Daughter of Dominion: Chapter Three- The Rift

Chapter Three: The Rift


His eyes couldn't help but linger on me it seemed. Walking from the fire, I could feel his gaze bore into my back like the hottest of flames. When I returned with kindling, I found myself staring right into those brown and green orbs. I still had no idea of the dragon's full intent, but my fear had ebbed enough to speak a little between the silences.

I carefully placed the twigs and sticks I had gathered into the dying flames. I would have tried to get more if my entire body didn't ache. I reasoned it would take more than a night to recover from my evening with the Stormcloaks. “Why do you suffer still, Zenoya?” the deep voice asked me, breaking the silence of The Rift's early morning. “Can you not heal yourself of the pain?”

I took a deep breath as I sat back down across from him. The small fire did nothing to hide his hulking form, so I was forced to look at him in his entirety while I answered. “I don't know a spell strong enough to fix everything. My healing spell mends gashes and burns mostly. It would take all day to try and heal breaks and bruises.”

Kaalfahjoor hummed, the noise vibrating the snow around him. “Are you not a mage? Did you not stand in the flames to consume the Bron?” At the question, he lifted his head, checking the area around us. I knew he couldn't have been worried- what did he, of all creatures, have to be worried about? Instead, his systematic checking was for my own peace of mind. Every time he questioned “the Bron”, which I discovered meant “the Nords”, the beast would look around, as if his words could summon them before us. It was oddly endearing.

“I am a Spellsword,” I agreed with him, “but not all magic users know the same spells. I know little about Restoration, but I'm fairly adept at Conjuration and Destruction.” I smiled slightly as he continued searching the low-light morning for signs of trouble. “You don't have to look out for me, sir. The Stormcloaks stick to their towns and cities more than anything. They won't be this deep into The Rift.”

“Sir?” the dragon asked, chuckling. “Reserve that word for your Lords and Nobles. I am Kaalfahjoor. That is all you should call me.” He pushed himself off of the ground, shaking his body to remove the snow that accumulated during the night. With no where else to be, he simply laid himself back on the ground beside my tiny fire.

“Kaalfahjoor,” I repeated, sounding out each syllable. As he gave a faint nod, I felt a little bolder to ask him, “Why did you save me?”

“Pruzah laan. Now you ask questions.” He exhaled, the steam from his nostrils just as warm as the flames dancing between us. “We will take turns, ofun mindah, for I have much to inquire about you.” I nodded in response, leaning back against my pack of supplies. Once I was comfortable, he spoke again. “I watched the Bron for long hours in this land. Very strong, very powerful mortals, but they have lost their way. I remember a time when they were driven by honor and righteousness. Now, they are a different people driven by hatred and vengeance.

“Dahmaan sul sizaan, once mortals fell at the feet of the dov, but we have awakened to a world that would have us bend to them,” he told me, lowering his tone as he noticed it made me slightly uneasy. “Do not mistake me. Many dovah have mistreated the joor, wanting to feel the power Alduin had over us, to hold the simple life in our jaws and feel the rush as it extinguished. Paarthurnax was not the only one to decide in his mind to be more than a savage 'monster', as the Bron called me. You are smaller, weaker than I, but you are far more complex than I can even comprehend. Jaaril laas, mal nuz suleykaar.” The noise of his chuckle trembled the ground again, “Krosis, I fear I have startled you.”

My nervous smile must have alerted him. I laughed quietly as I shifted my gaze to the fire for a brief second. “Is it obvious?” At my jest, I looked back up at him. “We were told the dragons are evil, but just from the stories I've heard, I know all of you must not be. Clearly if you thought to spare my life, you can't be bad. I just don't understand why you saw me, of all people, and wanted to help.”

“We dov are evil,” he affirmed, “at least in the sense you mortals define as 'good' and 'evil'. It is a fragile morality scale. Hold it against the men and mer of this world. Is everything so clear?”

I considered his question, scratching the back of my neck. “I suppose it isn't.” My mind drifted through countless interactions I had with the people of Skyrim. “We do good things all the time, so we can't be “evil”. Yet, the bad I see, the hatred between our mortal races, that's not something “good” people would have either.” The nod of his head almost made him look pleased. “I still don't understand why you helped me, though. I'm no different than anyone else.”

Kalfahjoor lifted his head, turning his gaze towards the sky. He admired the rays of Mundus as they peeked between the tall trees, the light turning his irises into a kaleidoscope of colors. I could tell he was contemplating the answer to the question I posed, dancing around a direct response with more of his cryptic ramblings. “You are very unique,” he started, his words slower than before. “Where your kind have cowered and fled, you were unwise enough to stand your ground. There is more to say, but answer my question first.”

“Unwise,” I laughed quietly, “because I didn't want to be a pushover?” I shook my head with a sigh. “Sure. What's your question?”

“Why are you so unwise?” I snorted in laughter, causing the dragon to flinch at my unlikely response. He tilted his head as he watched me. “What do you find humorous about the question?”

I forced myself to stop laughing, exhaling slowly. “Typically, calling someone 'unwise' is an insult.”

“Is that not what you were?” he asked. “You fought against the Bron knowing you would lose. That is most foolish.”

I sighed, smiling as I reluctantly nodded to him. “Aye, I suppose it was. Now, I'll be paying for it for a few days.” My eyes scanned over the bruises on my exposed skin, knowing well there were likely just as many bruises beneath my shirt and pants as well. “To answer your question...” I paused only a moment, certain in my decision. “It's because I'm tired of them. The Nords- the Stormcloaks- take whatever they want. They hurt lots of mer but it's justified in their eyes. I've not seen an Altmer like me in Skyrim for close to a year now. I'm angry. Sometimes, they just push too far. If I have to get a few lumps and bruises to shut one of them up, then it's worth it.”

“Vengeance clouds the mind,” he murmured to me, turning his gaze back towards the sky. “It blurs wisdom and ignorance and your 'right' and 'wrong'. But, mul nahkriin, it gives strength and power.”

I hummed in response, looking down towards the flames in silence. I only looked back up when I felt his gaze rest on me again. “It's my turn?” At his nod, I ran through the list of questions within my mind. There was a multitude of things I wanted to know, but I had to decide what was most important. I began to speak but a distant roaring distracted me. I turned my eyes to High Hrothgar to see the old white dragon had began making his morning rounds. Kaalfahjoor looked towards the peaks as well, his body growing tense. Caught up in the distraction, my question startled him. “Where are you from? If not Skyrim, why are you here?”

The crimson dragon glanced down at me, but put his gaze back on the sky. “That is two questions, but they go together, I suppose. Alduin awakened me in the land of living trees, Valenwood. I do not remember falling there, but I rose all the same.” Kaalfahjoor hesitated to continue, his eyes constantly flicking as his gaze searched between the trees for Paarthurnax. “I am here now, because it is where I am meant to be.”

“That's vague,” I responded, “but most of the answers you've given me have been.” My jest was lost on the dragon who seemed far too interested in the sky to truly focus on our conversation. I slowly got to my feet as the air of unease grew around us. It occurred to me why the sound of the roar put him on edge. If he didn't submit to anyone, Paarthurnax must have seen him as a threat. Watching his labored breathing by the flickering flames, I couldn't help but feel for him. An angry dragon was a terrifying sight, especially if that anger was directed at you.

My boots crunched in the snow as I walked over to him, yet he didn't turn his gaze from the mountaintop. Only when my trembling hand touched the scales of his neck did he put his attention back on me. “Sulvek?” he asked. “Do you think I need your comfort?”

“You don't need it,” I told him, “but if I was scared, it's what I would want.” I withdrew my hand, backing away a few steps as his head lowered beside me. His eyes narrowed as he fixated me in his haunting gaze.

“You are kind,” he grumbled, forcing a soft smile to return to my lips. “I am not afraid of the Old One, but I am cautious. He will not kill me, but his Dovahkiin takes pride in fighting those opposed to his Thu'um.” The dragon's gaze lingered on me for a long moment before he pressed his nose against the warmth of my body. His eyes closed as he seemed to relax. “I do not need your comfort, but it is most welcomed and appreciated.”

I found myself trembling as I reached out to touch his cheek. Most of the scales on his face were the same size as my hands. His teeth were even larger. He had a set of curving horns that protruded from his skull, each one nearly half my body in length. He was an absolute magnificent creature, and it sent fluttering through my chest that he sought comfort through me.

His eyes slowly opened as another great roar echoed across the mountainside. I looked up, barely making out the shape of Paarthurnax as he circled the peak of High Hrothgar. It wouldn't be long before he passed over The Rift. “Kaalfahjoor,” I muttered softly, getting a huff in response from the great beast. “Why don't you find somewhere to hide, or at the least fly far enough away to be out of sight? I know you said he won't kill you, but...”

“You are worried?” he asked me lifting his head from the ground. The snow that was beneath him had melted, revealing dried grass and earth. I nodded, hugging myself as the cold enveloped me again. “If I leave,” he started, “what will stop the Bron from hurting you? You are still wounded; you make even easier prey.”

I laughed lightly. “I've been dealing with Stormcloaks and hostile Nords for years. I can handle myself. They just... caught me off guard yesterday.” My answer didn't seem to soothe the beast. “I'll head to Riften. There are more Elves and even some Argonians there. The Nords are less likely to try something.”

“You will stay in Riften?” His tone was very concerned, like in the ways I had heard fathers questioning their children who wanted to run off and play.

“Yes,” I assured him, giggling. “Why are you worried where I'm going?” I paused, my smile growing wider as the thought occurred to me. “You want to meet up with me again, don't you? You still want to talk?”

The dragon growled slightly, getting defensive as if it hurt his pride to admit he enjoyed my company just as much as I enjoyed his. “We still have much to talk about; I have many questions.” He stretched out his wings, exposing the soft ruddy webbing that matched the scales of his belly. As he rose to his full height, towering over me, my chest tightened. I felt like nothing in comparison to his form. “And you,” he continued, “need to know much more than I can say now. I will return when the Old One has gone back to his nest and when you are safely from the eyes of other mortals.”

“I look forward to it,” I admitted, nodding to him. With only a small hum as a response, Kalfahjoor flapped his wings, kicking up snow in all directions. The force made me stumble back and extinguished the last flames of my fire. With just the faint strands of Mundus as light, I watched him lift from the ground. Branches and limbs snapped as he broke through the treeline, sending piles of snow to the forest floor. Once above the obstructions, he left my view quickly, his speed inconceivably fast for something his size.

Wiping the cold flakes from my face, I took a minute to comprehend what had happened. I was left alone again, my skin cold but my chest warm as my heart pounded within it. An involuntary squeak of excitement left my throat as I tried to speak to myself. “A dragon,” I giggled madly, “A real dragon!” The flood of emotions- joy, exhilaration, fear, relief- left me shaking. How had I managed to befriend a dragon? It was something that thrilled and terrified me.

After several minutes of childish giggling and attempted comprehension, I calmed myself down enough to plan my next steps. I was hungry, dirty, and in need of a healing potion or two. I knew Riften would have all three waiting for me- maybe even a blacksmith willing to repair my armor. The city wasn't too far away, I reasoned. Kalfahjoor had taken me far east, close to where the Treva River met Lake Honrich. I would be at the gates before lunch.

I took a few moments to put on my armor, lightening the load on my back. The dented, old pieces were freezing, having sat in the snow all night, but at least they protected me from the winds that were sure to pick up when I got back on the more open roads. They had lasted me years without issues, but they were far older than that. The Elven craftsmanship was the most beautiful I had ever seen, and I wasn't biased. I had tried all kinds of armors but none of them compared to that worn metal.

They belonged to Nelacar long before he gave them to me. He was a mage and preferred robes to anything else, but he still took great care of the set. It was his voice I had heard echoing through my subconscious the evening prior. His melodic tone, thick in Aldmeri accent, was unmistakable. I found myself thinking about him in my moments of panic. When I couldn't figure out how to solve a problem or fear left me paralyzed, he was always there to help me through. Well, his voice, the memory, was there. It had been awhile since I had actually heard him speak.

I found the road, as expected, just south of where we had made camp. In those first few hours of daylight, there was nothing but the occasional deer or skeever on the road. The Rift was desolate at any time of the year, but during the winter it was completely barren. Only my footsteps broke through the inches of snow, though it looked like a wagon might have traveled through a few days before. Walking through the silent, white woods of the Rift was the closest thing to feeling like you were the only soul on Nirn.

The higher Mundus rose, the more signs of life began to appear. The birds finally began waking up and the chatter of squirrels and other varmints began to rattle the undergrowth. The sounds of waves falling on the shore alerted me to the lake shortly before it came into view. Gloomy Riften still hid itself behind a dense layer of fog, but I could make out some of the fishing boats scattered about. The old manor and it's multitude of torches cut through the mist as well, serving as a landmark to point me in the direction of town.

Riften was one of my favorite cities. The Stormcloaks were a joke and the Thieves Guild was a pain, but other than that, the city was nice. It was built on top of the lake, so the sounds of the waves and rushing waters was ever-present. The homes were compact but beautiful. Even the people were a cut above the rest of Skyrim, meaning they didn't automatically assume I was out to steal their children and slit their throats. I had made a few friends down in the Ratway, so I rarely had to worry about my purse being snatched. Instead, I actually got to enjoy myself. I got to live as though I wasn't an Altmer.

“You aren't allowed here,” the voice echoed across the stone and through the trees. “Turn around and leave before we make you.” I wasn't near enough to the city to have been seen, so I knew the guard was talking to someone else. Still, I was cautious, and already began fumbling for some form of paperwork with my name on it.

“I... I don't understand,” a feminine voice responded, halting me in my tracks. “I've brought you what you asked for. See? Please, let me through. I need to see the apothecary.” Through the fog, I saw the forms of two Stormcloak guards, barring the gate into the city. In front of them was a young woman wearing a simple green gown. She held some letter in her hand or document in her hand. Normally, I wouldn't have been so thrown off; she could have been some form of thief or prostitute. What caught me off guard were her pleas- and her Aldmeri accent.

“So you say,” the other Nord scoffed, his hands resting on his hips. She was just as tall as he was, but he was nearly double her size in terms of volume. As she cowered in front of him, he continued, “Last warning, elf. Get lost.”

The desperation in her voice was lost on them. “But... but you promised I could go through if I brought you-” Her sentence was cut short as the first soldier shoved her backwards, knocking her to the ground. She made a small cry as she hit the ground, hurriedly scooting away from the men that advanced upon her. “Okay, okay! I'm sorry! I'll go!”

Before I considered the consequences of my actions, I summoned a blade into my hand. The sound caught the attention of the guards, but they were not quick enough to draw their blades before the tip of mine found the leader's throat. The fear on his face almost inspired me to draw blood, but I came to my senses as his partner finally drew his blade. The man in front of me, no longer threatening and instigating, raised his hands in a sign of surrender. I could have sworn I heard him shaking in his armor. “Not so fun when it's your life on the line, is it?” I taunted him.

The man gritted his teeth, glancing at the other Stormcloak. He was, just like his leader, scared out of his mind. It was apparent that neither of them had been in a real life or death situation before. I wouldn't have been surprised if it was their first day as a city guard. I didn't know if that made the situation better or worse. If anything, it solidified the fact that those Stormcloaks were bred to hate us, even if they had never seen an ounce of malice in their lives.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the Altmer woman had gotten to her feet. Certain that she was able to run if she needed to, I stepped back from the Stormcloak, scoffing. “You're both pathetic.” My free hand reached out towards the Altmer woman, motioning her to head back down the road. “We're leaving, and we don't need you to follow us. Go back to pretending you know how to do your jobs.” Despite the certainty that the snowbacks wouldn't be following us, I kept my sword at the ready. Only when we hidden by the fog and the torchlights of the town had disappeared did I find it safe enough to dispel the translucent blade.

The woman walked ahead of me, silent and trusting, until we reached the bridge leading to Goldenglow Estate. She considered that a safe distance to slow her pace and finally face me. Her skin was an even lighter shade of yellow than mine. Her eyes were a brilliant green complemented by almost ivory blonde hair. It was braided beautifully behind her, but strands had fallen into her eyes from being jolted by the Nord. “Thank you,” she started, a wide smile adorning her thin face. “Thank you so much. I honestly hadn't expected them to be so much trouble.”

“Must be new here,” I responded simply, a slight tone of tease in my voice. “They've gotten worse over the past few weeks. I didn't think they'd ever bar off Altmer from Riften though.” I shrugged as I glanced back to the city. The outline of the tallest buildings were visible over the mist, but I could see the flapping blue banners that waved proudly from the palace windows.

“Did Ciraen send you?” she asked me. As I looked back at with a confused expression, she tilted her head. “Ciraen Farel? Did she send you to help me?”

“You say that name like I should know who that is.” I crossed my arms over my chest, watching as she looked just as equally confused. She blinked a few times, as if suddenly having a realization. She made a gesture with her hand, bowing her head for a moment before looking back up at me. “I... I'm sorry, I don't understand.”

“By the Eight, you're not...” her voice trailed off as she tried to comprehend something that had gone completely over my head. I watched her, dumbfounded, until she sorted the situation within her mind enough to speak again. “I'm sorry. I thought you were someone else.”

I laughed, a tad awkwardly. “There's not that many of us in Skyrim nowadays. You must not be from around here.”

The woman smiled kindly, nodding her head. “I'm not. Nevertheless, you saved my life without any regard for your own. You had no idea whether those guards would have killed us both or called for help. You just saved me.”

I didn't have the heart to tell her that I didn't even think my actions through- a habit that was increasingly getting me into trouble. Instead, I simply smiled in return and responded, “The Stormcloaks and I are always having... disagreements. They gave me an awful time yesterday. I think I might still be a little sore over it.”

She hummed in amusement, her hand gently taking my arm. She tugged it slightly, encouraging me to follow her. “You deserve a reward. Come, follow me. I don't have anything on me right now, but my camp isn't that far.”

“Oh,” I started, “you don't have to give me anything.” In truth, I was a little leery. She was the first Altmer I'd seen in ages and was acting more than a little odd. Still, I reasoned if she couldn't stand up to those idiots at the Riften gate, there was little she could actually do to hurt me. As she tugged on my arm, her eyes pleading me to follow, I found myself caving. “Alright, fine,” I sighed, “I'm coming.”

She giggled happily, the prospect of rewarding me making her much more giddy than one would expect. “Thank you!” she cheered, leading me off the stone road onto a path that could have been mistaken for a deer trail. The only indication that it had ever been used were her tracks that crunched the snow on her way to the city gate. “I'm Aviriel Lorthin, by the way. You can just call me Avi if you'd like, though; most people do.”

“I'm Zenoya,” I responded simply. She was an odd elf. She was likely a few years older than me, judging by the faint wrinkles and laugh lines that settled in her skin, but she acted quite young. Her playful, cheerful nature was almost contagious. Still, I felt like something was off with her. She hid something from me, but sensing no malice behind her actions, I continued to follow her through the forest towards her supposed camp. “Are you staying out here alone?”

“No, my partner, Hirendor, is waiting for me. He would have came with me, but he's hurt his leg pretty badly,” she told me, her voice betraying her worry. “It's why I needed to get into Riften. I was hoping the apothecary or one of the priests would be willing to get him moving again.”

I scoffed at the thought. Her friend was immobile and she was completely harmless, yet the guards still wouldn't let her in to get the supplies they needed. They really didn't care if we Altmer died. I cursed under my breath, making her look back at me. “Don't worry. I'll see if I can find some way to get him up. Surely one of the farms around here would be willing to help. If not, I'll see if one of my friends in the city can smuggle a potion or two for us.”

“I brought you out here to give you a reward,” she laughed, “not because I wanted to ask for more help.”

“I know,” I sighed. “It's just... I hate the way the Stormcloaks treat me, but I put up with it. I thought it was just me, mostly because I haven't seen anyone else like us in so long, but...” I growled in frustration. “I won't let them treat other elves like this. If they won't help you, then I will. And, if I get to break a couple Nord noses along the way, all the better.”

Avi grinned. “I like you. You're not afraid to do some dirty work, huh?” She paused, looking almost embarrassed as the words left her mouth. “Not... Not in a bad way though! I just mean you're tough and gritty, willing to be in the middle of the action. There's not a lot of us that would do that, so I truly meant it as a compliment!”

I laughed again, my smile comforting her a little. “You're alright, I know what you meant. No, I'm not afraid. I'm a mercenary, so there's very little I'm willing to say no to.”

“You're a sell-sword?” I nodded in response to her question. “Interesting. I take it you've been all over Skyrim then?”

“Aye, mostly.” Save for Winterhold, I was willing to travel wherever the money took me. I liked to call The Rift my home, but there were far more jobs in Solitude and Markarth than the vast, empty forests surrounding Riften. “I've got quite a few associates that keep me busy, but I pick up small jobs everywhere.”

She hummed, releasing my arm from her hand as the path became a little narrower. She walked ahead of me to lead the way, but she still kept up with the conversation. “You sound like quite the important woman; it's a shame you're an elf.” She looked over her shoulder with a smirk. It seemed we shared the same humor.

I felt myself grin. “Most of my jobs are from Elves fortunate enough to still own shops.” As Avi looked back ahead with a nod, I could see she was still mulling over things in her mind. “I'm sensing you might be looking to hire my services?”

“Perhaps,” she purred, slowing her pace to walk beside me as the path widened again. “You are much more acquainted with Skyrim and its inhabitants than we are. You might be a big help to us.” Before I could ask what she meant, she pointed ahead. “There's our camp. We'll talk to Hirendor and see what he thinks.”

My eyes followed the direction she pointed, settling on a small cave that was almost perfectly hidden from view. The only indication that there was even a cleft in the rock to begin with was the flicker of flames on the ceiling. Dead shrubbery and snow served as a natural barricade from prying eyes and scavengers alike. Avi approached with little caution, calling out across the snow, “Hirendor! I'm back! I got something for you!”

She squeezed through a small gap in the brush as I heard a distinctly Elven voice respond, “Thank the stars! I'm ready to get out of here.” I followed her through the opening of the cave and around the corner to find another Altmer struggling to get to his feet. He wore one boot while the other laid on the ground beside him. His entire body was covered with a coat-like black robe accented with gold threading and embroidery. His hood hung behind him to reveal his dark gold hair and equally vibrant eyes. His attention quickly snapped from the woman to me. “Who in Oblivion is this?”

Avi grinned, holding up her hands in a defensive manner. “Okay, don't get mad at me-”

“That's a wonderful way to start off an explanation,” he snapped, stumbling back a few steps to put distance between the two of us. I could see why he was so nervous. The elf was in no condition to defend himself if I wanted to hurt him. There was no weapon visible on his form and he had used all his magicka reserves on trying to mend his damaged leg.

“I'm not going to hurt you!” I cut in quickly, showing him my empty hands.

His partner frowned as she watched him struggle, walking over and gently taking his arm. “Sit down, please. You're going to make it worse. Do you honestly think I'd be so foolish to bring someone we can't trust here?” Her gentle coaxing seemed to do the trick, as the man lowered himself back to the ground with her assistance. Her smile returned as he was safely seated. “The Stormcloaks lied and wouldn't let me back into the city. I wasn't able to get you anything for the pain.”

“I told you they wouldn't, didn't I? It was a wasted effort,” he murmured, staring at her for a moment before putting his glare back on me. “That doesn't tell me who she is, though.”

“This is Zenoya,” she told him, looking back at me with a kind smile. “I thought the Nords were about to kill me before she showed up. She was fearless against them; she says she deals with them all the time.”

I rubbed my neck nervously, my face feeling warm at her compliment. “Don't let her fool you. I just did what anyone else would have.”

“No you didn't,” Hirendor muttered, his tone a tad softer than before. “No one is willing to help us- except us. Even then, help in Skyrim is difficult to come by.” He paused, a faint smile on his lips. “Thank you, Aviriel is a pain, but I'd be lost without her.” No sooner did I acknowledge him with a nod of my head did he put his attention on the woman. “As for you, learn to be more careful! I told you to take your blade! What was your brilliant plan anyway? Woo them with your charm?!”

Avi grinned. “It worked in Cyrodiil.”

“There weren't Stormcloaks in Cyrodiil!” he retorted, groaning and pinching the bridge of his nose. “Auriel take me soon...”

The woman giggled in response, rising to her feet again to face me. “I have some septims in my bag for you. Just a moment.”She walked to a large pack beside the wall. As she opened the flap to rummage inside, I caught sight of Elven armor very similar to my own. It was much newer and didn't have nearly as many dents, but it was recognizable all the same. I notice a shortblade lying on the ground next to the bag as well, crafted in the same fashion. “I'm not really going to have much use for them if I can't get into any of the cities, will I?”

“You're a warrior? You had me fooled,” I teased, though my inquiry was serious.

“You and everyone else,” she mused, checking another flap of her pack. “If I had my blade, it would have been a far different story. I just try to appear as inconspicuous as possible.” She huffed in frustration when she couldn't find her coin purse. Effortlessly, Hirendor reached over, untying the only pocket she had failed to check and producing the coin purse. She pursed her lips at him before muttering a thank you.

“I don't understand,” I told her, crossing my arms over my chest. “If you're as skilled as you say, why hide it? I get along well enough; in fact, some Nords won't even bother me when I have my armor.”

The man watched me, curiosity in his expression. “You have no idea who we are, do you?” The question startled me, but he pressed, “You act as though you don’t know why so many Altmer have fled this gods-forsaken land.”

“Maybe I don't,” I responded, somewhat defensively. “I haven't exactly had the time to ask any of them, and it's not like the Nords would tell me.” My eyes shifted back to the woman as she approached me, the sack of coins in her hand. Beyond her, my eyes rested on the Elven sword and pack of armor. I lowered my voice slightly, furrowing my brow. “You're Thalmor, aren't you?”

“So you aren't as dumb as the men you surround yourself with.” The compliment-insult made me scoff, but the elf gave me no time to respond. “You don't sound thrilled to be meeting us though.”

“Why should I be? I get mistaken for you all the time, which is why no one seems to like me. Whatever you people did to the Nords is something they don't plan on forgetting anytime soon.” While I felt more than a little annoyed, it was hard to be genuinely mad at the duo. Hirendor looked more concerned at my statement than anything else. Avi seemed wounded, as if I insulted her directly. I drew a deep breath, trying to offer clarification. “The Thalmor are the reason the Nords hate the Altmer, I know that much. I've never met you to know anything you've done, but your effects on Skyrim are felt to this day.”

“You're blaming us for the Nords hatred of you?” Hirendor asked, sighing quietly. “How many of our kin do you think actually serve the Dominion? The number is far lower than the lives that have been displaced and lost due to the Stormcloaks' purging of this land. Why, the Thalmor evacuated within a year of the Stormcloak victory. Shouldn't that have ended their attack on Altmer life?” His eyes peered directly into mine, the certainty of his words cutting to my core. “The Thalmor had no effect on the Nord's hatred for Elves. Men have always tried to destroy us.”

“Now is not the time,” Avi murmured softly to her companion, stepping forward to catch my attention. “If she wishes to learn, she will ask. For now, I'm sure she has other things she would rather be doing.” She extended her hand, offering me the coins with a kind smile.

I hesitantly took them from her. “I... I didn't mean to upset you. After all this time of being branded as one of you, all this time of suffering the consequences, I really don't know what I was expecting.”

She smiled sadly, her hand clasping mine. “We aren't your enemy, Zenoya. We have been trying to help ever since that False King ran us out of Skyrim.” She bit her lip, glancing towards Hirendor. “We're losing, we're not doing well at all-”

“Aviriel,” Hirendor called in a warning. “You don't have to tell her everything. You just said she would ask.”

“I know what I said!” she retorted with a huff, looking back at me. “She needs to know. She has a right to know, especially if she's been suffering alone here for so long.” The man groaned, but otherwise didn't protest. She continued, “Our numbers are dwindling; our outposts are being destroyed. We have a pact with the Empire, but they're being swayed by Skyrim to denounce us as well. We're backed up against a wall and we're desperate.” She laughed ironically, her smile hinting at sadness. “I mean, if we weren't desperate, would they have sent us out here, alone?”

“Avi...” Hirendor tried to comfort her, but his expression faltered as well. The woman took a step back from me, clearly more shaken than she was trying to appear. The male who sat on the ground kept his voice low. “She's right: there's not many of us left in this part of Tamriel. However, reinforcements will arrive soon. Once we actually get some results Elenwen promised us-”

“She promised us a lot of things, Hirendor,” the woman whispered, shaking her head. She cursed under her breath as she turned her back to me, wiping her eyes. I knew she was crying; I knew she was afraid. I reached out to touch her shoulder, but she walked away, taking a seat by her partner. “We were told we could go home, and here we are: freezing our hides off in this snow-covered wasteland.”

He looked as if he were going to scold her for something, but as she laid her head on his shoulder he simply looked away, defeated. Guilt made my chest feel heavy. It appeared they were victims like the rest of us. While I was still uncertain about the Thalmor in general, I felt the need to get the two of them back to safe- and warm- territory. “Where is your nearest outpost or safe-house? If you don't trust me to tell me the name of it, at least tell me how far it is.”

The two looked at each other, confused, but Avi responded, “It's on the border of Cyrodiil and Skyrim, south of Helgen.”

“Helgen...” I murmured to myself, running the distance through my mind. “It's nearly noon, so if we leave now we might make it before dark. If not, it won't be long after.”

“Leave?” Hirendor questioned, “We?”

I smiled kindly, giving him a nod. “Aye. There's no way I'll be able to heal your leg if someone as talented as yourself can't even do it. Avi and I can help you walk though. There's no way I'm leaving you out here to freeze either. Riften won't be safe this evening after what happened at the gate, so our best option will be to try to make it to your outpost.”

“Why are you helping us?” he asked, awe in his tone. Similarly with Avi, it was as if putting them first was some foreign concept. “We don't have anything else to give you, you know.”

“Aye,” I answered again, offering a hand to Avi with a smile, “but, I don't want anything from you. I just want to make sure you get out of here safely.”

She took my hand, smiling gratefully. “How about we just answer any questions you have? It's the least we could do.” She carefully lifted Hirendor to his feet. I tucked myself under his arm for support as Avi rushed to grab her pack and sword.

“That sounds fair enough,” I laughed lightly, watching her spring back to life with the prospect of returning to the closest thing she had to home. I caught Hirendor staring at me, a genuine smile on his face. “Besides,” I teased, “maybe they'll appreciate me bringing you back and offer me more gold.”

The man smirked, “That's wishful thinking. They hold tightly to their purses. If you offer your services, however, they may just be apt to loosen their grip.”

“I don't know a thing about you,” I admitted, humming in amusement.

“Well, we have a few hours,” Avi responded, motioning me to follow her as she navigated to the mouth of the cave again. “Ask anything you want and we'll answer honestly, nothing held back. Right, Hirendor?”

The man beside me nodded, wincing as he tried to find the best way to walk with minimal pain. Reassured, I posed my first question, one that I was sure would take the longest to answer. “Who are the Thalmor? I want to know everything.”

<< Chapter Two ~ Chapter Four >>

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  • Hey Kendrix,

    Happy to see this up at last. I really enjoyed how you handled Kaalfahjoor and Zenoya - especially briefly telling us not only his caution of Paarthunax but as well as where he came from. The glimpse you give us to the Thalmor as well is refreshing in my opinion, we’re all used to them being bad and so on but actually seeing them suffer and basically they’re not all jerks *looks at Elewen* is a great touch. I can’t wait to read the next chapter!

    • I'm glad you liked it, Lee! I absolutely adore Kalfahjoor. I hope my attempts at writing dragons is okay. Haha.

      Hirendor and Avi are going to be my favorite support characters to write, I'm sure. They're distinguished and have the Thalmor mentality, but they are very "human"- as in they feel and hurt and suffer the same as everyone else. I'm hoping the next few chapters will give even more life to the two of them.

  • I'm loving your depiction of Kaalfahjoor, using all the dragon language vocabulary makes him super authentic! Interested to see if his origins in Valenwood have any links to the Dominion storyline you've got going here. Great stuff as always!

    • I'm glad you liked it! As for his origins, they are definitely connected. Hopefully the next two chapters will give even more clarity. 

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