EDIT: hey everyone, so you might've noticed it's been a few months since this chapter went up. do not worry, i am going to continue this fic, i'm just... i burned out really hard on this fic, so i'm gonna officially take a break. my life for the past few months has been constantly just, "okay i need to update skyrimguinius. i need to work on skyrimguinius" and then i Don't and so i feel bad about that. and that's been a bad cycle! so i'm putting it on pause until i feel like working on it again, which AT ITS LATEST (i might get the writing bug again earlier, but at this point i will DEFINITELY return to this fic) will be in november, during nano. so! don't lose hope! more skyrim and sanguinius and skyrim-guinius in the future! just, break for now, for my own sanity and the health of my other creative projects lololol. have a nice one!


Sanguinius's first day in Whiterun, after breakfast, starts with another visit to the Temple. Ralof is asleep, and a hooded woman is fussing over him; Sanguinius doesn't try to wake him up, just stands by his side for a while, keeping him in silent companionship.

The woman eventually starts trying to talk to him, trying to talk him into doing her a favor; his half-answers end with her assuming out of him a hopeless sort-of promise to storm a nest of hagravens, whatever those may be, and return with sap from a special tree. Sanguinius isn't paying her much attention, though, between his discomfort at being at a place of worship and his worry over Ralof.

Afterwards, he heads to the Bannered Mare.

On his way there, he bumps into a woman at the market, sighing in the half-shade of her stall, who isn't even looking at him when she complains, "Life's hard enough with all these men propositioning me, but that bard is the worst!"

Sanguinius doesn't even need to ask her about it; as soon as he opens his mouth to do so, she continues talking.

"That bard Mikael is begging for a dagger up against his throat, the way he goes on about me," she complains. "I've heard him boasting at the Bannered Mare, saying he'll 'conquer me as a true Nord conquers any harsh beast.' Hmph."

Sanguinius's eyes widen, then soften. "That's a disgusting thing for him to say. I'm sorry." He leans a bit on the stand, towards the woman, pressing his hand flat against the wood.

The woman sighs. "It's alright," she tells him, "I can take care of myself. A Whiterun woman learns how to handle a few idiot men early in life."

"Is there anything you can do?" Sanguinius presses, growing just a bit protective.

"Not much, other than tell him off, but if he tries anything, the guards will have my back."

Sanguinius frowns. "That's not ideal," he points out. "What if I spoke to him?"

The woman thinks about it. "Normally, I'd doubt anyone could get through that thick skull of his. But you might actually have a chance." When she looks up at him, it's with a glint in her eye. "After all, he works at the Mare."

Sanguinius winces, stands up straight, apologetically. Backing off a bit. "It wasn't on purpose."

"He doesn't know that." She shrugs. "And you're a damn son of a giant, from the looks of it."

"You could say that," Sanguinius agrees. It's not very respectful, but it's understandable. And, well. Sanguinius can't say it doesn't amuse him. "I'll tell him to leave you alone, then."

The woman smiles at him. "If this works, thank you. Truly."

Lydia's standing inside the Bannered Mare when her eyes are drawn away from the crackling fire; the soft music coming from the singing blonde bard screeches and halts to a stop.

The doors open with a too-loud squeak and Sanguinius walks inside, ducking under the doorframe. He looks around until he sees Mikael, and then all Lydia can see is an angelic wall of doom advancing towards him as he drops his instrument and nervously steps backwards.

"Ahh— I don't, I don't believe we're acquainted, uhm—" Mikael stutters out, and Sanguinius tilts his head, the fire carving condescending shadows onto his face.

"You've been harassing someone who works at one of the stalls," Sanguinius tells him, nicely. "A woman who doesn't want you."

Mikael squeaks. "Carlotta!? Y—w— she likes me, I promise, she's just playing hard to—"

Sanguinius smiles softly. His tone is calm, polite, and warm. "I don't think I need to tell you how many ways I have to dissuade you." There's a little amusement in his tone when he says, "I believe, after all, my reputation precedes me."

Mikael wisely shuts up, and Lydia can't help but snort. Sanguinius glances at her, breaking his intimidation-trance, and looks just a little confused at her laughter. It's sort of cute. He looks at Mikael one last time, then crosses the room to where Lydia's standing, ignoring the hushed whispering around him by the inn's other patrons.

"How was Ralof?" Lydia asks him, in lieu of explaining herself.

"Asleep." Sanguinius folds his arms over his chest, glancing around the tavern. "I'll talk with him later. Did you find any jobs for me?"

Lydia recalls her talk earlier with Hulda, the innkeep. "No, but there's a few things to look into," she mentions. "Something about the Gildergreen—?"

"The woman at the Temple filled me in," but Sanguinius nods as he says that.

"—and the Companions are always recruiting, though you've said before you're not interested—"

"Perhaps later, but for now I don't see the point," Sanguinius concedes.

"—but there's also rumours of something shady happening at the Jarl's palace, and they concern me."

Sanguinius looks at her warily. "Something shady," he echoes, the expression just a little foreign on his tongue.

"Something to do with— with his children," Lydia clarifies. "I noticed, before I left— it's been going on for a few weeks, but I hoped they'd just grow out of it. If it's reached Hulda..." Her face softens with worry. Sanguinius remembers something Lydia's told him, a few days ago.

"The Jarl's children— your family might be in trouble?" Lydia nods sharply, though she's stricken by the bluntness in Sanguinius's words. "Why didn't you tell me earlier? I could've gone and helped."

Lydia's cheeks glow with embarrassment. "You were my thane, and the Dragonborn, and— and I didn't think to burden you with— and I hadn't realized it was this noticeable a problem, and— and then you were gone!" she tells him, squeaky and fast-voiced.

Sanguinius sighs, though he's smiling. "Let's head to the Jarl's palace, then," he says, "and you can tell me in the meantime."

Lydia follows Sanguinius out of the inn and out through the streets of sunny Whiterun to Dragonsreach. They stop at the market, where Sanguinius talks briefly to Carlotta Valentia, who insists on giving him some money, but then they continue onwards. Sanguinius is two steps ahead of her throughout much of the short way there, but when he reaches the stairs to the palace he waits for her to catch up with him.

Lydia looks around when she reaches him, making sure no one's overhearing her words. Satisfied, she begins thus:

"It's Nelkir, his youngest. He's a bit… troubled," she admits, "but he always got along with me better than his father. He's been… vicious lately. More than usual. He's always said things he doesn't mean, cruel things, insults he read in books he… really shouldn't be reading," she laughs a little, in spite of herself. "But now, he says cruel things like he means them. I didn't leave too long after this happened, and I'm worried it's worsened in my absence. I don't think he wants to talk to me about it, though. When I brought it up to him, he shouted… vile things at me. Called me a bastard, unfit to even…"

She doesn't realize there are tears pricking at her eyes until Sanguinius places a hand on her shoulder and she looks up at him, and she's suddenly awed that such a— such a large being could care about her problems. "...So, please talk to him, if you can," she finishes, weakly.

"I will," Sanguinius promises. "Let's go looking for him, shall we?" And when he smiles, Lydia somehow believes everything will return to normal.

The Jarl is not at his throne in Dragonsreach, which makes things easier. Lydia introduces Sanguinius to two children she calls Frothar and Dagny, siblings of Nelkir: they seem somewhat downcast, but they cheer up when they meet the very Dragonborn. Then, they separate to go find Nelkir, which Sanguinius does fairly easily, considering there's not much a child can do to avoid having squeaky footsteps on such ancient wooden floors.

Sanguinius sneaks up on Nelkir from behind and taps him on the head, and when the boy turns around, Sanguinius is forced to kneel to let Nelkir look at him properly.

"Hello, little Nelkir," Sanguinius tries, awkwardly, and Nelkir frowns at him. He's visibly surly, which is somewhat comical given his still-chubby cheeks, but there's something dark in his eyes, a glint only Sanguinius catches. "Someone asked me to speak with you."

Nelkir positively snarls. "So the disgusting pig sent you to bother me?" he spits out, bitter. "One day, I'll tear his face apart so he can leave me alone." Sanguinius's eyes widen; this is worse than he thought. "My father doesn't know anything about me. But I know things. More than he might think," and that last bit's added somewhat defensively. Sanguinius suddenly remembers, with full clarity, one of his bitterest, moodiest brothers. He feels like he should be counting down from ten, like he was advised once to do after dealing with him. All right. A blink, and in that microsecond, he blitzes through his outrage; nine.

"Your father didn't ask me to come," he says, somewhat in spite of himself. "But you shouldn't speak so cruelly of him, either way."

"Why not? He's…" Nelkir pauses, realizing something. "Lydia licks your boots," he lobs at Sanguinius, accusatorily; "she asked you."

"She did, but she's not here," Sanguinius tries. "You can trust me."

"No I can't. You're one of the pig's lackeys." He pouts. "I bet you've never hated your father before."

The last digit of his mental countdown screeches to a halt. Of course he hasn't hated his Father before. He's not ungrateful, he's not disloyal. He's not a traitor. (He cannot…)

(...Sanguinius is glad, for the first time, that Leman isn't here).

"You would be surprised," is what Sanguinius says, and menses of Baal, he had actually meantto say that. "What?" he blurts out, confused, but apparently, Nelkir takes it as defensive, because the boy steps back in fear.

"N-nothing!"

Sanguinius reaches for the boy, trying to soften his own face and appear a soothing, angelic presence once again, but Nelkir eeps and shies away from the grounding hand Sanguinius is trying to place on the boy's shoulder. Sanguinius reluctantly backs off. Maybe he's the one who needs the grounding hand, then.

There's a brief, mutually-frightened standoff.

"...I can tell you things about my father," Nelkir says, quietly. "Things that will make you hate him."

"Let's…" Sanguinius loses steam mid-sentence, needs to mentally rev himself back up, like a malfunctioning chainsword. "Let's hear them, then."

Bitterness returns to Nelkir's voice. "I know that he still worships Talos," he begins; Sanguinius isn't sure why that's even bad, considering the man hollering about the man-god on the street every day. "That he hates the Thalmor almost as much as the Stormcloaks do," Nelkir continues, and Sanguinius can start seeing a problem with that; anything that might make a leader sympathize with rebels usually does. "That he worries about being chased from Whiterun." And Nelkir takes a deep breath. "That he... that I'm... that I don't have the same mother as my brother and sister," he blurts out; and after all these years, Sanguinius is still briefly puzzled over why that's an issue, before remembering that families on Terra —and on this planet, too, apparently— are far smaller, and more rigidly defined, than in Baal.

So, "It's all right," is the first thing out of his mouth, even if he doesn't fully get the cause of his distress; and "so's Lydia, you know."

"Wh… what?" Nelkir has gone from surly to shaky in record time. Sanguinius's soothing, soft smile returns triumphantly.

"You know she's your cousin, right?" he tells the boy, in a faintly didactic tone. Goodness, where has he been hiding this voice? Sanguinius doesn't think he's heard himself talk this softly in, what, maybe sixty years.

"She's…" He thinks about it for a moment. "Uncle Hrongar's?"

"Maybe so, she hasn't told me." Sanguinius compartmentalizes himself into gentleness. "But she's— not recognized. She knows what it's like." He hopes, a little too late, that Lydia won't mind him telling Nelkir this. "Well, perhaps not the same, but I think she can understand. And I think you can understand, too."

Nelkir nods, slowly.

"Now," Sanguinius adds, "who told you these things?"

And that's how Sanguinius finds himself standing before a door in the basement of Dragonsreach, alone.

Lydia's dealing with Nelkir upstairs; Sanguinius had told her he'd investigate this on his own. It was fine; the child was overhearing gossip from some servant woman through this door, and he'd merely knock on the door, and ask her to refrain from spilling the Jarl's secrets through…

"At last," a voice wafts into Sanguinius's ears, like sunlight, like a graceful predator sauntering into his vision. It sounds sincerely glad to see him. "I've been waiting for someone more fit to carry out my will."

Her words are carefully enunciated, as if something about dialogue Sanguinius can comprehend is just a little foreign to her; she doesn't have an accent, but in some intrinsic, intangible way, she does. "The child is spirited," she notes before Sanguinius can even speak to her, lightly at first, then somewhat poutily, "but lacks... agency."

Sanguinius releases a soft breath, like a pneumatic hiss, and very carefully doesn't move. The voice sounds like it came from over his shoulder more than it sounds like it came from beyond the door, and he's scrambling to place what the feeling of hearing it is, or where he's felt it before.

"Hello?" he tries. "Are you behind the door?"

"No… Regrettably, I cannot reach your plane so directly," she explains, faint amusement in her voice, and Sanguinius's blood runs cold. "But I forgive you for not knowing who I am. Few hear my whispers anymore." The way the word 'whispers' comes out of her unseen lips, sibilant like a snake, settles the matter for Sanguinius. "I... am…"

"A daemon," Sanguinius says.

Sibilant like a rattlesnake, coiled up and indignant. "I am Mephala," she says, (and she only doesn't insult him, Sanguinius thinks, because she knows her anger is the worst insult of them all), "the Lady of Whispers. I tug at the web of connections between mortals. Love, hatred, loyalty, betrayal. And I make my playthings of them all." Her tone edges towards bemused pride at the end of the sentence, but she still doesn't sound like anyone who'd say this sort of thing. Or at least no one who would and who Sanguinius had met.

She isn't condescending, not openly, though she must be, somewhere deep within, because— because there's simply no way she isn't. Sanguinius can recognize the trickery in her words, is the thing; but he cannot find it. She's sweet, soft-spoken, gentle like she thinks —knows— Sanguinius is a scared animal.

Sanguinius remembers how animals whose throats are about to be slit bleat fearfully, and how he's held more than one of his own sobbing, insane sons through their own executions — and he completely ruins the mystique of this encounter by kicking the door open.

There's scrambling footsteps behind him immediately, and Sanguinius turns around only to see both a gaggle of servants and Lydia, followed by guards.

"My thane—"

"There was a daemonic presence in your castle," Sanguinius interrupts her, informing the guards gravely. The elfish woman who leads them stares at him in confusion. "Called itself Mephala," he clarifies, and alarmed whispers start bubbling up among the slight crowd. The elfish woman — Irileth, was it? — shuts them all up with a clap of her hands and a strong stare, and then everyone else notices, to Sanguinius's slight satisfaction, the sword that lays within the room behind him, which is giving off such an intense aura of evil that he's unsure how it went unnoticed this long.

"There were… records…," are Irileth's only words, but she's somewhat… reverse-starstruck by the sight of a Daedric artifact. Sanguinius doesn't pay her more than passing attention, though; he's got a plan.

He steps into the room he's just opened —and there's a boiling anger present within it, he can feel it, and the sensation of hearing skittering spiders— and he approaches the table upon which the sword lies, already planning.

There's a book on the table, too. Sanguinius delicately maneuvers it so its pages sandwich the blade of the sword, and clamps down so as to not let go. He turns around and faces Irileth.

"I'm going to break this," he says, and watches her face go pale in horror. Jaws hang slack, freed from their owners' higher thinking; Sanguinius doesn't want to wait until they're ready to hold applause.

But before he can do anything, one of the guards pushes forward. He's taken off his helmet; he's a little younger than the beard he sports would presume, and there's a reasonless glint in his eye. He breaches into the room; he throws himself at Sanguinius with a war cry, and the primarch steps back, lifting the book and sword away from the guard's reach. There's a struggle. It's comical, at first; the guard throwing himself at the sword, and Sanguinius stepping away, weaving around with it held away far from his hands.

But then, Sanguinius makes a mistake. He's pushed the guard away, for which he has to lower his hands, including the one holding the book and sword; his wrist slips, the bottom of his palm touches the cold metal of the sword, and the guard rushes him again, and Sanguinius reflexively grips the sword with two fingers as it runs the guard through. And the farce ends there.

There's a pin-drop silence, and then activity bursts into the crowd. Sanguinius steps back, disturbed, as the delirious, still-alive guard is pulled away from the blade with a wet shlick. He watches the guard be taken away and thinks he can almost hear Mephala giggle; so he lets go of the book to grab the sword and split it in half over his knee.

A rush of dark smoke evacuates it. Sanguinius is caught face-first in it, coughs; he throws the pieces of the sword on the floor and steps on them, just to make sure they're well and unusable. No guards remain by now, dispersed by their hurt comrade, but Lydia eyes the shards of the Ebony Blade warily.

Sanguinius just picks them up, slowly, stuffing them in the book as he does.

"Don't you think that's a bit extreme, my thane?"

Sanguinius sighs. "It's a bit dangerous for me, is what it is. Certainly not extreme." He puts the final piece in the book and turns to Lydia once more. "Could we borrow a shovel from the Jarl?"

Lydia wordlessly turns around in the basement they've been all piled up in and retrieves a shovel from a corner. "I'm sure he'll let us borrow it," she deadpans, handing it to Sanguinius.

"And maybe a tablecloth?"

She fishes one out from a drawer. "Why a tablecloth?" she asks him, up to the elbow in linens.

Sanguinius gestures for her to come forward. When she does, tablecloth extended into a makeshift bag, he unceremoniously drops the book — and the shards — into the cloth. Lydia freezes, eyes trained on the shards of Daedric artifact; Sanguinius takes the tablecloth by the bag's "neck" and walks past Lydia, speeding out of Dragonsreach.

Lydia crosses the hall, hurrying behind her thane amid mass whispers; the door opens, letting in a long streak of sunlight, and then closes. She reaches it and opens it just in time to see him at the other end of the bridge, wings extended, setting off with a hop.

She waits for him for a while, at the bottom of the stairs leading up to Dragonsreach. When he returns, he doesn't have the tablecloth.

Sanguinius squints at Lydia against the sunlight, his face shadowed, blonde curls like spun gold growing in darker in the sunlight. "We're leaving for Riverwood as soon as Ralof wakes up," he tells her.

"How's Ralof getting there?"

"I'll carry him." Sanguinius shrugs. "We'll go walking. I don't want to spend another minute here." He pauses. "Sorry."

Lydia sighs and looks away from him, at the cobblestones cooking under the light. "I should be the one apologizing."

"You didn't know it'd be daemonic," Sanguinius points out. He crosses his arms. "I'll go visit him, and you'll get lunch for us. Pack it. We'll eat on the way." It's an order, and Lydia feels a tingle through the inside of her head, like thunder behind her ears; there's something about Sanguinius's tone that cuts to the most primordial depths of her mind when he speaks like this, even after several days spent following him. "We're meeting at the inn in an hour."

Lydia wants to question how Sanguinius will convince Ralof to move in less than an hour, but she decides it's kind of a silly question. He'll surely just smile at everyone and do whatever he wants until he's allowed to do whatever he wants, and then he'll just carry Ralof off into the sunset — or the inn, whichever comes first.

Five minutes later, Sanguinius is pushing the doors to the Kynareth temple wide open and pushing away a few priestesses to reach Ralof, whose shoulder he grabs and, with all his strength, shakes. Ralof wakes up with a start, slapping around his cot and almost falling off; Sanguinius catches him and pushes him back onto it.

"What the— Sanguinius," Ralof says, out of breath. "What's happening?"

"We're leaving Whiterun," Sanguinius tells him, succinctly. His eyes are more than literally dark from Ralof's point of view. "We're going to Riverwood. We thought you'd like to come."

Ralof chuckles dryly. "I'd love to, but I can't exactly—"

"I can carry you," Sanguinius says, serious as ever. "No flights," he adds, seeing Ralof's presumably horrified expression; Sanguinius's face softens a little at that, amused.

"Do I really get a choice?" Ralof asks, a little sarcastic.

"Yes. You can stay here, or you can come with us." Sanguinius frowns a little, puzzled; Ralof's surprised at how dangerous that small shift can turn Sanguinius's expression. Ralof tries to sit up and whines in pain. Sanguinius's eyebrows shoot up with surprise at the noise, but he perseveres, asking, "So, what are you going to do?"

"I'll go," Ralof decides. "I'm certain the healers have realized I'm— involved in the war already, and the only reason they haven't kicked me out is because I'm too wounded to stand."

"Alright. We're leaving now," Sanguinius tells him, and before Ralof can question this, he scoops the man up —Ralof yelps!— and turns around, speedily leaving the temple.

Sanguinius doesn't get to zoom his way to the inn and out of the city like he'd want to, though; he has to shuffle Ralof's position in his arms several times until he finally lands in one comfortable to both of them, and once he reaches the Bannered Mare, Ralof points out someone will need to buy potions for him, for the day-long trip on foot, and Lydia just sighs and stands up. It all takes a short time, but by the end of it, Sanguinius is both a little more light-hearted and a lot antsier— enough to shoot Ralof an amused glance and nothing else when Ralof jokingly calls him a cart.

And so they set off.

Lydia and Ralof catch up during the trip, mostly ignoring Sanguinius, except for when he stumbles and Ralof winces with pain; which suits Sanguinius just fine, given that he's got plenty to think about.

They pause to eat shortly after leaving, but Sanguinius still doesn't exchange a word with his companions; nor does he speak during the rest of the afternoon's travels, as the sun begins its uneasy descent. He mulls, instead, over the past few days, over this morning, and over… really, everything else; even before coming to Skyrim he was busy.

He thinks he's starting to come down from the brutal height of emotion that was the Siege, but he's not sure yet. Maybe he'll only be sure once it's done. Sanguinius hates that, though, and he thinks about how much he hates that, and how much he hates that daemonic influence will just not leave him alone, as he positively bores holes into the bark of the trees before him as Ralof teases Lydia over her enthusiasm in camping outside city walls.

They make a stop close to Riverwood, but not close enough that they can see it; Lydia mentions the tower they're seeking shelter in used to be inhabited by bandits until recently, when they kidnapped a rich man whose spouse sought the Companions' aid. Sanguinius nods through the gory details, which involve Lydia waving her arms around with an overly-dramatic wide-eyed expression and Ralof hiding obvious uneasiness behind laughter. Sanguinius just stares at the fire, wings pressed against the wall, acutely feeling the air temperature drop.

Sanguinius half-listens, increasingly less distracted, to Lydia debating the Companions with Ralof; she cheers when he admits a sort of... let's say visual fondness, towards one of their number, Farkas. She admits that, well, many have some form of visual fondness towards Farkas, but she's rather more taken with another one's —Aela's— more intimidating visage. The conversation continues lightly, and Sanguinius makes the willing choice to tune in, something plucking at him from the way the two talk about their lives.

"...and he told me I should be able to put my principles aside for the good of Skyrim, can you believe it?" Ralof trails into Sanguinius's perception, cracking his knuckles. "As if we had anything good come from the Empire— we could take on the Dominion, really, I told him, 'Havvi, we could take them if we just had the power of the Voice back with us'. And now we do." He sighs. "But not before he left me in the dirt."

"You're better off without him," Lydia tells him, unconvinced of Ralof's political allegiances but supportive in his romantic endeavours. "Though he does have a point— well, you didn't listen to him, you're not going to listen to me," she sighs, and Ralof snorts.

"If there's one thing that can make even childhood friendships go wrong, it's politics," Ralof agrees. "I'll give it to the Empire, there's some things of theirs that they do better than Ulfric Stormcloak — treatment of Argonians, for one. We could've had an alliance there, but no—"

"Back to romantic relationships, please," Lydia begs. She turns to Sanguinius, desperate. "My thane," she asks, "have you ever gone out with anyone?"

She realizes what she's just asked Sanguinius when he blinks at her, confused. Ralof's eyebrows shoot up into the stratosphere.

"Gone out?" Sanguinius repeats. "No, not significantly. I've been courted," he mentions, off-handedly, and his two companions immediately lean in.

"Courted? Ooh," Lydia says, a tone of whimsical gossip in her voice. Ralof is too stunned for words, so she takes the lead in asking, "By whom?"

"Oh, all sorts of people," Sanguinius sighs. "None of which were very interesting. Remembrancers, planetary governors, leaders of small empires— the works. I turned most of them down — the ones I didn't, well, they didn't last very long. We weren't very compatible."

He knows there's plenty of gossip, plenty of— well, he's seen as a sort of ideal bachelor in the Imperium, but he's just not… interested in most people. He's mildly particular about what he wants from a relationship, enough for it to be an unexpected issue whenever someone who doesn't know him tries to proposition him, and he's made peace with that; he's better off single and happy than trying to prove himself to someone who needs more of him than he can give. (He's very acutely aware of how lucky he is, that everyone so far has, indeed, taken 'no' for an answer; he thinks of Carlotta and his hearts pang empathetically.)

"No romantic regrets, really? No loose ends, nothing sad or tragic?" Lydia prods, ignoring Ralof's alarmed look. Sanguinius's eyes widen. "My thane, I'm not sure I believe you."

"I never said no regrets," the Primarch blurts out, offended, and his eyes widen as he realizes what he's said.

But it's too late; Lydia's leaning forward, with a curious glint in her eye. The prompt to continue is wordless, and yet, utterly unmissable. Unavoidable. Sanguinius grimaces.

Ralof looks at him, and for a moment, he thinks he's seeing things— but no: somewhat hidden by Sanguinius's brown skin, there indeed is a light blush, glowing high atop his cheekbones.

"It's a secret," he tries. "I— I really shouldn't say." He didn't do anything technically wrong, that particular time, but it's still— it feels. Private.

And admitting to it in this context would be… well, if word got out, it'd be devastating. His brothers wouldn't let him hear the end of it. If they weren't utterly disgusted, of course — it's one thing to develop feelings towards the ruler of a human world, and another very different one to feel — not even feelings, not solid ones, not really, moreso just… a spark, with. With.

...Well. At least he hadn't been an Eldar, he thinks, desperately. No shit; that wouldn't have gone well. At all.

"...I won't pry if it's personal, my Thane," Lydia says, softly, "but I'll— I'm sworn to secrecy. I'm sworn to serve you, and if that includes secrecy, then it is secrecy I'll keep unto death. And maybe… talking about it would help?" she guesses, correctly.

Sanguinius looks at her with meaning-dense, troubled sight. He then diverts that stare at Ralof, who startles, the panopticon's beam heavy upon his chest. "I'll never tell, either, I promise," he swears. "Over Talos's mortal remains, I swear I will keep it secret."

Sanguinius is silent, for a moment, his gaze swiveling between the two of them. Finally, he stares at the ground between them — and for the first time ever, of this, he speaks.

"We only met once," he begins, softly. "It was brief, and a long time ago. But we fought side by side, if ever so briefly, even if I— even if we— well, it wasn't— I hadn't meant to fight by his side." I'm not sure if he meant to, he doesn't say. "We were… supposed to be enemies, but a greater threat appeared. A sort of… onslaught of chitinous beasts. I was protecting the world's human inhabitants, and he seemed to have… some sort of personal stake with those xeno monsters, as if he were fighting—" His exact words ring in Sanguinius's memory; "—as if he were… holding them back. Trying to. I think that was why… I did not go after him, as soon as they were defeated— because I knew, somehow, that letting him go would be better for mankind, in the long term."

He looks up, at the sky visible through the skylights in the tower, its rocky walls cool against the back of his head. His hair's black roots are plainly visible; if he squints, he can just barely see them, out of the edge of his field of vision.

"An enemy commander," Ralof echoes, hypnotized. "How… romantic."

"Well— we never properly fought each other," Sanguinius tries to defend himself, "but— yes. Uhm. Though." He pauses, considering the best, least illegal way of phrasing what happened. "He did… ask to speak to me, privately. One…" One king to another, he'd said, all those years ago. "One-on-one."

Lydia leans in further, enough to be well and imposing on Sanguinius's personal space. "And you went?", she asks. He pushes her back before replying, to which she giggles nervously.

"...I… I did," Sanguinius confesses. "I did speak to him privately." Why did I do it?, he wonders every time he remembers.

Lydia grins, enraptured. "And what did he tell you?"

Sanguinius's lashes flutter downwards as he stares, embarrassed, at the floor. He bites at his lower lip, like how a wild animal might gnaw on its leg when caught by a snare; a ruby tear threatens to bauble over and slide down the side of his chin, as if he were feasting like his sons do. (His ichor tastes metallic, in lieu of being golden).

"He said he admired me," he admits. "He said he thought me a wise man— a good lord, a good shepherd. He thought that I would… That I would agree to, I would see the wisdom in an alliance."

Lydia squeals with excitement, but Ralof catches the sobriety in Sanguinius's voice. "You rejected him."

Sanguinius nods. "I'm not sure what I regret— speaking to him even once, or only," he says, and it is the heaviest admission he will make tonight, but there's been a sort of slow rapture, in his head; a blinding slow-mo flashbang of needing to know his time here is real, of needing to give himself away, oddly enough, to these people.

(Because if this isn't real, then— then he's dead. Or worse.)

Lydia whines sympathetically. She presses a hand to Sanguinius's arm, comforting. "I'm sorry," she says.

"It's all right." Sanguinius looks at her and immediately looks away, guilty. He's not sure if the calculations he made before his confessional are as plastered onto his face as he feels like they are, but he doesn't think it's polite to admit to planning the death of those who've sworn silence to you. Even though he totally could, of course, and will if he needs to, of course, because he really, truly does not want this to get back to—

to get back to whom? Father is likely dead, and Horus won't care anymore, you saw him, the cynical side of his brain complains. Sanguinius takes a deep breath.

"I... am going to sleep, now," he decides. "I'm not hungry— you two take my rations, I'll eat when we get to Riverwood."

Sanguinius stands up, and his two companions keep looking at him, in silence, as he climbs the stairs up further in the tower, where abandoned beds are left over from highwaymen whose corpses have already been cleaned.

When he sits down on the mattress, he wonders if he should've told them of his inhumanity as well, the way his face-plate gleamed silver in the morning-light. How most of his troops did not speak. The subtle whirring noise that came with his very presence, one Sanguinius can't but commit to memory, his superhuman mind be damned.

But he sort of— knows, in a way he can't really articulate, that he would've had to tell them of his humanity, too, if he'd told them that. How he'd paused mid-sentence, hands coming to a stop in mid-air, like strange metallic beetles, as he'd thought of how to phrase things; his pleasant surprise when Sanguinius had started signing back to him; how he'd slowly repeated the correct term for Sanguinius's station ('not prince', Sanguinius had told him, 'Primarch'), as if committing it to memory.

And how he'd looked at his men, and how Sanguinius had looked at him, looking at his men, and had seen himself reflected far more than literally. How he knew they both carried that same sort of emotion, that weight that was almost guilt.

...He cuts his dwelling off there and falls onto the bed. Its weak legs instantly give in, and the wooden frame the too-small mattress is on hits the ground. Sanguinius startles with the impact, then grumpily turns over and forces his eyes closed. He thinks he might as well be on a holiday to the Warp, the way he's acting; and really, it's hard to disagree.

His sleep is dreamless, for once.

The next day, they set off early in the morning, and before midday Riverwood is in sight. Lydia prods Sanguinius during the trip, trying to get him to act friendly. She's not discouraged by Sanguinius's silence, though he does humor her a few times, respond to her comments— but as soon as any topic with more weight than a feather comes up, Sanguinius clams back up.

"...You said you'd found a letter?" Ralof asks Lydia, in the midst of an awkward silence; he turns to peer back at his hometown, which is closing in. Sanguinius pretends to ignore the man he's carrying.

Lydia boggles, for a moment, then nods quickly. "It said to go to Riverwood, apparently," she says; "I'm not sure, I didn't read it."

"It said to go to the Sleeping Giant inn and ask for the attic room." Sanguinius's voice is teetering on the edge of total flatness, but it's not quite there yet.

"Espionage in my hometown," Ralof muses. "Never would've thought it. It always felt sleepy to me. ...Though if it had to be anywhere in Riverwood," and he squints, momentarily blinded by the flare of the sun, "it'd be in that inn." He pulls on Sanguinius's arm, to adjust their mutual posture.

Sanguinius props him up a little higher. "Why?"

"The newest owner, a woman named Delphine, is a recent arrival. Relatively recent. I remember it was shortly after the Great War ended — just before I left to enlist. Her and that elf — Faendal — are the newest arrivals to town, and he's just here to work at the mill. Everyone else's been here since they were born. No one comes here, we only leave," Ralof muses.

He finds Lydia and Sanguinius shooting him identical looks of confusion; he's the only small town-born of the three, what with Sanguinius's childhood having been nomadic and Lydia being a city slicker. So he just shrugs, and Sanguinius has to compensate for the sudden movement as Ralof winces, having apparently forgotten the reason he's being carried, and also having pulled on something that hurts.

"We're almost there," Lydia points out once they settle down, a little obviously; amidst the greenery of their path, several cabins and the smell of freshly-cut wood approach them. Sanguinius hurries up wordlessly, and Lydia follows after him.

When Sanguinius steps onto the street (singular) of Riverwood proper, a few people are watching him from their porches; he ignores them, heading for Ralof's sister's home and knocking on the door. She obviously isn't expecting him, of all people, to be the one in front of the door, but Sanguinius gets to enter the house and deposit Ralof on a bed, his housecarl lingering in the doorway, exchanging awkward glances with the Nord's family.

Sanguinius takes a step back after placing him on the bed, but Ralof holds onto his arm and tugs.

"...I'll be back adventuring with you as soon as I recover," Ralof promises, after a momentary pause, and Sanguinius nods. "I'm serious. Stay alive until then, all right?"

"Take care, Ralof," is the only thing Sanguinius says, and Ralof lets go of him, so he steps out of the house and stops inconveniencing the family.

He's not two steps out of the door when he grimaces, involuntarily, as if he'd caught his toe on something; Lydia frowns at him, confused, but Sanguinius doesn't elaborate on what he's thinking about, so Lydia just follows him to the inn.

The Sleeping Giant is empty; the man behind the counter is gone, and the only person who remains is the blonde woman. Sanguinius beelines for her, Lydia remaining a few hesitant steps behind him, and bluntly asks her for the attic room.

She looks him up and down, and grins. "I knew it," she says, then, "We don't have an attic room, but you can have the one on the left. Follow me."

Sanguinius shoots Lydia a look; Lydia nods and sits at a table, and Sanguinius follows Delphine to his room. He closes the door after him and turns around; the woman's opening the door to a closet, behind which is a hole carved into the wall. Sanguinius tries to step into it, and finds it's too small for him to even duck into.

He resorts to crawling through it, undignified, wings squeezed so they may fit.

At the other end of the tunnel, there's a teeny-tiny basement. It, too, is too small for Sanguinius; he ducks until he's shown to a chair, and he immediately takes a seat, relieved.

The woman stands behind the table. "The Greybeards seem to think you're the Dragonborn," she begins. "I hope they're right."

"I'm sure yet myself," Sanguinius offers. "You are…?"

As he speaks, she turns and pulls out a dark, sharp horn. She offers it to him. "Delphine. I think you're looking for this."

Sanguinius takes the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller and leaves it on his side of the table. "Why have you brought me here?" he begins.

"It was the only way I could make sure it wasn't a Thalmor trap," she sighs. "Listen, I'm not your enemy. I already gave you the horn. I'm actually trying to help you. I just need you to hear me out."

"I'm all ears," Sanguinius says, utterly unimpressed.

"Well, like I said in my note," she begins, "I've heard that you might be Dragonborn." She pauses to press her lips together just for a moment, thinking of how to say the following, then continues. "I'm part of a group that's been looking for you— well, for someone like you, for a very long time. In several ways. But before I tell you any more, I need to make sure I can trust you."

Sanguinius frowns, confused. "How do I know if I can trust you?", he counters, a little distracted.

"Well, if you don't trust me, you were a fool to walk in here with me in the first place," she flatly tells him. Sanguinius raises an unimpressed eyebrow.

"Why take the horn?", he continues.

"I knew the Greybeards would send you there if they thought you were Dragonborn. They're nothing if not predictable," she scoffs. "When you showed up here, I had my suspicions confirmed."

"Are you looking for me because I'm this 'Dragonborn'?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"We remember what most don't: that the Dragonborn is the ultimate dragonslayer. Only your kind can kill a dragon permanently — by devouring its soul." She looks up at him, eyes fiery, but… unsure. "Can you do it?" she asks him. "Can you devour a dragon's soul?"

Sanguinius doesn't say anything for a moment, his face a careful, well-practiced mask. "...It's been said I've done this," he settles on telling her. Then he ripostes with, "What is it you're not telling me?"

Delphine laughs. "There's a lot I'm not telling you. There's not a lot I can tell you," she adds. "Here's what you need to know: Dragons aren't just coming back, they're coming back to life. They weren't gone somewhere for all these years. They were dead, killed off centuries ago by my predecessors. Now something's happening to bring them back to life. And I need you to help me stop it."

There's a lie in that sentence, Sanguinius can tell from a thousand miles away, but he can't tell you where — so he decides to trust her. If she's untrustworthy, well, there isn't much he can't fight his way out of. "I've heard stranger things," he says. Xenos have been on record as doing things like these before. "How did you learn of this?"

"...I've visited their ancient burial mounds and found them empty," she says, equal parts disbelieving and defiant. "And I've figured out where the next one will come back to life. We're going to go there, and you're going to kill that dragon. If we succeed, I'll tell you anything you want to know."

Sanguinius can tell where the lie in that sentence is. "So, where are we headed?"

"Kynesgrove. There's an ancient dragon burial near there. If we can get there before it happens, maybe we'll learn how to stop it."

"I've no idea where that is."

"I'll take you there."

"And my housecarl?"

"Who, that girl? She'll stay here. I don't trust her yet."

"Girl? She's in her thirties." Early ones, maybe even late twenties, but nonetheless.

"So was I during the war. She's seen nothing," Delphine scoffs. "Are you coming or not?"

"What, now?"

"We don't have all day."

"These wings aren't for show," Sanguinius tells her. "We do."

"...Fine," she sighs. "Let me get in my travelling gear, we'll eat and we'll set off. Happy now?"

The basement room is dark; Sanguinius can't fully see Delphine's face, can only judge her by her words, really. He thinks of Ralof. Sanguinius already said goodbye fifteen minutes ago; if anything, Lydia can tell him. If he wants to say goodbye or not is irrelevant. It'd be awkward, anyway.

And so, Sanguinius settles on, "Satisfied."