Chapter 26

Mia Tuk Accidentally Kills a Lady on Purpose

"A man not willing to die for something is not fit to live."

-Martin Luther King Jr.

Do you remember my mentioning I drew a fly on the face of my shield? It was a tradition among my fellow Spartans to draw a fearsome animal on the faces of their shields. Lions and wolves were common. One man instead drew a fly, and when accused of cowardice, for the fly was small and one could not tell who he was just from his shield, he replied, "It will be the size of a lion when I smash it into the face of my enemy."

I kept staring at my version as I walked. By this I mean I took my shield off and was holding it in both hands and staring. If someone had wanted me dead, it would be an easy task to kill me before I even returned my shield to my arm. In my defense, my mind was racing.

I felt a hunger I never experienced before, even in these final days before I turned. It was a hunger and a thirst fused into one that was more than just hunger and thirst. It was an emptiness of my body; an emptiness of my soul.

An emptiness of my being.

My mind was trying to think of ways to reverse this curse and allow me to live again, but I didn't know of such sorcery. Mother seemed unaware as well. Argonians have stronger blood and can apparently fight off the vampiric curse unless greatly weakened. I don't know if she ever came upon a vampire before, but nothing she taught me would help me. I was going to have to ask around.

I felt a blossom of hope. The hermits. Maybe they knew of a way to fix this? If not, then maybe they knew of someone who could point me in the right direction? Preferably before this emptiness drove me mad. It was getting hard to think of anything else other than blood.

I made Ivarstead's inn just before the sun's rays peaked over the horizon. Though they were not quite upon the land yet, I felt the monster I had become urging me inside to shy away from the sun. I didn't know what would happen if I was caught in the sun, and I did not want to find out if I could help it.

I also felt a pang of sympathy for Sproule. Had he just lasted another day...

The inn was quiet when I got inside. There were a few patrons, but not too large an amount. Surely there would be a place for me to rest until evening. I had plenty of money to spare.

The innkeeper on this day was a young girl of around twelve. Even so, she looked as though she could probably force any of the people here outside if they behaved crudely enough. She grimaced at me when I approached.

"Don't like those eyes of yours. There's a bad hunger to them."

I blinked and offered her ten septims. She took them and placed a key in my hand before pointing a thumb to the right.

"First room. It's yours until tomorrow morning."

I gave her my thanks and took to my room to rest.

Instead, I was to have a battle.

It was not a battle with an enemy or a creature. It was a battle within me.

I was dreadfully thirsty. I attempted to stave off the thirst with water again, but it did not work. Water wasn't doing anything for me now. I knew what my body was demanding. It wanted blood.

Yet, I couldn't let myself seek someone out. If I went out to the lobby I would be seen immediately, and if I went out the window I'd cook in the sun. My woes were just going to have to wait until nightfall. Only then would I have an opportunity to sate myself. Only then…

I bided my time by recalling what little Mother was able to teach me about vampires. We were in the yard. It was one of my first lessons with her.

"Child, I don't know where you truly hail from, but we have monsters here."

She sliced her wooden blade from side to side in the air before pointing it out at an imaginary opponent.

"They're not so common that you'll find them at every corner, but there are many out there. Bandits, hydras, the undead, werewolves, and what I believe is the most dangerous, the vampire."

She frowned down at me while I looked at her.

"I've encountered them before in my past. When I fought…"

She trailed off and shook her head. "Never mind. Suffice it to say I've been attacked by many a creature before in the past. Vampires were always the worst foes."

"How do you kill them?" I asked. She paused a moment, then gave a chuckle.

"You don't intimidate easily, do you? I suppose that is good. To answer your question, however, is simple…"

She approached the dummy we had set up in the yard and gave it one stab center mass.

"You can kill all but the most blood-starved vampires much like any other normal person. A mortal wound to you or me is a mortal wound for them. But if you're doing battle with a vampire who is starved, you can only decapitate them, or pierce their heart."

She looked at me again.

"Monsters like these are not to be taken lightly. Blood-starved vampires, however, should be avoided at all costs. They can paralyze prey items with their gaze."

Mother approached our run-down back porch. She left a jug of water and a few glasses there for us to drink while we trained. She poured herself a glass and looked to me. I shook my head.

"What happens if they bite you?" I asked.

"If they bite you, odds are good you'll become a vampire. You can, however, stop the infection before it takes root at a healing alter. Holy water works wonders. If you wait too long and the disease manifests, however…"

She took a sip of the water.

"Then it's too late. Holy water will only burn you. There are supposed ways to reverse it, but how to actually do so is not known to me."

I blinked, and she smiled at me.

"I'm an Argonian, child. I hail from Black Marsh. My resistance to disease, therefore, is extremely strong. Illnesses like that find it difficult to take root in me."

She offered the cup of water to me, and I took it in my hands. Then, she put her hands over mine.

"You, however, do not possess such a blessing. You're at much higher risk of contracting the disease if you're bitten. However, if the vampire outright bites you, you know right away to go to a healing alter. Nobody will judge you if you're actively trying to gain help. However, there are a few other ways a vampire can infect you. These ways are more subtle and far more deadly."

I was silent, and mother held her open palm out to my face. I examined the claws on her fingers.

"They have one other way to take your blood, and that is through a spell that transfers it over to them. It doesn't always lead to infection, and yet it is far worse."

She smiled mournfully at me.

"The spell, though I do not believe I've ever seen it, is said to look and feel like an ordinary spell. If that means a spell designed to destroy or one meant to restore is lost to me, but when you're struck by it, you might not realize you've been attacked by a vampire."

She sighed. "The symptoms of the disease start off like the flu. By the time you realize something is very, very wrong, however…"

She plucked a mosquito off my neck then and held it before me a moment before squishing it between two fingers.

"Let's just say you need to be safe at all times. Especially if you're going to be a big strong warrior someday."

That was when I decided I wanted to ask.

"Ms. Tabrodite, why do you know so much about these things?"

She chuckled. "I've seen a lot in life, child. Let's just leave it at that, okay? Now come. I've one more thing to teach you today…"

I stayed with my memories for the whole of that day but found it harder to focus on them the greater my thirst became. I never found myself to grow so thirsty so quickly again when I was a vampire. There would be times when I would fail to drink and would wind up with a thirst near unquenchable, but those occasions would take days to manifest. Not hours. I researched into this phenomenon some time after my adventuring came to an end and I learned that newly transformed vampires have a far more aggressive thirst that wanes as time passes.

Gods, but it was torture.

Finally, the time came for me to leave the inn. The sun fell below the horizon and I stepped outside.

One of the pros of being undead was the lack of body heat. I was at no risk of hypothermia at any point since I was already technically dead. My temperature would always rest at approximately the same temperature as the room or environment I was in at that time. Therefore, to me every day and every location felt comfortable, though especially cold temperatures could make it more difficult than normal to move.

I grew to hate it. My body's indifference to the temperature around me only served as a reminder that something was very wrong, and I did not know how to go about finding a cure. As far as I knew at the time, all mentions of potential cures could have been myths. What if I was stuck this way?

When I was freshly turned, none of my concerns really bothered me. All that mattered was a drink. Unfortunately for me, I could not risk attacking anyone in Ivarstead. The town was a rest stop for any making the trek up the mountain. It saw its fair share of drifters and strangers not to be blindly trusted. There were guards aplenty and armed civilians, even in the night. If I were to attack someone now, I'd be immediately cut down.

My eyes turned to the mountain itself. The security of the town did not extend to the mountain itself, and with a bit of luck I would surely be able to find someone while climbing. If not, there were always a few hermits near the peak I'd be paying a visit to…

I did not need to wait until I reached the peak. I found a pilgrim shortly after midnight meditating at a statuette placed just off the path. She was deep in her thoughts but not deep enough to fail to hear my approach. She turned her head to me.

"Good evening," I said.

"Good evening, child. What are you doing up so late? This mountain is quite dangerous at night."

"I have my reasons. What are you doing here so late?"

The woman turned more to face me.

"I'm resting and praying. You see, there have been reports of creatures of the night on this mountain. So far there have been no attacks, but that does not mean we will offer mercy."

I blinked. Had she heard about me?

"Is that of concern to you?" I asked.

She only held up an amulet. In the moonlight I recognized easily what it was: an amulet of Stendarr, the God of Righteous Might and Merciful Forbearance.

"I am a Vigilant of Stendarr. So far, I have seen no sign of daedric influence, vampires, or werewolves. I will remain here to ensure nothing is hidden. Nothing can hide from the Vigil."

I believe the reason she didn't suspect me right away was because of the moonlight on both of us. Her skin and mine both took on the pale hue of moonlight. As far as she was concerned, I was just another person. She was a fool to not look at my eyes. They irises had become so red!

How wrong she was. I took a few steps away, but I couldn't escape my thirst. I again looked back at her. She had gone back to meditating.

I drew my dagger and began to look around, as if I'd heard something. She heard it get pulled from my scabbard and turned her head to me.

"Did you hear that?" I asked her. She stood and looked around, a hand on her own Warhammer.

"Afraid not. What do you hear?"

I don't know if it was fate or luck, but at that very moment a wild animal sprinted through the snow in the distance. She turned her head to the sound, and I struck.

I took her to the snow and buried my sharpened teeth into her neck. I felt her tense up and try to force me off her, but she made the unwise decision of packing only a Warhammer. She had no dagger or smaller weapon to fall back on. She never even managed to draw the Warhammer.

Her struggles against me became weaker as I greedily took her blood. I rolled my eyes to her face and saw eyes and mouth wide in terror, but I felt no guilt.

It was not long before her struggles fell away completely, and I felt her body grow lax under mine. When it was over, I was totally revitalized and full of energy. I did not take her gold pouch, as I still had plenty to spare. I wiped the blood from my mouth and used the snow to clean it off my body. Then, I spared one more look at the Vigilant I'd fed from.

A pool of blood had formed around her body, but no more of the stuff came from the wound my teeth inflicted. I pushed her towards the edge of a cliff, below which the wilds could hide her forever. Then, I shoved her off the mountain and covered the bloodied snow with fresh snow nearby.

At the time my conscience was dampened, and I felt no guilt for what I'd done. It wasn't until I began to descend the mountain again that I felt something. When I got back to town, I would end up spending the bulk of my remaining gold on a tombstone for the woman, though I never did find her body again.

I see her every night now. Whenever I shut my eyes, I see her and others who have died needlessly by my hand.

War is war.

I felt no remorse over my actions that night. At the time I was in a different state of mind. I suppose the best way to put it would be like the one who would become my instructor told me: Within everyone, there is a battle being waged between two wolves. One wolf stands for all that is terrible: It embodies greed, envy, jealousy, anger, selfishness, and apathy. The other wolf stands for all that is good: Kindness, generosity, selflessness, love, friendship, and respect. Each wolf is locked in a stalemated battle for victory.

The wolf who wins is the one you feed.

Vampirism is a slippery slope, and it tends to force those who suffer from it to feed the bad wolf. Good does not always triumph over evil. Call me cynical, but I daresay it's usually evil that triumphs over good. The cruelest thing I can imagine is convincing the young and innocent that evil never wins, because the only way to overcome it is to know and acknowledge it. Sometimes you need help looking within yourself and acknowledging your flaws.

I bring this up because, as I approached the great doors to High Hrothgar once more, all that was on my mind was another snack. Those old men would sustain me. After all, my darkened mind suggested, I am the Dragonborn. Is it not the job of all around me to help me help them? So what if some had to sacrifice themselves?

It was nearly morning. I could see the sun's rays just beginning to tickle the horizon and I hurried myself to the doors. In my rucksack was the horn they requested. It would surely provide a satisfactory distraction for what I intended to do. But first, I had to gain their trust. I had to make them think that I was on their side. They had to lower their guards or else my plan would be over before it began.

The doors opened easily, and it was none too soon. I had to get away from the sun before it rose completely. My skin was already growing sensitive.

I could not see them in the main hall, but I could hear what sounded like the clinking of glass. I followed my ears as well as I could, but the building was immense.

"Hello?" I called. Gods above, my voice was raspy. I needed my next meal, and soon.

I got no response, and I looked around for signs of an ambush, a hand on my knife. I swore to myself. I still needed to get my sword repaired.

"Are you in here? It is Mia Tuk. I've returned with what you requested."

High Hrothgar has a sizeable library just off the main lobby. In it were countless tomes of various origins and lengths. I did not know this at the time, but every book was organized alphabetically and there were no repeats. Every book was unique.

To the left of one bookshelf was a table with an open book and a dried quill left upon it. There was some writing in it, and I knew not what it meant. I was to bring voice to my confusion when Arngeir spoke from beside me.

"It's your tome, Dovahkiin."

I looked to him and took a step back in surprise. He wasn't there a moment ago. That old man doesn't make a peep when he walks.

"History is important to the future. Without it we have no chance to survive. We must learn from our mistakes and our strengths in order to advance. The best way to do so is to record history as it occurs. So, we are doing our best to record your travels as we hear of them on the winds. Congratulations on the victory against Sahloknir, by the way. Delphine, damnable as she is, was respectful enough to give all the credit to you if the rumors of your battle are to be believed."

Arngeir picked up the quill and placed it in the ink pot, then he looked at me again.

"However, her pride and stubbornness work in other ways," he said with a sigh. "We would truly love to better our relationship with the Blades, but our differences are too much."

"As you say."

He turned away and beckoned me.

"Come, let us meet with the others."

I followed him to my other snacks. They were all gathered around a somewhat dimly lit table playing cards. Each of them had a bottle of wine in arm's reach that varied between completely empty and only mostly so. Surprisingly, none of them looked too worse for wear.

"We were just playing a game of rummy. Perhaps you'd like to join us?"

I was going to shake my head, but I stopped myself. They were all but presenting me an opportunity to get closer to them. Maybe they would drink themselves into a stupor with time, and then I could drink my fill.

"I will do so, thank you."

Arngeir pulled up another seat and began shuffling a deck of cards. Here is where the main issue came up:

I had absolutely no idea how to play rummy. When he shuffled the deck and tossed me five cards, I looked to either side to make sure I was meant to look at them now.

"Fives are wild. Do you know how to play Pay Me?"

"I'm afraid it's been quite a while."

As in lifetimes ago, if ever.

"The aim is to toss any junk cards you have, one per turn. You can draw from the deck or from the trash pile. The first one to have no trash cards in hand calls "Pay Me", and the remaining players have one turn to lose the cards worth the most points. Number cards are worth 5, pictures 10. Don't toss the wild card for the round."

I looked to my hand. Two black aces, spades and clubs; two black eights, clubs and spades, and a two of diamonds.

The man to the side of me quietly placed a six of clubs and drew of the deck.

"We don't often get time for a game like this. Life here, believe it or not, is more than simply meditating on the Way of the Voice. There's also quite a bit of cleaning to do."

"Anything I can do to help?" I asked him. He paused a moment and eyed me strangely, but the look left him quickly. Good. Less suspicion, the better.

"We've already finished today, hence the game. Thank you anyway."

I gave a nod and looked to my cards again. Arngeir drew a card and dropped a two of clubs.

"You'd do well to be grateful to not be playing chess with our master. Legend states Paarthurnax defeated death himself at chess."

I raised an eyebrow. "Will I be meeting him?"

Arngeir gave a shrug. "Perhaps. We will see where your journey takes you."

A card was thrown onto the pile and another drawn from the deck. The ace of clubs stared at me. Unfortunately, there was one more with a turn before mine.

He threw a Queen of Clubs.

"It is your turn. Draw either a card from the deck or the top of the trash pile but lose one card."

I tossed the two of diamonds in favor of the Queen.

"Thank you for teaching me this game. I was wise to trust your judgement."

Arngeir again eyed me.

"It's no trouble at all. Now that I think of it, though, there is one thing you may be able to help me with. Will you accompany me to the kitchen? We should ready dinner."

Dinner indeed. I drew my tongue over my teeth with my mouth shut and stood to follow him. My meal was ready!

"What did you need of me?" I asked as we entered the large kitchen. It was dark, but the ceiling towered overhead, as did many cabinets. There was a ladder in the corner.

"I swear this kitchen was made with giants in mind. Can you fetch that ladder for me, and move it to the second cabinet from the right? I'm afraid my back is not quite what it used to be."

I gave a nod. "Of course. Wait a moment."

Looking back now, it was an obvious trap, but I still think the reason I didn't catch on was because I was being controlled by my thirst, which was marginally less intelligent than I am. As soon as I passed him, my body felt cold and I was paralyzed. Arngeir walked into my field of view with some sort of spell work glowing in one hand.

"Oh, Dovahkiin… what did they do to you?"

I stared. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Dovahkiin, there are many things that I am not good at. I'm not a fast runner, I'm not a good cook, I'm not a good artist, and most music gives me a headache."

He glanced past me for a moment.

"I'm not even particularly good at that game. But I am good at detecting minuscule changes in someone's behavior that suggest duress. Or, in your case, obvious changes. As I recall, you initially declined to help a Jarl of all people. You did not bow or show respect to us when you met us. Now suddenly you'll accept us as your instructors? Face it, you're not the most agreeable person in the world."

"That's not true at all."

He drew closer and I bared my teeth to him.

"You were obvious. It's vampirism, isn't it?"

"Release me and I will make it quick, meat."

He was quiet a moment and then stepped back.

"Vokrii Zii Stiin!"

The moment he uttered those words, I was lost to the world. I stood in a mist-covered swamp with my shield in one hand and a two-meter-long dory in the other; the spear of the hoplites. My blade was at my hip.

Before me was, well, me. I was staring at myself. I remember running a tongue across my teeth- they felt the same as they had been before I got sick..

The doppelganger, however, was hissing uncontrollably at me, sharpened eye teeth for any in this realm to see.

"Go back to sleep, meat," it said in its raspy voice. It struck out at me with its dory, but I blocked it with my shield. I said nothing back and took a phalanx stance. I struck out with my shield and struck nothing but his shield.

A voice cut through the darkness. It sounded like Arngeir.

"Dovahkiin, I know you can hear me. Conquer yourself!"

And here I was about to offer my mirror image some tea and a hug.

The voice distracted me enough that my double was able to tackle me to the dirt. He foolishly abandoned his dory and drew what looked like an identical copy of my ebony dagger, tallies and all. I intended to get those tallies removed sooner or later (they were not my kills), but that's neither here nor there.

He held the dagger high above his head and I kneed him in the gut. It wasn't hard enough to harm him, but enough to delay him for another moment as I swung my shield at the side of his head. It connected with a clang and he crumbled over onto his back clutching his head. Meanwhile, I'd rolled aside and retrieved my dory.

This fellow was not all that much like me when it came down to fighting, was he?

I raised my eyebrows when he sat up and, staring at me, got to his feet. Maybe he wasn't so bad after all.

He had a glint in his eyes, and I instinctively raised my shield. I didn't see his hand glowing red until it was too late.

Suddenly I was fighting those three on the Bataan again. It felt like my soul was being turned inside out. In a panic I threw my spear. He deflected it with his shield, but it interrupted his spell long enough for me to draw my sword and close some distance.

He drew his as well, and I swung. He blocked it with his blade and swung his shield to impact my head. As I recoiled, he swung the blade and opened a sizable gash on my torso, only something was different. Instead of blood rushing from the wound, I saw no fluid come forth and instead saw an ethereal sea of what looked almost like stars replacing the wound.

The distraction was enough for him to open another such wound on my leg, which buckled by reflex. He held the tip of the blade up with intent of finishing me through the neck, but by doing so left himself open to a counterattack.

I struck him in the belly with my blade and earned a through and through. His wound looked like mine did, and it stopped his coup de grâce in its tracks. I found my feet again and pulled the blade from his belly.

To my surprise, he did not seem all that bothered by the attack. I would have been. He was still standing, and he struck back with his blade against my shield. Again, he tried to use the shield on me, but I forced him back until he almost stumbled.

I felt a sharp pain explode through my leg, and his sword hand was now carrying his copy of my dagger. He forced me away with his shield and I crumbled to the floor with his sword embedded in my leg, and he approached me with the dagger in hand looking to finish me off.

I still had my shield, and it saved me then. His violent strikes thudded off my shield and while he struck at me, I had to weigh what options I had. He had my blade arm trapped under his foot and sooner or later he was going to maneuver around my shield and end me. I looked at my shield and, carefully as I could, removed my arm from the strap so I would not possibly harm myself with what was about to happen. I released the shield with the intention of retrieving it first should my counter succeed.

The words boiled in the back of my throat, and I Spoke to him with more potency then I had before at then in my life.

"Fus, ro dah!"

I did not know where the last word came from. Maybe it was a side effect of being put in this state by the old men of the mountain. It made the Words much stronger though.

I heard the boom of an explosion but muffled by many orders for the safety of my hearing. My shield impacted my double hard, and both it and he were sent flying several meters into the air and off into the foggy void. I was grateful for taking the shield off my arm first. I probably would have gone with them if I hadn't, and with my luck, would have landed on my head and broke my neck.

I propped myself up by an arm and looked to my wounded leg. His sword was still in it. I took the Last Kiss into my mouth and bit down as I worked on removing it. I would not have done this if it was a wound on my actual physical body, because I probably would have bled out.

It was a slow process and agonizing. I kept having to look up and around for any sign of my mirror. He had quite literally vanished into the fog. I could still see my shield lying some distance away. That was my next errand.

Finally, I made some progress and managed to move the blade a few centimeters. After that initial movement, the rest moved much easier. As I had suspected, there was no blood involved. When it was out, I embedded the weapon in the ground and retrieved my blade. I also put the dagger away into its sheath and tested weight on my leg.

I could stand, which was good. The bad news was, I couldn't run. I began to trudge towards my shield. I felt naked without it.

I heard rapid footfalls somewhere in the distance and I looked all around. I saw nothing. I did my best to keep my head on a swivel and I closed the remaining distance to my shield far more slowly than I would have liked.

I felt what I equated to a pinprick, followed by an explosion of pain in my abdomen. I whirled around. In the distance I could see my double, crouched to one knee manipulating something. I couldn't tell through the fog.

There was another pinprick, and another terrible pain. This time on the inside of my shoulder. I looked down. An arrow shaft was jutting out of my shoulder. I wasted no more time and picked up my shield, before using it to deflect four more arrows.

I was feeling far more sluggish now and sleepy. In a bid to wake myself up, I did what I would never ever recommend you do in a real scenario if you're struck by an arrow: I pulled the one in my shoulder out.

Let's just say it didn't tickle. While I was doing that, my double kept loosing arrows at me at a speed I was quite familiar with. Not to boast, but I could nock and loose arrows just as quickly as any spellcaster could loose most spells.

My shield was holding up well, but I had no cover and I already knew if I went for my bow, I would be cut down before I could nock. Instead I huddled myself behind my shield and began to close the distance.

An arrow dug into the ground just between my feet. If I spared a look at the landscape behind me I would have seen many more littering the place.

The arrows stopped, and I peeked out from behind my shield, only to quickly draw my head back down. He loosed one more arrow intent on catching my skull, but it sailed over my shield.

"I will not be killed by my own weapons," I said. My double did not reply. When I saw him in that moment before he nearly shot me in the head, I saw that all he had left on him was his dagger and shield as well as the bow. I left his blade where I removed it and I have no idea what he did with the dory. Maybe he dropped it when I launched him?

He ceased fire again, but I didn't look up. This time it was my error. He ran his shield into mine and made for me to stumble backwards.

"Fus!" he said in his raspy voice. It was enough to catch my feet and make me fall to my back. The arrow in my back snapped, but not before the arrowhead dug further into my body. The pain was enormous.

My shield was all that protected me from his dagger, but this time it was a bit too low. I began to struggle with him by using my shield to leverage his arm back somewhat, but he was still winning the fight. Sooner or later the blade would kiss my chest, and I do not think I would survive that, my resiliency in this realm be damned.

With my other hand I went to unsheathe my blade, but it was as jammed in the scabbard as it was in the real world. To my side I saw his dory. I picked it up, and I drove it through his neck in a swift and decisive manner.

He lurched to his feet, grasping at his throat. The dagger fell from his hand. I attempted my sit up, but I only made it halfway before the pain in my back became too severe. I slumped to one side. With my free hand, I drew the Last Kiss from its sheath, and I did everything I could to push myself up to my feet.

My legs were jelly. My double, however, was to his knees, still trying to take the dory from his neck.

I finished my mirror image with the last of my strength. I drove the Last Kiss into his heart with such ferocity as to tackle us both to the dirt.

He let out an inhuman screech, and he turned to dust beneath me. Again, I heard Arngeir's voice:

I can sense only one of you left. Open your eyes, Dovahkiin.

My eyes were already open. They fell shut, and my pain left me.

When my eyes opened again, I was restrained still in the kitchen with the old man. I felt different though. My mind was clear as it had been before I took ill. I was still dreadfully thirsty and now thoroughly exhausted, but I could think straight again!

"How do you feel?"

"Thirsty and tired," I said. I drew my tongue across my eye teeth- no, my fangs.

"Well, given you're not thrashing at me and trying to kill me, I'd say you were successful in your internal struggle."

I blinked. "This is my happy face."

"I must say I'm impressed. Very few manage to defeat their mirror images in battle. Especially few can defeat a vampiric mirror image."

"What does it mean of me?"

"It means that you once again control your own body and your own destiny. You must still drink, but you're you."

Whatever force was restraining me loosened up. The old man handed me a jug. I could smell the blood in it.

"Pig's blood. We use it for some of our potions here. You may drink. It will stave off your hunger at least a little bit."

I gave a nod of appreciation and began to drink. I hated the taste.

"Since you defeated that inner monster, you've also bought yourself a privilege."

"Which is?" I asked, drawing the jug away from my maw.

"There exists a cure for your condition out in Skyrim. I'm afraid I don't know what exactly it is but given the look on your face I'd say you don't want to be a vampire for any longer than you have to be."

He was right. I already hated it.

"I would suggest you turn your attention to the College of Winterhold. The mages will be your best bet at finding the cure. At the very least, they will be able to point you in the right direction."

I gave a slow nod. I'd heard of the College even when I was living with mother in Cheydinhal.

"To be given entrance, however, you must know the arcane arts."

I blanched.

"A mage?"

He nodded.

"Are there any other leads on cures to this disease?"

He shook his head. "Not that I am aware of. I'd start with them. Or you can look all over creation and hope you find a break."

Not good. At that point in my journeys, the only things even approaching magic I knew anything about were how to make an incredible sake, the septim behind the ear trick, and the magic of ignoring friendships.

"I take it you're not much of a mage."

"You're a genius," I muttered.

"Well, you'd better learn quick. Or at least figure something else out. Maybe your thu'um will satisfy them for a time?"

I heaved a sigh.

"And you're sure there are no other cures I can try?"

"Borii is under the impression that any disease can be cured if you drink enough mead. You can either drink with him until you're both comatose, or try your luck with the College. I don't like them all that much either, but needs must."

I sighed once more. "Very well, I'll head to the College."

"Do so before you visit that blade friend of yours. The only things the Blades hate more than dragons are vampires."

I was silent. I took my rucksack off my back and rummaged through it until I found the horn. I offered it to him.

"Here, I swear the thing is cursed."

"You have my thanks," Arngeir replied. For the first time I saw the ghost of a smile on his lips. He took the horn from me and offered me a sizable pouch of gold as well as another bottle of pig's blood.

"Use the gold to hitch a ride to Winterhold. You'll be glad you did. You're welcome to stay here with us until tomorrow night comes. Your kind do not do well with the sun."

I gave a nod. Arngeir invited me back to the card game, but I declined. I wanted to be left with my thoughts. I scraped the fly off my shield and requested some white paint from the old men, which was given to me. I replaced the fly with a mosquito then.

When that was done, I sat in the kitchen spinning my dagger around in circles. In the next few days I was going to have to somehow join a College only for those who excel at magic, I was going to have to pretend to know what I was doing all while essentially going in blind, and I was going to have to subtly pick and prod at those in the College itself for any information about vampiric cures without outing myself as a creature of the night.

I hate it when that happens.

End of Chapter

6,707 words.

Happy New Year. I can't believe it's 1998 already. You'll have to excuse me. I have to go to blockbuster video and rent a video tape. I just got off the telephone with them to ensure they had it in stock.

Next chapter covers the beginning of Mia Tuk's time at the College of Winterhold.