -love you- “I need it, Tharya.”

“You’re an absolute madman.” Was all she said, curling her fingers into his hair and holding his head against her stomach. He sighed into her robes, feeling centuries of tension and a million other things he couldn’t describe flee from him. Something had changed. He had changed. And strangely, kneeling here before the Last Dragonborn, he felt...promise. Potential, lying somewhere hidden inside him. Like the cord that had broke to get him into this mess, it was just out of his reach. For now.
“You have a habit of ruining things for yourself, you know?” Tharya ran her cool fingers through his hair. “You don’t let yourself be happy. But you deserve it just as much as anyone. You deserve...” she searched the air for the right words. “Someone who cares about you, and who’s willing to keep caring about you.” Her fingertips traced his ear, his jaw, bringing his tired golden gaze up to hers, urging him upwards. Standing was like breaking the surface of an oppressive ocean, like a gasp of crisp air from murky waters. She put her arms around him. “I think I’m up to the challenge, but you've got to work with me.”

He hugged her as tightly as he could for as long as he could, finding home in the crook of her neck, aware of the gentle swaying motion shared between them, the strange new tenderness he had long since been without.
“I could stay here forever,” Tharya hummed into his robe, a content breath leaving her lips.
Zu fund dein hi mahfaeraak.” The corners of his lips tugged upwards.
“We should get back to the fort.” She sounded like it was the last place on Nirn she wanted to be. He couldn’t agree more.
“In a moment, dii fil.”

 

When they left High Hrothgar Arngeir stood on the steps and watched them go, silent and disapproving. They skirted around Ivarstead as best they could, and returned with haste to Fort Amol.

 


 

“Dragonborn?” Ralof approached, taking the reigns of her horse in one hand. “We were all wondering where you went up and off to. Hadvar has come from the Rift to-”
“Divines, Hadvar? I haven’t seen him in...at least three years now,” Tharya’s face was lit up, “how’s he doing?”
“Well, I’m sure you can ask him yourself, Dragonborn.” Ralof nodded behind her as she slid off her horse, to the man in beaten Imperial armor standing there.
“Hadvar! You crazy man. I thought for sure...” she trailed off as the man clapped her forearm with a bright grin. “Look at the three of us, back together again.”
“Have you forgotten me, Tharya?”

“I know that voice.” She said without turning, her smile only widening. “But last I heard it was much too long ago.”
Behind her, a pale Nord with dark hair and a beard grinned.

She more or less leapt into the bearded man’s arms, their laughter filling the fort like bells echoing each other’s song. Miraak watched with a twinge of something as the man in red picked her off the ground and spun in a staggering circle.
“Aldis! By the Nine, Aldis, I didn’t think you had made it out of Solitude before Ulfric got to you.” She squeezed him. “Gods, I missed you.”
“Just barely,” Aldis shook his head against her shoulder, “I took a couple men with me but they went home to Cyrodiil.”
“But you’re home now,” Tharya’s smile was unlike anything Miraak had ever seen before, “you madman. My mother was asking after you.”
“You’ve been home to Whiterun?” Aldis shook his head. “And you call me a madman, Thar. You know Whiterun is offering the highest bounty for your head?” After a moment they hugged again.
“Miraak, these...this is Aldis, my best friend. Here is Hadvar, and Ralof you know,” she pointed to each in turn, “we three escaped Helgen together. Aldis, Hadvar, this is Miraak, the First Dragonborn.”
“Shor’s beard, you’re a big one.” He wasn’t sure who the comment came from but he gave each man a curt nod of acknowledgement.
“I can’t believe you managed to get here untouched,” Tharya patted Aldis’s arm, “both of you. What place in the Rift do you have?”
“Darklight Tower,” Hadvar replied, running a hand through his hair, “small, but it’s nestled into the mountain slope, and well hidden.”
“I know it. Killed a band of witches down there once,” Tharya mused.
“You’ve been everywhere, Thar.” Aldis laughed.

“That is a matter I’ve been wanting to speak with you about, Dragonborn,” Ralof interjected and took a step forward, arms crossed. They had taken most of the night to return from High Hrothgar, and now the dawn was approaching. “Passage around Skyrim has been relatively...easy. Most of our scouts haven’t encountered problems with travelers or the townspeople, but only with the Stormcloaks themselves.”
“Speak plain,” Tharya leaned against her staff.
“The common folk are with us. They are with you. Though most of them think you’ve disappeared,” the blond frowned, “there are many people, not just Stormcloaks and Imperials, who know Ulfric isn’t the High King we need. We know who the real threat is.” He gestured for them to follow him inside. “I’m glad to see you’ve joined us finally.”
“Gods, I’m surprised Ulfric ever left Windhelm. He thought of making it the new capital, you know.”
“Windhelm is...” Ralof trailed off, and suddenly his features became very grave. He cast his weary eyes on the Dragonborn. “You haven’t heard about Windhelm, have you?”

No. She hadn’t.

 


 

Hadvar and Ralof filled her in around a table, a crackling fire at their backs, chipped tankards in their hands. A dreadful silence settled over the table. All the while Miraak’s eyes remained on Tharya, surveying the way she shifted in discomfort, the way her fingers curled and uncurled against her drink, the evident anger in her eyes and the twisting of her lips.
“Ulfric blockaded the Grey Quarter,” Aldis said, his voice low. “He’s ordered his guards to begin...killing them off.”
“What?”
“All the Dark Elves and the Argonians. When I escaped there was a band of Khajiit camped near the gates...” he trailed away.
“Escaped? Why were you in Windhelm?” Tharya asked. Aldis slid his bracers off to show her his bruised wrists, skin irritated and abrased. Shackles had been there quite recently.
“Ulfric put me as far as he could from Solitude, I didn’t get out quite unscathed like I told you.” The guard captain smiled weakly. “The men I took were killed. But if anyone had overheard-”
“Morale.” Hadvar supplied glumly.
“Does he know?” The Last Dragonborn asked quietly.
“No, Thar. If he knew about our connection I would’ve been on the chopping block, and not rotting in the dungeons. I think...he was using me as bait.”

Tharya stretched, tipping her chair on its back two legs and propping her feet on the table. Miraak could see the stress clouding her face, making the carefully drawn lines of her warpaint shift together.
“I didn’t think Ulfric capable of such things.” Ralof admitted.
“He’s gathered all the non-Nord citizens into the Snow Quarter--the Grey Quarter.” Aldis went on. “It sounds like...” the guard captain trailed off, looking to his oldest friend to finish the thought herself.
“It sounds like genocide. He’ll finally rid his city of them.” Tharya whispered. The three men were silent, but Aldis nodded. Miraak watched as Tharya pressed her fingertips to her temples, her shoulders tight. “Serana told me you had a spell that could take us somewhere instantaneously.” Her clear eyes, burning with rage and urgency, fixed on him now. “Can you?”
Geh, ahtlahzey.” Miraak nodded once. “To Windhelm?” Tharya opened her palm and her spear flew from the far wall into it.
“To Windhelm.”


He had told her to picture the city as clear as she could, with no interruptions or distractions. To imagine exactly where she wanted to be, exactly where she needed to go. And she had brought them to a narrow street at the top of a steep set of stairs. A thin layer of snow covered the stone below their feet. The first thing he noticed was the assaulting smell of smoke, tinged with the scent of something he couldn’t recognize. Tharya’s eyes fixed on something behind him, and when he turned, there was a thick column of dark smoke rising somewhere farther into the city. She pulled him through the Grey Quarter, most of which he had forgotten, to the huge, arching doorway that led to the docks and the little open square with two walkways--one from the Grey Quarter, and the other from the Stone Quarter--leading to it on opposite sides.

And in the center, a hastily constructed, blackened pyre.

Tharya staggered towards the pyre. On it were two, three bodies Miraak counted, though he couldn’t tell of what race. Tharya seemed to have an idea though.
“No,” she breathed, “no, no, no!” Her spear clattered to the stones and she likewise fell to her knees, the low flames cackling in front of her. “They were innocent. Innocent.” So this was Ulfric's genocide. Systematic and quick, but drawn out long enough to maybe draw the Last Dragonborn out of hiding.
“Dragonborn?” A timid voice called from behind. Miraak turned to face a lean Nord with a sunken face, messing uncertainly with the belt of his tunic. “We saw you enter the quarter--appeared out of thin air, you did.” He chuckled but it held no emotion. “What...what brings you, Dragonborn?” Tharya was still for a dense moment before grabbing her spear and slowly standing.

“Rolff Stone-Fist.” She greeted him, though her voice was icy cold. Miraak watched in silence as she turned her staff so the golden spear tip pointed outwards. “You had a hand in this, didn’t you?”
“I—I was simply carrying out orders, Dragonborn.” Rolff took a hesitant step back.
“Whose?”
“Ulfric’s. He said to burn four or five of them Dark Elves and Argonians a day—h-he said it would get your attention, and that...” he trailed off.
“You’re nothing but a rat.” She hissed suddenly, catching Rolff off-guard. “You eat filth, you live in filth, you are filth. You kill others that you deem filth because your vision is so...so tainted. All of you should be the ones burning on these pyres.” She gestured to the city of Windhelm behind them. “And you know why?”
Rolff swallowed and shook his head. He glanced to the Dragon Priest for help but Miraak remained stoic and silent.
“Because you thought you were good enough to send others to their death.”

There was a sick squelch of skin splitting and innards tearing as the spear entered him. Miraak’s mouth fell open—whether in shock or protest, he couldn’t tell—and the Nord dropped like a wet rag to the ground, his blood staining the thin layer of snow crimson, Tharya’s spear sticking out of him like a splinter. She turned back to the pyre, barely burning, and then her furious, hard gaze settled on Miraak. She had never frightened him before, and she didn’t now—but there was something different in those eyes that he couldn’t place, something that made his shoulders tense and his jaw lock. Perhaps he simply hadn’t seen this anger from her before. Perhaps, neither had she.
“Give them their last rites.” She demanded, voice low and cutting. “I’m going to go look for the others.”
“A slaughter will make you no better than he is,” Miraak warned as she stalked away. Tharya muttered something that didn’t reach his ears. His gaze drifted to the Palace of the Kings and to the tall roof of the inn. Whatever gods they believed in, he almost prayed for protection from her wrath.

He set to work with the three bodies, tearing his gloves off and carefully picking each burnt corpse up and off their intended resting place one by one. It had been centuries since he had performed these duties...but they still came so easily, so quickly. Snow must’ve come in earlier and melted the fire, because as he worked it sputtered out of existence. Retrieving the second body from the wooden bed proved more troublesome, and he only realized it was because this figure had a thick reptilian tail that hadn’t completely burnt, but had gotten stuck between planks. The smell of half-burnt scales and skin combined with the sight forced him to press his nose into his sleeve for a long minute. The second body was the same, but completely charred. Two Argonians, then. With the utmost care he examined the first corpse he’d taken, his veins running cold when the tip of a pointed ear crumbled into dust between his fingers. Two Argonians and an Elf.

He wandered the Quarter for a while before coming to the New Gnisis Cornerclub. They offered him sheets for the bodies. Sadri’s Used Wares gave him thick wool blankets as burial shrouds. Not one Dunmer spoke to him or asked for septims in return, but not one Dunmer left their house either. When he asked they merely shook their heads and slunk away. Each door went through a series of locks the moment it was closed behind him. When he returned to the big arch doors and dark pyre, the trio was where he left them, untouched. They were burnt so they had no need for resin on the strips of cloth he wrapped them in, but with every wrap around their black limbs their charred skin flaked and crumbled away onto his hands, making them dusted in charcoal by the time he was done.

“Rolff!” A young voice cried out, and when he spun a little girl in a thick red dress was rushing towards the dead Nord, still framed by red on a canvas of white. He had just barely finished the Elf’s hands. “Rolff! Wake up!”
Without thinking Miraak strode towards her and latched one arm around her too skinny shoulders.
Rok los vod, mal gein,” he said, noting that she didn’t fight him.
“Rolff was always so kind to me,” she sniffed. He recognized her from the first time he had set foot in Windhelm with Tharya, when she had offered him flowers at the gate. Sofie. That was her name. Sofie strapped her arms around Miraak’s shoulder, rubbing her cheek into his robe to dry her tears. Always so kind to me. Warily, his gaze traveled to the trio of bodies lying beside the half-burnt pyre.
Geh, mal gein.” He murmured.
“Are you going to bury him?” She looked up at him with hopeful brown eyes the color of his skin, framed by pale features and wiry hair. He tried not to think of Tharya killing him. He tried not to think of her spear standing tall and vengeful in his chest. But he was a priest first and foremost, like he had told Serana months ago. His duty remained to the dead.
“Of course, mal gein,” he replied finally. “In a just moment.”

Sofie watched him for a brief time as he delicately rearranged the bodies, unfolding each richly colored blanket and draping them over each corpse. There was no candles or thuribles, so he simply cupped a summoned flame in his palms and said every prayer he could think of over the three bodies. And afterwards, he sat himself onto the stone at their heads, placing his arms over his knees and staring at the opposite wall. Sofie looked over and walked towards him, her flower basket in hand.
"Are you a priest?" She asked timidly. Miraak eyed the girl for a moment before opening his arm to her. She slotted herself against his side, bringing her knees to her chest and pressing against the excessive heat of his body.
"Of sorts," he murmured, glancing at his hands, blackened from dealing with the trio of charred bodies in front of him.
"I brought some flowers," she whispered after a moment passed between them. "I don't know if..." her sentence remained unfinished. Together they stared at the corpses, covered by thin linen sheets and wrapped in ragged cloth below. It wasn't a burial shroud befitting of them, but it had been all he could gather from the Grey Quarter. Flowers would be a nice touch.
"I do not know their funeral customs," he felt his brow crease. Two Argonians and an Altmer. He should've asked Tharya before dressing them in the rituals of an age long past.
"You did okay." Sofie looked up at him for a moment. "No one else would do it."

When Tharya returned there was a solemn train of Dark Elves at her back, blood on her hands and a limp body in her arms. Miraak didn’t recognize their face but he could remember their race--a Khajiit. They had passed a caravan or two in their travels over the last few months. An etched silver amulet was wound tightly around the Khajiit’s clawed fingers. At her side, surprisingly enough, was a Nord dressed in scaled armor, his pale features grave and disgruntled. He and five other Dunmer, without speaking a word to Miraak, gently lifted the three bodies onto wooden planks. All of a sudden, Sofie shot up.
“Wait!” She reached into her basket, extracting three laurels carefully made of flowers and twine. She hesitated and then turned to Miraak expectantly. He placed each flower crown over the wool blankets and took a step back to let the six of them through to the docks. Tharya was already through the open doors, Khajiit in her grip.
“We should bring Rolff to the Hall of the Dead,” Sofie tugged gently on the Priest’s sleeve, forcing him to tear his eyes from the Last Dragonborn and the grim procession before nodding. Without a word he picked Rolff off the ground and followed the girl across the city to the graveyard and the Hall of the Dead. Not a soul occupied the streets. Not a face was framed by a window. There was no one, and yet he could feel them all, hiding in their homes, hoping that if they turned their eyes away they would not be party to Ulfric’s murdering. An old woman dragged Rolff away and slammed the door. Sofie grasped his fingers and they returned to the docks in the overcast morning sun, where a trio of boats were waiting.

They were pushed out into the Windhelm Harbor, lumbering slowly towards Solstheim, a land none of them had come from, clothed in funeral rites and prayers that they did not understand. Three flaming arrows were sent out and each hit their mark, but when he looked Tharya’s gaze was far away, her movements mechanical, hardly registering what she was doing at all. Notch, aim, fire. Notch, aim, fire. Notch, aim, fire. And then she slid into the empty spot on his left, the same miserable look on her face.
“Who did you kill?” Tharya said nothing. “Ahtlahzey, whose blood is that?” He reached out to grab her arm but the moment his fingertips brushed it, she wrenched it away.
“The guards who did it,” she snarled, a wild look claiming her eyes, “because they massacred innocent people and then hid in the Palace of the Kings like cowards.”
“You-”
“I asked each of them, before I burned them like they burned those three. I asked if they regretted what they did. If they felt any remorse. And you know what they said to me, before they died?” After a tense silence Miraak shook his head. “They said long live Ulfric Stormcloak, High King of Skyrim. They knew what they did. And they knew it was wrong even before they did it, but they were too arrogant and proud to see the blood that would be on their hands, the darkness they had invited, the evil they had rooted in themselves.” Sofie’s little fists curled tightly into Miraak’s robe and she slunk away from the Last Dragonborn.

Her eyes flicked to the three flaming boats in Windhelm Harbor.
“And they did it anyway.”


 

She was silent when they took the Khajiit’s body out of Windhelm, to one of the rocky hills overlooking the city and the sea. She was silent as she built the cairn, a pile of rocks to house the corpse. She was silent when she lifted the Khajiit into it and wound the silver amulet around his clasped hands, and carefully constructed the top of the cairn. She was silent and she did not cry. And she did not return to the city with him. He scrubbed his hands furiously until his brown skin was tinged red with irritation and his fingers and palms were free of the black. And then, to his surprise, each Dunmer thanked him individually, and the Nord who had been with them sat for a long, solemn time and talked about the war. But Miraak had no interest in the war. The Nord offered him and the Last Dragonborn a place to stay but he politely refused, and when the sun was setting he left to find Tharya.

 

“Will you be coming back?” Sofie asked him at the gate. He crouched and touched her cheek.
“I do not know, mal gein.” He replied. She gave him two Dragon’s Tongue and went on her way.

 


 

“That was one of the best people I ever knew,” Tharya mumbled as he approached the tall and regal statue of Talos overlooking the road. “Kharjo. One of the best.” The Khajiit, he remembered. “What the hell was he doing in Windhelm?” She shook her head. “He knew it wasn’t safe. I buried four people today. All good people. All innocent people. All dead.”
Miraak pulled his gloves back on and threw his hood up.
“Their deaths are not your fault, dii fil.” He said quietly. She stood with her spear, sparing him a disinterested glance. Her footsteps crunched in the snow, and she stopped at his shoulder, looking at him. After a moment, he returned her stare.
“What did you do with Rolff?” She asked lowly.
“I took him to the Hall of the Dead.” He replied truthfully. He could tell it wasn’t the answer she wanted, but nevertheless she nodded.
“Good. Give him a proper burial." She stated, staring down at him. "You were right to not include him in the funeral for the others."
"As I thought." Miraak instinctively rubbed his hands.
“A Nord burial." Her tone held incredible malice. "If he's so proud of his heritage...well, he lived like a Nord." She craned her neck to spit on the snow between her feet. "He can die like one too."
“Their deaths were not your fault.” He repeated with strained hope. She looked away, smiling coldly.

 

“If only I could believe that.”

Chapter Text

The Palace of the Kings was the only thing in Windhelm that he truly recognized. The rest of the city had fallen into disarray and nothing short of destitution. Only the Snow Quarter—Tharya had made a rather angry announcement to the empty city about the penalties of calling it the Grey Quarter, and though very few people had been outside of their homes to hear it, he was sure her voice carried—was worse than the rest of the city. Though she held no real power, there was no one left to stop her. Every citizen of Windhelm knew the destruction she could bring about by merely opening her lips, and they seemed wary to test her thin patience. She installed the Nord from the funeral, a man named Brunwulf Free-Winter, as the new Jarl. From what little Miraak could coax from her, he seemed to be a good person. He picked his steward accordingly, a Dunmer called Suvaris Atheron. Jorleif, the old steward, did not leave, but only expressed his regret at not doing anything to hinder Ulfric’s plans. It surprised Miraak that Tharya let him stay.

There was one guard left in Windhelm, as Ulfric had taken all of them to Solitude and left only a handful to do his bidding. Tharya seemed to know him from a murder they’d solved once upon a time. The court mage was a cranky old man who was tough to get a straight answer from, and difficult to intimidate, but with seven feet of Atmoran mage staring him down, he became surprisingly chatty. He had no qualms with the Dark Elves or Argonians, supposedly, but Ulfric had taken his neutral stance as support. Miraak found it...not unbelievable. 

The girl he had met, Sofie, insisted on giving him a tour of the city, though he knew much more about it than she did, he humored her. She gave him another two Dragon’s Tongue and talked about how much better things were going to be now that the Last Dragonborn had fixed everything.
“Do you think she’ll stay and rule?” Sofie asked. Miraak frowned. No, never. Tharya would never settle for such a position...he could hardly even imagine her getting near the throne. Then the freezing rain had swept into the city, and without a word Sofie had huddled in his robes. They tracked back the Palace of the Kings and slammed the doors behind them. They sat at the table and ate silently--rather, he did. Sofie talked and talked and swung her legs, kicked him in the knee by accident once or twice, and drank mug after mug of milk. He had never seen such a tiny person consume so much. He watched it all in quiet amusement.

“Good gods, girl, you’ve all but drained my kitchen!” The cook stomped out into the main hall, swiping the tankard out of her little hands. “I should either beat you or make you go milk the cows to make up for all of this! Shor’s bones...” he grumbled, and looked at Miraak. “Why didn’t you do anything?”
“She is hungry,” he said flatly, eyes narrowing, “and your city has no support for the poor. I fail to see how that is my fault. Or my problem.”

A vein jumped in the cook’s forehead, knuckles going white around the tankard.
“Why you...you’re lucky I know you’re with the Dragonborn, pal, or I’d shove my boot so far up your-”
“Something wrong, Sifnar?” Tharya entered Miraak’s line of vision, settling one hand on the Dragon Priest’s shoulder. “I’m sure you’ve got more than enough supplies before you need to restock.”
“I’ll send the girl to the farms, my lady, but other than that-”
“Why don’t you hire her?” Tharya proposed, cutting him off. Sofie’s eyes lit up and then fell on Miraak, as if he would validate the Dragonborn’s train of thought. “You’re getting up there in years, Sifnar, I’m sure some hired help wouldn’t be a bad thing.”
“A cook’s pay is no thing to live by, my lady,” the Nord seemed to weaken, his wrinkled throat bobbing as he swallowed. “And I ain't one for taking in orphans," the cook eyed Miraak warily.

“Please, oh please, sir! I’ll work hard and learn fast. I’ll do anything. You don’t have to pay me.” Sofie all but jumped off the bench, grabbing one wrinkled and calloused hand and squeezing it.

Miraak raised a dark eyebrow and looked at Sifnar.

"Room and board is a small price to pay for a little help." He said, and tilted his head to one side. "Isn't it?"

The cook deflated under his gaze.

"I...uh, yes. You're right," he sighed, shaking his head, "alright, girl, fine. But you get up early tomorrow, y'hear? Or it's back to the streets with you!"

The Dragon Priest slid off the bench to stand just behind Tharya, arms crossed.
“That will not happen.” He said, tone holding all the finality of the world. There was no room for negotiation. Sifnar only nodded.
“Oh, thank you!” Sofie ran straight into Tharya’s legs, latching one arm around her and the other around Miraak. His body went stiff as a board until she let go, his lips pulled into a distraught line. The cook hauled her off looking disgruntled, and without another word Tharya circled the long banquet table and began moving for one of the black doors that led to the winding corridors arching off the main hall. A question came to Miraak’s lips--she’d hardly spoken a word to him in the days since the funeral, hardly stuck around the palace at all. From what he understood she spent most of her time in the Snow Quarter and with Brunwulf, helping him settle into his new position and dreaming up projects she’d been thinking of for years to better the city.

 

But he said nothing, and let her go.

 


 

That night he didn’t sleep. The clock that he had yet to find in the palace chimed rich and long for midnight, and he lay awake staring into the popping fire across the room. Clouds passed like strangers in front of the moon, first covering it, then exposing its nearly blinding light, and hiding it away again. When he finally decided to get up his leg gave as he stood, and if it hadn’t been for the bedpost he surely would’ve fallen. With a sharp inhale he made his way to one of the chairs near the fire and slumped into it, legs outstretched.

 

“You are no longer my brother,” Vahlok hissed, kicking away the weak and bloodied hands that clutched at his ankles. “You are a monster of your own making.”

Miraak pressed his shoulders back into the hard wood of the chair. So this was what had been bothering him. This was what needed to surface in his mind.

“I will only be satisfied when the Void takes you,” his voice drifted downwards to Miraak’s ears, hard and unloving, but quiet. Mournful, almost, if Vahlok had not made his hatred so overt. “And I am to be the one who sends you there, brother.”

The door to the room was gently pushed open, and Tharya’s magical presence swept over him, making him rigid for a moment, pulling him out of his state of half-consciousness. A sudden pain seized his left thigh and with a tight jaw he clamped one hand around it. No doubt she saw him, because her footsteps were not muffled as she moved to his chair.
“Why are you up?” She questioned.
“I could ask the same of you,” he said tightly.
“I was...meditating,” she replied, her voice laced with a hesitant defiance, “I haven't in a while but it helped to clear my mind.”
“And?” He waited for her answer, but she gave none for a long time. Instead she moved away. He could hear her robes rustling as she undressed and donned her nightwear, returning and putting her hands over each post of his seat and leaning against it.
“Did you really split Solstheim from the mainland when you fought Vahlok?” There was more she wanted to say, so again he waited. “I was just wondering...about my Thu’um. Beside yours, there seems to be a big difference in strength. Maybe I’m just untrained. Yours just seems a lot more powerful. Meditating helps, I feel more in touch with it now. Thinking about the words...” She trailed away. There was something else eating at her nerves, but she only chuckled and let it slide away. She didn't want to be weak.

“No,” Miraak hummed, looking up at the ceiling. “You are stronger than I am.” Her chuckle became a cold laugh.

“Don’t try to make me feel better. Lying doesn’t suit you, big guy.”

“You are stronger than I am,” he repeated, closing his eyes, “as much as I despise them your Greybeards are correct. My Thu’um has been tinged and laced with my anger. My hatred. It appears powerful to you because it is stronger than yours. But it is not a true Voice any longer.”

“The hell is that supposed to mean?” Tharya asked, her voice low and miserable. He could almost feel the frown painted on her lips.

Without another word to her Miraak placed a hand on his chest and closed his fingers together, as if pulling something outwards. His face contorted into minor pain as a few strings of red magic left him, and he cupped them gently in his palm. His free hand reached behind for Tharya’s and did the same from the center of her palm, a pale, whitish-blue light cradled in his digits.

“Your Voice is pure, as it should be.” She circled him and perched uncertainly on the arm of his chair. “Though restrained. You are the one restraining it.” Her mouth fell open to protest. “You have no faith in yourself, ahtlahzey, and that is why your Voice is not as strong as mine.” Miraak said blatantly, and then pressed the whispering red light back into his chest. The Atmoran’s hand fell to the Last Dragonborn’s thigh, and the white magic vanished as well. “You could be stronger than me, you can, if you allow yourself to be.”
“Well,” she sighed, “at least you’re honest.” Miraak hummed lazily in reply. After a damp moment he closed his eyes again, his head drifting to rest against her chest. The tension that settled in her shoulders was unmistakable, before she garnered enough courage to gently thread her fingers into his hair. In nervous movements she stroked his scalp.

 

“When Vahlok attacked I deflected it at the very last moment. I felt the earth shift,” he murmured against the soft cotton of her shirt, foot twitching of its own accord as if he was standing over the splitting dirt again. “My brother did not. He continued to fight with his usual...ferocity,” the Priest shook his head, “and on my next offensive maneuver, I hit the ground.” He held both hands up, flat, thumbs touching, and then slowly shifted them. One went up, the other down. “I drove the split further. And I Shouted...” one hand fell limp onto her leg again, the other returning to his own. “And Solstheim broke away. To answer your leading question.”

She murmured something he didn’t care to hear, though her voice resonated in her chest, filling his ears. Through her touch he focused on the presence of her magicka, searching for a moment beneath layers and layers of hardened Nord warrior to find the arcane craftswoman, the skilled mage inside. Why was it so hidden? And even beyond what he felt were the depths of her person, there was something else. Something warm, caring, something gentle and kind and compassionate. And through this inner soul he could feel the massive expanse of her magicka, the reserves that ran so deep he was sure they rivaled his. But it all lay dormant, unused, untouched, untapped. Did she know...?

“I'm supposed to be the one who didn’t sleep.” She murmured finally, reaching down to take his hand. “Between beast blood and Vaermina, I definitely don’t get a lot.” She chuckled tiredly and gave his fingers a light squeeze. “Which brings us back to my leading question. Why are you up?”

Slowly the Dragon Priest’s eyes fluttered open and he sighed, low and long.

“It is going to rain.” He said plainly. Tharya was quiet for a moment.

“And that's your reason for not sleeping?” 

“When I fought Vahlok, the skies opened and it rained,” his knuckles went white to clutch at his thigh, another spurt of pain searing through it, “I have been able to feel it coming ever since.”

“We should get you to bed then. But I’m not carrying you--I did enough of that on Solstheim, though I don't suppose you remember it.” He snorted weakly. The hobble to bed wasn’t as bad as he thought it would be, though. Tharya slipped in on the opposite side and murmured a goodnight that was lost in her pillow.
“You are much stronger than I believe you realize, ahtlahzey.” He stated just before sleep took him.
“We need to head to Rorikstead tomorrow,” she replied, “but thanks.”

 


 

He didn’t sleep that night, though. He dreamt and dozed in a shallow state of rest, aware of his surroundings and Tharya’s calm breathing, battling his conscious to silence it and allow himself the reprieve of sleep. He didn’t win. When the rain started the pain in his leg subsided a bit, but not enough. Over and over again the image of an icy coast haunted him, with a figure standing far away, enveloped in the winds and snow of a vicious blizzard. But they stood perfectly still, unmoving, uncaring, while the ice seemed to chip at his skin like millions of individual little pickaxes. His hands began to bleed and his face was numb from the searing pain. He would trudge forward and every time, the ice beneath his feet would break, and he would be swallowed by the frigid waters, watch as the transparent ice closed almost immediately over him, like a grotesque mouth swallowing a meal. Snow covered it and pitched him into a cold and unforgiving darkness, and he was alone.

Miraak had lost count of how many times that dream had appeared to him. It had come to him initially in Apocrypha, infinite centuries ago, and had haunted him ever since. Just when he was beginning to forget it...the dream came back. A suspicion in his gut told him the snowy coastline he could see in the beginning was Atmora, and the lake had to be Vatus Pætrio, the mystical body of water that the legends said all life on Atmora had originally sprung from. He had been washed in that lake as a child, a ceremony known as the Fødgatione. To be bathed in the holy waters, to be reborn clean and free of worldly contamination was considered a requirement of Atmoran life, and though he didn’t remember the event, he remembered his mother keeping a small clear phial of Vatus Pætrio’s waters around her neck. Those waters began Atmoran life and they ended it; they were used to clean corpses in preparation for the afterlife. That, he supposed, had been his least favorite part of being a priest.


 

When the morning came it was dimmed by freezing rain attacking the sides and windows of the Palace of the Kings. As the fire had died down overnight Tharya had grown closer and closer to him until, finally, he had put his arms around her and pulled her against his chest. He was slowly beginning to realize that intimacy was incredibly foreign to her, and it made her cheeks and neck flush a particular shade of crimson, but she would not reject his touch. This suited him well; after four thousand years alone, caged in by Hermaeus Mora, he craved the feeling of skin that wasn’t his own.

“Are you awake?” Tharya’s voice pulled him out of his thoughts and his none too refreshing rest, but his eyes didn’t open.
Geh,” he rumbled, his voice low in his throat from lack of use. The Last Dragonborn was quiet for a moment before she tucked her face against his collarbone, hands held to her chest.

“I should probably get up. There is a rebellion on outside this room.” She sighed, warm breath hitting his neck. Aimlessly she traced the three diagonal lines decorating his chest, but halfway down pulled her hand away and curled it against her shoulder. Miraak only hummed his half-hearted agreement. “But I don’t want to.”

“Then do not.”

Tharya smiled against his skin.

“As if it were so simple. And it’s raining.”

“You had prior warning for that, ahtlahzey, ” he chided, slipping his fingertips below the hem of her shirt and flattening his palm to her lower back. Her breath hitched ever so softly in her throat, and she seemed to forget what they were talking about before gathering up a reply:

“Oh, I can suddenly control the weather?”

His golden eyes flicked open and fixed on her.

“You can.”

“Rhetorical.” He wasn’t sure if her shiver was born from his thumb stroking her spine or the cold, damp air that had settled in the room after the fire had burnt out in the early hours of morning. Her fingertips were cooler than the rest of her. “Do Atmorans have thick blood, or are you just regularly hotter than a furnace? Dead of winter and I haven’t seen you sleep with a shirt on once.”
“Thick blood.” He mumbled.

All thought of leaving bed had been washed clean from his mind. He would’ve liked nothing more than to stay like this all morning, close enough where the distant scent of pine wafted to his nose and where he could feel every movement Tharya made, everywhere she tried to discreetly press herself closer to his emanating warmth.
“I don’t know if you heard last night,” her voice was barely above a whisper, “we have to get to Rorikstead today.”
“I heard, ahtlahzey.” She began to speak again but he lifted one hand to her cheek, touching the lines of warpaint there. Her words sputtered and broke off, and after clearing her throat she resumed.
“There’s a monument there that...should be able to help us against Ulfric,” color crept into her face as his fingertips traced the ridge of her cheek, her jaw, “it’s not too far from the town, which might be a problem. But if we act fast,” he could see the vein in her neck pulsing rapidly as he ghosted his digits over her lips, tracing them carefully, “and...and we keep that spell of yours--are you listening?”
“Of course, ahtlahzey,” he grinned and leaned down to give her a leisurely kiss, “I am a wonderful listener.”
“Yeah-” another kiss cut her off, “-alright. Would you-” another. “Let me get a word-” a laugh was threatening to burst from his lips, even if they were occupied, “in! Miraak, you son of a bitch.” Tharya was trying her absolute hardest to reprimand him, he could see it in her eyes, but it was impossible to be mad. Minutely irritated, maybe.
“Do not speak of my mother with such language, ahtlahzey, or we will both regret it.” He said in a voice full of mock warning.
“Unfortunately for you, I regret almost everything, so I’m used to the feeling.” She smiled triumphantly. “Bringing you out of Apocrypha most of all.” She rolled her eyes and sat up, scooting towards the edge of the bed. “You’re the most self-righteous bastard I’ve ever met. I try to talk and save the world and you just show me up and do this .”
Hi sahlo truk,” his grin turned wicked. “Whatever shall you do.”

“Oh, shut up,” Tharya stood and stretched, burying a yawn in her hand. “Get up and put clothes on, big man, we have things to do.”

Silently he sat up, and just before she could step away, curled one hand into her shirt and pulled her back onto the bed. Without a thought her arms latched around his neck, an automatic reaction of sorts, but it only succeeded in pulling his face down to hers where their breath could mingle.
“Yes, I do indeed, dii fil,” he purred, “and I assure you it does not-”
“Dragonborn!”

The door was thrown open with such force it hit the wall behind it, and a young voice filled the room. “Brunwulf sent me up to get you, he-” Sofie trailed away after a second, meeting Miraak’s equally bewildered gaze. “He sent me up to get you.” The girl repeated, and then cast her eyes downwards, toeing the wood floor. “And I...I brought you breakfast.”

With a rather harsh slap to the chest and a silent scolding, Tharya pushed her way out from under the Dragon Priest, not noticing the joyous trembling of his shoulders. Miraak compressed the laugh that was waiting on his tongue with a long exhale and a smug grin before throwing the sheets away and getting out of bed.
“Oh, perfect timing! I’m starving,” Tharya smiled brightly at Sofie and took the tray from her proffering hands. “What did Bruwulf want?”
“Oh! He said there was some kind of fight at Candlehearth Hall last night...and that old guy who always talks about the war got kicked out.”
“Angrenor? Gods, he’s got to kick the bucket already. Do everyone a favor.” After a moment she looked at Sofie. “You don’t repeat that.”
“No, Dragonborn.” Sofie shook her head. “Are you leaving?” Her inquisitive eyes traveled farther into the room and Tharya turned towards Miraak, shrugging on the last layer of his robes.
“We have some...important things to get to,” Tharya set the tray down on the bed and crouched in front of the girl, “you remember Ulfric?” The girl grimaced. “Exactly. We’re going to go make sure he doesn’t have the chance to hurt people anymore.”
“Are you going to kill him?”

The Last Dragonborn was silent for a moment before sharing a look with the First.
“We’re going to take care of him,” Tharya nodded, “I’m not sure what that means yet. I suppose I’ll make it up as I go along.”

 

“That hardly seems like a plan,” Miraak huffed as Tharya put her robes back on. She lingered with the grey wrap, running the fabric through her hands. There was a newfound magic surrounding the cloak, something that hadn’t been there before.
“It’s the only plan we got.” She replied.

They said their farewells to Brunwulf, who seemed rather uncertain about them leaving, but understood that Windhelm was only a small victory. A much bigger battle lay ahead, and it was only a matter of time until Ulfric heard about this little display. Just before they left Sofie more or less forced what she called a “going away gift” into the Dragon Priest’s hands. When he unraveled it, he was surprised to find an endlessly long, cool grey scarf draped over his arms and brushing the floor.
“The Khajiit gave me a discount,” she said after a moment. It was clear her discount was only born of her lack of money; Tharya made her promise to hide the small purse of coins she gave her somewhere in her dress, lest anyone find it and accuse her of stealing.

 


 

“Grey works,” Tharya smiled as she approached, Sofie having scuttled back to the kitchen. Miraak huffed something under his breath and touched the scarf around his shoulders for a moment before pushing it from his mind.
“Come here, ahtlahzey.” Miraak placed his staff on the floor and gestured for her to hold it.
“What’s this?” She raised one eyebrow, taking it from him and holding it upright between them.
“You should know how to cast this spell, if I cannot. Concentrate.” He placed his gloved hands over hers and closed his eyes. A bright orange and blue glow framed his body and then rushed, whispering, down his arms and into her hands, up her elbows and enveloping her as well. This...this was the same magic the Greybeards had used to share their understanding of the Rotmulaag when she first traveled to their monastery. The same magic that came from absorbing dragon souls; a sudden in-depth understanding of something that had been previously unknown. The only difference was that she could feel Miraak’s very self laced into every whisper of knowledge this spell gifted her. He had created this magic, and it reverberated the same way his voice had in her bones so long ago in Apocrypha, booming and all-encompassing.

“Now,” his voice, smooth and low as ever, invaded her thoughts as the glow died away, “think of this monument you must go to. Picture it and nothing else. When you have it in your mind’s eye, reach for it. Concentrate.” She followed his instructions carefully. Gjukar’s Monument. There was an entire company of men there, from a battle long lost on the history books. It was tall, made of a lonesome, leaning stone, with five short pillars around it. A tattered maroon flag was pressed between rocks at the top. She could picture herself standing there, in the short grass, watered by blood all those centuries ago. She could picture her hand reaching out, picture her fingers touching the cool stone...

 

When her eyes opened, they were there.

The sky was still overcast, but there was no rain falling here. The sun hid away behind the darkening clouds. The monument was just a ways off the road, situated in a rolling and grassy field. Just up the barren road from the monument was a village with smoke billowing out of its chimneys and not a soul in sight.
“Damn. Did I do that?” Wonder sparked in Tharya’s eyes as she took in the scenery.
Geh.” Was all he murmured in reply, taking his staff away and making a beeline for the crooked pillar of stone not far from where they landed.

“This is no ordinary monument, ahtlahzey,” Miraak breathed, his feet stopping just in front of it. “It is a testament to a war your people seem to have forgotten. Perhaps you know it.” He placed both hands on the frigid stone, surprised at the magic thrumming below its surface.
“I doubt it,” Tharya snorted, following in his footsteps and tracing one of the many worn Nordic symbols carved into the stone. “The only things I read are tomes, scrolls, and the occasional Elder Scroll.”
“You have heard the name of High King Harald?”
“He’s one of the plaques in Windhelm.” She nodded, brow knitting together.
“And you remember Gelebor, the Odlihll.”
“Of course! I wonder if that’s where the Bow went after we used it.”

The Dragon Priest breathed on his hands to warm them, circling the monument.
“In First Era 139, Harald ordered the eradication of the remaining Snow Elves. A bloody campaign that swept across all of Skyrim. It is only vahzah to assume that this is one of the battles, as I have seen other monuments much like it from the same time...perhaps we can discover what happened.” Tharya took a small step back to examine the almost boyish wonder on his face, the intrigue and fascination. His voice took on a new tone, softer, as if he was speaking more to himself than her. Speculating on a history long past, like a gambler, but all he had to lose was his ideas. “These carvings are too worn to depict what they once did,” he opened one palm towards the sky and a ball of light flew from his fingertips, settling beside his ear. “But, maybe...”
“Maybe...activating the monument would make them clearer,” she suggested, giving a light shrug. “If we don’t draw attention we might be able to get a few rubbings and bring them back to the College?” The Atmoran’s golden eyes widened just enough to show his amazement.
“Truly?”
“Of course,” Tharya patted his arm and laughed, “I knew you’d like that idea. But for now, I need to get in contact with these ghosts.”
Aan lahvu do gaaffe?” He took a step away. “You plan on raising an army of ghosts? Such necromancy-”
“Not raising. Binding.” She wagged a finger at him and then went about drawing a protection rune in the cold dirt with her spear tip. “I don’t know how long I’ll be gone. You can wander, if you want. There’s a fort of Forsworn just over there,” she waved aimlessly into the distance, “dragon burial mound on the hill beside town.”
Niid, ahtlahzey. I will stay.” Miraak said.

Tharya approached the monument again and placed her palms flat against the stone, closing her eyes.
“If I may ask,” the First Dragonborn raised a dark eyebrow, “how did you think to raise--bind a gaaf lahvu for your fight against this tyrant?” The Last shrugged.
“I once read it in a book.”

The monument stuck straight up from the land the same way her spear had stuck out of Rolff in Windhelm. He shook the image from his head when the rock began to glow, each carving suddenly coming alive as if they’d been awakened from a centuries-long sleep. When he drew closer he could see that they were beginning to validate his thoughts; lean figures with pointed ears holding blades in one hand and crudely drawn spells in the other, some with bows, were scattered around the middle section of the pillar. It was divided into three tiers--the middle being the battle, the top being the Nord camp with crouched Snow Elves waiting to strike. The bottom portion showed the Nord’s bodies scattered around the newly erected monument, its flag limp in the wind.

When he rounded the pillar, Tharya was sitting in the center of her rune, spear across her lap and eyes closed. The air hummed with magic around her, vibrant with whatever spells she’d put up to keep herself protected. Miraak sighed quietly to himself, and picked the backpack they’d brought off the ground near her. With luck, while she kept the stone active, he could get some of those rubbings.

 


 

The world between worlds--that’s what this grey, dismal place was called. That’s what she called it, at least. When she looked down her hands and arms were spectral, and hazy around the edges, as if she was the subject of an unfinished painting. Her vision wasn’t much different; it was akin to reading an Elder Scroll, only...her stomach wasn’t about to empty itself. An oval window of clarity was framed by wisps of ever-moving and impenetrable magic. 

 

Once she got her bearings Tharya realized she was in a military camp, which looked hastily and haphazardly set up. There was no pattern to the tents, and her path was narrow and crowded with supply crates. She narrowly missed stepping in a murky puddle that, even in the all-encompassing greyness, looked like blood. Around her soldiers’s faces remained joyless and barren of any emotion. They did not speak to each other, but instead sat in dense silence around low fires and submitted to their bedrolls without a word. Two men carrying a third between them on a stretcher pushed by her with grave looks on their faces. Their companion was bloody beyond recognition. These soldiers were tired, hungry, beaten, most of them, it seemed, courting Death itself. Perhaps they had stopped here for a night of rest and recovery. If only they knew...

“You there!” A brash voice yanked her away from her thoughts, making her whip around to face the large Nord in battered armor confronting her. His glowing eyes narrowed and he examined her from head to toe. “What does one of the living do amongst the dead?”
Tharya raised an eyebrow.
“You’re not dead yet,” she observed, and gestured around the camp. “The Snow Elves-”
“Keep your voice down, mortal one.” The man waved a hand at her. “The others do not know. They are cursed to relive this night, their last, until the end of Time.” His features darkened to a grim, sorrowful frown. “I alone have been burdened with the knowledge of our doom.”

The Last Dragonborn squeezed her spear and sighed as it collapsed inwards, the metal rendered silent in this odd realm of living dead.
“My name is Tharya,” she extended a hand, tucking her spear into her belt below her cloak, “I may have a way to free your men from this...curse, if you help me.”
“Captain Gjukar Iron-Foot,” he replied, grasping her forearm. “What do you have in mind?”

Chapter Text

It had been hours. Hours and hours and Tharya was unmoving, unresponsive. The sun, however obscured it was, was beginning to descend towards the horizon. And in the silence and solitude he had set himself down just across from her, with a tether to the waking world should anything happen. Though it had been more difficult than he imagined, he found his way to the Void--at least, that’s where he assumed he went whenever Morokei spoke to him. He wandered the black emptiness for what only felt like a matter of minutes before it began to eat away at him; the nothingness, the expanse of...absence. There was nothing here but unending darkness.

 

And then, Morokei came.

 

His long hair was put into a neat braid over his shoulder, robes smooth and flowing.
“Miraak.”He drawled in a cold, distinct tone. “Why have you sought me out?” The Atmoran floundered for a second; truthfully, he didn’t know. It had simply been something to pass the time while Tharya was away...

 

“You know what you have promised her, don’t you, dii kul?” Morokei asked, his voice bitter. Miraak had never seen or heard the elder Dragon Priest act like...this. So hateful, so angry. The Morokei he remembered was irritatingly calm, always. “Do you know? You have promised to change. When you knelt before her and wept, her sympathy turned upon you, once again. As the wheel turned upon her, the Last Dragonborn. One. Last. Time.”

Miraak took a hesitant step backwards, noting the glaring rage in Morokei’s eyes.

“You have told her you do remember your old self. Were you lying to her, my son?”

“Niid, I would not lie to her.” Miraak said tersely.

“Perhaps you did and you did not know. You have killed your old self, my son. He is gone.” Morokei spat.

“You must start again, Miraak. You have never been able to change. You must wipe yourself clean...you must rebuild what you cast into those wretched tar pits of Oblivion.” A sudden weight around his neck made him jolt backwards, but it was slight. Like a pendant. Before him a massive lake stretched out to the horizon, swallowing Morokei’s tense face and angry scowl. A woman with dark skin and lovely curly hair bent at the lake’s edge, a baby wrapped in thin cloth in her arms.

 

Althëa. 

 

Miraak felt frozen in place, tied down to the spot his feet had left him at. He knew that woman...this lake, that infant. He knew them all. 

The woman hitched her skirts up and waded into the shallow water with the boy in her arms.

He swallowed thickly, his throat tight with emotion, unable to let any air pass. And one hoarse, broken word left his lips:

“Mother?”

“Finally, we are here. Look around, Miraak--see?” She pointed to something far in the distance and the baby’s little fingers outstretched as well, his whole body craning forward as if he could simply grab it. “Móna should have brought you here weeks ago, my handsome boy.” Móna. Mother, in Low Atmoran. A language he hadn’t spoken in...gods, millennia. 

“Mother,” he took a rigid step forward, still intent on trying to retrieve her attention. But she didn’t seem to hear or see him.

“Look at you, my handsome boy,” Althëa murmured to the babbling infant. He gave a gleeful laugh when his toes skimmed the water. “Today, you are born.”

Do you remember your birthday, Miraak? Tharya’s voice echoed in his head. She had asked him that question so long ago... Niid. I was born in the spring, I believe, but that is all I know.

“Today, you are born.” She said again. His mother cupped one hand in the water and let it trickle down over his head. The tingling feeling of water wetting his scalp and sliding down his neck made him shudder, but his skin and hair remained dry when he touched it.

“Mother,” he wailed, dropping to his knees beside her. The baby looked at him, bright, fiery golden eyes lighting up. His dark face was framed by individual trails of water, but he didn’t seem to mind. Absently Miraak reached out to touch the fabric of his mother’s skirt, the knot in his chest tightening when it felt...when it felt real. Like fabric beneath his fingers. “Móna, please.”

“Welcome to the world, my handsome boy.”

You must start again, Miraak. 

 

He was dragged back into the waking world by a pair of cold iron shackles closing with a synchronized snap around his wrists. Miraak jumped to his feet, opening his fingers to form a spell but nothing came. Golden eyes darting between the three farmers standing in front of him, he tried again, this time concentrating on the flow of magicka down his arms. It came to a painfully abrupt halt at his wrists, and built in pressure like blood until one of the farmers chuckled.
“I wouldn’t do that, First Dragonborn,” she tutted, “your hands might explode.” The Atmoran took a lingering step forward.
“What have you done?” He demanded, low and guttural. He held up his hands and gave the chains a shake. “Where did you get these?” There was no way a handful of rural farmers had come by these...magic-suppressing cuffs by any normal means.
“He asks too many questions,” a gruff male said, and nodded to a presence behind the First Dragonborn. He turned, ready to defend, only to be met with the blunt end of a sword hilt to the temple.
“One of you watch her,” were the last words he was able to grasp from the heap he crumpled to on the ground, “she’ll wake up soon enough.”

Around him, the world slipped away into darkness.

 

“Sun’s going down.” Gjukar remarked from the opening of his tent. Tharya followed his gaze outwards, to the amorphous grey blob in the sky. She hadn’t thought it to be the sun before, but with the blending monotone colors of everything else around her, she couldn’t recognize a lot of things for what they were.
“When do the Snow Elves come?” The Last Dragonborn asked quietly, squeezing her spear to its full length.
“Just after nightfall.” The captain replied, voice low and glum. He let the grey fur flap tumble over the threshold and sat himself in a rickety, grey wooden chair, eyes fixed on a torn grey map. “Your spear, Dragonborn. Why does it...have color? In this place, of all places.” The both of them examined the spear together, its vibrant golden color and powerful glow.
“It’s divine,” she answered after a moment. “That’s my wager, at least.”
“Dragonborn,” Gjukar repeated, not to get her attention but in quiet wonder and awe. “With your power on our side, maybe we would have won this bloody war. Maybe we would have driven every last one of those white-skinned bastards from Skyrim.”

 

Tharya shifted her weight for a moment. The atmosphere in the tent changed as she did, and she could only assume that was the Middle Realm’s way of changing the time of day. The sun was extinguished, and the Snow Elves would be coming any minute now. A cold feeling of finality settled over her shoulders.
“You know, I met a Snow Elf not long ago. There was two of them left.” She said, watching Gjukar look up at her with a detached and mild interest. “They’re not bad people. In fact, their architecture, their magic...” she shook her head and a small smile touched her face, “it’s fascinating.”

“Hm.”
“In fact, weren’t they here first? When Ysgramor settled here, wasn’t he invading their lands? So doesn’t that make us the immigrants, the outsiders?”
“You know an awful lot about our situation, Dragonborn, for someone who claims to be neither from the past nor present.” Gjukar stood and wordlessly drifted towards his bed in the corner of the tent. With an air of ceremony he lifted his sword from the furs and secured it around his waist.
“I met a four thousand year old Atmoran along the way.” She chuckled.
“Four thousand years?” Now that seemed to catch the captain’s interest, making his bushy brows rise steadily. “I had heard our great ancestors were blessed with extended life, but...did not think it so...extended.”
“Oh, well. He was...trapped, somewhere, for centuries. Time passed differently. I’m not sure how old he was when he was sent there.” Tharya shrugged lightly. Outside, a sharp cry went up. An alarm. Soon enough, the commotion outside the tent began.
“Is this Atmoran traveling with you, in the future?” Gjukar seemed none too phased by the fighting.
“Should we be doing something about that?” The Arch-Mage made a vague gesture to the world beyond the tent.

 

“You cannot change history, Dragonborn.” Gjukar settled with a sigh back into his chair. He seemed poised and collected, but...waiting for something. Expectant. “My men and I have been cursed to relive our last night for eternity. I envy their ignorance,” he cast a sidelong look to the shadows darting across the thin strips of light that framed the tent flap, “each time, they fight, for they do not know. But I have lost count of how many times these Merfolk have killed me, and I do not fight anymore.”

 

Regardless of his words, Tharya spun her spear expertly on her fingers, the tip pointed outwards and ready for attack.

“After, there will be a brief period of darkness. The world will slowly fall into place. There, Dragonborn, you may ask of me what you came to ask.”

 

The first clashes of steel rang outside louder than churchbells, and the anguished cries of the slaughtered went up in unholy cacophony. Gjukar remained still and grim.
“Tell me about these Snow Elves you met, Dragonborn.” He said. “I would learn about them for the first time before they kill me for the last.”

 

“Oh, but he is much more good-looking than our last catch.”
“Too many scars.”
Ugh. Still with the complaining?” Cold fingertips just barely brushed over the three parallel lines breaking the brown landscape of his skin. “It is an acquired taste.”
“It’s disgusting, is what it is. Too tough when it cooks.”

 

That sentence made his eyes flick open, slowly. A low groan rumbled in his chest. When he tried to move, stretch his cramped muscles, a flash of hot pain crawled up the back of his head and sent black dots into the corners of his vision.
“Oh, the pretty one is awake.” A handful of pale, cloudy faces crowded around him. Hands settled on his legs, one on his side and another gently touched his forehead. “Did you really have to hit him so hard?”
“Look at him! He could’ve crushed me with his pinky finger,” a shrill, female voice spoke.
All at once, he became acutely aware of his surroundings. His wrists and ankles were bound to a cold stone table. Above him, hanging on a short chain, was what looked like a giant metal arrowhead. It was aimed straight for his stomach, and with a chilling thought he realized what it was: a drill. Just below the drill on the wall was a grotesque face, with its jaw hanging open and long, pointed teeth protruding downwards. Ready to devour. To feast.

He made an alarmed noise in the back of his throat, feeling the cool and damp gag that pressed around his mouth tighten as if it was...reacting to him. Every muscle in his body flexed hard against his restraints, and when he tried to summon magic to his hands it was blocked the same as before. That didn’t matter, though, he had the ultimate power of the Thu’um. The beginnings of a Shout knit together low in his core, and with a ragged inhale the First Dragonborn prepared to deliver all these Nords to their gross god--

 

But nothing happened. His lips didn’t move, and the unconnected Words died in his throat, leaving him with a heavy feeling of missed fulfillment. A vein jumped in the side of his neck as he tried again, and a low, dull roar was muffled by the gag when again, his Shout dissipated. Where did a village of farmers come across artifacts powerful enough to not only stop his magicka in its tracks, but suppress the might of his Thu’um?
“I suppose we should thank Namira for these binds,” a low, grinding voice remarked from outside his line of vision. “With his magic and his tongue freed...just imagine what damage he would cause.”
“Certainly too much trouble for supper.”
“Oh, but couldn’t we free his tongue?” A sultry suggestion from his left side. A pair of slender fingers that were cold as a corpse stroked through his hair. “Imagine the pleasure.”
“Contain yourself, Reldith.” A man snapped. Somewhere a door swung shut, and the people crowded around the table seemed to stand a little straighter, dispersing themselves around the room. “You had your fun with the last one. This catch belongs to Harath.” A few absent claps and congratulations went up. Miraak couldn’t see this Harath, but he knew once he got himself free, his would be the first neck snapped. 

 

The strangers left him for a while, and his struggle resumed. Every time he pressed his wrists upwards against the cold, biting metal it remained unmoved. He could lift his head just enough to see their dull glow of ancient magic. His robes were gone, but sitting safely on his chest, close to his neck was the necklace he’d felt earlier, in the Void. He examined it carefully, craning his neck to see better. It was on a worn piece of twine, and made of fine glass. A little teardrop shaped phial, with an intricately made brass cradle hugging the bottom. There looked to be water in it, but...water from what?

 

“Oh, just look at you, handsome thing,” the same low and smooth female voice from before returned to him. As if he’d been hit, the Dragon Priest flattened against the cold stone, inhaling sharply. “Hush, now, little lamb. I won’t hurt you.” A smooth fingernail dragged over the long stubble lining his jaw. “Unless you like the pain, my darling.” He tried to form a response, anything, in Dovahzul or Common, but the gag was too tight. He could barely move his jaw. All he could do was glare, igniting the raging fire in his golden eyes. The Altmer woman chuckled slowly. “I can look like her, you know. If you’d prefer it.” He watched in horror as the air around her seemed to shimmer, her golden skin and pointed ears disappearing. The countenance that took their place was paler, rounder, with six crisscrossing lines of carefully drawn war paint and pale grey, almost clear eyes. Warm lips he thought all too fondly of curled into a wicked smile. “Would this be easier for you, my darling?” Gods, she even had Tharya’s voice. It sent a shudder of mixed emotions straight up his legs. She walked her fingers carelessly up the center of his stomach, starting dangerously low at his waistline. Up, up, up, never once straying to touch a scar, through the divet between his pectorals, pushing the necklace aside, and fixed her hand firmly on his jaw.

“Your devotion to her is... touching,” Reldith purred, forcing his furious gaze up to hers. “Perhaps, if Lemkil returns soon enough, you will see her one last time.” Her hand roamed his torso freely, this time lingering on each scar, seeing what made gooseflesh of his arms and what made his thighs clench. This was not the same as Tharya’s touch, no, he could tell. She held an intriguing mix of confidence and caution, warm in her actions but inquisitive, questioning. This was too familiar, too lustful, too physical. But he couldn’t go anywhere--powerless, held against his will, in unfamiliar territory with a host he had no strength against.


This was just like Apocrypha.

 

Miraak closed his eyes, trying with every fiber of his being to block out the wandering hand, instead searching as far as he could for Tharya. The real Tharya. They were connected, she and him, though he didn’t know the exact means of their connection he knew it ran deeper than magic. It was as natural as the waking world, as fixed as death and taxes, as brilliant and strong as the setting sun. He hoped against all hope that these cuffs, this gag would not be able to stop it.

 

His searching was cut off abruptly by a new pair of hands, calloused and large, seizing his biceps. When his eyes flew open the people had collected around him again like moths to a flame. Two torches were fixed to either side of the large, upright grotesque head above him.
“Rorik, would you lead us?” The Altmer woman stood again, this time looking like herself. Part of his resolve wilted away. He had found some kind of sick comfort in seeing Tharya’s face again, even with the scorching knowledge it had not been her. If it had been the last face he had seen, he would have one less regret before dying.
The farmers all joined hands around the stone table. Just above him, he could see Rorik’s hand twined with Reldith’s.
“Mistress of Decay and Devourer of Dead, hear us now, as we bring this sacrifice forth unto you.” With a bone-chilling shriek of metal, the suspended drill above him stiffened. The chain holding it went rigid and taut, each chain link groaning against the other as if it was being pulled downwards by some great force. “Mistress of Decay and Devourer of Dead, hear us now, as we break our bread.” He swore he saw the drill make a single, sluggish revolution. Miraak blinked repeatedly, but it was plain as day: the drillhead was spinning, painfully slow. “Mistress of Decay and Devourer of Dead, hear us now, as we offer this sacrifice unto you.” Another revolution, this time faster. It dawned on him that, with another terrible screech and scrape, the drill was beginning to lower. No, no no. This can’t be happening. This wasn’t happening, not to him. Not after he’d survived Apocrypha, all those years at the submission of Hermaeus Mora, he couldn’t fall victim to another Daedric Prince. He wouldn’t. He was the First Dragonborn, unbeaten, unweathered, invincible, untouchable. He had cheated Time and Death and he would not fold now. “Mistress of Decay and Devourer of Dead, hear us now, and come as he is bled.”

 

The drill was coming faster now, and he’d resorted back to straining against the cuffs. It was useless. Even with his back arching off the stone, his legs bent, there was nothing. The harder he pulled the harder it seemed there were invisible hands slowly tearing his arms and feet off. They began to repeat the chant, this time with every voice joining in, and the drill started to spin faster. No, no, no! Not when he had something to live for, not now! Not when he’d made his amends, not when he’d made promises, not when he had so much unfinished work. Not when he had just started over again.

 

The drill made a high-pitched sound as it cut through the air over and over again, almost like a whine. It lowered and lowered inch by painful inch. Not like this, please, Akatosh, not like this. Not your mortal firstborn. The one you abandoned for so long, left to rot in the clutches of another Daedra--was this truly his fate? A few months of bliss, of life, of living, of...love, even?  That was all he got, while others got a lifetime? A lifetime of the pleasures of the world, of the ups and downs of life, of the comfort of a lover, the breath of the sky and the sun against their face? He supposed he deserved it. Akatosh, ever turning a blind eye on his mortal firstborn, ever leaving him to fend for himself. Akatosh was punishing him for every little wrong he had ever committed. And he would die, here, on this table. Devoid of faith, devoid of magic, devoid of Voice, devoid of love, devoid of Tharya. He did not want to accept it. He fought it like he fought the Cult, like he fought Vahlok. Hot tears stung his eyes, but they did no service to him now in death except humiliate him.

 

When the drill’s metal head pierced his skin he screamed, and the gag almost loosened. A shred of his Voice escaped. The sick sound of tearing, churning skin reached his ears. He willed it to stop. But the boring of a hole through his stomach did not halt, and within moments, though the drill moved ever slightly down, it had only just broken all layers of his skin when a shriek filled his ears.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

 

He looked up to see a tendril of golden magic wrapped around the stiff chain, and followed it across the room towards the source: an outstretched hand clad in a Nordic gauntlet. The owner of that hand was a pale blonde mage with six crisscrossing lines of carefully drawn war paint and pale grey, almost clear eyes. A deep scowl was etched into every plane of her face. Despite everything, Miraak let an exasperated noise leave his throat. Tharya.

 

Before anyone could move a muscle she launched her spear forwards. With the crunch of bones it flew threw Rorik’s chest and clear through him, into Reldith. Then it shot back between two others just beyond his vision, presumably into Tharya’s hand. She gave a yank and the drill shattered, spewing black smoke and shimmering metal dust over him.

Fus...ro dah!

 

Her Shout filled him with a temporary surge of strength and power. She had meditated on those words; that was the loudest and the most powerful he’d ever heard them fall from her lips. Bodies were sent flying and the Last Dragonborn surged forward, dodging a wide swing of a blade and thrusting her spear forward into a Nord man’s gut. Behind her, a tall farmer woman lifted a chair and brought it down over her shoulders. But Tharya only yelled in frustration, whipping around to Shout the woman to Oblivion in a bout of flames. Another sword flew from the shadows, this time held at bay by her golden spear.
“You’ll never leave here alive, Dragonborn!” The man crowed, straining downwards against her blocking spear.
“Fuck you,” she spat back, and drove her solid steel toes between the man’s legs, which gave out, submitting his throat to the tip of her spear.

The last woman was cowering against the table, whimpering a prayer to her cannibalistic god in a broken and trembling voice.
“When you get to Oblivion, tell them who sent you.” Tharya said, voice rigid but level. The woman only shrieked when the speartip pierced her heart, and she slumped against it, the rest of her prayer lost to the silence of death.

 

She leaned her staff, its glow vibrant and strong, against the grotesque head and healed him before saying anything. He gave an anguished moan, skin crawling as it knit back together, the wound disappearing but his dark skin still smeared with blood. Removing the cuffs was slow work; he watched as flames enveloped the point of her spear and she cut each off with careful movements of her molten weapon. The moment his hands were free he tore the gag away and shot up, arms folding around Tharya and crushing her against him. A weak sob left his lips.
“Hey, hey, you’re alright,” she soothed immediately, trying to ease his steel grip and rubbing his shoulders. “I’m here, dii mul gein, you’re safe now.”

 

He hadn’t cried in centuries, hadn’t allowed himself the luxury of it, but now he sunk down and buried his face in her robes and wailed like an infant. And Tharya, never missing a beat, always knowing what to do, always present, put her arms around him and let him. He hated crying. He hated how weak he sounded, his breath hitching and coming out in high, broken sobs, the way he lost control of his own body. How small it made him feel. Tharya said nothing of true importance, only small reassurances that melted into the background as she held him. Steadfast as always. Why couldn’t he have her stability?

 

“I have never felt the fear of death, dii fil,” he breathed into her shoulder once he found his voice again, hoarse and wrecked as it was. But his heart would not calm, and his constricted chest would not allow him a deep, renewing breath he sorely needed. “I have never had cause to fear it. As a Priest...” he shook his head, cutting that thought off. His shaking fingers curled and uncurled from the fabric of her robe. “I have never had anything to lose from dying.”

“You’re alright now,” she squeezed him, “you don’t have to explain anything to me, Miraak. All that matters is that you’re safe.” Her hand moved in slow circles between his shoulder blades.

“But I believe,” he went on as if she hadn’t said anything, inhaling slowly and shakily, “I believe I have feared death for the first time in my life. Because I have much to lose, now.”

He pulled her closer, if that was even possible, and tucked his face into her chest, his next words barely above a whisper: 

“I have you.”

“You have to let yourself feel things, dii mul gein,” she placed her hands on either side of his face, forcing his golden gaze up to her clear eyes. The eyes he hadn’t meant to fall in love with but had anyway. Her warpaint—the warpaint he’d drawn on, the warpaint he loved too—shifted when she smiled at him. “It’s the only way to get through life.”

 

She found his robes and kept watch while he got dressed; it was slow work. His hands were shaking more than he cared to admit and every so often, the wind outside howled, drawing his attention up and towards where Tharya stood vigilantly between corpses. As if she’d disappear again. As if this was the afterlife, he was already dead, and she was about to lead him either into the shining gates of Sovngarde or the dreadful emptiness of the Void. But when he turned there was no body on the stone slab, and nothing but a broken chain hanging above it. Sofie’s scarf was the last thing he put on, pressing it briefly to his nose and inhaling. It smelled of wood and fresh mountain air.

 

The ladder creaked under their combined weight and Tharya threw the trap door open above them, leading to a small but well-furnished house.
“This is Rorik’s manor. We’ll stay at the inn.” Tharya turned when he gave no reply. “It’s safe to assume anyone who wasn’t down there isn’t a Namira worshiper.” She reached for his gloved hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze, though her fingers couldn’t wrap entirely around his palm. “Mralki is a good man.”

The farther they were from Rorik’s house, the more truth her words held. Though the glow never went away--he suspected the entire town was built on Daedric magic and worship--the light from her spear did weaken a bit by the time they reached the inn. It was small, with only four rooms and a long fireplace in the main chamber, framed by bench tables and wooden pillars. The innkeep and the young man dressed in iron armor seemed to know Tharya well, and rejoiced at her arrival. They were the only souls in the building, it seemed.

 

Their conversation was lost on Miraak’s ears. Everything faded into a muffled hum, and his entire body felt numb. Not a frigid numbness, but rather one brought on by nerves so paralyzed with emotion, they became unresponsive. All he felt was Tharya’s hand in his own, the occasional swipe of her thumb over his knuckles or the movement of her pinky finger. The jingle of coins on the wooden counter barely reached him, and before he knew it she was bringing them to one of the rooms to the right of the fire.
“Miraak?” her voice broke his foggy trance like a hammer breaking glass. He blinked slowly, taking in their surroundings. A double bed covered in a thick wool blanket and a fur throw, a small fireplace tucked into one corner, a round table situated with two chairs, and a round wooden tub standing upright against the wall. A short bookcase that was sparsely populated. “Miraak,” she repeated, gently urging his wandering gaze down to her. “I’m going to set some wards outside.” He noticed she’d pulled part of her grey cloak up to cover her hair. “Take a bath,” she made a vague gesture to the wooden tub, which looked like it would be fit for an Atmoran child rather than a grown man, “you’ll feel better.”

 

Despite the soft reassurance in her voice, he didn’t think that bathing would make him feel anything. Even so, when she left and whispered an enchantment onto the door’s lock, he stood like a statue before slowly making his way to the wooden tub. He stared at it for a long moment. His mother had used one similar...when he was but a boy who barely reached her hip.

 

Summoning the water was not hard; he took it from the air around him and earth below him, and held flames in his closed fist beneath the surface until steam rose. Undressing came mechanically and easily to his hands, but just as he shrugged the last layer of his robes off he spotted a cracked and faded mirror beside a washbasin near the door. When he approached he had to lean so close he was almost touching it just to clearly see his own features. He rehearsed the motion of touching the parallel scars over the bridge of his nose before standing again.

 

As predicted, the bath was much too small. He let his head fall back with an irritated sigh. Everything here was too small. The water just barely pooled between his lower stomach and thighs, and his bent knees were clear above the rim of the wooden tub. His feet were flat on the cool stone. Gods above, his elbows nearly touched the floor. For once, could something just...work? There was nothing for him, anymore. Even the use of magic was frowned upon, shunned. His past life in servitude of the dragons would surely get him hanged in some villages they’d passed through. His misdeeds and actions thousands of years ago, and maybe even more recent ones, would mark him a pariah. Trying to kill the Last Dragonborn? Take over Solstheim? What had he been thinking?

 

When the door opened again and clicked shut, he lazily opened one eye to find Tharya. She was looking at him with confusion dancing behind her tired gaze. He held one hand out.
Aav zey.”

“You barely fit yourself,” she observed, “I’m going to bed.”
Ahtlahzey.” He said, voice low and thick. There was an edge of command but it was lost in the exhaustion of his sigh. He had no power over her, not anymore; somehow, that felt right. “I would like you to.”

She chewed her bottom lip for a moment, looking between him and the water and the window before setting her spear down. One errant hand came to undo the elegant pin holding the grey cloak at her shoulder.

“Close your eyes.”

 

Miraak fixed with her with an intrigued gaze before obliging.

 

He could feel her hover just beside him for a moment before grasping his hand and placing one foot slowly after the other in the water. He pressed her knuckles to his lips and didn’t let go until she sat, adjusted herself, and leaned back against his thighs.
“Where did that necklace come from?” Her voice was broken by shyness and a timid tremor, but she only wanted to rid the silence between them. He let her fingers go, absently touching the glass phial against his collarbone.
“I admit, I am not entirely sure yet.” Her shoulders, tense and on edge, shifted as she gave a light shrug.

 

The Last Dragonborn swallowed tightly, examining the Atmoran in front of her--and now, below her--in the firelight. With his eyes closed he looked almost asleep, if it wasn’t for the occasional movement of his arms or the adjustment of his leg. She didn’t think he was looking for something to say, or waiting for her to speak again; Miraak had always been comfortable in silence, sometimes preferred it, lived in it. Some part of her wished she could do the same, but another part didn’t think she could survive such seclusion. For a man who clearly had distaste for his appearance he seemed to have little problem inviting her into such a private act. Maybe not anymore--maybe, after she had helped him heal his eyes, remove the taint...maybe he could have even an inkling of well-deserved pride in himself again. Not the facade of arrogant self-righteousness he so easily donned. 

 

She lost herself, as she had many times before, tracing the line of his jaw with her eyes and the outline of his lips, the ridge of his nose, dark eyebrows, his near-black hair that shared the same color as the chocolates her uncle had once brought back from Cyrodiil. She tried to imagine him without the scars, what he would’ve looked like under the Dragon Cult, before rebelling. Or even as a child. He had spoken precious little of his mother, but never of his father. Any time he brought up his past it was almost always beneath the Cult, as a Priest, as First Mage. 

 

Her gaze was lingering on the phial around his neck when familiar golden eyes flicked open to stare at her. She didn’t notice until he gave a low chuckle, the sound traveling from his throat, and then folded her arms tightly over her chest.
Miraak,” she frowned.
Unslaad krosis, dii fil. I thought perhaps you had more to say.” His grin was slight and not unkind. For a moment, Tharya could see the shadow of the man he’d been, or the beginnings of the man he was turning into. The Dragon Priest opened one arm to her, to which she gave a skeptical glance. “Meyz nu, dii fil.” Still she did not move; Miraak sat up slowly, shutting his eyes again as he did, and leaned forward to give her a languid kiss.

Dreh hi ulaak waan zu haalvut hi? ” He asked slowly, arms still lying on the edges of the tub. Even with his eyes closed, he could feel the negative shake of her head in the way her lips brushed over his.
Fask.” She said after a moment, her Dovahzul pristine but surprising, in some way, as he couldn’t remember the last time she’d spoken the dragon tongue. It was a single word, by no means a sentence, but he immediately understood every implication and warning behind it.
Do rahlo, dii fil. Fask.

 

He dipped his hands below the warm water before placing them against her thighs, feeling her breath catch against his mouth. Gradually his palms climbed upwards, pulling her closer until her crossed arms were pressed to his chest. He stopped to mold his hands to her hips, memorizing the feeling of her skin, pressing his thumbs in circles in a silent plea to have her relax. Up her sides, sliding around to her shoulders, tracing her neck before cascading down her arms. His fingers settled lightly around her wrists, and this time he found her intense gaze through half-lidded eyes.

“Do not hide yourself from the world, ahtlahzey,” he said in a soft voice, rubbing the tips of his fingers mesmerizingly slow into her hands. “They would be remiss to not bask in your strength and intellect.”

She remained silent, but he could feel the tension slowly ebb out of her body under his touch.

“Or, at least, do not hide yourself from me.”

 

He wished he could’ve seen the waterfall of emotions and thoughts that passed over her features, the creasing of her brow and the multiple times her lips parted to speak but no words came out. All he heard was an uncertain exhale and a worried noise of defeat. A gleaming smile invaded his features when she allowed him to unravel her arms and slide them around his shoulders, her fingers latching into the hair at the nape of his neck.

“You have nothing to hide, dii lokaal.” He murmured against her ear, clasping his arms at her waist and leaning back once more. Tharya tucked her face beneath his jaw and he peppered her exposed shoulder with kisses, each lighter than the last. “You have nothing to fear.”


And maybe, for once, just maybe, she could bring herself to believe him.

Chapter Text

hello my summer children/good friends/loyal readers/awesome humans!!!

 

some FUN THINGS going on:

 

1. i just heard that AO3 won a hugo award which means (by some stretch of logic) WE ARE ALL HUGO AWARD WINNERS!! look at us go!! we're so cool you guys

2. thewolfwhowaited has ALSO just informed me that it is fanfic writer appreciation day!! i did not know we had a day but that's pretty lit too! so to all my writer comrades, take pride in your work! don't put yourself down, and always try to better yourself and your work through healthy means and fair and healthy constructive criticism. know that i am always here for you guys and keep writing! start writing, keep writing, but never stop ending (unless you need to pee or eat)

3. ON THAT POINT, readers! you are soooo important too! i know from personal experience that comments really, really make my day so much brighter. it inspires me and makes me so elated to see that other people are enjoying the work i do, and get excited about it, and all the good stuff. i love you guys so much, and honestly i wouldn't be brave enough to post without you guys. your kudos & comments mean everything to me, and i'm sure to a majority of other writers too. thank you all!! (and never be scared to do some writing yourself!!!)

4. TOMORROW IS 8.22.2019!! translate over to Skyrim calendar: 22nd of Last Seed which is our problematic fav Tharya's, Last Dragonborn, Arch-Mage of Winterhold, local borderline alcoholic, evader of dastardly daedric plans, savior of Tamriel, menacing Talos worshiper, and lover of your OTHER local problematic fav Dragon Priest...BIRTHDAY!!!! born in 4E 175, this crazy woman has been simultaneously entertaining, exhausting, and saving all of Skyrim for a ripe however many years. by tomorrow night there'll be a birthday post (or two) up and i'll put the links here. i won't ask y'all to write shit for/with me ((but that would be so cool (ಥ﹏ಥ) )) but i invite you kids to celebrate! if there's any birthday ideas you have let me know and i'll write them!!

 

THAT'S ALL FOLKS! back to writing miraak getting snacked on & tharya bro-ing out with ghosts (with a dramatic swing of my cape, i disappear in a puff of smoke darker than night. offstage there is coughing)

Chapter Text

“This...this is your war base, Dragonborn?”
Gjukar’s ghostly figure stepped into place beside her just as the sun dipped entirely below the horizon, bringing a sudden sheet of darkness over the land.
“It is,” Tharya mumbled, her voice low and morose as she scanned the destruction. “Whatever’s left of it.”

 

They had returned early in the morning to Fort Amol via Miraak’s spell, only to find its tower smoking and its walls bloody. The Imperials and Stormcloaks alike who had come here, broke bread here, drank and made friends were all dead or missing. Tharya had no doubt they were taken prisoner, and for a while her suspicions were true. A Stormcloak lieutenant with sandy hair was the first to stagger out and meet them, collapsing at the Dragonborn’s feet, speaking of her sister, Lilika, and that she was safe inside. And in her arms, he died. Tharya found her sister in the tight and protective embrace of a young Bosmer Legate, who had locked them both in a forgotten storage closet. He introduced himself as Arimir, and Lilika hugged her sister and sobbed about the carnage the Stormcloaks had wrought.

 

By late afternoon, soldiers, some wounded, some dead and carried between their comrades, some grim-faced and covered in blood but no worse the wear, began to trickle back into the fort. So they were not prisoners; they had escaped, and not gone far. Arimir had sent out a raven with the message the Dragonborn had returned, and so they, too, came back. They cried and mourned and drank and slept. Some died of their wounds. They were cried over and mourned and drank to. Miraak submitted himself once again to his priesthood and performed as many funeral rites as he could, and from her perch on the battlements above the great stone arch leading into the fort’s courtyard, she watched him move from corpse to corpse, from dying soldier to dying commoner, closing eyes and clasping hands and treating wounds. He shed the outside layer of his robes and pushed his sleeves up, and by dark his forearms were matted with blood. When he stilled for even the shortest moment another died or another needed his assistance. And always, he went. 

 

The women who had come with their husbands or sons were kept busy by washing clothes and stripping bandages, giving water to the thirsty or dying and cooking, cooking endlessly, enough to feed a small army. As Gjukar appeared to speak with her, one old maid was bullying the Dragon Priest out of his dirty and bloodstained clothes and shoving a bucket and thin bar of soap into his hands before he could even protest. On the dim edges of the firelight, he sat and began the long work of washing his arms.

 

The Last Dragonborn absently touched the ring sitting around her finger--this ring was what bound Gjukar and his men to her, for now--before sighing.
“Ulfric must’ve attacked while we were in Rorikstead.” She said quietly.
“What foul man have you put on the throne, Dragonborn?” Gjukar shook his head, his long, braided hair unmoving. “If what you have told of Windhelm is true, then he is more unworthy of the seat of High King than I thought.”
“The blood is not yet dry in Windhelm.” Tharya said tightly. “And before it seeps into the stone I will have Ulfric’s head on a pike at the gates of Solitude.”
“You are fighting a brute with brutality,” Gjukar chided, crossing his arms over his broad chest. “The brute thrives off brutality. He is born into it, lives in it, bathes in it. To fight him as you are now would only serve to feed his fire, Dragonborn. Tread carefully.”

And just as she went to reply, the ghost disappeared. 

 

Tharya, for the first time since noon, took the steps off the battlements and wandered over to Miraak, hanging in the shadows for just a moment. His movements switched between slow and methodical, as if he was easing the blood off, and then became vigorous and hasty. He scrubbed furiously at his hands and wrists, seemingly determined to rub his skin to the bone if need be. And then, after soaking them in the water for a moment, he glided his palms down from the top of his forearms, pushing the loosened dirt and caked blood off, leaving only faint red water in its wake.
“Thank you,” she put her hands on his shoulders and leaned down to kiss his hair. A long sigh escaped his lips but he didn’t speak for a time.
“You need not thank me for performing my duty,” he said finally, “it has been many years, but I am no less of a priest.”
“I can remember a time you wouldn’t have bothered.” She replied distantly, eyes fixed on the crackling flames of the fire. With a sigh of frustration Miraak let the now-crimson rag fall to the side of the bucket, rolling his shoulders beneath her palms. A small pop made him groan. He leaned back against her and closed his eyes.
“As can I.”

Without another word she took her grey cloak off and draped it over his shoulders.
“I want to show you something.”

 

He took her extended hand and muffled an onslaught of yawns into his fist as they crossed the fort beneath the moonlight. She did not speak to him, and likewise, he said nothing to her. She had run out of things to say. Death loomed over them, and it threatened everything this rebellion stood for, everything they had created, everything they planned to do. Ralof watched them pass from the doorway, a smoking pipe in hand and a faraway look in his blue eyes.

 


 

She took him to the forge, which had gone out and not been relighted. Axe heads stilled lined the walls, carved hafts sitting unattached, greatswords displayed on the tables, shortswords on the dirt floor below. This is where they had found the blacksmith from Riften, dead in a pool of his own blood. No weapon in sight except the ones he created. The Stormcloaks had killed him without a second thought. Upon seeing his body, Tharya had only uttered one thing: What kind of monsters kill innocent blacksmiths in their forges? And he had left her, at her own request, to weep with some semblance of privacy. The dirt was still darkened where his corpse had lain, and she stepped gingerly over it as is his body was still there.

“I spent a long time getting the steel to its strongest. Balimund said the fire salts would help, and I’d be lying if there wasn’t a bit of magic involved.” She was rummaging in a dark corner for something. “I was disappointed when you said it broke, but I knew how distraught you were, and I would feel bad just making it worse.”
Ahtlahzey? ” He raised an eyebrow, and she finally turned with a glimmer of a smile on her lips. She circled the forge and presented him with a sword, tucked safely into its leather scabbard. He recognized that scabbard. A blood-red gem on the hilt was dull in shine but brilliant in color, and with wide eyes a memory of a time not long past came flooding back to him.

 

He smacked aside the oncoming arrow with the flat of the blade--a highly calculated, risky move, but one he’d learned years ago--and moved forward. The Keeper grunted as it reached for another arrow, but he drew closer, closer, breaking into a run, raising the blade above his head and giving a triumphant roar, swinging Tharya’s sword towards one bone-armored leg, and then-

It shattered.

In one move he drew it from the scabbard, its new blade glinting proudly in the moonlight, the red lines of enchantment soaring to life, cloaking the blade in dancing flame.
“Reforged is the broken blade,” Tharya chortled to herself. “It was my father’s idea. He said...the sword will come back to us one way or another. Best let someone who will make good use of it have it, for now.” He watched as the blade slid effortlessly back into its sheath, the flames snuffed out as the hilt fell into place. “So don’t die without giving it back.”

Tharya examined the wonder etched into his features before giving a weak smile, patting his chest as she passed.
“Happy Saturalia, big man.”

 


 

“I did not get you anything.”

“For what?” Tharya kicked her boots off, throwing her grey cloak over the back of a chair in front of the fire.
“Saturalia,” Miraak half-mumbled into the pillow, watching her undress in the dim light.
“I don’t need anything,” she replied with a sigh, “after the year I’ve had, I don’t deserve it.” He closed his eyes for a moment--of course she was of the mind she didn’t deserve anything. Gods, if she didn’t, then how on earth did he? “And I wouldn’t expect you to remember holidays. It hasn’t even been a year since you’ve been back.”

Niid, but that is no excuse.”
“I’d use it.” The Last Dragonborn stuffed another two logs onto the fire and then clambered with a groan into bed, hesitating before moving to press against the Atmoran’s side, her hand on his shoulder. They were both silent for a long time, and he was beginning to think she was asleep before something wet dropped onto his skin, making his eyes flick open.
Ahtlahzey,” he murmured, “what are you thinking of?” She didn’t answer at first, grazing her fingers gently over the three parallel scars on his chest, drawing an aimless pattern against his skin. Whether she was trying to soothe him to sleep or not, he remained determined for her reply.
“Nothing.” She said at last.
“I know you enough to know that is not true.” Another tear fell to his collarbone.
“I hate this.”
“You are almost done.” He reached out and laced their fingers together on his chest, flattening her palm over his steady heart. The fight, of course. The rebellion. The deaths. The attack on Fort Amol, the one she’d been away for. Of course it would be eating at her. He would almost be concerned if it wasn’t, if not for her dreadful way of throwing herself into the abyss of every failure. 

 

She exhaled slowly and heavily against his neck, her thumb drifting over his.
“They’re all dead because of me,” Tharya whispered, and he could feel her swallow tightly, “they all came here in the hopes that I would show up. That I would help. And I did show up, and I tried to help, and they died anyway.” Her voice broke like glass on the last words. “How can you have faith in someone like that?”

He pondered his reply before saying anything. Here was another chance to prove himself a different man; not the Miraak of the past but the Miraak of the present, of the now, in the making. He could tell her the truth, but something told him she wouldn’t like it. Not many people did. But, he could...would it be for the best?
“Their faith is what allows them to die,” he said slowly, experimentally, waiting for a reaction. “Their faith in you. They waited for you to come, and you did. If they were not prepared to shed blood or give their lives for you, for their faith in you, they would not have waited for you, and they would not have come.” Something in there had come out wrong--something hadn’t made it intact from his brain to his mouth, and parts were lost, but...it was truthful enough. Not harsh, and perhaps not comforting, but it was all he could muster. “You will never be able to save everyone, ahtlahzey. The people who commit to change are often the ones who pay for it.”

Nearly comical, coming from you, he told himself.
“Am I not committed?”
“You are the harbinger of change,” the Dragon Priest replied after a long silence, “those who commit are devoted to your rise. And they have given you your ascension, with their lives. Now you must do something with it.”
“Harbinger of change,” she echoed wistfully. For a moment he thought she was satisfied, and she gave no reply until he finally closed his eyes. His heartbeat slowed beneath their hands. And barely, just as he reached the brink of sleep, he heard her mumble to herself:
“I suppose death is change.”

 


 

Morokei hadn’t expected to find Althëa in the Void, of all places. They had only met briefly in life, many millennia ago. Morokei had taken her baby after it absorbed some kind of strange power from a fallen dragon, and Althëa had come to see that same baby become First Mage to the Cult years later. Miraak had not known, of course. Morokei snuck her in after finding her wandering dangerously close to the compound, asking after her son.

“Please, my lord, I have not seen him in years. He has sent no letters and not come home, please!”
“I cannot do anything for you, woman. Go home.”
“Please, please! His name is Miraak, he is my son!

Miraak’s mother. So he had cloaked her in a spell and allowed her to watch her child, in his most flowing ceremonial robes, be named First Mage. They dined in private that night, and many nights after Morokei had left the confines of the big palace in search of the woman with elegant dark curls and brown skin.

 

But he had found Althëa wandering in the blackness all alone. She had stumbled upon him and they had embraced. Morokei had not wanted to risk asking her if she was aware of her surroundings--not all dead were, and being informed of their demise, they became nothing short of feral--but it became clear she was. She did not understand why she had been taken away from her personal spot in the afterlife, but she told him her necklace was gone. Morokei took her hand and brought them both to Fort Amol.

 

The last thing he expected was to find Miraak lying beside the Last Dragonborn, half on his side with one arm around her, his hand resting low on her hip. The fire was dying and when a chilly breeze danced through the room, they watched as the Nord woman moved closer to the First Dragonborn, and he in turn laid on his back so she was nearly on top of him beneath the blankets. But Althëa seemed to pay this no mind; she rushed forward with a delighted noise, leaving Morokei alone by the fireplace.

 

“Oh, see how he resembles his father, Lord Morokei?” Morokei had never known or seen Miraak’s father, but he could guess, now, seeing mother and son so close and noticing which features they did not share. Althëa clutched both hands against her chest, her spectral form moving to sit lightly at the edge of the old bed. One wispy hand reached out to touch the Atmoran’s dark face. “So many scars. They were not here before.” Absently she traced the split in his eyebrow and the parallel lines over the bridge of his nose.

“He has...seen many battles, Althëa. But he fought bravely in each. You would be proud.” Morokei clasped his hands behind his back and meandered to the foot of the bed, examining the First and Last Dragonborn with mild interest.

“Oh, I care not for the battles he has fought.” The ghostly woman’s voice was wavering, but she smiled. “I care only that he has done well for himself. He is still my little boy.”

 

Morokei grimaced for a moment, but nodded when Althëa looked at him for some kind of agreement.

“Of course,” the Dragon Priest nodded, “he has done...better, as of late.”

“And she,” Althëa went on as if Morokei hadn’t even spoken, “who is she?” The ghost leaned over her son’s sleeping form to the Last Dragonborn, tucked into Miraak’s neck with golden hair spilling over the arm he secured around her. “She is as beautiful as the stars.”

 

“She...” Morokei paused. “I believe she is his salvation. Part of it.”

 

Miraak awoke with a startling breath, shooting up, his arms tightening instinctively around the weight atop him. What kind of dream...? He knew those voices, recognized them both, but when he surveyed the room there was no one. He was alone, save for Tharya, who slid into his lap and opened her hands against his chest, sitting up to face him.
“What’s wrong?” She blinked countless times and rubbed her eyes, peering around her immediate vicinity and then at him. “Did you have a dream?”
The air was heavy with magic he did not recognize and his spine was rigid with it. A lingering presence made the hair on the back of his neck stand straight, but still, there was no one. They were the only two souls in the room.
Geh,” he said slowly, deciding that if he could not pinpoint the source of the magic he felt, they were truly alone, and it had to be a dream. It could be his own magicka reacting, for all he knew. “It is nothing.”

 

She didn’t reply for a while, and slowly he was able to bring himself down from his state of sharp awareness, but not before he realized the position he was in. With the Last Dragonborn more or less straddling him and dozing off on his shoulder, there wasn’t much moving to be done, but the air had an edge of winter’s last chill. Slowly he wrapped his arms around Tharya, slipping his warm hands against the small of her back. She touched his necklace before sitting up a little, and he became very aware of her hips pressing into his lower stomach. Framed in the feeble light of dawn, she looked almost like a goddess, bathed in pale blues and light greys and clothed with her gentle smile. For once, everywhere she touched him did not burn, it did not linger or tug at him; she was merely there. He could feel everywhere her body was pressed to his, everywhere he had not felt her before, everywhere she trusted him. Everywhere their warmth was shared, everywhere their bodies mingled. She was not the Tharya he had fallen asleep beside--she was not doubting, or scared, or burdening herself with outlandish thoughts of failure. She was not guarded or defending herself from anything. And not defending herself from him

 

Without a word she framed his cheeks with both hands and kissed him, and he didn’t care to claim ownership of the content sigh that left him. He rubbed his hands in slow circles around her sides, her hips, spreading outwards from her lower spine. Somehow the Atmoran was both intensely cognizant and oblivious to the way she pressed against him, the way he gripped her. When she broke away and opened her eyes he could almost see his reflection in them.
“Sometimes I wish...” she stroked a lost curl away from his forehead, and he closed his eyes at her touch, waiting for her to finish the thought that hung unresolved between them. But she didn’t.
“What do you wish, dii lokaal?” He murmured against her mouth, pressing a series of weightless kisses against the line of her jaw.
“Nothing,” she hummed, her voice filling his ears as he nuzzled into her neck and then kissed that, too, “it’s nothing.” Surprisingly enough, she didn’t sound morose, or regretful, but rather content with erasing the thought from her head. “I wish you would do this more often.” 

 

Her words surprised him but he felt her lips curl into a nervous smile against his temple; she was hardly ever so forward with her wants and affections. He supposed he was much the same, but her reluctance for public displays was born from...something different than his own. Her fingers curled into his hair and he drifted upwards again, capturing her chin gently between his thumb and forefinger.
Tol vis kos drehlaan.” The First Dragonborn hummed, watching her teeth capture her lower lip. “Til los zos?
“I want you to teach me Shalidor’s Mirror,” she reached up to ghost the tips of her fingers over his lips, watching the action intently, “I want you to teach me Dovahzul. I want to know everything you’ve learned in the past thousands of years, dii mul gein.”
“It is that lust for knowledge which led me to Hermaeus Mora, dii fil.” He grabbed her wrist and her fingers came to a halt against his mouth. “You are lucky I am not as demanding a master as he.”
“And you are lucky I do not submit to any master.”

He was silent for a moment, holding her defiant but intrigued gaze--her eyes told him everything, as they always had. She lived for the danger, however slight it was, of going head to head with him. Less of a battle and more of a squabble, but the intensity, the feeling, the tension was no less tangible.
“Then we will start with your first request.”

 

He laid down with her tucked safely beneath him, and he never allowed their lips to part. He didn't want to spend another second away from her. Away from her warmth or her strength or her dov, which sang to him now, which called for him--he needed her close for the rest of eternity. One calloused hand laced their fingers together beside her head and the other guided her leg to wrap around him, and in that moment he felt indescribably whole.

 

And if the only way he could feel whole was near her, with her, holding her to his chest and kissing her sweetly and drinking in her presence, then he would never leave.

“Dragonborn! Are you awake? Dragonborn!” A steady pounding on the door made him groan, low and rocky, against the crook of her neck. He felt his brow crease in irritation, but instead of getting up to let her leave he merely pinned her beneath his weight, tucking his face into her chest.
“Zu fen, dii dovah.” My dragon. How fitting. With grousing of his own he allowed her to move, hooking one hand into her shirt as she sat up. Tharya only gave him an apologetic smile before gently prying his fingers off, leaning over to kiss him, and moving towards the door.

“Dragonborn,” Ralof looked like he’d just seen the biggest cave bear in his life, “I’m sorry to disturb you so early. But some of the men...” the pale Nord swallowed thickly, shaking his head.
“The men?” Tharya’s voice was alarmed, but she was trying not to give it away. “What’s wrong, Ralof?”
“Some of the men, they...they deserted.”

 

The last remnants of internal tranquility and warmth were leaving him as he followed Tharya to the courtyard. She was always on the move, always jumping from one thing to the other, leaving him in the dust. Miraak supposed, to his own chagrin, their morning was destined to be interrupted by things out of their control. Their footfalls echoed in unison, and just ahead of them Ralof threw the door open into the crisp morning. Lazy snowflakes were beginning to fall, dusting the ground a fair white.
“Shor’s bones,” Tharya sighed, stopping in the center of the courtyard and gazing around the fort. The dent in their forces was noticeable. If they combined all the numbers, everyone inside the fort and camped around it, excluding Gjukar’s men...a hundred, maybe? More? “How many at Darklight Tower?” She asked Hadvar, as if sensing the Dragon Priest’s thoughts. The Imperial looked grim and vexed, but tired above anything else.
“More than we had here before,” he scratched his short hair, “a lot of Imperials stayed on their way back to Cyrodiil. They’ve more or less stationed themselves throughout the entire Rift--Darklight is just the headquarters.”
“So the Rift is ours.” Tharya looked around at the deserted fireplaces and bedrolls. Their soldiers had just up and left; they would walk home with nothing but the clothes on their back and the shame in their hearts.

 

They, at least, could not fall victim to the trail of death she was leaving behind.

 

“Tharya, thank the gods you’re awake.” Captain Aldis reappeared, and behind him two Nords in ragged Stormcloak armor were dragging a Breton between them.
“Not soon enough, it seems,” she said darkly, giving Aldis’ shoulder a clap as he assumed his position beside the Last Dragonborn. “What’s this about?”
“We found him trying to scale the wall, Dragonborn.” One of the Nords, with dark hair and light eyes, his face twisted with scars, “said he had a wife in Dawnstar and a baby on the way. Said he wasn’t ready to die, isn’t that right?” He fisted the Breton’s hair and yanked his head backwards. A round face set with terrified brown eyes fell on Tharya.
“Please, please Dragonborn. My Anya, I told her I’d come back if things got too ugly, I promised her, I have a baby coming, what kind of father can I be if I’m not a father at all?”

Miraak subconsciously crossed his arms over his chest, watching Tharya for a moment before she sighed, shoulders wilting the slightest bit.
“Boy or girl, do you know?”
The Breton’s eyes lit up.
“Girl, the priest thinks, Dragonborn.”
“The priest--Dunmer fellow? Priest of Mara?”
“Y-yes, Dragonborn. Erandur.”

 

Tharya sighed again, but this time it was more irritated than before. She struck her spear tip into the ground in frustration, and then shook her head.
“Let him go.”
“Dragonborn?”
“He has a family, somewhere. And I won’t make him fight if he doesn’t want to. Let him go.” With a disgusted shove the two Nords let the smaller man go. He stumbled towards the opening of Fort Amol, looking uncertainly at the eyes staring back at him.
“For what it’s worth, I hope you win, Dragonborn.” He called. The gates creaked open to let him out and shut behind him with a loud crash. Tharya snorted bitterly.
“Me too.” Her attention turned to Aldis again. “Get everyone up. Send a raven to Darklight Tower--I want everyone here by sunset.”
Sunset?” Aldis fell into step beside her as she stalked back inside. “There’s no way they can make it in time.”
“Yes, there is,” Tharya shoved the door open and rounded on the Captain. “Send the raven.” She nearly slammed the door shut on Miraak but he caught it and slipped inside behind her. 

 


 

“Lilika, pack your things. You’re leaving.” The Dragon Priest trailed her as she burst into the little room her sister was in, immediately finding her backpack in the corner and setting her spear down to begin stuffing it with clothes. But the first figure to sit up was not Lilika; it was the Bosmer boy from before, and when he saw the Last Dragonborn he went redder than a sunset. “Don’t make this awkward. I’m ignoring you for a reason. Get up, get dressed, and get out of here.”

 

“Sister,” Lilika delicately pushed the sheets aside and reached for Tharya’s quick hands, stilling her for just a moment. “I cannot leave you here by yourself. I came here to help. I intend to do that.”
“No, you didn’t.” Tharya collected a map from the table and folded it carefully, a couple lone potions, and tore the fur from the bed. “You came here for a little adventure, and you found it. Now it’s time to go.”
“Where?” Lilika huffed, crossing her arms over her chest. “I cannot go back to Solitude, not while that brute is on the throne. I won’t .”
“Then go home.”
“The guards will ask where I’ve been,” the younger woman stood from the bed, “and I refuse to go back to mother’s skirts just because some men died. I am here to stay...” her blue eyes flickered with something Miraak found unreadable, “and you cannot order me around anymore, sister. I’m not a child.”
“Goddammit, Lilika!” With a yell that shook the room Tharya hurdled one of the potions in her hand against the wall. Miraak watched as both Arimir and the Dragonborn’s sister flinched, and suddenly became very still. “Those men died because I wasn’t here to protect them.” She fisted her blonde hair before letting her hands fall limp to her sides. “I don’t know how you aren’t scared. I am. So many more people will die before this is done, and I can’t let you be one of them.”

 

After a moment Lilika stepped hesitantly into Tharya’s opened arms, hugging her older sister carefully, a look of confusion on her face.
“I just want you to be safe , Lili.” She murmured, shaking her head. Her sister was no fighter. She could be, if she trained and worked for it, but she had never wanted to be. Her gaze was always fixed on the bard’s life, on the sound of sweet music, on the lilt of a gentle voice or the chords of a tuned lute. And she was damn good at it. She wrote and sang about battles--she was not part of them. “How are you supposed to write about all my glorious battles if you die?” Tharya chuckled.
“How am I supposed to write about all your glorious battles if I am not there?” Lilika pulled away from her older sister.
“You’ll be the only bard I give my firsthand account to, how’s that.” Tharya squeezed her sibling’s slim shoulders. “But please, please, Lilika. Promise me you’ll go home.”

Lilika spared her sister a worrying glance, before sighing. Her entire body seemed to deflate.
“I promise.”


 

“I know what you plan to do, ahtlahzey.” Miraak spoke from the doorway, somewhere behind her. Tharya let out a short sigh, shifting in her chair in front of the fire. “You cannot use my spell as you intend to.” The Last Dragonborn didn’t reply. The First only narrowed his eyes, leaning one shoulder against the doorway and crossing his arms against his chest. “The most I have ever taken is two other people. To do it with forts full of people...most of which cannot envision so clearly the place you are taking them.”

Now, Tharya shifted. She placed her chin in her hand, and scraped the bottom of her boot over the stone floor.
“What will happen to us? If we make a mistake?”
“All of you will die.” Miraak said bluntly, briefly wondering if that had not been obvious enough. “You will be chewed up and spit out into the axis of Time itself, much like Alduin was.”
“That’s not death.” She said pointedly.
“Alduin is the Firstborn of Akatosh. Father of Dragonkind, the Harbinger of the Endtimes, and the World-Eater of legend. Of prophecy.”
“Your point?”
“He is a creature of divine make and god-given power. He survived the warpings of Time and where did you find him? In Sovngarde, devouring the souls of the dead, because he did not have the strength to yet return to Tamriel.” Miraak shook his head slowly. “You and I, mortals, Dragonblooded though we may be, would never survive such a thing.” 

 

She stood very suddenly, and turned to him. A thousand things crossed her mind but she didn’t speak a word, only gave him a withering stare. Tharya plucked her spear off the table and brushed by him. After her footsteps disappeared, Miraak let his head fall against the wood. And then he turned and followed her out.

 


 

“Everyone! If I could take a moment of your time,” Tharya was setting a barrel upright when he returned to the courtyard, and as some people looked up she clambered to stand atop it. “It’ll be quick, I promise. Come here.” Soldiers mingled forward, their interest piqued. As Miraak waded through the thickening crowd, one of the women stuffed his cleaned robes back into his hands.

“If I know anything, I know this means you’re going to battle soon.” Her voice was gravelly and tired. “You’ll need these.”

 

“Come on, I don’t bite.” Tharya gave a strained smile, gazing out over the crowd. “Now, I know that things look dire. Some of our brothers and sisters have abandoned us. I’ll be honest, I didn’t see that coming. It hurts me too. Looking around...” she took her time in what seemed to be examining every face she could, “there aren’t many of us left.”

The crowd murmured their agreement, turning towards each other to talk and nod and speculate.
“But! Hadvar here tells me we have a multitude of forces waiting in the Rift.” A grim silence fell over the people. “Those who remained true to our cause. Those who remained loyal to the liberation of Skyrim.”

 

Tharya’s gaze fell to Miraak for a moment, and then across the courtyard to Aldis and Ralof, and settled finally on Hadvar.

“Most of you have taken oaths," she nodded in understanding, "I took an oath, too, once. An oath I didn't believe in. And I made myself take another after I became a Stormcloak: I made myself promise, that with every fighting bone in my body, and every spell, every Shout, I would defend the people of Skyrim from Ulfric. No matter what oath bound me to him." A few murmurs in the crowd, nods of agreement, of admiration. "Breaking an oath is no easy thing. It settles on your conscious. Makes others think less of you. But you and I, we aren't oathbreakers." She shook her head. "No. Oathbreakers are cowards and thieves, but you have all called yourselves here because you believe in something greater. You are warriors, each in your own respect. You don't need to swing a sword or an axe or a hammer to be a warrior. You only need the heart for it. Your skin or name or appearance doesn't matter, and to me, it never will. Only your heart. And here, now, looking out all of you..." she gazed slowly and purposefully around the crowd, examining each face in turn, "you. You are all warriors.”

Aldis meandered forward, gripping one side of his red cloak. The embroidered bear of Solitude snarled in the wind.
“What do you plan to do, Dragonborn?” He called, seeing that the soldiers were momentarily in awe from her dramatic speech.
“Did you send the raven?” Aldis shook his head. “Good. I want to change my message.” She grinned, slowly but surely, and her gaze shifted back to the people.

“We’re going to overthrow Ulfric.”

Chapter Text

“The men at Fort Amol deserted.”

Sanguine fell into a chair near the fireplace, itching his neck before looking at Tharya.
“Then what will you do?” The Daedric Prince asked. “A hundred men is hardly a force to take Solitude with.”
“I have Gjukar’s men,” the Last Dragonborn poured herself a generous cup of mead, “but they only appear by night. A nighttime assault on Solitude...”
“Chaos.” Sanguine nodded. “You and that Dragon Priest can only do so much.”
“Ulfric’s concentrated most of his forces around Solitude. Small parties left months ago to weed out the remaining Imperials, but he kept a...hefty personal guard.” She sank onto the edge of the stiff bed in her room, her eyes trained on the wall past Sanguine’s shoulder. He examined her for a moment--she looked tired, more tired than usual. Pale.
“How long has it been since you went out?” He wondered, tilting his head into her line of vision. Tharya blinked and raised one eyebrow. “You know. Out. Your beast blood?”
“Oh.” She said plainly. “A while.” 

 

The Prince drank in silence for a while after that, sparing the Last Dragonborn occasional glances, but she never seemed to move. Her face looked faraway, but her body was taut and still as a statue. He watched the fire begin to die and frowned to himself--he knew Tharya could keep any fire going with her mere presence. He’d seen them flare and crackle as a manifestation of her anger. But this one was dying...Sanguine didn’t want to guess at what that meant.
“If you go to Solitude, you won’t come back.” That made her sit up a little, slowly and gradually. Her pale eyes fell on him, a question dancing behind them, but she stayed silent. “Tharya? Did you hear me?”
“I heard you.”
“You’re going to die at Solitude.” Sanguine felt the first shreds of frustration seep into his black skin, and he set his tankard down. “Die. You’ll be gone. Permanently. Out of this world. Cold. Six feet under. You understand what that means?”
“I do.”
“Then why aren’t you worried about it?” He tried to keep his voice level, but it was nearly impossible. Talking with her now was akin to talking at a stone wall. Her eyes didn’t follow him when he stood from his chair, nearly kicking it over in the process. “What about everyone who needs you here? What about that Dragon Priest? You can’t just throw him back into the world after four thousand years and leave.”
“He’ll be fine.” Tharya murmured. “He started to change. He doesn’t need me to push him towards it anymore.”
“No, but he loves you.” That made her glance up again, and Sanguine could’ve smacked that expressionless look right off her face. “What would happen to him if you died?” The Daedra sat again, throwing his hands up in defeat and letting them go limp in his lap. “He loves you. Trust me, I’ve seen what he does at night.” He snorted.

A miniscule twitch in her eyebrow told him he’d caught her attention with that. She sat up and ran a hand through her hair. The fire seemed to jerk momentarily back to life. Finally, the Last Dragonborn cast him a wary gaze.
“What does he do?”

 


 

The paper looked older than it was; creased, rough around the edges, yellowing at the corners. He’d considered casting a preservation spell over it more than once, but part of him also wanted to see how long it would last. In any case, he’d have cause to simply replace it with a newer sketch.

 

He hadn’t remembered much of Tharya without her warpaint, that night sitting between his legs and letting him draw on the six black lines. When he had first seen her, it had been there. When she rescued him from Apocrypha, it had been there. When she had tended to him on the boat back to Windhelm, when she had brought him back to the College, when they had been sucked into Apocrypha the second time...when she had been crying over him at Castle Volkihar. It had been there, ever present, a testament to her heritage, and, perhaps, a safety blanket of sorts. Only that one night he had seen her without it, seen her face in its entirety, no part of it obscured. He had almost hated to draw the warpaint back on, but he had done as she asked with no objections, memorizing each part of her features that had seemed to hide from him until then.

 

And he had sketched it.

 

He didn’t want to forget what she looked like, beneath the magic and the fighting and the rocky outer layers of her persona. He had seen her only that once, the Tharya he had been striving towards without ever knowing it. He’d slipped out of bed that same night after she fell asleep, scrounging up a roll of paper and a stick of charcoal. It had stained his hands a dull black as he drew, never once looking up to see her face for reference. He kept the image, her image in his head. And before he knew it, Miraak had a charcoal and paper replica of the smile she’d given him while he pressed those six black lines against her skin.

 

“Take care of my sister, will you?”

The Atmoran straightened out, folding the paper again and tucking it out of view into his robes. When he turned, Lilika was standing in the doorway, a carpetbag in her hands.
“Your sister is the last person on Nirn who requires supervision.” Miraak replied, the edge of humor in his voice. Lilika, to his surprise, burst into laughter, filling him with momentary triumph.
“Isn’t that rich.” Lilika smiled, shaking her head. “I know she’ll try to do everything wrong when you go to Solitude. Just...make sure she doesn’t throw herself off the Arch or something like that. She’s...too willing to sacrifice herself for everyone else.” The Dragon Priest hummed his agreement. Without another word the slim woman set her bag down and crossed the room to him, and put her arms around his middle. Miraak stiffened but Lilika didn’t linger, looking up at him and sighing. “You’re good for her. I hope she can see that, eventually.”
“You are too hard on your sister,” the Atmoran said after a moment, “she is...trying.”

 

“Are you ready to go?” The voice belonged to the Bosmer boy, Arimir. He had picked Lilika’s bag up near the door and stood ready to leave. Lilika untangled herself from Miraak and smiled up at him.
“I’ll see you soon?” She asked. He nodded once. They both left, leaving him alone in the room, bathed in early afternoon sunlight. Tharya had disappeared that morning, held her staff in front of her, closed her eyes, and disappeared to Darklight Tower. He didn’t know when to expect her back, or if he even should. It bothered him, being away from her. Being without her. Being where she was not, where he could help or protect or guide. Allegiance-Guide. Mir-Aak. It was within his very nature to be the loyal guiding hand, but without her, there was nothing for him to do.

 

Ahtlahzey. Are you listening?

 

And to his surprise, she answered.

 


 

“I would send all my armies to fight for you, Tharya.” Sanguine said after a long silence. The Last Dragonborn hummed softly. “All you have to do is say the word.” He turned his head to look at her, lying beside him on the bed in a similar position, her hands clasped on her stomach and ankles crossed. “I get the feeling you won’t be doing that.” 

“No, I won’t.” Sanguine groaned loudly at that, dragging a hand down his face. “The people wouldn’t trust a Dragonborn who marches in with an army of Daedra at her back.”
“Then what about just the one?” Sanguine sat up. “I’ll come. Why didn’t I think of that before?”
“Miraak wouldn’t like that.” A grin drifted over Tharya’s lips.
“Well, I’ll be around for a damn long time yet, so he better get used to me.” Sanguine laughed, flopping back down on the too-small bed. He considered summoning a bigger one, velvet sheets maybe...plush pillows, too. These were understuffed. And then suddenly, from beside him:

“Miraak?”

“Yeah, that’s the Dragon Priest you brought home, right?” the Prince questioned, raising an eyebrow as Tharya slid out of bed and rounded it to stand near the fire. When she didn’t reply, it became obvious she wasn’t talking to him. 

 

I’m listening.

Across the Rift, the First Dragonborn smiled ever so slightly.
Your sister left.

Tharya snorted, sliding her arms around her middle and closing her eyes.
Gods, I didn’t really expect her to go. Miraak’s gloved fingers curled together, and for a moment the absence of her touch shoved a block of dread into his chest. It’s good to hear your voice. That’s what I need right now .

But that shattered the icy feeling that settled in his torso.

Then I suppose I should do some talking.

Tharya snorted. Despite his words, he didn’t say anything for a long time, and neither did she. He could feel her presence, her magicka intermingling with his to keep their connection alive. Like a new, vibrant thread of yarn tied from him to her across Tamriel.
Are you still there?

I am. His baritone flooded back into her head, sending a shiver straight down her spine. His voice had never been able to find middle ground in her; it was either all-encompassing warmth and comfort, or sharp awareness and consciousness. You sound fatigued, dii lokaal. Rest.

Dii lokaal. She knew the first word, “my”, but couldn’t place the second, despite her working knowledge of Dovahzul.

I...yeah. I will. The ghost of his lips against her forehead--or was she just imagining that?--made her sigh quietly into the silent, empty room. She could feel his hesitation before he spoke one last time, the gentleness of his voice she had yet to hear aimed at anyone but herself.

Return soon, ahtlahzey . And with that his presence vanished. 

 

“Dragonborn?” The door creaked open and a light Imperial face poked through. “We’ve just gotten some runners from our surrounding forces. Most of them should be on the move by now, and all of them will be here by midmorning. Dragonborn?”
“What?”
“Our contacts throughout the Rift,” the Imperial raised an eyebrow. “Tomorrow morning?”
Tharya’s fingers curled into her shirt.
“Right. Thank you.” The door closed after a last quizzical look from the soldier, and behind her, Sanguine clicked his tongue.
“Priest-boy’s voice, is it, then?”
“Shut up. And get out of my bed, I need to sleep.” The Last Dragonborn prodded the fire and added one of the last logs from the pile to it.
“Oh, are you sure you don’t want me to stay? I could pretend to be your Dragon Priest, and we can snuggle .”
“Miraak is not a snuggler.” Tharya grimaced. “And you could never get his scowl right. It’s very unique.”

 

The bed creaked as Sanguine stood, his hearty laughter filling the room as he meandered over to the fire.
“Right, right.” He slung one arm around her shoulders. “Listen, I know you’re hooked on the whole idea of overthrowing Ulfric, but...give what I said some thought.” His smile faded and he gave her shoulder a light squeeze. “In the meantime...I released your soul. You should be all set for Sovngarde if...well, if.” With a loud and dramatic kiss against her hair, the Prince disappeared, leaving her the solitary soul in the room.

If

 


The air was crisp and cool the next morning when she looked out over the forces they had amassed. High noon and now nearly four hundred soldiers stood in front of her, camped inside Fort Amol and around it, in the caves nearby, in the foothills of the Throat of the World.
“This, Dragonborn,” Gjukar was at her side, examining her forces as well, “this is how you will take Solitude.”

 

The fort’s noise behind her faded into a low hum, and Tharya closed her eyes as a gentle breeze swept through the plains. Gjukar was saying something but she didn’t hear it. Attached to her spear, now, was a vibrant crimson and black feather, tied just below her mother’s protection rune. A little parting gift from Sanguine. It fluttered in the air, eagerly awaiting its imminent use.

 

The fort was bustling, the sun warming her skin, and Gjukar had fallen silent. The wind had a chill to it, and carrying in its cold grasp was a sweet and smooth voice, rolling from far across the mountains to Tharya’s ears:

 

High in the halls of the kings who are gone

Rellae would dance with her ghosts

The ones she had lost and the ones she had found

And the ones who had loved her the most...

 

 

Chapter Text

“The Dragonborn is in the Temple of the Divines, my king.”

 

Ulfric dragged both calloused hands over his tired face, shaking his head.
“What is she doing there?” He murmured into his palms. The Dragonborn--Stormblade had returned to him. Now, after so long. After winning the war with him, after pledging the terrible power of her Voice to his valiant cause. He had always seen the seeds of rebellion in her eyes; always seen how she strayed during battles, or allowed herself to be knocked down to avoid the fight. But during the Siege of Solitude he believed he had crushed her little fantasies of betraying him. She had guarded him fiercely, Shouted down his enemies and ruptured the very foundations of the splendid city. The ceremony naming her Stormblade had been quick but no less triumphant, and when he had clasped her forearm and called her sister, he saw her smile.

 

Perhaps he had not broken her in as he originally thought.

“She seems to be alone, my lord.” Yrsarald spoke again, drawing Ulfric away from his thoughts. “I posted men all around the temple--no one will get in, and she won’t get out.”
“Fool.” Ulfric stood from his desk and snorted bitterly. “She commands the greatest power known to Nirn at her lips. She will get out, if she wants to.” He clasped his hands loosely behind his back and wandered to the tall, thin window looking out over the city. “I am curious to see why she does not.” Without a word, the High King turned on his heel and strode out of his private chambers to the hallway, with Yrsarald at his heels.

“Elisif, my darling,” he called, and the court snapped to attention at his voice. Elisif quickly removed herself from the throne, settling into a position beside Falk Firebeard. “Come with me. We are going to see the Dragonborn.”
“She--she is here? Tharya has come?” Color seemed to flood back into Elisif’s pale face at that, making Ulfric give her a scrutinizing look. But the High Queen made no move to back down, this time. She wore her relief proudly.
“Yes, she has come.” Ulfric snatched Elisif’s hand and pushed--no, guided--her with a firm hand towards the stairs leading away from the throne. “She has come, and it will cost her life.”
“Do be careful, my lord.” A silky voice called from behind him, belonging to the court mage. Ulfric ignored it.

At that Elisif wrenched herself away, and for the first time Ulfric saw the pent-up fury in her chestnut eyes.
“If you kill the Dragonborn, you will be off the throne faster than my husband.”
“I am your husband now.” Ulfric snapped. “You would do well to remember that.”

 


 

The air in the Temple of the Divines was light and smelled of snowberries and forest pines. Wreaths and garlands hung from balustrades, circled the pillars, and decorated the arms of the pews. Countless candles in rings of holly and sprigs of snowberry illuminated the temple in a warm, dancing light. Outside, snow had just begun to fall as the sun dragged itself in a slow descent towards the horizon. 

This is no portal, dii fil. Miraak’s voice, tinged with anger, suddenly flooded the quietness the temple had instilled in her mind. It is an Oblivion Gate. Do you think I do not know one when I see it?
“Miraak, Miraak, relax.” She cooed. “Everything’s fine. Yes, it’s an Oblivion Gate, but you won’t even be in Oblivion. It’s like your spell but...more physical. Trust me.” Tharya could sense his bubbling unease, even if he was halfway across the province. “Hermaeus Mora can’t get you, dii mul gein. I promise.”

He huffed.
I do not like it.
“I know. We won’t use them often, I promise, but it’s handy to just carve a symbol into the ground and summon an Oblivion Gate whenever you need it.” None of the tension in his presence ebbed at her words, but she only sighed. “I’ll see you soon, alright? We’re still in this together.” He exhaled long and frustrated through his nostrils, and she could picture the entire action perfectly in her mind’s eye. With that telltale scowl and thick eyebrows creased together, strong arms crossed in disdain. The way his shoulders would deflate while he breathed out. A smile touched the Last Dragonborn’s face, and without a word Miraak broke their connection, leaving her the solitary occupant of the temple. 

 

Tharya stepped away from the dimly glowing Oblivion Gate. To her, it resembled a great big eye of blue fire with a swirling black abyss the size of her head in the center. According to Sanguine, Gates were usually orange and red, but this one appeared blue--and in any size she needed--to stand out. She made her way up the stairs to the main chamber, with its high vaulted ceilings and spectacular stained glass windows. Brilliant gold and crimson light made the stone beneath her feet glow. The nine tall windows depicted each of the Divines, which she examined in turn, their gazes turned in any of the cardinal directions. 


“You do not come here as often as you used to, Dragonborn.” The voice startled her, but when she turned to see who it belonged to, the newcomer only tipped the point of her spear away from his jaw. Talos’s tan features shifted to allow a greeting smile, and he enveloped her in a tight hug that swept her feet off the ground. “Little sister! It’s been quite some time since we last spoke.” He said it as if they spoke regularly, as if they were bosom companions. Little sister? Where did that come from?
“I guess,” she smoothed her cloak when the Divine set her down again, his large hands on her shoulders. “What are you doing here?”
“A ninth of this temple does belong to me, you know,” he winked and left her to examine the shrines more closely, tracing the elegant craftsmanship of his own. “What brings you here?”
“You tell me.” Tharya huffed, watching the huge Atmoran turn, his countenance noticeably less joyful.
“Your rebellion, yes.” He acknowledged, and then placed both hands over the hilt of his sword. “I have been watching it carefully, Dragonborn. And you.”
“Well, isn’t that comforting.” Tharya snickered.
“I think you’ll find the bath salts I left for you at the College quite enjoyable.” Watching the color drain from her face, Talos echoed her chuckle. “Finest of the Atmoran stock. I’m sure your Dragon Priest will recognize them.”
“If you’re done being perverse?” She cut in before he even finished his sentence, spear sliding into its minimized size before she tucked it beneath her cloak and out of sight.

 

“This rebellion...the others and I cannot see where it will lead, though we have a feeling it will not end well. Not end in our favor.” He waited for her reply, and seemed disappointed when she didn’t give one. “Nothing has gone in our favor since Torygg died.” Talos sighed deeply, seating himself on one of the pews that creaked under his weight. 

“Since Torygg--wait, you mean to say that...all your problems started when Torygg died? That was nearly three years ago.” Tharya turned to face the Divine, who only rolled his shoulders and gazed around at the temple’s architecture.
“There was a destiny for you, for Skyrim. A set path.” Talos looked at her curiously for a moment. “And there have been moments of clarity. But since Torygg died, your path has been obscured to us at most times.”
“So...I’ve been winging everything this whole time.” Tharya groaned, dragging herself over to sit beside the hero-god. This was not the conversation she had envisioned when she’d planned to come to the temple and pray. Where was Ulfric? Surely he knew about her presence here by now.
“You have not been entirely without guidance, but I know bringing that Dragon Priest back to Nirn has...strained the tapestry of Time, little sister. And the Weavers are not particularly fond of that.” He gave her a knowing glance, but she didn’t reply for a dense moment. Talos toed the corner of a stone square, and looked up when she finally spoke again.
“He does have a name, you know. That Dragon Priest. He’s technically your brother.” Tharya crossed her arms over her chest, aiming an expectant look at the hero-god.
“If he is my brother, and you are my sister,” he laughed, “I surely hope you see the shortcomings of your relationship with him.”
“Well, he’s also four thousand years old, so, just add that one to the list.” She grunted, leaning one shoulder against a pillar at the end of the pew. 

 

“Miraak...Miraak.” Talos’s gaze shifted downwards to his open palms, and for a moment a grave look crossed his face. As if he was about to say something she wouldn’t like. “It would be most accurate to attribute him as a brother to your Saint Alessia.”
What?
“His blood is not yours or mine. Though he is a creation of Akatosh, as all dragons and Dragonborn are, he is not related to us in the way we are related to each other.”
“So...he’s like a step-brother.” Tharya murmured slowly.
“He and Alessia were merely...experiments. Trials. Did you never wonder why there was such an interregnum between he and Alessia, the first two emergences of Dragonborn power known to Nirn? Akatosh gifted them a much more raw and terrible power than our own. We are...the refined and perfected results. You have heard his Voice, yes?” Tharya nodded once. “You feel how it shakes the very core of the earth. How it strikes fear, how it speaks rage. And yours, instead, lives in tandem with the earth. You may shake the ground, but you cannot make it tremble as he does, because you are to live in harmony with the world, not destroy it.”

 

Slowly, the Last Dragonborn lifted from the pillar, wandering away and towards the large stained glass windows. Refined and perfected results . Experiments. Trials . Was that truly all Miraak was to Akatosh? His creator? In all respects, his father? A mere test subject? And when things went awry, he waited until the next era to bestow the power of dragonblood onto Alessia. But all the stories made no mention of her Voice, no mention of her using the Thu’um, so perhaps she could not Shout. She merely had the blood. It made sense; after the devastation Miraak had unleashed with his Voice and blood combined, Akatosh gave Alessia a different version of the same power, with no Voice to speak of.
“If Akatosh made Miraak, why the hell did he leave him to rot in Apocrypha for four thousand years?” Her voice sounded more angry than intended, but she didn’t care. If he wasn’t here to ask for himself, she would drag answers out of Talos one way or another. The hero-god looked surprised for a moment before a deep frown etched into his features. He lifted a hand to stroke his beard.
“You would not like the answer I have for you, sister.”
“Tell me!” She took a step forward. “Does Akatosh know what he had to endure in there? What Hermaeus Mora--what was done to him?”

One last time, Talos hung his head.
“Should you have failed, Akatosh would have had...a secondary plan.”
“A backup.” She scoffed. “He was a backup, in case I died. So you all let him rot in Oblivion for thousands of years while Hermaeus Mora...while he broke him.” The Nord felt her lips twist into a grimace, eyebrows knitting together. “You’re all despicable.”

 


 

“Get these damn doors open, man! How hard can it be?” Ulfric roared, shoving a guard off the battering ram and taking his place. “With me! Heave!” No matter how hard they slammed the doors to the Temple of the Divines, they wouldn’t budge. The hinges should’ve at least broken off by now, but there was a new strength to these doors than he had ever seen. “The Dragonborn is inside here, men! The Traitor! Do you want her blood or not?”
There was an unsettling silence. Ulfric felt a vein in his neck jump, and off to the side Elisif twitched when he shouted again:
“I said, do you want her blood or not?” And this time, a bout of guttural hollers went up behind him. “Good.” 

 


 

Silently, a tall, broad figure dressed in deep violet robes exited the glowing portal downstairs, the soles of his boots hardly making sound against the hard stone floor. Brazen golden eyes surveyed the empty temple carefully, lingering on the small windows where the crimson shreds of sunlight filtered through. After a moment, Miraak moved out of the shadows, though part of his face remained hidden. He cocked his head to listen to the battering ram crash against the doors upstairs; he could feel Tharya up there, her soul still and serene, almost.
“Not long now, ahtlahzey.”

 


 

Just when Ulfric was ready to give up and felt the first strings of a Shout coming together in his chest, with one last hit, the doors exploded like fragile glass, sending splinters into his hair and fur pauldrons. Elisif jerked back to shield herself from the shrapnel. Down the center aisle of the temple, between the pews, bathed in the colorful dancing light cast by the windows, the Last Dragonborn knelt in prayer.
“Stormblade,” he called, voice taut. The High King took a single step into the temple. “You have come at last.”
“You have forced my hand, Ulfric.” She replied, unmoving. He took slow, ceremonial steps towards her, halting only when she raised her head. “Will you slay me in prayer, I wonder?”

The man cleared his throat and squared his shoulders. After months of searching, of sleepless nights, of knowing she was wandering Skyrim and not locked away in his cells--or better yet, dead--of knowing she would come back to challenge him, here she was. She had delivered herself into his waiting hands.
“No, Stormblade. I would join you.” She made no response, so he continued on and found himself on one knee at her side, fixing her with a sideways glance. “Tell me what you pray on, sister.”
“I pray that my brother will see the error of his ways and retire from his cruelty.” He stiffened at that but bit back a snappish reply. Stormblade would come around, as she always had, or she would be the latest addition to the line of people waiting to meet the headsman’s axe. “He has killed innocents in his own city, which he swore to protect many years ago. He has killed innocents who dared to defy him, slaughtered those who dared to fight for their future. No doubt he has abused the power of his Voice to do so.”

“Could your brother perhaps negotiate a peace with you, dear Stormblade?” Ulfric stood as she did, one hand wrapped around his axe. “We could be great, sister. We could rule Skyrim together. We could defeat the Elves and-”
“The Thalmor. ” She snapped. “The Elves are not the Thalmor. The Thalmor are your true enemy, but you are too stupid to see it. No, Ulfric.” She reached beneath her cloak for her spear and it snapped out to full length, tip to the floor. “You said once that if words were ever enough to change the world, you would gladly retire from it. I am here!” Her Voice now shook the very foundations of Solitude, deafening the High King for a brief moment. Errant pebbles and dust sifted down from the temple ceilings and walls, decorations rattling. “My Words are enough. Your day has come, Ulfric. Retire from the world...”

 

She slammed the point of her weapon against the floor once, and it lit up ferociously.

“Or I will put you out of it.”

The High King gave her a scrutinizing look before offering his forearm.
“I accept your challenge, Dragonborn.”

 


 

The shock written into Ulfric’s face when Tharya emerged from the broken temple doorway was picturesque. At her side was Miraak, and behind her, a steady stream of soldiers donning both Imperial and Stormcloak armor, some in beaten iron cuirasses and others in well-wrought steel. Some with swords, some with shields, axes, bows. It seemed a never ending march from the Temple.
“So this is Ulfric Stormcloak,” Miraak murmured as they trekked through the city towards the Blue Palace. The sun would be down soon, and that meant Gjukar’s men would be able to fight. The First Dragonborn examined the High King, boxed in by guards wearing padded armor and ornate blue sashes, ahead of them.
“We agreed to fight in the traditional way,” Tharya reached for his gloved hand, “which means no one can interfere.”
“I will see to it.” He nodded.
“Which means you can’t interfere.” She clarified, squeezing his fingers. “No matter what happens. If he kills me-”
“That will not happen,” Miraak cut her off abruptly with a gentle but confident shake of his head. “You are his superior in every way, ahtlahzey .” The Blue Palace in all its splendor came into view, casting a cool shadow over them. Excited adrenaline seeped into her veins, but she pushed it down.
“Getting out of the city will be the only real problem.” She murmured. “He has a lot more soldiers here than I expected.”
“Do not concern yourself with it,” the Atmoran advised, “concentrate.” She spared him another glance but they walked the rest of the way to the Blue Palace in silence, deflecting the bewildered stares and whispers of the citizens of Solitude.

“Miraak,” she turned to him in the courtyard, tugging his arm gently to make him stop, “if by some freak accident I don’t-”

Without a word he bent to kiss her, and although it was slow and chaste, she seemed to understand his meaning.
“Whatever you have to say, you will tell me afterwards, dii fil.” It sounded like a promise on his lips, a promise of her survival, a guarantee of her safety. He only wished he could give her that. “And I will be more than happy to listen.” She snorted gently.
“Your idea of listening is a little different than everyone else’s.” Tharya muttered, her words forcing a grin onto his face.
“All the more reason I look forward to it.” He said slyly as she stepped away, striding with confidence towards the open doors of the Blue Palace.

 


 

 

“In the tradition of old, then, the Dragonborn has challenged you, High King Ulfric Stormcloak, to a battle of honor and strength, til you yield or die by her hand. Do you accept?”
Ulfric glanced down at her thrown gauntlet on the tile floor between them. It winked up at him in the vibrant sconce light, almost goading him, teasing him.
“I accept.” He said firmly. Falk turned now to Tharya, who stood with her feet spread no farther than shoulder width, her spear in one hand.
“Dragonborn. High King Ulfric Stormcloak, whom you have thus challenged in the tradition of old with the proposal of a battle of honor and strength, til you yield or die by his hand, has accepted. Does your challenge still stand?” Falk stood proudly and stoically, but there was concern in his eyes. If she lost, where would that leave them? With a tyrannical king and a slaughter within the city’s walls?
“It stands.” Tharya replied.
“Very well.” Falk extended a palm to either of them and they stepped forward, the steward placing their hands atop each other in the space between them. “As aforementioned, the challenge will only be considered fulfilled until one of you yields or is killed. This is a test of combat, and so every form of combat is allowed. Whether it be blade, bow, magic, or...” Falk’s eyes flicked nervously to her. “The Thu’um. Do you agree to these terms?”
Ulfric found her unwavering gaze; in unison they spoke:
“I agree.”
“Very well,” Falk said again, and wet his lips. “The Dragonborn may retrieve her gauntlet. Once she does, the challenge will begin. Let it be known that any outside interference will result in the immediate termination of the battle and the automatic forfeit of both parties.”

 

Elisif shuffled her feet at Miraak’s side, gripping the ends of her dress before letting go with a quiet sigh. The Dragon Priest made no move to speak to the High Queen, but it was obvious who she had thrown her support behind. Her steward stepped away from the pair and returned to her side, one hand white-knuckled around the hilt of his sword. 

 

Slowly, deliberately, Tharya bent to pick up her gauntlet, her eyes never straying from Ulfric as he took a few steps back.
“I regret that it came to this, Stormblade.” He said, reaching for his axe. Tharya took her sweet time fixing her gauntlet back onto her forearm, adjusting it without ever breaking her stare.
“Do you, now?” She hummed. “Do you also regret those people you killed in Windhelm and Fort Amol? It was their deaths that brought us to this point, anyway.”
“A necessary sacrifice to root out your treachery.”
“I don’t regret this, Ulfric,” Tharya said after a moment, “I don’t and I won’t, after I’ve killed you.” Ulfric grimaced at that.
“Let us agree whoever loses shall be given proper burial rites and services,” the High King grumbled.
“Agreed, but don’t come to my funeral. I might just have a reason to come back from the dead if you do.”


What happened next came as a blur. For a split second Miraak swore he could hear his own breathing, slow and precise, and then his heartbeat echoing in his ears. He watched as Tharya seemed to suck all the movement out of the room, drawing all motion away from himself, Falk, Elisif and Ulfric, leaving them statue-esque and blank-faced as she released a Shout from her lips.

 

Tiid...klo ul!


A thin blanket of pale blue settled instantaneously over the throne room, pinning them to the position they were in. Even his heartbeat slowed immensely in his head, the telltale thumping coming to a near stop. The ripple of her Thu’um hit him like a monstrous wave crashing over the shore, both drowning and cradling him, knocking his breath away for a long moment before flooding his lungs with air again. Miraak watched helplessly as Tharya approached the throne. Ulfric had been knocked back from receiving the full frontal force of her Voice, and was ready to fall into the ornate chair the moment her Shout let up. She lifted one boot and pushed him down, his body still stuck in the same scrambling position.

“Maybe a month ago I would’ve been sorry to do this, Ulfric.” She said as she levelled the tip of her spear with the High King’s heart. Her hands were trembling. “But you killed those men and women. You killed those Argonians and that High Elf. You killed Kharjo.” Her voice hesitated. “You killed all of them, and for what?” She was angry but scared, grieving, determined but second guessing. He knew her voice well enough by now to pick out the emotions that ran prominent in her tone. “For nothing. If you hadn’t killed them, maybe I would have spared you. Sent you to High Hrothgar to study the Voice. But,” she clenched her jaw for a moment then lowered the point of her spear to Ulfric’s gut. Miraak felt the threads of normal time begin to seep back into the air. “But you deserve this.”

 

Just as she thrust her spear forward the blue haze covering the room vanished, suddenly Miraak could breathe again, suddenly he broke the surface of the sea of magic and recovered his senses.
“S-Stormblade?” Ulfric groaned, blood dribbling from his lips and soaking his beard. “What...what has happened?”
She barely registered his words before inhaling once more, unleashing a fatal Shout that splintered the very throne he sat on, shoving her spear further into his chest. With the sickening crack of bones, Ulfric Stormcloak fell limp in the remnants of his throne, his blue eyes wide open and staring unblinkingly at the Last Dragonborn.

 

Falk looked paler than fresh-fallen snow when he found it within himself to step forward, but Elisif breezed by him, bounding over to the Last Dragonborn and throwing her arms around the other woman.
“You’ve saved us all, again,” Elisif shook her head, but Tharya didn’t return her embrace. She simply stared at Ulfric’s warm body. His undying gaze. The blood staining his fair skin. “I never lost faith in you, Dragonborn.”

Miraak did not move. He did not speak, or remind her of the battle they would surely have to wage outside. He did nothing except watch her carefully and inquisitively, trying to decipher the graveyard of emotions playing out on her face. Gently, Tharya pried herself away from Elisif, stumbling towards Ulfric and kneeling to close his eyes.

“Well,” she murmured, her voice miserable and thick, “we aren’t done yet.”

Chapter Text

“Miraak! With me! Shout!” She cried out across the chaos of confined battle. She had no idea if he heard her, fending off a group of loyal Stormcloaks who closed in on him like wolves finding their prey. Tharya wrenched her spear out of a nearby blue sash, ignoring the blood that coated the gold metal, ignoring the soldier who toppled to the cobblestones with a pained wheeze. She steadied herself and hurtled the spear through a slim opening in the ranks, watching as it skimmed over Miraak’s shoulder and buried itself into the snarling face of another one of Ulfric’s loyalists. The Atmoran parried an incoming blow and shoved his knee into his attacker’s gut, once, twice, grabbing either side of his head to break his neck.

 

She suppressed the shudder that ran down her spine as she weaved through the throng of moving bodies towards Miraak. They were both breathing heavily, splattered with blood that wasn’t their own, sweat beading on foreheads and being endlessly blinked out of eyes.
“Come with me,” she yelled over the raucous noise of fighting, grabbing his arm. Together they fought off opposing Stormcloaks, bobbing and dodging swinging weapons and falling bodies. Through the bloody market they pulled each other, into one of the towers that suspended the bridge that hung over the main street of the city. The shouting and clashing of weapons was no less loud here, but at least he was close, where she could keep track of him and know he was safe. “Doing alright out there?” Tharya asked breathlessly, letting her hands fall away from Miraak’s arms. He inhaled slowly and then nodded, golden eyes examining the inside of the tower.
Hi? ” He looked down at her. She mirrored his nod, swiping blood off her cheek.
“Gjukar’s men are a big help,” the Last Dragonborn rubbed the ring on her finger, the blue stone set in the center glowing dimly. The tower was abominably dark, and she could only make out Miraak’s hulking figure because of his proximity. He nodded his agreement, leaning back against the opposite wall to catch his breath. 

 

It was intensely awkward, standing there together as a battle of her own making raged outside. Tharya dug her toes against the stone floor before glancing upwards--Miraak was already staring at her.
“Did you need something of me, ahtlahzey? ” He asked after a moment. Yes, gods, she did. She needed someone to tell her that what she had done was good and right and it was in service to Skyrim, its people, and done for their survival. Something in her gut was sewing seeds of a damning guilt that would take years to cleanse.
“No,” she said, “I want to tell you something.” She fell silent again. Miraak took one corner of his robe and folded it around the blade of his sword, wiping most of the blood off and leaving an intimidating stain on the fabric. When still she didn’t speak, he looked at her again.
“Are you going to tell me?”
“Yes! I...I just...” his molten eyes ran like two lakes of bloody gold, burning straight through her skull. She hated that stare. So stoic, so unfeeling. So removed. But so intent, so deliberate at the same time. “I just want you to be safe,” she chuckled nervously after scrambling for words, “and...and I lo-”

 

A deafening shockwave of magic cut her off, throwing them both off balance and onto the hard floor below. Everything went silent, everything felt numb and useless for a long moment until she pried herself off the floor. A shrill ringing invaded the thick silence in her ears. Vaguely she could hear Miraak yelling, but he sounded millions of miles away. Tharya stumbled towards the tower doorway, dragging herself along the wall for support. Did the ground seem to be trembling or was that just her? The ringing crescendoed and rose in pitch until she had no choice but to clamp her hands over her ears, her own cry of pain just as distant as Miraak’s. When she looked the Atmoran was doubled over, hands pressed tightly to his head.
“Come on,” she thought she said, “we have to see what happened.” She couldn’t hear her own voice but she could feel her lips moving, her hands grabbing Miraak’s arm and forcing him up. 

 

Together they staggered out of the tower, bumping and walking clumsily against one another. The market had been reduced to a pile of soldiers lying on the ground, some getting to their feet, some merely rolling on the cobblestones in pain. Below her boots the ground shifted again.

 

And across the marketplace, a figure in pale yellow robes with red and white accents fled, unaffected by the spell, without sparing a glance over their shoulder.

“Wait-”

“Dragonborn!” Gjukar’s thundering voice shattered her boggled mind and made her stagger away. The ghost strode through the piles of groaning men before taking Tharya’s shoulders and giving her a single shake.  “Compose yourself, Dragonborn!” Another shake, and weakly she tried to push him away. She was so...tired. Exhausted. A nap sounded good right about now...just a few minutes of shut-eye...
Dragonborn!"

Tharya inhaled sharply as the ringing vanished, the thick cotton of deafness yanked from her mind.
“What? What!” She touched her ears and grimaced when her fingertips came away bloody. Beside her, Miraak stumbled away to empty the contents of his stomach, whether he wanted to or not. Again, the ground groaned and snapped beneath their feet, and the whole of Solitude seemed to rock like a boat to one side. “What the...what was that?” She asked, hands clamped around Gjukar’s spectral arms. Miraak returned to her side cursing in High Atmoran, his earthen brown skin ashy pale. She was sure she didn’t look much better.
“Magic such as this...” he dragged a hand down his face, wicking away the thin sheen of sweat that had gathered on his forehead, “I have not felt it before. This...” he surveyed the area slowly, eyes moving with obvious exertion from one soldier to the next. “To make one physically sick from magic, to deafen, to knock each soul unconscious...it is no ordinary spell, ahtlahzey, or I would’ve used it ages ago.”
“The Arch, Dragonborn,” Gjukar’s grey eyes were wide, “whatever magic that was, it shook the city. The Arch...it’s beginning to collapse.”

 

In that moment, Tharya felt the very blood pumping from her heart run cold.
Shit.

 

The three of them blew down the endlessly long spiral staircase of the tower. Its darkest and dampest reaches spat them out through a rotten wooden door that led directly to the road above the harbor, and the curved bridge that hugged the mountainside above the water.
“There,” Gjukar raised a solemn finger towards the Arch just as another tremble assaulted the earth, and a large chunk of rock fell into the churning waters below. Above it, the Blue Palace. The Bards College. The Hall of the Dead.
“Ideas,” Tharya grabbed Miraak’s hand. “How do we save a city that’s about to fall into the sea?” The urgency in her voice was unmistakable, and after a long second of looking between her, Solitude, the water, and the Arch, he frowned.
“Do you trust me?”
“What?”
Do you trust me?
“Not explicitly, no, why?” His pause at her words was brief but enough. “Listen, you have some questionable morals. But that’s beside the point. Why do I have to trust you?” He grabbed her hands.
“The spell you used against the vukul, ahtlahzey. The chains. Do that again.”
“What? Why?”
“Because that is how we save the city about to fall into the sea!” He barked. The First Dragonborn’s hand went around her arm as she began to summon the magic to her fingertips, the first molten chains stamped with ancient runes surrounding her wrists. He all but dragged her to the stone bridge, with Gjukar following dutifully after.
“What are you planning, Atmoran?” Gjukar asked skeptically.
“You will see.” Miraak peered over the edge of the bridge before looking at Tharya. “How long will they go?”
“How far do you need them to?” she raised an eyebrow. He gave her a grin before hopping onto the ledge, robes billowing in the sea breeze. “Hey, what--what are you doing?” Tharya took a step forward.

Miraak only smiled at her, framed against a quilt of winking stars, and extended a hand for one end of the molten metal chain. She gave it to him. The Dragon Priest glanced over his shoulder into the choppy cold waters below before nodding, winding the chain around his wrist.
“You will see.”
Without another word, he fell backwards off the bridge and into the darkness.

“What the...what the hell?” Tharya let the coil of magic around her arm spin away, giving Miraak as much slack as he needed, while simultaneously creating new chains around her other hand. “He really is a crazy bastard. Is he going to swim all the way to the Arch?” She shook her head. “You know I’ve never seen him swim before. I really hope-”

With a majestic spray of water and a bone-rattling roar that echoed across the sprawling hills of Haafingar, a dusky golden dragon soared up from below the bridge, broad body silhouetted against the twin moons. Bigger than any dragon she’d ever mastered, stronger, absolutely colossal in every way. Clamped between sharp talons was...her magical chain. For a second the beast stilled, the beating of its wings sending wind against her face. An all too familiar pair of black eyes with light green pupils stared at her for a moment. With another resounding roar the dragon flew off towards the Arch of Solitude.

 

Tharya looked back at Gjukar, whose jaw was closer to the ground than hers.
“Did you know he could do that? When did he learn to do that? What the hell? Did you know about this?”
“No, Dragonborn.” Gjukar mumbled dumbly.
“Seriously. What the hell. He can turn into a dragon? Why can’t I do that? Why didn’t he do this sooner?” She shook her head, watching his golden scales glint in the moonlight. She knew dragons had little to work with in the way of facial expressions, but he had almost looked...smug.

Almost.

 


 

 

“You three, with me! The rest of you fan out--we must find Her Majesty!” Aldis bellowed. With a guttural shout of acknowledgement most of the group that had followed him into the Palace split off, and the three farmers he had conscripted for his own fell into a loose pyramid formation behind him. The youngest was nearly a decade Aldis’s junior, but the older two looked like seasoned warriors. With luck, all four of them would make it through this.

 

With a rough kick the door to the Pelagius Wing flew off its hinges, landing in a cloud of dust on the stone floor. The Wing looked different than the captain remembered; he’d only been in it once, many years ago. It had been dusty and overgrown with cobwebs, home only to the skeevers and dust mites. But now, everything seemed scrubbed clean. The floors and walls shone, there was a wooden bar with a trio of stools and generous shelves of alcohol. Potted flowers of every variety lined the halls. Rich Imperial burgundy drapes framed clear windows, short bookcases and round tables with elegant cloths and cushioned chairs hugged the walls, carpets of the same color were draped over stairs and held in place by golden rods.
“Shor’s beard,” Aldis murmured, gazing around. How long had it been like...this?

 

He kept the younger man with him and sent the two others downstairs to search for Elisif. He had a gut feeling she was alive, but it didn’t hurt to be certain. Ulfric might’ve turned on her if Tharya had not killed him first, and the court was likely too scared to do anything against her. The only one he harbored doubts about was Erikur--that slimy bastard would do anything to line his own pockets, but killing the High Queen was a few steps too far, even for him. And Erikur regularly broke the lines of morality to get what he wanted.
“So you know her, then?”
“The High Queen? Yes. I was her guard captain for many years.”
“No. I was talking about the Dragonborn. You seem to know her.” Aldis twisted to look at the farmer boy over his shoulder, but nodded.

“I do.” He sighed, glancing quickly up the stairs before motioning for him to follow. “She would spend the summers here in Solitude. We became friends very quickly.” He heard the boy murmur his amazement before falling silent again. The pair made their way up the staircase. On the left was what looked to be a long banquet table, with a map in the center and many opened letters strewn around it. A war table. There was a little sitting area beside one of the windows that looked out over the courtyard of the palace below. Across the room, another set of stairs going up to the highest level, and on the right, a cold fireplace with plush sofas around it, and a wall hidden by bookshelves.

 

Abruptly Aldis held up a closed fist, and behind him all movement ceased. He and the boy waited with bated breath, until finally a floorboard behind them creaked, and a bowstring groaned. A silence settled over all three souls in the room, until Elisif spoke:
“It pleases me to see you survived, Captain.” The crossbow went down. “I believed you dead many months ago.”

 




“Here. Hold these,” Tharya shoved the coil of molten magic chains towards Gjukar, who backed away from them. “Oh, come on. That spell that nearly killed us back there didn’t affect you at all. You’re a spirit--this should be fine too. Hold them.” She extended them again and with obvious hesitation, Gjukar took them from her. After a dense moment she nodded, satisfied, and turned around.

 

Miraak soared below the Arch one last time, folding his wings in to fit, and as he did so, successfully wrapped another layer of magic around the city and the rock. Despite his effort rocks were still falling out of place and tumbling into the water below, and the Arch was still racked by the occasional tremble of a forming crack or collapsing chunk. The weight of the city was becoming too much. He must’ve seen it too, because while he hovered in the air and examined his handiwork an agitated roar left his maw. As a last resort he flew beneath the Arch and pressed upwards against it, forming his wings to either downwards slope and pressing his shoulders upwards against the center.

 

And that only served to fail when more cracks appeared, and more rocks fell away, leaving the Arch thin as ever.

I have an idea, big guy, but you’re going to have to get out of the way. Tharya touched two fingers against the top of the chain pulled tight over her shoulder, and whisked them downwards. In one motion, a thick layer of cooled, flat steel began to cover the top of the chain, leaving the bottom glowing with heat. You’re too strong, you’re pushing up too hard on the rock.

Perhaps you would share this idea of yours before patronizing mine, Miraak bit back, his voice strained and almost hoarse.
Well, I’m going on a lot of guesses and what-ifs here, so I’d rather my plan work first and you can congratulate me later. She swung her spear over the steel line and held it horizontally, one hand on either side. But seriously, move.

Miraak didn’t reply, but Tharya didn’t expect him to. With a deep breath and a few brave steps she launched herself off the side of the bridge, maintaining a death grip on both ends of her spear as she flew through the air and across the harbor.
“This. Is. Amazing! ” She hollered into the night, finding it within herself to laugh aloud as her echo came back to her. What in the black Void are you doing? The screech of metal on metal did little to mask Miraak’s confused alarm, but it only made her laugh again. “I don’t think there’s a name for what I’m doing!” With the wind whipping at her face, the moonlit water showing her reflection soaring above it, she could almost forget about the battle, and Ulfric, and the rest of the mess she’d gotten herself into.
Miraak, you really have to try-
She was cut short by her body meeting the rock of the Arch head on, coming to the end of the chain that had most recently been wrapped around it. Her hands crunched first, and in a split-second reaction her fingers opened around the spear as white hot pain engulfed them. Her torso connected to the rock less than a millisecond after and she fell limp towards the water, spear spiraling downwards with her.

 

Miraak watched as both woman and weapon disappeared below the dark waves. Good gods, she was dead. She had to be. After a hit like that, there was no way she was conscious, and now beneath the water...gods, she was gone. An agonized roar left his chest, echoing strongly around all of Haafingar. He watched the water intently for any sign of life, any sign she might come to, suppressing an embarrassing whine in his throat. She couldn’t be gone. He hadn’t said his goodbyes, he wasn’t ready to live without her. He hadn’t said his farewells.

He hadn’t said he loved her.

 

But slowly, the water began to churn. It began to bubble and swirl directly below him, but there was no wind. And below the rippling waves a golden light appeared, fierce and divine. Miraak struggled to keep his purchase against the Arch; he could feel its weight baring down entirely on him now.

 

The waves spun faster now, into a whirring vortex that sprayed mist against his scales. In the very center of the choppy vortex was the source of the vibrant light: a woman, standing upright, her eyes aglow, holding a spear.

 

Tharya.

 

She looked almost like a goddess, a beacon framed by the dark night, one hand reaching slowly and ceremoniously to rest between his nostrils. A low sound, not quite a whine but damn close to one, escaped his chest. When he tried to reach her mind there was nothing; she was blank, except for the splitting image of a restored and full Arch that vanished just as quickly as it appeared. He watched in awe as the waters spat up every rock, every pebble that had fallen from beneath the city and floated gently up, up, up, finding the nook and cranny they had tumbled from and fitting themselves back in. They broke the swirling waters around the base of the vortex with fluidity. He could feel them forcing their way between his wings and the Arch, making him finally move away. In silence he drifted upwards in the sky, feeling himself begin to...dissipate. The control his dragon soul had over his conscious, his being, was beginning to flake. But Tharya remained vigilant, with one hand still outstretched and rocks still being pulled up from the sea floor. Bit by bit, the Arch was being rebuilt. Each magical chain shrieked in protest before snapping away, falling with a sharp splash into the dark water. 

 

Tharya had become her own artificial sun, bathed from head to toe in golden light that hugged every square inch of her. He was only reminded of the night when the number of rocks coming from the water began to slow, and the Arch looked fuller than it had even before it collapsed. Her glow began to fade, slowly and gracefully, and with it he felt his scales and powerful wings begin to recede. The last thing he could recall clearly was reaching for her, one dark hand trying to close the long distance between them, and seeing her return to the water with an almighty splash.

 

And so they fell, like angels, two shining beacons in the night, and were swallowed together by the calm black waters of the harbor below.

Chapter Text

He didn’t remember emerging from the water, coughing and spitting and soaked. He didn’t remember flopping like a dead fish on the cold shore and wheezing loudly for air. He didn’t remember passing out, but he remembered waking up.

 

The sun was high in the sky and beating down on his face, cracking his lips, making his robes stiff and heavy. When he managed to open his eyes his head swam with the sudden light, and for a moment he rolled over and pressed his forehead to the cool ground below. He remembered the night,  he remembered the Arch falling, he remembered all of Solitude hanging on by a thread...he remembered Tharya. With a sudden urgency he pushed himself onto his hands and knees, doing his best to ignore the blazing sun.

 

She was laying horizontally only a couple yards down the shoreline, one arm and leg submerged in the water. It took all his strength to crawl to her, and after another blackout he took it upon himself to throw her over his shoulder and return to the city they had saved.

 



“It would be in your best interest to allow me to heal you,” he told her nearly a week later. Both of them had missed the New Life Festival and the first of the new year, but from what they heard the celebrations had consisted mostly of funerals and services for the fallen, and political fallout as Elisif tried to gain control of the court. By right, she was High Queen of Skyrim. But someone had called for the Moot to convene and confirm that claim, and now things weren’t looking as good.
“And it would be in my best interest that we don’t rely on magic because if we do, science will go undeveloped.” Tharya shielded her eyes from the sun and looked at Miraak, who only shook his head. “A couple broken ribs aren’t going to kill me.”

 

They were sitting on the very same shoreline they had washed up on after that brutal night, watching an East Empire Company trading vessel float below the Arch and gently into the harbor. Elisif was determined to keep Solitude on its feet even as they cleaned up the remnants of what they were calling the New Life Rebellion; apparently the dramatic flair of storming Solitude on the final night of 4E 203 had not gone unnoticed. 

 

It was nearing sunset, with the first dancing arms of pink and orange stretching rapidly outwards from the blazen horizon. A cool breeze rolled continuously off the water, and even with the knowledge of the blood still being scrubbed off the marketplace stones and the funerals still being conducted, the city above them had a semblance of peacefulness. Tharya felt as if she could finally rest. Her job was done, for now at least. Solitude could handle itself.

 

Movement beside her snatched her reverie away. Miraak stood without a word, moving to toe his boots off and let his gloves fall to the ground beside them. Next came his belt, and then the methodical removal of his robes.
“What in Shor’s name are you doing?” Tharya laughed when he tossed his shirt into her lap, but the Dragon Priest didn’t reply. Instead he tugged his little phial necklace off, and held it up, saying:
“This necklace holds waters from the sacred lake of Atmora. Vatus Pætrio. From which all life on the continent was created, and where every Atmoran child was taken from every corner of the land to be washed so that their life would begin cleansed of the influences of those around them.” He turned it in his fingers, smiling just the slightest bit when it glittered in the light. “This necklace belonged to my mother.”

 

Without another word, he tossed it into the harbor.

 

Tharya gaped.
“I thought you just said it was sacred.” She mumbled, curling her hands into his shirt. Miraak took a couple steps forward, the bubbly little waves touching his ankles.
“It is. But I do not remember my birthday,” he ran a hand through his hair and pulled it away from his face, “so it is time I make my own.”
He didn’t spare her a glance before he waded into the water, straight to where he had thrown the necklace, and then disappeared from view beneath the rippling surface. 

 

Tharya watched and waited as he reappeared, cupping his hands below the water, letting it splash onto his scalp and run down his face, rubbing it into his neck, shaking it from his hair. It struck her that he was repeating the tradition he had described to her before, one he had undoubtedly already gone through thousands of years ago. He was baptizing himself.

 

The Last Dragonborn clambered to her feet as the First plodded back to her, and stood at the edge of the water with outstretched arms. With a glowing smile she had never seen before, he carefully picked her up, returned to the spot he’d submerged himself at, and brought her under.
“Happy birthday,” Tharya said after she flicked strands of wet hair out of her eyes.
Kogaan.” Miraak grinned, locking his hands together beneath her. “What day is it?”
“Ninth of Morning Star.” She hugged him gingerly, careful of her ribs, and he put his cheek against her hair.

“What you were going to say to me in the tower,” Miraak coiled a strand of wet blonde around his index finger, “tell me.” Tharya gave him a confused look.

“In the tower? I said everything I needed to say.”

The Dragon Priest raised an eyebrow, blinking water out of his eyes.

“No, you did not. Tell me, so that I may also tell you.”

 

She struggled for words but after a long silence under his patient gaze, she cleared her throat.
“In the tower, what I was going to say...going to tell you, you know, before the Arch started going to the Void and all...well, I was going to say I love you , because Sanguine told me I wouldn’t make it through the battle, and I figured that if I had a moment with you I should say it just to...” she gave a nervous shrug. “Just to get it out of the way. So I love you.”

For a moment, the Atmoran was deadly silent, a light smile plastered onto his lips. He looked frozen in time, as if he’d just gotten the greatest news of his life and subsequently...stopped working. And then, tightly as he could without hurting her sides, he embraced her.
Zu lokaal hi.” He kissed her forehead, then her lips, whispering her words back to her: “I love you.”

 

A wild range of emotion crossed her face but most prominent was joy , and for the first time since he could remember he was unable to keep a smile off his face. It almost made his cheeks hurt. 

 

“Can we kiss more often?” She laughed, cheeks tinged pink. “And hug? And do all those sappy things that elderly married couples do?”
“Are you implying that I am elderly, ahtlahzey? ” He asked with mock offense.
“Not entirely, but you are up there. Four thousand and however many years old is quite the lifespan,” she teased. He sighed, and after a minute of contemplation, looked at her with a skeptical eyebrow raised.
“I will tell you how old I am if you do not mock me.”
“Deal.”
“Four thousand, four hundred seventy-two.” Her laughter was somewhere between a pained shriek and a hearty cackle, holding her ribs as if they would fall out but unable to stop herself. “Ol zu morah. You are truly lamentable.”
“How old were you when you first got into Apocrypha?”
“Nearly thirty.”
“Oh, that’s not so bad. Only a year or so older than me,” she smiled widely but it devolved into a fit of uncontrollable giggles. Miraak rolled his eyes, letting his forehead fall against hers. “Four thousand, four hundred seventy-two. Wait until the College finds out.”
“Should they, I will know who is at fault.” She draped her arms over his neck to kiss him languorously, for once not deciding to ignore the indescribable feelings of love and safety and intimacy that seemed to blossom from their simply being together. If that was all it took to feel so whole, to be near him, with him, holding him close and kissing him sweetly, drinking in his presence, then she would never leave.

“Hey, honeymooners! Get the hell out of the harbor!”

 


 

“Relax, Elisif. The Moot will do what it thinks is right, and that’s all we can ask of them.”

 

Beside her, the Jarl of Solitude--she had agreed to digress from title of High Queen until the Moot named her such--nodded, cleared her throat, and stood. Tharya straightened in her chair, finding Miraak’s intense gaze in the seat directly on Elisif’s left, and gave him a little smile.

“Most esteemed Jarls. To end our talks here tonight, I would firstly like to thank you all for arriving on such short notice. It is times like these, when Skyrim needs its leaders most, that you all continue to show your support and love for your homeland and your concern for the welfare of its people.” Around the circular stone table, Jarls and housecarls nodded. “I would like to extend my gratitude to the Greybeards for agreeing to host our Moot at their monastery, a feat only performed by the Dragonborn and the late High King two years ago when our country was once again faced with the totality of war and fragility of peace.”

Elisif shifted at the noticeable lack of reaction to that statement, but squared her shoulders and went on.
“The Dragonborn has won us a great victory in dethroning Ulfric Stormcloak and giving us a chance to start anew, with new leadership and new ideals. But we cannot rely on the Dragonborn any longer--she is one woman who stands up for thousands, speaks for the oppressed, helps the poor and indeed, has saved us all from certain doom against the World-Eater. But she is no army, and while her help is indeed invaluable, as I’m sure we can all attest to, she cannot fight all our battles, nor win all our wars.

 

It is time for Skyrim to become the power that past leaders, like my late husband Torygg, and many before him, dreamed it to be. It is time for Skyrim to become a place of prosperity and strength, a place of acceptance and refuge for those who need it, and a place where all endeavours we as leaders undertake will serve our communities and cities and make the Fatherland flourish. It is time to bury those rigid laws that have kept us so isolated from the world, and discard those traditions which serve only to make this province a cold and unfeeling place to those who suffer for the circumstances of their birth.”

Tharya tapped her spear against the table as a few murmurs of approval went up. Some Jarls kept their mouths tightly shut.

“It is time for all our ports to become prosperous, bustling points of flowing trade. It is time to make friends with our neighbors and strengthen our allies. It is time to turn a portion of our resources to the education of those who seek it, not just our warriors but our scholars, our bards,” Elisif glanced to Tharya, “and our mages. For many years Skyrim has been falling further and further from the mark of greatness, and now, with our slate wiped clean of Ulfric and his Stormcloak supporters, we must seize this opportunity not only to congratulate those who have made it possible to better ourselves, but capitalize on our liberation by creating a Skyrim that is the forerunner of Tamriel.” Elisif wet her lips and looked at each Jarl in turn. “I thank you for your time.”

 

She sat again after a slight bow and Tharya stood just as the chatter was beginning to rise. All attention fell instantaneously to the Last Dragonborn.
“Becoming the forerunner of Tamriel also means we have to deal with the Thalmor.” She said plainly. “We, not me alone and not any of you, but all of us collectively have allowed them to fester for far too long. Ulfric’s rebellion landed a small blow to their hold on Skyrim, but he allowed that victory to turn into a resentment towards all those of the Mer race. I would say now that the Thalmor have their claws buried deeper into Skyrim than any over province of Tamriel.” She watched the shocked looks dawn over each Jarl’s face. “Part of becoming a Skyrim we can all be proud of is promoting the coexistence of all races who find home and refuge within our borders, and turning our attention not on the Elves, but the Thalmor. Ulfric’s aggressive policy towards them did not work because he made his intentions obviously known; it is our duty to make sure the Thalmor don’t know our plans, and don’t see us coming. No matter your personal beliefs, the Thalmor are your true enemy, and the sooner we shore up our defenses and defeat them...”


Tharya exhaled slowly, her eyes moving around the table. Some of these people she didn’t recognize, but after Ulfric’s purge of the opposing Jarls, she understood the need to at least get someone on the throne and heading the local government. A head of blond hair caught her eye, crowned by a copper and ruby circlet, framed by a short, pointed beard. Balgruuf, the boy she had known who was years her senior but still intent on trying his best to live out his childhood. Balgruuf, with whom her entire journey had started, indeed, her entire life. Balgruuf, who had been so disappointed to see her on Ulfric’s side. Balgruuf, who looked at her now with a measure of respect, admiration, and a touch of fancy seeing you here. He raised an eyebrow at her and gave a short nod.

“...the better the world will be.”

Chapter Text

“I wish you hadn’t worn red. I had a terrible dream about you in red,” Tharya made a face as they meandered through the deserted streets of Solitude, the dull roar of Elisif’s post-coronation party fading as they left the Blue Palace.
“I will be just as happy to remove it as you will be once I do,” Miraak muttered, shifting his shoulders in the crushed velvet robe. “Trust me on this.”

She laughed into the crisp night air, pressing a hand to her side to dull the pain as she did. Usually that triggered Miraak’s tangent about healing her and how ridiculous it was that she prolonged her own suffering by seeing that dreadful court physician--he was a dreadful person, with bony hands, wiry hair and sunken features--but this time, he was quiet. He put an arm around her and let his hand rest clear of her injury.
“You do trust me, geh, ahtlahzey? ” He asked after a long silence.
“About the robe? Definitely.”
“No.” He sounded thoughtful, reflective, if a bit concerned. “On the bridge, I asked you the same question and you said you did not.” Tharya let her head fall against him with a groan.
“I said not explicitly,” she murmured as a dull excuse, “I do trust you. With a lot more than I think you realize,” she smiled up at him, “but as you can probably see, I have a terrible habit of not admitting my deepest, darkest feelings.”

The Dragon Priest barked out a laugh, a deep, rumbling sound that filled her ears. She’d never heard him laugh, not truly laugh before, but she supposed this would suffice until she did.
“I could have told you as much the day you stumbled into Apocrypha.” He teased.

 

They walked along in silence at a lazy pace--Miraak distinctly remembered many conversations where Tharya complained about his too-long strides--listening to the birds sing experimentally in the trees. Winter was leaving, and soon the ground would be grassy, the trees would grow their vibrant leaves and flowers, the soil would be soft and welcoming. He dreaded the rain season but found an inescapable beauty in the transitional time between frost and spring; the rebirth of life each year had never ceased to amaze him.

“It won’t get too warm in Winterhold. There’s always a breeze coming in from the Sea of Ghosts, but sometimes it crosses paths with and easterly stream and there’s rainstorms.” She sighed. “I’m not sure if you’d rather have the heat or the rain.”
“It does not matter,” he said. He had little control over the true weather patterns, and the sharp pain that bloomed from the precipitation would have to be endured for many years to come. It was trivial, and it would pass with the seasons.
“Maybe I’ll work on trying to find some numbing agent for you.” She mused. “That, and a birthday present. Oh!” She grabbed his arm and stopped, smiling. “Did you ever get those rubbings from the stone at Rorikstead?”
“I believe they are in your bag at the inn.”
“Perfect. Onmund will have a grand time with those.” She tucked herself back into his side and they resumed walking. “I wonder how Gjukar’s doing, now that he’s released into the afterlife. He seemed happy to go.” She was quiet for a beat. “So many projects to work on this summer. It’ll be nice to-”

“Throne-Breaker!” A single voice rang out into the night, cutting her off, making them stop again. “Throne-Breaker!” It came again, and somewhere a door swung open and shut. They turned towards the Bards College, the source of the voice, and found a small group of students walking excitedly towards them.
“Who?” Tharya raised an eyebrow, grabbing for Miraak’s hand as he slid away.
“You!” One of the girls laughed. “That’s what everyone’s calling you now, haven’t you heard? Tharya Throne-Breaker, the Last Dragonborn. It rolls off the tongue quite nicely, don’t you think?”

She murmured it to herself before shrugging.
“I suppose so. Can I do something for you?” Each of the young bards eyed each other before all exploding into chatter at once. Asking for her signature, asking her to sit for a portrait, asking her to describe how she saved the Arch and her struggle to defeat Ulfric. “Hold on, hold on,” Tharya put her hands up and each of them fell silent again, clutching at notebooks and blank drawing pages. “I already promised one of your classmates I would share my story with her first.”

 

A collective look of disappointment crossed each face, but Miraak gave a quietly amused snort.
“Who would that be?” One of the young men pouted, but Tharya only smiled.
“My sister.”

 


 

Winterhold was somehow just as he remembered it and not. It felt more alive, more full. An entrance to the town had been built with massive wooden doors that squealed open upon their arrival. A stable was built just past it. With the bluffs restored, many houses and shops had gone up. Ruined ones had been torn down and rebuilt. In the waters below a fishery had opened up, as well as a mead hall, and a small port was being discussed in the Jarl’s longhouse, currently in the process of being heavily renovated. The bridge to the College had been restored, and now two storm atronachs guarded the gate leading into the courtyard.

 

The first familiar face they saw was Lilika and Arimir, who had agreed to meet them at the College so Lilika could become the first bard to make her sister’s accounts known. But the second was highly unexpected, and the third was a colossal surprise.
Vukul?


Serana smiled at him with all her supernatural charm, crossing her arms and examining him from head to toe.
“You’re looking good. Heard you finally turned into a dragon to save the Arch of Solitude. Did she see it?” The vampire grinned, but Miraak only rolled his eyes.
I did not save the Arch. She did.”
“Wow.” Her orange eyes widened. “I did not expect that a trip to the capital would’ve made you so humble.”

Miraak grumbled something under his breath and began walking towards the statue of Shalidor, but Serana followed.
“What are you doing here, vukul?
“After we defeated my father, Tharya said I could come teach here at the College if I ever wanted to. And, well, renovations on that old castle are hard when you’re the only one working, so here I am. We were talking about maybe making it a little study abroad program, Castle Volkihar and the College.” She shrugged, but the idea obviously seemed to excite her.
“What would you teach?”
“Metaphysical, supernatural history, lore, that kind of thing. Destruction, maybe. I hear necromancy isn’t entirely frowned upon either,” she smiled toothily at him. “Come on, Miraak, you could at least try to be happy to see me.”

“I am not.”
He was.

 

The next surprise came not long after once all of them--he, Serana, Tharya, Lilika and Arimir--had entered the Hall of the Elements. Brelyna was giving a lecture to a crowd of one, someone who looked to be a child, no older than eleven or twelve. The Dunmer looked up when she heard the doors closed and nearly dropped her book.
“Arch-Mage! You’re back!” The child turned, and next thing he knew, darted straight into his kneecaps.

“What are you doing here, mal gein? ” He crouched to Sofie’s height but she only slung her arms around his neck to hug him, babbling endlessly about how relieved she was that he had returned.
“Well, the cook was very rude,” she huffed once he pried her off, “and I told him he should be careful about the things he said about the Dragonborn.” For some reason, he couldn’t shake the feeling that Dragonborn didn’t refer to Tharya. “And we fought too much, so I saved up running errands for Miss Giordano and bought a carriage ride here, because I knew it was where you and the Arch-Mage would be. And now I’m going to study magic! Isn’t that amazing?” Her eyes widened, and she grabbed what she could of his hands and bounced excitedly on her heels. “You can teach me! Oh, won’t you?”


“He would love to,” Tharya quipped from behind, dropping with minor effort to one knee and putting a hand on Miraak’s shoulder. “Isn’t that right?” She turned that shit grin to him but he found himself unable to scoff or roll his eyes or frown. He met Sofie’s hazel eyes once more, and gave her a slow smile.


Geh.” He said finally. “That is right.”

Chapter Text

↡4E 203↡

 

Last Seed

 

  1. Fredas, 3 of Last Seed: Tharya travels to Solstheim to learn more about the First Dragonborn.
  2. Loredas, 9 of Last Seed: Miraak is rescued from Apocrypha. He and Tharya stay with Neloth to recover from their fight in Oblivion.
  3. Middas, 28 of Last Seed: Tharya and Miraak return to Skyrim and land in Windhelm--Miraak spends about a week in and out of a coma/sickness in the Argonian Assemblage.

 

Hearthfire

 

  1. Loredas, 13 of Hearthfire: Miraak and Tharya return to Winterhold and the College.
  2. Sundas, 14 - Middas, 17 of Hearthfire: Events of Dragonmark take place.
  3. Turdas, 18 of Hearthfire: The bluffs of Winterhold are restored. 
  4. Sundas,  22 of Hearthfire: Tharya receives a letter from the Dawnguard.

 

Frost Fall

 

  1. Loredas,  17 of Frost Fall: Tharya and Miraak arrive at Fort Dawnguard.
  2. Tirdas, 20 of Frost Fall: The Moth Priest Dexion is rescued from the vampires.
  3. Turdas, 22 of Frost Fall: Tharya leaves to gather reinforcements for the Dawnguard.
  4. Fredas,  23 of Frost Fall: Dexion reads the first Elder Scroll for the Dawnguard.
  5. Loredas, 24 of Frost Fall: Miraak and Serana travel to Castle Volkihar in search of the Blood Scroll.
  6. Loredas, 31 of Frost Fall : Dexion reads the second Elder Scroll for the Dawnguard.

 

Sun’s Dusk

 

  1. Turdas,  4 of Sun’s Dusk: Tharya, Miraak and Serana travel to the Forgotten Vale, kill Arch-Curate Vyrthur and obtain Auri-El’s Bow.
  2. Middas, 10 of Sun’s Dusk: Harkon and the Volkihar vampire clan are defeated by the Dawnguard forces.

 

Evening Star

 

  1. Loredas, 14 of Evening Star: Tharya returns to Stormcloak-controlled Whiterun for the first time since Ulfric began looking for her.
  2. Morndas, 16 of Evening Star: Tharya and Miraak arrive in the rebel controlled Fort Amol.
  3. Fredas,  20 of Evening Star: The events of Sic Parvis Magna Chapter 5 take place.
  4. Sundas, 22 of Evening Star: Tharya binds the souls of the company headed by Captain Gjukar Iron-Foot and asks them to fight Ulfric; Miraak is captured by Namira cultists.
  5. Middas, 25 of Evening Star: Saturalia.
  6. Morndas, 30 - Tirdas, 31 of Evening Star: Tharya challenges High King Ulfric Stormcloak in Solitude and kills him. She invades Solitude with an army of ex-soldiers, rebels, and ghosts. The Arch of Solitude is saved from collapsing by the combined efforts of the First and Last Dragonborn. The events of the night come to be known as the New Life Rebellion.

 

↡4E 204↡

 

Morning Star

 

  1. Turdas, 9 of Morning Star: Miraak’s (new) birthday.
  2. Fredas, 24 of Morning Star: Miraak and Tharya travel to Solstheim once again to defeat Vahlok.