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It was nearly midday following our encounter with the vampire that we actually managed to ask about what it had said. Our group had stumbled back into the village before dawn, though it was a close thing, and promptly fell asleep after a brief conversation with a couple villagers that had volunteered to wait up to see if they returned. The villagers were informed we had fought and killed the vampire, the village should be safe for the moment, and then we all ignored any further questions.

 

Eventually the general noise from the rest of the village waking up and going to work managed to get us up despite Jordis and myself still looking and feeling like we had barely slept. Erikur, somehow, seemed completely fine and full of energy.

 

I felt absolutely no guilt slipping the both of us a minor stamina potion and leaving the male Nord without.

 

“Dimhollow, hmm?” one of the villagers that had taken the time to see our group off scratched his head in thought. “That sounds familiar.”

 

“Wasn’t that the place those goldskins were asking around about a few days ago?” Another villager spoke up. I perked up at the mention of a group of Altmer. It might not be the group I was looking for but…

 

“Right, those folks!” the first exclaimed, pointing at the other villager excitedly. “That justicar, Silly-mine or something, kept harassing old Hanson for the location so when he told her he made it sound like a two day walk when it's three days on horseback at least! He was going on about that for ages!”

 

Ice water filled my veins. “Did you mean Silline?”

 

The Nord looked a bit nervous. “Oh, uh, you know her? Look, we didn't mean any harm. Just some jokes and such...I’ll get the proper directions and-”

 

I waved at him to stop before he talked my ears off. “You made a joke about a name, whatever.” I snapped. “How long ago was this? Where did she go? Did anyone she was with say what they were going there for?”

 

“I-I don’t know, a few days ago maybe? Her group was heading east towards the crypt, they said nothing about the reason though.”

 

I nodded sharply and made my way to Erikur and Jordis.

 

“We need to leave. Now.”

 

Both Nords seemed shocked by my sudden insistence, but credit to their professionalism they were moving to the three horses we claimed from the bandit camp before they asked a single question.

 

In fact we were ten minutes out of the village with the horses going at a steady trot before Erikur finally asked what was going on.

 

“The Justicar I’m hunting took her group through that village a few days ago. Now they're heading towards the same crypt our last vampire friend wanted hidden. We need to catch up to them before something gets to them before me.”

 

“Hunting is it? Then I suppose this Justicar was not your friend after all, isn’t that so Thalin?”

 

Gods damn it. This was not how I wanted to inform these two I was hunting down an emissary from a foreign power. And they would be idiots to believe that I had simply misspoken. Well, I had planned on telling them eventually...I guess eventually simply caught up first.

 

“No, she isn’t. I’ll tell you both why I’m tracking her but it’s a long story. Do you mind if I wait until we camp for the night?”

 

I could practically feel the stares of my two companions drilling into my back and their own silent conversation. This was a risk. I was basically asking Erikur to commit treason by allowing a direct threat to the Thalmor to continue. Something completely against the White-Gold Concordat and as Thane of Solitude he would be well within his rights to arrest or execute me without another word. Actually by law, he was required to.

 

So when a couple minutes passed and I didn’t hear the sound of weapons being drawn I relaxed minutely.

 

“I think we can delay judgement that long, Miss Fernbrook. I trust it is more than an attempt to further strain the relationship between the Dominion and the Empire?”

 

I nodded and we didn’t speak again for several hours.

 

-o-

 

I didn’t realise how quickly I had grown used to Erikur’s constant chatter in the few days we had been traveling together until it was gone. The uncomfortable silence stretched the entire day as we continued east. Occasionally it was broken when one of us needed to call out movement along the road that could have been bandits or dangerous wildlife but when those turned out to be false alarms it always came rushing back.

 

So when the sun began to set on the horizon and we stopped for the day, I was torn between relief that the silence was going to end and dread I was going to be sharing personal secrets to two relative strangers; no matter how friendly they had been before now.

 

We set up a basic camp and settled around a fire.

 

Well, I settled around it.

 

The two Nords were still a bit on edge.

 

“Alright, I think we waited long enough.” I started. “What do you want to know?”

 

“This Justicar. Why are you hunting her?”

 

I smiled slightly. Straight to the point. How very Nordlike.

 

“She betrayed me. Shattered my trust and sold my secrets in exchange for a favorable place in the Thalmor. Then she led me into a trap that left me as their prisoner for twenty years. I’ve spent the last five since my escape pursuing her.”

 

“Twenty years...that’s…” Erikur gaped at the amount of time and Jordis’ eyes went wide. To them twenty years was most of their life. “Shor’s stones, girl. What secret could you have that they imprisoned you for that long?”

 

I smiled bitterly and answered with a question of my own. “Do you know what the ultimate goal of the Thalmor is?”

 

The Nords shared a look, visibly annoyed by anything less than a direct answer. It almost made me shake my head in exasperation. Context! It’s important!

 

“We know they lead the Aldmari Dominion. They also send agents to enforce the White-Gold Concordat; eliminating Talos worship and the like. And they’ve made it no secret they desire to have all of Tamriel under their rule with elvenkind as masters of all races.”

 

“Elven supremist assholes.” Jordis summarized which made me chuckle.

 

“Well you certainly aren’t wrong.” I laughed. “And they don’t exactly hide that fact either. But that isn’t all they want.”

 

I sobered pretty quickly. “The Thalmor, no, the Altmer that make up the Thalmor’s core council are obsessed with returning to the mythical roots they believe they are descended from. Call them what you like; Aedra, Spirits, et’Ada, Gods, it doesn’t matter. The council wants nothing more than to return to that state no matter what.

 

They send agents all over Tamriel, hunting for artifacts, scrolls, or oddities that can help them reach their goal. They also offer huge rewards to people that bring them anything that helps them extend their lifespan. Doesn't matter if it’s a spell, artifact, or even a person. They will try and collect all of it.”

 

“And you had one of these methods?” Erikur guessed, putting the clues together.

 

“Eh,” I waggled a hand side to side. “Yes, but no. I fall under those oddities I mentioned earlier.”

 

“How so?”

 

I stared into the fire and thought about how best to phrase it.

 

“Do you know what the biggest difference is between men and mer’s life cycles?”

 

“Mer live longer.” Jordis said shortly.

 

“Haah, again yes, but no.” I temporised to both Nords' displeasure. “Men grow up and grow old fairly consistently, but with Mer we don’t start showing real signs of age until the last fifty years or so of our natural lifespan. Not that some don’t live longer naturally or extend their lives with enough magic, but for most Mer they simply grow similarly to how Men do if slower until they reach the equivalent of your thirty years.”

 

“You’re stalling.” Erikur accused, correctly too. “What method of extending your life did you find that was so important that the Thalmor wanted it?”

 

“There isn’t one.”

 

Once again both Nords were dumbstruck.

 

“What do you mean there isn’t one?”

 

I shrugged awkwardly. “I never did anything to extend my life. One day it seemed like I simply stopped aging. Of course it took a few years before anyone really noticed, but once they did…”

 

Jordis, being the more stoic one of the pair, recovered first. “How old are you?”

 

“Four hundred twenty nine.” I shrugged again.

 

“...”

 

I poked at the fire while the two absorbed the information I had given them. Even now I hadn’t given them the full picture, the Thalmor were far worse than scavengers pursuing godhood, but that information wasn’t relevant or needed right now. Erikur and Jordis just needed to know enough about them that they wouldn’t feel honorbound to protect them for any reason.

 

“That’s quite the tale, fair Thalin, but where does the justicar fit into this?”

 

“Hmm?” Erikur’s question pulled me from my thoughts. The return of the flattering speech was a good sign though.

 

“You're hunting her. Why?” Jordis added.

 

“Isn’t it enough that I want all Thalmor dead for what they did to me?” I smiled wryly.

 

Erikur shook his head though. “If you wanted them all dead you would not have spent so long pursuing one quarry. I feel this Justicar must have created a deep hatred for you to pursue them for so long.” He fixed me with a serious stare. “We would need that reason before we assist you in confronting them.”

 

I rocked back, stunned by his words. “You want to help? But-”

 

“If the Thalmor are abusing the Concordat to take the treasures of Skyrim, it is my duty as Thane to verify such wrongdoing.” The male Nord cut me off. “Since you clearly believe this justicar is capable of such perfidy, I have no choice but to confront her myself. But both honor and the treaty will prevent me from force unless her character is known.”

 

I raised an eyebrow at Jordis hoping she could decode that one.

 

“He can arrest them if they break the treaty. He can’t do that or attack first unless they have been judged to be unable to keep their word. Oathbreaking and similar is grounds for exemption.”

 

I think that was the most I had heard Jordis speak at once.

 

It also meant I was going to have to explain my relationship with Silline.

 

I sighed.

 

That was not something I had been interested in explaining. It was still a bit of a raw wound.

 

“Alright,” I sighed again. “This goes back a while just so you know and I don’t like talking about it.”

 

The two nodded and waited for me to continue.

 

“After it became clear about my unique condition I took to traveling. Not all the time and I stayed in some places for several years, but it meant I was able to escape the attention it might have brought me.

 

I was on the road at one point and stumbled into the middle of a bandit attack. Nearly everyone had been killed before I got there but I was able to surprise the bandits and drive them off. Part of the caravan was an Altmer couple with a young daughter. The mother had died before I got there and the father was not far behind her.” I paused remembering the scene. “The father begged me to look after his daughter until she was safe and I agreed.”

 

“The original plan was to drop her off at a relative’s or perhaps a family friend, but the girl didn’t know where they would be and I felt an orphanage would be cruel. So I took her as an apprentice.” I sighed. “Well, I planned to take her as one. I taught her what I thought would be needed for her to strike out on her own but it didn’t stay that way. She eventually grew into something like a little sister after so long and I thought she saw me the same way. I told her several things I had never planned on revealing to anyone including how I didn’t seem to age.”

 

“What happened?” Erikur prodded gently.

 

“She wanted me to teach her the same ability.” I said woodenly. “Silline had become terrified of death after what happened to her parents. The thought of dying of old age even more so because she couldn’t prevent it.”

 

“And you refused her?”

 

I laughed. “Refused? There was nothing to teach! I never did anything beyond what everyone else had already done and somehow became ageless for it!”

 

“She took it bad.” Jordis half-stated, half-questioned.

 

“We had a fight.” I admitted. “She left for two months without another word and came back just as suddenly. Said she wanted to reconcile and that she didn’t blame me for being unable to teach me.” Another bitter smile twisted my lips. “I was so happy to have my little sister back I didn’t question it. And I walked unarmed into a Thalmor ambush with a damned smile on my face.”

 

Erikur nodded in understanding. “So you wish to kill her because she broke a family bond and betrayed you to an enemy.”

 

“No!” I barked, the word echoing harshly in the dying light. “I want her dead because she took fifty years of sisterhood and spit in my face. That she participated in the torture interrogation sessions ‘reasearching’ my condition without a second thought! That is why I want to kill the gods-forsaken bitch!”

 

The Nords stiffened at my sudden shouting and exchanged more looks. Eventually they both nodded after coming to some kind of understanding.

 

I just waited for their decision.

 

“Very well, we will continue to assist you while we travel.” Erikur said with finality.

 

“R-really?”

 

“Of course! Such an honorless individual could no doubt abuse their position and increase the tensions between empires that would threaten Skyrim’s people. It would go against my conscience and my duty to let her wander unchecked!” Erikur exclaimed. “As Thane, I must immediately remove such a threat and either dispatch her or deliver her to an embassy to be immediately removed from these lands.”

 

Jordis nodded in support.

 

I felt a great invisible weight fall off my shoulders at their agreement. I coughed a few times and waved my hand to clear the air in front of me. The campfire smoke was burning my eyes.

 

“Our agreement does not come freely though.” Erikur continued with a smile. “In exchange, even after we have caught your foe, you will accompany us in searching for the Necromancer mastermind.”

 

I returned the Nord’s smile with a small one of my own. “I think I can agree to those terms. Now how about you both set up the tents and I will begin dinner preparations?”

 

Jordis was up and reaching for the tent poles before I even finished speaking.

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Azureblade

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