Last Time:

Our protagonists finally became relevant to the main plot.

Xander and L'laarzen were just trying to do the right thing. So naturally they killed the Emperor.

Hjar and Margret were just trying to do the right thing. So naturally they fought and won a small civil war and broke the Reach off from Skyrim.

Dulurza and Elisif were just trying to do the right thing. And you know what, they actually managed it.

And then the Dragonborn showed up, and everybody had to gather at High Hrothgar to organise a peace treaty. Which...worked? Nobody died? They agreed to peace and now the Dragonborn can go stop Alduin?

Huh.

Guess that means we're all finished and can—

Oh what in Oblivion does Julius want?


Act VI: Doing The Impossible


Touching Base


Borgakh the Steel Heart woke to the distant sounds of shouting and flames.

Son of a—Can I not get one uninterrupted night?

She growled and got up, shoving away the man sharing the bed with her. She didn't know his name. Flipping around the usual rules, she'd said that logically, as chief, she got to sleep with any man she wanted. Nobody had objected yet.

Volendrung thrummed as she picked it up, sensing her mood and always hungry for violence. She tossed on breeches and a tunic, then moved to the door, shoving it open—

And almost catching the man who was running up to it in the face.

"Champion Borgakh!" Greeted Mauhulak, one of the chiefs. "It's the dissidents!"

Borgakh was honestly surprised he knew the word 'dissidents'. Better than an attack from outsiders, I suppose…

"What's happening?" She demanded. "Are they rebelling?"

"No, Steel-Heart!" He looked confused. "They're just…gone!"

Borgakh narrowed her eyes, and looked over his shoulder to assess the situation.

Sure enough, multiple blazes had started around the encampment, and in the light they gave off (it was the middle of the night, for Malacath's sake) she could see Orcs scrambling to put them out.

"Gone?" She repeated.

Mauhulak nodded. "No sign of them, Steel-Heart! Yamarz and all the fighters who were protesting our mission, we can't find any of them!"

"Bloody Yamarz. I thought that coward would be all for this…" Borgakh crossed her arms, thinking.

The plan had been the revitalisation of Orsinium. Taking all the gathered tribes and striking southwest to the mountains between Skyrim and Hammerfell, where they could build their own nation.

Most had been up for it. Some had preferred to stay in Skyrim, and that was fine. Some had remained vocal that they should have still been trying to destroy Solitude and 'the Nords' (a phrase Borgakh was getting increasingly sick of). That was a problem, and she had made it perfectly clear that Nobody Messed With Solitude, because they were allied with Solitude, and Dulurza was there in a position of honour.

But with hundreds upon hundreds of Orcs, there were bound to be holdouts. Now, it seemed, they had finally made their move.

"Doesn't make sense." She grunted. "Someone dumb would have challenged me for the hammer to turn us around, someone cowardly would have kept their damn head down. Yamarz would have kept his damn head down. This is…I don't know about smart but depending on what they want, it's a good play. You said they're all gone?"

"All of them." Mauhulak confirmed.

"And nobody heard jack about it?"

"Not that they told me."

"Then who in Oblivion organised this?" She snapped, before sighing and putting her hand to her forehead.

Watch it. You know about the increased aggression from carrying the hammer, keep it under control, you're strong enough.

"Well…" Mauhulak coughed. "I don't know anyone, but…there are rumours—"

"I know damn well what the rumours are." Borgakh growled. "And if they're true, that pile of horse dung has even more nerve than I thought."

And not the good kind of nerve. The outrageous audacity kind of nerve.

Because if Larak had snuck into her camp, stole her warriors from her, and not even had the balls to show his face to his DAUGHTER—

Borgakh slammed the head of Volendrung into the dirt, burying the hammer almost a foot into the ground and making Mauhulak flinch.

Then she very deliberately took her hand off the hilt of the weapon, and breathed.

"Get me horses and get me men." She ordered.

"Champion Borgakh?"

"We're going after them. Running is one thing, but setting my people on fire is something else. Get together as many warriors as you can without jeopardising the safety of the caravan."

Mauhulak floundered. "But, Steel-Heart, you're the chief. Or, queen, or—Okay you haven't decided what to call yourself, but, you can't just leave everyone!"

"Aye, right, quick question." Borgakh turned to Mauhulak. "Did I get this job because of my talent in architecture? Because of my organisational skills? Because of my ability to make leadership calls?"

"Uh—" He looked, adorably, like he wasn't sure what the right answer was. "Not, really…?"

"Right, because we have wise-women and other chiefs for that." She put a hand back on her weapon. "Why did I get this job again?"

"Because, uh…" He turned to Volendrung, and pointed weakly. "Because you—"

"Because I hit things with a hammer. Aye." Borgakh yanked it back out of the dirt. "So I'm gonna go hit things with a hammer."


̶ ̶ ̶ ̶ ̶ ̶̶ ̶{o

In a room in the highest building on Nirn, two brothers stood looking at each other. One of them had just said something a little strange.

"...Can I get that one more time please?" Xander asked, raising a concerned finger.

"I need you to help me trap the soul of a Dragon." Julius repeated, calmly.

"…Right." Xander shook his head. "Okay, uh, you do know that that's impossible, right?"

"Why?" Julius asked.

"Well, firstly, because the soul trap spell isn't effective against sufficiently powerful creatures." Xander began. "That usually applies to particularly strong mages; you, for instance, can probably resist it. Dragons are the same. What little we know from the era of the Dragon Cult suggests that attempts to use that sort of magic on the Dovah was ineffective. More recent experiments on their skeletons yielded similar results, and even more recent experiments on live Dragons during their attacks were the same." A raised eyebrow prompted him to clarify "I've, uh, been in communication with various wizards across the country on the subject." before continuing.

"And then, there's the issue of there not being a soul gem of sufficient size to hold them. The biggest class of soul gem is referred to as 'grand' and that can only hold mammoths, and other powerful non-sentients such as certain undead or Daedra. Also…Dragons are immortal. Their souls stay within their bodies even if they're 'killed' unless a Dragonborn goes in for lunchtime. That's how Alduin can bring them back. Those souls are still thinking, and it's not like Dragons have an afterlife set out for them in the Aetherius, at least we don't think so, it…" He stopped, realising he was rambling. "It might be less that soul trapping Dragons can't be done, more that soul trapping Dragons isn't even a coherent concept."

Julius let him finish, smile on his face slowly growing.

"And this," he said, once Xander stopped, "is why we need you. You know more about both enchanting and Dragons than possibly anyone alive."

"That's an exaggeration." Xander coughed. "And, hang on, why do you even want to soul trap a Dragon?"

"Security." Julius answered, sighing. "Alex, right now all of our hopes are being pinned on one man. The Dragonborn. Does that sound like a good idea to you?"

"I have faith in him." Xander declared.

"Oh, I certainly don't think anyone else has a shot at this. But at the moment, if he fails, we're all doomed. And then there's the fact that when he comes back, he's probably the strongest individual on Mundus with nothing else to keep him in check."

Xander held a hand up. "Okay, I can respect you worrying Paarthurnax will turn evil, but I can't let you insult my boy like that. Ever since he realised he had the power to save people from the Dragons, he's done nothing but save people from the Dragons."

"He doesn't need to be evil for there to be a problem." Julius pointed out. "Alex, did he seem…unstable, to you?"

Xander winced, thinking back to the threats DB had made in order to accelerate the negotiations. "Well. Stable is a relative term, I mean, he's certainly very goal-focused—"

"Uh-huh." Julius didn't sound convinced. "So even if you're right and he never goes completely off the deep end. You said he's done his best to help people. What if he decides that the best way to do that is, say…become High King of Skyrim?"

The hairs on Xander's arms stood on end. "I mean…I don't think he'd want that."

"Or, perhaps, he realises that being a Dragonborn technically gives him a claim to the Ruby Throne?" Julius added. "An actual Dragonborn Emperor, for the first time in two hundred years, might sound a lot more tempting than whoever's currently going to succeed Titus Mede II. What if he decides to end the civil war in Skyrim by razing Solitude or Windhelm to the ground? What if he decides to stop the Second Great War by destroying Summerset Isle with a Dragon army? Oblivion, you know him better than I do; would he even need the army?"

Xander winced. 'If I have to kill everyone in High Hrothgar right now to increase my odds of winning by one in ten, one in a hundred, then I Will Do It.' Not helping your case, DB.

"I'm not attacking a good person just because they have the power to do bad things." He said, with as much conviction as he could muster.

"I don't want to attack him." Julius pacified. "Like you've said, he's a hero. I just want to set up a counterweight. If my idea is possible…"

"If we could absorb a Dragon's soul, anything like what DB does…" Xander continued the thought, "It would allow us to permanently kill Dragons, giving us a means to fight Alduin even if the Dragonborn fails. And if we could use their power, then we'd be able to contest with DB, Alduin, enemies on their level. Heck, the things we could do with the knowledge of the Dragons…"

He noticed he was smiling, and forcibly quelled it. "But, still, this is a crazy idea. I mean, we'd need to find a Dragon Soul to even start."

"We have one." Julius pointed out. "As a matter of fact, it's sat in a pit some miles north of Morthal."

Xander frowned. Then it clicked. "You mean the Dragon we killed? Did DB not get around to absorbing that?"

"I asked him." Julius replied. "Apparently, he was too busy killing live Dragons to worry about dead ones that might stop being dead. I already sent a letter to Cassia regarding using the carcass for 'research purposes'. Would have brought it up to Jarl Elisif, but she's been a trifle busy."

"Yeah, funny that." Xander crossed his arms, thinking. "So, you want me and you to go and experiment on a Dragon corpse to suck its soul out?"

"Well, not just me and you." Julius answered.

"Really? Then who?"

Julius gave a guilty smile. "You're not the first person I've shared this plan with. I was actually talking about it to Octavia, first. And I would want Cass there as well."

"Whoa, whoa whoa." Xander's eyes widened and he stepped backwards. "Uh, as much as I love the idea of a family get-together, me and Octavia are not exactly on speaking terms right now—"

"Yes, because you ran off without speaking to her." Julius chided him. "She's your sister, Alex, you can't avoid her forever. You two need to talk about what happened."

"But—but —" Xander spluttered in the face of basic common sense, "But what if she tries to eat me…"

"Alex, come on."

"I know, damn it, but. You want me to do research with her? With you? Julius, you're you, and I'm me."

"We need to do something about that self-esteem."

"It's not about esteem! You have almost eight years of experience over me! I never graduated the Synod!"

"Didn't stop you taking over a school."

"That was a fluke! I…" Xander sighed, turning away. "I'm not like the other three of you. You're genii. I'm just a good liar."

"Odd, that." Julius said. "Because you could never lie to me, and I know you're trying now."

Xander didn't respond, glaring at the wall in absence of his brother's annoyingly-always-right face.

He heard a sigh. Then, "Alex, remember that thing we always said about the four of us?"

"What thing?" Xander asked.

"The thing about what we specialise in."

"Oh for—Julius, you came up with that."

"But you like it." The smile was palpable. "How did it go again?"

Xander bit the inside of his cheek to keep control of his expression. "That your power was over the body. Octavia's power was over the mind. Cassia's power was over the heart."

"And yours?"

Xander gave up. "And mine was over the soul." He finished, the smile forcing itself onto his face.

He turned and met Julius' gaze.

"Tell me you don't want the chance for the four Meteuse siblings to work together to do something impossible." Julius asked, smugly.

"…It's not impossible." Xander said, with a sigh.

"Yes! There it is!"

"We've already got the way the Dragonborn does it as proof-of-concept," Xander continued, pacing, "the issue becomes replicating it without his unique physiology—"

"Oh, come here!" Julius stepped forwards with his arms out. Xander sighed, and accepted the hug.

"Missed you, you know." The older brother said.

"Missed you too." The younger answered. "Have you actually seen Cassia yet?"

"Not since she set off for Skyrim. It's going to be a big reunion."

"This will still be really dangerous, you realise? I mean, what if we wake the Dragon up?"

"Well I'd like to have the Dragonborn there, but I'd also like to have this ready before he comes back from his trip to the afterlife." Julius pondered. "But, don't you have some friends who we know can stand up to the lizards?"

"Yes…" Xander nodded, stepping out of the hug. "But I imagine they've got their own lives to sort out."

"I could pay them?"

"You will do nothing." Xander retorted. "I will ask them to help."

"Right." Julius coughed. "About that…"

"You already asked them."

"Only indirectly!"

"Oh, for the love of…"


̶ ̶ ̶ ̶ ̶ ̶̶ ̶{o ̶ ̶ ̶ ̶ ̶ ̶̶ ̶ ̶͜͡| ̶ ̶ ̶ ̶ ̶ Ϫ

"You want to bring a dragon back to life?" Was the first thing that Dulurza said, once Xander found her, Hjar, Elisif, Thongvor and Faleen.

"NO!" Xander threw his hands in the air. "That is the exact opposite of what we want to happen!"

Dulurza didn't look convinced. "Really? Because I read what Cassia wrote and it really sounds like that. What are you doing?"

"Well we're technically still at the planning phase right now, but…" Xander winced. "The general gist is that it's soul is going to get removed from its body and trapped, and then—"

"So it's ghosts. Again." Dulurza decided, groaning and leaning back against a wall. "We're fighting Dragon ghosts gotta be kidding me…"

"Do you have a problem with ghosts, Dulurza?" Asked Elisif, giving her Thane a look.

"Depends. Who's asking that question?" Dulurza shot back.

"…Does it depend on who's asking?" Asked (probably) Elisif.

"You know what, no it doesn't. Ghosts suck. I hate them."

"Rude."

"Bite me, Potema."

Hjar raised a hand, and interceded "But are you really planning on messing around with dragon souls without the God-given dragonslayer present?"

"Actually I think if DB came too close that might absorb it automatically, which would render the entire experiment moot…" Xander mused. Then he looked at the group's expressions, and switched to more compelling arguments.

"We kind of have to do it while he's away. Given that, well, he might not come back, and if he doesn't and we can't harness the power of dragon souls we're all buggered."

"Just once can it not be an apocalypse with you?" Dulurza grumbled. "Remember when we first met and you wanted my help getting books? That was nice. Ever since then it's been daedra and dragons and doomsday."

"Didn't you commission a weapon to fight Volendrung with..?" Xander started, then shook his head. "Look, the apocalypse is already there, it's just that if I don't deal with it some other poor sod has to."

"And in this case the poor sods are us?" Hjar raised an eyebrow.

"Precisely!" He smiled, somewhat awkwardly. "Uh, you were all very good at fighting Vulbahlok, and if there's a chance it might wake up—which it won't, stop giving me those looks—I'd like you around to help stop it."

There was a brief pause, in which they all looked at each other.

"I'm in." Said Hjar.

"Really?" Xander blinked. "Just like that?"

"Of course. I consider it a solemn duty to protect this world and everyone in it." The reachwoman nodded, earnestly.

Xander tilted his head at her, for he knew bollocks when he heard it.

"…And I have nothing better to do." She admitted.

"You have a Hold to run?" Thongvor pointed out, finally speaking up. "Remember how we've been busy trying to fix the Reach?"

"Oh, drat, yeah." Hjar sighed. "Guess you'll have to take care of that."

"Hjar you daughter of a—"

"Solemn duty, my dear fiancée!" She pointed across at Xander. "Apocalypse!"

Dulurza was snickering.

"If you don't show, the Forsw—" Faleen started, but cut herself off at Hjar's look, "sorry, loyal citizens who just happen to be ex-terrorists might worry you were murdered. You can't just run away from this. Then again if you do, that's desertion, and I get to arrest you, so it's not that bad."

"Damn, you're grumpy. Frustrated without Calcelmo around to—" Hjar cut herself off at Faleen's look, "Ugh, fine. I'll come back to sort things out, give speeches and pick Margret up, but I am doing this."

"I hate you so much…" Thongvor sighed.

"Aw, don't worry!" Hjar smiled. "It will give you more time to plan our wedding!"

"Die."

"Thank you, Hjar." Xander interceded, before the most explosive divorce of the year could happen inside High Hrothgar. He glanced towards his other friend. "Dulurza? You in?"

Dulurza looked…conflicted.

"How long will it take?" She asked.

Xander tilted his head to the left. "On the one hand, we're trying to figure out how to do something that's never been done before and then successfully use it on a real target. On the other," he tilted it to the right, "we're the Meteuse siblings."

"So you have no idea." Hjar summarised.

"Well if we're not done by the time DB gets back, it won't matter." Xander pointed out. "And knowing how little he likes waiting, we probably have less than two, three weeks."

"Yeah, course. Xander, I gotta—" Dulurza sighed, and looked back at Elisif.

"You're my priority." She emphasised to her Jarl.

Elisif smiled at her, then gave Xander a calculating look. "You know that dragon carcass is on my land, you seem remarkably certain that I'll let you do this."

"Tullius did give me first dibs on its body as a reward for killing it." Xander pointed out. "I have it in writing."

"I think that agreement falls by the wayside when this is a matter of national security." Elisif replied, pointedly. "Cassia explained in her letter why she thinks this is a good idea, but if you're going to resurrect an angry Dragon whose first target is my city—"

"You all really think we're going to wake it up, don't you?"

"Don't interrupt me."

"Sorry."

"—Then I'm not sure if I can allow it."

(Dulurza made a noise that was somewhere between impressed, amused, and something else.)

"There's no war until Alduin's defeated." Xander pointed out. "You've dealt with pretty much every serious threat to both yourself, Solitude, and Skyrim, except this one. If you want to use Dulurza to defend you, this is the best place for her to be."

"Why exactly do you want me there?" Dulurza asked, scrutinising him. "I mean. I want to help, but…"

Xander blinked. Is it not obvious? "Because…you're my friend? And I trust you, and you're a badass, and if anything does go wrong you're one of the best equipped people to handle it. I know you don't want to be separated from your Jarl for an extended period—" (Hjar barely suppressed a snort) "—I just think if we're being logical, and the goal is 'net minimum risk to Elisif the Fair', then…"

He trailed off.

Dulurza and Elisif looked at each other again. They looked to be having one of those 'nonverbal conversations' that apparently people could have when they were close. He'd never had one, and he wasn't sure if that meant he wasn't close with people or he'd just whiffed all his body language classes.

Eventually, Elisif met Xander's eyes.

"Promise me you won't let my Thane get bitten in half by a dragon, Archmage." She said, calmly.

"If it comes to that, Jarl Elisif, I'll take her place myself." He replied, just as evenly.

It was a very dramatic moment, completely ruined by Dulurza grinning and going "Aww, Xander! Really?"

"Well yeah." He said. "I can turn intangible. You can't."

"Oh."

"Hjar should probably do it too, cos she can turn into a werewolf."

"Right. Anyway, yeah, I'm in."


̶ ̶ ̶ ̶ ̶ ̶̶ ̶{o

Xander walked up, knocked lightly on the wall outside a room.

"L'laarzen?"

"Mm?" hummed a voice from inside.

"Wanna help me with something dangerous for a few weeks?"

"Mmhmm."

"Nice."


o ̶ ̶̶| ̶ ̶̶ ̶ ̶̶ ̶ ̶̶ ̶ ̶̶ ̶ ̶̶

Elsewhere, the Dragonborn walked into a room without knocking.

"Hm? Who—" Jarl Balgruuf jumped in surprise upon noticing the intrusion. "Talos, Dragonborn, learn to—"

"You have your peace." The Dragonborn said, flatly. "Is the plan good to go?"

Balgruuf sighed. "Aye. I suppose it is. Are you sure about this?"

"I've had no better ideas."

"Not quite the reassurance I'd hoped for…" Balgruuf tried not to roll his eyes. I swear the man was more expressive than this when he first arrived in Dragonsreach…

The Dragonborn (though neither of them had known he was such, at their first meeting) had initially come to warn him about the dragon attack at Helgen. The present-day level of stoic, almost inhuman power he radiated hadn't been nearly as prominent back then. He'd been strong-looking and determined, yes. But…well, he'd been normal.

As a matter of fact, didn't he joke? I'm sure he made a wry comment about 'getting a good view of the dragon while the Imperials tried to behead him' or something, and Lydia claims he made her laugh.

Divines, where did that go? Poor man needs a break…

He realised he'd been thinking for too long, and that the Dragonborn was still standing implacably, staring at him. "Ah, it may take us some time to have Dragonsreach ready for its intended purpose. The mechanisms for trapping Numinex have been maintained, as tradition dictates, but it has been thousands of years. I'm not sure anyone is certain how they work."

The Dragonborn visibly bristled. "These preparations couldn't have been started before we came to High Hrothgar?"

Balgruuf winced. In truth, he really hadn't expected this council to go anywhere. When I told you you needed to end the war before I'd let you do this, Dragonborn, most people would have just taken that as a no.

But…

"They should have been." He admitted. "I'm sorry. I'll have all my men working on it as fast as they can."

"…Hmph." The Dragonborn looked down. "It's fine. Thank you."

"I'm just doing my duty, the same as us all." Balgruuf hesitated. "We can trap the Dragon. But I still don't know we're going to get it inside—"

"I have a Shout that will force it to land."

"Of course you do."

"I will ride ahead to Whiterun and begin my own preparations." The Dragonborn said, turning. "Esbern and Delphine have already left to scout dragon burial sites. By checking the names of those I've killed against those revived, we should be able to list a few that are still alive, which I might call to Dragonsreach."

"Do you remember the names of every—"

"Yes."

"Right." Balgruuf shook his head. "I'll just focus on getting back to Whiterun promptly, then."

"Dreh Ful."

"Uh, what?"

"Do so." The Dragonborn corrected, wincing.

"Are you…alright?"

"I'm fine." The anguish was gone in a moment. "Please hurry. The war's on hold, but Men will still be dying in combat. There is no time to waste." With that, the Dragonborn left the room.

Balgruuf watched him go, an unsettled feeling in his chest.

He wasn't…afraid of the Dragonborn. That would be ridiculous. The man was a hero; he'd saved countless lives, he'd saved Whiterun more than once, he'd never so much as laid a hand on an innocent without their consent.

But for the first time, Balgruuf found that he was wary of him.


̶ ̶ ̶ ̶ ̶ ̶̶ ̶{o

The meeting of the Dragontruce ended much as it had started; incredibly awkwardly, and with lots of trips up and down a mountain.

The Dragonborn was gone without so much as a goodbye before anyone could notice, followed swiftly by Balgruuf. Then Tullius' party made their way down, then (after what looked to be a friendlier goodbye to the Greybeards than his greeting) Ulfric's group followed. L'laarzen claimed she had to sort out business in Riften, so headed there first, and Hjar's group went back to make sure Markarth hadn't burned down (again).

Xander, as the one who had set it all up and the one with the magic horse, was the last out. He'd sent his brother ahead with Elisif once he'd gotten everyone's assurances of help, which was what left him sat astride Shadowmere alone, just outside the front gates of High Hrothgar.

He took a second to breathe.

It had been a very busy few days.

"Trapping a Dragon soul." He said to Shadowmere. "Think we can do it?"

Shadowmere didn't say anything, since she was a horse.

"It's gonna be difficult." He warned her. "Like, so difficult we don't even know what exactly we want to do, or even where to start. Might be a lot of effort with no reward. And I have to try and work with Octavia again."

Shadowmere snorted dismissively.

Xander leaned backwards, taking in the view for a few seconds.

Then grinned. "Ah who am I kidding, I'm freaking hype for this. Alright girl, make for Winterhold. And we're in a hurry, so I expect you to take all relevant shortcuts."

Shadowmere reared up at the command, and then galloped right off the edge of the cliff.


Paarthurnax rested atop the peak of the Throat of the World. And watched.


̶ ̶ ̶ ̶ ̶ Ϫ

"Okay, level with me." Said Margret, lying in bed only slightly short of breath.

"Mmhmm?" asked Hjar, curled up behind her and playing absent-mindedly with her hair.

"Why are you really doing this?"

That merited a raised eyebrow. "Was I unclear about the potential apocalypse and opportunity to leave Thongvor the paperwork?"

"I mean, yeah, but those weren't your real reasons." Margret turned around to face her.

"Oh?"

"I know running Markarth is stressful, believe me, because I've been stuck helping Kaie do it while you're away." The redhead began. "But it's not like you to fob it off to someone else this early. You were responsible enough to come back and fix the place; I don't think you'd abandon it for weeks just to avoid paperwork."

"But I am a very rational person, and capable of maintaining perspective with regards to the Dragon threat." Hjar pointed out, a smile slowly growing across her face.

"You are. But if you really thought that being present as a bodyguard for this was apocalyptically important, you wouldn't be just going yourself."

"I'm taking you." Hjar protested, affronted.

"Yes, but you'd also be taking Thongvor and Kaie and as much of the militia as you could convince and then asking Xander to gather his mages and stuff." Margret pointed out, frowning. "It's like…you're in this odd middle-ground and I don't see why. If you don't care enough to go all-out, you shouldn't care enough to abandon the Reach for a fortnight. Any hints?"

Hjar surged forwards and caught Margret's mouth with hers. The kiss lasted about half a minute, and left Margret smiling bewilderedly.

"Uh." She said. "Was that the hint?"

"That was because I love it when you're clever." Hjar answered, nuzzling closer to her girlfriend, before whispering "But yes it was also a hint."

"Hjar, you can kiss me here." Margret countered, laughing. "You don't have to drag me to Morthal's swamps to do it. That's significantly less romantic than a palace."

"I know, but…" Hjar bit her lip, and tried to think of how to explain herself. "You're right about Markarth. I was basically co-Jarl for two weeks, and it was exhausting. Rewarding, yes, and it felt purposeful and meaningful, but…exhausting. And then there's this slowly-dawning realisation that got a real big kick after the Dragontruce."

"Which is?"

"That…that this is my job now. That it's not just a stop on the tour of 'Hjar runs around the country in a panic, picking fights and brushing with death'. This is an end-state. Thongvor was talking to me about a salary the other week."

"You're afraid of settling down." Margret realised, meeting her eyes.

"Settling down, losing my edge, making the wrong decision…it's a mixed bag, I've not really sorted it out yet." Hjar ran a hand through her hair, awkwardly. "Obviously the chaos won't be properly over until the civil war is sorted, as well as its aftermath. So it's possible that even then, I'll still be working under threat of being ousted by an army and having to go on the run with you. Possibly for years, or decades, or—Hircine's balls—my entire life. It's a…mildly suffocating feeling."

She felt a shift in Margret's grip, and hugged her tighter. "You're not the suffocating part. That's…kind of what this is about. Xander and his gaggle of maniacs are going to spend a while working out a magic thing, then they're going to test it, and something during that might wake a Dragon up. That's why they want us. Right?"

"Right." Margret nodded, settling back into being close.

"So what that sounds like to me," Hjar said, "is a few weeks wherein I am free to sit back, relax with my girlfriend, and think about my future. That's what I agreed for. The skipped paperwork is just a bonus."

"My my, Hjarnagredda~" Margret purred. "You're almost making it sound like a honeymoon."

"We're not the ones getting married." Hjar pointed out, chuckling.

"No, you just gave me a ring, slept with me, and let me live in your house."

"The ring turned you into a wolf."

"Semantics." Margret kissed her again. Then said "I like the plan."

"You do?" Hjar blinked.

Margret smirked. "Mmhmm. Of course I do, you thought of it."

"I think that is giving me a little too much—"

"Hjar? Take the compliment."

"Heh. Yes ma'am."


̶ ̶ ̶ ̶ ̶ ̶̶ ̶{o

Scrape.

Scrape.

Scraaaape.

Scrape.

Urag raised an eyebrow, and waited.

The people in the Arcaneum included him (an Orc), Mirabelle (who definitely knew telekinesis), and Babette (a vampire who was almost definitely the strongest person in the room despite being under four feet tall).

Nonetheless, nobody stepped forwards to help Xander as he lugged the massive sack of books across the library's floor.

Scrape.

Scraaaaaaaaaaape.

Thud.

"Haah…haah…" Xander stopped, released the sack, and sagged against Urag's desk. There he stayed for about a minute, catching his breath, before standing.

"Urag." He greeted.

"Archmage." Urag nodded.

"Come to return these."

"So I see. You're on time, which is good."

"Thank you. Uh, there's also copies by me of several manuscripts inside High Hrothgar which might be of interest to you."

Urag's eyebrows rose. "Good to hear."

There was a long pause.

Then Xander coughed. "But I'm also going to have to take out, like, way more than this because I got this new project and—"

Everyone else groaned.


"So…peace?" Summarised Jarl Lalia, from her throne.

"A temporary ceasefire, good Jarl." L'laarzen answered, standing respectfully before her. "As the document says, it could last anywhere from a few weeks to over two months."

"Peace is good for business." Maven agreed, also standing nearby.

"I thought the saying was that war was good for business?" Brynjolf pointed out, stood at L'laarzen's shoulder.

Maven just shrugged. "I'm smart. I can make money from anything."

"Then, thank you for bringing this to my attention, L'laarzen." Lalia said, inclining her head. "And, I suspect, for helping bringing it to fruition. The nation and the city owes you a great debt."

"Thank you, but Khajiit is not a big fan of debts or favours. Let us simply chalk it up to doing the right thing, hmm?" L'laarzen replied, with a smile.

There was a pause.

"Is there anything else I need to know that shouldn't go into the official report?" Lalia asked, flatly.

"There was a lot more lying and bribes than they'd like to admit, and we're doing our best to make sure the ceasefire drags on as long as possible." L'laarzen said, her voice much more relaxed. She was coming to quite enjoy the level of openness she could have with the Jarl. "The Dragonborn, Greybeards, and Jarl Balgruuf have all agreed to let the two-month timer run out rather than bring the country back to war early."

"Good news." Lalia nodded. "As for local matters?"

"Organised crime continues to infest every aspect of your city."

"Oh, wonderful."

"But, disorganised crime has been virtually stamped out." L'laarzen smiled, only slightly viciously. "There's little we can do for drunken brawls, but all financially motivated criminal activity is done via the guild. It is competition otherwise, and not tolerated. Rackets are resolved with all city businesses and minimal fuss. It's also Khajiit's pleasure to announce that hostile drug operations in the city have been halted. After the last few she dismantled, L'laarzen thinks they're afraid of her."

"Are you continuing down that particular road yourself?" Lalia raised an eyebrow.

"Prohibition is a proven ineffective stratagem." L'laarzen answered, coughing. "Certain people will always want to get their Skooma from somewhere. But it is far less harmful when consumed responsibly, and when the source in question is safe. Khajiit comes from a country where it is consumed as freely as ale, she knows how to prevent it becoming a problem."

"So long as there's less people huddled in a stupor on my streets, I'll leave that up to you." Lalia allowed, standing. "You've bought your amnesty for another day, L'laarzen. Well done."

"Khajiit aims to please." L'laarzen curtseyed.

"I still cannot believe that this conversation is happening." Maven said from the side of the room, followed by a "Me neither!" from Brynjolf.

"We live in strange times." Lalia shrugged. "L'laarzen, we still on track for my hair appointment next week?"

"This one is afraid it will have to be delayed or brought forwards." L'laarzen replied, with a wince. "She will be leaving soon on business in Morthal, and will not be back for some weeks."

Hilariously, Lalia seemed much more annoyed about that than the rampant crime in her city. "Hm…well, I'll last. See you then."

"And you."


"Business?" asked Karliah, who had re-joined them after leaving Mistveil Keep. She, L'laarzen and Brynjolf were making their way back down to the Cistern.

"Alexander has asked L'laarzen for a favour. She will, in essence, be providing security for a few weeks." L'laarzen answered, casually.

"Uh-huh." Karliah gave her a sideways glance. It turned out that, now she wasn't being hunted anymore, Karliah was capable of wearing ordinary clothes. Her outfit was more practical than fashionable, but it was nice to be able to see more of her than just her eyes.

"L'laarzen, can I make an observation?"

"You may."

"That boy has you wrapped around his little finger."

L'laarzen laughed, as they stepped into the graveyard. "Quite possibly! But L'laarzen is being paid for this, courtesy of his older brother."

"How much?" Brynjolf asked.

She told him.

He whistled.

"Do you even need it?" Karliah chuckled. "Given you're, you know. The richest woman on the planet."

"Khajiit can call herself that if it strikes her fancy, but as we have established, those rocks will never fetch nearly what they should be worth." L'laarzen reminded her, somewhat sadly. "It is a shame. She would trade the Eyes for a much lower value of actual coinage, since it would be functionally much more useful. Except, as we have discussed, trying to fence them in any way would cause untold chaos."

"Still…" Brynjolf sighed. "Shouldn't you be staying here, lass? It's bad form to vanish for such long periods and barely stay for a day in between. And I have to pick up your duties while you're away."

"Khajiit is sorry." L'laarzen dropped elegantly down into the Cistern, then waited for them both to follow her before continuing. "There are various reasons she could give as to why this is so important, and they are true. But the truth is…" She gave a small, wry smile. "Khajiit has not gotten over her trouble with boredom. L'laarzen enjoyed taking over and making changes to the Thieves Guild, yes. But she suspects running it for an extended period will become exceptionally dull."

"Meaning, you'll be taking every opportunity to run away from your responsibilities." Karliah pointed out, rolling her eyes. "Your Guildmaster, everybody."

"Look on the bright side." L'laarzen smirked. "At least Khajiit is not running off with all your gold, no?"


̶ ̶ ̶ ̶ ̶ ̶̶ ̶ ̶͜͡|

Dulurza and Elisif laid next to each other on Elisif's bed.

There was silence.

"…Dulurza?" Elisif said.

"Yes?" Dulurza replied.

"Remember how you promised me that you wouldn't die?"

"I do."

"That's still in effect, understand?"

"I understand."

"Good."

"…I love you."

"…I love you too."

There was silence again.


And lo comes the real first chapter of the final act.

Hello again, folks! Hope you're not too miffed about a chapter being 100% conversation and 0% action, but at this point, if you're still here, I feel like I can probably get away with not hooking you immediately.

Julius' plan is revealed, as are its motivations. I hope I've adequately explained the logic behind it, from a person who has basically zero faith in the Dragonborn to do his job properly and without any fuss. It's sort of a 'why Batman has a plan to stop Superman' situation. He doesn't need to go evil, he doesn't even need to go crazy; he just needs to make a mistake.

Xander, of course, is doing it almost entirely because of badass it could be if it works.

Title's called 'Touching Base' because that's essentially what's happening. Everyone's heading back home for one last checkup before the next big cause of trouble starts. It's an interesting one, this, because all our leads have sort of reached their new equilibrium state already. They're not necessarily 'done', but they're mostly content. Which leads to the worrying realisation of 'Oh, we don't have to run around like headless chickens anymore'.

Also, do you like DB's scene indicator? Figured I'd give him one for the final Act. He's got...more than a few scenes in this one.

I hope you're all excited. Because oh boy. I am excited. Lemme know your predictions for how the plan goes horribly wrong!

Next Time: The Dragonborn returns to Whiterun. Everyone else messes around in a swamp.