The Dragonborn Comes


The Dragonborn Comes is an x-rated, tongue-in-cheek take on the main quest line from Skyrim. It asks (and answers!) the question, "What if the Dragonborn were a horny young slut?"

Fantasy / Erotica
Kathe Todd
Age Rating:

The Entire Novel

The Dragonborn Comes By “M.”

Being the story of a plucky young immigrant woman
who came to Skyrim seeking fame, fortune, adventure, romance,
and really hot sex –only to find herself faced with a world-shaking destiny.

Warning: contains graphic depictions of sex.
Also, dragons, Orcs, Elves, vampires,
and monsters that defy description.

Author’s Notes

This story is in some ways more a “memoir” than a novel. Without Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Migal’s wonderful Bathing Beefcakes Luxury Suite mod, none of it would have been possible. I launched Katrine/Katja on her journey in a new game, with some mods in place, and followed her as she went through Skyrim’s main quest line, sticking as much as possible to the actual game events as they occurred, and using the game’s official dialog where possible or appropriate. She digressed only briefly from the game’s main story arc in her travels, primarily to give her an opportunity to improve her skills and as a vehicle for her budding romance with her male leads.

In addition to the Luxury Suite mod, I used the Skyrim Monster Mod by Dogtown1 (I used version 9; link is to version 12 details) to make journeying through Skyrim’s hinterlands a little more exciting. Katja’s progress in enchanting and alchemy was enhanced by Joe316’s New Alchemy and Enchanting Effects mod, and her ability to quickly build her fortune is thanks in large part to HardKoreG’s Fast Respawns and Rich Merchants mod. Katja’s relationship with Anders and Wyll, two of the Non-Player Characters supplied by the Luxury Suite, was enhanced by Dheuster’s Amazing Follower Tweaks mod. The godlike physiques and generous endowment of these two paragons was actually present in the game and not just in my fevered imagination, thanks to Better Males – Beautiful nudes and faces by Chris57 and FavoredSoul.

I used a few other mods as well, but they do not come into play in the telling of Katja’s story. This tale is aimed mostly at people who are familiar with Skyrim and will appreciate my efforts to blend the game’s version of reality into a story that feels at least as “real” as the usual fantasy novel. But for any readers who have never played the game (and might perhaps, after reading this story, want to), I’d like to point out a few ways in which my story departs from what is actually possible in Skyrim.

Can you have romance in Skyrim? Well, sort of. In the vanilla game you can hook up with a friendly person of either sex, have a wedding ceremony performed at the Temple of Mara in Riften, and live happily ever after in whatever home you (or your spouse) might own. Some spouses will follow you, watching your back and fighting your battles, if you wish. Or if you prefer, they will stay home, greeting you warmly when you return from “work” (i.e. stalking draugr through clammy dungeons, slaying dragons, and such), and offering you a home-cooked meal. There is also a mod that will enable you to divorce the spouse you have and marry another, even marry several different NPCs and stash them in different residences throughout the province. You want a girl in every port? Just use Mara’s Bow.

Can you have hot sex in Skyrim? Not exactly. There is an excellent and fun sex mod called Animated Prostitution, on which JoshNZ has lavished an incredible amount of work for version 2.34. You can engage any of your spouses, and other friendly characters as well, in a minute-long sex session with animations supplied by Fores New Animations in Skyrim, and see your characters getting it on complete with porn-loop sound effects. (If you wish to follow the main quest line in Skyrim, you must have this mod disabled. Playing with AP on causes the main quest line to fail, preventing The Dragonborn from going on to save the world by defeating the dragon Alduin.) Nobody has yet come up with a way to emulate real lovemaking using the game’s animation engine. But if love and passionate sex were possible in Skyrim, I think it would be something like what Katja finds, as her story unfolds.

Chapter 1: Arrival

The wagon lurched as it passed over a stretch of missing paving stones, jolting its passengers and causing Katrine Bouchard to awaken in confusion. She had dozed off after hours spent riding the dusty, creaking conveyance as she and her fellow prisoners were transported toward Helgen and “justice.” Her heart sank as she recalled her situation. How had she come to this? The young Breton woman had left her family’s home in High Rock only a few months before, following dreams of fame, fortune, glory, and the chance to meet some real men – not the clumsy farm boys she’d been rolling with since the age of 15.

Katrine had never felt as if she belonged in the rural environs of her birth. Women there got married, popped out a few babies, got fat, got old, and died. They never went anywhere, saw anything, or had any adventures. Better to die in a flaming battle than to wither away like that! So with little more than the clothes on her back and a rusty iron dagger (long since polished and honed to razor sharpness), she had left home and set out to reach the fabled, sprawling Imperial province of Skyrim. Then, not long after her arrival, she’d been captured in an Imperial ambush with a group of men who’d been trying to cross the border at the same time she was. Now she and three of them were riding this wagon, surrounded by Imperial guards, and on their way to an unknown fate.

They rolled through the gates of Helgen, a small walled town with a stone keep and an Imperial garrison. Katrine had learned from talking with the man sitting across from her, a good-looking Nord with blond hair and beard whose name she learned was Ralof, that the gagged figure sitting to her right was none other than the notorious Ulfric Stormcloak, Jarl of Windhelm and the Nord rebel leader who had, so it was claimed, literally shouted the High King to death. The man sat glaring at his captors, hunched on the wooden bench seat, and did not look as formidable as all that. But Katrine knew the Imperials wanted this man’s blood, and her apparent close association with him was not going to work in her favor.

As they rolled past the houses lining the road, villagers emerged to stare at the prisoners – some of them calling insults and threats. Then the wagon came to a stop and the lightly-bound prisoners were ordered to hop down out of its bed and approach the Imperial officers receiving them. The officers called each prisoner by name, before ordering him or her to move over near an open area where a headsman’s block had been set up. As Katrine watched in horror, the horse thief who had been one of her fellow passengers on the wagon tried to flee, and was shot down by archers before he had run a hundred paces.

Oh, this did not look good! The officer fixed her with a suspicious glare and demanded, “Who are you?” “Kat… Katja,” she stammered out. Even if her auburn-tressed head was about to be parted forcibly from her body, Katrine thought it would be a good idea to keep her true identity a secret. No last name. Many Nords didn’t have one, and many Nords were as pale-skinned and ruddy-haired as she. The officer referred to the list in his hand, then turned to the mean-looking female Captain at his side. “She’s not on the list,” he said. “What should I do?” His superior scowled, hard-eyed. “She goes to the block, the same as the rest.” “Katja” was ordered over to stand with the others.

When all of the prisoners had been processed, the female Imperial Captain addressed them, announcing that they were all condemned traitors. She ordered a man standing at Katja’s left to step forward and kneel before the block. Oh, crap. This really did not look good! That sentiment was magnified when a huge, muscular man wearing leather armor and hood and wielding a gigantic axe stepped forward, and took the man’s head off with a single powerful stroke. Blood spurted from his neck, soaking the ground. A lot more would be spilled, before this day was over.

Feeling sick, Katja stumbled forward when instructed to do so after the man’s body had been dragged to one side. She almost fell to her knees before the bloody block, her mind in a daze. But just as the headsman was about to lift his axe for another swing, everyone’s attention was drawn by a raucous roar. She realized she had been hearing this same cry occasionally ever since they had arrived at the execution grounds, but further away and masked by foreground noises.

Now, the noise was earsplitting – and as terrified cries went up, an enormous, scaly creature with leathery wings, powerful talons, and a horned head dived from the sky to perch atop the nearby tower, sending a wave of panic through the crowd. By the Divines, it was a dragon! Katja had heard tales of these legendary creatures, even seen the skeleton of one once; but they had supposedly disappeared ages ago.

Extinct species or not, clearly there was one live specimen of the breed right here and now, and it had disrupted Katja’s execution. Her fellow prisoner, Ralof, pulled her to her feet and shouted, “Run! Make for the keep!” Not sure which direction the keep was in, she followed him to a nearby stone tower – leaving the headsman’s block behind without a trace of regret.

Inside the tower, Katja found that Ulfric had also come here for sanctuary. Their refuge was not going to be safe for long, though. As they cowered on the ground floor, the dragon blasted a huge chunk of masonry from the top of the tower and they found themselves dodging a hail of fist-sized stones. Ralof led the way up the stairs and said “Jump down into that inn and head for the keep!” He gestured at a now-roofless building below the hole in the tower. “I’ll meet up with you when I can!”

Ralof was soon out the hole and Katja followed, anxious about breaking a leg or even just keeping her balance, with her hands still tied. But anything was better than waiting for the dragon to incinerate her, or knock the tower down around her ears. She jumped up onto the tower’s broken wall then hopped across a short gap, to land on the burning and partially-ruined inn’s second floor. Then, thankfully still on her feet, she headed down the steps to the bottom floor and out through a hole in a wall, evading flames and fallen stonework.

In a very short time, Helgen had become nearly ruinous. Piles of flaming rubble were everywhere, but the stone keep still stood firm and Katja hastened to it as soon as it came into view. All the while she was keeping a sharp eye out for the dragon or for any Imperials who might be wanting to resume their planned execution.

The civil war in Skyrim had been a surprise to her, and Katja had no real leanings toward one faction or the other; but her recent experience with the Imperials had left her feeling a bit leery around them – to put it mildly. The officer who had taken her name earlier found her in the courtyard and said he would lead her to safety (yeah right, so you can kill me later? she wondered), but as they approached the entrance to the keep Ralof reappeared, and she followed him into it instead.

Inside, they found the body of Gunjar, another of Ralof’s compatriots. Ralof used a dagger to cut Katja’s bonds and told her to take Gunjar’s gear. The heavy leather Stormcloak cuirass was a bit too wide in the shoulders and tight in the chest, but otherwise not a bad fit. She took boots and an iron war axe, as well. It was potmetal, really, but still a lot better than fists or fingernails in a fight.

They needed to exit the keep through the dungeons below, but the gate was locked. Another gate, leading from above, could not be opened from this side. But a moment later that gate was opened – from the other side – as the female Imperial Captain who’d ordered her execution, accompanied by a soldier, came through it. Katja and Ralof were immediately recognized as escaped prisoners, and had a furious fight on their hands.

Back home in her farm village in High Rock, Katrine had thought that she wasn’t too bad with a blade. She was tall for a Breton girl, lithe and agile, and in her sparring with Louis, her childhood friend and the son of the village smith, she had always come out the better. In her travels getting here, she had found that – while she might be the hottest swordmaiden in Pied-de-Puce – the wider world held many with abilities far beyond her own.

Like all Bretons she had an inborn gift for magic, as well. But there had been none to teach her any spells beyond the basics, and as yet she owned but a single novice destruction spell. Now, coming up against these well-armed Imperials nearly cost her the life that had only recently been saved.

Fortunately Ralof was a useful man in a fight, and with his help the two managed to prevail. Katja searched the corpses of the Imperials and came up with a couple of potions, a few pieces of gold, and a soldier’s pack in which she could carry other useful items she might encounter. Plus, more importantly, the key to the locked gate.

She and Ralof opened it and headed down the stairs. In a storeroom below, they encountered two more Imperials. Katja was starting to feel a lot better now, as the excitement began to erase her fatigue and anxiety. This was, now that she thought of it, precisely the sort of adventure she had been hankering for when she set out from High Rock. Well, maybe there had been fewer headsmen and more handsome adventurers, not to mention exotic loot and lavish palaces, in her dreams. But the thrill of danger had awakened something in her, and she was avid to push on.

After the Imperials had fallen Katja did a thorough search of the storeroom and came up with some food and other supplies, including potions for health, magicka, and stamina. She acquired a better sword from one of their fallen foes, too, and some heavier armor. Her travels had hardened her, and she could carry more than a hundred pounds of gear and clothing without faltering.

On the next level down they encountered an Imperial torturer and his assistant in a pitched battle with two Stormcloaks. They joined the fray, and the Imperials were soon overrun. Katja searched the bodies again, coming up with a few more gold septims and some other items. Ralof gave her a dozen lockpicks, and suggested she pick the lock on the cage containing the body of a mage, to see what else might be found. She hadn’t ever used a lockpick before, but her fingers were nimble and she soon worked out the technique to open this simple lock without breaking a single pick.

The search yielded more lockpicks, and a spell tome. Katja could already produce a slight blast of fire using the Flames spell, and reading this book gave her Sparks: a little jolt of lightning that caused damage to a target’s health and took off some of their magicka (the innate force that powers magical spells) too. This should prove useful against mages. Katja felt her strength and confidence growing as she and her little band proceeded deeper below the keep and into a natural cave.

These qualities were tested shortly, as the next stretch of cavern proved to be full of Imperial soldiers guarding the area for their General, Tullius. Katja and her Stormcloak companions were forced to go on the attack immediately. She used her Flames spell to set fire to a pool of flammable oil that had spilled on the cavern floor, driving the Imperials to confusion. After killing one archer with her sword, she collected his bow and arrows, and switched over to arrow fire. It was not possible to bring down an enemy with a single shot and the bow was not a good weapon for close quarters, but it did enable her to soften them up from a distance, even perhaps from hiding if she were stealthy enough.

After clearing the cavern, Katja and Ralof left via a wooden bridge across a stream that ran through the caves. Moments after they’d crossed it, they could hear a roar from the dragon above and the bridge collapsed. No going back that way. Their companions had all either been killed or fallen behind, so it was just the two of them as they crept through the caves, encountering and killing some Frostbite spiders. These were ugly brutes, each the size of a dog, aggressive and possessed of enormous fangs dripping with lethal venom. Katja shuddered in revulsion and relief as they left the monsters dead and continued on their way.

A little further along, Ralof put out an arm to stop her from continuing. “There’s a bear sleeping over there. See her?” he murmured quietly. Katja spotted the bulky brown mound of fur a few yards ahead of them, blocking the path to what appeared to be the cave system’s exit. “We’ll have to try to sneak by – unless you’re feeling lucky?” He offered her a longbow, superior to the short Imperial bow she had acquired from the fallen soldiers, along with a dozen iron arrows.

What could go wrong? Katja nocked an arrow and carefully crept a bit nearer, wanting to be in good range. She had always been a great shot with a bow, if she’d never owned one as good as this one before. Indeed, she’d won all the archery contests at village festivals from the time she was about 12. Now that she had developed into womanhood, her ripe breasts pressing firmly against her pilfered Imperial armor, it was clear she was going to need to get back into practice and perhaps modify her technique. But she felt confident she could make this shot. The question was, would she be able to outrun the bear after making it?

In fact, she couldn’t. But the wounded bear was slow to wake after being abruptly roused – and while backing off Katja was able to hit it with a second arrow, a lucky shot apparently. It grunted, sighed, and collapsed in a pool of blood. She retrieved her arrows from the corpse, and also took its pelt and its claws. As she was out on her own in this seeming war zone, Katja wanted to gather in anything of value that she might be able to sell for gold.

Shortly after that Katja and Ralof exited the cave. He thought it best they split up, he said. But he urged her to seek out Gerdur, his sister. She and her husband ran the mill in the nearby village of Riverwood, and he would see to it that Katja found welcome when she went there. She gazed up into his face, her dark sea-gray eyes meeting his blue ones, and gave him a heartfelt smile. Then she threw her arms around his neck in a hug that took the man by surprise. “Thank you for everything!” she said. “You saved my life, and I won’t forget it.”

Ralof soon disappeared down a trail to the north, and Katja considered where to go next. As far away from Helgen as possible seemed like a good idea to her. But where, specifically? Riverwood would be a logical destination, but she wanted to do a little exploring first. She had acquired a map of the province before crossing the border, and it still resided, folded up, inside her shirt. The Khajiit trader who had sold it to her claimed it had magical properties, but she had assumed that was just part of his sales pitch. Certainly, it didn’t have a lot of detail. Only a few major cities, and some lines that were probably supposed to be roads, were marked.

Katja got the sense from a look at her surroundings that, though the Imperials might feel that Skyrim was a province of the Empire, this sense of ownership had not inspired them to put a lot of effort into things like road-building. The path she was on was little more than a goat track, and a few yards further on it intersected a road marked by half-overgrown white stones. The stones were missing in many places and covered with dirt or moss in others, but it was an official road, stretching off toward the west. She decided to find out where it went.

Chapter 2: Falkreath

Katja continued down the ancient stone-paved road, her heart swelling with feelings of freedom and joy. Just an hour or so ago she had been at death’s door – and now she was healthy, free, and walking into a world of possibilities. She yanked a somewhat stale hunk of bread out of her pack and gnawed on it as she continued on her way. The area to the west of Helgen was forested and hilly, and she found it lovely. The region where she had grown up had been flat and agricultural, but here the landscape had a wildness that appealed to her sensibilities.

Katja kept the bow Ralof had given her near to hand, along with the couple of dozen arrows she had left. There was little stirring in the woods as she walked along, but she did spot a stag darting in and out of the trees ahead and fell into a crouching stance. Hunting was another skill she’d picked up in adolescence, as the placid farm fields in which Pied-de-Puce was situated were surrounded by forested foothills, rife with game. Many a rabbit, squirrel, and other small game had fallen to young Katrine’s bow.

Now she successfully stalked this enormous, hugely antlered beast and sent a steel-tipped arrow driving into him at the point right behind the shoulder nearest the heart. He didn’t fall immediately, but he was mortally wounded and Katja tracked him for a while longer before ending his agony with two more well-placed arrows.

Lifting the carcass to bleed it in the approved fashion was beyond her. The deer of Skyrim were huge, weighing (she judged) more than 500 pounds. But Katja skinned the creature for its hide, and sliced off as much meat, with her new steel dagger, as she felt she could reasonably carry. The rest she left as a gift to the foxes and ravens. She made a small fire and toasted a few steaks over the flames, wolfing them down. Katja was a woman of appetites, an athlete who needed to pack away plenty of food on a daily basis and deeply enjoyed doing so.

Between her escape from Helgen with its attendant battles, and the butchering of the stag, Katja was feeling grubby beyond belief. She had been raised to believe that cleanliness was a virtue (though one often ignored at need), and when she came upon a small stream crossing the road she stepped aside and walked up it a few dozen yards to a small, crystalline pool. Peeling off her leather Imperial armor and linen underclothes, she stripped naked and went into the stream to wash the blood, sweat, and dust from her skin and hair.

By the Divines, the water was cold! Refreshing, though, on this afternoon in early summer. She sat in the pool and let the running water sluice the grime from her body. Katja’s skin was smooth, pale, and spotted with small freckles, overlying a body that was curvy but becoming increasingly muscular as her active lifestyle had required more and more from her. She ran her hands through the wet, dark auburn hair surmounting her pubic mound, and let her fingers dive down between her labia, spreading them and allowing the cold water to carry away the stickiness. Mmm, that felt kind of good. Having been busy trying to stay alive for most of the past few weeks, she’d had very few opportunities to relieve the desires that came as naturally to her as the hunger for food, or for adventure.

Perhaps the town Katja felt sure would appear at the end of this broken, ancient road would provide her with some relief. When she was arrested, the Imperials had confiscated her dagger. But they had left her with the amulet she’d received from Selene, the Wise Woman of her village, back before she’d (eagerly) surrendered her maidenhead to that first clumsy farm boy some seven years previously. It assured that no seed would take root in her womb, and protected her from the several infections one was likely to pick up while spreading one’s favors around. On occasion, Katja thought it was her most valuable possession. Keeping alive with bow and sword were all very well, but keeping her freedom was of even greater value to her.

Refreshed, Katja let her body air-dry before putting her armor back on – wishing she had some clean underwear – and continued on her way. She came upon a wooden farmhouse, and took the time to explore it. The door yielded to a moment’s work with a lockpick, and it appeared at first that nobody was inside. Drunken singing drew her down the stairs, however, where she found an obvious bandit (as denoted by his attire) having a little party all by himself beside a hearth fire. She put a couple of arrows into him before he noticed she was there. Surely, bandits must be fair game.

After the bandit had sung his last, Katja searched the room. She found various weapons to confiscate along with foodstuffs and armor, potions and gold. Also a note, apparently from this bandit’s chief, that directed her attention to a secret panel in the back wall. She opened it, but hesitated to go inside. At her current level of abilities, she didn’t fancy the odds going up alone against an entire gang of bandits. Better to go looking for some help, first, and come back later.

The afternoon was still young, and after raiding the garden for some potatoes and other vegetables Katja continued on her way. Only a little further down the road she spotted a troll blocking the path ahead. She had never seen one before, but had listened to many a fireside tale and quickly recognized it. She approached stealthily, then used her bow to dispatch it.

Katja explored the troll’s corpse after killing it. It was just a beast, if human in general shape, smaller than her and covered with shaggy brown hair. Its prognathous jaw was filled with wicked-looking teeth. She obtained the arrows she had used to kill it, along with a small quantity of fat (another alchemical ingredient, she knew, though Selene had not taught her all that much about alchemy).

Katja continued on down the road as evening fell, beginning to get a little anxious about finding shelter for the night. But dusk had not yet faded from the sky when she came upon the gates of Falkreath, one of the major towns of Skyrim and the seat of Falkreath Hold. The gates stood open, but well-patrolled by city guards.

By now the hour was approaching full dark, and Katja was feeling tired, hungry, and footsore. Not to mention, a bit horny. It was clearly too late for her to visit any merchants, so she made a beeline for the Dead Man’s Drink Inn, located only a few paces inside the gates at the southern edge of town. She had a small but decent hoard of septims in her purse, contributed most generously by the various corpses she had encountered (or made) since escaping from her execution – what seemed like a lifetime ago, in Helgen.

Katja walked into the inn, welcomed by the warm glow of hearth fires, and approached the bar at the far end of the room. It was kept by a severe-looking Imperial woman. Katja (the name by which Katrine was now coming to call herself even in her thoughts) introduced herself as she touched hands with Valga Venicia. The innkeeper was quite willing to part with local gossip, and Katja soon learned that Falkreath was the site of the largest graveyard in Skyrim, with some possibly supernatural goings-on.

Inquiring about a room, Katja was told that the price was 10 septims. Not a fortune, but a bigger chunk of her current fortune than she cared to part with, just for a bed. Passing her hand briefly over her amulet, she ordered an ale instead. That was only 2 septims. Then she took a seat at one of the long wooden tables that ran down either side of the room.

Katja was young, not hard to look at, and a stranger in these parts. She had not been sipping at her tankard of ale for longer than a minute or two when she was approached by a young Nord. He seemed eager to make her acquaintance; but he was a local, he didn’t appear to have two septims to rub together, and he reminded her all too vividly of the succession of clumsy farm boys with whom she’d vented her teenage lusts back in High Rock. She brushed him off with a smile.

A little while later the inn’s bard approached her. He’d been making some pretty but unremarkable background music and was now on break. “Hi, I’m Delacourt,” he said with a winning smile. “I don’t think I’ve seen you before?” A fellow Breton! But in her Nord guise, she didn’t mention the coincidence. “I’m Katja. Just passing through. You’re the bard here?”

Truth to tell, Katja had a big weakness for bards or musicians of every stripe. They might be a bit deficient in the martial arts, another area that was important to her in her assessment of a man, but they had that certain something. Delacourt was good-looking, with blue eyes and dark blond hair pulled back in a ponytail. He was dressed in gold-trimmed finery and carried a beautiful lute.

He filled her ears with tales of the Bard’s College in Solitude, where she absolutely must go if she had the slightest interest in becoming a bard. Katja liked music but didn’t see in herself any particular talent; nor did the lifestyle seem more appealing to her than that of the warrior-adventurer. But she hung on his every word. He began buying her ales, in between returning to his duties as entertainment for the inn’s patrons.

By the time Delacourt was finished playing for the evening, most of the locals had gone on their way back to their snug homes. Katja was feeling quite buzzed and a bit tired, and her horniness was beginning to slide into first place in her list of motivations. “You have a room here at the inn?” she asked, stopping just short of batting her eyelashes. He smiled at her rakishly, nodding. Clearly he imagined he had been fighting some kind of a battle, and had just won it. Since her goal from before they met had been to get him (or someone equally suitable) into bed, it was less of a victory than he thought.

“What do you say we go there and have a drink?” he suggested, though no further drinks were required or desired. Katja agreed with a smile, and he took her arm as they made their way down past the tables to a door at the far end, opposite the bar. “Good night, Valga!” Delacourt sang out. He wanted to be sure it was known around the inn that he’d scored with the hot young visitor.

The room wasn’t much: just about big enough for a double bed, a hearth, and a small table with a couple of chairs. “It’s lovely!” Katja exclaimed, taking a seat on the bed and bouncing on it suggestively. It didn’t take Delacourt long to hang the lute in the corner and join her on the bed. “You are absolutely stunning,” he murmured, moving in for the kill. She smiled demurely and pushed him off slightly, playing hard to get. But her intentions for the balance of the evening were aligned with his. She usually preferred to know her bedmates better, to establish a bond of friendship if not something deeper; but in this case, after all that she had been through earlier in the day, all she really wanted was a hard cock inside her and a warm bed to sleep in afterward.

Delacourt planted a deep kiss on Katja’s lips, and she responded. Then he began unbuckling her armor. She helped him peel it off of her, then removed her own undergarments and soon sat naked on the bed. His eyes widened. This girl was not just attractive, she was beautiful! Provided you didn’t mind a few freckles, which as a Breton he emphatically did not. Her cheekbones were high enough to make him wonder at her apparent Nord nationality. She almost looked more like a Breton, with the Elven ancestry showing mostly in facial structure and the slight tilt of the deep blue-gray eyes. Her body was lithe and muscular, her breasts full and firm with erect pink nipples, her limbs long for her height.

Aroused, Delacourt hastened to pull his fancy tunic off over his head, then shed his boots and hose. Katja admired him in turn. He was surprisingly well-built for a guy who spent his days sleeping and his nights hanging around an inn playing a lute. It must be natural. His slim but muscular body was very lightly sprinkled with dark blond hairs matching the hair on his head in color if not texture, and the hard cock she’d been hoping for earlier sprouted, rigid and practically pulsing, from a nest of matching pubic hair at his crotch.

All right! This was more or less exactly what she’d had in mind. Her brain fuzzed by the ale, but nowhere near enough to mute her desire, Katja reached for him. As she continued to sit on the bed, she beckoned him near and found that rigid member jutting practically in her face. She started by stroking it, then took it in her mouth and began applying suction. He moaned, thrilled to discover that this chance-met beauty was talented as well.

Katja had the thought that a guy like this probably saw a lot of women in the course of his daily life. She wasn’t the only woman in Skyrim drawn to pretty bards. So she expected he might be good for a bit more than the old in-and-out. She was not mistaken. She released him from her mouth, his cock quivering, and drew him down to kneel on the carpet beside the bed. She put a hand on the back of his head and pressed him close, her thighs spread wide. And he obliged with tongue and lips.

It had been a long time. He had been at it, licking and sucking, for no more than a couple of minutes before the feeling within Katja burgeoned into a rising wave of wet heat and she climaxed. Ah! Oh, that was good! Her affection for her chance-met lover was rising, and she welcomed his satisfactorily stiff cock into her dripping vestibule only moments later. He was young enough yet to lack a great deal of control, and had plunged into her hot and slippery depths only a few times before he spasmed in ecstasy and deposited his load of semen deep inside her. With no consequence, thanks to the amulet.

Delacourt fell atop her on the bed, then shortly wriggled around so that they were lying entwined with their heads on the pillows. “Katja! You’re fantastic! I… love you!” Yeah right, she thought. I’ll bet you say that to all the girls. He wasn’t quite the action hero she’d envisioned between her legs, filling her cunt with a cock somehow magically endowed with the power to send her to the moons; but he was definitely a cut above the clumsy farm boys – and for tonight he would do nicely.

In fact Delacourt’s youthful sexual energy proved to be more than Katja had hoped for. I’ve got to start sleeping with older men, she thought blearily after the third time he had awakened her for more passionate heaving. She had been feeling a need for sex, and that need had now been fulfilled several times over. The need for some sleep was now starting to dominate her thoughts, and it was a great relief when he finally appeared to be sated and let her drop off for good.

Fortunately, bards sleep late. At some point warm sunlight was streaming in through the window and Katja awoke to find Delacourt snoring beside her, lost in slumber. Good. She kissed him gently on the brow, not hard enough to wake him, and slipped out of bed to find her clothing. She wasn’t quite walking bowlegged, but not far off. Whoo, she thought, I guess I can check that one off my list.

Katja emerged from the inn into mid-morning sunlight, another lovely day in the southern regions of Skyrim. She wandered up the street and soon found Gray Pine Goods, where she went in and sold what small loot she had acquired that was not immediately needed. The prices that she got were not what she’d hoped. Seemingly, she would need to spend some time in Skyrim familiarizing herself with the people and learning how to work her wiles on the shopkeepers, before she would be able to bargain for fair prices.

Katja continued down the town’s main street and spied a smithy. She went in and introduced herself to Lod, the powerful middle-aged blacksmith. He offered to give her smithing lessons, but the price he wanted for training was beyond her means. She had already put in some time at the smithy of Louis’ father, Reynard, during her adolescence; so she knew her way around a forge a bit. With Lod’s permission, she used his tanning rack to tan the hides she’d accumulated and then the forge to make a leather helmet. Hey, she was already starting to get the hang of this.

Katja cut some of her spare leather into strips and used them to improve the Stormcloak armor and two or three bows she was carrying, thus enhancing their value before selling them to Lod. She now had a tidy little nest egg, some reasonably good armor, and some weapons that were not completely useless. With those and a decent supply of food and water, she felt ready to pursue new challenges.

Valga had mentioned that it would be a good idea to stop off at the Jarl’s Longhouse before leaving town. Katja had already met the former Jarl, Dengeir, during her evening at the Dead Man’s Drink. Evidently he’d been deposed by his nephew, one Siddgeir, and relegated to a useless retirement in the honorary office of Thane. Jarls, Katja had learned, were the source of most paying work for adventurers such as she intended to be. So there she went.

The Jarl was a surprise. For one thing, he was startlingly handsome. Well-made, black hair pulled back in a ponytail beneath a jade and emerald circlet, fine clothing, blue eyes. Not to mention an expression that suggested Katja was something he had just scraped off his boots, and an attitude of languor that cried, “I’ve fallen and it’s far too much trouble to get up!” She drew him out on a number of subjects, and his responses painted him as a useless upper-class twit without a shred of honor or decency.

Before he would even consider assigning her any tasks, Siddgeir told her, she must bring him some fancy mead from Riften – wherever that was. Katja checked her map later and found it was many leagues to the east on the other side of the mountains. Well, that wasn’t going to be happening any time soon. She added his request to her mental checklist, as well as another item that read something along the lines of “take that caitiff down when you get the chance.” Then she headed out of town on the road to the north, which she’d been told would eventually lead to Riverwood.

Chapter 3: Riverwood

The morning smiled, a light breeze ruffling Katja’s long, auburn hair as she strode along the road leading to Riverwood. She tied it back with a strip of leather to keep it out of her eyes, enjoying the cool air on her face. The sun was warm, and a few puffy clouds added some character to an otherwise boringly blue sky. A beautiful, medium-sized river rushed beside the road to her right, and the woods seemed to be full of game. Not all of it harmless, she knew, but the awareness of threat lurking at every hand failed to dampen her spirits. She was naturally a carefree person, the most pressing of her burdens in her former life having been restlessness and dissatisfaction with the boredom of that life, in the rural village where she’d grown to womanhood. Now that was behind her, she felt ready for anything.

Well, almost anything. Katja was still feeling a bit sore from those frolics with the bard that had interrupted so much of her intended good night’s sleep, and vowed to avoid such encounters for the foreseeable future. Or, at least until she was well and truly horny again. Which, she sighed, wasn’t likely to be very long from now if past experience was any indicator. But then, in a strange new land among unfamiliar people and creatures, the future wasn’t all that foreseeable was it?

Another activity Katja firmly decided to avoid for the time being was the exploration of any mysterious ruins, bandit lairs, or likely-haunted caverns she should chance across. The fights yesterday had made her only too aware of her limitations. She needed to figure out a way to earn the money for some training, and to somehow ingratiate herself with someone who could act as a battle companion and watch her back while she was still developing her skills.

The road wound down toward a river crossing, curving back and forth among the hills, and Katja came to what appeared to be a shrine with three Guardian Stones set about it. Each was carved with runes and graphic representations of the powers it might offer to a postulant. She had heard of these, though none such existed in her home territory. You could accept a blessing from any stone, but only one at a time, and your rate of learning new abilities would be enhanced. Figuring that keeping alive took top priority, she chose the Warrior stone and received its blessing.

As Katja walked along she managed to bring down a couple of foxes with her bow, and took their pelts. The little creatures seemed insufficiently shy of humans for their own good. Stalking deer would have required time for sneaking up on them and more time to butcher the carcasses, and Katja was anxious to reach Riverwood before night fell; so the foxes were all she caught during the journey.

Despite her intentions, Katja had not yet reached her destination when darkness fell. She threw her fur bedroll down on the soft ground in the shelter of a pine tree, hoping it would be safe enough. There she passed the night unmolested, sleeping quite soundly after her day’s walk and her short sleep the previous night. The next day, by the greatest good fortune, she made it to the small and scenic hamlet of Riverwood without being attacked by any bears, wolves, saber cats, trolls, bandits, or other unspeakable creatures. The sun was even still well up in the sky. On the other hand, other than the acquisition of the fox pelts, she had not found anything of value on the trip and her store of septims was sure to dwindle.

Katja first made her way to the inn. It was called the Sleeping Giant, and she headed right for the bar to chat with Orgnar, the Nord barkeeper. He was being berated for some failure by a blonde woman, apparently the inn’s owner, but broke away from that discussion to address Katja’s requests. She pumped him for information, while avoiding offering to purchase anything. In short order she learned that Ulfric Stormcloak had escaped (knew that), a dragon had been seen in Helgen (ditto), and that there was a local love triangle among some people named Sven, Faendal, and Camilla. She also picked up a bounty letter that might lead to some paying “adventurer” work.

As it turned out, Sven was to be found right there in the inn’s common room – being the local bard. He was quite good-looking, tall and muscular with dark blond hair and up-tilted blue eyes. Here we go again, Katja thought – then nope, not going to happen. In any case, Sven was clearly smitten by this mysterious Camilla – whoever she might be. Camilla Valerius, Katja soon learned: the sister of one Lucan Valerius, owner of Riverwood Trader. This was the town’s general store, and only a short distance from the inn.

Katja was surprised when after the briefest of conversations Sven approached her, a stranger, to deliver a letter to his lady-love. His plan was simple, and seemingly the work of a simpleton: the letter was purportedly from his rival, and informed Camilla that she and Faendal could never be together. Katja had only to deliver it to Camilla and Sven’s path to her heart would be free of encumbrances. Or so he imagined.

Katja accepted the letter, left the inn, and continued on down the town’s dusty main street. She shortly found Riverwood Trader, and the aforementioned Camilla and Lucan in the midst of a heated discussion about a robbery the store had recently suffered. Apparently an ancient artifact, a dragon’s claw crafted of solid gold, had been the only item stolen.

Camilla was indeed lovely, and it was easy to see why she would have suitors fighting over her. Not the sort of life Katja wanted, mind you, but… She handed over the letter and told Camilla it had come from Faendal, as Sven had requested. Katja had not expected this ploy to work, but apparently Camilla was taken in. She said she would not be seeing Faendal anymore.

Camilla thanked Katja for the information. Meanwhile, her brother Lucan (a typical Imperial, money foremost in his thoughts) told Katja that he would be most grateful if she could recover the stolen dragon claw. She pulled out a roll of paper on which she’d begun keeping a journal, and recorded the information. Clearly she was going to have to start keeping track of such things. Lucan directed Katja to nearby Bleak Falls Barrow (an ominous name if ever she heard one) as the likely hideout of the bandits he believed had stolen the claw.

Katja continued exploring the village. She visited the lumber mill, and found Ralof’s sister Gerdur. Exactly the person she was looking for! She introduced herself, and Gerdur greeted her and insisted that Katja was welcome in their home at any time. She offered her whatever she wanted: food, supplies, gold. Katja had hoped she might find Ralof hanging about, as she felt she was not yet finished with that man; but he was not in evidence. He was an important figure in the Stormcloak rebellion, and if she was going to pursue things with him she had better embrace his cause. Which she was not yet ready to do – so it was just as well, she supposed.

Gerdur was also very concerned about the dragon attack on Helgen. She and other villagers insisted that Katja should make a trip to the Hold’s capital, Whiterun, and report what she had seen to the Jarl. Katja added that to her to-do list, then returned to the Sleeping Giant to report the good news about Camilla to Sven. He was delighted, and hugely grateful. Could he do anything for her?

“Will you follow me?” Katja asked. More than anything, she needed somebody to watch her back during her adventures. Her newfound resolve to remain celibate was safe with him, she hoped, since he was so head-over-heels for Camilla. He agreed happily, as enthusiastic for adventure as she, and they soon departed the inn. The pair stopped off at Gerdur’s house to pick up some supplies before leaving on their journey. They gathered bread, cheese, and some dried meat. Then they set off, heading north for Whiterun.

Chapter 4: Among the Undead

Katja and Sven had not been on the road very long before the sun dipped low and it seemed night would soon be on them. But above the road, Katja spotted some stone structures that were clearly man-made. Now that she had some back-up, it was time to actively approach some adventures – and perhaps garner some loot. “That’s Bleak Falls Barrow,” Sven informed her. “An evil place, by all repute. And infested with bandits as well, most likely.” “Perfect,” she replied. “This is where Lucan told me to go to find his golden claw.”

Katja armed herself with her best bow and arrows, and the pair crept carefully along a dirt path leading up the hillside. Halfway up they encountered a stone tower manned by three bandits, who they swiftly killed. Sven seemed to have some battle skills to go with his good looks and nice singing voice. After dispatching these enemies, the pair continued up the monumental stone steps leading to the looming edifice’s entrance.

Katja was pleased to learn that in addition to his abilities with a dagger, Sven was a skilled archer. Between the two of them they picked off the bandit sentries, lurking in the area outside the door, while they were still some distance from the front of the building. The ominous-looking carved wooden doors opened on an enormous chamber, shrouded in darkness. At the far end they could see the glow of a campfire and hear voices murmuring. Creeping closer, they saw the bodies of skeevers lying here and there around the room.

Katja shuddered a bit. Skeevers were nasty creatures like rats the size of small dogs. Aggressive, vicious, and often running in small packs, they would attack anyone who came near them. Fortunately they were not too difficult to kill, and various of their body parts were, Selene had told her, useful ingredients in alchemy. Soundlessly, Katja used her dagger to harvest a few tails and tucked them into her pack.

Katja and Sven were eventually close enough to the bandits’ campfire, still undetected, to make out their conversation. “So we're just supposed to sit here while Arvel runs off with that golden claw?” asked one. The other replied, “That dark Elf wants to go on ahead, let him. Better than us risking our necks.” “What if Arvel doesn't come back?” the first complained. “I want my share from that claw!” “Just shut it and keep an eye out for trouble,” the other responded.

So, these were the bandits that had stolen Lucan’s treasure. And seemingly, one of them had carried it deeper into the ill-omened barrow. The other two would have done better to have heeded their own advice and kept an eye out; but it was already too late for them. Firing their bows simultaneously, Katja and Sven were soon the only living beings in the chamber.

Katja searched the bandits’ bodies and campsite, coming away with some coin and a few other useful items. She and Sven were both getting tired, so they decided to rest here, using the bandits’ fire and their sleeping pads, until they’d recouped their energies and were ready to continue in search of Arvel and his stolen treasure.

Arising some hours later, Katja went off into a corner to relieve herself. Then she got some provisions out of her pack. Sven soon joined her at the campfire, and they shared a light meal before heading out. He was surprisingly taciturn for a bard, but had certainly proven a brave enough companion and an effective fighter.

They were soon wandering a series of rock-hewn corridors that occasionally opened out into small chambers, with curious-looking dark wood furnishings. Katja was repulsed to find that the place was infested with skeevers, which kept popping out of nowhere to attack them. Why the hell don’t they just run away, she wondered.

After some minutes of picking their way through the building’s corridors they found the passageway blocked by spider webs. Katja cut her way through, only to be confronted by a Frostbite spider the size of a small horse! She used mace and shield to attack it while Sven shot it full of arrows, and in a few heartbeats it collapsed and died – fortunately without having managed to bite her. It appeared to have already been wounded when they came in.

Katja heard a voice calling out weakly, “I need help!” She approached a webby mass hanging from a doorway at the far end of the chamber, in among the strands of which she could just see the features of an Elf. Could this be Arvel, the guy the other two bandits had been talking about? The figure said, “You did it. You killed it. Now cut me down before anything else shows up.” Arvel or I’m a skeever, she thought, demanding “Where's the golden claw?”

His muffled reply confirmed Katja’s suspicions. “Yes, the claw. I know how it works. The claw, the markings, the door in the Hall of Stories. I know how they all fit together! Help me down, and I'll show you. You won't believe the power the Nords have hidden there.” Katja judged that this character couldn’t be trusted. “Give me the claw first,” she told him. “I can’t get at my pockets all trussed up like this!” Arvel protested.

He had a point, so Katja cut him down. She wasn’t totally surprised, though, when he immediately bounded to his feet and ran off down the corridor, saying “why should I share it?” She was after him in a heartbeat, and had brought him down with a couple of well-aimed arrows before he’d gone 50 paces. Arvel the Swift wasn’t swift enough, after all.

Katja rifled his body, and soon recovered the fabled claw along with a few other items of loot and the Elf’s journal, which told her everything Arvel had known about the claw and its uses. The claw was an impressive-looking thing, solid gold and as long as her forearm, with three symbols embossed along the shank and three sharp talons at one end. Lured by Arvel’s tale of “power,” she and Sven continued on their way, deeper into the labyrinth.

The pair proceeded with considerable trepidation, as they now found themselves in an area of catacombs. The walls were lined with stone tombs, many of which held skeletons or mummies. They had not gotten very far in when one of those mummies abruptly sat up, eyes glowing red, and put its feet on the floor. Then it paced slowly forward to attack them. Its clothing and armor were shredded rags, its sword of an ancient Nord design though still sharp and free of rust.

“By the Divines!” Katja cursed. “What in all the hells?” As she and Sven struggled to return the creature to the death it had somehow escaped, Sven panted “Draugr!” After it lay unmoving at their feet he added, “Some say that they are the ancient servants of the Dragon Cult, cursed to serve them in death as they did in life.” As a bard, it seemed, he was as well-versed in folklore as any scholar. “Ugh, really?” she muttered in reply. “I just hope it’ll stay dead now…” It did. Indeed most of the mummified corpses they found along the way were already permanently unmoving.

They came to a room with its exit blocked by an iron gate, flanked by three 3-sided pillars. Each side had a creature carved onto its surface – either snake, eagle, or whale – and you could rotate the pillars to show one or another of the sides. Up a flight of stairs on the right side of the room was a gallery with two fixed carvings, showing a snake on the left and a whale on the right. Between them was an area where there had been a rock fall, and back downstairs Katja realized that the chunk of rock which had fallen from the gallery was still lying on the floor. It had a plaque showing another snake.

Correctly surmising that the fixed plaques were a clue to the settings needed for opening the gate, Katja rotated the movable pillars until they were showing snake, snake, whale. Then, cringing a little at the thought of the lethal trap she might spring if she’d guessed wrong, she approached a lever in the center of the room and pulled it. No arrows shot out to impale her. Instead, with a rattle, the gate lifted into a slot above the doorway.

Continuing further and killing a few more draugr, Katja and Sven came to a small cavern with a little stream flowing through it. A pull chain opened a small iron gate and they picked their way through the ankle-deep water until another tunnel opened up to the right. They were forced to dash past swinging, razor-sharp blades in two passageways, kill more draugr, and climb stairs to cross a bridge that led to another door as they continued on their way.

Inside the door, they found a broad, deep room carved from the native rock. There were bas-relief carvings of what Katja took to be myths or perhaps historic events along either side of the room. This must the Hall of Stories Arvel mentioned. And at the far end, the way was blocked by an odd-looking circular stone door. It had three concentric rings surrounding a central circle with three familiarly-spaced holes in it.

Katja pulled out the claw. Sure enough, the holes fit the claw’s three talons precisely, so it must be a key of some kind. But it did not turn. Then she took another look at the claw’s shank, and realized that the stylized animals embossed on it matched carved representations on the three stone rings of the door. She tried rotating each ring until the carvings on the door matched up with the images on the claw, starting with the end of the shank nearest the handle and working toward where the three talons split off. Then she reinserted the claw in the holes, and this time it turned.

Katja heard a low grinding sound as some mechanism began operating, spinning the stone circles of the door as it slowly sank into the floor. She backed off a little, unsure as to what would happen next. But nothing leaped from the shadows to assault them. They entered an enormous space, a natural cavern it seemed, with a rock ceiling far above. Though no sky was visible, the cavern was suffused with what looked like wan daylight.

Across a narrow stone bridge was a stone platform, and beyond that a semicircular rock wall carved with elaborate ornamentations and some kind of runes. Katja approached it curiously, drawn on by a sound like a wordless chorus ringing in her ears. The sound climbed to a crescendo as she came within the wall’s arc. And as she did so one set of runes on the wall glowed blue, brightening quickly to white, and deep within her mind she felt she had just gained some understanding of what the runes meant. But she had no idea what to do with the knowledge.

Katja’s attention, and Sven’s, was drawn next to the stone platform. On it rested an ominous-looking black stone sarcophagus and a rich-looking carved wooden chest. As they approached, the sarcophagus’ lid shattered and a large, particularly mean-looking draugr emerged wielding a deadly ancient Nord greatsword. Uh oh. The draugr they had encountered in the catacombs had been silent except for the occasional grunt or warning chirp as they came out of their tombs; but this thing let out an ear-piercing, raucous cry that nearly stopped Katja in her tracks.

Rebuffed, she raised her shield and then attacked it with her mace. She was becoming more familiar with the use of the shield, and getting better at fending off attacks with it. But swinging the mace was wearing her out in a hurry. Panting, her arm feeling like lead, she finally dealt the creature a blow that drove it to the ground. Then Sven provided the coup de grace with his dagger.

Bleeding from several small cuts and shaking with fatigue, Katja sat and rested until the natural resilience of youth and her athlete’s body had put her on the mend. She had only a few health potions, and she wanted to save them for emergencies. Given a few minutes, she would soon recover her strength without the need for alchemical intervention.

When she was feeling better, Katja searched the now doubly-dead draugr. Among the items he carried was an odd-looking rune-carved stone, which Katja suspected was valuable. She pocketed it, planning to hold onto it until she could consult with someone about what it might be. There was gold and more in the big chest, and as they climbed the stairs toward what looked like it might be an exit she spotted another, plainer chest in the shadows off behind the staircase. This, too, offered some gold and armor, and an enchanted circlet. Her heart surged with glee. They were alive, and she was finally getting real treasure to show for her efforts!

Around a few more bends they came to a dead end; but there was a pull switch mounted on a stone pillar and when she activated it a section of the rock wall before them slid out of sight. They found themselves walking into weak sunlight high up on an otherwise featureless, snow-covered mountain slope. “How do we get out of here?” Katja wondered aloud. The way down looked steep and dangerous. She pulled out her map, studying it with some faint hope of figuring out just where they were.

Katja was surprised to discover that the map now showed Riverwood, where it had not before. Furthermore, Bleak Falls Barrow was marked as well. How was this possible? Sven, looking over her shoulder, said matter-of-factly, “Oh, good. You have a magic map.” “Okay, it’s magic… how do you use it?” she asked, puzzled. “As long as you can see the sky,” he explained, “and if you’re not being attacked by something, all you have to do is touch any marked place on the map where you’ve been before and wish to be there. And it takes you there. One of the Sleeping Giant’s customers showed me one a couple of months ago, and explained how it works. That was how he got to Riverwood.”

Katja gaped at him. Oh, really? This was going to be a huge help! Of course she’d have to walk to anyplace she hadn’t previously visited first; but she still said a silent apology to that nameless Khajiit trader for having doubted him. She wanted to return the claw to Lucan, so she touched Riverwood on the map and the next thing she knew, she was standing at the gates just outside town. Amazing! She looked around her and was pleased to see that the map had brought Sven, as well. She was not finished with his help, as yet.

Chapter 5: Building Skills

Katja and Sven walked on into town. It appeared that some time had elapsed locally since they had been standing on the mountainside, but it was hard to tell for sure. The sun was moving on toward mid-morning. Alvor’s smithy was the first place they passed, and there seemed to be no one at the forge. She had some looted weapons and armor she wanted to work on before selling them, so she stopped off. He’d given her permission to use his facilities on her last visit.

Katja was concentrating on her work and was startled by a deep voice saying, “Not bad. Maybe I ought to hire you to help at the forge.” She turned to see Alvor there – the tall, full-bearded smith with his cinder-smudged leather apron, leaning up against one of the roof’s supports. She talked with him and he gave her some materials to forge an iron dagger, then instructed her to use the grinding wheel to hone it.

Alvor was impressed with her work, and also with the leather helmet she crafted from a deer hide he gave her. “You should keep practicing, and some day you’ll make a master smith. Tell you what, you can keep the dagger and helmet.” Katja thanked him, and continued improving her collection of looted weapons and armor until she had run out of materials. She felt enormously pleased with herself.

But at Katja’s current level of skills in smithing and haggling, it would cost her 21 gold for a single iron ingot needed to improve, say, an iron mace, and raise its market value by 10. Clearly, she could not afford to be buying her smithing supplies – she needed to be “scavenging” them. Katja knew there were mines in the area, and most smithies (though not this one) had a smelter where one could make one’s own ingots from ore. She needed to get her hands on a pickaxe.

Katja sold some of her improved items to Alvor, and put some of them on Sven so that he was now armored and afforded some protection while fighting her battles with her. Then they headed for Riverwood Trader. Lucan was overjoyed to see his golden claw back where it belonged, and gave her 400 gold as a reward. She got more of his gold by selling a few gems she had acquired during her recent adventures. Her nest egg was now over 2,000 septims, and she was beginning to feel a little more comfortable. No more hopping into bed with bards to avoid paying for a 10-septim night’s lodging, at least!

One more stop before leaving town. Katja and Sven headed over near the lumber mill by the river and once again visited the house Gerdur shared with her husband Hod. Hod greeted her as a friend, knowing who she was even if they had not met before. “Tell me about the dragon,” he urged. “Was it as big as a house?” “Bigger,” she replied straight-faced. “As big as the inn.” He was quite impressed. Seemingly her terrified escape from both dragon and Imperial execution had become transformed, in the public imagination, into some kind of heroism. She intended to encourage that.

Having been urged to help herself to whatever she needed Katja walked around the comfortably appointed home, picking up food supplies, some cast iron pots, and a little more gold. She was surprised to find Ralof there, relaxing behind a bar, and greeted him warmly. Disappointingly, she found him no more than casually friendly – she had hoped that something might develop between them. He said he was staying there for a while before going to Windhelm, and once again urged her to consider joining the Stormcloaks. Katja demurred.

Chapter 6: A Small Detour

Leaving Hod and Gerdur’s house and getting ready to depart on their travels once more, Katja asked Sven “Any idea where this Embershard mine is? I can earn some money if I kill the bandit leader there.” She had received this quest in the form of a bounty letter from Ognar at the Sleeping Giant. “It’s a little way down the road southwest of here,” he told her. “The place always seems to be infested with bandits, since the mining company closed down.” Their road to Whiterun was to the northeast, but Katja decided to try the mine first.

The mine’s entrance was at the top of a short dirt path sloping up from the main road. As they approached, weapons drawn, a woman sentry commanded them to halt. Katja had no problems ignoring requests from bandits, and instead she dropped the sentry with a couple of arrows. After this, the deadly pair (as she was now coming to think of herself and Sven) entered through the rough wooden door of the mine.

They soon found themselves in a dimly-lit corridor hewn from the native rock, with supply crates lying here and there. Ahead, there was a wooden bridge and they could hear voices murmuring from an area down below it and to the right. Katja crept closer to peer over the bridge railing. There, in a campsite, two of the bandit gang were quietly conversing. She could not make out what they were saying; but a quick arrow into each of them soon put an end to the discussion.

Knowing there would surely be more bandits hereabouts, Katja sneaked down a ramp to search the campsite for useful or valuable items and strip the dead bandits. She found herself admiring their hard-muscled bodies regretfully, and it occurred to her that her determination to remain celibate might be getting a little wobbly already. She and Sven returned up the ramp and down another stone corridor.

Up another corridor to the left, they found a small storeroom area with a lever in it. Pulling that lever caused a wooden ramp, which had been standing upright beside the bridge, to swing downward forming a walkway back further into the mine. They continued their stealthy progress, and as they came to ore deposits Katja stopped to mine them using a pickaxe she’d liberated from the bandit campsite.

The duo encountered the occasional luckless bandit as they crept through the branching mine corridors, along with some pretty good loot in a storeroom. Then they came around a bend and discovered a vast cavern with elevated ramps on either side, and a smithy area right down below them. Katja put an arrow into the bandit who was working the forge, dropping him in his tracks. Her bowshots were getting more deadly with practice.

After exploring the area below and looting some weapons from the armory, they tiptoed up the ramp on the left side. While Katja was peering into the dim recesses at the top of the ramp looking for a target, the bandit leader suddenly bolted upright from where he’d been sitting, having a meal at a small table nearby, and ran right past her in the darkness to close with Sven.

Well that was unexpected. By the time she had hurried down there and spent a moment trying to get in a shot without hitting Sven, the bandit was lying dead at his feet. That took care of the assignment that had been set out in the bounty letter. But what else might they find here? Katja and Sven took the elevated walkways back toward the rear of the cavern and thence to a winding corridor that eventually deposited them at a door leading outside. By then she’d accumulated a goodly pile of iron ore and a few small gems.

“That seemed worthwhile,” Katja remarked to Sven. She was beginning to puff from the exertion of carrying all that loot and ore, and asked him to take some of it. “What do you want me to carry?” he asked politely. Such a nice boy. Actually, she was probably little older than Sven herself. But she felt as if she’d already logged a lot more experience.

They cut right through Riverwood on its main street, anxious to be on their way to Whiterun. That city, seat of the Hold of the same name, already appeared on Katja’s magic map – though she was not yet able simply to wish them there. After leaving town their path ran along beside a pleasant small river, and she was feeling awfully grubby after mucking about in the mine for an hour. Hot, too, as the afternoon was warm. Katja eyed Sven speculatively. “What do you say we take a little break, and go for a swim?” she suggested.

He was amenable, and soon they had both stripped off their armor and underclothes and waded into the water at a spot where a small crystalline pool contained pretty little darting fish no bigger than her longest finger joint. The water felt marvelously refreshing, and Katja was enjoying herself splashing around and catching them, then flinging them onto the bank. These little guys, she knew, were one of the more valuable alchemy ingredients to be found in the wild.

When any fish as yet uncaught had beaten a retreat downstream, Katja lay back in the water (which was no more than waist deep) and relaxed for a moment, letting some flow into her mouth and quench her thirst. She gazed at Sven, feeling a thirst of another sort, and observed that he was looking back at her with a haunted expression – and a rising erection. My, what a nice body he had. Golden complexion, firm muscles, broad shoulders… His shoulder length hair was hanging in wet strands and his dark blue eyes were burning in a way that suggested internal torment.

Ah, Katja realized. Camilla. He’s been in love with her for ages and has only just cleared the path for them to be together. Then in a moment of youthful enthusiasm he goes off questing with a pretty stranger; and now he’s discovering that he has urges he wasn’t prepared to deal with. Once again she felt the old, wise woman to Sven’s boyish innocent. But she also had a sharp desire to feel that nice cock inside her, out here in the lovely afternoon air.

She swam over to where he was sitting, trying to hide his erection under the rippling surface of the water. “Sven,” she said gently. “It’s okay, I mean, if you want to… I wouldn’t mind.” His face turned bright red. “I can’t,” he stammered. “Camilla… it wouldn’t be right… I mean, you’re beautiful and everything but I just can’t.” As he spoke, she could see through the clear water that his erection was beginning to subside as embarrassment and shame took over from lust.

“It’s okay, I understand,” Katja said. Then she kissed him on the brow and dived back under the water for one last chilling dip before getting out and back into her clothes. The cold water helped, somewhat. But she made a mental note to herself to go looking for some more appropriate male companionship as soon as she’d finished running this errand to Whiterun.

They continued down the road and in less time than Katja had expected, they rounded a bend and beheld Whiterun sprawling on a steep hillside in the near distance. Closer at hand were several farmsteads, and the area seemed so settled that Katja unstrung her bow and hung it behind her, no longer fearing attack at any moment. They wended their way up the road and soon passed through an area with stables, as they climbed the hill toward the city.

Chapter 7: Whiterun

Around a few more bends Katja and Sven came to the main gates of Whiterun, where they were stopped by a city guard. “The city is closed, because of the dragon threat,” he told them sternly. Katja replied, “I’m here about the dragon. Riverwood needs help!” They let her through right away. By now darkness was falling, though, and she didn’t want to get lost trying to find her way up the Jarl’s palace through a strange city in the dark. Surely, it could wait until morning.

Immediately to her right was a large smithy and weapons dealer, complete with a smelter. Katja got the rest of her load from Sven and smelted her iron ore and a few of those cast iron pots she’d taken from Gerdur’s into iron ingots, turning a couple of them into steel using some charcoal she’d bought earlier. Finishing there, she led Sven across the street to what appeared to be an inn. The sign outside said “The Drunken Huntsman.”

Inside, Katja realized it was just a tavern. It had but a single small room and only one occupant, the Elf proprietor behind the bar. He was friendly enough, though. He gave her some useful information, bought some of her surplus items, and directed her to the inn at the far end of the main street. “Talk to Hulda at the Bannered Mare,” he said. “She’ll set you right.”

Katja and Sven went out the door of The Drunken Huntsman and turned left, continuing up the city’s main street. They reached The Bannered Mare after crossing a market square with a well, surrounded by booths that during the day were likely full of vendors selling whatever wares Whiterun had to offer. On entering the inn, which was easily twice the size of the Huntsman, Katja guessed that the attractive 30ish Nord woman behind the bar must be Hulda.

She approached and asked, “How much for a room?” “Ten septims,” was the reply. Seemingly the price for lodging was the same most places in Skyrim. Now, though, she could afford it. “Here you go,” Katja said, handing over the coin. “Have you heard any rumors?” “No doubt you’ve seen that big tree in the center of town,” Hulda replied in her thick Nord accent. “It’s called the Gildergreen, and a lot of people have been asking questions about it lately.” Hulda showed Katja and Sven upstairs to their room, which was small but clean and contained a double bed. After stripping down to her underclothes Katja fell into it, the exertions of the day finally catching up with her. Sven slept on the floor.

The next morning, Katja awoke feeling well rested. She and Sven breakfasted in the common room on bread and cheese, washed down with ale, before venturing out into the bright morning sunshine falling on the now-bustling market square. From this vantage Dragonsreach was hard to miss, and they soon set off up a flight of stairs that led to an enormous circular plaza with what must surely be the aforementioned Gildergreen growing in the middle of it. It was surrounded by shallow waterways and, oddly, looked more pink than green.

To their right up a long and broad flight of steps was Jorrvaskr, the mead hall of the fabled Companions. Already Katja had been urged to consider joining with them, as the group were always looking for good fighters. And straight ahead, a series of narrower but still broad staircases rose up in stages to the palace of the Jarl, Dragonsreach. Katja and Sven trotted up them and were soon at the gates of the towering hall. There they were once again stopped by guards, and once again admitted after explaining the nature of their errand.

Inside and up a couple of flights of steps was a long dining hall, with a dais at the far end on which sat a wooden throne. Balgruuf, Jarl of Whiterun hold, sat on it looking tired. His pose was not dissimilar from that of Siddgeir, the only other Skyrim Jarl Katja had so far met, but his expression was nicer and his speech more courteous. He was a tall, somewhat spare man who looked to be in his early 50s, with blond hair and beard.

At his side stood an Imperial, his steward. The man’s name was Proventus Avenicci, Katja learned, as she stood there waiting to be acknowledged so she could speak. Proventus was arguing that Whiterun, which as yet stood neutral in the midst of Skyrim’s civil war, should come out in support of the Empire. As a loyal Nord, like most of his court, Balgruuf didn’t agree. He didn’t want to get mixed up with the Stormcloaks either for or against.

Shortly they concluded their discussion and Katja was asked what she wanted. When she told them of her experience with the dragon in Helgen, and that she’d been requested by the people in Riverwood to come seeking his aid, he immediately assigned Irileth, a tall and rather fearsome-looking Dunmer woman in heavy armor, to assemble a force and dispatch it to the aid of Riverwood.

Irileth left to perform this duty, and Balgruuf awarded Katja with a set of steel armor (much better than anything she had had so far) from his armory, as thanks for her selfless mission. Then he said, “I have another task I hope you can aid me with. You need to speak with Farengar, my court wizard.” He arose and walked off the dais, Katja and Sven trailing him, down the stairs and to a room off the east side of the main hall. There she met Farengar Secret Fire, a mysterious (and presumably powerful, if he was the Jarl’s court wizard) figure shrouded in mage’s robes and a cowl that nearly hid his face. From his voice, though, he was neither that old nor that ominous a fellow.

Farengar said that he was studying dragons, and needed a certain stone that his research led him to believe would be found somewhere in Bleak Falls Barrow. This, he hoped, would give him information about the locations of dragon burials. That sounded to Katja a lot like the mysterious object she’d looted from the dead draugr a day or two ago. “Oh, this old thing?” she asked with a smile, pulling the very dragonstone in question out of her pack. Farengar was stunned and delighted. “You already found it? That’s wonderful!”

Just then Irileth burst in on them, to report that a dragon was seen attacking the Western Watchtower – only a short distance away from the walls of Whiterun itself. She asked the Jarl, and Katja as well, to join her in the strategy room up a flight of steps on the eastern side of the dais. Shortly after they had gathered there, Balgruuf instructed Irileth to assemble some soldiers to go investigate the watchtower. He told Katja to meet Irileth there too, as she was now considered to be their local “dragon expert.” Katja’s expertise had so far convinced her it was best to stay the hell away from them. But at least now she was well armed and armored, not a helpless captive. She seized on the challenge.

Irileth, gathering guards as she went, trotted for the main entrance and down the steps. Katja, trailing behind them, had the presence of mind to pull out her magic map. She wished herself and Sven down to the Whiterun Stables, which now appeared on the map since they had walked past them earlier. Then the pair set off at a slow run to the west, where the Western Watchtower could be seen in the near distance. This shaved several minutes off their trip, enabling them to arrive ahead of Irileth and her crew. The tower was already partially ruinous, and they could see a dragon circling in the air above it. There were patches of burning vegetation here and there, and a dead guard lay on the grass in the small fortress’ courtyard.

Moving to the tower, bow at the ready, Katja spoke to a guard. The man appeared to be in a state of shock and terror. “It just swooped down and took Jorgen and Alfmund before we knew what was happening!” he cried, distraught. “Watch out, it will get you too!” He seemed paralyzed with fear, so Katja pushed past him and ran up 2 or 3 flights of spiraling stone steps to the tower’s roof. She had hoped for a better shot at the dragon from here, but by now Irileth’s contingent had arrived and the creature was spending more time near the ground, attacking them.

Katja raced back down the stairs and out onto the grounds, where she was able to get a few shots into the beast. Not just a beast, though, she realized. It was speaking in a chilling bass voice, words she presumed were in the dragon tongue and some that sounded as if they were in the common tongue as well. As she fired a last arrow into its breast, just below where the left wing joined the body, it cried out “Dragonborn! No!” and then expired.

By the Nine, what a creature! From its roughly scaled, horned head to the tip of its serpentine tail it was as long as four large horses end-to-end, and its leathery, clawed wings stretched nearly as wide. Now it was broken and bloody on the ground. Katja approached to examine it more closely, drawn as if by an irresistible force; and as she touched its scaly hide it began to glow. The leathery skin seemed to burst into flames and ashes, blowing away along with its flesh until only its bones (and what items it had swallowed prior to its death) remained. At the same time, she felt a sense of exaltation, almost as powerful a sensation as a good orgasm, but more spiritual in nature. And she seemed to hear a chorus of voices singing a celestial chord, repeated over and over.

It reminded Katja of the chorus she had thought she heard at that strange rune-covered wall back in Bleak Falls. And now she sensed a power stirring within her, as of arcane knowledge burrowing its way into her brain and being. She half-staggered away from the dragon’s skeleton, feeling dazed. Two of the Whiterun city guards stood gaping at her in wonder. “She’s dragonborn!” one cried.

“Dragonborn? What does that mean?” Katja demanded. Was she the only person who didn’t understand what was going on here? The guard replied, “It’s an old legend, of a being with the body of a man and the soul of a dragon. They say that only The Dragonborn will be able to use the dragons’ words, the Thu’um, without study. Why don’t you try it and see?”

How do I do that? Katja thought. Then as if instinctively she reached inside herself, to that mysterious knowledge that had come on her unbidden, took a deep breath and proclaimed a single sharp syllable: “FUS!” The city guard standing in front of her staggered backward, apparently almost knocked off her feet by the force of Katja’s Shout. “You need to go back to Dragonsreach and talk to the Jarl!” the guard insisted.

She and Sven did so shortly, fast-traveling using her magic map. Just as they arrived at the entry to the hall, a loud sound as of immense voices shouting some word in unison was heard echoing through the air. Inside, Jarl Balgruuf was excited and extremely grateful to Katja for slaying the dragon. She pointed out that she’d done so only with help from Irileth and her squadron of soldiers, but he still declared that he was hereby making her Thane, as a reward for her services to the Hold. She now had the right (though at this juncture, not enough coin) to buy property within the city, and he was assigning a woman named Lydia as her personal housecarl. A magical war axe, symbol of her office, was also included in the deal.

“But you must go to High Hrothgar immediately!” he said. “The Greybeards have called for you. As The Dragonborn you must come to their summons.” “So that was the noise we heard?” asked Katja. Balgruuf explained that the Greybeards were a group of old holy men who made their home high atop the largest mountain in Skyrim, a little to the south and east of Whiterun. She had not heard of them before but the Jarl seemed to regard them with reverence, and a visit to their headquarters of High Hrothgar as a holy pilgrimage.

Katja thanked him for everything and returned down the steps from the dais. Her mind was reeling with the events of the past day. From near-penniless adventurer to Thane of the Hold, just like that? Now she had a journey to take, but first she needed to make some preparations. She pulled out her map and found High Hrothgar on it, though she was certain it had not been there before. Seemingly just having its owner be told about a place’s existence would trigger the map’s magic. A pity, she thought, it wouldn’t also just transport her there. That would certainly save a lot of shoe leather.

High Hrothgar appeared to be right near the top of an enormously high mountain, with no roads leading to it from here. Likely Katja would have to travel all the way around to the far side of the mountain, then up it on what appeared to be a goat trail from a town that showed on the map as Ivarstead. It was going to be a long trip. And if this Lydia person could come along and help her, she could send Sven back home to his sweetheart. While considering her route, Katja spotted something on the map called the “Luxury Suite.” That sounded interesting. With as much coin as she had, perhaps she could have a little rest and recreation in pleasant surroundings before going off to be eaten by saber cats, dragons, and bears?

Katja and Sven found Lydia waiting for them near the front doors of the hall. She was a handsome young woman, but heavily armored and with a stern expression that suggested humor was not in her vocabulary. “Greetings, my Thane. How may I serve you?” she asked obsequiously. “For starters,” Katja responded, “you can explain to me what a housecarl does.” “I am here to do your bidding, carry your burdens, and fight in your battles,” came the reply. Hmm, serious stuff.

“Lydia, do you know the Luxury Suite?” asked Katja. “It is a popular inn on the road that leads north, east of Whiterun,” Lydia replied. “I haven’t been there, but I know how to find it. People visit there from all over Skyrim.” “I tell you what, then. Why don’t you gather whatever you need for a journey and meet us there?” suggested Katja. Lydia agreed, and shortly Katja and Sven made their way out the door and walked to the Suite.

Chapter 8: The Luxury Suite

The Luxury Suite proved to be a large and handsome free-standing wooden building situated a little way off the road overlooking the White River from which Whiterun took its name, perhaps five minutes’ walk from the stables. It had decks all around the outside, a small building for guards’ quarters in the back, and a swimming pool and soaking pool set into the rear deck. Very charming, Katja thought. Inside, she found its charms even more impressive as she walked in the front doors and discovered a large sunken bathing pool in the middle of the ground floor common room. Relaxing in it were a couple of extremely good-looking young men, in the buff.

Katja had a feeling she was going to like this place. She approached a man wearing an apron, who seemed to be the innkeeper. “Can I use the facilities?” she asked. “Certainly,” he replied. “Take any bed you like, and feel free to use the pools. Clothing is optional here.” She took a moment or two to get the rest of her gear back from Sven, then kissed him on the cheek and said, “It’s time for us to part ways. Go back to your Camilla. And thanks for all your help.” She slipped him a handful of septims before he left.

Now where was that Lydia? She ought to have been here by now, but there was no sign of her. Shedding her travel-stained gear and parking it in a corner, Katja headed for that central bathing pool and stepped down into it, to sit on a bench that ran along the long edge. Oh! The water was hot, and it felt absolutely wonderful! She rubbed her limbs and ducked her head, sluicing her long auburn hair, then sat back to enjoy a soak.

Seated across from her, on a bench lining the opposite side of the pool, was possibly the most beautiful man Katja had ever seen. He was older than her by a few years, some laugh lines crinkling the corners of his glowingly warm brown eyes. His hair was shoulder length, a blond-streaked light brown; his body hard-muscled beneath smooth, lightly tanned skin. His face was somewhat long but perfectly proportioned, with a firm, clean-shaven jaw and a half-smile of amused pleasure that seemed to wreath his mouth whenever he looked at her.

And he was gazing at her now, very appreciatively. Her pale skin glowing from the hot water, her full breasts bobbing on the surface of the pool with the nipples pert and pink, she made a fetching sight. Katja couldn’t help but notice that his member, which was already quite generous in size, seemed to be getting bigger beneath the water. “Do you come here often?” she asked inanely, and flushed to her hair roots. He was so outrageously gorgeous, she felt tongue-tied. “I’m almost always here,” he said with that slight smile, those warm eyes drinking her soul. “But I haven’t seen you before.”

She smiled in turn, shoving aside her embarrassment. “I’m Katja,” she summarized. “I recently discovered I’m ‘The Dragonborn’ and I have to leave for High Hrothgar in the morning. It’s been quite a day.” “Dragonborn? You? By the Divines! I’m honored to be sharing a pool with you.” His smile told her he was teasing her. “My name is Anders Lanya.” “Oh, you’re Breton?” she asked. “Yes,” he replied. “And you are… Nord?” he asked uncertainly. “Yes, that’s right…” she murmured. Now that the threat of execution at the hands of Imperial soldiers had receded, Katja was starting to regret going incognito. It made her feel like a spy, not someone establishing herself honestly in a new homeland.

They continued to enjoy the pool, talking idly about the weather, local gossip, and so forth, as others came and went. When her fingers and toes were beginning to shrivel Katja said reluctantly, “I suppose I’d better go get myself a bed. I’m not sure how it’s done here.” “Oh, you can just take any that’s not occupied at the moment,” Anders said, those warm eyes glowing. “Or one that is, if the occupant is willing. Would you like a bed warmer?” Once again his gaze was filling her with a warmth that seemed to spread from her face down to at least crotch level.

People in these parts were certainly direct! Quite a difference from Sven and his shamefaced shyness. Now Katja knew she was going to like this place. With a smile and a nod she stood up and took Anders by the hand, leading him out of the pool. She collected her gear, and they continued up the steps to the sleeping loft, where most of the inn’s beds were to be found. Many were small, but there were not that many visitors at this time and they found one big enough for the two of them.

Towels had been left around the pool and they took a couple of those along. They stood on a carpet near the bed and rubbed each other down, drying off their bodies still glowing warmly from the hot water. Anders was now sporting a towering erection, and he pressed it against her belly as he put a hand behind her damp head and kissed her firmly on the lips.

The heat of that rigid rod sent an answering heat down through her core and then back up to her heart, which was pounding with excitement. Stalking through mine tunnels in search of bandits to slay had not gotten it racing as hard as it was now, with anticipation of the things she was planning to do in the near future with this amazing, sexy man.

Without releasing Katja from his embrace, Anders backed her toward the bed until they both sat down on it. Then he continued drinking her mouth with deep soul kisses, while his hands massaged her breasts gently until the nipples were hard before stroking down her flanks, her hips, the hot moist crevice between her legs. She was on fire! He moved his lips from her mouth to her neck, at the spot where it joined her shoulder, sending shivers down her spine that returned in a rippling wave of hunger and delight.

Meanwhile Katja’s own hands were not idle. She stroked his chest and arms, loving the feel of the smooth, resilient skin overlying those powerful muscles. They next wandered along the side of his waist and flat belly, running fingers like an angel’s kiss over the sensitive skin of his groin, then seizing his stiff cock with a firm grip and squeezing it rhythmically. Anders groaned.

He turned her body in his arms so that she was lying beneath him, and she spread her legs to receive him as he slowly lowered himself into her. Aaaaah! The sensation was exactly what she had been hungering for, seemingly forever. He had more endurance than that young scamp Delacourt, and made love to her caressingly yet passionately – building to a fever pitch and then easing off again, over and over. Katja came half a dozen times while he somehow managed to hold off until, finally, he could contain it no longer and they exploded in unison. He continued thrusting for another few seconds, both of them enjoying the hot gush, before subsiding and just holding her tight to him.

Katja’s hair was still damp, not yet dried from the bath and now moistened with perspiration as well. He brushed a lock out of her eyes and slowly covered her face with soft kisses. “Kat,” Anders murmured. This unexpected treasure had fallen into his arms, and he could hardly believe his luck. They both sank into a doze, exhausted from their efforts, and slept for a time. Katja awoke some hours later and stroked Anders’ cheek, which caused him to awaken as well. “I’m hungry. And I need to pee,” she told him.

Anders smiled lazily and sat up, leading her across the room to show her where the privy was. When she returned he had put on a robe, and had one for her – as well as some apples, fresh bread, and smoked salmon on the room’s small table. They devoured the food like ravenous wolves, surprised at how truly hungry they had been. Then they took another dip in the bathing pool before returning to bed. Anders was thinking about another round, but Katja begged off.

“That was fantastic,” she told him regretfully, “but I’m leaving on a journey of many leagues in the morning. I really need some sleep.” Disappointment welled in him as he remembered she had mentioned leaving earlier. Would she slip out of his grasp so soon? But he just smiled, kissed her tenderly, then lay down and snuggled her into his arms as they both dropped off once again.

As morning was beginning to light the Suite’s downstairs windows, Katja awoke feeling a bit overwhelmed. She was entwined in the arms of her new lover, and would much rather stay right there than go trekking off to High Hrothgar to report to the Greybeards. Whoever they were, they didn’t sound very appealing. But she sensed that her newly-discovered status as Dragonborn came with responsibilities as well as perks.

As Katja slipped out of bed, Anders sat up too. “Breakfast?” he suggested. There was always food to be had downstairs, any hour of the day or night. “Yep,” she yawned. They put on robes and went down, his arm around her shoulder as he planted a firm kiss on the top of her head.

Downstairs, they ate. Katja asked Lane Cimsussim, the handsome barman, “Did a heavily armored, dark-haired woman come in last night looking for me? Name of Lydia?” Lane shook his head. “Haven’t had any dark-haired women of any description in a couple of days.” Katja’s face fell. “What’s the matter, Kat?” Anders asked sympathetically.

“She’s my housecarl. I just got made Thane yesterday after the dragon attack, and she was supposed to come and watch my back for me while I go to High Hrothgar. Now I don’t know what to do. I don’t think I’d stand a chance out there by myself,” she admitted reluctantly. His heart leaping at the prospect, Anders turned his warm smile on her full force. “Want me to come along instead?”

Katja’s heart skipped a beat. She would like that more than anything. “Are you sure?” she asked, gazing up at him with concern. “I’m a journey-level destruction mage, and I’m not a complete slouch with a bow or a blade,” he replied matter-of-factly. “I would love to watch your back. And your front, and any other parts you think need watching,” he leered. She threw her arms around his neck joyfully. “Oh, thank you! I love you!” As she said it, it was something that one says casually to express gratitude or appreciation. But as she thought about it, she knew that deep inside she meant it in another way. She was rapidly falling in love with this Anders Lanya, even as little as she knew about him.

Not that she was about to marry him, settle down, and start having his babies. But Katja knew that she wanted to be with him, and fight at his side, and share her adventures with him. So far she had only seen him in a robe or his birthday suit, and a fine suit it was. But he was going to need something that offered a bit more protection if they were to survive the wilds of Skyrim together.

Fortunately they discovered that the heavy Imperial armor Sven had worn was a tolerable fit for Anders. The two men were of similar size, though Anders was a little taller. Katja gave him a decent hunting bow and some arrows, a war axe, a shield, and a longsword. And, as she’d acquired an enchanted apprentice’s hood that offered a 20-point magicka boost, she gave it to him to wear so that his destruction spells would have more power.

As the sun rose above the mountains to the east, Katja and Anders set off on the road they hoped would eventually lead them to High Hrothgar and her destiny as The Dragonborn. And to whatever the future held for the two of them.

Chapter 9: The Road to Ivarstead

Initially, Katja had regarded this summons to High Hrothgar, along with the revelation of her Dragonborn status, as more of a nuisance than a blessing. But as she and Anders strode out into the Skyrim countryside together, the morning sunshine peeking out at them from behind puffy clouds, she felt as happy as she ever had in her young life. Even the frightening unknowns ahead of her now seemed to be a grand adventure. She kept stealing glances at Anders, his handsome profile thrilling her. She recognized the symptoms, though, and took this head-over-heels infatuation with a grain of salt. Likely, this exciting stage of first love would pass before long and it would be back to business.

“Business” found them before they had gotten very far in their journey. As they turned to the east along the course of the White River they spied a strange-looking creature lurking ahead of them, and it appeared as if it might be hungry. Anders leaned close to Katja’s ear and whispered “Draco Gryphon. Very bad news.” They sneaked a little closer to it, and she was able to do a considerable amount of damage to it with a couple of arrows. The pissed-off creature looked like a cross between a saber cat and a small dragon and was about half the size of a horse. But fortunately, before it was able to sink its fangs into them, Anders finished it off with a couple of lightning bolts (a spell she wished she knew) and his sword.

Katja was impressed, and thankful that Anders’ claim to fighting prowess had been no idle boast. His qualifications as a lover were beyond doubt, and it now seemed his battle skills were a match for them. They soon continued on their way. Studying the map, which had very little to show them in this part of the world, she decided that they should cross the river and try to pick up a trail on the other side of it. The water was clear and sparkling, like all of the streams she’d encountered in Skyrim so far, and not very deep.

As Katja set foot in the stream though, Anders shouted a warning: “Watch out! Slaughterfish!” So that’s what that funny-looking fish with the elongated snout full of razor teeth was. Katja had heard of them, had eaten seared slaughterfish steaks, and knew that their eggs and scales had alchemical properties. But she hadn’t realized they were actually dangerous. “Those things will rip your foot off,” he assured her. She backed out of the stream and fired arrows until the two vicious-looking fish were bobbing, belly-up, in the current.

As long as she’d had to spend the effort to kill them, Katja waded in and collected the scales from the bodies along with several of her arrows. She did not have an indefinite supply of them. Then, picking her way across, she encountered a couple of enormous crustaceans. They looked like ordinary crabs, but were the size of small dogs and it did not take a warning from Anders to make her respect those wicked-looking claws. She dispatched them both.

After collecting some chitin from the two dead mudcrabs and harvesting a nest of slaughterfish eggs she found near the far side of the stream, Katja continued up the bank and soon struck a road. Anders was right on her heels. To the east, spanning the river, was an ominous structure with a stone tower on either bank and an odd-looking stone bridge joining the two. Infested with bandits, she’d bet. She saw this as another deficiency in the Imperials’ governance of the province. Not only were the roads falling apart, but the countryside was full of abandoned structures that had been taken over by human predators. It was most definitely not safe to travel around here unless you were armed to the teeth or accompanied by a small army.

Directly ahead of them, though, was a broad dirt path leading up the hillside. They were on the lower flanks of the north side of Throat of the World, the mountain where High Hrothgar was located, and this path appeared to be going in the right direction. They had not been climbing it for long, however, when they came to some stone steps. And beyond those were some rocks painted in striking geometric patterns, with what looked to be mammoth bones (judging from the enormous tusks) scattered among them.

Anders reached out and grabbed Katja by the shoulder, pulling her back firmly and hissing in her ear: “This is a giant encampment!” “Giants?” she whispered back at him. “I thought those were mythical or extinct or something.” “Uh huh, just like dragons, right? Let’s get out of here,” he said firmly, brooking no argument. They sneaked off to the left, where some large rocks formed a wall of sorts on the north side of the area. From this safe distance, Anders gestured for Katja to look, and see what was standing within the rock bowl to the south of them.

By the Divines, they were real! They looked like men, somewhat. But coarsely constructed, rawboned and misshapen men standing what appeared to be 12-15 feet tall. They were minimally dressed in rough-tanned animal skins, the pair of them (both male, from a lack of any breasts) standing idly staring into a huge bonfire over which skeevers, skewered on sharpened stakes, were roasting. Each of them held a primitive club made by tying a large rock to a tree branch that was at least 4 feet in length. They seemed to be less aggressive than most of the creatures she’d met so far in Skyrim, but Katja definitely did not want to tangle with them.

“Thank you! I’m an idiot,” she whispered to him before turning and picking her way back down the slope to the road. When they arrived there he enfolded her in an embrace and kissed the top of her head, speaking in normal tones now that they were out of earshot of the giants. “Don’t say that. But I don’t get it. You’re a Nord, why don’t you know about things like slaughterfish and giants?”

She stepped out of his arms and looked into his eyes. “I have a confession to make. I’m not a Nord, I’m a Breton like you. My real name is Katrine Bouchard, and I’ve only been in Skyrim less than a week. When I was crossing the border, I got picked up in an Imperial ambush with Ulfric Stormcloak, and I hoped maybe they’d let me go if they thought I was a local. But they were going to behead me anyway. If that dragon hadn’t attacked Helgen…”

He interrupted her, giving her a huge grin and a bear hug. “Countrywoman!” he cried joyfully. “I knew it!” “I’m sorry I lied to you, love,” she said ruefully. “Don’t worry about it,” he smiled, and gave her a deep kiss. Then they stepped apart, beaming at each other. A cloud had been lifted from their relationship. In a moment, though, he said seriously, “Kat, I think you should know that there’s a very good chance we are going to have to fight some bandits in the near future.” “I figured as much,” she said with a quirking half smile, unshipping her bow. “Let’s be about it, then.”

As they crept closer, though, the south tower appeared to be deserted and there were no bandits in sight. Katja was just starting to hope that they might be able to sneak past unnoticed when a young Redguard woman clad in fur armor suddenly emerged from the brush near the tower’s side and called in a loud voice, “You can’t hide from me!” Katja didn’t think she’d really been seen, though, and she fired her bow hoping to take the woman out with a sneak attack. No luck. Then Anders let fly with his favorite ranged attack, dual blasts of lightning, and the woman was blown off her feet to lie crumpled near the door of the tower facing them.

There were cries of alarm from what sounded like half a dozen other bandits, but neither Katja nor Anders could see them, crouched as they were near the south tower’s base. Likewise, the bandits did not see them – and in a few moments the hue and cry had ceased. Now the companions crept closer, and searched the bandit woman’s body before quietly opening the wooden door leading into the tower. Without consultation, the two had decided to finish the job and clear out this bandit nest before continuing their journey.

Katja peered around, but no one was in sight. She liberated some potions and a few other items of value from a bookcase, and used her lockpicks to deactivate the anti-theft booby trap attached to a chest before raiding its contents. Then the two of them crept silently up the stone steps. As soon as they emerged into daylight on the riverbank, where another set of exterior steps rose to the stone bridge, they found themselves spotted and under attack.

Katja picked off a couple of snipers with her bow, while Anders found himself confronting the heavily armored bandit leader. “I love a challenge!” he roared, evidently caught up in a battle frenzy. After he’d closed with the bandit at mid-span, the two hacked at each other with greatswords. Meanwhile Katja had eliminated her other foes, and she now added a couple of carefully-placed arrows to the bandit leader’s backside as he and Anders contended. With a groan, the bandit slumped to the bridge surface and then slithered bonelessly over the side to the river below, dead.

Breathing heavily, hearts pounding and eyes wide as they searched for more enemies, Katja and Anders regrouped on the far side of the span. The bandits had left a sentry on the hillside upstream from the far tower, and this person was shooting at them with arrows. A combination of Katja’s returning fire and Anders’ lightning bolts soon halted the barrage.

They stood motionless, ears straining, and heard only the sound of the river rushing below them and random birdsong on the wooded slopes above. “I think we got them all,” Katja said. “Better check the tower,” Anders replied. Still moving cautiously, weapons at the ready, they approached the north tower and went up some stairs to a ground-level entrance.

Katja followed a path along the hillside to find a chair perched overlooking the stream, with the fried and arrow-riddled body of that last bandit sniper beside it. After relieving him of valuables she turned back, stopping to mine an iron ore vein. Then she and Anders continued all the way up to the top of the tower, winding around several flights of stone steps, to a cool and breezy overlook where she found a nice Imperial bow with a fire enchantment on it. They saw no other humans.

The sun was not far off the horizon, and Katja asked Anders, “how about if we stay here for tonight? It looks like there’s plenty of food and drink, and a pretty nice bed.” He gave her a significant look along with that slight smile of his, and said, “Seems like a good idea to me.” They retraced their steps down two levels, raided a couple of chests, and then sat at a table to enjoy a meal of bread, cheese, seared slaughterfish, and honey-nut treats from the deceased bandits’ stores.

After eating they sat talking. “Anders, you’ve been wonderful today. I’d be dead thrice over if it weren’t for you,” Katja told him. “You’re doing all right too, dear,” he replied with sincerity. “And you’ve saved my life, as well. Give yourself a few weeks and you’ll have this province down pat.” By now it was full dark, and they got up from the table and headed over to the dead bandit chief’s bedroom area. Aside from the large bed, there were a couple of nightstands and a chest of drawers, with a chamberpot under the bed.

They helped each other strip off their armor. Then, standing there in their underclothes, they embraced and kissed. What Katja had thought a slight gesture of affection Anders took a great deal more seriously, and his tongue went into her mouth as his hands pressed gently but firmly against her shoulders, easing her backwards until she had her back pressed against the stone wall of the tower.

The stones were still warm, holding the heat of the departed day. Anders bent to his work, kissing her fervently, pressing himself up against her so that she could feel his stiffening member through their underclothes. Soon Katja was panting with excitement. “I have an idea,” she murmured breathlessly, and unfastened his knee-length linen bottoms so that they slid down over his rump. She squeezed and kneaded his firm buttocks, pressing his now-freed cock up against her body as she did so.

Next Katja unbuttoned his shirt so that his bare chest was exposed, and pulled her own underdrawers down to about knee height. He growled and moved in, pushing up her undershirt to expose her breasts. While continuing his deep kisses, he massaged her right breast and gently squeezed the nipple between thumb and forefinger, eliciting a gasp; while with his right hand he directed his throbbing cock into the barely-accessible opening of her cunt.

Katja’s legs unable to part farther because of the constricting undergarments, the fit was snug. Anders was not able to push all the way in because of the angle, but it was very tight and slippery in there and the proximity of his cock to her clit sent powerful sensations of delight pulsating through her. “Aaah, ah!” she cried, her head to one side of his as he applied his lips and tongue to her neck. He rumbled in reply.

This was glorious agony! But they both wanted more, wanted that big cock to thrust deeper, all the way inside her. By mutual consent they moved away from the wall to the bed, where she knelt and presented her pert and rounded but well-muscled rear to him, the underpants still bunched up around her knees. He kicked his own off onto the floor, so that he could assume a wider stance and put himself at the right height to plunge, at last, to his full length within her spasming cunt.

Anders usually had better control, the more so after a tiring day of hiking and fighting bandits; but this enchanting vixen had gotten under his skin and he was seized with an excitement that could not be held back. Thrusting, thrusting, feeling as if he were caught in an ocean tide of passion, he emptied himself within her as she screamed out her own ecstatic climax.

They collapsed to the bed for a while. Then, some decorum restored, they removed the rest of their clothing, washed up a bit, and lay down in bed together with Katja tucked in the crook of Anders’ arm. A tremendous sensation of peace had washed over them, and as they were not really all that sleepy yet they talked quietly, filling each other in on their early lives.

Anders had been raised in a part of High Rock on the other side of that far-off land from her little farming village, in a fairly prosperous town that had afforded him the opportunity to serve as a mage’s apprentice. Like her, he had felt dissatisfied with the slow pace of life there and had traveled to Skyrim on reaching adulthood – several years before she had, and at a time when there was not yet civil war in the province.

Katja told him of her dreams and ambitions, and together they mused about the possibilities that might arise after she went to answer the Greybeards’ summons. Was it fame and fortune in her future, or just hardship and death by dragon? To herself, she wondered how much of her future was their future. At the moment she felt as if she were completely in love with Anders. But they had known each other such a short time, and experience told her there were many things that could yet come between them. Not the least of which was her tendency toward hopping into bed with just about every hot guy she met. Time would tell.

Eventually they made love again, slowly and quietly. It went on for a long, blissful time before they finally slept.

Chapter 10: Perils along the Way

The morning dawned cloudy, with light rain falling. Katja and Anders arose feeling well rested, both of them anxious to resume their journey. They breakfasted on leftovers from the bandits’ stores, then re-crossed the bridge heading south and continued east along the road they had been following yesterday.

Trying to find a path that would take them in the direction of Ivarstead, Katja kept checking her map. Other than Ivarstead and a few other points of interest, it currently had very little to tell her about the part of Skyrim lying east of Throat of the World. Whenever they came to a fork in the road, she led them to the right – hoping they would eventually be heading south and to the eastern slopes of the mountain.

Before they had been hiking for long the trail became a stone-paved road, with steps leading up gradually, passing through a series of stone archways. “This looks official,” Katja remarked to Anders. “Have you ever been this way before?” “I don’t think so,” he replied, his straight brows knitting slightly. They drew up shortly in front of an ominous-looking stone structure, a barrow of some sort (Katja guessed from its architecture).

Just on a chance, Katja checked her magic map. Sure enough, there was now a marker in this spot that resembled the building’s general shape – and some lettering, as well: “Hillgrund’s Tomb.” As was usually the case of a morning Katja was feeling strong and confident and ready for some adventure, so she said “We may as well see what’s in there.” She and Anders pushed on the double doors, and they opened.

In a stone anteroom just inside, they found a young blond Nord, tall and muscular. Katja reached for her bow, thinking perhaps he was a bandit. But a moment later she realized that he was staring despondently at the floor, and not reacting to their presence with aggression. She approached him carefully, and he looked up, startled. “Oh! I thought you were necromancers!” Dressed like this? Are you crazy? “No, we’re not,” Katja replied somewhat acerbically. “What’s the problem?”

“My name is Golldir,” he said. “This is my family’s tomb. The necromancer Vals Veran has taken over the place and is desecrating my family’s corpses with his evil magic. My Aunt Agna went in to try to stop him, and now she hasn’t come back. I don’t know what to do.” Katja could see that the young man was torn between fear of the necromancer and his undead minions, and outrage over the insult to his family’s honor. “Perhaps we could go in with you?” she suggested kindly.

His face brightened considerably. “You will? That’s great. Let’s go!” He led the way to the doors connecting the anteroom to the rest of the barrow, and the three of them were soon within the tomb complex. Not very far along they came to a middle-sized room with two large, shut wooden doors in the far side, as well as several motionless draugr and the corpse of a middle-aged woman. “Agna!” Golldir cried, bending to her still form. There was nothing to be done for her, and guilt suffused his features as he realized that his own cowardice might have brought about his aunt’s death.

Now, that cowardice was being transformed into anger and resolve. He tried the leftmost door, but it was firmly shut. “This one’s barred,” he said. “But Aunt Agna said she thought there was another way around.” As he spoke, Katja was trying the other door, which indeed led to a long and winding stone corridor heading deeper into the barrow.

Katja’s bow at the ready, all of them moving stealthily, the trio wended their way down into the labyrinthine catacombs. Most of these corpses had been long at rest, many of them nothing but dry bones; but from time to time they would come to a room with one or more draugr prowling. Katja was glad to have two strong young men backing her up, as she couldn’t really fight more than a couple of them at a time by herself.

After many minutes of this, they came into a partially ruinous chamber with some of those familiar bas-relief animal plaques in it. Katja was anticipating another 3-sided pillar puzzle, but the solution to this one proved much simpler. Golldir said, “Agna told me ‘the bear holds the key,’ whatever that means.” Katja glanced at the central plaque, with the profile of a bear on it, and immediately spotted a pull chain.

When she yanked on it, the back of an empty standing sarcophagus to their left rolled away into the wall, revealing a passageway. They met another draugr, this one tougher than most, hiding in a recess a few feet further on. Then they came to a set of massive double doors, which Golldir said led to the main burial chamber where they might expect to find the necromancer Veran.

They opened the doors and crept inside. The place was cavernous, with a broad flight of steps leading up and an even wider staircase off to the left, at the top of which Katja could dimly see the black-robed figure of the necromancer. He had not yet become aware of their presence, and she had half a hope that a sneak arrow shot would put an end to him. No such luck!

As soon as he was hit, Veran spoke a command and two draugr burst from stone sarcophagi flanking the main staircase. In twos and threes, still more draugr began emerging from their sleep in coffins all around the room, attacking the three intruders. At first the loathsome creatures were distracted by Anders and Golldir, and Katja, still unnoticed, was able to drop several of them with her bow.

As her two companions’ energies flagged, however, the undead warriors ignored them and turned their attention to her. Katja slung the bow behind her and went to work with mace and shield, trying to block their attacks while striking out at them. She just didn’t have enough stamina for a prolonged fight, though. As her right arm tired, and her attacks weakened, four of them were closing in on her. Oh, hells! was her last thought. Then her world went black.

Anders and Golldir, momentarily out of the battle, soon recouped enough energy to resume fighting. With spell and blade they attacked the remaining draugr and their wounded, black-robed master; and in a minute or two of ferocious effort the last of their enemies had fallen silent. Anders stood, eyes wide and chest heaving, as the aftermath of the adrenaline surge hit him. I’m alive, he thought, halfway in surprise. Then he looked around, and spied a small, steel-armored figure sprawled in a heap on the floor a few yards away.

His heart froze in his chest. “Kat!” he shouted, rushing to her and kneeling beside her on the hard, cold stone floor. “Kat,” he repeated prayerfully. She’s all right. She has to be all right… He placed his fingers alongside her neck and felt for a pulse. Praise the Nine, there was one! Weak and thready, but her heart was definitely still beating. He scooped her up off the floor in one swift motion and cradled her in his arms, pressing his lips to her forehead with tears stinging his eyes, as he carried her out of the burial chamber and through some doors at the back to a smaller chamber with a large table in it.

Supporting Kat’s weight on the table, Anders removed her pack and rummaged around in it. There must be some health potions in here – there! He grabbed a handful. They were only the most minor of the type, each affording a slight boost to health. Holding her upright with his left arm, he held a potion bottle to her lips, urging her to drink. She nearly choked on it at first, still unconscious; but as some of the potion made its way down her throat her eyelids fluttered and then opened. There was a swelling lump on the back of her skull, a bloody gash on her cheek, and her left arm was bent in an unnatural position.

“Keep drinking, love,” he urged her. As each potion was drained Kat became more alert and drank them with more alacrity. As she finished the fifth potion, her arm straightened, the gash on her face had closed leaving scarcely a scar, the swelling on her head had gone back down, and she was now sitting upright without his help. She still seemed awfully dazed, though. “Anders… thank you,” she murmured.

His warm eyes radiated the intensity of his relief, and he broke into a big grin. “You’re all right! I was afraid…” he didn’t finish the thought. It was a thought he hoped never to have again. He swept her into his arms and covered her face with kisses, which Katja found sweet but a bit overwhelming. “I’m fine, love, I’m fine.” She didn’t know what else to say.

As the emotional moment passed, and she was feeling a lot better than she had moments before, Katja hitched her butt off the table and stood on the floor. Then she gathered her pack and weapons, and she and Anders took their leave of Golldir. He gave them some gold for their trouble, and said he would be staying here to take care of the body of his aunt and begin putting things aright with the family tomb now the necromancer was gone.

Anders had received a battering in the ferocious draugr fight too – and once Katja had recovered her presence of mind she had him drink a couple of health potions, too. She wished they had some more powerful ones; but such items were expensive and not often to be found just lying around, as she had the others. The two of them were still resting near the entrance to the tomb, and Katja mused “I kind of wish now that we hadn’t left without Lydia. It seems like we could use a little more help on this trip.”

Anders nodded. Then a look of wild surmise crossed his face. “I’ll bet you’d like a bath, too,” he said. Katja laughed wryly. “Of course I’d like a bath, and a hot meal and a soft bed, and…” She looked at him wide-eyed, then slapped her forehead. Her hand came away with flakes of dried blood on it. “The map! Now this place and the Suite are both on the map, we can go back to the Suite to pick up supplies. And Lydia too, probably, if she ever showed up. Then come right back here and continue our journey. Why didn’t I think of that before?!”

Chapter 11: Reboot

Katja bounced into Anders’ arms and threw her legs around his waist, giving him a squeeze. Clearly, she was feeling better by the minute. “You, my love, are a genius!” She planted a big kiss on his lips, then hopped back down and pulled the map out of its hiding place. A few moments later, they found themselves standing outside the Luxury Suite in what appeared to be the later part of the afternoon, local time, on a warm and mostly sunny day. To Katja’s mind, no sight had ever looked sweeter. Not counting, perhaps, the sight of Anders’ face when she had come to a few minutes previously.

They went inside and greeted Lane, who was tending bar. And there in a chair a few paces away was Lydia – wearing her steel armor and looking as if she’d probably been sitting there like a stone for hours, waiting for Katja’s return. “Follow me, I need you,” Katja commanded. Lydia stood to attention and fell into step behind her at once.

Katja was not just here for extra help, though. She had a lot of business on her mind. First thing though, that bath. She and Anders stripped off and set Lydia to cleaning their armor and rustling up some clean underclothes for them while they soaked away the blood, dust and perspiration of the day’s battles. Her near-brush with death and subsequent recovery had Katja feeling pretty high and more than a little randy; but on the other hand she’d been getting laid a lot more regularly of late and there was a lot of work to do. So after the bath, she and Anders returned upstairs and put their clothes back on.

There was an alchemy station and an enchanting table side by side within a few feet of the double bed where the two of them had slept the previous night. Katja now set about trying to teach herself how to make potions. She had acquired some magical bracers as loot in one of her recent excursions, and she found that wearing these while doing alchemy helped to increase the strength of her potions. Selene had taught her some of the basics. Katja had never been her apprentice, but had picked up a lot just by observing the old Wise Woman over the course of many hours spent in her company. Selene had been almost a second mother to young Katrine.

In the course of her adventures so far Katja had picked up quite a few items that she knew were alchemical ingredients, and she even knew what uses some of them had. She found that if she ate a little of an unfamiliar ingredient, she could learn what potion it might be used to create; though the physical effects of ingesting some of those ingredients were a little unsettling. By trial and error, then, she managed to craft half a dozen potions (using the bottles that were supplied with the alchemy station). Some of them might even be useful.

Next, to try her hand at enchanting. Katja hadn’t had much chance since arriving in Skyrim to learn about this discipline, but it seemed like a skill that would be worth acquiring. Imagine being able to make your own super-powerful enchanted weapons and armor! Before she could start enchanting things, though, she needed to learn some enchantments. By destroying an enchanted item at the table, she could learn that item’s enchantment(s) and then apply them to other items. Though, as a beginner, the strength of her enchantments would be as nothing compared with the strength of those same enchantments on the items she had destroyed in the learning process. So she was loath to part with anything particularly useful.

Katja did have a few things that she was willing to let go of, though. She’d collected a couple of enchanters’ robes that caused magicka to regenerate 75% faster, and she burned one of those to learn the “magicka regen” enchantment. She picked up another 4 or 5 additional enchantments, including a useful one for weaponry: the fire damage enchantment.

“I guess we’ll have to go to Whiterun, so I can use the smithy there,” Katja told her faithful crew of two. “Oh, there’s a smithy in the basement,” said Anders off-handedly. “You don’t know about it?” “I didn’t even know there was a basement,” she replied. Was there no end to the wonders of this place? He led his two female companions down the stairs, then behind the bar to a trap door in the floor.

They crawled through the opening and down a short ladder to find themselves in a large, wood-lined room running the length of the building. There was a little bedroom area at the near end, with a double bed, nightstand, and bedside cabinet. The rest of the room was given over to crafting, with a smelter in the far corner, grindstone, crafting table, forge, and even another enchanting table. Still more amazing, the entire near wall was lined with shelves stacked high with every sort of ingot, ores, even soul gems!

“But… who does this all belong to?” Katja asked Anders. “It’s, um, sort of a perk for guests,” he replied lamely. She had the feeling that he was not telling her everything, but why look a gift horse in the mouth? She was not a person who did well at intrigue and plotting, or questioned the motives of everyone around her. She trusted Anders with her life, and if he had some reason for not revealing the full story behind this hidden treasure cache, why should she worry? Just take the ingots and run.

Katja helped herself to every steel ingot on the shelf and a few of other types as well, though creating arms and armor using malachite, ebony, and dwarven metal were still far beyond her skills. Then she told Anders and Lydia to strip. Both of them were soon standing there in their underclothes. Anders’ powerfully muscled body was a familiar sight to her by now, but Lydia without her armor was quite a surprise. By the Divines, she was built like a prentice boy’s wet dream! From a narrow waist, her hips and buttocks exploded to spherical perfection, while her globular breasts, through the thin linen fabric, looked to be damn near as big as her head. She made Katja look like a 12-year-old by comparison. Only her stern expression spoiled the effect.

Katja cast a covert glance at Anders to see if he had noticed his fellow companion’s extremely voluptuous build. She was secretly pleased that his gaze passed over the other woman as if she were no more interesting than the furniture, then returned to look at her expectantly. He’d like his armor back, no doubt, since they were not just now about to hop into bed.

Katja set to work with a will at the crafting table, using her (borrowed? pilfered? gifted?) ingots to improve the armor value of the breastplates, bracers, boots, and helmets each of them wore. At the grindstone, she honed swords, maces, and warhammers. She strengthened bows and gave them more killing power.

Next she took a few of the items to the enchanting table, using up some of the soul gems she’d liberated from the shelves. Such things were costly and hard to come by, and Katja couldn’t believe her luck at stumbling onto this treasure trove. She made Fine Hunting Bows for both her and Anders, each enchanted to set the target on fire for a while after the arrow hit. This enchantment was not only devastating to the enemy, but made it easy to see in dim light that the arrow had found its target. Plus, she enchanted a steel helmet with the magicka regen enchantment for Anders, so that he would be even more effective in battle using his destruction spells.

They all put on their newly improved battle gear, ready to face the next challenge. Or were they? Katja decided she must really lighten her load, and remarked “I suppose I’ll have to go to Whiterun to sell off my surplus?” She wasn’t enormously surprised when Anders answered the question: “No, Lane upstairs is a merchant. He’ll likely take anything you want to sell.” She was not sure what was going on with this place, but she liked it more all the time.

They went back up the ladder, and Katja swapped her burden of excess weapons and armor for enough coin to put her over the 6,000 mark. She could now afford to buy a house in Whiterun, from what she’d been told at Dragonsreach. But did she need to? Perhaps she could just make this place her home base – it seemed to have everything except, perhaps, privacy.

“Why don’t we get a fresh start in the morning?” Anders suggested. Katja could hardly believe that it had only been yesterday morning when they had left here, full of energy and enthusiasm for the adventures ahead. Now here she was again, after having nearly been killed twice, taught herself the rudiments of alchemy and enchanting, improved her skills in smithing, and picked up another companion to help her in her battles. That seemed like a lot of progress only to find herself back in the same location again.

It’s hard to get used to that map, Katja mused. Distances that would take days of arduous travel could be traversed in a few heartbeats, after one had visited them on foot just once. She envisioned a future when the entirety of Skyrim would become her oyster, and she could command any part of the province with a thought. Then she blinked. Enough megalomania for one day, she told herself. “Yes dear,” she replied to her lover. “That would be a good idea.” It appeared they could have saved the trouble of putting on all that armor, after all.

The three headed to the bar and Lane served them a hearty supper of beef stew and fresh bread, washed down with some decent wine. Then they all went upstairs and Katja instructed Lydia to bed down in one of the single beds in another area of the loft, away from the master bedroom area where she and Anders planned to sleep.

They helped each other remove their armor. Without a companion, one practically had to go around armor-clad at all times, so difficult was it to reach all of the straps and buckles. They were both feeling pretty tired, if now in perfect health and clean from the bath they’d taken earlier. As they stood there in their underclothes Anders gathered Katja close and tucked her head beneath his chin, just holding her. He had known her barely 48 hours, and already the thought of losing her was more than he could bear. Her arms wrapped around his waist, Katja murmured into his strong chest “I expect having Lydia along is going to cramp our style when we’re on the road, dear…” He took a slow breath, then she felt his diaphragm spasm as he suppressed a laugh.

Anders stepped away from her a bit, to look into her eyes. “No doubt you’re right,” he said, lips quirking in a not-quite smile. Then, more seriously, “But I think we’re both going to appreciate having her sword along.” Katja reached up and kissed him tenderly, in silent assent. Then she said, “Let’s get to bed.” She set about taking off her underwear. “You always sleep in the nude?” he asked, watching appreciatively. “Whenever I can,” she replied. “Unless it’s too cold or I’m likely to be attacked in the night. You wouldn’t attack me, would you?” she twinkled, taking a breath that caused her full breasts to bounce appealingly.

He growled low in his throat, his eyes lighting at the sight of her. “It’s hard to say,” he replied. Then he removed his own underclothes. Katja was both unsurprised and delighted to see that his member was well on its way to monolithic status. This might be their last chance for uninhibited intimacy for quite some time to come. They both lay down in the bed and pulled the covers over themselves, feeling a bit of a chill to the air in the room. Then as if choreographed they turned to the lamps on either side and wound down the wicks until they sputtered and died, plunging the room into near pitch darkness. Immediately thereafter, they sought each other beneath the sheets.

They pressed their bodies together in the darkness, sharing warmth. Anders’ now fully-risen cock was pinned between them, a pulsing hot presence against Katja’s belly. An answering warmth spread between her legs. They locked mouths, falling into each other as if into a dream. Then they began stroking one another slowly, pressed together, almost as if they were seeking to merge into one being. They were lying on their sides, she to his right, and she lifted her right leg up over his hip so that her moist sex was pressed against his shaft, enflaming her clit.

The kissing and stroking continued for a while longer, building heat until neither of them could stand it anymore and he shifted his body down slightly so that his long, hard shaft could find its way into her eager cunt. “Mmmmm!” came her involuntary cry as his cock slipped within her. Oh, yesssss. They made love for what seemed like an endless moment, savoring every sensation as they slid together in a sort of half-dreaming, prolonged ecstasy. Then the sensations became more urgent, until finally they crested a peak and plunged together into shuddering climax.

Shortly thereafter they lay in perfect warmth and harmony, encapsulated in each other, and gradually abandoned consciousness for sleep.

Chapter 12: The Journey Resumes

Before dawn’s light had begun to color the Suite’s downstairs windows, Katja was awake. She had always been an early riser, and the excitement of her new, adventurous lifestyle had her even more eager to leap up and seize the day. She rolled over for a look at her bedmate. Anders was lying on his back, snoring faintly, his beautiful features in repose. He was beginning to get a bit of stubble, having not had time to shave recently. Slugabed, she thought fondly. She rolled toward him, nestled her head on his chest and licked his right nipple, wrapping the tip of her tongue around it. That got his attention.

“You…” he murmured, eyes still closed, and reached for her. Katja wriggled out of his grasp, however. “Rise and shine, love! Greybeards to meet! Monsters to slay!” He opened an eye and looked at her questioningly. Then, sighing, he opened both eyes and sat up. By then she was standing on the floor at the side of the bed. “I don’t suppose you’d care to come back here and give me a blow job, first?” he asked wistfully. “Later, dear, I promise. But we need to get moving.” She was already slipping into her underclothes, and soon they were helping each other on with their armor.

Anders produced a straight razor from his pack and set about giving his chiseled jaw and finely shaped chin a shave, while Katja was adding some supplies to their packs and getting Lydia out of bed. Actually, it turned out that Lydia was already up and had somehow managed to get into her armor without help. Unless maybe she’d slept in it. Lydia was punctilious, Katja would give her that; even if she was not exactly the life of the party.

By the time the landscape outside the Suite was glowing with rosy light, the three of them were standing outside in the road that led north and then east to Windhelm. Katja pulled her precious map from its resting place and wished them all back to Hillgrund’s Tomb. She noted as their new surroundings appeared (after a few seconds of darkness and disorientation) that it had returned them to a spot right outside the front doors they had originally come in by, rather than the area around the side of the building they had departed from.

“Onward, troops!” Katja cried jubilantly, her night’s respite from the rigors of questing having restored her in mind, body, and spirit. “Greybeards, here we come!” Anders glanced at Lydia to see if she might be reacting to their “general’s” overblown enthusiasm, but the woman remained absolutely impassive. Interacting with her was like interacting with a Dwemer automaton. Well, he thought, smiling slightly to himself as his affection for Kat overrode his annoyance, adventure ho.

Katja led them around to the east side of the building, and they soon found a pathway down to a stone-paved road that led in approximately the right direction. They had not gotten very far, though, when they came upon a large stone fortress off to the east side of the road. Katja was now getting wise in the ways of navigating in Skyrim, and she pulled out the map. Sure enough, there was now a new symbol appearing and the legend, “Fort Amol.”

“This is Fort Amol,” Katja said to Anders, feeling all knowledgeable. “Have you heard anything about it?” He searched his memory. “I’m pretty sure it’s a Stormcloak stronghold, last I heard.” Up atop one of the walls, Katja could see a figure sprawled hanging halfway over the parapet. It was not moving. Katja drew her bow and, crouching, sneaked closer to the edifice’s main gate. Her companions did likewise.

They had not gotten very close to the gate before a woman in black mage robes appeared within the fort’s bailey, having spotted the intruders. She began firing Destruction spells at them, and Anders answered with some of his own while Lydia closed with the woman to strike her down with a sword. Meanwhile, Katja’s eyes were searching the walls on either side of them for additional enemies, and brought down a couple more of the hostile mages with her bow.

After a frantic few minutes the trio found themselves the only living beings in the immediate vicinity, and began exploring. In addition to the corpses of an odd assortment of mages, all garbed in those black robes, they found several dead Stormcloak soldiers. Evidently the place had been overrun by this group of malign magic users, who had wrested control from the Stormcloaks. And, it seemed, not bothered to dispose of the bodies afterward.

The courtyard was now silent, but the outer walls were built inward in several places in a half circle opposite the main gate. Three or four wooden doors led into this section of the fortress, and any of them might hide more enemies. Motioning her companions to silence, Katja approached the nearest of these doors and crept inside.

Sure enough, more foes lurked within. Katja was glad of the extra help as they worked their way through a labyrinth of stone corridors, encountering more hostile mages and a prison area in which the corpses of more Stormcloak soldiers could be found. The whole situation left Katja with a bad taste in her mouth. She had still not committed herself one way or another as far as the conflict between the Empire and the Stormcloak rebels was concerned; but no soldier deserved to die like this, locked up in a cage and tormented to death by mages with powers he could not even understand.

Katja and her lethal band had done their work well, though, and after finding (and killing) one last mage atop the fort’s highest tower, they left the place empty and moved on. Katja soon found a dirt path leading off to the right, exactly as she’d hoped. She felt sure that miles could be cut off their journey to Ivarstead, and thence to High Hrothgar, if she could just find the right trail.

The trail she’d chosen soon began to climb sharply, and conversation was kept to a minimum between Katja and Anders (conversation with Lydia was, as near as Katja could tell, always at a minimum) as they huffed and puffed their way up the steep mountainside in their heavy armor and packs. There seemed to be many wild goats here, and Katja was tempted to shoot a few of them for their hides and meat. But she was also anxious to reach Ivarstead before night fell.

Goats were not the only creatures in the wild region. Twice, they were attacked from ambush by predators that seemed to prefer human over goat. Not the wisest choice on the part of the predators, as goats are notably lacking in swords, bows, Destruction spells, and steel armor. Her burden increased by a couple of fresh saber cat hides and a wolf pelt or two, Katja soldiered on.

The trail now ran beside a pleasant and sparkling mountain stream, clattering over stones on its way to some unknown destination. Then the trio rounded one last bend and abruptly found themselves on the outskirts of the village of Ivarstead. “We’re here!” Katja informed her companions, relief in her voice. “Here” reminded her all too vividly of her home village of Pied-de-Puce, truth to tell. The environs of Ivarstead, nestled at the foot of Throat of the World, were much more scenic. But the size of the town and the resources therein were similar.

They walked up the main (only) street of town past a farmstead where a young woman was being berated by her parents for failing to pitch in enough around the place. Despite the village’s small size, it was patrolled by a surprising number of official-looking guards. Perhaps that was the only occupation available to young men hereabouts.

Katja quickly spotted the inn, which bore the unpleasant appellation of “Vilemyr.” Doesn’t exactly make you want to order the House Special, she thought. Nonetheless, she and her companions made their way inside. The place looked almost identical to every other inn she had seen so far in Skyrim. There must be an inn architect who roams the land, building the same inn everywhere, she mused.

Katja approached the bar and met the Nord innkeeper, one Wilhelm by name. Bald and 50ish, he was happy to tell her all he knew about High Hrothgar and the Greybeards, and also warned her away from the local barrow. It was haunted, he said, and a treasure hunter who came to town a couple of years back had gone in there and disappeared without a trace. Katja was not planning on visiting any more barrows just at the moment, but she thanked him for the information and promised she’d look into it. Some day.

There were all of four buildings in the village, and Katja and her companions visited each of them, questioning anyone they met. The day was still young by the time they approached the stone bridge crossing the stream, which was the starting point for the “Seven Thousand Steps” journey up to High Hrothgar. There they met Klimmek, an older fellow who, they had learned from others, was in the habit of making the climb to the Greybeards’ sanctuary to deliver supplies to them every few weeks.

As Katja and her companions approached, they found him in discussion with another local resident. “I’m not getting any younger,” he was telling the other man. “The climb is just getting too hard.” Katja inserted herself into the conversation. “Would you like me to carry your supplies up for you?” she asked. “We’re going that way.” Klimmek was delighted, and now Katja found her burden augmented still more. She passed a few of the other items she was carrying to her companions.

Anders’ response was, “what do you want me to carry?” but Lydia’s fairly dripped with sarcasm: “I am sworn to bear your burdens.” Only one of the many reasons Katja would sooner bed down with Anders. But she sensed that with authority came responsibility, and one of those responsibilities was acting as commanding officer and handling the quirks of one’s underlings. So be it.

Their packs sorted out, the three crossed the bridge and headed up the first of what were, apparently, to be many flights of stairs. The weather appeared to be absolutely wonderful, by local standards. The sky was mostly occluded by puffy gray-white clouds, but no snow was falling and visibility was excellent. This was very useful for the three companions, as it enabled them to spot danger a long way off.

Katja was beginning to wonder if, other than butterflies, goats, rabbits, foxes, and mammoths, there were any creatures in Skyrim that would not attack you on sight. As they picked their way up the steep mountainside, they were repeatedly assaulted by tundra wolves, saber cats, and things that defied categorization. Again, she was very glad of her companions and their fighting abilities.

Along the way shrines were sprinkled here and there, each with a stone tablet bearing a few couplets of a poem that explained how Paarthurnax (whoever that was) had taught men how to use the language of dragons and thus escape draconic domination. At a couple of these shrines, Katja and her companions met pilgrims. She had trouble understanding why some should see this whole experience as a spiritual journey. To her, with her no-nonsense attitude, it appeared that they were combining a stiff hike with Story Hour, punctuated with “fight for your life or get eaten.”

As they approached what Katja felt must surely be at least the 6,000th step, her danger sensors went on full alert. Ahead of them, she spied a shallow cave. And peering into the dimness, she thought she glimpsed a larger-than-man-sized shadow. “I think there’s trouble ahead,” she warned Anders and Lydia. “I’m taking the high road.” More agile than either of her companions, Katja scaled the rocks lining the road on the left side of the broad trail.

Katja had gotten perhaps 10 feet up, hopping from rock to rock, when an enormous, white-furred anthropoid form suddenly emerged from the cave’s shadows and threw itself upon her companions. What in all the hells? From its overall shape, she guessed it must be some type of troll. But it was nearly twice the size of the trolls she’d encountered before, and the wrong color. Same bad attitude, though. Katja began peppering it with arrows from her enchanted bow, each of which set the creature on fire for a second or two. Down on ground level, Lydia was attacking with blades while Anders fired bolts of energy at it.

This triple attack had the creature down and out within a few seconds of intense fighting. Katja hopped down from her rocky perch, grinning in relief, and told her companions “Good work.” Then she took a few moments to explore the corpse, retrieving a few of her arrows if nothing else of value. “Was that some kind of troll?” she asked Anders. “Frost troll, I think,” he replied. “I’ve never actually seen one before, but the description fits.” “Here’s to not seeing any more of them,” she said; and they moved on.

They were delighted, on rounding a few more bends in the snow-covered trail, to find the edifice of High Hrothgar looming before them. As they approached the front doors, Katja assumed that the chest standing there was intended for the supplies Klimmek had given them, and deposited them inside it. Then they took a staircase to the right and opened the front door.

Within, they entered a hall and found four old men, dressed in hooded robes, converging on them. One of them introduced himself as Arngeir. Apparently, he was the only one of their number that would speak with outsiders, the others being sworn to silence. They seemed to be some kind of monastic order, and Katja could only assume that they were also sworn to celibacy. Not that they’d be likely to have any trouble keeping such a vow, up here in the middle of nowhere and given they were a bunch of grizzled old curmudgeons. She kept such thoughts strictly to herself.

Arngeir demanded to know why she had come. “I’m answering your summons,” she replied. He intoned, “You appear to be The Dragonborn, but we must be sure. Demonstrate your Shout.” As she had done at the Western Watchtower, Katja gathered her breath and her will and Shouted “FUS!” Even more than had the Whiterun guard, the two Greybeards facing her were staggered and nearly blown off their feet.

Arngeir agreed that she was, indeed, The Dragonborn. Now he directed her to another of his order, Borri. The wizened old man spoke a single word to her, “Ro!” which Arngeir said was the second word to the Unrelenting Force Shout. This single syllable sank into her consciousness like a live thing burrowing for sanctuary; and she now found that when she used the Shout it was twice as long – and twice as powerful. For the benefit of the Greybeards, she used it to knock aside a series of phantom targets they had set up, there in the main entry hall of their keep.

“Excellent. Your quick mastery of the Shout shows that you are ready for more training. Your next lesson will take place outdoors, in our courtyard,” said Arngeir, leading the way out the back of the hall to a large flat area behind the sprawling building. There were a set of pillars off the left, and beyond them some iron gates.

As Arngeir explained, Borri gave her the first word of a new Shout: Whirlwind Sprint. Another of the Greybeards demonstrated it, exploding from between the pillars to the other side of the momentarily opened gates in a heartbeat after shouting “WULD!” Katja was then asked to repeat his feat, which she did without difficulty.

Hmmm, that could be useful, Katja thought. Especially while trying to get through a dungeon trap with razor-sharp pendulums swinging back and forth, as she and Sven had recently experienced. Now Arngeir instructed her, “This stage of your training is complete. Only one thing remains before you are fully accepted as The Dragonborn. You must retrieve the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller.” He went on to explain the history of this vital artifact, and to show her on the map the location in which they thought it could be found.

Katja accepted his commands without quibble. She had had her doubts about this strange group of secluded and mysterious old men; but clearly, they had knowledge she needed and offered power she wanted. The Greybeards wandered off at that point, having delivered their instructions. Now Katja gathered her followers. “It looks as though we’re going to be heading far to the west and north,” she said. “I’ll take us to the Western Watchtower, but we’ll have a long walk ahead of us.”

Neither Anders nor Lydia had any objections, though in the latter case none were looked for. Lydia’s mission in life, evidently, was to fulfill her duties to her Thane, and that was the end of it. Anders was along for the ride, for the adventure of it, and perhaps for love of the young woman who, in a very short space of time, had moved in like a hurricane and swept away his heart.

Chapter 13: The Quest for the Horn Begins

Katja, Anders, and Lydia materialized outside the Western Watchtower. This was as far west and north as Katja had been before, so it formed the outer boundary of her magic map in this direction. The dragon was long gone and the fires were out, but with the stones of the tower scattered around it looked more like a long-abandoned ruin than a place that had been an active outpost of the Whiterun City Guard a few days earlier.

The three were nearly exhausted, after their travels and battles of the day. Furthermore, dusk was settling over the rolling plain west of Whiterun. Katja wondered idly if they ought to go back and spend the night at the Suite, but she resisted the temptation. Get used to a warm, comfortable bed with a warm, comfortable man in it every night, and three square meals a day, and she’d soon be useless. Instead, they tossed bedrolls down on the stone floor of the abandoned watchtower, which at least offered them a little protection from the night and its creatures, and supped on bread and cheese before lying down to sleep.

Morning came all too soon, and as usual Katja was the first to arise. After spending the night sleeping on stones with only a thin fur bedroll beneath her, she felt positively eager to get back on her feet and moving. According to the map, their destination (which had magically appeared on the map as soon as Arngeir had assigned her the quest) was somewhat west of here and far to the north. There was a road heading in that direction, which they could connect with if they continued west for a short while; so they set off toward it.

The three had been traveling only a short while when another large stone structure appeared before them. “Fort Greymoor,” the map announced. But it showed no signs of being manned by any military force. What were the Imperials thinking? It seemed as if bandits occupied twice as many strongholds in Skyrim as did the military might of the great Empire.

Despite a few aches and pains, Katja’s youthful exuberance had as usual been renewed overnight – and she was up for a bit of plunder. So the trio approached stealthily with weapons drawn, and had soon slaughtered the four or five bandits that had been left to guard the fortress’s walls. Then they moved inside and stalked silently room to room, leaving death and destruction in their wake. The trio worked well together, managing to avoid hitting each other with their spells or weapons when in close combat inside cramped quarters.

Her pack laden with the bandits’ spoils, Katja and her team left Fort Greymoor behind: silent now, with only bloody corpses to guard its walls. She suspected it wouldn’t be long before the place found new tenants. Its proximity to major roads running east-west and north-south made it an ideal home base for highwaymen.

On reaching the road heading north, the group settled into a steady movement that would carry them leagues toward their destination in the course of a few hours. Their progress was interrupted by attacks from saber cats and more indescribable monstrosities that neither Katja, Anders, nor Lydia could put a name to. Then they came to a sprawling stone building that ran athwart their path.

“Do you know this place?” Katja asked Anders. They’d spoken relatively little over the course of the day, Lydia’s presence and their focus on their immediate goal seeming to suppress casual conversation. “What does the map have to say?” he asked in reply. She checked, and it was now showing a symbol shaped like a yurt (the meaning of which she had yet to decipher) and a name: “Hamvir’s Rest.” She reported this information, but neither he nor Lydia had anything to add.

They wanted to explore the ruins for treasure, but soon discovered that it was patrolled by walking dead. Compared to the upper level draugr however, or even a saber cat, animate skeletons armed with ancient Nord bows were not much of a threat. The three companions attacked with a will, and soon the site’s guardians were nothing but scattered dry bones. Katja retrieved some loot from a chest, and discovered an enchanted helmet behind an iron grate. As it appeared to enhance one’s magical power, she immediately gave it to Anders.

They pushed on, finding another Nordic ruin the map called “Dustman’s Cairn.” This was of a familiar construction like a beehive sunk into the earth: concentric rings of stones above, a cylindrical bore within, and stone steps leading down to a flat earthen floor. At the bottom, a wooden door blocked an opening in the ground at one side. Within they found a single large room guarded by three draugr, containing various items of value.

By the time they came back up the steps dusk had fallen, and they were beginning to get pretty tired. They had stopped only briefly at midday, to eat a few trail rations and drink some water, before moving on. The land was rising, and they seemed to be coming into a heavily wooded upland leading (so Katja hoped) to a pass that would take them to the northern marshlands and their goal: a Nordic ruin called Ustengrav.

Just as Katja was concluding that they were going to need to camp for the night, the three of them were alarmed by a ferocious roaring. Overhead, a dragon had spied them and was attacking! She, Anders and Lydia all burst into furious action, hurling arrows and destruction spells at the creature. It seemed a bit reluctant to close with them, though. Tall trees were all around and it would not have an easy time getting at them with its teeth and claws. As it veered off and flew further away, Katja spotted a trail through the woods and followed it to the north, Anders and Lydia trailing behind while keeping an eye out for the dragon.

It was not heard from again. They continued to follow the trail as full darkness came on, still in a heavily wooded alpine forest. Then abruptly Katja spotted a cabin off to the left of the trail. Could this be the shelter she was hoping for? Camping out was all very well in dry weather, but the wilds of Skyrim were not safe. She gave the door a push and it opened. Before she could speak a word, a man she took to be a mage (judging by his garb and actions) appeared on a loft above them and without so much as a word of warning began attacking them. Three against one was not much of a contest though – especially as Anders was as adept at Destruction magic as any mage they’d yet encountered. Without Katja firing a shot, the mage (presumably the owner of this snug cabin) was soon lying dead on the floor.

Regret stabbed Katja as she looked down at the man’s crumpled body. She hadn’t intended to invade his home or rob him of his life, but there didn’t seem to have been any choice about it once she’d opened the door. Too bad; but now they were here, they might as well take advantage of the cozy refuge. They ate the dead mage’s food, warmed themselves by his fire, and Katja and Anders folded themselves into his narrow bed while Lydia slept on a bedroll spread before the hearth.

They were all tired after a long day of hiking, with the odd fight to the death thrown in for variety; and Katja was still feeling as if were wrong for them to be here while the owner of the place lay stiffening in the forest outside. He’d probably be eaten by skeevers before long. With those concerns and Lydia’s proximity, sleeping downstairs no more than a few paces away from their bed on the loft, she wasn’t feeling very romantic even if a certain hunger was already starting to grow within her.

Anders sensed her mood, and though he would have been up for some fun despite the circumstances, he didn’t try to persuade her. Instead, as they lay down in the single bed, he enfolded her in his arms and gave her a few tender kisses. Then he just held her as they both slid off into sleep.

Chapter 14: Surprises

Katja awoke to the sounds of Lydia stirring downstairs. How the woman managed to be always up and fully armored before she, Katja, had even slipped out of bed, she did not understand. She and Anders were tightly entwined in the small bed, and as she stirred against him he tightened his grip and turned her to face him, locking his lips on hers. When they came up for air she took a breath, intending to tell him that it was time for them get up and on the road; but he placed his fingertips gently on her mouth, gazing into her eyes with languor and something more hungry; and said “Shhhhh.”

He took her hand and brought it down between them to where his cock was rising against her belly. Katja kissed him again and squeezed, feeling it throb in her hand. So hot! She still felt a bit sleepy and distracted by the lack of privacy, but she also wanted him badly at this moment. He reached his fingers down between her legs, pushing into her crevice, and found her soaking wet.

Quietly, Katja guided his now fully stiffened member inside her, and they began fucking in slow motion. Biting her lip, trying to not to cry out, she shortly found that the tension of trying to take it slow and not make any noise was adding to her excitement, sending her over the edge. Her vaginal muscles tightened, gripping him inside her with a rippling motion as she came with a stifled whimper.

Anders too was feeling sleepy if horny, and might have happily gone on making love to her like this, extending the ecstasy, for hours. But the rhythmic clamping as she writhed in silent orgasm took him by surprise, and he came too. They continued their gentle, quiet motion for a while, then lay still again. “I love you,” he murmured in her ear. “Me too,” Katja replied so quietly that even he, inches from her lips, barely heard it. Then louder, “but we really need to get up and dressed now.” He sighed and squeezed her one last time before releasing her. “I know…”

They were shortly up and dressed. As they came downstairs, Lydia gave them a look of disapproval. She’s just jealous of us enjoying ourselves, thought Katja. With that body, she could be having all the fun she wants – if she’d ever lighten the hell up. The three of them ate a light breakfast; then, before leaving the area, Katja went out to where they had left the body of the unfortunate mage. Luckily, the corpse was as yet untouched. She found a shovel lying near the back of the cabin, and took the time to dig the man a grave and bury him in it. She felt it was the least she could do for him.

The trio resumed their quest, traveling toward the location the map said was the resting place of the Horn Katja had been sent to find. While moving in that direction, they found themselves on the outskirts of a medium-sized town. “This is Morthal,” Anders informed her. For all Katja knew, Lydia might be the world’s foremost expert on Skyrim geography; but she never volunteered anything. “They have a Jarl, here,” he added. “And I’ve heard there’s a skilled alchemist.”

This might be a good opportunity for Katja to pick up some paying work, and perhaps some useful potions or ingredients as well, she thought. And it was still pretty early in the day, with their destination not much further ahead. So she decided they would explore the town. She paid a courtesy visit to the Jarl, an older woman who seemed nice enough even if her expression was forbidding. And she happened to bump into the alchemist, a young woman, out walking on one of the town’s wooden sidewalks. The place seemed to have been built over a swamp, and there was water everywhere between the rows of houses. I’ll bet they don’t get much carriage traffic here, Katja thought.

The alchemist, Lami, gave her a friendly greeting. She had a decent selection of potions and reagents, and Katja was able to pay her for some lessons in alchemy. She left the town feeling as if she had really learned a few things. There was still a long way to go, though, before she could claim expertise. Shortly after they left Morthal heading north, they came to an area of marshes, spotted here and there with little hummocky bits of higher ground. Progress became slow as they had to climb these, then wade through the shallow water lying between them.

Katja checked her map and directed their path slightly more to the east. Only a few more minutes’ travel saw them standing before the entrance to Ustengrav, an ancient Nord ruin that Katja suspected would probably be crawling with draugr. After her initial horror at discovering such things existed, she was now getting almost nonchalant about taking them on – in reasonably small numbers. That horde in Golldir’s family tomb had nearly recruited her to the ranks of the dead.

Katja got a good grip on her bow and checked to make sure Anders and Lydia were following, then led the way through the ominous edifice’s front door. They crept in quietly, senses on the alert for danger, and soon found a few draugr patrolling the corridors. Katja was surprised to discover that there were also hostile mages inhabiting the ruin, seemingly in conflict with the draugr just as they were. But in this case, the enemy of their enemy was not their friend. Team Dragonborn took down several of these, as they encountered them.

Eventually the underground labyrinth opened into a chasm with trees growing inside it, a waterfall and bridge visible far below. What was such a place doing deep beneath the wetlands of Hjaalmarch, Katja wondered. They had to kill several walking skeletons, each of them wielding ancient Nord bows but easy enough to eliminate with a shot from hiding or a blast of Anders’ Destruction magic. Katja was happy to claim the arrows in their quivers, as they were of a better quality than the iron ones she was carrying.

Down in the forested area below, Katja spotted a familiar-looking semicircular stone wall, which she correctly guessed would teach her a new Shout word. She made her way down there with some difficulty, flanked by her guardians, and was briefly transported as the mysterious chorus rang in her ears and a moment of introspection revealed that she now knew a word to a Shout called Become Ethereal. It would briefly turn her ghostly, unable to be harmed or to interact with the world. That seemed to be of questionable use, and she didn’t care to expend a dragon soul to infuse it with the power that would allow her to use it. They soon returned back up the narrow stone pathway to explore deeper into the ruins.

Ahead of them was a passageway blocked by a series of three iron gates. As she approached it, the stones below Katja’s feet glowed, and the nearest gate opened. Another few feet, and the second and third gates opened in succession. But within seconds, as she was no longer standing on the trigger, the first gate had closed.

Katja tried getting Anders and Lydia to stand on the earlier trigger points, but that didn’t work. Likewise, dropping a heavy object like a shield would not hold the gates open. Finally it came to her to use her Whirlwind Sprint Shout. By sprinting from the first trigger point, she was able to dash at lightning speed through all three gates before they had time to close. And once she was through them, they stayed open.

“Okay guys, you can come through now,” she called to her companions. And added moments later, as they approached the next obstacle, “Watch out through here. I think this section of floor is trapped.” The stones were laid out in a checkerboard pattern, with ominous looking holes in the center of each one. What would issue from those, arrows? Spears? These, she soon discovered, belched forth fire if you stepped in the wrong spot.

“Ow, shit!” Katja exclaimed, quickly hopping off the stones and onto a low area of rock that fringed the path, jumping from one such outcropping to another as she worked her way through the passage. Behind her, Anders and Lydia could be heard cursing as each of them got toasted as well. Then, as soon as she’d cleared that danger and was standing catching her breath at the entrance to a large stone-lined room, a frostbite spider the size of a horse descended on a silken thread that must have been as strong as a steel chain, to land on the floor in front of her.

It had not spotted her yet, and Katja froze in place – hoping her cohorts were going to finish their fire walk and get here to help her out before it did. When they arrived she dashed to the side, firing her bow, while Lydia and Anders mounted a frontal attack. “Ugh! I hate those things!” she declared. She got no argument on that subject from her teammates.

Smaller spiders also infested the room, but they were soon as dead as their mistress. Katja harvested some eggs from the spider nests scattered around the room, shuddering. Spiders’ eggs were a valuable alchemical ingredient, but reaching into those nests after them… yuck! Then they pushed ahead to a much larger (and blessedly spider-free) room ahead.

As they entered it, there was a grinding noise and four enormous carvings, stylized dragons, rose suddenly out of pools of water on either side of a central walkway. Were they about to be attacked? Katja crouched at the ready, but there was no further movement. She and her companions proceeded cautiously down the walkway, toward what appeared to be a stone altar.

This looked to Katja to be exactly the sort of spot you might find a fabulous ancient artifact displayed. But there was no sign of anything that could be mistaken for the legendary Horn. What the? Then she raised her vision slightly and spotted a piece of paper sitting on a hand-shaped pedestal. It was a note, and it was addressed “To The Dragonborn.”

Katja opened it up and read it, then reported her findings to her companions: “This says that whoever left this note took the Horn, and I’m supposed to go to the Sleeping Giant Inn in Riverwood and rent the attic room in order to learn more. What do you make of this, Anders?” “I’ve been there a few times,” he replied. “I didn’t think they had an attic, but I could be mistaken.”

Katja was fuming. All that effort, days of walking and short rations, dozens of draugr, and what did they have to show for it? A note. Bugger that! But what could be done about it? “I guess we’re going to Riverwood, then,” she said, opening a passage that led to a shortcut out of the dungeon. “But first, what do you say we go to Solitude? On the map it looks like it’s not very far from here, and I’d really like to see the Imperial City.” “The Greybeards didn’t give you a time limit,” Anders observed. “Why not? I haven’t been there in years.” As usual, Lydia’s response was “You lead and I’ll follow, my Thane.”

Chapter 15: Chasing the Horn

Katja, Anders, and Lydia were soon out of doors and heading nearly due west. They continued picking their way among scrub-covered patches of land, interspersed with pools of clear, shallow water. Katja harvested many alchemical ingredients as they went along, including swamp fungal pods and a pretty purple flower that grew a couple of feet high, with the ominous name of “Deathbell.” She wasn’t eager to sample it.

As was the case with most of the unpopulated regions of Skyrim, this area harbored a number of hostile creatures. Once again Katja was glad of her companions and their fighting ability, as they were attacked by a pale, eyeless thing that resembled a gigantic flea; a tall, humanoid creature with elongated arms tipped with razor-sharp claws; and something that looked like a hairless bear.

As they moved into an upland area away from the marsh they found another ancient Nord ruin, half-buried in a hillside. The same trident symbol that marked Ustengrav appeared on the map for this, and the name “Folgunthur.” Perhaps it was her unfamiliarity with the ancient Nord tongue, or its association in her mind with draugr in the ruins she had so far visited; but Katja found that just the name of the place gave her the shivers. She figured they could always return another time to explore, now that it was on the map; and she led the group past it without going inside.

Abruptly they emerged from amid rocks and scrubby islands to behold a major river before them, wooden ships moored at docks on the far side. Above those, an enormous granite bluff ran parallel to the shore standing hundreds of feet high, forming a natural stone archway to the right side. There, it bridged the river’s estuary where it gave out into the sea to the north. Atop the bluff, from one end to the other, rose the stone walls and towers of Solitude, seat of the Empire in Skyrim.

Katja stood there on the shore, gawking like a bumpkin who had just fallen off the turnip wagon. Nothing she had seen in her travels so far approached this. “Wow,” she said, “wow…” Anders, an amused smile playing across his lips, stepped close to throw an arm around her and kiss her on the cheek. “Close your mouth dear,” he said quietly. “You don’t want any torchbugs to fly inside it.” She gave him a half-smirk and a glare. “Just another big city, I suppose,” she said with a casual air. “Let’s get across, shall we?”

The river required a bit of swimming to cross, but Katja was in no mood to trek leagues out of their way on the off chance that there might be a bridge somewhere upstream. She removed her armor and underclothes and wrapped it in a bundle with her pack and weapons, then tied that to a driftwood log before plunging in, towing her possessions across with her. The water was damn cold, this far north.

Anders repeated her maneuver and soon joined her on the far bank, on a footpath that ran along the base of the bluff. Katja’s pale skin was bluish and horripilated, her nipples painfully erect, and she was shivering uncontrollably. Anders admired the effect, and stepped closer to enfold her in a chill embrace; but his sex was shriveled from the cold water as well, his scrotum tight. Aside from that, it was broad daylight and they were standing out in public. No time for fun and games. By the time Lydia had made her own way across, Katja and Anders were back in their clothing and armor, and ready to start up the path leading to the city gates. They left it to her to catch up with them.

The two shortly passed some extensive wooden docks, which signs told them were owned by the East Empire Company. This trading firm was Skyrim’s biggest shipper of goods, with offices in all of the major ports. A little further along the road bent to climb a steep hill, and they passed a small farmstead that appeared to offer horses for sale. Down along the riverside to the west, a sawmill could be seen. The hills north of it were heavily wooded.

Around another bend near the top of the hill, they passed through a set of gates with guard towers on either side. Katja assumed this was part of the Imperial army’s presence here, or perhaps barracks for the City Guard. After moving through this area she and Anders came to the city’s main gates, just as Lydia caught up with them.

As they entered, they realized that they’d arrived at a dramatic moment. A crowd of more than a dozen citizens were gathered in front of a stage beside the gates, where a bound prisoner stood defiant. He was flanked by a hooded headsman on one side and an official type in fancy clothing on the other, who was reading out the charges for which the prisoner had been condemned.

Katja was reminded vividly and unpleasantly of her own close encounter with an Imperial headsman, though in her case they’d been about to take her life for no crime beyond being found in the wrong company. This prisoner, called Roggvir, was apparently a city guard and had been convicted of aiding Ulfric Stormcloak’s escape by opening the gate for him after Ulfric had killed the late High King, Torygg. Roggvir insisted that Ulfric had committed no crime, as his challenge of the king had been according to hallowed Nord tradition.

It did not save him. Shortly the axe came down and Roggvir’s grisly corpse fell, headless and spurting blood, to the platform. The crowd, most of whom had been eagerly calling for the man’s death, began to disperse. Katja and her companions did likewise. She found the experience unsettling, but was soon distracted by her surroundings. What an amazing place this was, easily twice the size of Whiterun! A large stone inn stood on their left, and several shops lined the street on either side beyond it.

Katja spied the universal sign for an alchemist’s shop a few paces up the road, and led her companions inside. The place was fairly large, and packed with potions and ingredients. Moments after walking in she was greeted by the proprietress, a 60ish looking, well-kept woman who introduced herself as Angeline and welcomed them to Angeline’s Aromatics. She was not really an alchemist, she said, more of an herbalist who made perfumes; but she did have an alchemy station on the premises and Katja was free to use it.

Katja’s pack now held a far larger and more varied store of ingredients. She had been stopping to collect anything that looked likely, whether recognized or not, during their travels. Her ambition was to get good enough at this to make her own health potions, and with some experimentation she managed to make one that not only gave you back more health than the ones she’d been carrying, it increased your overall vitality for a couple of minutes. That was useful!

Some other potions, the formulae for which she stumbled across during this session, seemed less useful and a nuisance to carry around, but she had no need to – Angeline was pleased to buy everything she made that she didn’t want to keep for her own use. As Katja and her companions left the shop, she felt that she was well on her way to the skills that would someday let her craft whatever potion she could desire. Hmmm, how about a love potion, she thought to herself with amusement – though I hardly seem to need one. So far, the part of her girlish dreams that involved exciting love affairs with gorgeous, manly hunks was coming true without any assistance.

From the street outside the shop, Katja spied a smithy perched atop a tall stone wall off to the left. A long stone ramp with a switchback in it led up there, and they headed that way. The establishment proved to be standing right outside the gates to Castle Dour, the Imperial army’s Solitude fortress; and the smith, Beirand, was the official armorer for that army.

“I guess the Empire must keep you pretty busy, making weapons,” Katja remarked. “Aye,” he replied. He seemed to be content to be doing this, rather than out fighting battles. She begged the use of his facilities and improved some of the spare items she had accumulated as loot since they left the Suite. She then sold those to Beirand, lightening her load while enriching her coffers. At this rate, she thought, I’m going to need to lead a pack mule around with me.

From their vantage atop the wall, Katja gazed out over the city. “This place is huge,” she remarked to Anders. “I feel like I could spend a week here just getting to know my way around.” While she enjoyed the out-of-doors, especially in nice weather and an absence of attacking wildlife, Katja found that there was something enormously exciting and appealing about a city like Solitude. “It might be more like a month,” Anders replied. “I lived here for half a year not long after I came to Skyrim. But don’t you have to track down that Horn for the Greybeards?”

Katja sighed. “You’re right. Maybe we can come back here after all this business is done with.” Without further discussion, she pulled out her map, placed a mailed fingertip on Riverwood, and wished the three of them far to the south. It had been midday and sunny in far-north Solitude, but here in south-central Skyrim dusk was falling, as was a light rain. She was beginning to notice that fast-traveling seemed to distort time, somehow; though she had not been able to pinpoint how in a way that would let her predict the results.

The three arrived on the road just outside Riverwood, not far from Alvor’s forge though he was not to be seen. It seemed a perfect time to be heading for the inn, which was on the right at the far end of the muddy dirt road that comprised the town’s main street. It took them nearly a minute to walk there. Katja sighed again. She actually rather liked Riverwood. It was a nice little village and bigger than the one she’d grown up in, at least. Pretty countryside. But after being in Solitude, slogging through the mud toward the Sleeping Giant seemed like a big step down in the world.

Inside, Katja was pleased to see that Sven had made it back home. He was sitting at a table at the end of the room opposite the bar, and oh! That was Camilla with him. She was smiling shyly at him and hanging on his every word as he filled her ears with gallant banter. She reconsidered going over to give him a hug, and instead just threw him a smile and a slight wave as they made their way in.

A handsome blonde woman, middle-aged and with a businesslike expression, came forward to greet them as they headed in the direction of the bar. Katja remembered her from her first visit a few days ago, what was the name? Ah, Delphine. From the ration of shit she’d been giving the barman on that visit, Katja gathered that she must be the inn’s owner.

On with it. Katja stepped forward and addressed the woman, “I’d like to rent the attic room, please.” Delphine accepted her 10-septim payment, then said, “We don’t have an attic room. But you can have the one over there on the left. Follow me.” She led the way over to one of the wooden doors that lined the wall on the street side of the large building.

Katja was taken aback. The room was narrow, with barely room to walk around one side of the small bed. But at least there was a trunk and a nightstand in the room. “Meet me in the common room,” she said to Anders and Lydia. Then she removed her armor and slipped on some casual clothing she’d acquired on her travels. Katja stowed her pack and other items in the trunk, then went back into the common room and found Delphine. “I’m going to need a couple more rooms for my companions,” she said. After spending the night crammed in with Anders in that cabin bed last night she did not think she was up for a repeat performance. She gave Delphine another 20 septims, and each of her companions was shown to a similar small room.

Katja followed Anders into his and helped him with his armor. He wanted to have a little fun, and as soon as he was down to his underclothes he reached for her to give her a full-body hug and a lingering kiss, his hands stroking down her back to cup her buttocks beneath the flowing skirt of the dress she was wearing. “Mmm!” he murmured. “You look good enough to eat!” “And eat me you shall,” she replied archly. “But later. I want to see what’s going on with this Horn thing.”

They missed the hot baths available at the Suite, but were able to wash up a bit with a basin of cold water. There was even some soap to be had. Anders had a suit of casual clothing with him as well, and he looked quite fetching in it. “Damn, man, you clean up well!” she exclaimed, running her hands over his torso and gazing up into his eyes. “Definitely, definitely later.”

The pair returned to the common room and found Lydia at a table, so joined her there. She had opted to leave her armor on, all part of the housecarl service apparently. Katja was feeling reasonably flush and paid for food and ale for them all. They ate cabbage potato soup, fresh bread, and sweet rolls for dessert, all washed down with several rounds of ale. The ale had little alcohol in it, and she had no trouble keeping a clear head.

Katja and Anders conversed through the meal and for an hour or more afterward, as all the while she was keeping a sharp eye on the inn’s patrons. Come on, I rented the room. Or at least the one that was available. Where are you, Horn stealer? she thought. But nobody approached them. Lydia was mostly silent, speaking if spoken to but not volunteering any information about herself or commenting on their recent adventures.

Anders was beginning to drop a lot of hints about that promise she’d made earlier, and as it appeared that the bold interloper was not going to just walk up and give them the Horn, Katja decided that there were more enjoyable ways to spend her time before sleeping. “Perhaps you ought to get some sleep now, Lydia,” she suggested. “We’ll probably have a busy day tomorrow.” “As my Thane wishes,” Lydia replied, and set off in the direction of her room.

Katja and Anders then went to his room, which was marginally bigger than her own. “Now, where were we?” he said. Resting his hands on her shoulders, he kissed her gently but with concentration. “How does this thing come off?” he asked. “There are hooks down the front, see?” she gestured, showing him how the steel hooks were cunningly hidden under a flap of cloth. “How convenient!” He began deftly unhooking them, one by one, stooping to plant a kiss on each patch of skin as it was exposed.

When Anders had the dress unhooked to Katja’s waist, her full breasts popped out as the top of it fell away. Her underwear wouldn’t work with this outfit. He grasped them in his hands, squeezing them gently and then bending to tongue the nipples. “Ooooo!” she exclaimed involuntarily, as a thrill shot through her body and she felt her loins grow warm and moist. “Yes, I like that…”

Anders continued these ministrations for another few moments, then finished with the hooks and the entire dress spilled to the floor. Katja had not been wearing any underwear below either, and now stood there looking like a forest nymph amid a pool of green fabric. He stepped back and just stood there admiring her. “Kat, has anybody mentioned to you that you are absolutely beautiful?” “Why thank you, kind sir.” She replied in a ladylike fashion. “The subject has come up once or twice. And might I say that you look ravishing? …How’d you like to ravish me?” “I thought you’d never ask,” he leered.

Katja stooped to pick the dress up and gave it a shake, then threw it onto the top of the room’s chest of drawers. It might not be much, but it was her only presentable outfit and she’d like to keep it reasonably clean. Then she approached him and began stripping him of his shirt and trousers. He was wearing underwear, and a prominent bulge in the bottoms indicated he had risen to his task. Katja got Anders completely naked, taking his rock-hard cock in her right hand and stroking it as she stepped into his arms for another deep kiss. Then she sat down on the edge of the bed and said, “All right, kneel.”

Anders grinned at her and knelt on the small rag rug beside the bed, stroking her belly and thighs and spreading her legs as he bent his head between them. Then he applied his mouth to her quivering sex, licking deep within her folds with his tongue and using his lips to suck and squeeze as he drew out her juices. “Ooh, yes!” Katja cried in ecstasy, leaning over him to grasp his head and stroke his hair as he bent to his work. Then she let herself fall back on the bed, her mound humping up in his face, as she screamed and spasmed in orgasm.

Kat’s excitement had Anders so hard he felt like he could use his cock for a mace, and he wanted her very badly at that moment. But patience! He didn’t want to come just yet. He climbed up onto the bed beside her and they lay facing each other, his hot, rigid member rubbing into the groove of her dripping slit without penetrating it. She was almost ready to come again immediately from the stimulation as he pushed it against her clit.

“I want you inside me, now!” Katja moaned. Then taking matters into her own hands, she threw Anders over onto his back and climbed onto his stiff prick in one smooth motion. What a woman! he thought, as she engulfed him. She began riding him like a horse, bouncing up and down on his pelvis. The sight of her impaled on him like that was thrilling, her breasts jiggling up and down in a motion he found fascinating; but this wasn’t the best position for friction. He grasped her around the waist and rolled her over in the bed, so he was now on top, and began fucking her harder and faster, as she wrapped her legs around his hips and thrust up at him as he was thrusting down into her.

As Anders seemed about ready to explode, Katja stopped him. “Wait, I want you to take me from behind.” She was definitely not shy about making her desires known, and it seemed to Anders as though those desires usually coincided remarkably well with his own. He pulled out of her for a moment, his cock glistening and reddened, almost glowing in the room’s dim light. She turned over and crouched, her perfectly rounded, firm buttocks like a beacon calling him home, on either side of her slickly swollen cunt.

Anders grasped her left buttock firmly, then used his right hand to guide his throbbing cock into Kat’s gateway. Both hands squeezing her now, he began moving in and out slowly but fully, encasing his entire length inside her. Shortly his movements became faster and faster, as her cries became more frantic and his moans more urgent. They were both riding an avalanche, and it came crashing down the mountain in a cascade of searing sexual power that left them moments later, gasping and exhausted, lying flat on the bed.

“Anders, by the Divines!” Katja murmured. “That was incredible.” He didn’t quite manage anything coherent in reply. They rested entwined for a long moment, finding little to say. They were seemingly more compatible in the throes of passion than in post-coital bliss, however. At about the point where Anders felt ready to fall asleep, his darling hellcat wrapped in his arms, her brain had gone back on the alert and she was already hatching plans for her next move. Sex often seemed to energize Katja, somehow, rather than putting her to sleep. Even though her body was tired, her mind was racing with thoughts and schemes.

“I need to go back to my room, love,” Katja told him. “I have to assume that Delphine gave me the room I were supposed to have, so maybe the Horn thief will be looking for me there.” “Just so you don’t invite him to spend the night,” he quipped. She kissed him tenderly and with feeling, then gathered up her things. She was sorry to have to fasten all those hooks again just for the trip from this room to her own; but it would hardly do to be darting around the common room naked and looking very much like she’d just been laid. “Keep an ear out and come over if you hear anything,” she requested as she left.

Back in her room, Katja took the dress off again. After giving it a bit of thought, she decided to don her underwear before lying down in bed. She might indeed be attacked in her sleep. For all she knew, the Horn thief had lured her here just so he could dispose of her and claim The Dragonborn’s mantle for himself. Or whatever. She wasn’t sure how that worked, but had an idea it was something you were born with. Having the Greybeards’ magic horn wasn’t going to make somebody else The Dragonborn – or so she hoped.

As she lay down in the narrow bed and began drifting off to sleep, Katja thought back on her recent encounter with Anders. Sex with him just seemed to be getting hotter and hotter every time, rather than going stale as had been the case with most of her other lovers. Not that she had a lot of experience with real men. Back home in Pied-de-Puce, most single guys were adolescents for whom, like as not, she had been their first and only sexual contact. She’d figured out a few things on her own over the years, but none of her partners had had anything to teach her about love.

Katja was usually a sound sleeper. Her youth and active lifestyle tended to send her into a deep sleep that little could disturb. But tonight she was on edge – and when the room’s door clicked open then shut, what seemed like only a short time after she had fallen asleep, she immediately awakened in the darkness. Before she could make a move, though, a candle was lit and Delphine stood there. “So, you’re the Dragonborn I’ve been hearing so much about, eh?” she said, handing Katja a rather ordinary looking horn. “I think you’re looking for this.”

On her feet now, momentarily speechless, Katja examined the horn. It certainly didn’t look like a fabled ancient artifact. Old, certainly; but little more than a crusty ram’s horn with a slightly ornamented mouthpiece attached at the narrow end. She tucked it into her pack, and began getting into her armor. “We need to talk,” Delphine said. “Follow me.” As they emerged from the room, Katja found Anders and Lydia gathered outside the door. They all trooped across the common room and entered a large room on the opposite side.

Delphine went to a tall wardrobe. “Close the door,” she directed, and Katja closed the door to the room after her companions had entered behind her. Then Delphine released a catch and the back of the wardrobe was revealed to be a door, leading into a secret basement room beyond. They followed her down the steps and found her standing before a map that was spread out on a good-sized table.

“The Greybeards seem to think you’re The Dragonborn. I hope they’re right,” Delphine said. “Are you the one that took the horn?” Katja asked her. This woman certainly didn’t look like an adventurer. “Surprised?” she replied. “I guess I’m getting pretty good at my harmless innkeeper act.” “Well, here I am,” Katja pointed out. “What do you want with me?”

Delphine’s expression grew stern. “I didn’t go to all this trouble on a whim,” she said. “I needed to make sure it wasn’t a Thalmor trap. I’m not your enemy. I already gave you the horn. I just need you to hear me out.” “I just came here for the horn,” Katja responded. “And now you have it,” the woman replied. “No harm done. I knew the Greybeards would send you for the horn if they thought you were The Dragonborn. Taking it was the only way I could make sure this wasn’t a Thalmor trap.”

“Yes,” Katja admitted. “Talking to the Greybeards was how I first learned I was dragonborn.” “Good,” said Delphine. “And you’ll have a chance to prove it to me soon enough. Dragons aren’t just coming back, they’re coming back to life. They weren’t gone somewhere 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.”

“How do you know this?” Katja asked, puzzled. “I know they are,” Delphine averred. “I've visited their ancient burial mounds and found them empty. 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.” Oh great, thought Katja. Somebody else who has my life all planned out for me. But she knew this was a challenge she couldn’t refuse. “Then, let’s go kill a dragon,” she said shortly. Where is it?”

Delphine showed her the map, pointing out Kynesgrove, which was a small village a little south of the Stormcloak city of Windhelm. It was far to the east, but appeared to be not that far north of Fort Amol, which Katja knew she could fast-travel to. “Hold on,” she told Delphine. “I’m not ready to go yet.” She and her companions still needed to gather up their gear and lay in some supplies. “I can’t wait around for you to make up your mind,” Delphine said impatiently. “I’ll meet you at Kynesgrove. Don’t waste time getting there.” She swiftly changed into a leather outfit that made her look a lot more dangerous and competent than the country innkeeper she had first appeared. Then she headed out the door.

Katja gathered her companions, and they went back to their rooms to get packs, weapons, and other gear. She bought some traveling rations from the barkeep, then they stepped out into Riverwood as a nice-looking morning was getting underway. Katja checked the road in the direction Delphine would take to get to Kynesgrove, as the woman was apparently planning to run the whole way. She was already out of sight. But perhaps it would be Katja waiting for her to show up instead of the other way around, she thought. Then she wished them to Fort Amol.

Chapter 16: Kynesgrove

Katja, Anders, and Lydia arrived outside Fort Amol to find warm evening light bathing the hills. Surprisingly, a black-robed figure stood atop the wall ahead of them. Had they missed some of the hostile mages? Or had more of their ilk come to re-occupy the fortress? Whichever, Katja had no intention of getting into a pitched battle now, while she had someplace to go in a hurry.

Crouching and motioning to her companions, Katja led them stealthily off to the north. Not far ahead of them was a bridge over a fairly major river that ran to their left, and the main road crossed it. Knowing that Kynesgrove was on this side of the river and not wanting to go north on the other side only to find there was no other bridge, she decided they would stay on this side even though there was no road or even much of a trail.

Katja kept her bow strung and ready, creeping along quietly with all her senses alert for danger. By now, she knew only too well that the wilds of Skyrim were a much more perilous place than the settled farmlands around Pied-de-Puce. She also kept an eye out, though, for alchemical ingredients. There were several plants growing in this region she had not seen elsewhere, and she added jazbay grapes, creep cluster (an odd-looking tangle of orange colored, low-lying branches that looked almost like tree roots), and the pretty flowers of dragon’s tongue to her pack.

Full night soon fell as they picked their way north along the riverside. It was still light enough to see, though, so Katja pushed on. She really wanted to beat Delphine (whose overbearing attitude had rubbed her the wrong way) to Kynesgrove. But hazards intervened. Katja heard a loud, slow, steady thumping and, peering through the space between two rocks ahead she spotted a giant pacing across an open area directly in their path.

“Giant!” she hissed to Anders and Lydia. They all made an abrupt turn and began sneaking up the hill to the east, trying to get away from the light cast by the giant’s campfire. But it was moving steadily, and it was coming their way! Almost panicking as the huge creature approached them, Katja backed away as quickly as she could – ready to turn and dash for safety if it spotted them. It seemed to be headed somewhere that had nothing to do with them, however, and they were able to backtrack to the south a bit and then circle around to continue their progress north along the riverbank.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Katja was next put on the alert only minutes later when, walking near the water’s edge, they saw a sort of lean-to shack built up against the riverbank and heard the growling of a bear. It was making threat noises, warning them not to come closer. But where was it? Katja scanned the landscape in every direction, and there was simply no sign of a bear. Then she continued a little closer to the tiny dwelling, and the enormous shaggy beast suddenly charged from where it had been hiding – inside the shack!

Katja was taken by surprise, reeling back as she tried to get out of range of the creature’s claws and bring her bow up to shoot. She fired arrow after arrow into it, backing away all the while; but before long she found herself up against the bank and taking damage even as Anders and Lydia leaped into the fray and attacked the bear from either side.

Finally the beast “whuffed” its final breath and collapsed on the sandy shore, defeated by the combined efforts of the three companions. Katja was on her knees, gasping, with blood running down her arms where the bear’s claws had raked her. Anders was at her side in a heartbeat. “Kat!” he cried, enfolding her in his arms. “Quick, a health potion!” His command got through to her fuzzed mind where the pumping of her life’s blood onto the sand had not, and she quickly downed potions until her wounds had closed and blood loss had stopped.

“I don’t feel so good,” Katja said weakly. “I think maybe we’d better camp here until it gets light.” By now it was well into the night, and darkness was making it hard to spot danger. “Smart girl,” Anders encouraged. “Why don’t you take the bed?” He gestured to a decent-looking single bed on the near side of the shack. She more or less fell into it, letting her body’s natural resilience take over the job of restoring her to full health. Anders and Lydia bedded down on a couple of fur sleeping pads that were scattered on the floor. Beside the hearth lay the grisly, mangled remains of what Anders presumed was the shack’s former owner, long since converted to the bear’s supper.

Morning light reflected from the beach outside the shack’s open front fell on Katja’s eyelids and they fluttered open. Her brain took a moment to recall the recent events. Ugh! So late! She sprang to her feet almost before she was fully awake, realizing as she did so that the hurts of the night before were now fully healed. But she’d been so exhausted that she had fallen asleep in her armor, so she now had some new aches.

Anders and Lydia were not in sight, though their packs lay on the floor of the shack at her feet. Katja strode to the entrance and spotted them in quiet conversation a few paces down the beach. “Oh good, you’re awake!” Anders said cheerfully. “We thought we ought to let you sleep. You were really done in last night.” “Tell me about it,” she said ruefully. Then, “Let’s get going! I wanted to beat Delphine to the meeting place!”

They gathered their gear and were soon on their way, moving with less caution now that they had a good view of their surroundings. Checking the map, Katja decided it was time to cut inland. They had to sneak around another giant, though. There were so many of them, yet she had never seen any females or little ones. Did they sprout full grown from the earth, or what?

Kynesgrove soon appeared in the distance before them, seeming to be no more than an inn, a farmstead or two, and a mine. And standing out in front of the inn, putting paid to Katja’s ambitions, was Delphine. She was talking with an agitated young woman clad as an innkeeper. As Katja and her companions approached, the woman was saying, “No, you don’t want to go up there! A dragon… it’s attacking!”

Delphine was galvanized by this news, and glad to see that The Dragonborn had arrived in the nick of time. Beckoning to them she called, “Come on! Hurry, we might be too late!” and immediately ran off through light forest toward a nearby hill. As they approached a stone ring near the crest of the hill, the sky was darkened as a charcoal-colored dragon, ancient-looking and the biggest Katja had yet seen, flew over them.

It was circling near the stone ring, which Katja guessed must be the dragon burial mound Delphine had spoken of. Crouching, Delphine hissed “Stay under cover. This is what we came for. We need to see what happens.” Wrestling with disbelief, Katja watched in stunned silence as the enormous dragon called out in its deep, chilling voice. She could not understand many of the words, but one seemed to be a name: “Sahloknir.” And it sounded like he was bidding this Sahloknir to rise.

As the elder dragon peeled off again, keeping to the air, Katja’s eyes widened still more as a skeletal dragon form burst from within the confines of the mound, moving as if it were a new-hatched chick emerging from an egg. As it struggled to crawl forth, a nimbus of translucent flesh surrounded the bones. Then that nimbus began to coalesce into solid muscle and hide as the form of a green-scaled dragon appeared before them. “I am Sahloknir!” it bellowed.

Katja had an arrow flying from her bow even as Delphine cried out “Kill the dragon!” The four of them were soon attacking it from all sides, and its recent resurrector flew away – offering no aid. It put up a fierce fight, but never managed to get off the ground before they had returned it to the death it had so recently escaped. Katja approached it, bracing herself for what she knew would be coming.

The world seemed to recede in a glow as the chorus of voices only she could hear came up, the dragon’s flesh fell away in ash and smoke, and she felt a sense of exaltation as its soul was absorbed into her being. This dragon, at least, would not rise again. Delphine also approached, impressed. “So you really are… I… it’s true, isn’t it? You really are Dragonborn.” Katja just gave her a look, as the powerful surge faded and she could once again focus on other things.

“Now for the answers you promised me,” Katja said firmly. “First off, who are you and what do you want with me?” Delphine replied at length: “I'm one of the last members of the Blades. A very long time ago, the Blades were dragonslayers, and we served The Dragonborn, the greatest dragonslayer. For the last two hundred years, since the last dragonborn emperor, the Blades have been searching for a purpose. Now that dragons are coming back, our purpose is clear again. We need to stop them.”

“The Blades? Who are they?” Katja countered. Once again, Delphine was as good as her word and did not hold back the information The Dragonborn sought. “Exactly,” Delphine said with an air of frustration. “Nobody even remembers our name these days. We used to be known across Tamriel as the protectors of the Septim Emperors. Those days are long gone, though. For the last two hundred years, we've been searching for the next Dragonborn to guide and guard, as we are sworn to do. But we never found one. Until now.”

Hmm, Katja thought. These Blades, whoever they were, would likely prove a resource for her in fulfilling her destiny as The Dragonborn. She hadn’t really abandoned her intentions of finding adventure, glory, riches, and plenty of lusty lovers during her time in Skyrim; but on the other hand, it seemed as though the dragon threat was pretty serious and ought to take priority.

“What’s our next move?” Katja asked Delphine. The woman replied, “The first thing we need to do is figure out who's behind the dragons. The Thalmor are our best lead. If they aren't involved, they'll know who is.” “And what makes you think the Thalmor are the ones bringing dragons back?” Katja countered. If that massive old dragon was the one doing it, she didn’t see how a group of High Elves, however treacherous, could have arranged its aid.

Delphine answered, sounding somewhat less sure of herself. “Nothing solid. Yet. But my gut tells me it can't be anybody else. The Empire had captured Ulfric. The war was basically over. Then a dragon attacks, Ulfric escapes, and the war is back on. And now the dragons are attacking everywhere, indiscriminately. Skyrim is weakened, the Empire is weakened. Who else gains from that but the Thalmor?”

Katja still wasn’t sure about this. “Why are the Thalmor after you?” she asked. “Before the Great War, the Blades helped the Empire against the Thalmor,” Delphine responded. “Our Grand Master saw them as the greatest threat to Tamriel. At the time, that was true. Maybe it still is. So we fought them in the shadows, all across Tamriel. We thought we were more than a match for them. We were wrong.”

"So, we need to find out what the Thalmor know about the dragons. Any ideas?” Katja prompted. “If we could get into the Thalmor Embassy... it's the center of their operations in Skyrim... Problem is, that place is locked up tighter than a miser's purse. They could teach me a few things about paranoia,” Delphine replied thoughtfully. “How do we get in there, then?” Katja asked.

Delphine looked pensive as she replied, “I'm not sure yet. I have a few ideas, but I'll need some time to pull things together... Meet me back in Riverwood. If I'm not back when you get there, wait for me. I shouldn't be long. Keep an eye on the sky. This is only going to get worse.” She handed Katja a key. “This will get you into my secret room at the Sleeping Giant,” she said.

“I have a few things to do myself, so take your time. It might be awhile,” Katja told her. Then they parted ways. Katja walked a few feet away from the skeleton of the dragon, then pulled out her map. “Isn’t Windhelm the seat of Ulfric Stormcloak?” she asked Anders. “That’s right,” he replied. “It’s only a little way up this road,” she said. “I’d like to add it to my map as a fast-travel point in case we need to return this way again.”

The three of them filed back through Kynesgrove and took the road to the north. Within a few minutes they found themselves looking through falling snow at Windhelm in the near distance, a forbidding-looking stone-walled city with a broad stone bridge crossing the nearby river and leading to the main gates. Those gates towered thrice the height of a man. Where they were standing, at the crossroads of the road they had taken and another that ran along the riverside, were Windhelm Stables. Katja saw that the name had now appeared on her map, and that seemed to be good enough for the time being. She had no immediate need to visit Ulfric’s chill stronghold.

Katja touched the map again, and took them to High Hrothgar. Now that their business with Delphine the Horn Thief was concluded, it was time to return that horn. They arrived a dozen paces from the main entrance, and instantly shivered at the change from the cool forest they’d been standing in to the snow-covered, windswept promontory on which the Greybeards’ residence sat.

Chapter 17: Recognition

Katja, Anders, and Lydia hastened in the front door of High Hrothgar, and had to go searching for Arngeir. Two of his brethren were in the front hall, but they of course would not speak. Katja found him around several corners in the sprawling stone edifice, apparently worshipping at some kind of shrine. This place was huge, and looked like it would hold dozens of dedicants. But only four Greybeards yet lived, along with their master Paarthurnax (who had been mentioned as living up at the very top of the mountain). And they all seemed as if they were ready to die of old age at any moment.

Katja handed over the horn to Arngeir first thing, earning his thanks. “Follow me,” he said. “It is time for us to formally acknowledge you.” She dutifully followed him back to the main hall. “Wulfgar will now teach you the final word of the Unrelenting Force shout,” Arngeir told her. She stepped close to the incredibly wizened-looking old fellow in his dark robe, and he intoned “DAH!” As had happened with the other two words she had learned, the sound somehow entered her being and lodged there, becoming a part of her mind.

“Now, stand between us,” said Arngeir, “and we will officially welcome you as The Dragonborn.” As Katja stood in the central square of the hall, with a Graybeard before, behind and on either side, their voices filled the air with words spoken in the dragon tongue, physically shaking her without doing her any harm. Off to the side, Anders watched this exchange with tension, looking as if he stood ready to jump in and attack them if any should threaten her.

When the chanting had ceased, Arngeir announced that the ceremony was complete. “What was it that you said?” Katja asked, curious. “Ah, I forget that you do not know the dragon tongue as we do. Roughly, it is ‘Long has the Stormcrown languished, with no worthy brow to sit upon; By our breath we bestow it now to you in the name of Kyne, in the name of Shor, and in the name of Atmora of old; You are Ysmir now, the Dragon of the North, hearken to it.’”

Whoa, Katja thought. What have I gotten myself into? Before leaving, she pumped Arngeir for more information about the words of power, and though he urged her against trying to develop her powers too quickly he was willing to mark her magic map for her with the location of one of the “Word Walls” where she might acquire another one. “You will need to expend one of the dragon souls you have absorbed in order to use each new word after you learn it,” he warned. That was odd, Katja thought, since no souls had been used in activating the three words she had learned from the Greybeards. It appeared that, in her quest for more power, she was going to have to become an active dragon slayer. Maybe it would get easier with practice. She hoped so.

Katja and her companions stepped out the front doors of High Hrothgar into the chill air, and she immediately pulled the map from its resting place. “Where next, O my Dragonborn?” asked Anders lightly. He seemed to be feeling some relief that she had gotten through her business with the Greybeards so successfully. “Two words, my love. Hot. Bath!” she replied with a wicked grin.

Chapter 18: Rest and Revelation

In moments the trio found themselves standing outside the Luxury Suite. As they made their way in the front doors, Katja’s curiosity was beginning to get the better of her. She asked Anders, “What is the story with this place? Do you live here permanently? Except for when I bought supplies from Lane, nobody has ever asked me for money.” He assumed a look of great seriousness, which she did not believe for a moment. There was glee peeking out from the depths of his warm eyes. “It’s time you visited the Bride of Migal, I think,” he said.

“The who of what?” she asked, confused. “In the basement, my dear,” he responded. They trooped over to the trap door behind the bar and as they entered the long basement room Katja realized that there was a wooden door in the far end of the wall on her left. In her dazzlement at the wonderful (and apparently complimentary) crafting facilities, she had completely overlooked it. “Through there,” Anders gestured, smiling now.

The first door led to a short stone passage and a second door. Behind that, a large black stone brazier was glowing with a radiant blue light. As Katja approached a quiet female voice spoke out of the air. “I can smell your energy. I am the Bride of Migal, and you are the new owner of this place.” Seriously? Katja thought. Wow! Aloud she asked, “How do you know that?” “I know,” came the brief reply.

“Why are you here?” Katja demanded. The ethereal presence replied, “The builder put me here. The first owner.” “Who was that?” she asked. “He was Dovahkiin, like you, but now ascended,” the voice responded. “Like me?” “Yes,” came the answer. “Ysmir was Dovahkiin.” Dovahkiin, Katja thought. That’s dragon tongue for Dragonborn. “Ysmir built this place?” she asked.

The voice replied, “Before he was General Talos and before he was Tiber Septim, Ysmir built this sanctuary to meditate beneath the Mountain of the Voice. He then found me, and we made a bargain. Which is why I am here. Other owners have since made the bargain, except your ancestor Borius, who was afraid. I starved in pain during the time of Borius.”

This sounded confusing. “Can anyone make the bargain?” Katja asked her. “Only the owner can make the bargain,” was the reply. “Your man, Farquhar, knows me and although he is not afraid, he cannot make the bargain.” “What is the bargain?” Katja said, still trying to get some details. “You let me drink and I help you travel through time and space, but only with honor.” “Only with honor?” Katja echoed. “You can only travel to structures you own,” the voice explained. “I once helped Ysmir travel into the Citadel of Sancre Tor. He and his men slaughtered the mage aristocracy. I will not do it again.”

“How do I let you drink?” Katja asked, fearing the answer. The voice replied, “I drink of your energy. It sustains me. I only take what I need to survive. I will not cause you permanent harm. But, I am thirsty. It has been long since I drank, and I am diminishing. So tell me, Dovahkiin. Will you follow in the footsteps of your ancestor, Hjolti Early-Beard, and make the bargain? Or will you relegate yourself to the foot and mount, as did Borius the Coward?”

Something about what the mysterious presence said rang true, and Katja didn’t linger over her decision. “I am no coward,” she replied. “I will make the bargain.” The voice sounded more cheerful, and more energetic. “Good. I give you this book to seal the bargain. Come back to me often. I am always thirsty. Mmmm, thank you.” If the spirit’s drinking had taken much of her energy, Katja did not notice it. She found herself holding a spell tome, which she opened. As she read it it vanished, its contents becoming part of her mind in much the same way as the Shouts she had learned. Now she could return to the Suite, whenever she wanted.

But of course, with the Suite on her magic map she could do that anyhow, as long as she was out of doors and not under attack. I wonder if the spell will transport me back here when I’m locked up in a dungeon being tortured by necromancers? Katja wondered. She’d have to think of some less lethal way to test the premise. But the spell and the bargain were beside the point. This place was hers!

Katja spun to find Anders standing in the doorway, watching her with a pleased expression. She threw herself into his arms. “Anders, this is wonderful! I love this place, and it’s all mine?!” Then she peered into his face at close range. “How long have you known about this? Why didn’t you tell me?” He looked a little sheepish, but still pleased. “As soon as you said you were The Dragonborn I suspected. I’ve talked to Farquhar and I know the history. But it wasn’t until after we visited the Greybeards and they went through their ceremony that I knew it was really true. Do I need to start calling you ‘Boss’ now?” He hugged her and planted a kiss on one cheek.

“Boss?” Katja asked, giving him a questioning look. “Yeah,” he replied, “I’m actually an employee of the Suite. Lane, Wyll, Farquhar and all the rest, we were hired by the Trust. We get to live here and we assist the customers with whatever they need, pick up work as questing companions, and so forth.” A horrible suspicion forming in her mind, she frowned at him. “You mean you’re a gigolo?!” she asked frostily.

“Oh! No Baby, it’s not like that. You and me, that’s entirely on my own time. Well, not the part about following you around, taking orders, and helping you kill dragons. That’s part of my job description. But making love with you has nothing to do with any of that. I love you.” He gave her his best look, which damn near melted Katja into a puddle on the spot. But she was irked to discover he had not been entirely forthcoming with her. How much intimacy did they really have, if he was hiding secrets like that?

Lydia, meanwhile, was standing out beyond the first door, in the crafting area. She appeared to be trying to give the impression that she had not been listening, though Katja didn’t doubt she had heard everything. “Since I’m the boss around here, I guess I can give the orders. How’d you like to make this place your new home, Lydia?” “I would be honored, my Thane,” Lydia replied with her usual lack of affect. “Good. You can take some time off, now. I won’t be needing you as a battle companion for a while.” “I’ll be here if you need me,” Lydia replied and walked off.

“And you,” Katja said turning to Anders, “look like you could use a bath. We both could, for that matter.” “How can I argue with that?” he grinned. It was hard to stay mad at him, and she still felt powerfully drawn to him despite the betrayal. But he had dented if not broken the trust between them, and she felt as if she wanted to get a little distance.

Katja stopped for a chat with Lane after they emerged from the basement. “Are there any profits?” she asked. He handed her a few coins. “Oh, and could you please ask everyone not to sleep in the Suite’s master bed? That’s going to be my bed while I’m here. For me and whoever I ask to join me in it,” she added. She glanced meaningfully at Anders. He looked a bit pained. She was pretty sure his feelings for her were sincere. But let him suffer for a while. He deserved some payback for keeping her in the dark. Though she felt far older than her 22 years, there were times when it seemed to Katja as if those who were older and wiser were playing her, taking advantage of her youth and naiveté.

They clumped up the stairs, and Katja dropped her pack in the trunk beside the master bed. Then she stepped forward to Anders, and helped him get his armor unstrapped. He reached for her as her clothes came off, but she sidestepped him. “Later for that, Sweetheart,” she said. She was still mad at him. They put on robes and went down to the hot pool in the middle of the Suite’s main floor area.

Katja slumped down so that the water came up to her chin, and gave a long, peaceful sigh. Closing her eyes, she sat there trying to sort out her emotions. This place was all hers! That was the most wonderful news she had heard since coming to Skyrim, and it seemed like a huge compensation for the responsibilities that had been heaped on her since she’d been revealed as The Dragonborn. That was all for the good.

As for Anders? She still felt a powerful connection to him, and one of the reasons she had her eyes closed was so she wouldn’t see him sitting there in all his butterscotch-skinned glory and be tempted to jump his bones on the spot. She needed time to heal, to get over the wound he had caused her when he admitted that their relationship had not begun quite as she had believed. She’d thought she had found a handsome chance-met stranger, and all the while meeting her had been part of his job description.

In any case, there were plenty of other good-looking guys around. Aside from the employees, the Suite seemed to be a big draw. Men from all over the province could be found here relaxing au naturel in the bathing pools or dancing to the house music. A girl who was not tied down to one guy could have some serious fun here. Katja opened her eyes and looked around. There weren’t that many people in the Suite just at the moment, but the afternoon was young. She made a mental note to have a chat with that blond hunk she’d spotted a few times before. He was probably one of Anders’ coworkers, since he always seemed to be around.

Katja caught Anders gazing at her, and asked him, “So I suppose you just stay around here when you’re not on a companion assignment? “Uh huh.” “Good. I’d like you to stay here while I go into Whiterun. I’ll be back later this evening.” She darted up out of the pool and grabbed a towel, gave him a fleeting smile as she headed upstairs to get dressed. He sat there looking uncertain and a bit forlorn. Good, she thought.

Katja did have some decent garb that wasn’t made out of steel in her trunk, and she put on a pair of close-fitting soft breeches with tall leather boots, a linen shirt with full sleeves gathered at the wrists, and a snugly-laced brocade short vest. Just for fun she added a rakish velvet cap. She checked herself out in the master bedroom’s mirror as she shouldered her pack and headed out. Not bad, Dovahkiin, she thought. During her travels she’d had little opportunity to explore this very feminine side of her nature, and for weeks recently her deepest concern in choosing an outfit had been how good it would be at stopping arrows, swords, and maces.

Katja had a pack full of weapons but only a steel dagger at her waist, and though the short road between here and Whiterun was fairly civilized you never could tell where or by what you might be attacked, in Skyrim. And she certainly was not armored. So she used the magic map to make the short hop into town, and found herself seconds later standing just inside the city’s main gates.

On her previous visits Katja had barely had time to do any daylight exploration, and she now eagerly set out to make up for that omission. She started with Warmaiden’s, the armorer’s shop with a smelter, forge, and crafting stations immediately to the right of the main gates. There was also a good-sized store. Katja spent some time chatting with the “Warmaiden” herself, a youngish Imperial woman by the name of Adrianne Avenicci. She was the daughter of the Jarl’s steward Proventus, Katja learned, and while they were talking Adrianne asked if she could deliver a sword she’d just crafted to her father up at Dragonsreach. It was to be presented as a gift to Jarl Balgruuf.

Katja agreed with a smile, eager to build up some good relationships with the local merchants. If the Suite were to be her new home, this would likely be her local trading area for anything Lane could not supply. After using Adrianne’s smithing facilities to improve some of the items in her pack, Katja headed inside the store. “Ooh, there’s a fine specimen,” she thought as she stepped in and saw an enormous, black-bearded man in full armor standing behind the counter.

He was Ulfberth Warbear, Katja learned, and she was definitely adding him to her list of local good-looking guys she wouldn’t mind getting into bed with. But in the course of their bartering session, it came out that he was married to Adrianne. Katja might be loose with her affections, but she had a personal rule against poaching on another woman’s preserve. This did not include “interest” or “courting”; but marriage was the kicker. For one thing, this policy kept enmities down to a minimum – and she would prefer to make a friend of Adrianne Avenicci.

After finishing at Warmaiden’s Katja continued on up the main street, in the direction of the Bannered Mare, and stopped off at a general store called Belethor’s. Belethor proved to be a Breton in early middle age, tall and good-looking; but his personality was so abrasive that she quickly dismissed any thoughts of romance. “Everything’s for sale!” he declared bombastically. “I’d even sell you my sister, if I had one.”

“No thanks,” Katja replied. “What else have you got for sale?” This was a lead-in to her offering items of her own for him to purchase. It annoyed her that her bartering skills were still so inadequate that she could have sold an item for 20 gold that would cost her 45 to buy back. But she’d picked up an Amulet of Dibella, the goddess of love and beauty, and it magically improved her abilities in speechcraft. This included bargaining as well as persuading people to her way of thinking or, perhaps, getting them into bed. Not that she’d had a lot of difficulty with that last thing so far in her life.

Nothing for it but to practice, Katja thought. So she continued her bartering session until she had sold off her entire supply of extra trinkets, jewelry, clothing, etc. Feeling some remorse for having been so harsh with Anders, she succumbed to temptation and bought him a fine suit of clothing. “Come back anytime!” Belethor called in his grating voice, as she swept out the door and headed for the alchemy shop to the right of it.

This shop, called Arcadia’s Cauldron, appeared smaller than Angeline’s Aromatics in Solitude but still reasonably spacious and well-stocked. The proprietress, Arcadia, proved to be a rather scrawny middle-aged woman, plain of face. She peered at Katja as she entered the shop and said, “You look rather pale. Could be Ataxia. It’s quite a problem back in Cyrodiil.” So, the woman was an Imperial. Katja had downed a Potion of Cure Disease on her way up here from Warmaiden’s, in fact, as she had been feeling a little off-color. So she was quite sure Arcadia either didn’t know what she was talking about – or was intentionally misleading her into buying a cure.

Nonetheless, this was another of the people in town Katja needed to develop a good working relationship with. She asked Arcadia friendly questions about her shop and the area, and even paid her for some lessons. With her newly improved skills, Katja then used the shop’s alchemy station to craft some more potions – including a couple of spare ones to cure disease. Not only would it cure whatever infection you might be harboring, it would also cleanse the body of poison.

Katja made a few potions she didn’t need again, whatever was easy to make with the ingredients on hand. Every trip she took seemed to yield new ingredients for her to experiment with. Selling these off, she then took her leave of Arcadia. “I’ll be back to visit again soon,” she promised. She walked out the front door of the shop and into the market square, where 3 or 4 booths were set up. Katja stopped and talked with the vendors, making idle conversation while taking note of what was for sale. On one side of the square, a group of Nords appeared to be in an acrimonious discussion of some sort, but she didn’t linger to eavesdrop.

As Katja was climbing the steps to the plaza that was shaded by the Gildergreen, one of the Whiterun City Guards she passed spoke to her: “I used to be an adventurer like you,” he complained. “But then I took an arrow in the knee.” She eyed him curiously. Had he never heard of healing potions? She’d been skewered by arrows, slashed by swords, bashed with maces, and savaged by wild beasts during her time in Skyrim so far, and there was scarcely a mark on her.

Continuing on her way, Katja cast a glance up to her right. The Companions’ handsome mead hall, Jorrvaskr, overlooked the plaza from another long flight of steps. She was tempted to go up there, but decided she did not need to get involved with more people wanting her to do things for them right now. With Delphine’s plots against the Thalmor and the quest to find more Shouts, she felt she had more than enough to do. Well, almost more. The ongoing efforts to stop Alduin from bringing back the dragons were crucial, but spending all her time on those quests left Katja without much of an income stream.

Katja headed straight and slightly to the left, and mounted the series of staircases leading to Dragonsreach. Once there, she collared Proventus Avenicci. “Adrianne asked me to give this to you” she said, handing over the fancy sword. “She said you’d know the best time to present it to the Jarl.” “Thank you,” he replied. “You have provided great service to the hold.” Katja didn’t think acting as delivery girl for a sword, however impressive, qualified as “great service.” But there was that whole dragon-slaying thing.

“I’m looking for work,” Katja told him. She thought it might be nice to have a few relatively small, easy tasks to perform, preferably ones not that far from home. “Let me see your map,” he replied smiling. “Here, I’ve marked down the location. We would greatly appreciate it if you could kill the leader of the bandits that are infesting this ruined fortress and killing travelers.” “Sure thing,” she replied breezily, and left him with a smile.

After exiting the hall Katja paused at the top of the steps outside Dragonsreach. The location commanded a marvelous view of the city below and the countryside around it. You could even see the Suite from here. Her mood was improving by the minute, and her annoyance at Anders was starting to recede. She fast-traveled down to the Suite, imagining she was an eagle soaring down there in one long glide.

Evening was coming on, and when Katja walked in she found Anders sitting at one of the mezzanine tables with that very same blond hunk she’d noticed earlier. She came over and joined them, pulling over a chair from a neighboring table. “Introduce me to your friend, Anders” she said with a winning smile. He smiled back at her. “Katja, this is Wyll.”

On closer inspection, Wyll was not just a hunk. He was gorgeous beyond belief. Taller and broader than Anders, with a classic Nord complexion and blond hair hanging to shoulder length, he had blue eyes that looked at her with a twinkling warmth as he said, “Wyll Jarskarvir. Glad to meet you, Katja.” He had a short-cropped blond beard and chiseled features that still managed to look friendly, and he appeared to be closer to her own age than to Anders’.

Turning to Anders, Wyll said, “You dog! Where have you been hiding this one?” “Katja is The Dragonborn, Wyll…” “The…! By Ysmir, why didn’t you tell me?” he said, giving her a more thorough inspection. “We only just found out before we got back from our last trip,” Anders replied. Wyll thought that over before saying, “I’m at your service, Dragonborn.”

Katja could think of a service or two he might perform. But for now, they were just comrades enjoying an evening in a pleasant inn. “Lane!” she called to the innkeeper as she spotted him passing on the floor below. He hurried over. “Yes, Dragonborn. How may I serve you?” “Please, call me Katja,” she said. Damned if she was going to have every guy in the place treating her like she was royalty. “We’d like wine here, please bring a couple of bottles to start. And whatever’s good in the kitchen. Thanks.” He said “coming right up,” and scurried off to fulfill her order.

Katja was unused to drinking anything stronger than ale, and by the time they had finished their meal and the second bottle of wine she was feeling quite celebratory. After all, she had just achieved some of the fame and fortune she’d been looking for. And here she was in her wonderful inn, seated between two of the finest-looking men in Tamriel.

They ate and drank and bantered the evening away. Katja shared simmering glances with Anders, letting him know he was mostly forgiven. And cast many an admiring glance at Wyll, as well. He seemed made in the mold of some god, or a hero from legends. And he was great company, too. When Lane surprised her by producing a lute and bursting into song, Wyll got up and, raising his tankard, moving to the music. Anders just sat there, but Katja got up and she, along with Wyll and several others of the Suite’s inhabitants, danced and sang along.

What fun! Katja felt as if she hadn’t a care in the world. Or at least as if all of her cares had taken a short vacation and had no power to bother her for this one night. Ribald laughter filled the air and there was an atmosphere of merriment throughout the Suite, helped along by Katja’s insistence that tonight, all patrons drank free.

But the evening grew late, and finally Wyll got up and stretched. “I think I’d better turn in now,” he yawned. Anders said “Goodnight, friend!” with regret in his voice, though deep inside he was thinking finally I have her alone. As Wyll made his way toward the stairs Katja bobbed up out of her seat and trotted over to catch him. Standing on tiptoe and urging him to bend to hear her, she spoke a few words to him, too quietly to be heard. He stood and nodded, saying “All right, see you then,” and continuing his passage toward the sleeping loft while Katja returned to Anders’ side.

Anders eyed her thoughtfully but, mindful that he was still in the doghouse, he did not query her about her actions. “It’s just you and me now, love,” Katja said coquettishly, smiling and perhaps the tiniest bit bleary-eyed. “You never said – do you like my outfit?” She whirled before him, showing off the snug fit of the breeches and the glistening knee-length boots. He grinned, feeling pretty mellow himself. “It’s very appealing, love,” he replied. “And so are you.”

“Oh! Do you think so?” She plopped herself down in his lap, throwing her arms around his neck and kissing him in the general vicinity of his ear. “Feel how soft the fabric is!” He obligingly ran his hands down her hips, stroking the velvety material of the breeches and her firm buttocks beneath. Then he squeezed them, and claimed her mouth for a deep kiss. “Kat…” he said, coming up for air. “I’m sorry about… you know…” “Don’t worry about it love,” she replied. “It just threw me for a loop is all. But I still love you.” She found herself able to say the words blithely, as long as she didn’t really, completely mean them.

They sat there necking openly at the table in the midst of the Suite, which was emptying out as the hour grew later. Lane was still at the bar, though, and through her haze of wine and sexual arousal Katja concluded that, fun as it might be to have Anders fuck her right here on the table, it would be more appropriate for them to go to bed.

Katja hopped down from Anders’ lap and stood. “Oh, I’m tipsy!” she declared. “Carry me upstairs!” She was perfectly capable of walking up there on her own two feet, but found it enjoyable, instead, to be scooped up in Anders’ arms like a small child (oh, those strong arms) and carried aloft. After negotiating the stairs he demonstrated that he wasn’t all that drunk, as he managed to carry her down the length of the gallery to the master bedroom at the back, all the while covering her mouth with hungry kisses.

Furthermore, Katja could feel that his cock was as big and hard as ever. The alcohol they’d drunk might have loosened their mood, but it was not interfering with his sexual prowess. Rather than laying her down on the bed Anders stood her on her feet at the bedside, then began gently removing her vest and shirt. Next, he beckoned her to sit on the bed so he could pull her boots off, followed by her pants. As he’d suspected, she was not wearing any underwear. Anders assisted her back to her feet and she stood there naked as the day she was born, pink of skin and sparkling of eye, grinning wickedly at him.

“Now you,” Katja said, reaching up. “Hold still.” After their bath earlier today Anders had put on simple tunic and trousers, and like her he was not wearing any underwear. It didn’t take her long to strip him completely. She stepped back, taking him in. By the Nine, he was so beautiful! From his blond-streaked hair and warm brown eyes, to the rippling musculature of his torso, arms and legs beneath that smooth butterscotch skin, his buttocks rock-hard and powerful, his cock ditto.

“And untrustworthy,” a tiny voice niggled in the back of Katja’s mind. “Shut the fuck up,” she replied to it. “He’s sure as hell mine right this minute.” Aloud she said, “I’ll be in charge here. Just stand back and enjoy yourself.” She knelt before him and took his cock in her mouth, unable to engulf very much of it but at least able to wrap her lips around the head and a little of the shaft as she sucked and licked him into slippery, quivering readiness.

Katja was soaking wet herself, excited by the wine and the stimulation of having spent the evening carousing with two such exceptionally fine specimens of the male sex. Now, in a move that caused Anders to gasp with surprise, she stood and threw her left leg up to rest on his left shoulder, impaling her cunt, thus opened wide, on his rigid member. By flexing her right knee, she was able to slide herself up and down his shaft, at the same time twisting her torso around so that she could look him in the eyes.

Anders moaned, excited beyond belief by her unexpectedly athletic move and the sensations it was causing as his stiff cock was swallowed to its full length within her, then slowly released. Holy Divines! he thought. This woman is incredible! Katja was enjoying this a lot, and it felt marvelous. But it was also a lot of work, and she was beginning to feel a bit lazy. As her scrutiny of his face told her he was approaching the edge, she unhooked her ankle from his shoulder and then slipped off of him.

“Now,” Katja said softly, pulling him toward the bed. “Make love to me, Anders.” Her wish was his command. They reclined together on the bed, face to face, and he looked deep into her eyes while sliding his reddened and glistening cock back home. Then kissing her face, lips, eyelids, neck, shoulders, and breasts, he used that cock like a maestro’s baton, conducting a symphony of sensations within her until they reached a crescendo of frenzied pumping that left them both pooled on the bed as if their bones had turned to jelly.

After that powerful orgasm, Katja for once did not find herself full of thoughts and plans. The wine had begun to make her drowsy, and she drifted, safe in her lover’s arms, into a deep and peaceful sleep.

Chapter 19: Wyll

Katja awoke feeling a slight headache and a terrific thirst. There was a pitcher of water on the bedside table, and she sat up to drink a few swallows and rinse out her mouth, which tasted as though a very small dragon had crawled inside there and died. Anders was oblivious to this, but as she lay back down and snuggled her naked body against his he awoke.

Anders snaked an arm around her neck and drew him to her for a kiss, making her realize that he could use some water too. Katja pulled away from him a little, and looked into his eyes as he became more alert. “Good morning, Sweetheart,” she murmured. “Did you sleep well?” “Great,” he replied sleepily. “Could do it some more, though.”

“You can go back to sleep if you want, love,” Katja told him. “I need to get dressed and go kill some bandits.” “Alone?” he asked, looking concerned. “No of course not, dear. My battle skills are improving, but I still need help. I’m taking Wyll along to see how he’ll work out as a questing companion.” “Wyll?” Anders’s voice sounded a little disappointed and uneasy. “Don’t worry, we’ll be fine. He’s pretty good with edged weapons and I bought some spell tomes yesterday. We’ll be back in a day or two. I’m The Dragonborn – what could go wrong?”

“It’s not the bandits I’m worried about, love,” he replied. “It’s, uh…” he trailed off. “Anders Lanya,” Katja replied with an edge of steel in her voice, “there’s something we need to get straight between us. And no, it’s not that,” she nearly giggled, nudging his turgid cock as it rose to graze her belly. “I love you. But I don’t belong to you, or to anybody but myself. If you want to be with me, you’re going to have to take me as I am.” Anders’ eyebrows knit at this, but he was a big boy. “Kat, I love you,” he said. “I’ll take you however you will let me have you.” He kissed her deeply, then propped himself up on one elbow to watch as she got out of bed and donned her underclothes.

Anders climbed out, then, to lend Katja a hand getting into her armor. Before she picked up her pack, he enfolded her in a tender embrace. Not a very tight one, considering he was still naked and she was wearing armor. “Take care, love. I’ll be waiting for you,” he said softly. Her heart quivered a little as she bid him farewell, and she felt a deep surge of love for him warring with her slight hangover.

Downstairs, Katja found Wyll sitting fully armored, having some breakfast as he waited for them to leave. That seemed like a good idea, so she joined him in consuming some bread rolls and apples, washed down with hot herbal tea. By the time they finished, her headache was almost completely gone, and she was ready to get businesslike.

“Show me what you’ve got, Wyll,” Katja commanded. He grinned at her and made as if to unfasten the bottom half of his armor. “Not that,” she said grinning back. “I’ve seen that.” She had, sort of, spotting him in the bathing pool two or three times since coming to the Suite. She had an idea from its flaccid size it must be something to behold when rampant. But that was not the topic of discussion.

Wyll displayed his weapons and armor. He was carrying an indifferent steel sword and a simple longbow but no arrows, and was dressed in hide. This would not do. Katja led him down to the basement crafting area and before long had crafted some items, then improved them, so that he was now dressed in steel armor with twice the protection of the hide, carrying a fine recurve hunting bow and 50 steel-tipped arrows, and wielding a gleaming, wicked-looking steel battleaxe. If anybody could handle such a weapon with ease, it was Wyll Jarskarvir. His shoulders were as wide as the trunk of the Gildergreen, and his arms looked almost like tree trunks themselves.

Katja and Wyll arrived at the bandit stronghold some hours later. She hadn’t been up this way on foot before, and it had taken a long while to reach it. She’d been trying to maintain a professional attitude on this trip, so far. Her motivations for taking it included the need for some cash, the desire for a bit of exercise, a wish to make Anders realize that she was not his property – and a sharp attraction to the blond giant walking beside her. Looking at Wyll standing there with his golden good looks, chiseled features, and warm blue eyes sent a tingle through her that started in her crotch and radiated up through her midsection to her fingertips.

As the pair sneaked up to the gates of the partially ruined fortress where the bandits made their lair, they soon found themselves being fired upon by half a dozen archers. Katja was pleased to see that Wyll knew what to do with the bow she’d given him, as they dropped around half the enemy force while moving closer. When they were nearer to the main gates he bellowed, “I’ll see you dead!” in his deep Nord voice, and charged toward the fortification.

Katja was moving quickly too, still using her bow. With the Fire Damage enchantment she’d placed on it, it packed quite a punch. She and Wyll quickly climbed steps onto the walls and tracked their enemies, killing them as they found them. After searching the bodies and gathering quite a few gold pieces as well as other loot, Katja led the way to an inconspicuous wooden door that appeared to be the entry to the interior of the fortress.

Wyll stayed behind Katja, wielding the battleaxe she had crafted for him. From time to time as they crept through the ruinous stone passageways they would encounter a bandit or two, chewing the fat by a fireplace or working a forge. For bandits, they led quiet lives little different from those of a miller or seamstress, when they were not out killing travelers for their gold. The pair quickly killed each one, searching the corpses and then moving on, deeper into the labyrinth.

Eventually they emerged at a large dining hall, where an Orc, a Redguard woman, and a Nord sat at table along with their heavily armored chief. The Orc, the Nord, and the bandit chief rushed toward them with swords drawn while the woman pulled out a bow and began firing arrows at them. Katja and Wyll’s armor was superior by far to the hide worn by the bandits, but the chief’s steel was a match for theirs.

Katja sent the woman archer to oblivion with a well-placed shot, then switched to her heavy Dwarven shield and steel mace for close combat. Meanwhile Wyll was a demon, slashing right and left and cursing them in his deep voice as he moved like a golden whirlwind among their foes. Finally only the bandit chief remained standing, and with both Katja and Wyll attacking him he soon fell to his knees. “You have defeated me! I yield!” he cried, but they knew better than to accept surrender from an opponent that was still holding a greatsword. Sure enough, in moments, the bandit was on his feet again. And they cut him down for good.

Katja let her mace fall to her side, blood running down the blades, quivering slightly inside from the adrenaline surge. She had taken a few cuts despite her armor, and was feeling a bit weak; so she downed a health potion that restored her in moments. The surge of wellbeing from the potion accentuated the other side effect of a hard-fought battle for her: her blood was up, and she felt ravenous for both food and sex. This, she thought, was a great break from the pressures she’d been feeling since her status as Dragonborn had become known.

Wyll stood there breathing deeply, his face returned to its usual expression of calm happiness from the ferocity it had assumed in the midst of battle. He, too, had a few scrapes and cuts. “Oh! You’re bleeding!” Katja said, and stepped closer to him. He was glistening with perspiration and the scent of blood and testosterone permeated the air. She put a finger to his brow and wiped away a splash of blood, tasted it. Orc. She’d slain a few Orcs in the past, and knew the coppery taste well. So, Wyll was in no immediate danger.

“Let’s go find someplace warmer,” Katja said, and led Wyll around another couple of bends and up a flight of stairs. As she had expected from previous visits to this type of partly ruinous fortifications, the bandit chief had resided in a comfortable apartment near the tower top, with a spacious bed and a private fireplace, chairs and a small table laden with fresh bread, cheese, and ale. There was also a basin and a ewer of fresh water, with some small linen towels.

Katja removed her gauntlets. “OK, let me have a look.” She reached up – way up, to unbuckle the top half of Wyll’s armor and set it on the floor in a corner. Pouring some water into the basin and dipping a towel in it, she began to inspect his massively muscled torso, arms, and shoulders for injuries, dabbing away blood and grime gently with the towel. His chest and rippled midsection were lightly dusted with pale golden hairs, glinting in the firelight. As Katja worked on his chest his nipples stiffened, and he tensed with a barely audible, sharp intake of breath. She looked up into his face with concern, afraid she might have hurt him; but he was smiling slightly. “Kat,” he said quietly and gruffly, “I want you.”

The pupils of Katja’s dark sea-gray eyes dilated as she gazed into his. He stood there nude to the waist, a healthy young male animal in his prime, radiating desire. And she responded to that desire. He bent to kiss her gently, then removed the top section of her armor for her. She reached down and pulled her undershirt up over her head, her breasts falling free. He clasped her to him, his tongue finding its way inside her mouth.

They stepped apart for the moments it took to shed the rest of their armor and underclothes. Wyll gazed at her with excitement, taking her in. Her slim and muscular midsection and flat belly flowed into curving hips and smooth but muscular legs, flanking a pubic bush as ruddy as the long silken hair on her head. He had seen her, too, in the bathing pool at the Suite; but this was his first close-up look and the excitement was like a blazing fire within him.

Katja was doing some avid gazing of her own. By the Divines, he was so big! His monster cock stood erect amid a nest of tightly curled pale gold hair, quivering with eagerness. She reached out and squeezed it, and it pulsed in her hand like a python. There was an enchanting table in a corner of the room, and Wyll picked her up by the buttocks, clasping her to his chest, and carried her over to perch on it. Then, without any further discussion, he pushed that enormous ramrod into her tight, glistening folds. Their coupling was brief and savage, both of them in the grip of a frenzy that brushed aside all concerns but the desire for each other, right now. When both of them were spent, they clung together for a few moments, panting and grinning. Wow!

The initial overwhelming hunger satiated, their thoughts turned to other needs. Katja threw on a robe from her pack and Wyll donned an embroidered tunic he found in one of the bandit chief’s chests. It was a bit tight on him and only came down to a few inches below the crotch; but it would do for now. They sat at the table in front of the fire and demolished the bandit chief’s repast. There was a cookpot beside the fire, and Katja got up and prepared some more substantial fare for them out of her pack. Then they sat, just enjoying the fire’s warmth for a while.

Instead of traveling back to the Luxury Suite, Katja and Wyll decided to enjoy the dead bandits’ hospitality for the night. They stripped off and climbed into the big bed, where they soon began stroking and kissing. Before sleeping they made love for an hour or more – frontwards, backwards, and every way in between. His enormous strength and stamina were awesome, especially considering how many bandits he’d killed this afternoon.

Hours later, Katja stirred. She’d been sleeping with her head on Wyll’s shoulder, curled into the warmth of his body. Faintly, she could hear the sounds of birdsong coming through from outside, telling her that morning had arrived. As she made to sit up he reached out with his massive arms and clasped her to his chest, his cock beginning to harden. Wyll’s first conscious thought had been memories of their passion of the night before, and he was hungry for more.

Mmmm, Katja thought. Tempting. But she was feeling a bit sore after last night, and besides she needed to find a chamber pot. “Noooo!” he moaned piteously as she slipped from his grasp. “Come back! I have something for you!” She smiled winningly but continued her nude dart to the privy. Returning, she threw on her robe. Breakfast, she thought, then time to get going. But Wyll was lying there on the bed, his throbbing cock standing to attention. “Pleeeaase, Kat! I need you!”

Well… “Sit up,” she commanded. He sat and put his feet on the floor. Katja knelt at the side of the bed, her bare knees protected by a small but elegant carpet, and took him in her mouth. Or tried to. His member was so massive that, try as she might, she could not wrap her mouth around much of it. She applied her tongue and lips mostly to the swollen head and gripped the shaft in both hands, squeezing firmly up and down it. Wyll shuddered in ecstasy, toes curling and powerful legs flexing, a hand cupping Kat’s head as she bent to her work. Before long she was licking off her chin. Breakfast? of a sort, perhaps.

Shortly thereafter the two had donned their armor again and were on their way. It had been Katja’s intention to take Wyll out for a couple of days, to see how they worked together as battle companions (and yes, she admitted, to see whether their clear mutual attraction would lead to something interesting). She’d completed the quest Proventus had assigned her, and didn’t have another one lined up. But they were in unfamiliar territory, and the weather was fine. Katja figured if they just started walking down the road, she could add some points of interest to her map and probably rustle up a little exercise for them to while away the remainder of the day. Plus, of course, get some loot.

Katja’s recent acquisition of the Luxury Suite meant she never had to worry about having a roof over her head and food in her belly again; but the lure of more and better enchanted weapons, exotic armors, gold and gems kept her coming back to these dungeons and bandit dens. Given her choice, though, Katja thought she’d rather go after bandits than draugr any day. Draugr were just so… creepy.

They set off down the road in the general direction of Whiterun, Wyll staying a little behind her to guard her back as a companion should. For not even the most idyllic of days in Skyrim’s wildlands is free from peril. They were soon forced to scramble to kill an attacking bear, then again for a pair of saber cats. In between emergencies, Katja strode along admiring the scenery and musing about her love life. She missed Anders’ company, but she was also beginning to fall in love with Wyll. His sexuality was so strong, so magnetic that she could almost feel it pulsing at her from several feet away as he walked behind her.

Katja’s preference was for a simple life: plenty of action, clear-cut causes, good food, hard beds, cheap wine, and the sweetness of being swept away by overwhelming desire. No long philosophical discussions, moral conundrums, or complex problems to solve (if you didn’t count the occasional puzzles to be found deep in some of the dungeons she’d quested in). Even the recent revelation of her Dragonborn status was unambiguous. So a complication in her relationships was not something she’d thought to encounter.

Anders was smart, stalwart, ever-reliable, valiant and skilled with spell and sword. As a lover he was increasingly familiar yet exciting and skillful, and warmed her to the core. Wyll on the other hand was a force of nature: so physical, a golden giant who could lie sleeping like a huge, lazy cat or erupt into action – or passion – like a volcano at a moment’s notice. As the warm sunshine beat down on her armor, Katja concluded that there was no need to choose between them. At least, not anytime soon.

Unknown to Katja, as he walked behind her Wyll was thinking about much the same subject – but from his own perspective. He’d wanted this woman from the moment he first set eyes on her, but she was with his friend and he hadn’t wanted to intrude. Now, it seemed, she had declared herself free to choose who she took to her bed – and Anders wasn’t raising any objections. And once Wyll had had her in his arms, he was finding it hard to concentrate on anything else. It was if she possessed some magical hold over him, though they’d barely spent more than a few hours together. He simply didn’t know what to make of it, but he hoped she’d be back in his arms again before too long.

They stopped briefly at midday, tossing some fur sleeping mats down at the side of the road near a small meandering stream, and lunched on bread, cheese, and ale from their packs. Wyll was looking at her with hunger again, and Katja was feeling a little regretful that she’d turned him down when they got up this morning. But as appealing as the idea of making love in the grass at the roadside might be, she felt it was too hazardous. So they kept their armor on, and were soon on their way once more.

Eventually they followed a small side trail that led up off the road into a lightly wooded area, and discovered an ominous-looking ruined keep. This place had a less healthy feel than the bandit lair where they’d started their day. Wyll, like Anders, proved to have far more knowledge of Skyrim and its hazards than Katja did as yet. The two friends had been working as sellswords for years. “Looks like vampires,” he remarked quietly. “Are you up for it?” “Blood-sucking fiends?” Katja responded lightly. “No problem.”

She and Wyll crept into the keep through the front entrance, having arrived in daylight when no vampires were to be found in the outer bailey. Wyll held his deadly axe while Katja had her fire damage bow at the ready. Vampires, like certain other creatures, are particularly susceptible to fire. Inside they found the place gruesome, awash with bloodstains – dismembered corpses lying here and there. The vampires did not seem to enjoy each other’s company, and they found several alone – easy meat for the deadly pair of adventurers.

Deep within the labyrinthine keep they came upon a throne room where the Master Vampire sat a wooden throne, and they dispatched him with blade and bow. Katja and Wyll were exultant as he fell at their feet, the last of the blood-sucking crew. But the somber setting made them both anxious to leave. The corpses of the vampires they’d slain had yielded relatively little treasure. A few knives, some vampire dust, and a couple of gems were all they had to show for their foray – other than the satisfaction of having defeated their enemies.

Finding a secret door that led back to the anteroom near the entrance, Katja and Wyll were soon once again in the clean air of Skyrim; though during their time spent hunting vampires night had fallen. A good thing all of them were now dead twice over. “Honey,” Katja said, “What do you say we head back to the Suite?” She was feeling tired and oppressed after wading through blood the past few hours. “Sure, why not?” he replied. He was hoping that in the clean, safe environs of the Suite, he might soon get her back in the mood for love.

Chapter 20: A Love Triangle, or Just Love?

Katja used her magic map, and in a few moments she and Wyll were standing outside the Luxury Suite once again. Home sweet home! Right now she felt deeply in need of a soak, and shortly after getting in the front door she stripped down and went into the hot central bathing pool for a dip. Wyll stripped and joined her, but he was not the only gorgeous naked stud sharing the water with her. There were a couple of hunky Elves, as well as several beautiful, voluptuous young women. Evidently Lane had acted on her suggestion of taking more female clients at the inn.

While relaxing in the pool, Katja got Wyll to give her a shoulder rub. Pulling that bow dozens of times had left her feeling a little sore. Wyll found it hard to maintain his composure, touching her as they sat naked in the water; but tiredness from their recent quests and the presence of the others in the pool helped to keep that one-eyed snake under control.

After the hot water had unknotted her muscles and soaked away some of the emotional miasma of the vampire den Katja emerged from the tub and, followed by Wyll, headed up the stairs to the mezzanine level and the master bedroom. She felt in need of a nap. Katja shoved one of the handsome Suite residents out of the bed on arrival. This was supposed to be her bed, for her and any of her special guys; but though she’d mentioned this to Lane, other Suite residents were always crashing here while she was away. Wyll lay down with her, showing a remarkable degree of restraint. He’d been wanting her all day, but he could see that what she really needed now was sleep.

After a couple of hours Katja awoke feeling refreshed – and hungry. There was always plenty of food around the place, and after donning a robe she had shortly satisfied that appetite with some grilled leeks and fresh sliced Eidar cheese, washed down with Honingbrew mead that left her feeling both energized and slightly buzzed. Wyll had arisen when she did, dressing in casual clothes, and as they sat eating at the table in the master bedroom Anders came in. Katja flew into his arms and gave him an affectionate kiss, then bid him join them at the table so she could relate their adventures. He knew as soon as he looked at her, somehow, that his fears had been realized: she and Wyll had become lovers. Could he get her back?

Wyll had so far not had the opportunity to get Kat into his arms again, and now it was looking as though she might slip completely out of his grasp. He took her aside, standing a few paces from the table. “What now? Are you going back with him?” he asked sotto voce. Katja stepped back and looked him in the eyes. “You and Anders are friends, right?” He nodded. “You’ve been buddies since before I ever set foot in the Suite?” “Uh huh.” “Then what are you worried about? We’re all friends, and I love you both.” Wyll was a bit puzzled by this concept, but he was willing to go along with Katja’s take on the situation.

They poured wine, nibbled on cheese and honey-nut treats and discussed everything from the general stupidity and craven nature of bandits to the best techniques for killing dragons. As the evening wore on the three chattered away happily, but there was an undercurrent of tension. Anders kept capturing Katja’s eyes for meaningful glances as the hours passed by and other Suite residents drifted away, off to their beds.

Katja sensed his desire, and it echoed her own. They had been apart for a couple of days, and she longed for his embrace. But how to handle this? She didn’t want to precipitate a conflict between the two friends. She turned to Wyll and looked deep into his summer blue eyes. Then stood and beckoned to Anders. Taking Wyll by the hand, Katja pulled him up and then threw an arm around his waist. Anders stood and she wrapped him in her other arm, so that she was flanked by the two powerful young men.

Katja stretched up to plant a deep kiss on Anders’ mouth, then Wyll’s. Both men were aroused, the more so as they grasped what Kat had in mind. As she turned toward Wyll and set about unfastening his clothing, Anders behind her was unfastening her robe and sliding it off her shoulders. Then she rotated toward Anders to begin removing his tunic, while Wyll shed his trousers and rubbed up against her from behind.

Wyll kissed her firmly yet tenderly on her neck where it joined her shoulder, while his stiffening cock nestled between her buttocks. Katja finished stripping Anders and ran her hands down his chest, grasped his own rising member and stroked it. The three then moved to the bed, where Katja knelt in the center with Wyll standing on the floor in front of her and Anders behind.

Katja seized Wyll’s fully erect cock in mouth and one hand, supporting her weight with the other, and began to work him over while Anders, after assuring himself with a couple of fingers that her cunt was wet and ready, applied the tip of his throbbing rod to her vulva and began working it inside – slowly at first, then faster and deeper until he was plunging inside her to his full, powerful length.

Katja gasped and moaned, then applied her lips, tongue, and free hand to Wyll with even more enthusiasm as Anders’ rock-hard cock sent her into paroxysms of ecstasy. The two friends’ eyes met across the back of this woman they were both in thrall to, and a moment of understanding passed between them. However they had to do it, they were both going to have her – and that was all that really mattered.

Katja was overwhelmed by sensation, sandwiched between her two lovers. For them, the unusual situation was both exciting and a little off-putting… just enough to keep them on the edge for a while, so that it took longer than it might otherwise have for them to come. Then as Katja rocked and spasmed in the throes of a massive orgasm Wyll spurted all over her face, and the combined sights and feelings sent Anders over the edge as well.

Katja collapsed face-down across the bed for a moment, panting. Then Wyll handed her a towel, and she sat to get cleaned up a bit. The two men joined her on the bed, and they lay there flanking their little, deadly dangerous, lithe and beautiful light-o-love as the three of them drifted off into exhausted sleep.

In the morning, Katja awoke before Wyll and Anders did and admired them, sleeping on either side of her. Her two titans. They shared a basic sweetness of nature at odds with their deadly combat capabilities and fierceness in battle. Should she take both of them questing? It was a thought. But on further consideration she concluded that the three of them would be tripping over one another in tight dungeon corridors, and she’d be unable to loose arrows for fear of hitting them as they rushed into the fray. Better bring only one along at a time.

Katja turned to Anders and nuzzled him in the neck. His warm butterscotch skin smelled of sex and perspiration, not unpleasant but… she murmured in his ear, “You could use a bath.” He woke with a slight smile and said sleepily, “how can I argue with that?” Rolling out of bed he padded sleepily downstairs to use the Suite’s main bathing pool, grabbing a robe on the way.

Now she turned to Wyll. “Good morning, sweetie.” She kissed him gently but firmly. First thing in the morning wasn’t her best time for passion. He, of course, was stiffening already but a lot of that was just the need to get up and take a piss. She stroked his face. “Wyll, I want you to stay here at the Suite for a while. I have some things to do.” He looked disappointed, but his usual sunny disposition soon reasserted itself.

When they were both out of bed, Katja threw on a robe and then took Wyll down the hall and introduced him to Lydia. If anybody could crack that woman’s stern façade, it was this godlike young warrior with his angelic face and sweet disposition. Lydia was a bit humorless, but she was also stunningly beautiful and built like a goddess. Katja could see Wyll appreciating those enormous breasts and rounded backside, and felt sure that he would not be suffering in loneliness while she was gone.

Katja headed downstairs to join Anders in the pool. “I told Wyll to stay here for a while,” she told him. “I think you and I should go investigate the source of power that Arngeir told us about.” He smiled warmly. “I wish I had some better armor for us, honey,” she mused. “All three of us. But if you want the good stuff, you’ve got to go steal it from the bad guys.” Katja frowned, then shrugged. “Maybe we’ll run across a few bandits along the way.” Bandits, she was coming to learn, always offered the best loot for the least amount of effort.

Chapter 21: The Reach Road

After she and Anders were dressed and equipped, and had had some breakfast, Katja studied her map. The spot Arngeir had marked was far to the west, and there were few other landmarks. Almost all the way to the map’s western border a city was shown, Markarth. But they couldn’t fast-travel there until they’d walked it first. Seemingly, the closest fast-travel point for them was Fort Greymoor, which they’d rid of bandits during the trip to Ustengrav while looking for the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller.

“Looks like we’ve got a long walk ahead of us, love,” Katja remarked as she wished them to their jumping-off point. After their experience with Fort Amol Katja was wary that bandits might already have returned, and she didn’t want to fight them again so soon after embarking on their current quest. Better to wait until the buggers had had time to accumulate more loot! So, she sneaked silently past the fort’s forbidding stone walls until they hit the road leading west.

The weather was fine, and Katja was enjoying herself as she and Anders went along the road at a slow jog. However, perils were everywhere. As the pair were rounding a bend and coming up over a rise, a leather-clad Khajiit suddenly darted in from their left and attacked her. It had closed to within striking range almost before she could nock an arrow.

Instinctively, Katja filled her lungs and bellowed out the full three words of the Unrelenting Force Shout: “FUS-RO-DAH!” The Khajiit flew through the air like a rag doll, 20 feet or more from her, and lay stunned for a second or two. It did not seem to have been injured much, but the Shout gave her precious seconds in which to start shooting him full of arrows, and for Anders to begin pouring lightning bolts into the wounded cat-man.

In moments the attacker lay dead on the ground beside the road. What was this guy’s problem? Katja wondered. Khajiit, the catlike humanoid race who could be found trading and traveling the roads throughout Tamriel, were usually inoffensive and not prone to banditry. You often found Orcs and Elves among humans in bandit gangs, but Khajiits were more likely to take your gold through sharp trading than strong-arm robbery.

On the other hand, Katja noted to herself, this Khajiit was not dressed like either a bandit or a trader. He was wearing some kind of well-tailored leather armor. A search of the corpse turned up a note that made her blood run cold: “As instructed, you are to eliminate Katja by any means necessary. The Black Sacrament has been performed – somebody wants this poor fool dead.”

“Anders, look at this” she said, handing him the note. “What does it mean?” His expression grew grim. “This fellow was Dark Brotherhood,” he replied. “The guild of assassins.” Katja stared at him nonplussed. “Why would the Dark Brotherhood be trying to kill me?” she asked. “Somebody hired them. They only kill for hire,” he assured her.

More than afraid, Katja felt sort of hurt. Why would anybody want sweet lovable me dead? she wondered. The world was a scary place, and getting scarier all the time. She sighed and started walking again. “I guess we’ll just have to stay alert, then.” “I’ve got your back,” Anders replied, and fell in behind her. They continued their trek along the stone-paved road, which hugged the edge of the mountain range to the south before veering off almost due west again. The scenery was beautiful, and despite her worries Katja felt soothed by their surroundings.

Soothed, but alert. As she spied stone battlements rising above the road to their right Katja crept forward carefully, staying close to a dirt and stone embankment on the opposite side of the road. She heard the sounds of a struggle ahead, coming not from the direction of the fortress looming above them, but from an area to the west where another road joined this one, coming in from the south.

As the two companions crept closer they could see that a Redguard woman hunter with a bow stood in this side road, firing on a tall, elongated creature that looked almost like an animated sapling. “What is that?” she whispered to Anders. “A spriggan,” he replied equally softly. “I’m not sure what they are, but they seem to have some connection to trees and they’re always hostile.”

Katja added an arrow or two from her own bow to the hunter’s efforts, and soon the creature was sprawled dead in the road. Katja searched it and came away with a gnarled, faintly glowing knot of vegetable matter that she identified as taproot, an alchemical ingredient. She conversed briefly with the woman hunter, who didn’t have a lot to tell her; then they parted ways.

While all this had been going on, there had been no sign of enemies on the battlements to their north. “What do you think, love?” Katja asked, gesturing at the stone fortifications. “Bandit stronghold?” She was thinking of her resolve to score some useful loot while they were on this trip. “Could be,” he replied, gazing up at the seemingly deserted walls. “Shall we go investigate?”

There did not seem to be any gates on this side, not that they wanted to stroll in through the main entrance in any case. While looking for a way up the hillside that might lead to an opening of some kind, Katja and Anders found a cave entrance hidden in the rocks. Weapons and destruction spells at the ready, the pair crept inside. But the opening led only to a medium-sized cave, floored by natural stone, with a hole in the ceiling.

The body of an armored Orc lay on the floor in a pool of drying blood. He’d been there for a while, it seemed. Tossed down here through that hole? There was little else to be found here, and they soon returned the way they had come. Katja spotted a trail of sorts winding up between the main fortress and an isolated tower at its east end.

The companions first searched the tower from bottom to top, finding much evidence of habitation but no people at all – hostile or otherwise. After leaving the tower again and continuing uphill, they rounded another tower and found themselves approaching a pair of wooden gates, standing open. Katja and Anders tiptoed inside to find a courtyard, with buildings on either hand and stairs leading down to their right toward the main body of the fortress.

Anders touched Katja on the arm, and wordlessly pointed to a male figure that could just be seen up a flight of stairs ahead of them, evidently on watch. He certainly wasn’t much of a sentry, if he’d failed to take note of them fighting spriggans and carrying on conversations with hunters right in front of him.

Katja nocked an arrow, one of the ancient Nord ones she’d collected in Ustengrav, and took him down with a single shot right between the shoulder blades. No alarm was raised. Now… she moved stealthily forward and peered around a stone corner. At the bottom of the steps leading down on their right, stood something man-shaped. But it definitely was not human.

As she’d feared, a single shot from hiding wasn’t enough to bring this one down. It immediately swarmed up the stairs and began rushing toward them, croaking in some strange language. Katja put two more arrows into it, backpedaling frantically, after which Anders sent it flying with a sizzling bolt of lightning shot from his hands. Just as the creature fell, Katja came under attack from a ferocious young woman dressed in skimpy furs, wearing war paint, and wielding a “sword” that appeared to be made out of wood, feathers, and animal teeth.

Katja flung her assailant back down the stairs with her Shout, a weapon in her arsenal she was really beginning to appreciate. Too bad it required the better part of a full minute’s rest before she was able to do it again. Meanwhile, all hell had broken loose around them and Anders was busy fighting two foes at once, human men dressed and armed similarly to the woman she had just hurled across the courtyard. Katja wanted to come to her lover’s aid, but first she put two or three more arrows into the female savage, eliminating her as a threat.

Anders scarcely needed her help, Katja realized as she turned around and found the fortress silent once more. Three or four additional bodies were now scattered around. All of them were dressed in furs and feathers, their weapons looking homemade. Studying one of them as she ransacked his corpse for valuables (of which there were few), Katja remarked “I don’t think these are bandits.”

“No,” he replied. “They’re Forsworn. Rebels.” Katja pondered that. “You mean like the Stormcloaks?” she asked. Anders responded, “No, these fight everybody in the Reach – Stormcloaks, Imperials, you name it. I should have suspected we’d be running into them, this far west. Some call them ‘The Madmen of the Reach,’ because they seem crazy to the rest of us. They practice some kind of hedge magic. Nasty stuff.”

“Oh,” Katja responded, thoughtful. One more thing to watch out for, in this perilous land. She looked about her, and realized that dusk was falling. “Let’s check the rest of these buildings, love. Then I think we’d better camp here for the night.” She studied her map, and found that the place they were standing in was called Fort Sungard.

Not for the first time, Katja wondered what the Imperials were playing at. With a little effort and the mighty resources of the Empire, this place could be turned into a real stronghold and manned by Imperial troops to keep order in the region. Instead, like most such places she had visited in Skyrim, it was left to fall into ruin and become a refuge for human predators.

Katja and Anders combed the stronghold from one end to the other, finding a dining hall, dormitories, and some food stores but little of any monetary value. Down in the dungeons, there were empty jail cells. They took a meal in the dining hall, mixing up a sort of soup from their trail rations and some cabbage, potatoes, and carrots that they found in barrels in one of the storerooms.

After their supper Katja and Anders pulled up a bench and sat pressed against each other, talking quietly in front of the fire. “I’m so glad to have you along, love” she said softly. “If you hadn’t stopped four of those Forsworn while I was busy, I’d have been toast.” “You’re becoming pretty dangerous yourself, Kat,” he replied. “Remind me not to make you angry.” (Again, was the unspoken thought.) Their rift mostly put behind them, they felt their bond growing stronger again – if perhaps there had been a shift in their relationship.

The two sipped bottles of Nord mead plundered from the Forsworns’ pantries, and after a while they began kissing. As powerful and exciting as their lovemaking could be, they found they also enjoyed just kissing and stroking each other. This went on for a long time, with occasional breaks for quiet talk. But Katja’s hunger had become aroused, and she finally said “Want to see if there’s a captain’s quarters?”

They did a little more exploring, and sure enough the complex held more than narrow bunks for soldiers. There was a broad bed in a decent bedchamber, with nightstands and a wardrobe nearby. Stripping down, Katja and Anders engaged in a long full-body hug, pressing their flesh together. The room had its own fireplace, and was comfortable enough even without clothing.

Next Katja sat on the edge of the bed and Anders knelt before her, at a height with her in this juxtaposition. They resumed their necking for a while, but with more stroking and fondling now they were both naked. He massaged and kissed her breasts, licking and suckling her nipples, and put two fingers of his right hand into his mouth before moving them to her soft slit and working them inside. She gasped and grabbed his stiff member, squeezing it firmly as his fingers moved within her.

“Oh, hell” Katja murmured, gently pulling his fingers away from her and guiding his cock into their place. He teased at the opening, letting it slide in just enough for the knob to clear the vestibule, then rubbing it back and forth in small movements before pulling almost all the way out again. Next time, he went a little deeper as she moaned in delight and her breathing came faster and faster.

Finally he pushed all the way in, and began giving her full strokes with his hot, steely member dipping its full length in and out each time. Katja cried out, pulling him to her, and put her ankles up on his shoulders so that her cunt was fully open to him and he could push in even deeper. With an animal growl, he began pumping faster and faster, pushing in so hard on the downstroke it almost seemed like he was trying to crawl all the way inside. His cock was bouncing off her cervix with every plunge, and she was screaming in one long high-pitched ululation as he spasmed and shot his seed deep, deep inside her.

As she clutched him to her and tried to get her breath back, Katja thought, Thank the Divines for that amulet! Aloud she said, in a voice that was quavering from exhaustion, “I’m surprised I don’t have your cum dribbling out of my mouth. That felt like you shot straight through me.” Anders just grinned, panting, and kissed her. She dropped her ankles down and still lay beneath him, recovering her strength, until he softened and slipped out. Then they crawled higher up the bed and curled up, ready to sleep.

Chapter 22: Valthume

In the morning almost as soon as they awoke, Katja was in Quest Mode. It appeared she was out of synch with much of the male population in this, as Anders was arisen in more ways than one and would have been quite happy to dally for another hour or more before getting on the road. Shortly, though, she had them out of bed, dressed, fed, and moving.

Before they had traveled very much further beyond Fort Sungard, the pair came on a pretty little river cutting its way through a fairly steep gorge. The area of the river canyon was rife with scrubby little trees, which Katja identified as juniper. She hadn’t seen them anywhere else in Skyrim, and took a few moments as they came upon each one to harvest some of their berries. These were a valuable ingredient in alchemy, and she wasn’t sure when she would have this opportunity again.

According to the map they needed to cross the river here. There was a clearly defined trail climbing the hill on the far side of the stream, and Katja was somewhat surprised there was not a bridge to cross on. But one must make do. As the stone-paved road continued to the west, they picked their way across moss-covered stones and then forded a stretch of clear running water no more than two paces across, heading south.

Climbing the hill on the far side, Katja soon spotted a white blob that resolved itself into an attacking Snow Cat. This close relative of the familiar Saber Cat was as large and as fierce, and she was glad of Anders’ assistance in stopping it before it got its claws into her – after two of her arrows had failed to halt its charge. She skinned it and took its eyes, yet another ingredient for alchemy. If I were going to go in fur like those Forsworn women, Katja thought, this is the fur to use. It was beautiful, almost pure white with a few small spots, thick and silky.

They mounted the hillside and proceeded up the trail, which wound among rocks and more of the small juniper trees. In order to make any speed Katja needed to walk at a normal pace, bow at the ready but not in stealth mode. Yet she found herself dropping to a crouch over and over again as one peril after another presented itself. A few minutes along she heard the unmistakable sounds of a bear growling – and ahead, she saw four men in unfamiliar armor confronting the beast.

Katja didn’t think they were bandits or Forsworn, so she took a chance that they were friendlies (as unlikely as that seemed, given how it seemed that every hand was turned against them in Skyrim’s hinterlands). Once the bear had been dispatched, Katja slung her bow behind her back to show her benign intentions and approached the man who seemed to be the leader of the party.

He was a youngish man who might have been handsome, with dark hair and curiously light blue eyes, if his face had not been so smudged with dirt. His name was Vilkas, he said, and after observing her prowess in helping them to kill the bear he urged her to come to Jorrvaskr and join the Companions. Oh, those guys. Katja didn’t know much about the Companions, and hadn’t expected to find them ranging so far from Whiterun. But if she were ever to join them, that day was still far in the future.

Katja and Anders continued up the hillside while the party of Companions continued searching the area where the bear had attacked. They were evidently looking for something, but she didn’t try to pry into their business. The trail they climbed took another couple of bends, and they found themselves standing before an ominous-looking cave opening. Katja checked the map, and discovered that they were looking at the entrance to Gloomreach.

It lost her at the name, not that Katja was planning on taking a major detour at this point in any case. Some oddly-ornamented stakes driven into the soft earth on either side of the yawning cave mouth suggested occupation by the sort of people (or things) that would not welcome their visit; and the two pushed on up the trail. A few more bends, and they came upon a substantial wooden stockade.

As they approached this, following the broad and well-beaten trail, a figure atop a platform behind the vertical wall of sharpened stakes warned her away. He addressed Katja: “Hail, outlander. By the Code of Malacath, this stronghold belongs to the Orcs. Your kind are unwelcome.” Ah, she thought. She had encountered Orcs as bandits on several occasions, but had not yet visited one of their strongholds. That they had life as a people, with a society and a political structure, she had known without ever really thinking about the details.

Finally, an opportunity to learn more about this fierce, clannish people! “I’m just a traveler,” Katja replied. “What is this place?” The Orc atop the walls answered back “This is our stronghold. Here, we are free to live as Malacath intended, away from the prying eyes of the Nords. You’re not an Orc, or Blood Kin, so stay out. We only help our own.” Despite the unfriendly tone, Katja sensed that there was no finality in the Orc sentry’s words. “How can I convince you to let me in?” she asked.

The Orc seemed to ponder for a moment, then spoke: “Hmm… We’ve heard whispers of an enchanted pair of gauntlets, hidden and protected by dangerous men, beasts, or worse. They are called the Forgemaster’s Fingers. Bring them to our chief, and he will decide if you are worthy to be Blood-Kin to the Orcs.” Blood-Kin? That suggested that it was possible for an outsider to develop close relations with them, and reap the benefits of friendship. Katja immediately spoke out: “I’ll find those gauntlets.”

“We will see,” the sentry replied. This was interesting! But she and Anders were in the middle of a completely different quest, and needed to push on. Katja checked the map and saw that they were drawing very close to the mark Arngeir had placed there. They filed between steep rocky hillsides, then the trail opened out and Katja spotted some ruins that had an architectural style she did not recall seeing before.

“What do you suppose that is?” she asked Anders. “It looks like a Dwemer ruin,” he replied. After observing her blank look he continued: “The Dwemer were a race of Elves, supposedly. They were big on underground cities filled with machines, and some of those machines are still running deep in the bowels of those cities. Nobody’s seen a living Dwarf for thousands of years, but you’ll find their ruins all over Skyrim. There’s nothing alive down there but Falmer and chaurus, for the most part.”

Katja stepped close to him and gently took his arm. “Falmer? Chaurus?” He rolled his eyes. “I keep forgetting you just came in on the turnip wagon,” he said with a sly grin, then executed a surprisingly agile move that took him out of the range of her swift strike. While Katja glared at him, he went on: “Falmer are supposedly the degraded descendants of Snow Elves. They’re ugly as sin and don’t have any eyes, and they like to live down in the dark places. They use a lot of poisons, so you really have to watch out for them. Chaurus are some kind of a big black bug, maybe the size of a mastiff, and they can shoot poison at you from a distance. The Falmer seem to have some kind of a relationship with them, and they use the chaurus’s chitin in their weapons.”

Katja had ceased her attempts at mayhem and apparently abandoned her ire completely, in favor of gaping at Anders open-mouthed. She stood there staring at him for a heartbeat after he finished talking. Then she blinked, and took a breath. “Whoa,” she breathed. “Anders,” she said after another moment, “you never cease to amaze me. On due consideration, I think that now would not be the time to explore this oh-so-tempting ruin.” And with a sigh and a shrug of her shoulders, she walked on. She did, however, pull out her map for a peek and found that “Arkngthamz” had now appeared upon it. Argh, she thought. Never mind going in there to fight automatons, Falmer, and chaurus – how in all the hells do you even pronounce it?

Katja’s glance at the map had told her that their destination was at hand; and after following the trail for another couple of bends, they found themselves looking upon the ancient Nord barrow of Valthume. At last! It had been a long journey, and more fraught with peril than with promise; but she hoped that here, at last, they would find something that made the whole trip worthwhile.

Once inside the barrow, they entered a broad room in which they were confronted by a glowing spirit warrior. Katja spoke softly to Anders. “This is not what I expected. I thought we’d be going to some Word Wall out of doors, guarded by a dragon.” “Looks like it’s draugr and ghosts again,” he replied resignedly. “Not that I mind not getting roasted by dragonfire.”

The spirit seemed to be that of some guardian warrior from ages past, and it warned them that somebody named Hevnoraak was entombed here, but was close to breaking free. They must find three “vessels” within the tomb and bring them back here, so that this malign character could be defeated and put to rest forever. Katja felt as though saying “thanks, but we’re just here for the dragon Shout and then we’ll be running along,” might be impolitic; so she acceded to the spirit’s request. It opened a stone doorway for them, and they proceeded stealthily down a stone corridor into the bowels of the tomb.

The two moved quietly through the maze, speaking seldom. Their weapons were at the ready and their senses were alert. Katja put arrows into several draugr that were motionless, but had enough flesh and armor on them that going on the attack seemed a possibility. Some just lay there and she was able to retrieve her arrows along with oddments of weaponry, armor, or gold from them. Others exploded into flame and collapsed, making her sure that had she tried to sneak past them she and Anders would have had a fight on their hands.

Not that fights did not come. This tomb was as labyrinthine as any Katja had yet visited, sprawling in all directions and with many corridors that split apart then joined again; and some draugr were already on the prowl before they even came close to them. Katja found herself growing to hate the sound of shattering stone that announced another of these undead monstrosities had burst from its sarcophagus.

Deep within the tomb’s bowels, and beginning to lose track of all the turnings they had taken, Katja and Anders suddenly found themselves confronted by one of the more powerful draugr, shuffling toward them. There seemed to be different ranks, each harder to kill than the last, and identified to some extent by their dress and armament. This ancient undead warrior had not yet spotted them, and Katja hit it squarely from hiding (which always seemed to increase the damage done) with an ancient Nord arrow, the most effective arrows she had in any abundance.

Not good enough! It was staggered, but soon came on again. And behind it came two more! The one at the rear, towering a head higher than the others, appeared even taller still because of the black helmet it wore, surmounted by two towering horns like those of a goat but only slightly curved. “Oh, shit!” Anders shouted. “It’s a Deathlord!” Katja didn’t need another of his scholarly explanations to know this creature was bad news.

Katja tucked some health potions into the top of her armor, where she could grab one in a hurry, then began riddling the oncoming undead hostiles with arrows. The enemies had all spotted them by now, so there was no surprise factor and her shots were less effective. Anders’ destruction spells worked just fine, though, and between them they had soon stopped the draugr Katja had initially shot. But the other two, including the Deathlord, kept coming on.

As it approached it gave an ear-piercing, echoing shriek – which Katja now realized was a Thu’um, a dragon Shout. She had heard this before, from the draugr she and Sven had defeated in Bleak Falls Barrow; but at that time she’d known nothing of Shouts. Studying the Way of the Voice must have been more common in the days when these warriors walked the earth as living men and women. Or perhaps, if they were as reported the servants of the dragons, their knowledge had been passed to them directly from the dragons themselves. The revenants were getting closer and closer, and Katja used Unrelenting Force to hurl them back. It scarcely stopped the Deathlord for a heartbeat, though the other draugr took longer to get back on its feet.

Katja hit the Deathlord with several more arrows, but it kept coming on. When it was a few feet away it Shouted again and her bow flew from her hand, just as Anders’ axe flew from his. This is an advantage of destruction magic, the fleeting thought crossed Katja’s mind even as she grabbed for her mace. You can’t be disarmed unless you run out of magicka. Anders was staggered, and Katja was almost driven to her knees by the Deathlord’s relentless attacks. Her armor was preventing her from being sliced into dog-meat, but it felt as she were being beaten with a hammer.

Katja had recouped enough of the Voice force needed to use the Shout one more time, and as their enemies flew back once more Katja grabbed Anders’ hand and hauled him to his feet. “Run!” she screamed, and scooped their weapons up off the floor even as they bolted back down the corridor, taking several turnings in hopes of losing the Deathlord in the maze. This tactic only bought them enough time to drink a few potions, somewhat restoring their health, stamina, and magicka. Then their implacable enemies were upon them again.

Fortunately, while the Deathlord was moving in the right direction, he had not yet spotted them where they hid. Applying some poison to an arrow tip, Katja hit him with a shot from hiding that caused critical damage and staggered him. Before he could get moving again, she hit him three more times; and Anders’ lightning bolts ripped the last of the animating force from his preserved corpse and sent him tumbling along the corridor. His cohort, a draugr of more ordinary type, soon fell beside him.

Anders’ face was contorted into an expression of ferocity, and the whites of his eyes were showing all around the irises as he stood there panting. Katja wondered fleetingly if her own face resembled his. She felt slightly weak in the knees, both from recent battle damage and the reaction to the adrenaline surge that had helped to save their lives. Breathing hard, she pulled some more potions out of her pack and shared them with him. Not much point in having them, unless you’re going to use them when needed.

They had found many such potions, along with small quantities of gold and other items of value, as they were searching through the rooms and corridors of the barrow for the promised Word Wall. On the now firmly immobile corpse of the Deathlord, they also found some items of ebony armor. This was just the sort of thing Katja had been hoping to acquire on this trip, but not at the cost of their lives!

They met still more draugr as they pursued their goal deeper into the labyrinth, but fortunately no more Deathlords. They’d also found one of the vessels that the spirit had requested them to bring him; but there was no sign of the other two – and after nearly dying at the hands of that Deathlord, Katja’s enthusiasm for fighting the legendary Hevnoraak had trickled away to nothing.

Finally Katja and Anders spotted the Word Wall, buried deep within a good-sized cavern. A large and ornately carved chest stood before it, and they raided that before approaching the wall. There, a single word in ancient runes glowed with blue fire. Katja heard that unearthly chorus ringing in her ears as the word “LAAS” embedded itself in her brain along with the understanding of its power. Not a shout but a whisper, LAAS would fly gently out to reveal any life sources in the area by causing them to glow. “I wonder if it works on undead ones, as well,” Katja mused half-aloud.

They took a nearby corridor only to find it blocked by a wooden door, which was barred on their side. Anders lifted the heavy bar, and they opened the door to find themselves once again in the large chamber where they had first met the spirit. It was still there, and seemed uninterested in receiving that first vessel they had found. I guess I’ll just have to hang onto it until the next time we’re here, Katja thought. More stuff to carry.

The pair stepped into a rainy evening outside Valthume’s main gates, but they were only there for moments before Katja had them materializing outside the Luxury Suite. Despite their ordeal, the potions she had ingested had left her feeling pretty good. They had gotten what they’d come for and a lot of loot as well, and they were alive. With that and the resilience of youth Katja felt amazingly energized. But grubby.

“A bath sounds good to me,” Anders replied to her suggestion, and they both dropped their things on a nearby table and were soon naked and soaking in the wonderfully hot water of the main floor’s central bathing pool – the very spot where they’d met, not so long ago. The potions had done their work on him as well, and his smooth skin was unmarked though there were traces of dried blood. But he had a decade on her, and it appeared the hot soak was putting him to sleep.

Anders shook himself awake after almost nodding off in the water, and told Katja “I’m going upstairs for a nap. I’ll see you later.” He gave her a squeeze and a quick kiss, then grabbed a towel and padded off. She sighed, watching him out of sight. The hot water was having the opposite effect on her. After sitting and soaking for a while, and playing with herself a little, she got out and toweled off at poolside, then got her robe out of her pack.

Katja carried it upstairs and spotted Anders dead to the world, sacked out in one of the single beds in the sleeping loft. Then she went looking for Wyll. She found him sitting at the table in the master bed area, dressed in casual clothing and having a light snack. He looked up with surprise and pleasure and stood. “Hello, dear. It’s good to see you.” “Hi, sweetie. Did you and Lydia have a nice time while I was gone?” she teased.

Wyll’s perfect golden features suffused with pink. “Um, yeah, it was OK,” he stammered. “But she’s no you,” he added. “You’ve got that right,” Katja said grinning. Then she leapt at him like a cat, throwing her arms around his neck and her legs around his hips and planting a deep soul kiss on his lips. “Did you miss me? Huh? Oooh, I think you missed me!” she crowed as she felt his manhood stirring to rigidity beneath his trousers.

Katja dropped to the floor and helped him pull his tunic off over his head. Then she planted both hands on his hard-muscled chest and shoved, walking into him, until the backs of his knees connected with the edge of the nearby bed and he fell over onto his back. He was not putting up much resistance. She climbed onto the bed herself and straddled him momentarily, grinding her crotch into his, as she kissed him again. Then she sat up and pulled her robe off. She was naked underneath, glowing pink from the recent bath.

Katja climbed off of Wyll again and stood at the bedside while he lay there drinking her in, as she unfastened his trousers and pulled them down past his buttocks and halfway down his thighs. His cock sprang free, and she paused to give it a few strokes and a lick or two until the head was swollen, pink, and glistening. Then she pulled his trousers the rest of the way off before straddling him once again, reaching down to apply a little spit to her vaginal opening before spearing herself on his massive cock and slooowwwly working herself down over it. He was watching all this, flushed, his warm blue eyes dilated with desire, and when she had completely engulfed him he gave a low, gruff moan. “Oh, Kat! I did miss you…”

Katja leered down at him, savoring the fullness of his stiff cock filling up her cunt, along with his expression of being transported beyond the power of thought or conscious action. “Now I have you just where I want you!” she purred. But a moment later he surprised her. Reaching up and clutching her to his chest, he writhed in the bed and flipped in one smooth movement that found her lying supine while he rode above her, his powerful cock thrusting into her as she lay there helpless beneath him.

Not that Katja minded! Perhaps her assessment of this blond godling as all primal energy and no finesse was mistaken. He challenged her assumptions further by slowing his powerful thrusts, changing from a rhythm that was likely to send them both over the edge in moments to one that tantalized, bringing her ever so slowly toward a mind-blowing climax. She had been playing with him a bit, passing him off to her voluptuous but chilly and inflexible housecarl; and now he was playing with her – withholding the surge of sexual energy she knew was coming, letting the sensation build.

Wyll pressed his body against hers and kissed her deeply, tenderly yet passionately. The sensation of his mouth on hers and his tongue within her combined with the overwhelming heat of the pulsations as his enormous cock slid slowly, teasingly in and then out of her yearning cunt. Katja was transported, feeling as if she had gone to some other plane of existence where time was meaningless and the only thing that mattered was the feelings in her fingertips, her mouth, her inner core.

Then Wyll changed it up again, using the immense strength of his powerful young body to bend Katja to his will. Without removing his cock from her cunt, he gently pulled her right leg up, toward her shoulder, and over so that he could rotate her beneath him. Now he was fucking her from behind, and he pulled her up onto her knees so that he could kneel behind her and thrust into her like a dog. And she felt like a bitch in heat!

Yes! Yes! His thrusts came faster and her mind went white and red. His cock was reddened and glistening, pounding repeatedly into the incredibly warm and slippery depths of her pulsating sex. They both reached a blinding climax and continued thrusting together and quivering, with decreasing pace, for a few moments afterward. Holy Divines! Katja thought she would drop on the spot, poleaxed by the power of Wyll’s raw sexuality and the force of her response to it.

They remained locked together for a while, then gradually came to their senses. Katja felt shaken. For the moment, Wyll eclipsed her universe. But as she lay there panting, nestled in his arms, it came to her that she had other considerations. Which could reasonably be put off until after they had both had some sleep. Now she was tired.

They dozed, snuggled together in a heap, for a couple of hours. Then Katja awoke and kissed Wyll on the ear. He stirred, but seemed disinclined to wake fully. She slipped out of bed, still naked, and tiptoed down the hall to where she’d seen Anders sleeping. He was still there, seemingly out like a light, and by now it was late enough that most of the Suite residents and guests were sleeping too. Katja slipped into the narrow bed beside him, pressing her warm naked flesh up against his. He took a deep, sighing breath and, without opening his eyes, rolled over and reached to enfold her in his arms. Anders sleepily kissed her hair, squeezing her close. Then he dropped back off to sleep and she soon fell asleep in his arms.

Chapter 23: Diplomatic Immunity

Katja awoke in the early morning, still happily wrapped in Anders’ warm embrace. As her conscious mind asserted itself she first thought, “This is bliss.” Followed a moment or two later, as her list of worldly concerns began to clamor for attention, with “I’ve got to stay strong.” Anders was nearly half again her age, superb in every way, and the urge to just melt into his arms and give up all that was herself in exchange for the comfort and security of his love was a definite temptation. But would he want her, stripped of the indomitable will that made her uniquely herself? Katja doubted it. Nor would she want to become that person, the pampered and helpless pet of a commanding and powerful man.

No denying, Katja loved him. And no denying, she also felt a nearly irresistible attraction, and growing love, toward Wyll. In addition to which she was, still, quite likely to get distracted by any other sufficiently attractive man that crossed her field of vision. Emotional connections were one thing, and they were important. But her libido seemed to have a mind of its own, and it wanted them all. What was she to do? At the moment, Katja thought lazily, “go with the flow” seemed like a good motto. In any case, she was pretty sure she wanted to take Wyll along on the expedition she planned next.

“Good morning, love” Katja murmured softly to Anders as he stirred and opened those melting brown eyes. He seemed a little confused, still too sleepy to recall all that had gone on in the last few hours. “You’re here,” he breathed. “I thought… never mind.” He squeezed her tighter and kissed the side of her face, radiating a deep affection, a wave of warmth that flooded her heart.

Katja reasserted herself, pulling away from a little. “But I’m about to run off again,” she said. His eyebrows knitted briefly. “Oh?” “I’m going to take Wyll down to Riverwood,” she said, “and see what Delphine wants me to do about finding out if the Thalmor are behind the dragon resurrections. I should be back in a few days, and I’ll take you with me then.” He was blissfully unaware of her soul-shaking liaison with his friend the night before, and she thought it best if it stayed that way. Juggling these two was more work than she’d hoped, but it certainly seemed worth the effort.

They both arose and Katja gave Anders a hug and a deep kiss. “See you soon,” she said a bit wistfully. Then she headed for the far end of the mezzanine and the master bedroom. She found Wyll up and getting dressed. “Where’d you go?” he asked, giving her a bear hug with an undercurrent of lust in it. He might feel affection for her, but Katja suspected that Wyll’s desire for her was the driving factor in their relationship to date. And hers for him. Divines, he was so unbelievably sexy!

“I want you to come with me to Riverwood,” Katja told him. “There’s a woman there Anders and I met a while ago, who thinks that the Thalmor are behind the reappearance of the dragons. While we were down near Kynesgrove we actually saw what looked like an elder dragon calling one out of its tomb.” “Like draugr?” Wyll asked. “Not the same…” she mused. “Draugr are obviously animated corpses. After this dragon came out of its burial site as a skeleton, it grew flesh and looked just like a regular living dragon. Then we killed it again and I captured its soul.”

“You captured… its soul?” he asked, disbelieving. While Anders had told him that their lady-love was The Dragonborn, Wyll had not witnessed this for himself as yet. Katja was thinking to herself, “Why haven’t I brought Wyll up to speed?” She felt as if she might be unfairly discounting him again. With his amazingly graceful, muscular bulk and dominating abilities in battle, it was easy to assume that his intellect wasn’t up to the challenges of problem-solving, or that it wasn’t necessary to give him details.

Making up for past omissions, Katja did a short-form recap in which revealed her true name and identity as an immigrant Breton, explained the nature of her relationship with dragons, recounted her dealings with Delphine, told Wyll of the history of the Blades, and explained the likelihood that she would be called on to infiltrate the Thalmor Embassy, up north near Solitude. “You might not have much to do, but I’d really appreciate having you along,” she said. “Any time you want me, Kat” he proclaimed in his deep voice, “I’m your man.” One of them anyhow, she thought, as she gave him a smile and squeezed his bicep.

“C’mon,” she told him, “let’s see what I can do for you in the smithy.” They headed down the stairs, waving to Anders as he was getting dressed, and down the back-bar trap door to the basement. Katja was beginning to feel as though her abilities in smithing were really taking off, and she was anxious for more practice and improvement. She and Anders had liberated some fine pieces of weaponry and armor on their most recent quest, and she now set about improving them.

There was a plentiful supply of moonstone ingots on the basement’s shelves, and after working to improve an Elven helmet she’d found as loot and referring to a book on smithing, Katja found she was able to craft herself a complete suit of Elven armor. This stuff was great! It was good-looking, lightweight, protective, and she had some hopes it might even help her fit in during her upcoming mission. After initially crafting it, she worked over each piece on the smithing bench until it was superb.

Wishing she had more of these spells in her repertoire, Katja put enchantments for health, stealth, magicka, and destruction on her newly crafted set of armor. She also improved a set of dwarven armor she’d found on her travels, and enchanted it with enhanced health before giving it to Wyll to protect him. He looked as she imagined one of those Dwemer automatons Anders had told her of might appear: a gleaming, golden-metal embodiment of masculine power. Katja added an enchanted ebony warhammer to his arsenal before they departed via a second trap door leading directly to the Suite’s handsome rear deck.

Armed and armored to the teeth, the two soon found themselves standing near the entrance to Riverwood. It appeared to be around midday, but the sky was gray and it was hard to tell for sure. Katja led Wyll down the dirt main street to the Sleeping Giant Inn, and they entered. She found Delphine, still dressed in her leathers (evidently she had now decided to abandon her disguise as a mild-mannered country innkeeper), seated at a table in the inn’s common room.

“You’re here,” Delphine remarked. “Come with me.” She led them down to her secret room in the inn’s basement. “I’ve worked out a plan. The Thalmor ambassador, Elenwen, likes to throw parties for the upper crust. We’re going to get you into one of those parties, so you can find some evidence about their involvement in the dragons’ return.” “How is that going to work?” Katja asked her. This woman sounded as though she had some kind of a paranoid obsession with the Thalmor. Given that those High Elves had been responsible for the destruction of her order, perhaps that was not surprising.

Delphine replied, “You’ll meet with my man on the inside, Malborn, at the Winking Skeever in Solitude. He’ll help you any way he can. The Thalmor killed his family back in Valenwood, so he’s got plenty of reasons to work against them. Meanwhile, I’ll be arranging for you to get a party invitation.” Katja remembered the Winking Skeever. It was the only inn she’d seen in Solitude, the first building after you stepped inside the main gates. What an odd name. Recalling the Drunken Huntsman in Whiterun and the Elf proprietor’s tale of how that drinking establishment had acquired its name, she suspected that the story of the place’s origins was probably going to involve alcohol.

Acting the good little subordinate Katja replied, “I’ll be there shortly.” It was fortunate that she, Anders, and Lydia had taken the time to go to Solitude earlier. Now returning was as simple as a touch of the map and a firm desire. As she and Wyll emerged onto Riverwood’s main street she thought, “Do I really need to leave immediately?” It seemed unlikely, so they walked north a little way to Riverwood Trader. Camilla’s brother Lucan was delighted to see her, and fulsome in his praise of her efforts to recover his golden claw. Katja noticed, however, that his gratitude did not seem to translate into better prices as she sold him her surplus armor, weapons, and other goods.

On leaving there, Katja pulled out her map. Moments later she and Wyll found themselves standing just inside the gates of Solitude in what appeared to be early evening. “Solitude, huh,” Wyll remarked. As a native Nord and professional sellsword he’d visited his share of Skyrim’s points of interest himself, though he was several years younger than Anders. “It’s a nice place to visit, but I don’t think I’d want to live here. Too many Imperials.” Katja had still not had much of an opportunity to take in the sights here, and would have liked to stay longer; but she was alert to both the urgency of her current quest and her companion’s sensitivities. “We won’t be here all that long, love” she promised.

Katja led the way into the inn, which she had not so much as poked her nose into on her previous visit. She strolled up to the bar, Wyll trailing, and engaged the barkeep in a bit of desultory conversation before ordering a couple of ales and passing one to Wyll. Then they turned away, supposedly looking for a table at which to sit. Her eyes darted around the place, looking for anybody that might be their contact.

A thorough search of the rather dimly-lit room finally turned up a Wood Elf sitting by himself at a table in the far corner. She approached him cautiously. “Malborn?” she asked. He eyed her questioningly, then said quietly, “you must be Katja.” She took the other seat at his table, setting her ale down while Wyll stood beside her, sipping his ale and favoring Malborn with a suspicious stare.

“Delphine picked you for this mission?” Malborn asked disbelievingly after looking Katja up and down. “Well, I suppose she knows what she’s doing. You need to take a room at this inn, and your companion will have to stay here. Give me whatever you want to have with you inside the Embassy, and I’ll smuggle it in so you can get it after you’re inside. But you’d better not try to carry anything in with you. The guards will likely search everybody.” This was a complication Katja hadn’t looked for. She’d hoped to have Wyll’s help in this mission, which was sounding increasingly dangerous. But she explained it to him, and he was willing to stand by.

Katja went back to the barkeep and rented a room for the night. He led her and Wyll up the stairs at the back, to a room off a small landing. Then she went through everything she was carrying, leaving most of it behind in the room, before returning to Malborn with the collection of weapons, armor and other items she hoped would enable her to survive her forthcoming mission. “That’s it, then?” he asked. “All right, I’ll take these and you can get them again after you’re inside. Meet Delphine at the Stables.” The Elf arose from his table and left the inn.

Katja turned back to the inn’s common room long enough to give Wyll a few words of assurance, along with a kiss and a hug. But it was her going into danger, so perhaps it was herself she was trying to reassure. Then she made her way out the gates and down the hill to the farmstead she’d passed on her first trip here. There she found Delphine. “Did everything go all right with Malborn?” the blond woman asked. “He’s taking my gear in so I can get it later. I think everything’s set and ready to go,” Katja replied.

“Good. Here’s your party invitation, and some fancy clothes for you to wear.” Now I wish I’d had a bath and time to get my hair done, thought Katja. Ah well. She accepted the proffered items and changed in an unoccupied horse stall, managing not to besmirch the elegant clothing with any straw or dung. She passed Delphine the clothes she’d had on for safekeeping, then (with a lurch in her chest that left her momentarily short of breath) climbed aboard a coach that would take her to her destination.

The carriage driver pulled to a halt in a courtyard, surrounded by snowy woods. The impressive stone edifice ahead could only be the Thalmor Embassy. Katja disembarked, enjoying the smooth feel of the party clothes draping her form, but wishing for good old stiff armor and the odd edged weapon as she approached the front entrance. Ahead of her, a Redguard dressed in similarly fine apparel appeared to have gotten a leg up on the evening’s festivities and was already making loud, incoherent remarks as she approached the guard at the Embassy’s front door.

Katja greeted the guard leaning slightly forward, her eyes seeking his with a hint of promise as the tops of her breasts peeked out from the low-cut gown. She pulled out her invitation, and the guard was swift to admit her. She shortly found herself confronted by the Altmer woman Elenwen, the Thalmor Ambassador, who seemed all too interested in the details of her presence here.

Luckily, Malborn shortly appeared at her side. He directed Elenwen’s attention elsewhere, then stepped closer to Katja. “You need to make a scene, so I can unlock the back door without anybody noticing,” he intoned. Make a scene, she thought. Slaughter a few draugr or the odd dragon, no problem. But Katja’s life to date had not really prepared her for making scenes (or even being seen) at society parties. She gathered herself and looked around the room.

Katja soon realized that the party guests seemed equally divided between the cold, haughty Thalmor and human Skyrim denizens who were there seeking some kind of personal advancement. One she spotted was the good-looking but loathsome Jarl Siddgeir of Falkreath. She also noticed the Redguard who’d been sounding off drunkenly as she entered the building earlier. “Hello,” she said, oozing up beside him. “You look thirsty.” “Why yesh,” he replied. “I’m always thirsty. But none of these servants will give me a drink!” “Wait there,” she told him.

Katja went over toward the bar, and found Malborn serving. “Give me a brandy,” she told him. Returning to the Redguard, she said “Here you go,” handing it over to him. “In exchange, would you do something for me?” “Certainly,” he replied, “I need you to make a scene,” she told him. “Not a problem!” he responded happily. “It’s a specialty of mine.”

Taking a healthy swig, the drunkard turned to the crowd at large and addressed them: “Attention everyone! Could I have your attention, please! I have an announcement to make! I propose a toast to Elenwen! Our Mistress! I speak figuratively, of course. Nothing could be more unlikely than that someone would actually want her in their bed. Although... most of you are already in bed with her! But again... I speak figuratively, of course!”

Katja winced slightly, then retreated back to the bar. As guards converged to silence the drunken Redguard, Malborn opened the door behind the bar and urged her to pass through it. “Quickly! Before they notice!” he demanded. Soon she found herself standing in the Embassy’s kitchen. As she and the Wood Elf entered, a Khajiit cook began complaining to him about bringing a stranger in. Malborn shortly silenced the cat-woman with a reference to her moon sugar addiction.

Malborn led Katja to an adjoining room, where she was enormously relieved to reclaim the armor, weaponry, potions, and lockpicks she had given him earlier. As she traded her party garb for more practical protection he said, “You’re on your own now. Go find that evidence.” Katja felt a sinking feeling as he departed, locking the door behind him. Now what?

Katja sneaked out the room’s only available door, finding herself in a hallway. She approached cautiously as she heard voices, and was able to listen in on a conversation between two guards. It suggested that Delphine’s idea of Thalmor involvement in the return of dragons to Skyrim might not be accurate. “Did you see those robes march in this morning? Who're they with? More of the Emissary's treaty enforcers?” one asked. The other replied, “No. They're high mages, just in from Alinor. I guess Herself is finally getting worried about all the dragon attacks.”

The first guard said “Ah, good. I've been wondering how we were supposed to defend this place from a dragon.” His fellow responded, “If a dragon does show up, maybe we'll get lucky and it will eat the mages first. Might give us enough time to kill it.” “Ha. I'd like to see those arrogant bastards taken down a notch. Always looking down their noses at us lowly footsloggers,” said the first.

Hmmm, Katja mused silently. I probably wasn’t off-base when I thought Delphine might be paranoid. But I’m going to need some hard evidence. The two guards laughed nastily, then one said “Well, we’d better get back to our rounds.” They walked off, then took up stations with their backs to the door of a room leading to a stairway. Thankful for the extra sneaking capability she had enchanted into her elven boots, she stole past them and up the stairs.

Above, she found a Thalmor wizard patrolling the second floor. Delphine may be paranoid, Katja thought, but why are these people on such high alert? She pulled a dagger, enchanted with shock and magicka damage and dipped in poison, from its sheath at her belt and used it to open his throat as she sneaked up on him from behind. He collapsed to the floor, spurting blood, with scarcely a sigh.

Katja was now alone in the room, and looking around she found a set of hooded Thalmor robes. These might help to disguise her as she explored further, and she slipped them on over the top of her armor. Cut for a man significantly taller and broader than herself, they hung over her armored form without binding. Having finished her exploration of the room without finding anything else of use, she took one of the two doors at one end of the room and soon found herself standing outside, on a walkway running around the perimeter of a snowy courtyard.

Katja drew her bow and crept silently around the corner ahead. Shortly, she spotted a Thalmor guard patrolling the walkway, and was able to drop him with a single well-targeted arrow shot. He fell silently, and her senses went on full alert as she spotted a second guard. He seemed unaware of his surroundings, surely a failure for one in his position; and she brought him down too without raising an alarm.

Could it be this easy? she wondered. But no. As she continued working her way around the outside edge of the courtyard a third guard emerged from the door on the far side and spotted the body of one of his fallen companions. “You should never have come here!” he cried, drawing a sword. Oh, crap, Katja thought, and began peppering him with arrows. It took 3 or 4 of them before he fell, and meanwhile here came another Thalmor mage. Katja was thankful for her inborn Breton resistance as the mage charged at her hurling bolts of destruction magic, little deterred by her barrage of flaming shafts.

“Augh!” she cried out, diving to a crouch and pulling a health potion out of her pack as she dodged his attacks. That hurt! Missing Anders or Wyll or even Sven, Katja tucked the bow behind her back and drew the war-axe she had recently acquired, improved, and enchanted. Then screaming what she hoped was a fearsome war cry, she rushed her foe.

Evidently her fierce attack, or possibly the still bodies of his three colleagues, convinced the Elven mage that Katja was trouble. He reeled back from her onslaught and momentarily stopped his own attacks. “Take that, you son of a High Elf bitch!” she screamed, swinging her war axe at him. One thing about mages, they may have you on range but they haven’t got shit for armor. The fabric of his mage robes parted as easily as did the flesh at the juncture of his shoulder and neck with her blow, and he fell to the snowy terrace nearly decapitated, lying in a rapidly growing pool of blood.

Katja stood there panting, eyes wide and heart pounding, until the surge of adrenaline ebbed. She wiped the blade of her axe, which she was beginning to like quite a lot, on the fallen mage’s robes, then slung it at her side. Hearing no sound of further enemies, she resumed her stealthy approach to the door of the building in the snowy courtyard below her. She found herself in a good-sized room, with corridors and stairs leading off it.

Almost immediately Katja heard voices, and she took two silent steps to slip into the dubious shelter of a potted plant in the corner. “But, I need that money! I earned it. I have my own expenses you know,” a whining voice complained. It was answered by one that spoke with authority and disdain: “Silence! Do not presume, Gissur. You are most useful, but do not presume. We have other informants who are less... offensive.” The subordinate replied, “But no one else has brought you such valuable information, have they? Etienne, he's talked, hasn't he? He knows where that old man is you're looking for, he told me himself.”

The voice Katja was assuming to be that of the paymaster replied, “You'll get the rest of your money when we confirm his story. As agreed.” The informant cried, “So he has talked! I knew it!” The paymaster’s voice was harsh, and final. “Everyone talks, in the end. Now, I have work to do. Leave me to it, if you ever want to see the rest of your payment.”

The informant refused to be dismissed. “Can I... I could help you. He'd talk to me. He trusts me.” His employer knew how to discourage him. “You'd like to come downstairs with me, is that it, Gissur? Shall we loose his bonds and put you in a cell together? You can ask him anything you like, and see how he answers.” Gissur subsided. “No, no. I'll... I'll wait outside.” The paymaster, patience at an end, said “that would probably be best. Now get out!”

Katja heard footsteps receding, which she correctly interpreted as the cowardly informant creeping away, tail between his legs. A firmer set of steps went off in another direction, followed by the sound of a closing door and muffled steps seeming to descend a staircase. Breathing deeply and silently, Katja peered out around the doorway and spotted a lone guard standing near a door she assumed led to a lower level.

Unseen and unheard, she pulled out her bow and nocked an arrow. The guard never knew what hit him. Katja rifled the corpse and then dragged it into a corner, out of the view of casual eyes. She spotted a chest in a corner and was able to pick its lock with little difficulty. In the short time since she’d first attempted lockpicking, her skills had increased dramatically.

Aha, this looked promising. There was a key which she suspected would open doors she’d be encountering shortly. Even better, a collection of documents revealing the Thalmor’s intelligence on Delphine and Ulfric Stormcloak. Delphine had suspected the Thalmor of being behind Ulfric’s escape, but this did not appear to be the case. Furthermore another document, titled “Dragon Investigation,” indicated that the Thalmor were just as puzzled as the rest of Skyrim about the mysterious reappearance of those legendary monsters. In fact, they were at this moment interrogating a prisoner on the subject in the cells below – according to this document.

Feeling as if she had struck pay dirt, Katja sneaked past the door and down the stairs to the dungeon. She found herself on a balcony overlooking a bloodstained torture room and a number of cells. There were two Thalmor in view, torturing a Breton prisoner who was manacled to a bar fastened to the wall above his head. This must be “Etienne.” One was dressed as a common soldier, the other in more expensive clothing. She guessed he was the “paymaster” she had overheard earlier.

Katja crouched, silent and horrified, as the “interrogation” proceeded. “Stop. Please. I don't know anything else. Don't you think I'd have told you already?” the prisoner cried piteously. The soldier replied, “Silence. You know the rules. Do not speak unless spoken to. Master Rulindil will ask the questions.” Rulindil, eh? Katja thought. I always like to know who I’m about to kill…

The soldier resumed his torment of the helpless Etienne. “Let's begin again.” “No... for pity's sake... I've already told you everything...” the prisoner wailed. “You know the rules,” came the heartless reply. “Noooooo!!!” The soldier was merciless. “Start at the beginning, as usual. If you persist in this stubbornness I'll have...” The object of his ministrations, snatching at anything that might halt or even delay the pain, cried “No, wait! I was just... catching my breath... why wouldn't I tell you again? I don't even know anything... There's an old man. He lives in Riften. He could be this Esbern you're looking for, but I don't know. He's old and seemed kind of crazy. That's all I know.”

The torturer seemed to feel he was onto something. “And his name is...?” The prisoner responded “I don't know his name. Like I've told you already a hundred- Ahhhh!” The relentless questioning continued. “You know the rules. Just answer the questions. And where can we find this nameless old man?” “Like I said, I don't know!” the tortured man replied. “I've seen him down in the Ratway. Maybe he lives down there, but I don't know for sure.”

As Katja watched the gruesome scene, the Elf called Rulindil – dressed in the Thalmor equivalent of mage robes – remained silent. The unnamed soldier seemed satisfied with what he had gotten the doomed man to reveal. “That will be all for now. I must say I continue to be disappointed in your lack of cooperation. I hope next time you will do better.” The prisoner, driven to desperation, screamed “What else do you want from me? I've already told you everything. Listen, if you let me go I can take you to Riften, show you where- Gaaaaah!!!”

“Silence, prisoner!” the soldier said, delivering one last punch to the helpless man and driving him into unconsciousness. At that, he left the prisoner lying there insensate and began a patrol of the dungeon area, jolting Katja into a greater alertness. She felt a profound distaste at what she had just witnessed, and her bowstring fingers itched at the thought of planting a shaft in that soldier’s fat belly.

As the soldier’s patrol pattern took him to the far end of the dungeon, and Rulindil appeared to be engrossed in what he was reading at the desk where he was seated, Katja crept the rest of the way down the stairs. The soldier reached the terminus of his walk and turned around, headed back toward her. A single shot from hiding sent him lifeless to the stone floor. And good riddance! Katja thought, hanging her bow behind her and drawing her dagger.

Rulindil seemed unaware that his cohort was no longer among the living, as Katja crept up behind him. As she was nearly touching him, he spun suddenly to confront her and gestured as if about to cast a destruction spell at her. Then her dagger plunged into his throat. His hot blood spurted, spattering her robe, and he fell gurgling to the floor. Katja did a quick search of his body and felt that she’d been lucky. From the items she found on his person, this “paymaster” had also been a powerful mage. Katja looked around the room and spotted a chest, which she rifled. Within she found a book titled “Thalmor Dossier: Esbern.” That ought to cover the subject, but she didn’t have time to study it. She glanced at the first couple of pages before tucking it into her pack.

Katja next approached the hapless prisoner. Having wiped her dagger on the late Rulindil’s clothing, she used it to pry loose the man’s bonds. “I’m here to help,” she told him, mindful that his recent ordeal might leave him beyond coherent thought. “Can you tell me anything about what the Thalmor are up to?” The man looked at her with haunted eyes, hardly believing in his deliverance. “I don’t know any more! Just that he’s an old man and he’s in Riften.”

It didn’t look as though Etienne was going to be a fount of useful information. Abruptly, there was the sound of footsteps, and then voices called “Come out! We have your accomplice!” Katja turned to see two Thalmor guards entering the room, Malborn held between them. She stepped quietly behind a pillar. Then, as they came further into the room, she attacked. Malborn, freed as those holding him prisoner responded to her attack, joined in the battle. The next thing she knew, Katja was wiping blood off her axe and the guards lay dead on the floor.

Katja searched their corpses and came up with a key, which opened a trap door in the floor nearby leading to an icy rock-hewn tunnel that opened out, before long, into what looked like an ice cave. It smelled horrible. From here, one could climb down off a ledge into a recessed area, then go up a trail to an opening that led to the outside. Thank the Divines! Katja had not been looking forward to trying to escape the Embassy by going back the way she came. Malborn and Etienne accompanied her down the trap door.

Katja was about to drop down into the area below the ledge and make her way to the exit when her nostrils caught a flare in the rank odor of the place and she spotted, against the white of the cave’s surroundings, a hulking white-furred shape. Uh oh, a frost troll. The one on the way to High Hrothgar had not been easy to kill. Fortunately, it appeared the creature could not climb up onto the ledge. Otherwise she would shortly have been lunch for it.

Katja stalked the ledge, taking aim at the creature with her bow as the opportunity presented itself. Meanwhile Malborn, no coward, jumped down to go toe-to-toe with the beast, distracting it and keeping it in her sights. After perhaps half a dozen arrows, she brought it down. Malborn and the prisoner immediately headed for the exit. Warily, alert for more threats, Katja dropped down at last and followed them. She was happy to be able to retrieve several of her arrows before continuing to the exit.

Once outside, Katja heaved a huge sigh of relief. She had evidence, if not precisely the evidence Delphine had been expecting, and she was still in one piece. Her map was one treasure she had not parted with, kept always close to her skin except while bathing or making love, and she shortly found herself back in Solitude and walking into the Winking Skeever. It was the middle of the night.

Wyll was sitting by himself at a table near the far wall, a tankard of ale at his elbow, and apparently enjoying the lovely young female house bard’s rendition of “The Dragonborn Comes.” How appropriate, Katja thought, striding in. Wyll’s usual placid and sweet-natured appearance seemed unruffled as he greeted her, implying she was a friend who’d happened by instead of someone whose safety he’d feared for. “Have a pint, love!” he said bluffly, calling for the barmaid to bring another.

Katja seated herself beside him, and she could tell from the tension as he gripped her arm that he was not as relaxed as he seemed. Her ale came and she downed about half of it at a swallow, wishing it were some of that Colovian Brandy they’d had at the party. After all she’d been through this evening, her nerves were in need of some steadying. She felt that Delphine needed to learn, and soon, about all she’d discovered on her foray; but tomorrow would be soon enough.

Katja gulped down the rest of her ale and then leaned into Wyll, playing the part of a tipsy tavern wench. “Whee! What do you say we go to your room?” The effect was somewhat spoiled by the fact she was clad head to toe in armor. He played along: “A lusty lass! My favorite kind!” To Katja’s surprise, Wyll scooped her up like a sack and tossed her over his shoulder, then carried her off down the corridor to the room they had rented what seemed like days ago.

“All right, that’s quite enough!” she protested, kicking ineffectually as he lugged her down the hall. He pushed the door open with one hand, then deposited her on the floor before shutting and barring it. “That was uncalled for!” she huffed. “Just trying to stay in character, love. This secret agent stuff is new to me,” he replied. He gave her a boyish grin that she felt quite helpless to resist.

“Never mind.” She rose on tiptoes to plant a kiss on him. “It went really well!” she said enthusiastically. “I found out the Thalmor are not behind the dragons coming back. They’re as mystified as anybody else. That’s going to set Delphine back, I’ll bet. But they’re into a lot of other stuff. A pretty nasty bunch.” “So,” he said, connecting the dots. “I guess that means we need to go back to Riverwood and report?”

“Not before tomorrow morning, I think” she said with irritation. “That woman has been acting like she owned me since before we even met. She can bloody well wait for her report.” Katja sighed, and began unbuckling her armor. “Give me a hand? I can think of one or two things I’d rather be doing, the rest of tonight.”

Wyll took her meaning quite happily, and jumped to help her with the straps. Katja was soon in her underclothes. “Man,” she said ruefully, “I sure wish the rest of this benighted province would wake up to the benefits of hot bathing pools.” To date, her beloved Suite was the only place she had found with hot water for bathing. Most places, you were lucky to get a basin, a pitcher of cold water, and maybe some towels.

Wyll gave her a small grin. “Lie back, dear. I’ll bathe you.” He reached down to pull her undershirt over her head, then knelt to pull her underdrawers down to the floor until Katja could step out of them. Then he led her to the bed, and directed her to lie flat on her back. He’d been dressed in casual clothing for his evening of anxious waiting in the inn, and he now peeled that off to reveal he was naked underneath. She peeped at him admiringly, while maintaining the pretense of lying limp on the coverlet.

Wyll was not erect as yet, but his big cock was beginning to swell as it dangled between his massively muscled legs. As Katja lay there, trying not to move, he commenced giving her a tongue bath. He began by bathing her feet with his tongue, sucking her toes. Then he worked his way up her legs, licking the tender places around her knees after a quick stroke up the shins.

Wyll applied his tongue in long strokes up her outer then inner thighs, a burning wetness along the tender skin of her groin, then continuing upward. Katja lay there bemused, enjoying the sensations though for the most part they tickled. Nor did they leave her feeling particularly cleansed, but still… This was a new, tender side of her enormous blond lover. Before he had been a thunderbolt, yet now he teased and tantalized her. He continued upward in his progress, diving from her hips to her fingers, first on one side and then the other.

Wyll sucked each finger gently, licking the palms, then the wrists and quickly up the forearm to the bend of the elbow. He took a little extra time there, licking and sucking, then on up and licked salt sweat from her armpits before working his way over her shoulders to her collarbones. Katja was particularly sensitive in that spot where her neck met the shoulders, and Wyll’s ministrations began to stir a warm, wet sensation that spread from between her legs up the center of her torso, as he moved from the shoulders and neck to apply tender kisses to her face, her ears, her mouth. As he was lying across her at this point and naked, she could feel that he was now fully erect and as aroused as she was.

He was not finished yet. Moving back down from her mouth to below her chin, Wyll licked down her midline to between the breasts, and circled first one breast, then the other with his tongue before gently taking the nipple in his mouth and sucking, running his tongue around and around as the nipple rose to his touch.

Leaving her glowing and aroused breasts behind, Wyll next ran his tongue down the center line of her body, stopping to tickle her navel and fill her with curious sensations as he applied suction to it. Then, as Katja’s anticipation grew and her body tensed involuntarily, he continued his progress down past the navel, working his tongue into her light bush of silken, curly auburn hair and finding the clit within, hiding within its hood and already stiffening.

Katja gasped as Wyll finally, after all that teasing, lowered his golden head to her slit and began working his tongue inside it, sucking at her labia. He added a couple of fingers and pushed them in and out, slowly, while continuing to worship at her gateway with lips and tongue. She couldn’t stand it anymore! Both hands pressing on his head, she arched her back and spasmed with a cry as her orgasm swept over her. When she had stopped grinding her pelvis into his face, he looked up at her smiling. “All clean, now?” he asked.

“Clean enough!” Katja gasped. “C’mere!” She hauled him bodily up her, until his face was even with hers, and kissed him. Very sloppily, considering that his short beard was soaked with saliva and her juices. She didn’t care. She tilted her pelvis to receive him, and his throbbing and ready cock slipped eagerly into her wet, slippery hole. In moments, as he began thrusting into her faster and faster, she was coming again. He would have liked to hold on and take her there 3 or 4 more times, but their long session of foreplay had left him with an aching in his loins that demanded release and as she cried out in ecstasy he joined her with a deep, drawn-out groan as his cock quivered within her, pumping out his seed.

With Wyll sunk within her as far as it was possible to go, her cunt still clutching at him spasmodically as the waves of amazing pleasure receded, Katja clasped him to her, her fingers digging deep into the muscles of his back. Aaah! She relaxed and lay there motionless for a few moments, as did he. Then she wiggled slightly beneath him. ”Love?” she mumbled, her mouth partly obscured. “Could you let me breathe, please?”

“Oh, sorry” Wyll said softly, rolling over. He weighed about twice what she did, and it was all muscle. She rolled onto her side and locked her lips on his. “Fantastic, baby,” she sighed. Then, tucking her head into his shoulder and resting her hand on his chest, she drifted down, like a leaf fluttering gently to the autumn forest floor, into sleep.

Chapter 24: Marching orders

Came the morning, and as usual Katja found herself alert early and eager to seize whatever the day had to offer. What it had to offer right off the bat was a superb young blond giant, lying sleepily beside her and enfolding her in his massive arms. He already had an enormous erection, so she seized that. She knelt beside him as he lay there on his back, squeezing with one hand while she ran her tongue from the base of his scrotum, right up the shaft, to flick over the head. It expanded under her touch, and a drop of clear, slightly salty fluid appeared. She licked it off.

Wyll’s powerful muscles tensed, which was very interesting to watch. By the Divines, he had the smoothest skin. You could see every muscle moving beneath it, too. As much as he appeared to be enjoying this he also seemed to be a bit less energetic than usual, still drowsy. Katja rotated in the bed so that her rear was pointed toward the head of it, then straddled him with her knees resting on either side of his head, and thrust her glistening cunt into his face as she bent to suck and stroke his cock.

“Mmmlgl!” Wyll said with what sounded like enthusiasm. He began licking and sucking her as well, and using his fingers in interesting ways up there while she gobbled him (or as much of him as she could get into her mouth) down below. This position was wonderfully exciting, and her vulva felt as if it were swollen to twice its normal size and possibly glowing as well; but Katja found it hard to let herself tumble all the way into orgasm like this. So she executed an athletic maneuver, spinning back around, and impaled herself on that throbbing, rock-hard member instead, locking mouths with Wyll and thrusting her tongue eagerly between his lips.

In a minute or two of vigorous bouncing they both reached climax, and Katja collapsed on top of him, panting, for a little while. Then she kissed him more gently and, with a smile on her lips and a song in her heart, leaped from the bed to go clean up with the basin and towels provided by the Winking Skeever’s management. What a great start to the morning! I’ve really got to take time for this more often, she thought to herself. Usually, her restless mind became so focused on her next quest or challenge that she tended to be all business in the morning – saving play for later on in the day.

Wyll lay there flat on his back, his member lying limp, a beatific smile on his lips as he watched Katja about her ablutions through half-closed eyes. What a woman, he thought. I think I’m in love. But it’s like trying to catch moonbeams… Sighing not unhappily, he lifted himself up on his elbows and then sat up, padding naked over to use the basin himself before putting on his underclothes and armor.

When Katja and Wyll had finished kitting up and were ready to leave, they stopped in the Skeever’s taproom long enough to have a little breakfast. Anxious to get moving, she ate a small bread roll washed down with ale, then exited the place munching on an apple. That ought to hold her at least until they’d had a chance to confer with Delphine back in Riverwood.

Katja pulled her magic map from its hiding place and the pair of them were soon standing on the road a little bit to the south and west of Riverwood’s gate, near the smithy. It appeared to be early afternoon. Katja had yet to figure out exactly how the map’s translocation abilities affected time. There were few enough clocks in Skyrim, in any case – and most of its citizens told time by looking at the sky. The space between touching the map and wishing, and appearing at the desired location, seemed to be no more than a few heartbeats of darkness. Yet she might arise in one location in the morning and fast-travel, only to find herself in another location at sunset. Of the same day?

The pair strode into the Sleeping Giant, blinking in the dimly lit common room after coming in from bright daylight outside. Katja peered around, but there was no sign of Delphine. She approached the bar where Delphine’s employee, Orgnar, was studiously polishing its surface with a rag. “Hi,” she said. “Uh, is Delphine here?” Delphine had run all the way from Riverwood to Kynesgrove. Might she have done the same returning here from Solitude, and still be on the road?

But Orgnar gestured toward the door to the right of the bar that led to Delphine’s room – and the secret entrance to the basement hideaway. Katja pushed the door open hesitantly, but saw no one inside. Beckoning Wyll to follow her, she approached the “wardrobe” and used the key Delphine had given her to let them into the basement.

Ah, there she was – still wearing her leather traveling clothes. On seeing them Delphine’s face lit up with the closest thing Katja had yet seen to a smile, as she said "You made it out alive, at least. Your gear's safe in my room, as promised. Did you learn anything useful?" Katja replied, “The Thalmor don’t know anything more about the dragon attacks than we do, I’m afraid.” “Really? That seems hard to believe. Are you sure about that?” Delphine responded. Katja had the sinking feeling that the woman’s obsession with the Thalmor as enemies was going to make it hard for her accept the truth.

“Why don’t you believe me?” Katja asked. Delphine’s expression changed to one of regret. “You're right, you're right. I just... I was sure it must have been them. If not the Thalmor, who? Or... what?” “I only know they’re looking for somebody named Esbern,” Katja told her. Surprise came over the other woman’s features, and when she spoke she sounded pleased. “Esbern? He's alive? I thought the Thalmor must have got him years ago. That crazy old man... Figures the Thalmor would be on his trail, though, if they were trying to find out what's going on with the dragons.”

“You know him? Who is he and why are they after him?” Katja asked. Delphine replied ruefully, “You mean, aside from wanting to kill every Blade they can lay their hands on? Esbern was one of the Blades archivists, back before the Thalmor smashed us during the Great War. He knew everything about the ancient dragonlore of the Blades. Obsessed with it, really. Nobody paid much attention back then. I guess he wasn't as crazy as we all thought.”

Katja considered that bit of information, recalling something she’d heard on her recent mission. “I think the Thalmor believe the Blades know about the dragons.” “Ironic, isn’t it?” Delphine replied. “The old enemies assume that every calamity must be a plot by the other side... Even so, we've got to find Esbern before they do. He'll know how to stop the dragons if anybody does. Do they know where he is?”

“They had a prisoner, a guy named Etienne,” Katja responded. “They were torturing him, and he said Esbern was in Riften.” Delphine spoke with resolve: “Riften, eh? Probably down in the Ratway, then. It's where I'd go. You'd better get to Riften. Talk to Brynjolf. He's... well-connected. A good starting point at least.” Here we go again, Katja thought. The errand-girl is dispatched once more. But Katja also felt convinced that this woman, and these Blades, had something important to do with her destiny here in Skyrim.

“I suppose we’ll be off to Riften, then,” she told Delphine. “Wait, don’t forget the rest of your things.” Katja had left the clothes she’d been wearing when she met Delphine at the Solitude Stables with her, and she now retrieved them from a trunk in the room. As she and Wyll shouldered their burdens and prepared to leave, Delphine had one last word for them: “Oh, and when you find Esbern... if you think I'm paranoid... you may have some trouble getting him to trust you. Just ask him where he was on the 30th of Frostfall. He'll know what it means.”

Chapter 25: A Night in Ivarstead

As soon as they were out in the daylight again, Katja pulled out her map. Wyll put an arm around her back and leaned over her shoulder, showing her with a massive forefinger where Riften was, waaay over beyond Throat of the World, many leagues to the east of Ivarstead. Oh, that’s right. That unbearable young snot Jarl Siddgeir had told her to fetch him some mead from there, she recalled now. Maybe I’ll get him some, and then dose it with something nasty, she thought.

To Wyll she said, “That’s a really long walk, sweetie. Are you up for it?” “With you my love, no road is too long,” he replied gallantly and uncharacteristically. She peered at him dubiously, but he only gave her his most cherubic smile. He was too damn cute for his own good, if anything that size could be said to be cute. “We’d better lay in some supplies then,” she said, and led the way down the street to Riverwood Trader.

Lucan, as usual, was delighted to see her. Seemingly she’d made a friend for life by retrieving that claw of his. It was impressive looking, and probably worth a mint with all that gold; but it certainly wasn’t what you’d call decorative sitting there on the front counter. Katja bought an assortment of likely trail food from him, filled some water skins, and even picked up a couple of bottles of wine just in case the opportunity for some relaxation came up along the journey.

Their nearest fast-travel point was Ivarstead. When she and Wyll arrived there, it was getting on toward late afternoon. Katja had a thought. “Wyll, when I was here with Anders and Lydia on the way up to High Hrothgar to see the Greybeards, the innkeeper here asked me to investigate the local barrow. He said the townspeople are convinced it’s haunted.” He looked slightly perplexed. “Aren’t all barrows haunted? There’s been no shortage of walking dead in every one I’ve seen.”

Katja considered. “I got the idea it was more than that. Draugr and specters usually just stay in their tombs, waiting for somebody to come trespassing. The innkeeper was talking about weird noises and moans in the night, loud enough for the whole village to be disturbed. Do you want to investigate, while we’re here?” Wyll grinned at her, stroking his battleaxe. “Getting dark, scary haunted barrow, evil dead? Sure!”

She grinned back, and they headed up to the north end of town. The barrow was easily visible from the road, on a slight rise behind the farmstead Katja had passed on her first trip into the village. This one was a type Katja had not seen before, though Wyll assured her they were a standard ancient Nord design and could be seen all over the province. Entering through a doorway, they found themselves looking at a circular stone wall contained within an outer one. They encountered open sarcophagi with scattered bones in them as they circled the gallery. On the side of the circle opposite the one they’d entered on, ornately carved double doors sat in the inner wall.

Katja pushed it open, somewhat hesitantly. Ahead of her, a rickety-looking wooden staircase spiraled down to a lower level. She gripped her bow and crept down it carefully, as afraid of falling through and breaking a leg as of encountering malign spirits. Wyll stayed close behind her. The stairs proved sturdier than they looked, and they shortly walked out into a ruinous stone gallery. Ahead of them an open doorway led into a tomb area, and a tall and imposing-looking mummified corpse stood guard in a recess.

That doesn’t look good, Katja thought, and after sneaking a little closer she put an arrow into it. There was a little dry “splat” as the arrow pierced the corpse; but no flame, no collapse. The thing was dead-dead, not walking-dead. Good. As she and Wyll crept all the way into the room, they saw a barred iron gate to the right. On the far side of it, a glowing blue specter appeared. So, the place was haunted after all! Katja approached it and it spoke in sepulchral tones: “Leave here! Leave here…” Then it departed.

Katja and Wyll exchanged a look, then continued to explore the barrow. The place was much less extensive than many such places they had visited, and no draugr walked the halls. Not that she was complaining. To the left they found a small stone room with four levers in it, and had to figure out which levers to pull in what order to raise the barred gates that blocked doorways on three sides of the room they had entered from, while keeping the gate to this room open. Guessing wrong sent them ducking a stream of arrows that came shooting out of holes in the walls.

Katja got the gates opened, and headed down the hall through the opening behind which the specter had appeared earlier. They came to another room with two doors in it, one of which led to a short corridor with a chest in it, and a pressure plate trap in the floor. The other led to another room, with more doors. Through one of those the corridor bent around to the left and then entered another room with an open door, in which stood a figure. It didn’t exactly look like a ghost. Katja shot an arrow at it from hiding and it suddenly charged them, shouting curses.

Wyll leapt into the fray, and in short order Katja’s only problem was getting a shot at their attacker without puncturing her lover. In moments that attacker lay still on the stone floor of the tomb, and as she examined it she quickly realized that it was no ghost or revenant, but a recently living man. Could this be the treasure hunter that Wilhelm, innkeep of the Vilemyr Inn, had mentioned?

A search of the corpse and the room he’d been standing in when they spotted him soon revealed the truth: he was indeed the missing treasure hunter, one Wyndelius Gatharian, and according to the journal Katja found he had discovered the formula for a potion that would make one look like a specter. Convinced that this barrow held a great treasure if he could just figure out how to get to it, he had taken up residence in the barrow and used his potion to frighten away the townsfolk lest they horn in on his find.

What a loon! Katja felt a little bad about killing him, though she guessed that even if she had just gone up and talked to him instead of shooting first he would have attacked, requiring them to kill him in any case. She pocketed the diary, and they made their way back out of the barrow complex. By the time they emerged into the open air once more, full night had fallen.

Wyll’s arm around her shoulders, Katja and her gigantic blond companion strolled down the village’s main street in the dark, heading for the inn. “You know,” she remarked quietly, “I’ll bet there really was a treasure in there. We’ll have to come back and explore sometime when I’m not so busy trying to stop dragons from returning and enslaving all mankind.” He gave her a little squeeze (such as he could, with both of them in full armor and draped with weapons) and said only, “Uh huh.”

At the inn, Katja headed right for the bar and greeted Wilhelm. “Hi, remember me?” “Weren’t you heading up to High Hrothgar a few days ago?” he asked. “That’s right,” she replied. “You asked me to look into the barrow?” Wilhelm’s interest rose. “That’s right! Did you find out something?” “I did indeed,” she told him, handing over Wyndelius’s journal. “I took this off a guy who was dressed up as a ghost.”

Wilhelm leafed through the journal, looking first amazed and then outraged. “I can’t believe he had us all fooled like that! Here we were feeling sorry for him because we thought he’d been killed by spirits!” Wilhelm’s expression became friendly, and he told Katja, “Thank you so much for finding this out for us. I want you to have this as a reward.” He whipped out an object that looked just like Lucan Valerius’s golden dragon claw, except that instead of being made of gold it was crafted of a matte-finished silvery metal. The claw tips seemed to be carved from solid blue gemstones, sapphires perhaps. Whoa!

Wilhelm continued, “If you won’t take it as payment, consider it a gift!” Katja graciously accepted the remarkable artifact, taking a moment to study the animal glyphs carved on its central shaft. Having used the golden claw to open the Word Wall chamber within Bleak Falls Barrow, she knew what use this might be put to. It was a key. But where was the lock? Down in the depths of the barrow they’d recently departed, she’d be willing to bet.

Katja thanked Wilhelm profusely, then asked him “Might we have a room for the night?” “Certainly, certainly,” he replied. “Ghosts or not, you don’t want to be out on the road at this hour.” He showed them to a room that, thankfully, had a full bed. As soon as the door had closed behind them, Katja braced Wyll grinning. “Do you know what that thing is?” she asked him. “Um, looks like an ancient Nord artifact.” Wyll, despite being a native, seemed to be less up on some local lore than Anders was.

“It’s the key to a treasure vault!” Katja told him. “I think old Wyndelius really was sitting on a treasure, but he couldn’t get it because he didn’t have this key. And the whole time, it was right here in the inn!” Then she sighed. “I’d really like to go down there and see what it is, but we need to get going to Riften first thing in the morning. Let’s not forget to come back here after this business is all over with.”

Wyll gave her a warm smile. He was coming to know and appreciate this larcenous aspect of his fiery and fire-haired little lover’s personality quite well. She never left a corpse unstripped or a chest unplundered. She chattered on: “It’s too bad it got dark so soon. I don’t think it’s been six hours of real time since we got up this morning, at least it doesn’t seem like it. Did we even eat lunch?”

“Now that you mention it,” he said, “I wouldn’t mind a bite. Or maybe a whole roast ox.” A man that size doesn’t keep his strength up on a diet of bread and apples. “Let’s get changed and see what old Wilhelm can whip up for us, then,” Katja suggested. He helped her unstrap her armor and she returned the favor. They stood there in their underclothes eyeing each other somewhat hungrily; but other hungers were more pressing for the moment.

Katja dug what passed for her “nice dress” out of her pack and shook it out. It wasn’t torn or bloodstained, and it was a dress, after all. She even had a pair of soft slippers to put on her bare feet. She peeled off her underwear before putting it on, managing to do so while Wyll was occupied with his own wardrobe change. He had an enormous, theoretically white shirt, loose even on his massive frame, with full gathered sleeves and lacing at the neck. Below he wore an ordinary pair of trousers, a little snug (which Katja thought showed off his muscular buttocks to good effect), and some soft shoes.

The pair emerged from the room and took seats at one of the long tables that lined the room on either side. Wilhelm, who had become their good buddy, came right over and offered them what he had on the fire. They feasted on a roasted haunch of venison, with some grilled leeks on the side, vegetable soup rich with carrots, cabbage, and potatoes, and more of the ubiquitous bread rolls (eaten at three meals a day by most people in Skyrim), washed down with a nearly drinkable red wine and topped off with some honey-nut treats for dessert.

By the time they had finished this excellent repast Katja, who had not eaten so well almost since she arrived in Skyrim, had come up with another idea. She called Wilhelm over and asked him, “Do you happen to have a washtub?” “Oh aye,” he replied. “The wife keeps one in the kitchen for laundry.” She smiled up at him. “Could you possibly have that brought to our room, along with a few pots of hot water and a few buckets of cold? And some soap?” He smiled at her. “Most certainly, lovely lady!” Funny how putting on a dress seemed to bring out the gallantry in men, she mused.

Katja and Wyll went back to their room to await the delivery of the washtub. It would take a while for the water to be heated. “I’m going to have a hot bath, I’m going to have a hot bath!” she crowed gleefully. “Thank the Divines,” Wyll replied fervently, his eyes twinkling. “Are you implying I’m dirty?” she huffed archly, her eyes twinkling as well. “If I’m at all besmirched it’s entirely your fault. Your tongue bath wasn’t all that effective, and then you got me all sticky again this morning.” She gave him a mock frown.

They had seated themselves on the bed, pretty much the only comfortable spot in the room. Wyll sent her a shamefaced and repentant look, then took her in his arms and looked into her eyes. “Can I get you sticky again before the bath gets here?” he suggested wistfully. Katja snorted in laughter, then pushed him away. “No! Wilhelm might be here any minute.” He looked abashed, so she kissed him. Then he kissed her back, a little harder, stroking her hair and running his fingers gently down her back in the soft, snug fitting dress.

“Hey, this is nice,” Wyll said appreciatively. “I don’t get to see you in anything but armor or your skin very often. Not that your skin isn’t also very nice…” he leered. He pulled Katja into a closer embrace, squeezing her breasts against his chest through the thin fabric. They sat on the bed necking, enjoying the activity without getting too excited. As their relationship deepened, a little of the raw animal passion was seeping away to be replaced by genuine affection.

A knock came at the door, the two pulled apart, and Wilhelm bustled in carrying the washtub. He set it on the floor in front of the hearth, then he and his missus trooped in several times to deliver steaming pots of hot water along with several bucketsful at room temperature. “Will that be all, Dragonborn?” he asked. I didn’t think he knew who I was, Katja mused. It looks like my fame is spreading. “That’s wonderful, Wilhelm,” she replied. “Thanks and good night. Somebody can come get the tub in the morning.”

When the door closed again Wyll pounced on her. “Alone at last!” he boomed, smiling. She looked at him demurely from under her lashes, and then asked “Help me with my dress?” He eagerly leapt to do her bidding, unhooking the clasps at the front of the dress until the tight bodice had loosened to the point where it could be slipped down over her shoulders. Her ripe breasts spilled out as he pushed it down around her waist.

His eyes lit and he reached for them, squeezing gently and kissing each nipple. “Hey,” Katja said, not about to be distracted. “Hot water. Now.” Wyll looked disappointed, but set about mixing hot and cold water in the tub until it was about halfway full of water that was just a little bit too warm for comfort. Katja stood there admiring the steaming tub, transfixed with joy. Wilhelm had even outdone himself and brought a small bath sponge. It had somehow found its way to this tiny village at the mountain’s foot, from whatever ocean had given it birth.

Wriggling in a way that Wyll found very interesting, Katja shrugged the dress down over her hips and it fell to floor. She stepped delicately from the puddled fabric and put a toe tentatively into the tub. Ooh! She took it out again. But she knew it would only be getting cooler, so it was time to face the challenge. This time she put one foot all the way in, then the other, standing flatfooted with the water up almost to her knees. Then, slowly, she crouched and carefully sat down. “Ahhhh…” she sighed.

Meanwhile, Wyll had shucked out of his shirt and trousers, and was as naked as she. “I hope you don’t think you’re going to join me in here” Katja said, sounding amused. He laughed out loud “Hah! I don’t think I could fit in there even if you weren’t already filling it up. I just don’t want to get my clothes all wet, when I wash your back.”

“Mm?” She looked up at him questioningly. “Lean back a little, and I can wash your hair,” he said. Katja smiled and complied, but question marks were sparking in her mind. Who is this person? It seemed that the longer she knew Wyll, the more facets of the man she discovered. So far, each of them had proven more endearing than the last. He used some of the soap to wash her hair, then mixed some of the hot and cold water in a bucket to pour over her head, rinsing it.

After Katja’s hair was done, Wyll took the sponge and rubbed some soap on it before working her over. He started with her neck, holding her hair up out of the way, then scrubbing her back down to her butt. Next, he came around to the front, grinning at her like a little boy who’s proud of how helpful he’s being to his mommy. Weelll, not quite – now that he was facing her, Katja saw that his member was erect, and there was a gleam in his eye that was anything but childlike.

“I can wash this side by myself you know,” she teased him. “Oh no,” he replied, looking concerned. “It’s my fault you got besmirched. And I need to make up for the substandard bath I gave you last night. Arms up!” She obediently raised her firmly muscled arms over her head and he dipped the sponge in the water, washing from her fingertips down all the way past her armpits. The water sluiced down her sides as he did first one arm and then the other.

Katja was smiling at him now, and as she lowered her arms back into the water he bent close and kissed her tenderly on the lips. She put her arms on his shoulders and leaned into the kiss, slipping her tongue into his mouth. Then he leaned back onto his haunches, his member still jutting, and resumed his ministrations with the sponge. He soaped it and washed each of her breasts in turn, cupping water from the tub to rinse the soap away afterward. Then he bent lower with the sponge, washing her belly.

Wyll’s brows knit. “I’m doing this wrong,” he said. “Give me a foot.” She straightened out her right leg, extending the foot over the edge of the tub, and he scrubbed it with the sponge before gently handing it back in and reaching for the other one. Now that both feet and legs were clean, he took the sponge in hand and, leaning closer, ran it down between her legs. Spreading her labia with his fingers, he gently washed out her sex. It was slippery, as he’d hoped it would be.

“OK,” Wyll said, regaining his feet. “All clean.” Katja’s eyes lit. An hour ago she had thought that nothing could be more delightful than to sit and soak in the hot water until she turned into a prune; but Wyll’s activities had begun to give her some other ideas. She got her feet under her and stood up, dripping. “Towel?” she suggested.

Wyll handed her one of the stack that Mrs. Wilhelm had brought in, and Katja bent to let the long wet strands of her hair hang down while she wrapped the towel around her head, then folded it back. She was glowing from the hot water, pink and wet. Stepping out of the tub onto the hearth rug, she stood there and submitted to more of Wyll’s attentions as he gently blotted the moisture from her body with a second towel.

As Wyll knelt to dry her legs and feet, he applied his mouth to her crotch, sucking water from the strands of her pubic hair and then putting his tongue into the opening. Katja nearly jumped. “Oooh, yes, Wyll! But I can’t do this standing up…” She led him over toward the bed and perched on the side of it, her legs spread to allow him full access to her inner folds.

Wyll knelt at the side of the bed and began working her over with tongue, lips, and fingers, bringing a flood of juices to his mouth and setting Katja to panting, her hands clutching at his head. After she spasmed in release, he stood up. His cock was rigid, towering, and ready. She just lay back on the bed, feeling very relaxed now between the hot bath and the explosive orgasm, and invited him in.

Tonight, Wyll felt more in control. Ah, he loved making love to this woman! He lay above her, plunging deep within her incredibly warm, incredibly wet folds, moving slower then faster. Then slower again, before turning her over so he could take her from behind. This position seemed to be one that was particularly good for Katja, and she was soon crying out loudly and repeatedly, the walls of her vagina pulsating and clutching at his cock like a squeezing fist as she came again. This time, he couldn’t hold back the tide and his scrotum clenched tight as he exploded within her.

They fell to the bed together and lay there spooning, Wyll kissing Katja’s neck and shoulder from behind, arms wrapped tight around her, as their pulsations gradually subsided and he slipped out. She continued lying there with her back to him, holding his arms tight as they wrapped around her, for a while longer. Then she stretched and rolled over to put her hands on either side of his face and kiss him sweetly.

“See?” she murmured. “Sticky again.” He hugged her, chuckling. “I’m sorry,” he rumbled, “I’m incorrigible. But I just can’t help it. Every time I see you, I want to fuck your brains out.” Katja sighed, snuggling closer. “I hope you can restrain yourself while we’re fighting draugr,” she said softly. After resting for a while, the sticky pair got up and used the water in the tub, with the rest of what was still in the pots and buckets, to clean themselves off.

Wyll couldn’t sit in the tub but he could stand in it, and Katja gave him a sponge bath. This activity had him on the rise again, but she quashed the idea. “If we keep doing that, we’ll never get clean. Let’s just get some sleep – it looks like a long walk tomorrow.” She handed him a towel. “Yes, Mistress,” he replied with a wistful expression. Before long, they blew out the candles and slept.

Chapter 26: The Road to Riften

Wyll felt completely comfortable: warm, sleepy, drifting up from a dream of rolling in Kat’s arms that was starting to make his cock stiffen, trapped beneath his body as he slept face down. But something was niggling at the edge of his consciousness. Some… noise. There it was again. He opened his eyes and rolled over to find that selfsame light of his life, all business, clanking as she strapped on her armor and gathered her gear for travel. Oh.

Wyll yawned and stretched, as Katja gave him a look that was half amused affection, half impatience. “Up and at ‘em, Big Boy” she said. “We’re burning daylight!” It didn’t look as if he were going to be able to cozen her into any nude romps this morning at least, so he sat up. Then, he got to his feet and went off to find the privy. After that he splashed some water on his face, and began getting into his things. By this time Katja was fairly simmering with impatience, and she helped him get his armor strapped on to speed things up.

“What about breakfast?” Wyll asked. Katja tossed him a bread roll, chewing on another. “We’ll eat some more after we get down the road a ways,” she said. “I really want to get to Riften today.” They bid farewell to Wilhelm and his wife, tipping them for the extra effort, and were soon walking down the road that led south out of town before turning to the east.

The region they were walking through, the hold known as the Rift (of which Riften was the seat), was pleasant to look at. Katja and Wyll were traveling on stone-paved roads that seemed to meander a bit, splitting from time to time. Some smaller spur roads headed north toward the Treva River that, closer to the city, ran into Lake Honrich. On either side of the road the pair were surrounded by a light hardwood forest, the leaves turning gold and sparkling in the summer sunlight as they fell to the ground.

There were lots of mountain flowers of all colors to be found growing here, but little else of interest to Katja for her growing collection of alchemical ingredients. She had her mind on other things as well. Wyll was so… much of a man. Words failed her. His humor and surprising tenderness were so at odds with his seeming stolidity, his competence as a killer, and his enormous sexual energy. When he stood there naked, looking at her with lust, it was as if all of her well-reasoned arguments were pushed right out of her mind by a flood of answering passion.

Katja felt almost as if she were getting addicted to Wyll, against her better judgment. But at the same time, she missed Anders terribly. His warmth, his blazing Destruction magic at her side in battle, his skill as a lover, even his occasional long-winded lectures on Skyrim lore, were things that she felt she needed. But much as she loved and wanted both of them, she didn’t feel up to handling both of them at once. Her experience making love to the two of them together, while mind-blowing, had made her feel as if neither of them had gotten the attention he deserved. If Katja was to spend time with Anders, therefore, she’d have to leave Wyll behind for a while. And vice versa.

Her dilemma left her feeling frustrated, but she shrugged it off. Katja’s emotional makeup didn’t allow her to worry over problems for long. I’ll deal with that when I come to it, she thought. Anyway, Wyll and I have to find Esbern before I can decide what to do next. Her reverie was interrupted at this point as a pair of snarling wolves attacked them from the left while a saber cat darted in from the right.

“Shit!” Katja yelled, drawing the bow she had held ready. She was getting faster with the weapon, able to draw and loose an arrow every few seconds. But it was lucky for her she was accompanied by a magnificently lethal young warrior. A couple of swings from the steel battle axe she’d given him cut the wolves down in a shower of blood. Then he turned to the wounded saber cat, which was now sporting three arrows shot at close range and was extremely pissed off. In a move that stunned Katja, Wyll slung the handle of the battle axe across the spitting, snarling cat’s neck and pushed down hard, while lifting its head with his knee. It fell dead, neck broken.

Panting, her heart racing, Katja gasped “What in all the hells is with the wildlife in this part of the world? Wolves and a saber cat?!” Slinging her bow over her back for the moment, she readied a new spell she had learned. As her coffers had swelled (especially since becoming owner of the Suite, and being able to add its profits to her income stream), it had occurred to her that it would be nice to have some more magic at her disposal. Farengar Secret-Fire, the court mage in Dragonsreach, had sold her half a dozen spell tomes and she could now heal both herself and others, among other little tricks.

These abilities were limited, however, to the amount of magicka she had. Katja had been told that her fund of the basic magical essence would increase, as would the speed at which it would recharge itself, as she practiced and developed her skills. But for now, she found that healing herself of the scratches and one serious bite mark the cat had inflicted used almost half her available supply. It was slower than taking a healing potion too, best used only when danger had passed.

Wyll observed this quizzically. “Healing?” he asked. She nodded. “I’ve never done much with magic,” he remarked. “I’m more of a sharp force trauma kind of guy.” “I noticed,” she responded. “Thank you for your efforts!” She turned to him and stood on tiptoe to give him a brief kiss. Clearly, the wildlands of the Rift – even the wildlands of the official road running through it – were no place to let your guard down.

Katja took a moment to skin out the pelts and retrieve some arrows, also removing a tooth from the cat. With this and some glowing mushrooms, often to be found in caves, she could make a potion that would improve her abilities at smithing by nearly a third, for a short time. Then, bow to hand and eyes scanning the brush on either side of the road, she led them on their way toward Riften once more.

The day was a bit overcast, high clouds casting a murky pall over the land as they travelled along the road. Katja and Wyll remained on full alert, as they were attacked repeatedly by bears, wolves, and less familiar creatures. Each time, their antagonists swiftly regretted their aggression but failed to flee in time to escape death. Katja was beginning to wonder if all of the wild animals in Skyrim were rabid, or something. But she’d been bitten numerous times and wasn’t foaming at the mouth yet, so probably not.

Rather than try to sit and have a picnic in this perilous place, the pair just dug into their packs for less perishable items like bread, hard cheese, smoked salmon, and apples, munching standing up while continuing to keep an eye on their surroundings. After several hours of walking, Katja realized that she was looking at Lake Honrich on their left, the clear waters lapping the shore only a few yards away from the road. Ahead in the distance, wooden structures were built out over the water. That must be the backside of Riften.

“I have an idea,” Katja told Wyll. “Are you up for a swim?” They bundled their clothes and gear and tied them to a log, then pushed it out into the water. Kicking across to the nearest of the buildings, which had a ramp going down into the lake, they got their things back and dressed. Katja was feeling quite pleased with herself. Not only did the cool dip feel good after walking and fighting maniacal wildlife for hours, but they had now sneaked into Riften without alerting the city watch. If they were shortly to be consorting with thieves and ruffians in Riften’s infamous Ratway, it would be a good idea to keep a low profile.

Katja’s pride in her clever scheme was soon crushed, however. As they made their way up a series of walkways looking for a way into the main part of the city, they discovered their path blocked by a pair of stern-looking Riften guards, with a third coming up behind them. “Halt!” the one on the right said. “By order of the Jarl, this gate is closed. You’ll have to go to the north gate.” Katja sighed. “How about if I give you 25 gold and you forget you saw us?” she suggested. “It’s not worth going to prison for that!” the guard replied. “Go around!”

Deflated, Katja led Wyll back the way they had come. The water around the pilings was actually shallow enough for them to wade, and they picked their way over to the northern lake shore then took a path that ran up between some buildings to the gate the guard had mentioned. They passed Riften’s stables on the way. This gate proved to be shut and locked as well, and guarded by another pair of guards who might have been twins to the ones they had just spoken with.

One of them said authoritatively “So, you’re wanting to come in? You’ll have to pay an entry tax, then.” Katja was outraged. The last guard refused to take a bribe, and this one was demanding one? “What’s that for?” she queried the guard sharply. “Well, it’s a charge for getting into the city, like” he replied a little less assuredly. “It sounds like a shakedown to me,” she accused, fixing him with a glare. Somewhat to her surprise, he backed down. “All right, don’t tell on me. I’ll let you in. Just wait while I unlock the gate.”

Chapter 27: Among Thieves

Katja and Wyll shortly found themselves standing on the inner side of the gates, surveying the city of Riften spread out before them. There was a canal running through the center of town, crossed here and there by wooden bridges and flanked by boardwalks. Ahead to the left was a row of substantial-looking buildings, where the city’s rich resided no doubt; and on the other side of the canal from that was a stone-paved central square, bustling with commercial activity.

Talk to Brynjolf, Katja thought. Whoever that was. She spotted a well-set-up but shady-looking character leaning on a pillar just ahead of them to the left, and approached him. He gave her a suspicious look and asked, “What brings you to Riften?” She’d had just about enough of the officious types around here and retorted, “Who’s asking?”

“I’m Maul,” he replied, undeterred by her hostility. “I keep an eye on things for Maven Blackbriar, and if you’ve got coin to pay I can give you the dirt on just about anybody.” Getting a grip on her irritation, remembering she was here to cajole people into telling her things, Katja smiled at him winningly. “Dirt?” she said, “I’m not all that clean myself.” He smiled back, and seemed to accept her as a member of his fellowship. “Ah, one of us, I see. What would you like to know?”

Katja pumped Maul for information on the Blackbriars, evidently the family that controlled things in Riften. They had dealings with the Thieves’ Guild, another major force in the city. And he mentioned that the Ratway had an entrance on the lower level docks, but that she’d better be careful going down there. As they parted he said, “Talk to Brynjolf about joining the Thieves’ Guild. He’s right over there in the square.”

Katja thanked him and headed in that direction. Hmm, so this Brynjolf’s “connections” were with the Thieves’ Guild. A tall and powerfully-built man with dark red, shoulder-length hair was standing at one of the stalls in the marketplace, doing some kind of sales presentation for a potion that sounded too good to be true. He was rough-hewn rather than handsome, with a straggly short beard, and looked to be in his late 30s at least. But she found something compelling about him. Maybe it was just that she’d always had a soft spot for bad boys. This, she felt sure, must be Brynjolf.

As Katja approached, he had just finished his spiel. He fixed her with a cold blue-green stare and said, “Never done an honest day’s work in your life for all that coin you’re carrying, eh Lass?” Katja was taken aback. “What did you say?” she asked, insulted. “I just meant that you look like you might be open to making a little coin,” he explained. “I have a job I’m working on, but I need an extra hand.” “I don’t have time for this. I’m looking for a man called Esbern,” she replied coolly.

Brynjolf smiled slightly. “And I can help you find him. But first you need to help me.” Katja wasn’t averse to making off with a few valuables if it appeared their owners were not going to be in further need of them; but joining Riften’s notorious Thieves Guild (or possibly being thrown in jail for getting mixed up in their schemes) was not what she had in mind. Still, if that was what it would take to get the information she came for… “What do I have to do?” she asked.

Brynjolf very nearly grinned, lightening his rather grim features. “Ah, there’s a good lass. I knew you had it in you,” he said. Katja found his burr to be rhythmic and caressing to her ear, a pleasant sound. She’d never met another Nord with that accent, and wondered idly what part of the province he came from. He gestured toward one of the stalls that were placed around the circular plaza.

The stall was operated by a very respectable-looking Argonian (the lizard-like humanoid race that sprang from the province of Black Marsh, often seen acting as merchants though some, Katja knew, were involved in the illegal skooma trade) and appeared to be selling jewelry. Brynjolf spoke quietly: “That’s Madesi’s stall. I’ll create a distraction, and you steal his silver ring. Then plant it in Brand-Shei’s pocket.” He indicated with his eyes the Elf Brand-Shei, who was seated on a nearby pile of crates.

Nothing for it but to jump in with both feet, I suppose, Katja thought. She told Wyll in an undertone, “Wait right here.” Then she began drifting over toward Madesi’s stall. At this juncture Brynjolf began loudly demanding everyone’s attention as he offered a potion that was made from the blood of the legendary Snow Elves, or something like that. Katja wasn’t focusing on what he was saying, too busy looking for guards or alert bystanders as she crouched low, down behind the stall, and picked the lock on a sliding door beneath the counter.

After opening the door Katja had to pick another lock on a small strongbox, then removed only the silver ring from it while leaving a pile of other valuables behind. No point in pressing her luck! She re-closed the strongbox, then the door. So far, no mailed hands had descended on her shoulder, no cries of “Thief!” had been raised.

Continuing her creep around the perimeter of the plaza, all eyes still on Brynjolf, Katja moved up silently to Brand-Shei’s side as he sat there, apparently transfixed by the master thief’s spiel, and slipped the ring into his pocket. Then she crept away, before standing normally and attempting to act as if she were just one of the people who’d been listening to the sales pitch.

As Brynjolf finished speaking and the crowd dispersed, two city guards collared Brand-Shei, having apparently been tipped off that he was carrying stolen property. They soon hauled him off to jail. Then Brynjolf approached her, a much friendlier expression on his face. “You’re just the sort of lass we need in the Guild,” he said. He gave her a 100-septim reward for her services, and invited her to join the Thieves Guild. “I’m not really ready to do that,” Katja demurred. “When you feel like it, then, come look me up. There’s a tavern in the Ratway called the Ragged Flagon, and you’ll find me there.”

Katja felt a bit distressed at the latest turn of events. She was supposed to be a heroine, The Dragonborn, champion of mankind – not a professional sneak thief. On the other hand, the pay was probably pretty good – and that Brynjolf was kind of hunky. Mentally slapping herself and shaking her head, she motioned Wyll to follow as she crossed the nearest bridge and proceeded to a set of steps she’d noticed nearby, that led down to a lower level of wooden walkways near the canal.

Wooden walks lined the buildings just above water level on either side, and there was a bridge crossing to the other side right near the steps they had come down. Set into the wall of a building opposite, Katja spotted an iron grate that she just knew was going to take them down into Riften’s underworld.

Beyond the grate was a wooden door, then a corridor built of stone leading on into dimness. Here and there along the corridor, candles and lanterns provided an occasional circle of warm light. Katja and Wyll were on the alert, so when two thugs suddenly burst out of the room ahead of them on the attack, they had their weapons ready. She bashed one of them to the ground with her mace, good for close-in fighting, while Wyll nearly decapitated the other with his axe.

Katja bent to go through their pockets, finding a fair amount of gold and a few lockpicks on each. She did not think of this as stealing. This was just a tax for trying to kill her. She won, her assailant was dead, so she had a right to anything he (or she) had been carrying. It made as much sense to her as carrying off the pelts of the wolves that had attacked them on the road.

Around a couple of bends the two companions found their way blocked by a wooden panel that looked like it might form a sort of drawbridge; but if so, the lever for lowering it was on the far side. Riften above was all built of wood, but the Ratway was almost like a second city of stone, lying below the other one. Katja wondered as she dropped from the walkway they were standing on and made her way to a doorway she’d spotted on the level below, if this might not be the original Riften – sunken somehow, or perhaps submerged after the lake’s waters rose. If so, those ancient builders knew what they were doing. The stones were tightly fitted, and there was very little dampness down here considering the water level must be 10 feet or more above their heads.

Katja and Wyll moved cautiously through the labyrinth, encountering only a skeever or two and one old woman. Katja thought she looked motherly, standing there in an apron chopping vegetables for soup – until she spun on her heel at their approach and ran at them with the foot-long knife she was holding. Fortunately, Wyll didn’t have any compunctions about striking down hostile old ladies. Katja might have hesitated long enough to have gotten that knife in her ribs.

In the kitchen area where the old woman now lay still, Katja spotted a wooden door to their right. Ahead and to the left, a passageway looked familiar and she went over to investigate it. Sure enough, this was the other side of the walkway they’d been on after killing the two thugs. She pulled the lever she found on the wall, and there was now a bridge across to the area they’d come in from – just in case they needed to beat a hasty retreat.

That done, the two went back and opened the wooden door, finding themselves in a large space like a cistern with a goodly pool of shallow, surprisingly clear water in the center. At the far end, lit by lanterns, Katja could see a bar. “This must be the Ragged Flagon,” she murmured to Wyll. “I wonder if they have any brandy?” he murmured back. She smiled at that, slinging her bow on her back and walking normally. It was probably not a good idea to be looking furtive, down here.

As they approached the bar, Katja saw Brynjolf having a contentious discussion with some of his fellow thieves. There seemed to be only a couple of women in the gang, a lithe Redguard woman sitting by herself over near the edge of the water and a stunningly beautiful but cold-seeming platinum blonde who was sitting at a table in the corner. The blonde looked like she was chewing nails. Brynjolf spotted Katja and looked pleased, no doubt concluding that she had come here to sign up. He was now dressed in some handsomely fitted and sewn leather armor, the Guild uniform apparently, and looked still hotter than he had in his merchant mufti.

“Ah, Lass! I knew you’d come around. I have just the job for you, to prove yourself, and then you’ll be a full member of the Guild.” Swell, Katja thought. “Uh, what is it?” she asked. “There are a few people around town who owe us money, and they haven’t been paying on time. You’re going to collect those debts.” Katja wanted to refuse him, but she didn’t want to turn Brynjolf unfriendly before she’d obtained the information she came for. She got him to give her details, and he took pains to assure her that it was the intimidation, the respect, that the Guild wanted more than the money.

Katrine Bouchard, hired thug – she thought ruefully. Well, I don’t necessarily have to go through with it. Aloud, after agreeing that she would carry out the assignment, Katja finally got Brynjolf to tell her about Esbern’s whereabouts. “He’s hiding out in the Ratway Warrens,” the red-haired thief proclaimed, “and paying us to tell nobody about it.” Except anyone who’ll pay you more, I’ll bet, was Katja’s thought. She may have been attracted to this guy initially, still was a little; but she was beginning to think he and his down-at-the-heels gang of rogues were bad news.

Katja and Wyll were directed down a short hallway to a wooden door at the bar end of the tavern, and soon passed through it into the Warrens, searching for Esbern in earnest. Wyll looked a little disappointed not to have gotten a drink while they were there. Like most Nords, seemingly, an axe in one hand and a Nord mead in the other – and perhaps a pretty wench on the “third,” was all it took for him to achieve happiness.

The Warrens proved to be even more extensive than the section they had come through earlier, with many galleries lined by iron grates. It almost looked as if it might have been a prison at one time. Katja was expecting it to be inhabited by the dregs of Riften – thieves, beggars, skooma addicts – but she had not counted on running into a party of Thalmor guards accompanied by a mage. She and Wyll each got off a few arrow shots (Wyll, too, now had a bow she’d enchanted with fire damage) but they were soon in a fierce fight toe-to-toe.

When the three Thalmor lay dead on the stone walkway at their feet, Katja used her Healing spell on herself and the other Restoration school spell she’d learned, Healing Hands, to wipe away Wyll’s hurts. He’s worth two of me in a fight, she thought. I’ve got to keep him healthy. Closer to the truth, she couldn’t bear the thought of losing him. He’d gotten his hooks into her heart. To Wyll, she said “These Thalmor must have been down here looking for Esbern. If there any more of them, let’s hope we find him before they do.”

Katja and Wyll wandered the maze together, eyes and ears alert for danger; but most of the place’s other denizens were more reclusive than hostile. Finally they came to a door that was three times as impressive and substantial as any other they’d yet encountered down here, and appeared to have a dozen locks on it. Katja had a feeling they’d found what they were looking for, and she knocked.

A spyhole a few inches tall and a foot or so wide was slid open, and she could see the face of a grizzled old man behind it, lit by candlelight. “Esbern?” she asked. When he did not deny it she continued, “Delphine sent us to look for you.” “I don’t trust you!” he replied. He might look old, but he seemed to be pretty spry and fit. He must have been formidable 40 years earlier. Katja told him, “Delphine said to remind you of the 30th of Frostfall.”

The old man’s expression changed. “Frostfall? I remember that. You must be all right then. Wait just a minute, I’ve got to unlock the door.” Katja stood there in growing impatience as the spyhole was closed and a series of clicking sounds went on for what seemed like an hour. Finally she heard Esbern’s muffled voice say “that’s it,” and the door swung inward, admitting them.

Esbern’s room was fairly large and nicely appointed, for being down here in this dank labyrinth. “I’m so glad to know that Delphine is still alive. But it’s too late,” he told them. “What do you mean by that?” Katja asked him. “Alduin has returned!” he replied. “Just as prophesied: the World-Eater. It means the end of the world is coming.” “Do you mean the dragon that’s been bringing the other dragons back to life?” she queried. Katja recalled now, that when they had witnessed the resurrection near Kynesgrove, the dragon arising from its grave had called the other “Alduin.”

“Yes. If he’s back, that means the world is doomed. Only a dragonborn can stop him, but there hasn’t been a dragonborn in generations. The Gods are not looking out for us as they should,” Esbern explained. Katja felt both relieved and concerned. The good news is, there is one special person who can save the world. The bad news is, it’s me. “It’s all right,” she told him. “I’m dragonborn.” Esbern looked surprised and energized. “You are? That’s wonderful! But we must go and talk with Delphine. We need to find Alduin’s Wall.”

Katja found herself wishing for Anders again. She felt sure he would somehow just happen to have heard about this Alduin’s Wall and where to find it. Perhaps it really was time to check back in at the Suite. Esbern gathered some things and announced he was ready to go, and they all headed out the door ready to thread their way back out of the Ratway Warrens once again.

Immediately, though, the three found themselves assaulted by another party of Thalmor. Again a couple of soldiers were accompanied by a mage, and the mage was summoning some kind of extra-dimensional creatures to attack them. These looked very impressive but didn’t seem to be very much harder to kill than, say, a troll. Katja was sure that the lithe-looking female figure covered head to foot in flames, dancing in the air and casting fireballs at them, could only be a flame atronach.

After they’d fought their way through and the last foe had fallen, Esbern told her that the towering creature that looked like a man carved out of ice blocks, with a strangely pyramidal head, was a frost atronach. Nasty beasts. Katja used her Healing and Healing Hands spells on all of them some more, saving on potions and getting in some practice.

The trio wended their way through the zigs and zags of the passageways and eventually exited the Warrens through the Ragged Flagon without speaking to anyone. Katja wanted to get on with her save-the-world mission, and leave the career opportunities offered by the Thieves Guild for later, if she got bored. They trooped across the now-lowered wooden bridge and were very shortly out of the Ratway, gathered on the wooden walkway beside the canal.

In a few more moments, Katja had them all standing in the road outside Riverwood, on a glorious sunny afternoon. After their time in the dungeon-like environs of the Ratway, she almost wanted to just stand there absorbing the sunshine and breathing in the fresh air. But, to business. They proceeded down the street and into the dimly lit Sleeping Giant, and found Delphine prowling the common room.

“Esbern!” she exclaimed, rushing to greet her old friend. The two had been boon companions many years in the past, or so they both said. Delphine must be older than she looked – she didn’t seem a day over 40. Watching their reunion, Katja did not get the sense that they’d ever been lovers, though. Maybe the age gap was too great. Katja herself liked young guys for their vigor and enthusiasm, and older ones for their wisdom, skills, and greater grasp of the world. In her life so far, any reasonably good-looking guy who kept himself in shape and had the energy for it, might find himself welcomed to her bed – and into her heart as well, if things worked out between them.

Delphine beckoned them all to follow her. “Come on, I have a place where we can talk.” She led them all down into her secret basement room, where Esbern gave them details of what he was looking for. “We need to find the prophecy that explains how The Dragonborn can destroy Alduin,” he told them. “And for that, we need to go to Sky Haven Temple and find the Wall of Alduin. But I don’t know where it is.”

“I have an idea about that,” Delphine said. “There’s a place off in the Reach, near Karthspire, that fits your description.” To Katja she added, “Will you come with us to Karthspire? Or would you prefer to meet us there?” “I’ll meet you there,” Katja replied. She wanted to bring Anders along on this mission, if ancient lore was involved. Besides, she just missed being with him.

Katja and Wyll bid farewell to the two former Blades. As they were walking out of the inn, she heard Delphine telling Orgnar that the inn was now his. I’ll bet he’s glad to see the last of her, Katja thought. Delphine had been a thorn in Orgnar’s side, as often as not. In the street outside, without any further ado, Katja touched her map and they were transported to the road outside the Luxury Suite, rain falling on them as evening drew near.

Chapter 28: Home Again

Inside the Luxury Suite, Anders stood on the balcony leaning against the rail. He was looking down at the main floor and the bathing pool, but his mind was elsewhere. Where was Kat? And when was she coming home? His memories painted pictures of her: fiercely charging into battle against draugr and bandits; her face lit with excitement at the discovery of some great treasure; her sea-gray eyes luminous with love and desire as he held her in his arms.

Anders had accepted her terms, and he knew it meant he could not obsess about her. She was her own woman, and he was one of the men in her life. But he couldn’t stop thinking about her, wanting her, missing her. He noticed Lydia stepping into the pool below. They’d worked together, and he’d found her a warrior worthy of respect. And with that face and body!

He tried to picture himself burying his head between those enormous globular breasts, and there was a faint stirring between his legs. Wyll had had her, he knew, so apparently she was neither unobtainable nor gay. But she was so stern! Anders could not imagine her feeling joy in his embrace. Unbidden, other pictures came into his head: Kat in the arms of Wyll, ecstasy painting her features as that blond giant pierced her with his oversized cock.

Anders grimaced. Cut that out, he told himself. He turned away from the railing, fleeing from his thoughts, and went to sit at the table in the master bedroom, sipping some wine. Another evening ahead, with his friends and companions around him, at the best inn in Skyrim. And all of it gray and lifeless without the bright spark that was his lover, his Dragonborn.

Downstairs, Katja and Wyll came in the front doors. It had been a long trip indeed, from Riverwood to Riften and back, and she had more trials ahead of her. She reached up to give Wyll a kiss and a hug and sniffed his neck. “You could use a bath, love” she remarked mildly. He grinned. “How can I argue with that?” he replied, shrugging. In a few moments he had dropped his things at one of the mezzanine tables, and was climbing into the central tub.

“I’ll join you later,” Katja promised, then after a quick glance around the room she headed up the stairs, eyes searching for one particular face. She didn’t see him in the sleeping galleries on either side of the hall, but as she reached the master bedroom at the back, there he was at the table. She hurled her pack to the floor and rushed to him, crying “Anders!”

Anders looked up and his eyes lit, so glad to see her he thought he might forget how to breathe. Realizing she was coming at him like a rabid saber cat, he leaped to his feet and caught her as she barreled into him. “I’ve missed you so much!” she mumbled, her face pressed against his muscular chest. “Whoa, easy there!” he said, grabbing her shoulders so he could step away slightly and look at her face, drinking her in. “You’re all right! I was worried…” he trailed off. He didn’t want to sound like a mother hen, least of all with this wild free spirit whom he loved to distraction.

Katja smiled at him so brightly it was as if the sun had just come out from behind a cloud. “About me?! Don’t be silly! I’ve been really busy, but everything is fine. I’ve been thinking about you every day!” It was only a small lie, and now that she had him in her arms once more she felt as if she never wanted to let him go again. He bent to kiss her, deeply and hungrily. Then he reached to her shoulders and unbuckled her armor.

Clank! That much-mistreated collection of sheet metal and leather fell to the floor disregarded. As Katja stood there in her underclothes, Anders reached down to cup her buttocks and pull her to him, up to where he could kiss her some more without bending over. She assisted by throwing her arms around his neck, and her legs around his hips. But he kept his grip on her buttocks as he drank her mouth like a draft of ambrosia. She might be travel-stained and a bit scuffed around the edges but she was here with him again, and all was right with the world.

Still held off the floor, Katja began showering Anders’ face with little kisses, murmuring between times “I want you. I want you. I want you.” All right, he thought. Whatever she might have been doing with Wyll while she was gone, clearly he still held a place in her heart. “I want you too,” he growled, capturing her mouth and slipping his tongue inside it. In a moment he added, with a gesture, “There’s a bed right there.”

“Yes!” she cried. Then, “Oh, but I’m filthy. And wait until you hear everything that’s been going on! I…” Anders was certainly interested in hearing about Katja’s adventures, but right this moment there were other things that seemed more important. He got a grip on himself, recalling that this was a woman who put a surprisingly high value on cleanliness (not that he minded, much). “Do you want to take a bath first, love?” he asked, showing more forbearance than he would have thought possible an hour before.

Still clutching him around the neck and practically glued to his body, Katja considered. Wyll was down there, and the whole thing might devolve into a delicate dance of relationships. Fuck that shit. “No!” she responded. “I want you right now!” Right now is good, Anders thought, joy leaping within him. He eased Katja down to stand on the floor and reached to the hem of his tunic, pulling it off over his head.

Katja watched him avidly. All of her soul-searching and careful rationalizations had been erased by the actual, physical, presence of Anders. He was beautiful, and she wanted him so badly she could hardly contain herself as he continued disrobing in front of her. She still stood there in her sodden underwear, in which she had fought a dozen battles, but her entire attention was taken up watching him as he stripped.

Oh! That magnificent torso! Not as broad as Wyll’s, perhaps, but powerful and beautifully sculpted. Katja loved the caramel color of his smooth skin, the tiny reddish brown hairs dusted across its surface. Anders pulled off his trousers, and she was delighted to see that he was wearing no underwear beneath them – and that his fine, powerful cock was fully aroused and eager for her. She stood there drinking him in with her eyes, her breath coming faster.

A couple of breaths later, Katja realized that it was time to stop using her eyes and start taking him in with some other parts of her body. Anders brought this to her attention by stepping closer and beginning to pull her undershirt off, up over her head. Nude to the waist, she paused to press herself against him, feeling his warm skin against hers. Oh yes! Stepping back again, she stood there demurely while he peeled her underdrawers down over her rounded rump and thence to the floor. Then, glancing down, she stepped out of them before locking her eyes on his,

Anders looked at her, and her look as she gazed into his eyes was exactly the same as in his mental vision of what seemed like days and was probably less than 20 minutes ago. His exultance was so overwhelming he could barely do anything but stare at her grinning, though his gaze did not stay fixed on her eyes. Kat was a total package, and if some of that package perhaps caused him problems, the rest of it was very fine indeed.

Anders hardly knew where to begin, though by now they knew each other like an oft-read favorite book. Stepping close, he bent to claim her mouth as they pressed their nude bodies close together. His cock, stiff and throbbing, was trapped between them – a hot and hard presence that demanded attention from both of them.

Katja felt as if she’d been plunged into a sea of delicious warmth, infused everywhere with an urgency that drove her onward. There was no taking time, no conversation, no thought. Just the desire that flooded her as she approached the homing beacon that was Anders. Rising above that sea for just an instant, a short breath, she thought “This is probably not going to take very long.” She was right.

Moving to the bed, they fell down upon it together. Katja seized Anders’s rigid member in her hand, and guided him to her swollen, glistening cunt within moments. They were lying on their sides, face to face, and she threw a leg up over him as his cock slipped in. As he penetrated within her, all the way inside, they locked mouths and the feel of him there almost immediately sent her to the brink of orgasm. Her excitement was so great, it took no more than a few thrusts before she was screaming.

Anders, as a mature man of 32, prided himself on his control. With Katja he had always been a skillful lover, able to draw out their lovemaking until she had come multiple times. Now, being back inside her after days of deprivation, he felt like a teenager on his first outing. As she came, her cunt spasming and gripping him from top to bottom in waves, his mind exploded along with his body as his cock erupted, filling her with his seed.

Katja enfolded his head in her arms, once again covering his face with kisses, as her breathing gradually returned to normal. “I love you, I love you,” she said softly, so softly he could barely hear. So softly she could barely hear, though she knew it in the depths of her soul. Saying it out loud seemed hard, somehow. He just held her more tightly, also murmuring “I love you…”

After Anders had slipped out of her and their heartbeats had returned to normal, Katja made an attempt to gather her wits again. “Oh love,” she said in a voice that was still breathy from her recent passion. “I’m so glad to be here.” Several possible answers crossed his mind, and Anders rejected each of them in favor of just holding her close, applying soft kisses to her neck, her ears, and any other body part that was handy.

Awhile later he felt he had to speak, though. “Want to take that bath now?” he asked. Anders knew this woman well enough by now to know the answer in advance. “Oh, that’s a wonderful idea,” Katja replied. Moving slowly, feeling as if her muscles had been melted and not quite yet congealed, she rose from the bed and located her pack where she’d dropped it earlier. She dug out her robe.

Anders had his own robe that he kept while he was living in the Suite, which had been most of the time for a couple of years before the arrival of The Dragonborn had turned his life upside-down. His arm around her, they walked along the gallery and down the stairs to the floor below. They found Wyll still relaxing in the pool, trying to engage Lydia in conversation, and joined him. Wyll might be on the light side, intellectually, but he was no dummy. He knew where Kat had been and what she’d been doing, and seemed not to mind.

As she and Anders entered the pool to sit beside him, Katja reached over to give him a squeeze and a kiss. Wyll stifled the message that arrived from between his legs, suggesting that now might be a good time to sit up and beg. Meanwhile Katja sank back in the hot water, a delicious feeling of relaxation coming over her. Shortly, she began to tell Anders all about the Blades, the Thalmor Embassy, Riften, the Thieves’ Guild, Esbern, and more. Wyll cheerfully added many details as the three of them talked until all of them were beginning to wrinkle and had to climb out. They continued the discussion, robed and sitting at one of the inn’s tables, over supper. And on into the evening, until bedtime.

Wyll, seeing how the wind blew, went off to find a bed on the sleeping loft. Katja and Anders sat quietly together for a few minutes more, while she filled him in on the latest mission she’d found herself caught up in. “I want you to come with me this time,” she said, flooding his heart with joy as outwardly, he maintained his usual slight smile. “Karthspire’s off beyond Althume, looks like halfway between there and Markarth. And I’d really appreciate your input about the lore involved.”

Anders eyed her with mild surprise. So far, he’d gotten the sense that Katja bore his explanations of Skyrim phenomena with something approaching bare tolerance. Now she was actively seeking his help? It pleased him immensely, though he was loath to admit it. He’d spent years in Skyrim digging up information, and finally he had a protégé of sorts, ready to receive what he was eager to pass on. This wasn’t in the same league with the passion he felt for her as a lover, but it might well get into second place.

Their plans for the morning solidified, Katja and Anders went back up the stairs – his arm around her, holding her close, once again. They moved quietly through the eastern gallery, all the way to the master bedroom at the back. As they undressed for bed, Anders moved close to her and folded her in his arms. “I’m not through with you yet, you know…” he growled softly. At a loss for once for a snappy comeback, Katja just looked up at him, her glowing eyes speaking what her words could not say. It was a long while yet before they slept.

Chapter 29: A Midnight Creep

Sated with love and still blissful at her reunion with Anders, Katja slept well at first. But she woke in the night to use the chamber pot, and while she was up she had some second thoughts. I can’t just ditch Wyll without some kind of farewell, she thought. She didn’t know what to think, really. While she was with Wyll, he was everything she wanted in a lover. He was fantastic in bed, a valiant guardian, and a jolly companion. But without Anders by her side, she soon found herself missing him unbearably. And when she was with Anders, he dominated her thoughts and feelings.

What in all the hells is wrong with me anyhow? Katja mused, frustrated. I can’t pick either one of them, and I feel like shit whenever I leave one behind to be with the other. In her short life, her tendency to hop into bed with whatever guy caught her eye had not yet caused her such problems. She’d been in love, yes. Half a dozen times at least, probably. Even those gormless farm boys had their charms initially – though the feeling seldom survived prolonged contact. But now she had found the “real men” she’d been dreaming of, and she was learning that real men came with real feelings that could not be ignored. What was she to do about it?

Katja decided to stick with what had worked so far for her, which was to ignore the problem for the time being and go with what her gut (or was it perhaps, a bit lower?) told her to do. Now she was wide awake, Anders was snoring gently, and it seemed to be sometime in the hours of early morning. She padded off quietly down the western gallery, looking for Wyll.

Katja found Wyll sleeping, dead to the world, in one of the gallery’s narrow beds. The inn’s business was down a little at this time, and his was the only occupied bed on this side of the gallery. She crouched at his bedside, as naked as he was, and gently stroked his arm. “Wyll!” she hissed. His eyelids fluttered. It was never really dark in the Suite, with candles lit at all hours, and as his sky-blue eyes focused on her a sleepy smile curved his lips. Good, she thought. She’d been afraid he might be bent out of shape when she’d dropped him like a hot potato to be with Anders, despite his relaxation earlier when they’d joined him in the bath.

“I’m going to Karthspire tomorrow with Anders,” she told him softly. “I’d like you to hang out at the Suite until we get back.” He didn’t seem particularly upset. Katja had the feeling that Wyll’s attitude to life and love was pretty close to her own. “I’ll be here if you need me,” he replied, reaching to hold her to him. “Did you come to give me a little goodbye kiss?” Well yeah, she supposed that she had.

As Wyll pulled her close, Katja melted into his arms and her mouth met his in a deep kiss. She put her heart into it – all the love she bore him, along with her confusion about her similar feelings for his friend Anders. And he injected an element of that implacable, irresistible animal passion that had marked her relationship with him almost from the beginning.

Though she had been well and truly loved by Anders only hours before, coming multiple times, Katja now found herself responding to Wyll as he beckoned her to passion once again. In moments her naked body was pressed against hers, his tongue in her mouth, his hands moving over her stroking, squeezing, his hard cock pressing against her belly.

Katja was momentarily reminded of the physical disparity between them. She stood almost a foot shorter and half his weight, and though she was becoming a formidable warrior her abilities were as nothing compared with the power of this golden godling. Yet, even while having all of the physical power in their joining, Wyll treated her with tenderness and care.

Though in awe of Wyll’s power, Katja felt safe with him. He would never harm her. Though he might, she realized, fuck her until she couldn’t string two thoughts together. This notion came into her mind as he mounted her and began thrusting powerfully, sending a searing burst of sensation rushing from the center of her being out in all directions, causing her fingers and toes to tingle even as her mind lit with white fire and she bit her lip, trying to stifle a scream of ecstasy.

Some considerable time later, Katja disentangled herself from Wyll’s arms as they were wrapped together in the confines of the narrow bed. Whispering “I’ll see you later,” she kissed him on the cheek and tiptoed downstairs. She didn’t know what time it was, but the Suite was quiet. Everyone seemed to have gone to bed.

She slipped down into the hot pool, letting the hot water soak away any remaining muscle aches along with the tensions that would not let her be. Her mind was a daze, not willing to come to terms with her conflict between Wyll and Anders, and not ready yet to start thinking about the mission to come. After a while, she got out and toweled off before returning to the master bedroom to slip in beside Anders and fall, blissfully, into sleep once again.

Chapter 30: To Sky Haven Temple

A few short hours later Katja and Anders were up and dressed, charged with excitement as they prepared for her next quest as The Dragonborn. Would they, aided by Delphine and Esbern, be able to find the ancient knowledge that would let her fulfill her destiny and prevent Alduin from bringing about the end of the world? Despite Katja’s usual enthusiasm for adventure, she felt a little subdued as she contemplated the consequences should she not prove up to the task.

But with Anders at her side, what could go wrong? He was so strong, so confident, so… good in bed, well, that was kind of irrelevant in this case. But his presence lent her strength. They gathered all their gear before stepping outside. Wyll was evidently still sleeping, and Katja felt she had already said her goodbyes to him in as thorough a way as possible.

Katja examined the map. The Orc stronghold Dushnikh Yal, where they had conversed with the sentry and been offered a quest that might lead to her being named Blood-kin, seemed like the closest fast-travel point to Karthspire. No more than an hour or two away on foot, she judged. Though she could only hope they would arrive in daylight.

In fact they did, and turning their backs on the log stockade Katja and Anders headed down the steep dirt trail, through hills covered in juniper bushes, heading for the paved road and the bridge that led across to Karthspire. They were no more than halfway down the trail when they were suddenly jumped by a humanoid monstrosity somewhat bigger than a troll, with red, leathery skin and a single eye glaring at them as it rushed to the attack.

Katja went into a defensive crouch and as she raised her bow she Shouted, “FUS-RO-DAH!” flinging the creature through the air to tumble in some brush thirty feet away. It lay there stunned for a moment, time enough for her to put 3 or 4 flaming arrows into its hide. “What…?” she gasped, scrambling to a better vantage point and preparing to fire again. “Cyclops!” Anders panted back, as he fired blazing bolts of lightning from his palms before reaching back to unlimber his axe. One last arrow from Katja’s bow proved the final straw, and the hideous thing collapsed with a grunt of pain.

Katja approached it leerily. Yes, it was really dead. A pool of dark blood was spreading around it and soaking into the earth of the hillside. “Any idea what these things are good for?” she asked Anders. She was coming to rely on him for local lore, and could usually count on him not to be a snot about it. In this instance he replied thoughtfully, “I believe their eye is an alchemical ingredient. And I suppose you could cook one up in a savory stew – but you might need a lot of salt.”

Katja wrinkled her nose, then drew a dagger and relieved the corpse of its eye before shouldering her pack once more and leading the way further down the hill. As they approached the stone-paved road below, which ran along the riverside, they saw the bridge they must take just up the road to their left. At the same time, they heard a familiar roar that sent shivers up Katja’s spine: they were being attacked by a dragon.

Looking down the road on the far side of the bridge, Katja spotted Esbern and Delphine. Esbern was apparently a competent mage, and was hitting the dragon with weaves of fire and lightning from hundreds of feet away. She and Anders kept low as they dashed across the bridge, anxious to join their companions in the fight to defeat the flying monster.

With Katja and Delphine raining arrows on the dragon while the men drained its health and stamina with destruction spells, it was soon weakened enough that it could no longer fly. It crashed to the ground on the far side of a small tributary stream, bloody and tattered. Meanwhile, though, another threat had materialized: Karthspire was the site of an extensive Forsworn encampment. The savages, drawn by the dragon’s roars, were now attacking the four companions instead.

Katja, confident that Anders and her other companions would protect her from Forsworn attacks behind, walked forward and put another three arrows into the dragon. You needed to get them while they were down, or they might simply fly away and live to attack you another day. That taken care of, she whirled and began shooting arrows into several of the Forsworn as they fought with other members of her party. In moments, silence reigned.

Panting, her heart pounding, Katja slung her bow behind her back and picked her way across the shallow stream to the corpse of the dragon. She could not absorb its soul until she touched it, and if that was not done the creature might be resurrected yet again by Alduin. Besides, she needed dragon souls in order to activate any new Shouts she might learn. And then of course there was the loot to be found on the body – hundreds in gold, dragon bone and scales, sometimes other items.

After raiding the dragon’s carcass Katja did the same for the half dozen Forsworn lying here and there. They were an attractive people, the women especially beautiful in their skimpy fur armor and exotic war paint. She wished they were not so hostile. It might be fun to spend some time with them, getting to know them and their culture. But that wasn’t going to happen if every Forsworn in Skyrim wanted to kill her on sight.

Now that all of their adversaries had fallen, the four made their way up a trail on the hillside above the road, and into a cave opening. This, according to Delphine, was the actual Karthspire. They found two more Forsworn inside the cave, one of them a type of shaman the Forsworn called a Briarheart. The guy had actually had his chest cut open and a large, glowing “briarheart” (some kind of vegetable matter, near as Katja could tell) sewn into it in place of his original heart. This must be a powerful magic, even just to keep the man alive. But it went far beyond that. Briarhearts were magicians with devastating destruction spells, and very hard to kill.

Four against two was not much of a contest, however, and the two defenders soon lay dead. This seemed to be a living area, with cooking and alchemical facilities, sleeping pallets, and storage. Katja checked it all out before they continued deeper into the cave, following behind Esbern and Delphine. She soon found herself in a large stone chamber, the two Blades standing above her at the top of a nearby stone staircase. They were looking at three squat pillars.

The pillars were no more than thigh high, and rather than the animal symbols Katja had seen on other pillars in Skyrim, these were carved with sinuous, symmetrical geometric glyphs. “Ah, just as I expected,” Esbern said. “These are Akavir symbols.” Even if these were not the same as other such puzzle keys she’d seen, Katja had a pretty good idea of how this should work. She didn’t see any holes nearby from which arrows or spears might shoot if she guessed wrong; so she went ahead and rotated the pillar on the left one turn, until a new symbol was facing her. It looked vaguely like a circle with two tails at its top, or maybe a loop of ribbon with dangling ends. Esbern approved of her action: “That’s it! The symbol on the pillar to the left. Try turning all of them to that.”

Scanning the three, Katja saw that the far right pillar already showed this same symbol. She rotated the center one twice, and as the desired symbol appeared a slab of stone abruptly fell down from their left to form a bridge across the ravine that had been preventing them from traveling further. Delphine said, “Whatever you did, it worked. Let’s see what those old Blades left in our way.” They all trooped across the bridge and up a narrow trail, Delphine in the lead.

The four came to a dark opening in a stone wall, and entered it cautiously. On the other side of the opening, they found themselves in a medium-sized stone room with tiles on the floor, bearing various of the same Akavir symbols that had appeared on the pillars. Esbern warned, “Wait. Those tiles look like pressure plates.” Katja had seen something similar, in Ustengrav near the chamber that had once held the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller. Delphine must have passed that particular trap too, having gotten in ahead of Katja to steal the Horn; but in this instance she seemed quite willing to hang back and let somebody else take the lead.

“I’m guessing we want the same symbol that worked on the bridge,” Katja told them, and began trying to cross the floor, stepping only on the tiles with that odd eared circle showing. This seemed to be working. She was making her way across the floor, and nothing was bursting out to kill her. So far, so good. She wound her way back and forth, moving toward the far side of the room, where she was expecting to find a lever or something to disable the trap.

But as Katja reached the far side, the tiles she needed petered out. She executed a leap across two rows and made it to an area of smooth unbroken stone on the far side of the room, but there was no switch. Then she looked back the way she had come and spotted a pull chain, on a pillar in the center of the wall to her right. Mentally slapping her forehead, she leaped back to the last tile she’d been standing on. But she missed, skidding, and a gout of flame came up from the floor.

Nearly falling, Katja staggered to another safe tile then limped her way over to pull the chain, halting the flames before sinking to the floor in agony. “Kat!” Anders shouted, hurrying to her. He scooped her up and carried her off of the tiled floor to safety. “Put me down, I’m all right” she told him through the pain. Her arms were blistered and it hurt like hell. She used her Healing spell and in moments the blisters had disappeared, the redness had faded, and she felt better than fine.

Anders watched this with wonder and delight. “When did you learn that?” he asked. “Oh, it was during that last trip with Wyll,” she replied. “And I’ve got Healing Hands now too, in case you need any.” He gave her a quick kiss. Usually while questing they were all business, especially in the company of others; but his relief at her swift recovery demanded expression.

“I think we’re through the last of the traps,” Esbern told them. He led the way through winding corridors, which soon spilled out into a stone courtyard. It was open to the sky, with a huge stone building at the back of it. Standing before them in the center of the courtyard was a large and ornate chest, which Katja of course immediately plundered. Then she approached the building for a closer look.

In the center of its façade was a carving of a tormented human face about 6 feet tall, and in front of that a spiral 5 feet in diameter was carved into the stone of the courtyard. Esbern joined her, pulling lore out of his memories. As the Blades’ archivist, he was full of useful information. “Here’s the blood seal” he said, gesturing to the spiral at their feet, “triggered, no doubt by… blood. Your blood, Dragonborn. Try dripping blood onto the seal.”

Katja gave him a look. Then, sighing, she took out her dagger and ran it across her left hand, producing a trickle of blood that fell to the stone. As the droplets struck, they heard a grinding sound and the stone seal spiraled beneath her feet, even as the stone face before them was lifted out of the way to expose a doorway leading in.

“After you, Dragonborn,” said Delphine. “You should have the honor of being the first to enter Sky Haven Temple.” “Bloody” well right, Katja thought, her hand stinging. She engaged a moment’s Healing to restore the member to its former unblemished state, even as she strode through the doorway. As she led her companions forward into the cavernous edifice and up a series of curving stone staircases, Esbern said “There’s no telling what we might find inside.”

Enchanted weapons, treasure, and the magic word that will make Alduin go poof would work for me Katja thought, though she doubted any of these would appear. As they entered a large room with tables in the middle of it, they saw a massive wall carved in bas-relief off to the right. Esbern approached it. “Alduin’s Wall,” he said in awed tones. “I’ve never seen such a fine example of Second Era Akaviri carvings.” He held up a torch, the better to examine the details.

Delphine was impatient. “Esbern!” she said, “We need information, not a lecture on art history.” Moving toward the left side of the frieze Esbern said, “Here is Alduin. This panel goes back to the beginning of time, when the dragon cult ruled Skyrim.” He moved to the right, holding his torch closer. “Here, the humans rebel against their overlords – the legendary Dragon War.” He moved further to the right. “Alduin’s defeat is the centerpiece of the wall. See, here he is falling from the sky. The Nord Tongues, Masters of the Voice, are arrayed against him.”

Delphine strode closer. “So, does it show how they defeated him?” she asked. “Isn’t that why we’re here?” Esbern gave her a tolerant smile. “Ah, patience my dear. The Akaviri were not a straightforward people. Everything is couched in allegory and symbolism. Yes, here it is. The Akaviri symbol for the word ‘Shout.’ But there is no way to know what Shout is meant.”

“You mean they used a Shout to defeat Alduin?” Delphine asked. “You’re sure?” “Oh yes,” Esbern replied, “presumably something rather specific to dragons. Or even to Alduin himself. Remember, this is where they recorded all they knew of Alduin and his return.” Delphine looked annoyed. “So we’re looking for a Shout, then. Damn it!”

The woman stalked forward and addressed Katja: “Have you ever heard of such a thing? A Shout that can knock a dragon out of the sky?” Katja felt as though the sum total of her knowledge of Shouts, if perhaps larger than that of the average cowherd, could easily be contained in a small tankard. So she responded with the only thing she could think of to say. “The Greybeards might know…”

Delphine seemed to get a grip on her ire at this point, and relented a bit. “You’re right. I was hoping we wouldn’t have to involve them in this. But it seems we have no choice.” “I’ll talk to Arngeir and see what he has to say,” Katja told her. Delphine’s response was, “Right. Good thing they’ve already let you into their little cult.” Katja wondered just what Delphine’s problem was with the Greybeards. She had asked her once and been told that Delphine resented the way they kept their knowledge to themselves; but her animosity toward them seemed to go deeper, somehow.

Meanwhile Esbern was continuing his study of the wall and had moved to the far right side. “Look!” he cried. “The prophecy that brought the Akaviri to Tamriel in the first place, searching for The Dragonborn. Here are the Akaviri, the Blades. You see their distinctive longswords. Now they kneel, their mission fulfilled, as the last Dragonborn contends with Alduin at the end of time. …Are you paying attention, Delphine? You might learn something of our own history.” Delphine shot him a look of annoyance. Uh oh, Katja thought. Time we were leaving.

“I guess Anders and I will be off to High Hrothgar then,” Katja said to Delphine and Esbern. Esbern seemed so entranced by his study of the ancient carvings that she doubted he’d even heard her. “I’ll be back when I have something to report.” Turning on her heel, Katja headed back down the stairs to the courtyard. As she’d hoped, this place was open enough to the sky that she was able to fast-travel from here right to their destination.

Chapter 31: A Visit with Paarthurnax

Katja shivered as she and Anders found themselves standing in the middle of a raging snowstorm before the front steps of the alpine monastery. Brrr! There were times when she thought she would almost rather walk, or maybe ride a horse, than undergo these instantaneous translocations. Not that she particularly hankered for a stroll up Throat of the World’s snowy, steep, troll-and-bear-infested “7,000 steps.” But it would have been nice to have some time to talk with Anders about the mission, or throw on a wool cloak. Maybe she ought to plan ahead a bit before touching the map.

As they approached the building’s front door, Katja asked Anders, “Is it just me, or is Delphine kind of a bitch?” Anders stifled a smirk. “I’m sure her motives are pure,” he said, attempting a serious expression. “Oh, I know,” she sighed. “She just kind of rubs me the wrong way. She acts as if somebody appointed her my overlord while I wasn’t looking.” “Don’t let it get to you,” he replied, this time his seriousness unfeigned. He leaned over to give her a squeeze and a kiss on the cheek.

Katja smiled at him, thanking him silently for his support. Then she pushed open the door and they went inside. The entry area was empty, and she and Anders had to trace a series of corridors, peering into rooms as they encountered them, before finally finding Arngeir. He was kneeling in silent meditation or perhaps worship. Despite her occasional brushes with the supernatural, Katja was not much for the spiritual side of life. She gave lip service to the Divines, as did nearly everyone in Tamriel, but they did not hold a place in her life.

The wizened but straight-backed old monk turned to regard her questioningly. “Dragonborn. How goes your quest for mastery of the Voice?” Katja got right to the point. “I need to find the Shout that defeated Alduin.” Arngeir’s expression hardened. “Where did you learn of that? Who have you been talking to?” he accused. She hadn’t expected this attitude, and replied in what she hoped was a conciliatory fashion: “It was recorded on Alduin’s Wall.”

Mouth set in lines of disapproval, Arngeir immediately knew what that meant. “The Blades! Of course. They specialize in meddling in matters they barely understand. Their reckless arrogance knows no bounds. They have always sought to turn The Dragonborn from the path of wisdom. Have you learned nothing from us? Would you simply be a tool in the hands of the Blades, to be used for their own purposes?”

Katja was taken aback by his angry response. “The Blades just want to defeat Alduin. Don’t you?” Arngeir gave a disgusted sigh. “And here we are again. This Shout was used once before, was it not? Have you considered that Alduin was not meant to be defeated? Those who used it did not stop the day of reckoning, they only postponed it. The world was meant to end, so let it end – and be reborn.” She was horrified at this attitude, and beginning to get a better understanding of Delphine’s hostility toward these old men. Just let the world be destroyed, because it was “meant” to be?

Returning his frown with one of her own, Katja said coldly, “So, you won’t help me?” Arngeir’s expression was unwavering. “No, not until you return to the path of wisdom.” Just then, they all heard a deep, rumbling voice speaking in the dragon tongue – and Arngeir altered his stance. Now he looked at Katja apologetically. “Forgive me, I was just reminded of my duty. The decision to help you or not is not mine to make.”

Katja’s heart leapt with renewed hope. “Then, you can teach me this Shout?” Arngeir replied reluctantly, “No. I cannot teach it to you because I do not know it. It is called ‘Dragonrend’ but its words of power are unknown to us. We do not regret this loss. Dragonrend holds no place within the Way of the Voice.” Her spirits came crashing down again. “But if the Shout is lost, how can I defeat Alduin?”

Arngeir eyed her with a bit more sympathy. She was so young, so reckless, so foolish. But her beauty, bravery and good intentions couldn’t help but melt his ancient heart a little. He told her, “Only Paarthurnax, the master of our order, can answer that question if he so chooses.” Once again, hope surged in Katja’s breast. “I need to speak to Paarthurnax, then” she declared firmly. He replied as firmly, disapproval once again in his tone: “You weren’t ready, you still aren’t ready. But, thanks to the Blades, you now have questions only Paarthurnax can answer.”

Katja took this as Arngeir’s unwilling assent to her request to meet the order’s legendary master. “Why haven’t I met Paarthurnax yet?” she asked. “He lives in seclusion, on the very top of the mountain,” the ancient replied. “He speaks to us only rarely, and being allowed to see him is a rare privilege.” She responded, “How do I get to the top of the mountain to see him then?” Resigned now, Arngeir answered her: “Only those whose Voice is strong can open the way. Come. We will teach you a Shout to open the way to Paarthurnax.”

Elated at having overcome the man’s resistance and pleased at the opportunity for a “free” Shout as well, Katja followed Arngeir as he led the way down a nearby corridor and out one of the doors that lined the monastery’s rear, opening onto the snowy courtyard. A gale wind was howling as Arngeir continued along the courtyard to a series of staircases leading upward, followed by Katja and Anders.

They halted as they came to a platform with a fire burning in the middle of it. Beyond the fire was a stone pavement. As Katja stood watching, Arngeir walked first to the left side and spoke “LOK!” Dragon runes blazed into existence at his feet, glowing golden. He stepped to his right and spoke “VAH!” and more runes sprang up. One more step to the right and the syllable “KOOR!” illuminated the third and final word of the Shout.

Arngeir now turned to Katja. “I will grant you my understanding of Clear Skies. This is your final gift from us, Dragonborn. Use it well.” Katja approached the runes, and the words of the Clear Skies Shout burned themselves into her mind as the usual chorus echoed in her ears. As she stood there transfixed by the rapture that accompanied this process, Anders looked at her with something approaching awe. His girlfriend was definitely more than just another pretty face.

Katja turned to thank Arngeir, touched that he would aid her in this way despite his attitude toward her quest. But the ancient monk had already turned and left, walking back to the monastery. “It’s just you and me, kid,” she told Anders. He was amused at her calling him a kid, and grinned at her. “Ready when you are, kid.” She smiled back. Both of them were feeling a certain amount of trepidation as they climbed the stairs beyond the platform and approached a large stone gateway that marked the start of the steep, snow-covered path to the summit.

As Katja and Anders stepped through the archway they were both stabbed with intense pain and a sensation as if all of the breath had been stolen from their bodies. There was no visible sign of a cause for this, but Katja guessed that this must be the deadly “mists” Arngeir had mentioned. She readied the Shout she had just learned and spoke, in a Voice of power: “LOK-VAH-KOOR!”

The air shimmered and there was an explosion, a wave of power spreading out in front of her. In a way it was similar to the Unrelenting Force Shout, but instead of knocking people aside, it drove the clouds and mist from their path. They continued up the trail then, swiftly recovering from their momentary brush with the lethal atmosphere.

At this altitude they encountered no bears or trolls, though mysteriously one of Skyrim’s ubiquitous mountain goats was picking its way up the path ahead of them. Katja soon found that the goat served as an early warning of trouble ahead, and when it abruptly turned tail and trotted back toward them she was not surprised, a moment later, to feel the breathlessness return. She Shouted once more, clearing the air for another short period of time as they – and the goat – continued on their way.

The mists were not the only threat they faced. Swirling through the air, nearly transparent, creatures like flying serpents composed of ice crystals attacked them from time to time. After they had defeated the first one, causing it to collapse into a pool of gelid blue slime, Katja looked questioningly at Anders. “It’s an ice wraith,” he told her. “They like to hang around anywhere it’s cold enough for them to exist, and they’re very territorial.” She explored the patch of residue and discovered some hard, barely visible bits amid the ice crystals. Of course! These were the “Ice Wraith Teeth” she’d seen for sale in Alchemy shops. So that’s where they came from.

With Shouts, bow, and blasts of Destruction magic the pair fought their way up the steep trail. Eventually they rounded a final bend and found they were at the very top of the peak. A small flat area lay before them, with a stone Word Wall on one side of it. But where was Paarthurnax? There did not seem to be so much as a cabin or a cave entrance in the vicinity, nothing to shelter even the most hermetic of ancient monks. As Katja peered around, the sound of enormous leathery wings beating the air sent fear into her heart. Dragon!

But this dragon was not roaring, spitting flames, or attacking them with its teeth. Looking beyond ancient, the enormous creature came to a landing before them and spoke in a deep, rumbling, yet somehow gentle voice: “Dem Yal Lock. Greetings, wonduniik. I am Paarthurnax. Who are you? What brings you to my strunmoh… my mountain?” He’s mixing Dragon tongue with Common, Katja realized. Almost like a talking translation dictionary. It seemed an odd mode of address.

Katja was more than a little taken aback to learn that the Greybeards’ ancient master was no human but an enormous being who could have her for lunch in around two bites. But she was also beginning to get a little irked at all she’d been put through since coming here, so she spoke boldly: “I think you know who I am.” The ancient one replied, “Drem. Patience. There are formalities which must be observed, at the first meeting of two of the dov.” Dov, Katja thought. Dragon. He’s acknowledging me as a dragon. If only my wings were longer…

Paarthurnax continued. “By long tradition, the elder speaks first. Hear my Thu’um! Feel it in your bones. Match it, if you are Dovahkiin!” He turned to his left, then, and directed a river of flame at the Word Wall before continuing: “The Word calls to you. Go to it.” Knowing what to do now, Katja approached the wall and found a set of runes glowing high up on its surface. The word “YOL” became embedded in her mind, and the expected chorus sounded as a warm thrill pulsed through her from head to toe.

“A gift, Dovahkiin. Yol. Understand fire as the dov do,” Paarthurnax said. “Now, show me what you can do. Greet me not as a mortal, but as dovah!” The beginning word of Fire Breath now a part of her mind, Katja turned back to face the ancient creature and blasted him with flames. She felt sure that this was acceptable etiquette for the dov, though it wouldn’t win many friends at human gatherings.

Paarthurnax seemed quite pleased. “Aaah… yes! Sossedov los mul. The dragonblood runs strong in you. It is long since I had the pleasure of speech with one of my own kind.” At this, he took to the air briefly before coming to land atop the Word Wall. So ancient did he appear, his wings so tattered, Katja wondered that he could get airborne at all.

Now that the formalities were concluded, it seemed Paarthurnax was ready to get down to business. He rumbled, “So. You have made your way here. No easy task for a joor … mortal, even one of the Dovah Sos. Dragon blood. What would you ask of me?” Finally the opportunity to speak her request, Katja thought. “Can you teach me the Dragonrend Shout?” she asked.

A dragon’s features do not lend themselves to a smile, yet Katja thought she heard one in Paarthurnax’s voice as he replied, “Ah, I have expected you. Predoh. You would not come all this way for tinvah with an old dovah. You seek your weapon against Alduin.” I must be pretty transparent, she thought. Aloud, she said “How did you know I came for Dragonrend?”

Paarthurnax explained: “Alduin komeyt tiid. What else would you seek? Alduin and Dovahkiin return together. But I do not know the Thu’um you seek. Krosis. It cannot be known to me. Your kind joore – mortal – created it as a weapon against the dov – dragons. our hadrimme – our minds – cannot even comprehend its concepts.”

This Katja had not expected, but as she considered she realized it could hardly be any other way. “How can I learn it, then?” she asked him. The ancient beast replied, “Drem. All in good time. First, a question for you: why do you want to learn this Thu’um?” That was an easy one. “I like this world. I don’t want it to end,” she replied.

Paarthurnax seemed more accepting of Katja’s viewpoint than Arngeir had been. “As good a reason as any. There are many who feel as you do, though not all. Some would say that all things must end, so that the next will come to pass. Perhaps this world is only the egg of the next one? Lein vokiin? Would you keep the next world from being born?” Undeterred by this argument, Katja responded: “The next world will have to take care of itself.”

“A fair answer. Ro fus. Maybe you only balance the forces that work to quicken the end of this world. Even we who ride the currents of time cannot see past time’s end. Those who work to hasten the end, may delay it. Those that work to delay the end, may bring it closer. But you have indulged my weakness for speech long enough. Krosis. Now I will answer your question. Do you know why I live here, at the peak of the Monahven – what you name The Throat of the World?”

Oh no you don’t, Katja thought. “You said you were going to answer my question,” she reminded him. “Drem. Patience. I am answering in my way,” came the reply. “This is the most sacred mountain in Skyrim. Zohk revak strunmah. The great mountain of the world. Here the ancient Tongues, first mortal masters of the Voice, brought Alduin to battle and defeated him.” “Using the Dragonrend Shout, right?” she asked.

Paarthurnax replied in his slow cadences. “Yes and no. Yiik nuz ni kron. Alduin was not truly defeated, either. If he was you would not be here, seeking to… defeat him. The Nords of those days used the Dragonrend Shout to cripple Alduin. But this was not enough. Ok mulaag unstaad. It was the Kel – the Elder Scroll. They used it to… cast him adrift on the currents of Time.” Katja had a wild thought. She asked, “Are you saying the ancient Nords sent Alduin forward in time?”

“Not intentionally,” the dragon responded. “Some hoped he would be gone forever, forever lost. Meyye. I knew better. Tiid bo a nativ. Time flows ever onward. One day he would surface. Which is why I have lived here. For thousands of mortal years I have waited. I knew where he would emerge but not when.” It occurred to Katja that she’d forgotten to ask another question, of perhaps greater import. “An Elder scroll? What’s that?”

Paarthurnax mused, “Hmm. How to explain in your tongue? The dov have words for such things that joorre do not. It is an… artifact from outside time. It does not exist, but it has always existed. Roh wohloom. They are… hmm… fragments of creation. The Kelle… Elder Scrolls, as you name them, they have often been used for prophecy. Yes, your prophecy comes from an Elder Scroll. But this is only a small part of their power. Zofoos suleyk.”

What in all the hells have I gotten myself into, Katja thought, lost. It seemed she was involved in something ancient and essentially inexplicable. What was a girl from a small farming village in High Rock doing, getting herself mixed up with artifacts from outside time? But ever practical, she once again cut to the heart of the matter: “How does any of this help me?” she demanded.

The ancient dov continued his tale. “Tiid kreat. Time was… shattered here because of what the ancient Nords did to Alduin. If you brought that Kel, that Elder Scroll back here… to the Tiid-Ahraan, the Time-Wound…With the Elder Scroll that was used to break Time, you may be able to… cast yourself back. To the other end of the break. You could learn Dragonrend from those who created it.”

Now I see, Katja thought. I could sort of … listen in on the Masters of the Voice from the second Age and learn the Shout from them, as I learned Unrelenting Force from the Greybeards. Only one problem… “Do you know where I can find that Elder Scroll?” she asked.

The answer was disappointing. “No. I know little of what has passed in the world of men in the long years I have lived here. You are likely better informed than I.” Esbern or Arngeir might have more information, Katja mused. Though both men had sent her looking elsewhere, neither had known that it was an Elder Scroll she sought. Anders was a terrific resource for information about the perils of Skyrim, but she didn’t think his scholarship extended to fabulous artifacts from beyond time. Esbern and Arngeir were the two most learned men she had yet encountered.

Paarthurnax urged her, “Trust your instincts, Dovahkiin. Your blood will show you the way.” Sensing the conversation was almost at its end, Katja asked one more question. “What does the Dragonrend shout actually do?” Again, the answer was less than enlightening. The aged dragon replied “I cannot say. I have never heard it used. It is said that it forced a dragon to consider the concept of Mortality – a concept incomprehensible to the immortal dov.”

Hmm, Katja thought, turning away. I’ve certainly introduced the concept of mortality to a few dovah since discovering my abilities. But I don’t think that’s what he meant. She turned back to the ancient beast, who had been remarkably helpful all things considered. “Thank you, ancient Paarthurnax. I will seek the Elder Scroll, and if I find it I will return here.” “Until next time, Dovahkiin,” came the reply.

Katja had the sense that she might have worn out her welcome in High Hrothgar for the time being. Certainly, Arngeir had not been enthusiastic in lending her aid; and his attitude that they should simply allow Alduin to continue his course, destroying the world to make way for a new one, gave her chills. She could not truly ally with anyone who thought that way. The Greybeards, she thought, had spent too long in their mountain fastness. They had forgotten what it was to live, and love; to experience joy, to watch children play and flowers bloom. What did they care for the world, if to them it was nothing but a bleak and icy mountaintop?

So when Katja opened her map, it was Sky Haven Temple that she touched. A few heartbeats later she and Anders were standing in the courtyard before the entrance to the main temple building. Anders hugged her, glad to have left the freezing mountaintop behind. “What a garrulous old sack of scales!” he exclaimed. “But I do believe he likes you!” She smiled up at him. “I think the old dov is lonely. We may have been the first people he’s spoken with in centuries. But the fact he could crush us with one claw tip made it hard for me to warm up to him... Let’s hope Esbern can shed some light on the whereabouts of this Kell.

Anders nodded, and the two of them moved through the narrow opening and up a series of four stone staircases, each wider than the last. At the top, they looked around the dimly lit room but saw no signs of human occupation. “Drat,” Katja muttered, and trotted off to check the living quarters on the floor above, at the left. Nobody there, either. She and Anders next exited the building through doors at the back, and found themselves in a dirt-floored courtyard with archery butts at one side. Ahead under a stone canopy overlooking the river below, they finally spotted Esbern and Delphine standing side by side, simply gazing out over the canyon.

As they approached, Katja realized that Esbern was telling Delphine about a dream he’d had. Evidently he had dreamed about the coming of Alduin, and it had troubled him a lot. Katja didn’t hold with the notion that dreams told the future. As far as she was concerned, they were just the fancies of the sleeping mind or perhaps the manifestation of one’s deepest fears – nothing that had any relevance to the waking world.

Nonetheless Katja waited politely for Esbern to finish talking before approaching him. He whirled, looking pleased to see her. “Ah, you’re back!” he said, smiling. “Have you had any luck tracking down that Shout?” She filled him in on her visit with the Greybeards, and her conversation with Paarthurnax. “I’ll need an Elder Scroll to get any farther,” she told him.

Esbern seemed surprised, and lost in thought for a moment. Then he said, “That’s a pretty puzzle. Not the kind of thing you’ll find in your local bookshop.” He considered a moment longer. “Perhaps the College of Winterhold… all the knowledge in Skyrim is gathered there. One of their mages might be able to put you on the trail of the Elder Scroll.”

Since her arrival in Skyrim, Katja had met numerous people who suggested she might want to travel to the College for instruction in magic. Since spell tomes were available everywhere, and once a spell was learned only practice would improve its execution, it had not appeared worthwhile for her to make the trek to the far north of Skyrim or submit herself to the tutelage of the mages there. But now, it seemed, she had a reason to make the trip.

Likely, this would be a good opportunity to decide if the College truly had anything to offer her. Katja was in awe of Anders’ skills with Destruction magic, and wished she had his facility with it. But getting more practice was hard, when her current level of skills would soon see her killed before she’d had a chance to fry her adversaries.

Katja thanked Esbern, then pulled out her map and examined it. Winterhold was almost due north of Windhelm, which seemed to be its closest neighboring city. She was glad to find Windhelm Stables showing on the map, only a short walk from Ulfric Stormcloak’s capital. Visiting there briefly after killing the dragon in Kynesgrove had been a smart maneuver. They fast-traveled there now, arriving in the midst of a blizzard as dusk settled on the land.

Chapter 32: Windhelm

Katja turned to Anders. “I don’t think we want to be setting off on foot just now. Are you up for a visit to scenic Windhelm?” “It’s not my favorite place,” he replied, “but it beats sleeping under a snowberry bush in this weather.” Since their reunion, his manner seemed lighter. It was as if his whole attitude toward life had become happier, more easy-going. Katja liked it a lot.

They walked down the long, broad stone bridge leading across the river from the stables to the gates of the city itself. Those gates towered above them, and the walls certainly looked impressive. If Ulfric can invest this place with his troops, the Empire will never winkle him out, Katja thought. Inside, the buildings of Windhelm seemed to loom menacingly. The weather was miserable, the stone structures lacking in architectural charm. And ahead of them, an ugly scene was playing out between a pair of Nords and a pretty Dunmer woman.

The Nords were harassing her, implying that the Dunmer were Imperial spies or worse because they failed to support Ulfric’s Stormcloaks. They issued veiled threats before skulking off as Katja and Anders approached, and the woman turned to them. “How about you?” she asked angrily. “Do you hate my people?” Racial prejudice was not something Katja had often encountered, and it shocked her. “No,” she replied, “I don’t hate your people.”

“Then you’ve come to the wrong place,” the Dunmer woman said bitterly. Evidently the former residents of Morrowind were relegated to a ghetto area of Windhelm, despised and persecuted by the Nords who shared the city with them. Yet another reason not to like this place, Katja thought as she and her companion continued on the short walk from the gates to the Candlehearth Inn a few yards away.

Inside, though, they found an attractive and extensive 2-story inn – timber-built and suffused with warm light. A bard could be heard singing a song on the floor above, melodious enough; though from its lyrics, Katja took it to be Stormcloak propaganda. She approached the woman standing behind the bar, a Nord named Elda Early-Dawn, and had soon secured a room for them. The rooms were reasonably spacious, and well appointed.

After they’d dropped their packs and removed their armor, changing into more comfortable clothing, Katja and Anders emerged from their room and went upstairs. In contrast with the snowstorm outside, the common room was cozy and lit with a pleasant golden light. Candles and lanterns were all around, and a cheery fire blazed at the far end. They took a table and enjoyed a meal of horker stew (a “delicacy” Katja had not previously sampled, rich and slightly fishy tasting), with bread alongside and some apples and cheese to follow. They washed the supper down with wine, and enjoyed the entertainment while talking quietly between songs.

During and after the meal, they discussed the current quest. Would the world really come to an end if she didn’t find a way to defeat Alduin? Neither of them could entirely believe it, but the threat was real enough to drive them on. In Anders, Katja had found a lover with whom she could discuss the challenges of her life, somebody she could confide in and look to for advice. Not to mention he was gorgeous, even-tempered, and fantastic in the sack. As the wine relaxed her and made her feel increasingly more mellow, she found herself sitting closer to him, their chairs pushed together, her hand in his.

As the evening wore on Anders leaned closer still and planted a kiss on her neck. Holding her right hand in his left, he raised it and traced the palm with the tip of his right forefinger, sending a little thrill through her. “What do you say,” he murmured close to her ear, “we go back to our room now?” “Sounds like a plan,” Katja whispered, lifting her head to kiss him and insert her tongue into his mouth.

The pair walked only slightly unsteadily down the stairs and found their room again. After they had both stripped down and reclined on the bed, Anders started by kissing her, gently at first, but with a great deal of concentration. Despite his focus on her mouth, somehow his fingers (strong, but not calloused) found their way to her full, firm breasts and he was gently massaging her deeply rose-hued nipples until they arose, throbbing with sensation.

His cock had stiffened by now and Katja laid hands on it eagerly, squeezing it as he continued to excite her with his mouth and hands. Gripping it with her fingers, she ran her right thumb up over the swollen, velvety head and was rewarded with a drop of slippery fluid. She used a circular motion to massage and spread this across the surface. He moaned slightly and bent to his ministrations with even more enthusiasm.

Anders licked the first two fingers and thumb of his left hand before reapplying it to her right breast – where he soon had the nipple straining, standing at attention in a miniature emulation of his cock. His right hand he relocated to between her thighs and inserted the index and middle fingers between her inner labia. Katja was soaking wet, and the fingers slipped in with ease. He pushed them in and out rhythmically, rubbing against her throbbing clit within its enshrouding hood as they emerged.

Katja was about ready to pop right then. “I want you inside me, now!” she moaned softly. “We’ll see about it,” Anders said. As she lay back against the pillows, he pressed the slippery head of his swollen cock against her equally swollen outer labia, and began working it inside ever so slightly. Using his hand to wield his stiff member like a tool in the hands of a master craftsman, he began moving it in circular motions around the entrance to her throbbing cunt, dipping inside just a bit and then coming back out, rubbing up against her clit. “Ohhhhhh, yes…” Katja murmured, suspended in ecstasy.

Finally, when neither he nor she could stand it for another minute, Anders plunged fully into her. All the way down, his prodigious length swallowed by her swollen and hungry cunt. Katja screamed almost immediately. But it was still another few minutes of increasingly furious pumping before they both cried out in the throes of orgasm. He lay across her, still encased, for some moments until his softening member had slipped from her and they rolled over to lie side by side on the bed.

They drifted into sleep, and after the tiring treks of the preceding day (Days? Fast-traveling made it hard to tell) they remained dead to the world for hours. Katja slept dreamlessly, warm and safe in her lover’s arms.

Chapter 33: The College at Winterhold

Even within Candlehearth Hall’s warm confines it was chilly in Windhelm, and morning found Katja and Anders close together beneath the warm coverlet, sleeping soundly. It was only when the inn began to come awake around them and the sounds of people bustling about their business became noticeable, that the usually early-rising young adventuress finally cracked an eyelid.

Oh shit, she thought. Overslept. But it’s so warm in bed, and Anders is so delightfully solid and … Sigh. She rotated in his arms so she was facing him, and kissed his eyelids, then his mouth. “Awaken, my prince,” she said softly. His warm brown eyes opened and regarded her, radiating love. She returned the loving gaze with her cool gray-blue ones. Then his eyes began to fill with hunger, and he clasped her to him for a kiss that had more passion to it. Body to body beneath the sheets with him, she felt him stiffen.

Whoops, that wasn’t the idea. Not that it wasn’t a great idea, but… “My love,” she said, her heart still shining in her eyes, “we need to get on the road to Winterhold.” Anders continued looking at her with a combination of love and desire, but sighed – acknowledging that now was probably not the time. Then he smiled and tweaked her left nipple with his right hand, as the tip of his still-stiffened cock sought the opening to her vestibule.

“Are you sure we don’t have time for a quickie?” he asked. Katja gasped slightly and bit her lip, then rolled her eyes, pulling away. “I’m sure. But definitely, check back with me later,” she said as she wriggled out from between the covers and immediately went all-over goose bumps from the temperature in the room. “I hate this place! It’s fucking cold!” she declared, searching for some underwear.

“Told you,” Anders replied lazily, still keeping the blanket tucked up around his chin. He was admiring the way the cold caused her nipples to stand up. They were lovely nipples, riding high and proud on one of the finest sets of breasts it had ever been his pleasure to fondle. Mmm! He bit his own lip, as his cock throbbed spontaneously at the thought. He gave it a stroke or two before resigning himself to leaving the bed. Ah, well…

Anders climbed out of bed, his member jutting. Katja dug some long woolen underclothes out of her pack, but took a moment from putting them on to admire him in turn. What a superb specimen he was! Increasingly she loved him for his mind, his skills, and his steadfast devotion to her and her wellbeing. But there was no ignoring that, standing there naked with his stiff dick hanging out, he looked way beyond good enough to eat.

The two reluctantly continued their dressing, Anders also finding some warmer underwear, and they were soon fully kitted up and ready to leave. They stopped briefly on their way out to take on a breakfast of honey-nut treats, apples and ale at the bar, then walked out the inn’s front door, still munching. Outside, looking at Windhelm’s gates, Katja perused the map. It seemed to show a road heading north toward Winterhold from the back side of Windhelm. But there was no apparent way to reach it from within the city’s walls.

Instead the pair exited those gates and walked back south along the bridge. When they’d reached the river’s shore, they turned east along it. Though navigable, making Windhelm a seaport of sorts, it was not all that wide nor particularly deep. The countryside north of the river and east of the city’s walls seemed fairly open, with snowdrifts lying in hummocks over lightly forested low hills, and Katja figured that was the best path to the road the map showed.

They resorted once again to piling all their clothing and gear on a floating log. There never seemed to be a shortage of driftwood near rivers in Skyrim. But by all the Nine, this water was cold! Katja was about ready to ask Anders to toast her with a Flames spell by the time they had crossed the relatively short distance from one side of the stream to the other.

Instead, Katja used a Healing spell on herself, and found that it restored her to a semblance of comfort. She used Healing Hands on Anders and achieved the same result, as they hastened to get back into their clothing and armor and begin walking. The exertion of making their way through heavy snow, over the low rolling hills, soon warmed them nicely.

Before Katja and Anders had yet located anything that looked like a road, they were attacked by a pair of things that looked like a red-orange werewolf, more or less dog-like but the size of a small horse and bipedal, with clutching claws. “Shit, hellhounds!” Anders exclaimed, his destruction bolts sizzling as he fought furiously against them. Katja was able to knock one of them back with Unrelenting Force, but the other had dodged out of her range.

She left that one to Anders while she attacked the first one, which had not yet fully recovered from having been hurled yards away, with repeated shots from her bow. The thing was soon on its feet again, though, and Katja found herself knocked to the ground by a savage blow from its taloned forepaw. Meanwhile, Anders had brought the other hellhound down and he turned to save her with more bolts of lightning before the creature could open her from belly to collarbone.

Moments later, he was at her side. “Are you all right?” he asked anxiously. “Been better,” Katja gritted, hurting. But with the immediate threat gone, she had leisure to apply a Healing spell, and was soon feeling fine once again. She felt as if she was getting better at Restoration, needing less magicka to repair even major damage. I should have bought those spell tomes weeks ago, she thought.

They went on their way again, finally striking the paved road Katja had seen marked on the map. She was halfway surprised the stones were even visible, given the apparent nonstop blizzard conditions in these parts. What a miserable place to live! After a short walk they encountered a mine and a smelter beside the road, and stopped off briefly for a look; but there seemed to be only one vein of iron ore and nothing much worth exploration.

In the distance, through the blowing snow, they could now see stone buildings rising ahead of them. Within a few more minutes they came into Winterhold. This is the seat of a hold? Katja thought, looking around. At least half the buildings seemed to be in ruins, though an inn, a store, and the Jarl’s longhouse were still standing. But the whole place looked to be smaller than the village of Riverwood, smaller even than Pied-de-Puce.

At the far end of town a series of stone bridges ran up, changing directions at landings every few dozen feet, to the famous College beyond. The College was separated from the town by a looming gap, perched on a rock that stood some distance north of the headland on which the town sat. Beyond that was the northern sea.

And blocking the entry to the first of those bridges was a lovely young Elf maiden. She barred their way, telling them that only those who were worthy would be admitted to the College. It was not enough that you had business with the College, or needed something from them – you could only get in if you had something to offer them in return. I’m not here to sign up for classes, fumed Katja silently. I need information! But aloud she said, “Would you let The Dragonborn in?”

The woman didn’t believe her claim to be The Dragonborn, so Katja sent her flying 20 feet up the walkway with her Shout. Surprisingly, this still failed to impress the Elf enough to effect passage. Eventually, Katja ended up paying the woman 30 gold for the Fear spell tome, which enabled her to cast the Fear spell on a seal embedded in the walkway. How does she know I did it right? Katja wondered. The seal didn’t get up and run away screaming…

Nonetheless, the young Elf was now willing to escort them up the series of walkways, casting a spell at each juncture to allow them to move to the next one. Without these, Katja was sure, they would have been unable to proceed. She couldn’t help wondering though, whether a simple bribe in the amount of 30 gold might have sufficed without any Shouts or spell-casting being required. The woman welcomed her as “Apprentice,” but it was not Katja’s intention to hang around here for instruction. At least not for long. She hoped they would soon have the information they needed to find the Elder Scroll, and be on their way toward getting the Shout they needed to defeat Alduin.

The Elf woman returned to her duties at the foot of the walkway, leaving Katja and Anders to continue unescorted. They encountered a spry-looking older Elf in ornate mage robes in a central courtyard, and greeted him politely. He introduced himself as the College’s Arch-mage, and welcomed Katja as a new student. Taking her leave, she led Anders on toward the large double doors fronting what appeared to be the famous College’s main building.

Within, they came to a small entryway with wooden doors on either side and openwork double doors ahead leading to a circular room. The door on the left was locked and no one seemed to be in the room ahead; so Katja tried the door on the right. It opened, and after mounting a short circular staircase carved from stone she and Anders came to a large room that was obviously the College library.

On the far side of the room there was a U-shaped desk, and seated behind it was an elderly Orc. Katja guessed he must be the librarian. If anybody at the College had knowledge of Elder Scrolls, it was likely this fellow. Urag Gro-Shub, as he was named, was as fearsome-looking as any Orc she’d met despite his sedentary, scholarly occupation, advanced age, and fussy ways. He seemed adamant that any visitors to the Library should not harm any of the books – or fear his wrath.

Katja explained to Gro-Shub that she was The Dragonborn, that she was enrolled as an apprentice, and that she needed information on Elder Scrolls. His attitude immediately became more helpful. “I’ll gather everything we have for you,” he said, but admitted “it’s not much.” In moments he had produced two large, handsomely bound volumes. One, Ruminations on the Elder Scrolls, was gibberish. It seemed to be the product of an unhinged mind. The other was more helpful, laying out the effects of reading Elder Scrolls on different kinds of people.

Apparently, reading the things could kill you or drive you insane. Perhaps that was the first book’s author’s problem? If you’d undergone rigorous Moth Priest training, Elder Scrolls would only make you go blind instead. Hmm, not promising, Katja thought. She turned to Gro-Shub. “This Ruminations book is incomprehensible,” she pointed out.

The old Orc gave a gruesome smile, his prominent lower tusks gleaming in the low lighting of the vast room. “Ah yes,” he said. “Septimus Signus. He is the world’s foremost authority on the Elder Scrolls, but he’s been… gone too long.” “Where did he go?” Katja asked. Gro-Shub replied, “Up north somewhere. He said he found some Dwemer artifact. Do you have a map?” She produced hers. “I think he was working somewhere near here,” he said, marking a location.

“Thank you,” Katja told him respectfully. Then she and Anders made their way back down the stairs. Looking to the right, Katja noticed that the large room beyond the double doors now held several young people of various races and an elderly man in mage robes, whom she took to be an instructor. I’m not here to matriculate, she thought, but maybe I can pick up a few tips…

Katja pushed the door open and, trailed by Anders, went inside. The instructor was lecturing his students on the dangers and responsibilities of magic use. After she and her companion had stood listening for a couple of minutes, he greeted her warmly and the next thing she knew, she’d been taught a basic Ward spell and had been roped into providing his subject for a demonstration of how the spell worked. Katja had some trouble figuring out exactly where in the large, circular room he wanted her to stand; but eventually she managed to get her ward in place and it shielded her from whatever it was he cast at her. Nothing lethal, I hope, she thought.

Next the kindly-looking old fellow, who was introduced as Tolfdir, invited Katja to join the class at an archaeological excavation the College was conducting at Saarthal, an ancient Nord site to the southwest of Winterhold. He marked it for her on her map. Thanking him, Katja headed on her way. She and Anders paused for a moment in the snowy courtyard outside the main doors, studying the map, and decided that their best course would be to return to Winterhold.

Chapter 34: The Search for the Scroll Begins

From a spot in the middle of Winterhold Katja and Anders struck off down a snowy slope east and north, and soon found themselves on an icy shoreline with a truly remarkable view of the rock on which the College was perched, ahead of them and to the left. Perhaps it was magic that was holding it up? Katja spotted a few clams along the shore and harvested them, along with some Nordic barnacles and slaughterfish eggs. Her alchemical studies needed ingredients, and it was a lot cheaper to find or “liberate” them than to buy them.

Katja and Anders picked their way along the shoreline, keeping a sharp eye out for hostile wildlife, and eventually found a place where ice floes came right up to the shore. By moving carefully over the ice and occasionally leaving it to traverse the shores of rocky islands, the pair were able to avoid getting into that water while continuing to move in the right direction. Katja thought it likely such a dip would prove lethal. She and Anders were not Nords, who were reputed to be able to withstand twice as much cold as other races. Hmm, as she considered it, Wyll certainly seemed warm enough. She felt a little thrill in her midsection at the thought of him, looking forward to their next reunion.

They were moving in the general direction sketched by the College librarian, without knowing exactly what they were looking for. But when Katja spotted a small wooden boat that looked like a cross between a canoe and a Nord longship, yet only about 14 feet long, she began to pay closer attention to their surroundings. There! In a snow-covered rocky hillside, they beheld a small wooden door. Opening it, they descended a rickety-looking wooden ladder and entered a tunnel lined with ice.

After walking down this tunnel for a few yards, Katja and Anders found themselves looking down on a sort of ice cave. It was nearly filled with enormous Dwemer artifacts of some kind, and yet another old man in mage robes was standing on its floor. They picked their way down to greet him. He smiled at them and said, “When the top level was built, no more could be placed. It was the maximal apex!”

Katja was taken aback by this pronouncement. Was the old man as mad as Gro-Shub had implied? Hoping that wasn’t the case, she asked him “I heard you know about the Elder Scrolls?” The sprightly old fellow replied, “Yes. The Empire. They absconded with them. Or so they thought. The ones they saw. The ones they thought they saw.” Whispering hoarsely, he went on: “I know of one. Forgotten. Sequestered. But I cannot go to it, not poor Septimus. For I have arisen beyond its grasp.”

This sounded promising. “So where is the scroll?” Katja asked him. Septimus grinned again. “Here… Well, here as in this plane. Mundus, Tamriel. Nearby, relatively speaking.” He gave a mad-sounding chuckle. “On the cosmological scale, well, it’s all nearby.” Was she just wasting her time? She tried to get him back on track: “Can you help me get the Elder Scroll or not?”

The wizened old scholar replied slyly, “One block lifts the other. Septimus will give you what you want, but you must bring him something in turn.” Maybe he wasn’t so loony after all. “What do you want?” Katja asked him. He gestured to the large, bronze-colored spherical artifact beside him. “You see this masterwork of the Dwemer. Deep inside their greatest knowings. Septimus is clever among men. But he is but an idiot child compared to the dullest of the Dwemer. Lucky then they left behind their own way of reading the Elder Scrolls. In the depths of Blackreach, one yet lies. Have you heard of Blackreach? ‘Cast upon where Dwemer cities slept, the yearning spire hidden learnings kept.’” He chuckled again.

“Where is this Blackreach?” Katja asked him. Septimus rambled on, “Below the hidden keep. Tower Mzark, Alftand. The point of puncture, of first entry, the tapping! Delve to its limits, and Blackreach lies just beyond! But not all can enter there. Only Septimus knows the hidden key to loose the lock, to jump beneath the deathly rock.” “All right then,” she said patiently. “How do I get in?”

The mad mage produced two objects, and handed them over to her saying, “Two things I have for you. Two shapes. One edged, one round. The round one, for tuning. Dwemer music is soft and subtle, and needed to open their cleverest gates. The edged lexicon, for inscribing. To us, a hunk of metal. To the Dwemer, a full library of knowings. But… empty. Find the tower of Mzark and its sky-dome. The machinations there will read the Scroll and lay the lore upon the cube. Trust Septimus. He knows you can know.”

Not having entirely caught that last rambling explanation, Katja asked “What do I do with the sphere, again?” Septimus’ clarification was little less opaque: “The deepest doors of Dwemer listen for singing. It plays the attitude of notes proper for opening. Can you not hear it? Too low for hearings?” We’ll probably figure it out when we get there, she thought sighing. I just hope he’s not completely insane.

Katja and Anders took their leave of Septimus Signus, after getting him to show them the location of Alftand – whence they would go to Blackreach to find the Scroll. They returned up the ice tunnel to the rocky, snow-covered islet above. “At least we don’t have to go back over the ice,” Katja said with relief. She examined the map and realized that Alftand was in the same general direction as Saarthal, the dig site Tolfdir had marked. It appeared to be past the dig and on the same general route, which started in Winterhold. So they went back via fast-travel to that miserable, frozen hamlet once again.

“You know,” Katja told Anders as they found the trail leading to the southwest out of Winterhold and began walking along it, “I think I might just make the next saber cat that attacks us into a fur cloak. At least if we’re going to spend very much time in this part of Skyrim.” He smiled fondly at her, then wriggled out of his pack and rummaged around inside it to come up with a heavy wool cloak, which he draped over her. “It’s not fur, but it’s pretty warm,” he said.

Thank you, love” she murmured, standing on tiptoe to plant an affectionate kiss on his cold cheek. Her own must be glowing like a hearthfire, she thought. Cold or hot always turned her complexion ruddy. Drawing their weapons, they set off on a snowy trail that was just barely distinguishable from the white drifts blanketing the slopes to the west of town.

Katja was getting tired of being ambushed, and they could hardly make much speed in this muck in any case. Plus, she figured, with so little cover she ought to be able to spot any person or animal planning an attack from far enough away to do some good. So they crept along cautiously, her eyes constantly scanning the snowy hills for threats. She was delighted when this paid off a few minutes later, as she felled a saber cat with a couple of well-placed shots before it laid a claw on her.

Katja did skin the bastard, too; though tanning the hide and making a cloak would have to wait. They got a bit lost in the nearly trackless waste, but eventually found the trail in to Saarthal. Nobody was around, but it appeared the students and instructors from the College had done a lot of work on the site. There were wooden ramps and walkways leading here and there, joining the various levels, and barrels of supplies stored.

Katja gave the place only the briefest of inspections, focusing on her goal. Ahead, two swaths of snow ran uphill divided by a knifelike stone ridge. Either one looked as if it might lead to the place on the map marked as Alftand, so she chose the right fork after conferring with Anders. “I don’t suppose you just happen to have been to this ‘Blackreach’ place?” “Sorry,” he said shrugging. “I’ve done most of my adventuring in warmer climes.” “We’ll find it,” she told him, pushing ahead up the steep slope.

About halfway up they were attacked by wolves, but once again their alertness paid off and the savage creatures fell dead before they’d had a chance to do much damage. Shortly after that, her eyes gazing upslope, Katja spotted what looked like a Dwemer tower ahead. As they drew closer, though, they saw that this was not the place marked on the map. She climbed a snow-covered step and opened a pair of ornate doors that appeared to be cast, or perhaps carved, from the shimmering golden substance known as Dwarven metal. She didn’t know what it consisted of, but it seemed impervious to rust and made good armor – she was wearing some now, in fact.

Glancing down at the map again Katja saw this place had now appeared on it, and the name was “Alftand Ruined Tower.” Ruined it was indeed, though much of it was still standing and it seemed to go back quite a way into the hillside. “As long as we’re here,” Katja told Anders, “we might as well explore. Maybe there’s a passage through to the other place and we won’t have to go all the way back down to Saarthal and up the other side.” He laid a hand on her arm, catching her eye. “Watch out. Dwemer ruins are usually full of Falmer, chaurus, and hostile automatons.” She raised her eyebrows at him and turned away. As if!

A couple of seconds later, as Katja started up one of two stone staircases in the room, a circular device on the wall at the top of the steps (which she had taken for a decorative medallion about two feet in diameter), suddenly irised open and disgorged a thing that appeared to resemble an enormous insect made all of gleaming Dwarven metal, with a glowing red gem in top of its head. It was… beautiful. And it was attacking her!

Katja hit it with several arrows, backing away. She tried Unrelenting Force on it and it didn’t seem to have any effect. Maybe the Shout only works on living things? Meanwhile a second unit had been spat out by a port on the opposite wall, and Anders was blasting it with lightning bolts. They seemed to be particularly effective against the hard metal adversary, more so than arrows. But both of the things were stabbing at her with their spear-like legs, and by the time they had been reduced to scrap metal Katja was limping and bleeding.

Katja put up her bow and used her Healing spell to close the wounds. Doing this, or drinking potions of Health (which seemed to be the liquid equivalent of the spell), was not just a lifesaver. It made her feel so much better than she had a minute before, now not even bothered by the pervasive cold, that she had a moment of concern that the practice might be addictive. Well, she mused, sex with Anders and/or Wyll might be addictive too. But I’m not ready to kick the habit.

Recovered, Katja looked ruefully at Anders. “Looks like you were right. Let’s hope we don’t meet too many more of them.” Climbing another flight of stairs and opening another set of golden doors, they came into an intriguing corridor flanked by gates barred in that same burnished metal. Behind those gates, a series of enormous pipes ran here and there, and there was a loud rumble of machinery. Gigantic gears were turning furiously, though there was no sign of either a means of propulsion or the purpose of the activity.

Rounding a bend, Katja was in time to see another circular portal give birth to what looked for a moment like a shiny metal sphere perhaps three feet in diameter, composed of interleaved plates. In seconds, though, it unfolded itself into a metallic humanoid that moved around by rolling on its hemispherical bottom while wielding a sword. It was about as tall as she was, and one arrow from hiding was not enough to stop it. Katja swapped the bow for mace and shield, and began trying to bash it to bits. These things did seem to be somewhat fragile. And once again, Anders’ lightning bolts proved effective.

The thing fell into pieces, scattering across the stone floor with a clatter of sheet metal. “That type’s called a sphere guardian,” Anders told her. “The little guys with all the legs are called spiders. And we do not want to meet a centurion.” “I’ll take your word for it,” Katja replied, panting. They’d barely gone 50 feet in this maze-like but strangely beautiful building, and they’d already nearly been killed twice.

Examining the wreckage, Katja salvaged some soul gems, Dwarven oil, and a few bits of useful-looking scrap metal. It could probably be melted down to make Dwarven ingots, which fetched a good price at smithies. They continued through the complex. Despite all the machine activity, it seemed (so far) to be devoid of flesh-and-blood inhabitants. Given that those inhabitants, if found, were likely to be the equally unpleasant Falmer and chaurus, Katja felt she’d be happy to postpone meeting them.

They encountered several more of the smaller sort of automaton, all of them unremittingly hostile but relatively easy to deactivate once you’d found the right technique. Then the passage led around and up more stairs to a set of double doors – that led out onto a snowy hilltop. “Oh,” Katja murmured, looking around disoriented. On a hillside ahead of her she could see more towers with wooden walkways strung around them. That had to be Alftand, and it was now much closer than it had been before.

Katja and Anders climbed the hill to their right and found a passage around the tower to an encampment of some kind. There were two semi-ruinous wooden shacks, and several hide tents set up here and there. A couple of desiccated corpses lay scattered, partially covered in snow. In one of the shacks Katja picked the lock of a chest to come away with a few valuables (surely no longer needed by those former owners!), and recovered a small journal that told of this ill-fated expedition. It had been led by an Imperial named Sulla Trebatius, and clearly had run afoul of some of the very same perils that she and Anders were now about to face. Oh, joy.

“How do you feel, love?” Katja asked Anders. “I’m thinking maybe we ought to camp here for the night before going down into the tower. I don’t know what it’s like down there, but judging from what happened to these people it might not be too restful. I could use some supper, and we can shelter in this shack.” “Good idea, my sweet,” he replied. “Too bad there’s not a double bed, though.” “We can put a couple of these bedrolls together and huddle for warmth, but I don’t think we’re going to be doing much else in these conditions,” she responded regretfully.

They got a fire going in the abandoned campsite’s hearth, and simmered some dried beef with water, carrots, onions, and potatoes to make a hearty soup. While it cooked they removed their armor. In the long woolen knit shirts and leggings they’d put on beneath their armor in Windhelm, they were still fairly warm and a lot more comfortable with the heavy, stiff armor off. While the soup cooked they sat together on a stack of fur bedrolls gathered from the camp, snuggled together under Anders’ wool cloak.

Katja was feeling a little troubled, weighed down by the perils they were facing as they headed down into the unknown depths of the ominously-named Blackreach. But with her love (one of them, anyway) at her side, his strong arm wrapped around her, her anxieties eased. She was not her usual ebullient self, perhaps, but she wasn’t quivering in fear either.

Katja reached out to stir the pot, judging it needed a little more time for the beef to soften and the potatoes and carrots to cook. As she sat back down Anders wrapped his left arm back around her shoulders, cupped her face in his other hand, and gave her a sweet, warm kiss. She melted into him, and they sat there huddled together kissing gently, stroking each other’s bodies through the thick woolen garments.

When the soup was ready Katja ladled out a serving for each of them in thick earthenware mugs. It warmed them from their hands, cupped around their mugs, right down to their bellies. Dipping some stale bread into the soup, they devoured every bit of it and the bread as well. Katja hadn’t realized how ravenous she was! It was easy to forget to eat, sometimes, when you were focused on a goal or busy fighting for your life. But it was sure to catch up with you. She’d become noticeably firmer and somewhat less rounded, these last few weeks.

After Anders had cleaned up the pot and mugs, Katja meanwhile huddling alone under the cloak beside the fire, he added some wood to the fire and then helped her set up their bed for the night. They laid two of the ubiquitous fur sleeping pallets side by side, and spread another two out to form blankets for them as they lay down together, still wearing their woolies, their heads pillowed on spare clothing from their packs.

Anders immediately enfolded Katja in his arms and pulled her close to him, shivering slightly. “Oh Baby, keep me warm!” he said, pretending that his teeth were chattering. “You’re warmer than I am,” she replied, smiling into his chest. “Ooh! Your hands are warm!” she said in surprise a moment later, as he slipped one up underneath her woolen jersey to fondle a breast. “Mine are freezing,” she continued, putting both of hers up inside his shirt.

“Augh!” Anders gave a muffled cry as Katja’s little five-fingered ice cubes played over the warm skin of his back and chest. “Ohhh, honey, that feels so good!” she purred, making him change his mind about evicting her hands from their new warm location. It wasn’t her fault she was a smaller animal than he was and had a harder time conserving body heat. “I’ll bet I know one place you’re not cold,” he said softly, slipping a hand down past the waistband of her stretchy, woolen leggings. He cupped her crotch with his hand, his index and middle fingers slipping inside her.

Katja squirmed and moaned, and lifted her face for him to lock his mouth on hers. By now the hand she had slipped up between his jersey and his warm chest was thoroughly thawed, and she moved it down the front of his pants. His cock was stiffening, pressing out against the warm, soft fabric. She squeezed him rhythmically, and for a while the two of them writhed and moaned together. Ah, she wanted him so badly! And it was way too damn cold to get naked!

But their woolen underwear was quite stretchy. “I have an idea,” Katja whispered. Anders pricked his ears up in anticipation. When Kat got an idea during lovemaking, he’d learned, it was usually a good one. The inside of their double bedroll was pretty warm by now. She reached down with both hands, leaving his poor cock momentarily abandoned, and pulled her leggings down over her rump and about halfway down her thighs. Next she reached around his waist and grabbed the top of his, pulling them down past his buttocks in back and exposing his jutting cock in front. Then she rolled onto her side, her derriere jutting toward him so that he could enter her from behind as they lay spooning, still completely covered by the furs.

Anders pushed into her eagerly. In this position she was particularly tight, her cunt hot and slippery, as he thrust in and out with firm, slow strokes. He pulled her jersey up in front so he could cup and squeeze her breasts while they made love for an endless moment. Neither of them needed to expose much skin to the cold night air this way; but though it felt wonderful to both of them Katja’s clit wasn’t getting enough stimulation. So she took Anders’ top hand off her right breast and moved it down, to rub against her from the front as he thrust into her from the rear. Oh yeah, that was it! She began moaning loudly, building to a climax, and as her vaginal spasms gripped him in waves he came too, hot and urgent.

Afterward, they continued to lie in the same position. When he slipped out, they pulled their leggings back up but stayed curled together. “I love you,” he whispered, as they dropped into a warm and satisfied sleep. She was already unconscious.

Chapter 35: Alftand

By the time daylight began to turn the black to a muted gray around them, Katja and Anders were well rested and blissfully warm, piled together like kittens beneath the warm fur bedrolls. Katja blinked, as ever the first to awaken, and it took a moment before she remembered the details of their location and planned course of action. Aw, shit, she thought drowsily, humping a little closer to her deliciously warm and solid lover beneath the equally warm covers.

But awakening was inevitable. Before long Katja’s brain had kicked into gear and begun planning the next steps in their quest. She rotated in Anders’ arms so she was facing him, and ran her hands down his chest to his belly. She’d been around men enough to realize that almost any young, healthy man was likely to awaken with an erection. And if you let them, they’d find something to do with it too. Not that that wasn’t fun; but it didn’t lead to a lot of early morning productivity.

Brushing her fingers lightly over Anders’ wooly leggings, feeling his hardness, Katja kissed him sweetly on the nose and then, feeling positively like a martyr, wriggled backwards out of the covers and got to her feet. Clothes! I need more clothes! And build up the fire… In surprisingly short order, in accordance with her status as the usual designated Morning Person, she had shrugged into her armor and the woolen cloak, and rekindled the barely-glowing embers of last night’s fire into a cheery blaze. Then she toed her lover gently in the knee, where he still lay beneath the furs. “Time to get up!”

Anders’ eyebrows knit, and his eyes squeezed tighter shut. “Noooo!” he moaned piteously. “It’s cold out there.” “Blackreach beckons, my pet!” Katja chirped. “Up and at ‘em!” Acknowledging the validity of her argument, he reluctantly crawled from the covers. Then he began feeling around for additional garments, until he had warmed up enough to stop shivering. He cast a baleful eye on her. “I like you better at night,” he said petulantly. Then, to take the sting out of it, he stepped close and enfolded her in an embrace. “Is there anything to eat?” he asked.

Already munching on a slightly stale sweet roll, Katja passed him one along with a couple of apples. Then she poured them both some herbal tea. The hot liquid, sweetened with honey, slid down their throats with a rush that, at this hour of an icy morning, seemed better than sex. Anders began to look a little more cheerful. Before long they’d finished their minimalistic repast and broken their camp, taking little enough care to extinguish the fire in this frozen waste. Then they shouldered their packs, weapons at the ready, and followed the expedition’s wooden walkway as it led down into the glacial ruins of Alftand.

The rickety wooden walkway, after several switchbacks, continued on down into tunnels carved in the ice. Around a couple of bends, they came to what looked like another abandoned campsite. The cooking spit was lying on the ground and quantities of blood were splashed here and there on the ice. A gruesome remnant of a human skeleton lay on the floor, but there were no signs of life. Yet after winding around several more bends, Katja and Anders could hear a voice ahead. From the accent, it was a Khajiit. “Where is it? I know you were trying to keep it for yourself J’zharr… You always try to keep it for yourself!” The voice continued, “No! There’s got to be more skooma… Shut up! Shut up! Don’t lie to me J’zharr! You hid it! You always try to steal it from me!”

Already moving stealthily, Katja and Anders readied their weapons. But on rounding the next corner, they saw… nobody. Only the top of a Dwemer stairway, leading down. The heavy stonework above their heads was draped in icicles. At the bottom of the stairway was a wide room, with a number of objects lying on a stone table ahead of them and a gateway barred by horizontal metal slats beyond it. Katja rifled the collection and came away with a few soul gems and some other items of value. Anders smiled slightly. His larcenous little lover never missed a chance to pocket something.

Katja discovered a number of books on the table, and scanned them for useful information. Apparently, or so one book reported, Dwarven metal was particularly marvelous for weapons and armor. It was incorruptible and resistant to most attacks by such as common steel. In a journal left behind, there was further indication that the doomed expedition had penetrated this far. Random blood splashes on the stone floor had their own tale to tell.

Turning away from the barred doorway, which did not appear to offer passage, the two explored another corridor leading off to the left and once again heard that same voice. Despite their caution, it seemed they had been heard by the as-yet unseen Khajiit. “What? Who is this, Brother? Another of the smooth skins looking for food? But this one wasn’t trapped with us…” Shrinking into the shadows, Katja fired her bow as the Khajiit came into view. He attacked them both, but seemed to be half-starved, unable to mount much of an offense. He soon fell dead at their feet.

Katja searched the body but found nothing that might explain this poor fellow’s presence. A few feet further on she came upon a second Khajiit body, evidently the first one’s brother J’zharr. She suspected the one they had just dispatched had been talking to his dead brother for some time, having long since taken leave of his senses. He’d probably killed the brother himself, at that. Skooma addicts could be quite unbalanced.

Ahead, their way was barred by another of those slatted gates. Everything that was not carved stone in these Dwemer ruins seemed to be made of the same warmly glimmering Dwarven metal. Making a left turn, Katja and Anders came to a small stone plaza with a curious-looking structure in the middle of it. It seemed to be a light fixture, a glowing crystal caged within a metal openwork enclosure that was nearly as tall as a man.

And in the far corner of that plaza stood what looked like a knight armored all in golden Dwarven metal. Except that he stood about 8 feet tall, and was clearly not human. Anders hissed at her, “That… is a Dwarven Centurion!” Too late! It had already spotted them, and they had nowhere to run. Yet curiously, it seemed to lack agility and its enormous size was almost a handicap. Katja ducked nimbly behind it and began raining blows on it with her mace, wishing she had a better weapon.

Meanwhile, one of those Sphere Guardians had joined the fray and Anders was busy fighting it off. And a couple of the medium-sized “spiders” were attacking as well! Holy crap! Katja figured her best bet was to dodge as much as possible to avoid the slow attacks of the Centurion, while lashing out at it and its smaller, faster cohorts as the opportunity presented itself.

A well-aimed blow or two from the heavy mace was enough to send the insectile mechanisms flying – in pieces, if Katja were lucky. The Centurion took quite a bit longer to wear down, but she was beginning to get a sense as to which were the most vulnerable parts of its running gear. After smashing a couple of those pistons that bent the legs, she had it down on the floor and was then able to obliterate its head (apparently the seat of its “intelligence”) with a few more blows of the mace.

Gasping for breath, her arm feeling like a limp dishrag, Katja looked up to find Anders collapsed on the floor. But his mechanical adversary was in pieces. “Anders!” she ran to his side and helped him up. He was panting too, and bleeding from a dozen little cuts inflicted by the Dwarven automaton’s weaponry. In need of Healing herself, she readied a Healing Hands spell and kept it on Anders until her magicka was nearly spent and her lover was standing there once again looking hale and hearty.

Not wanting to wait for her magicka to recover, Katja downed 3 or 4 Minor Healing potions, until her cuts and scrapes had faded and she was starting to feel better. Both of them were still panting, though. “So that was a Centurion, huh?” she asked him. “One of the smaller ones,” Anders replied, still breathless. “They get up to about 20 feet tall.” She just looked at him mutely. In another few minutes, rested and somewhat recovered, they pushed on.

A little further along in the labyrinthine corridors, the duo encountered some bigger members of the Dwarven spider class. These looked a lot like the larger sort of frostbite spiders, though made all of metal and lacking the deadly poisonous bite of the originals. Feeling like they were starting to get the hang of this, Katja and Anders attacked them with lightning and mace, soon leaving each a broken heap of scrap metal.

From time to time as they moved through the corridors, they would come upon Dwemer chests. Unlike the familiar box shape of chests elsewhere in Skyrim, these resembled a half-circle of stone and Dwarven metal, resting on a table or the floor. Each had a circular, carven metal lid that required the use of lockpicks to open. Katja was getting quite good at picking locks. At this rate, she thought, I’ll be required to join the Thieves’ Guild.

After several more turnings, leaving a trail of broken mechanical guardians in their wake, the pair came at last to a stone gallery, with many large metal pipes lining it, overlooking a cavernous rectangular area below. Mysterious machines were at work around the edges, thrusting rods with large round disks on their ends in and out in a measured cadence. Should you be standing in front of one of these when it came out, you’d be pushed to the floor below. But they were easy to evade, and Katja made her way around the perimeter to the far side of the gallery without being in any danger. Anders followed.

On the far side of the gallery, another door opened into a corridor where the pair spotted their first signs of organic life since the two unfortunate Khajiit brothers. The walls on either side were encrusted here and there with pyramidal, gelatinous mounds, each containing numerous globules that glowed with a cool light. “Looks like we’ve found the part of this ruin that’s infested with Falmer and chaurus,” Anders warned Katja. “Those are chaurus egg sacs.”

She looked around in alarm, but the mounded clusters of eggs seemed to be the only living things yet visible. Approaching one, she extracted a few glowing spheres. Chaurus eggs! These were a useful and costly alchemical ingredient, but she hadn’t previously seen them “in the field.” Given the level of peril associated with collecting them, she had a better appreciation of why the shops charged so much. And of course, no longer afraid of mama chaurus showing up, Katja harvested as many as she could.

The two pushed on with heightened caution, passing many areas where mysterious Dwemer machinery whirred beneath golden floor grates. Katja was trying hard to picture what this place must have been like when it was inhabited by the long-vanished Dwarves. She and Anders had explored several living areas in their passage through the building, and apparently the ancient Dwemer’s idea of jolly sleeping accommodations was a bed made out of solid stone. Either that, or their ancient mattresses were made of something that had crumbled to dust and blown away centuries ago.

They had mostly been traveling downward; but now they came to a stone ramp heading up, flanked on either side by steps. The ramp had a slot cut into it, stone lined with metal, and the square stone plates set here and there within it looked an awful lot like trap triggers. Katja could easily imagine something lethal emerging from that slot; and she motioned to Anders, behind her, to follow her up the stairs – away from those triggers.

At the top of the stairs they fought and killed another guardian, then turned to the left to find a large open doorway giving out onto a semicircular stone balcony. Looking down, Katja spotted a humanoid figure lying dead in a splash of old blood on the stone plaza below. It didn’t look as though it had died from a fall, though. The plaza was only about 15 feet down, and they seemed to be out of other directions to go in; so Katja crouched down facing Anders, gripped the edge of balcony with both hands, and then let herself down to drop to the stones below. He followed her in a trice.

The corpse proved to be that of an Orc woman. She was clad in studded leather armor and riddled with long arrows. Katja had a sinking feeling these might be Falmer arrows. After examining the dead woman, she looked at the room around them. They were about halfway up a broad stone chimney, and above them stone ramps wound upward, looking like sections of intestine. More led down.

“Up or down?” Katja asked Anders. “From what the old loon said, Blackreach is below Alftand. So we ought to be heading down,” he replied. “Right you are,” she said, and headed for the nearest curving stone ramp leading in a downward direction. They had not gone very far along this path when Anders touched her arm, beckoning silently ahead. Katja looked where he was pointing and saw a scrawny, pale-skinned humanoid figure clad in skins, on guard but not yet noticing them, as it stood a few dozen yards further down the ramp.

“Falmer?” Katja whispered. Anders nodded. Aha. She drew her bow and let fly, hitting the (beast? Person?) squarely in the chest. It barely flinched, and began charging angrily up the ramp toward them. “Oh, fuck!” she exclaimed, launching another arrow. As Anders began slowing its advance with lightning bolts it occurred to Katja that her Unrelenting Force Shout might well work on this creature where it had not on the automatons; and she cut loose with a blast that blew it off the ramp and down into the darkness. Peering over the edge, she could see it lying down there, unmoving.

The two left the ramp and proceeded into another corridor, around a few corners and down a flight of steps. There were curious looking, more-or-less conical dwellings here and there, like tents made out of some hard, leathery/scaly substance. Anders said quietly, “Shhh… Falmer dwellings. They make them out of chaurus chitin. All their armor and some of their weapons are made out of chaurus as well.” “I wonder if they eat, them, too?” Katja asked in hushed tones. “I think what they eat are humans and Elves that wander into their caverns,” he replied seriously. She shuddered and moved on, her caution redoubled.

They had to fight a trio of the creatures shortly, and after that fight Katja got her first close-up look at a Falmer. They clearly were some kind of Elf, with their pointed ears and slender bodies. But whereas high Elves, wood Elves, and dark Elves were all slim, these creatures looked emaciated. Their joints looked painfully knobby, and they seemed to walk hunched over like apes. Their most strikingly horrific feature, though, was their eyes: they had none. Where the eyes should be, their faces were lined with wrinkles almost as if the eyes had been removed and the eyelids sewn shut. Their noses were just twin holes in the face, their mouths small and full of sharp-pointed teeth.

A thousand questions sprang to Katja’s lips; and Anders, for once, was short on answers. “They use bows. How do they see to shoot without eyes? Where are the women and babies?” He shook his head, smiling ruefully. “I’ve never met anyone who knew how they can sense a target well enough to shoot. As for the women – you’ve seen a female Falmer, but you probably didn’t even realize it. They look almost exactly like the males, but they wear armor covering their chests. As to how and where they breed, maybe you will be the one to write the book on the subject!”

Katja sighed, and led the way further into the complex. They came to another large room, killing its Falmer occupant, and she found a leather satchel on the floor. Within, its contents indicated that it was the property of Sulla Trebatius – the Imperial who had led the ill-fated expedition. Further evidence of that expedition was lying on a stone slab – the corpse of a pretty Nord woman. At least there was no sign the Falmer had been dining on her.

On one side of the room was a chamber ringed in Dwarven metal bars, with four large gears spaced around the circular stone floor and a large metal lever mounted in the center. “That’s a Dwemer lift,” Anders informed her. “You pull the lever and the floor rises or falls and takes you to some other level.” “Maybe it’ll be a way out,” Katja replied, “later. But I think we need to go over there first.” She pointed down another corridor.

Ahead, another staircase led upward to a dimly lit, airy natural cavern with a massive stone structure standing at its center. The entry to that structure was barred, and they could see Falmer yurts scattered around on either side of it. Katja picked off a couple of wandering Falmer with arrows, then she and Anders had a furious fight on their hands as a larger, tougher member of the breed attacked them at close range.

When all was quiet once more, Katja and Anders climbed a staircase off to the side of the one they’d entered on, and found a stone balcony overlooking the building below. A prominent lever operated the gates of the building, opening them. Returning downstairs, they crept up to the now wide-open gates, both of them sensing that they were approaching their goal.

Stairs led from the gateway up to a platform, and there they found another Dwarven Centurion awaiting them. This time, both of them were free to attack it as it came lumbering forward, with Katja dodging around to hit at its legs from behind while Anders attempted to disrupt its motive power with lightning blasts. In moments, the thing crashed to the ground and neither of them was even hurt. Katja gave Anders a bright smile and threw her arms around his neck. “Brilliant work, sweetheart!” she exclaimed. He smiled back at her and gave her a kiss before getting back to the business at hand.

They found a filled Grand soul gem on the disabled automaton. “It’s as if the machine is haunted by the ghost of a former living being,” Katja mused aloud. Maybe that was what made them so hostile. One might well become cranky after death, to find one’s soul pressed into service within an animated machine. More stairs led up from the platform, to another enclosure of metal bars; and as the pair approached these, they heard what sounded like human voices.

As she opened the gate to the enclosure Katja heard a woman saying, “Sulla, let’s just get out of here. Hasn’t there been enough death?” Sulla! So the expedition leader still lived. A male voice, presumably Sulla, replied “Oh, of course you want me to leave. Just waiting for me to turn my back. So you can have all the glory for yourself!” Sulla might still be alive, but it sounded as if he might be a few fish short of a bouillabaisse.

They could not see anyone. Ahead of them was another stone platform, surmounted by an odd-looking barred enclosure a little below hip height. Beyond that, another lift could be seen behind more barred gates. Where were the people who were speaking? Katja and Anders crept closer, and heard the sound of weapons clashing. Sulla cried out, “Agh! I’ve been wounded worse by better!”

Moving closer still, Anders and Katja approached the lift and discovered that there was a corridor running along in front of it, hidden by the walls of the room they’d just left. A short way down the corridor to the right, Sulla Trebatius and a heavily armored Redguard woman were engaged in a deadly clash. As he struck her, she gave a wordless cry and crumpled to the floor. Then Sulla, noticing the intruders for the first time, turned and attacked them. He’d already been wounded in defeating the woman, and now faced two fresh foes who were rapidly honing their double-team act into something guaranteed to kill.

Moments later, the presumed last living member of Trebatius’ expedition, the man himself, lay dead on the stones. Katja helped herself to anything that might prove useful or valuable from his person and that of his last expedition member. Waste not, want not. Then she and Anders turned back the way they’d come for a closer look at that peculiar square enclosure. On this side of it, a tapering metal pillar, oval in cross-section, had a small recess on the top. Katja eyed her lover. “I think this is where we’re supposed to use the attunement sphere Septimus gave us,” she said. “Go for it,” he replied smiling.

Gingerly, she deposited the sphere on the pillar. Nothing jumped out to attack them, nor could she hear the “music” Septimus had spoken of. Instead, there was a grinding noise and the stone floor surrounding the enclosure, which was divided into carved slabs maybe 2 by 3 feet in size, began to drop downward one slab at a time. In moments it had stopped moving and had formed a stairway, beckoning them downward.

After reclaiming the sphere the two trotted right down to the bottom, where they found another set of the ornately-embossed, solid Dwarven metal doors blocking their path. Taking a deep breath, Katja pushed the doors open and stepped through. Then she just stood there staring in amazement. They were standing on a broad stone terrace, and ahead of them was an otherworldly vision.

Chapter 36: Blackreach

Katja and Anders were far underground. There was no daylight, nor could they see the ceiling of what must be an impossibly huge cavern. Yet despite the overall darkness, Blackreach seemed to be full of lights. The landscape that spread before them went beyond the limits of sight, and here and there they could see Dwemer buildings ranging from modest house-sized structures to towering edifices. Below the terrace a stone-paved road led off in either direction, running past the building they had entered through.

Little glowing motes like stars floated in the murk, but most of the light seemed to be coming from what looked like a cross between the familiar glowing mushrooms Katja had often seen in caves and a tree of some kind. Clusters of them grew everywhere, ranging in size from a few feet to more than 40 feet high, a mushroom-like bell suspended on a slender “trunk”, the bell dangling tendrils like vines than hung down almost to the ground. All parts of the plant glowed with an eerie blue light. In addition, there were spangles of glowing light on the rock ceiling far above, and outcroppings of glowing rock scattered here and there on the floor of the cavern.

For once, Anders didn’t twit his younger, less-sophisticated lover for goggling at an unfamiliar sight. He was as dazzled as she was, and the two of them stood there staring for several minutes from the “safety” of their terrace, just trying to take it all in and make sense of it. Finally, Katja shook herself and returned to the business at hand. “Now, all we have to do is make our way through that to Mzark Tower and its ‘sky-dome,’ use our magic cube, and get the scroll. Right?” Anders thought a moment before replying, “Doesn’t look like there’s much sky down here. But we can keep an eye out for anything that looks like a dome, I suppose. Shall we?” he gestured toward steps leading down.

Directly across the road was a smallish building standing on its own. But as Katja approached it, she and Anders quickly found themselves attacked by a larger-than-usual Dwarven Sphere Guardian. It seemed to come out of nowhere in an instant. Hitting the ground running, she wielded her shield and mace and closed with the lethal machine from behind as Anders engaged it in front.

As their attacker’s hemispherical base went skittering across the stones while the rest of it fell in pieces around them, Katja continued to the building and pushed open the door. Why, this was a cozy little residence! At least, cozy by Dwemer standards. The stone cottage had a hearth, the usual stone bed, and a worktable with an alchemy station. On counters along one wall and elsewhere in the room, alchemy ingredients lay scattered in profusion.

On the floor near the bed was a skeleton, dry bones in tattered clothing. A search of the corpse revealed a field journal belonging to a man (presumably the dead guy) named Sinderion, who wrote with enthusiasm of his alchemical field research in this bizarre and perilous place. Of particular interest to him was a red variety of the familiar alchemical plant nirnroot. The regular sort liked to grow in swampy places and was notable for the curious chiming note it gave off at all times – the only plant Katja had yet seen that made a noise. It was mostly used for poisons. Its crimson counterpart, only growing in Blackreach, also made a sound; but Sinderion had still been trying to figure out all of its uses at the time of his death, it seemed.

Katja plucked an example that was growing in a pot on the workbench, also taking most of the other useful items in the cottage. If she and Anders had to spend days here searching for the Elder Scroll, perhaps they could give Sinderion a decent burial and take over his field laboratory as a base camp. It was certainly homier than any other Dwemer structure she’d yet visited.

Somewhat reluctantly, Katja led Anders back out the door and down the dark, stone-paved road. Drawn by the sound, she occasionally found a crimson nirnroot growing and plucked it as they cautiously made their way along, searching for Mzark Tower and its “sky-dome”. Off ahead where the road curved and headed down a slope to the right, they spotted a building that resembled a shrine, with the stern-looking sculpted metal head so often seen in Dwemer architecture fronting it. Below this face a pillar with a button in the middle of its top beckoned, and Katja pushed it.

Machinery whirred to life, large metal gears flanking the building’s entrance began to spin, and the slatted gate at the front opened to reveal the now-familiar circular stone platform and central lever of a Dwemer lift. Katja didn’t think this had any connection with Mzark, but she did want to investigate. “Let’s see where this takes us,” she told Anders, and he followed her onto the platform.

In moments they found themselves looking out through a slat-barred metal gate at a snowy slope, back on the surface of Skyrim. Checking her map, Katja found they were at Alftand Lift. Good to know, should they need a way back to the surface after their explorations of Blackreach were done. They returned down the lift and continued following the road.

As the pair walked, they spotted some Falmer on a balcony high on the second or third floor of a building to the left. Katja picked these off with her bow, rather than have them start shooting at her. Then she heard a curious chittering sound, and realized that a humped, segmented black shape was approaching them. It did not look friendly. She backed off a little and asked Anders, “Chaurus?” He nodded. “Watch out,” he spoke quietly. “They can shoot poison 20 feet.” “I suggest we start blasting it now, then!” she exclaimed as the creature closed with them.

Anders hit it with a double-handed shot of lightning, while she continued backing and firing arrows. The things seemed to be all too well armored. After it was dead, Katja liberated some of its chitin. Ahead of them there were more odd buildings, and an enormous Dwarven Centurion. It was mounted in a curious-looking metal rack and not active, thank the Divines. A lever on the platform to one side of it did not tempt her to find out what would happen should she pull it.

The road took a bend to the left. Did this cavern go on forever? The oppressive murk and the sense that unseen enemies were about to leap out at them from any side was beginning to weigh on Katja, and she was getting increasingly jumpy. Anders came up behind her and gently, carefully, laid a soothing hand on her shoulder. She flinched, then relaxed under his touch. She was very, very glad he was here. “Look over there,” he murmured, pointing ahead and a little to the left. “Is that a dome?”

Katja looked where he was pointing and saw, as well as possible in the dim lighting, an enormous and quite impressive cluster of tall and handsome buildings. At the third floor level or near to it, off to the left, an enormous, orange-glowing globe was suspended in an openwork metal cage. “Um… It looks more like a globe than a dome. But maybe we ought to investigate…”

The pair approached, marveling at the scale of these structures – all now abandoned by their builders for untold centuries. Yet the buildings still lived, in a sense, as their long-dead builders’ machines continued to patrol the corridors. Katja picked an entrance at random and went into a building that seemed to have been some kind of public gathering place, Anders at her heels.

As Katja and Anders explored, working in an upward direction, they noticed that these corridors seemed to be relatively quiet, free from the constant thrumming of Dwemer machinery and empty of spiders, guardians, and other unfriendly automatons. Katja was almost beginning to relax, when they entered a room and discovered two men, ordinary Nords by the look of them, dressed in rags and apparently just hanging around at home. She couldn’t make sense of it. People living down here? Why?

Even as these thoughts were racing through her mind, the two men spotted the intruders and immediately went on the attack. Though unarmored, they were each armed with a steel weapon and seemed determined to kill the intruders or drive them off. Katja’s confusion deepened as she and her companion responded in kind and soon sent their attackers to oblivion.

“Bandits? What…?” she asked, as much to herself as to Anders. “I think I’ve seen this before in Falmer lairs,” he replied thoughtfully. “The Falmer have some way to capture humans and bind them as servants. No way bandits would hang around here – who would they rob?” Meanwhile, Katja had stooped to rifle the pockets of the men’s ragged clothing, and had come up with exactly 33 gold septims from each of them.

“Evidently the Falmer actually pay their servants,” Katja remarked sardonically. “Though I can’t imagine they find much to spend it on down here.” As they continued searching the sprawling, confusing complex they encountered Nords, Redguards, Bretons, various Elves and even an Orc. These non-Falmers were often accompanied by a Falmer mage, making it clear that some kind of association existed. It must be some magic spell that held them in thrall, yet they talked as if they were leading normal lives, whenever Katja was able to sneak up and eavesdrop on them. Bizarre.

The pair eventually reached the upper floors and got a good, close look at the orange globe; but it did not appear to offer any way inside it. “I think that’s just a giant light globe,” Katja told Anders. This avenue closed, they began searching for another target. They had a pretty good view from up here, and spent some time scanning around them looking for any hints of where to go next.

“The old mage said it’s a ‘spire’,” Anders remarked. “Like a single tall column or something, not a sprawling building. Do you see anything like that?” Katja, brow furrowed, continued peering around. “Hey, how about that?” he asked, pointing off in the direction of the river that ran along beyond this complex. A medium-sized tower could just be seen beyond it. “It’s as likely as any, I guess,” she replied. Let’s go.”

They returned the way they’d come but promptly got lost, and it was another five minutes before they finally found a way out of the complex that let them back onto the road, and heading in the direction they wanted to go. At least, Katja thought with relief, we seem to have wiped out the hostiles for the time being.

Katja and Anders walked along the road as it flanked the river, then waded across some shallows and found themselves crossing a bridge – which led to a causeway heading toward the tower Anders had pointed out. It did look like a single tall column, with ramps running around the sides and a huge example of that frowning sculpted Dwemer face mounted on the front of the building above the doors.

Her mood turning to humor as she felt they might finally be reaching their goal, Katja stepped back and ran her hand down Anders’ crotch. “Look dear, it reminds me of you. Especially in the morning…” Anders thought this was a bit odd, but he couldn’t help smiling. Kat could be so… unexpected! He felt as if he’d caught a ride on the back of a dragon, sometimes.

The duo approached the tower and opened the doors, finding what looked like a campsite set up in the middle of a suite of Dwemer rooms. There were books and various useful items scattered around, and Katja helped herself. She was relieved to find that they were apparently alone here. Ahead, a Dwemer lift beckoned.

When the lift stopped moving, Katja and Anders knew they had found what they were seeking. The room ahead of them was circular, and the center of it was completely taken up with the bottom half of an enormous glowing sphere. They circled it until the came to a ramp going up to the midpoint of the sphere, which had a walkway circling it. Another ramp continued higher, to a balcony overlooking the top of the sphere. On the balcony were five short round pillars standing in a row and a square one, slightly taller than the others, at the near end of the row.

Katja took Septimus’ lexicon out of her pack, musing. “This looks like it ought to fit right here,” she said, placing the cubic Dwemer object at the top of the square pillar. It fit perfectly, and now she noticed that the two nearest pillars had buttons on their tops that were visible and glowing. There were none on the others. Operating by instinct, she chose the taller of the pillars and pressed the button.

Immediately some of the room’s complicated machinery whirred into motion, a dazzling array of arms and lenses spinning in a complicated dance above the sphere. Up near the top of the chamber, they could see light shining down through a glass dome. “That must be the ‘sky-dome’!” Katja pointed. The motion had ceased, and nothing else was happening, so she tried pressing the other available button. No result.

Katja went back to pressing the first button, watching and waiting until the motions had stopped before pressing it again. On the fourth press, light fell on the lexicon, and the cover on the stand that contained it popped open. Now, Katja saw, there was a button showing on one of the far pillars. The central pillar, covered with blue lights, didn’t actually seem to do anything.

While Anders stood there watching her perform these actions, he marveled at the intuitive grasp his lover seemed to have for such things. How did she know what to do? It must be some aspect of her identity as The Dragonborn, or at least an inborn talent. He might tease her about her naiveté, from time to time; but at bottom he was often in awe of her abilities. Katja pushed the newly revealed button twice, and the lenses in the ceiling moved again, allowing the lexicon to be filled with knowledge. It began glowing brilliantly, covered in runes. And now the last pillar on the left had a button.

Katja’s face was avid as she pressed that last button. The lenses above them pulled to the side, and a container was lowered from the ceiling. It wound down slowly to rest just above the very top of the globe, then opened to reveal what could only be the Elder Scroll they sought, lying within. “We did it!” she crowed, whirling to seize Anders in a fierce embrace. “You did it, love” he replied, smiling and squeezing her back.

Jubilantly, Katja headed back down the ramp. She paused to pocket the now-filled lexicon, and after reaching the globe’s midpoint took a ramp that led up to the center and the Scroll awaiting her. Tucking it into her pack, she returned to the walkway circling the globe’s midsection. She and Anders soon found a short corridor leading to a door. On the other side of it, there was another lift.

After their time wandering lost in the murky depths of Blackreach, no sight could be more welcome to Katja than that of the sunlit field that appeared – behind a slatted metal gate – when the lift came a halt. She pulled a lever at the side and the gates swung open, depositing them at the top of a snow-covered slope leading down to what appeared to be yet another abandoned campsite. Sweet sky at last!

As they stepped out onto the snow, Katja whirled and leapt off the ground to throw her arms and legs around Anders, giving him an enthusiastic kiss. He hugged her tight, then, gasping for breath, said “We made it, sweetheart!” “Oh yes, we did!” she exclaimed, kissing him again. Then she dropped back to the ground, just breathing in the icy, fresh air.

“Now I suppose we have to take the Scroll to Throat of the World?” Anders asked her. Not that he was looking forward to that icy locale or further converse with Paarthurnax, but he’d gotten caught up in the urgency of her quest. If the very survival of the world was at stake, how could he do anything less than give Kat all the support he could muster?

“Not bloody likely!” she replied, still grinning. “Before anything else, a hot bath!”

Chapter 37: Home Suite Home

In the Luxury Suite’s basement bedroom Wyll Jarskarvir slipped from the bed, careful not to awaken the pretty blonde woman he’d been sharing it with. Some noblewoman she was, with a rich old husband back in Solitude no doubt. She’d been a lively enough lay, certainly more fun than Lydia; but nothing special. In his time as an employee of the Suite, Wyll had acted as bedwarmer for dozens of such. It was harmless fun, the amulet he always wore ensuring that neither fatherhood nor disease resulted from these romps. He loved women and they loved him, though some few were frightened of his size.

Yet lately, Wyll had found that his enjoyment of the Suite life was missing something. Alas, he knew exactly what was missing: one smallish, red-haired minx of a Dragonborn adventuress named Katja. He found himself thinking of her while he was fucking other women, while he was soaking in the bathing pool, while he was eating his supper. He missed her especially in the evenings, when the gaiety of the place seemed muted without her exuberant participation.

Just thinking about Kat caused a stiffening between Wyll’s legs. She seemed to have some near-magical power to arouse him. But the longer she was gone with Anders, the more Wyll became convinced that he was second in her affections. After all, Anders had her first. Even when Kat had discovered that Anders had met her, shared her bed, and accompanied her on her adventures initially as part of his job duties – which had made her angry enough that she had almost dumped him (and given Wyll his opportunity to get next to her at last) – it had not been enough to drive a permanent wedge between them.

Well, he didn’t know what to do about it. Kat was the kind of woman who did things her own way, and if she had changed her mind and only wanted to be with Anders in the future, Wyll was probably out of luck. If only he didn’t want her so badly! In his 25 years, Wyll had never met anyone like her – never been so troubled by the absence of one particular woman. They had all seemed about the same to him before, like candies in a dish. Each delicious and delightful in her own way; but after being enjoyed for a moment, soon forgotten. This one, he could not get out of his mind.

Wyll sighed, slipping on a robe, and climbed the ladder to the trap door behind the Suite’s main floor bar. He felt like having a soak before breakfast. Dropping his robe on a table near the central bathing pool, he sighed more pleasurably as he sank into the hot, clear water. At this hour, he had the pool to himself. He closed his eyes for a moment as he relaxed, the water up to his armpits. Then he opened them again, as he heard the Suite’s front door open. His heart leapt as he beheld none other than that selfsame red-haired minx, coming into the hall. She was bloodstained and smudged, her hair was a mess, and she looked absolutely wonderful.

Katja’s eyes fell on Wyll almost at once as she and Anders walked into the Suite’s central room. Her heart beat faster and a huge smile spread across her face as she hesitated for a moment, taking him in. Damn that man looked fine. His face was wreathed in a smile too, his warm blue eyes radiating delight at seeing her, and his enormous, perfectly sculpted body was on display in the bathing pool’s clear water, nothing hidden.

The moment having passed, Katja dropped her pack and weapons with a clank, and rushed to poolside. She knelt beside Wyll where he sat there in the water and threw her arms around his neck, planting a big kiss on his lips. Mmm! Then she released him, sitting back on her haunches to just beam at him some more. Her eyes looked huge, dilated with excitement and (dare he imagine?) desire.

Wyll couldn’t stop grinning. “You’re back!” he exclaimed, stating the obvious. “I’ve missed you…” Looking down at him through the water, Katja could see that his claim was not a false one. Just her proximity had already set his finely-formed manhood on the rise. She returned his grin. “I’ve missed you, too, lover,” she replied. “And I’ve missed this hot water!” Jumping to another subject, she exclaimed “Wait’ll we tell you everything that’s happened!”

Getting back on her feet, Katja turned to Anders. He’d been standing back a bit, watching his lover’s reunion with her other lover. Maybe, he thought, he was lucky there was just the one – and that one a friend of his. He felt a pang, but he was hanging on firmly to his reactions. Kat loving Wyll did not mean she would stop loving him. Anders getting into a fight with Wyll over Kat’s affections might, though. She was the flame that sparked his desire, not to mention the likely savior of the world; but he could not hold onto her by locking her in a cage.

“Undo my straps, please?” Katja asked him, giving him a light kiss and hug. He helped her get the heavy armor off. After their fight with the Imperial expedition leader in Alftand, she had confiscated the steel plate armor worn by the Redguard woman that Sulla Trebatius had killed. Standing in her long woolen underclothes, which were now far too warm, Katja helped Anders remove his own armor. Then she stripped to the skin, and in moments, had splashed into the pool beside Wyll.

“Ahhh!” she exclaimed, delighted. Katja knew of no magic spell that would cause a large pool of hot water to appear on demand, but she vowed (only half seriously) that should she succeed in saving the world from Alduin she would go back to the mages’ college at Winterhold and make the discovery of such a spell her life’s work. Turning to her golden godling, she reached for him through the water to give him a much closer hug, now she was naked and sitting beside him.

Wyll enjoyed this immensely; but it was a little embarrassing, too. His cock was half-hard just from her proximity, let alone having her nearly crawling into his lap! For her part, Katja would have liked to take him right there – if propriety had allowed. She’d missed his combination of tenderness and animal magnetism, not that Anders wasn’t also a wonderful lover. The two were just… different. Each had his own unique approach to lovemaking, and she found each of them irresistible.

Realizing Wyll’s discomfort at sporting a huge erection in full view of anybody who might be walking through the inn’s central common room, Katja sat back down and let him have a little space, after kissing him thoroughly. Anders joined them, sitting on Kat’s other side, and that helped Wyll to tear his mind away from thoughts of ravishing her on the spot.

Katja was soon chattering away at Wyll, filling him in on all of their adventures since she and Anders had left to meet with Delphine and Esbern in search of Sky Haven Temple and Alduin’s wall. Anders had his own perspectives to add to the story, doing a passable imitation of Esbern’s scholarly maunderings, Paarthurnax’s bizarre dual-language diction, and loony old Septimus’ curious mix of non-sequiturs, tortured verse, and vital facts that had eventually led Kat and him to Blackreach and the recovery of the Elder Scroll.

Meanwhile, beginning to wrinkle after their long soak, the three friends climbed out of the pool and toweled off. The Elf who worked as innkeeper when Lane was not on duty, Ellis Fortuna, asked Katja if she needed anything. Tucking the towel around herself, she responded “Could you scramble us about a dozen eggs? I’d also like some cheese, apples, bread, and maybe some salmon steaks if you’ve got ‘em.” It felt like an age since they’d last eaten. The distraction of mortal danger, coupled with the disruption of one’s time sense that arose from fast-traveling or spending time in sunless dungeons, could easily make one forget that mealtime was long past.

“And another thing,” Katja added as an afterthought. “Could you please take our underclothes to get washed, and bring us some clean linen ones?” Ellis smiled and said “right away!” before running off to do her bidding. It’s good to be “queen” Katja thought, pleased. Wyll donned the clothing he’d brought up with him from the basement and joined Kat and Anders, still swathed in towels while they waited for underwear to arrive, at a poolside table.

The linens appeared shortly, allowing both Katja and Anders to get dressed. They’d barely managed that when their enormous breakfast arrived, and for a while all conversation ceased as the three of them began shoveling food into their mouths. The pair just returned from questing appeared to be half starved, whereas Wyll, as a very large, very healthy young man, could always eat enough for two. His eyes widened slightly, though, as he witnessed how much food his small, lithe lover was capable of putting away. He guessed meals on their journey must have been irregular at best.

Katja finally felt as if she had eaten enough to make up for the deficit of the past few days and subsided, sitting back in her chair and taking a healthy swig of herbal tea. Ahhh, that was better! There was another hunger lurking at the back of her mind as she looked at Wyll, but she needed to let her breakfast settle before getting involved in anything athletic. Besides, they had not yet finished telling him about Alduin, and the possibility that ancient dragon might bring about the end of the world.

As Katja and Anders wrapped up the discussion, Wyll’s face took on a more serious look. Except for his near-berserk ferocity in battle, his disposition was usually so sunny that this expression of quiet concern seemed absurdly out of place. “But you got the Scroll, right?” he asked Katja. She pulled it out of her pack, tightly wrapped in its ornate case, and waved it at him.

“But from what I learned at Winterhold, reading the thing could make me go blind if I’m lucky, and kill me if I’m not. Plus if neither of those things happens, I’m not sure what the result will be. I could end up trapped in the past with the ancient Nord Tongues, or find myself up against Alduin immediately. And what if the Dragonrend Shout isn’t enough to take him down? Supposedly the ancients only used it to slow him down so they could do that time-trap thing on him. And you can see where that got us…”

Wyll put his hand on Kat’s arm. He hadn’t a clue what to do about the situation, but was determined that he would stand by his Dragonborn lover to the death, if need be, to help her in whatever fight she chose. “Don’t worry, Kat,” he said softly. “We’ll figure something out. Right?” he added, looking his older and usually wiser friend Anders in the eye. Anders nodded, his mouth set in a look of determination.

Katja turned to Wyll, then to Anders, and smiled. “How could I not triumph, with you two by my side?” she said half-jokingly. She stood up and hugged the still-seated Wyll around the head, inadvertently pressing her full breasts into his ear and making his member leap once again – this time, safely hidden by his trousers.

Turning, Katja hugged Anders as well and planted a kiss on his forehead. Then she grabbed her pack and headed for the basement. “I’m going to do some crafting. Why don’t you two hang out here for a while?” The two men watched her go, then exchanged a look. Hurricane Kat had left the room.

In the basement, Katja dumped out her pack and surveyed her collection. There’d been few enough opportunities for plunder on her last extended outing with Anders. But she did have a small pile of jewels, soul gems, and ore to show for it as well as a considerably larger amount of cash – and some arms and armor that she could improve. The shelves of the Suite’s crafting area had been restocked in her absence, and she downed one of her Potions of Enhanced Smithing before setting to work at the grindstone and workbench.

Katja noticed as she worked that her hands moved with more confidence now. I’m really starting to get the hang of this! she thought, elated. Life held many joys for Katja; and one of them, she was coming to understand, was the ability to create something beautiful, useful, and valuable with her own two hands. Simply appropriating such items from the corpses of slain enemies did not compare with the thrill of making them herself.

Katja continued working at the forge, workbench and grindstone for some time. She made herself a couple of Elven bows, so beautiful that their deadliness seemed secondary. Then, inspired, she enchanted each of them with the Fire Damage enchantment, making them even more deadly. It wasn’t until after that, feeling as if Enchanting as well as Smithing were becoming as natural as breathing, that she realized her stomach was growling fiercely.

What time is it? Katja wondered, and decided it might be time, at least, to come up for air. Before leaving the room, she tucked most of her surplus items into one of the room’s several chests. Then she came up behind the bar and looked around. Anders and Wyll had long since left the breakfast table and wandered off, and Lane was now on duty in place of Ellis.

“Got anything quick to eat?” Katja asked him. He was startled at her sudden appearance behind him, but quick to provide the excellent service she had come to expect. “Here,” he said, giving her a double handful of honey-nut treats. They were reasonably high on protein and offered plenty of calories, and she thanked him; then wandered off in the direction of the far staircase, munching away. By the time she had climbed to the upper gallery her hands were empty but sticky, and her belly had ceased its complaints. Ah!

Walking down the eastern gallery, Katja spotted Anders sleeping on one of the single beds there. He’d contributed more than his share of the effort in their recent adventures, and she didn’t begrudge him the chance for a nap though she still (despite possibly being short on sleep, who could tell?) felt energized and focused. She was hugely pleased to find Wyll awake. He was hanging out in the master bedroom area, having lunch at the table there.

“Hi, Big Boy,” Katja greeted him, one eyebrow raised. “Are you ready for some action?” Wyll set down the bread roll he’d been eating and gazed at her expectantly. What was she up to now? He was still eagerly looking forward to what he hoped would be a slam-bang reunion between them, after several days of blunting his appetites on lesser fare.

Repeating a command she’d made to him before their very first outing together, Katja said, “Show me what you’ve got, Wyll.” He smiled. This time he was really tempted to pull down his trousers and show her the erection that was already starting to develop, just because she was there in front of him. What is it with this woman? he thought. She walks into the room and my cock gets hard? It was almost spooky.

But Wyll knew Katja had something else in mind, so he refreshed her memory about his current state of armament – all of it provided by her, last time they’d headed out on a quest. “All right,” she said, all business. She swapped his steel armor for some improved Elven armor, which magically offered protection similar to that of the steel – while showing his body off in a way that she found quite enjoyable. He got the second of the two enchanted Elven bows, and a few other items that raised his overall level of armament to a level he’d never previously achieved.

I want to push this food off the table and take her right here, Wyll thought as this was going on. But I’d better control myself. This is the best gear I’ve ever had, and I should be expressing my gratitude – not ravishing the giver. In the back of his mind he was also thinking, and she’s the best lay I’ve ever had. Don’t fuck it up! Katja was not entirely oblivious to Wyll’s mental processes, but she paid them little attention as she continued arraying him in the fruits of her labors at the forge. It was her maternal instinct at work.

“I want to take a break before we go take the Scroll back to the Time Wound,” Katja told Wyll. “If I’m going to end up blind or dead, I’d just as soon have some fun first.” “I’m your man,” he replied, meaning it in every way possible. She met his gaze, looking into his soul and feeling his desire for her, along with his concern for her welfare and his commitment to be her bastion against harm. Looking back, he saw her love for him shining in her sea-gray eyes, her trust that he would protect her. They both hoped it was all true.

“I’ve got a short stack of bounty letters,” Katja said, rifling her pack. “Let’s see… oh, here’s a good one: ‘Kill the leader of Dragon Bridge Overlook’. Sounds like bandits, and they’ve always got good loot.” Wyll smiled at her wolfishly. “That should be fine,” he said. “It’s off toward Solitude, isn’t it?” She checked the map.

“Yep,” Katja replied. “It looks like it’s a little upstream from there.” She pointed at the map. “Let’s go, then,” Wyll responded. He was eager to get her alone, no matter how many bandits he had to fight off to achieve it. Katja, smiling, led him through the eastern gallery and stopped at the bed where Anders was still sleeping. She knelt beside the bed and, cupping her hands on either side of his head, gave him a deep kiss.

Anders’ eyes fluttered open. “Kat?” he asked, barely awake. “Wyll and I are going to go kill some bandits, love,” she told him. “We’ll see you tomorrow or thereabouts.” “Uh, OK…” he responded, kissing her back and reaching up to enfold her in a hug before she got away. “See you then…”

Chapter 38: A Little Excursion

Katja and Wyll soon found themselves standing, not in downtown Solitude but at the nearby farm with its attached stables. They soon moved up the road from there in the direction of the mountains. Their goal was some distance away, on the far side of the stream, but it appeared they would need to take the road that ran to the north of it for some few miles in a westerly direction, before crossing.

As they walked along the road, Katja kept glancing over at Wyll. He looked so damn hot in that Elven armor she’d crafted. In a way, this little side trip she’d come up with was just an excuse to get him alone, away from Anders and every other person hanging around the Luxury Suite – several of whom, she was willing to bet, had been Wyll’s bedmates during the time she’d been gone. Now, all she really wanted to do was jump his bones right here in the road. But good sense prevailed. You might as well start making love in the middle of a full-fledged battle as try to knock off a little nooky in the wilds of Skyrim. Things out here wanted to eat you, and not in a good way.

They’d arrived not long after dawn local time, so there were hours of daylight yet to burn. After following the road for a goodly while, Katja spotted that bridge she’d been wondering about on her first visit to Solitude, ahead and off to their left. This must be the very bridge the town was named after – it looked as if it had been carved to resemble a dragon spanning the stream.

The place they wanted was on a hillside some distance south of the town, and Katja decided to ford the stream, which was shallow here, rather than walk all the way into town to take the bridge. After picking their way across the water she and Wyll closed on their goal, only to find the hill too steep to climb on this side. Might there be a trail around to the west?

Katja walked along the foot of the rocky rise, skirting its northern edge beside the stream, until it became clear that no path up to the top was going to present itself. Then she beckoned Wyll to follow her as she went back across the stream, and struck a path along its northern bank that led past a series of waterfalls.

Along the way the pair were attacked by a snow cat, a saber cat, and a troll – all of which fell swiftly to the new Elven bows and Wyll’s axe. Watching him in that armor, muscles rippling as he swung the axe to level the troll, filled Katja with a profound sense of security in addition to a growing lust. With this champion guarding her back, whatever could she have to fear? And her own ability to keep herself safe was improving all the time.

Katja finally found a shallow ford between two waterfalls, and picked up what looked like a decent trail on the other side of it, heading in the right direction. At last! She was always eager to close with the enemy, and time spent floundering around in the wilderness looking for a trail just filled her with impatience.

The bandit encampment proved to be miniscule, hardly worth the effort of a walk to Whiterun let alone the journey that Katja and Wyll had embarked on to get here. Good thing it was just an excuse to get them away from the Suite awhile, alone together. They found one lone bandit, standing in a tent working at an alchemy station, as they sneaked in past the tiny campsite’s hide screens. A couple of stealthy shots with the fiery Elven bow dropped him in his tracks. A second bandit, hearing the noise of the first one’s death throes, came up the hill through the brush and was swiftly dispatched by Wyll’s axe.

Katja raided the corpses and picked the lock on a small chest to come up with a handful of valuables. “Well that was a disappointment,” she remarked to Wyll. “I was hoping for half a dozen bandits and some serious gold, at least. It makes you wonder why the Jarl bothered to post a bounty.”

Wyll came up beside her and put a hand to the side of her face, tilting her chin so she was looking into his eyes. “Who cares about gold?” he asked. “It’s a nice morning, and there’s a bed of sorts right over there…” he gestured to one of the bandits’ tents, within which lay a couple of the familiar fur bedrolls. It was a nice morning…

Katja’s eyes lit. Who cares about gold, indeed? The gold she sought now was the gold on this godlike young man’s head, his warm skin flecked with golden hairs. Any other treasure could wait. Continuing to gaze into those bottomless blue eyes, she stepped closer to him, as close as she could get before locking her mouth on his.

Their armor provided a barrier that did not deter them for long. Underclothes were gone in another few moments. Now naked, they stood there squeezed together for a little while, skin to skin. Wyll’s cock was hard and throbbing, pressed between them as he bent to kiss Katja deeply. But at 6’5” to her 5’6”, the height disparity was giving them both a crick in the neck. He reached down to seize her by the buttocks, two rounded and delightful handfuls, and lifted her up to him. Then, as he lowered her slightly, his cock pierced her vulva and found it warm, wet, and ready to receive him. Oh yes!

Wyll drank Katja’s mouth, his tongue probing hungrily within, as he used the immense power of his arms and shoulders to move her up and down on his steely shaft. She wrapped her legs around his hips, helping to support herself as she bounced on him, engulfing his full length with every stroke. Breaking the kiss, Katja threw her head back in wild abandon, screaming out his name as he continued to raise and lower her rapidly on his pulsing member. “Wyll! Oh yes, Wyll! Augh! Fuck me!” While she was often fairly noisy, he had never heard her cut loose in quite this fashion before. He found it a huge turn-on, and in moments the sensations in his eyes, his ears, his cock were driving him on like a missile to a climax he could not hold back.

Their bodies forming a V joined at the crotch, the two of them gasped, groaned, screamed and shuddered as he pulled her down to bury his spurting cock as deeply as it would go within her quivering, clutching depths. As the wave passed and left them gasping, still standing on the leaf-strewn forest floor, Katja leaned forward to rest her upper body against Wyll’s chest, her legs feeling too rubbery to maintain their grip around his hips for long.

Her feet returned to the ground in another moment, his cock slipping from within her while still half-rigid, twin streams of his seed running down her inner thighs. Katja gripped Wyll around the middle with her arms, her face turned to the side and buried in his muscular chest, gasping for breath as he panted above her. His powerful arms enfolded her in turn, his lips pressed to the top of her head.

“You got me again,” she murmured to him between gasps for breath. There was something almost magical about his desire, at times. Here she would be, having organized plans and businesslike thoughts, and he would just come along and blow her mind to bits with the gale-force winds of his astonishing sexuality. “Come,” Wyll said softly, and stepped aside to guide her to the tent they hadn’t quite made it to earlier.

The pair lay down together on the fur bedrolls. Wyll found a random bit of some bandit’s clothing lying inside the tent, and handed it to Katja so she could wipe up the amazing quantity of semen that was now coating her inner thighs. With a murmur of thanks she soon took care of that chore, then tossed the rag aside and surged toward him, eager to resume full body contact.

Despite the fact that Wyll had been getting laid on a regular basis in Katja’s absence, and had just had an earth-shaking orgasm with this woman who had been the subject of so many fantasies for him over the past few days, he found his hunger for her not yet slaked. Within moments, he had begun kissing and stroking her once again. Her response was eager. He had been in her thoughts as well, and now that he was in her arms she couldn’t get enough.

They lay there sheltered by the bandit’s tent, fondling, licking, and kissing, for several minutes. It felt wonderful, and all other thoughts were driven from Katja’s mind as she immersed herself in the pleasure of Wyll’s body. Before long, Wyll’s powerful cock had returned to towering hardness and he slipped inside her once again. He was so big! But she was so wet, so completely ready, that his size was not a problem.

They made love for a long time, now, enjoying the warm breezes blowing through the woods, the quiet sounds of birdsong, and the delicious sensations of cock within cunt, mouth on mouth, skin on skin. Wyll brought Katja to climax again and again, until she was so weak she felt as if she could barely move; then he rolled her over, helped her to kneel with her rump in the air, her head pillowed on her arms, and carried them both over the edge one last time with a fierce pounding from behind.

Katja’s body felt utterly drained, her mind exploding in sparks of red and white. It occurred to her, as she struggled for any semblance of conscious thought, that she could not remember when she had last slept. Was it yesterday? Two days before? The time distortions of fast-travel made it impossible to tell. Even as a flash of annoyance came over her at this realization, her mind snuffed out like a guttering candle and she slept. Her virile young lover, now blissfully satisfied, kissed her tenderly on the neck and then, throwing an arm over her body, dropped off to sleep himself.

Some hours later, Katja awoke. How long had she been asleep? Peeking out of the tent, she judged from the angle and color of the light slanting down through the trees that it was just past mid-afternoon. She felt a little wrung out, still, delightfully content if a tiny bit sore physically. But her few hours of sleep had re-energized her mind, and she didn’t really want to camp here, with the corpses of the dead bandits, for the coming night.

Wyll lay beside her snoring softly, but he soon roused as Katja began stirring. She leaned in and gave him a deep kiss. Such efforts as he had put in recently deserved a reward. Then she crawled out of the hide tent and began gathering up her clothing. Wyll sat up and watched her for a while, simply feeling happy. Kat was back, she had spent the afternoon in his arms, she loved him! What more could he possibly want?

Well, another couple of hours’ sleep and some supper, probably. But Wyll was content enough. Regretfully, he crawled out of the tent and began gathering up the clothing and armor he’d shed with such eagerness a few hours past. Then the pair, still enveloped in the joy of their passionate reunion, began picking their way down the trail to the west.

The afternoon was warm, surprisingly so for this far to the north, and by the time Katja had led them back down to the stream she was feeling sweaty on top of the stickiness that surrounded her as a consequence of the fun she and Wyll had been having. “How about a swim, love?” she asked him. “Sounds fine,” he replied cheerfully.

So recently dressed, they had soon stripped naked again and plunged into a pool no more than four feet deep, lying between two of the little river’s many waterfalls. The water was cold and exhilarating, and Katja whooped and laughed delightedly as she splashed and swam, teasing Wyll by diving beneath the crystalline waters to nibble at him where he stood. Astonishingly, this activity had his cock on the rise again, even though his scrotum was squeezed tight against the cold.

Katja couldn’t resist diving down and taking him in her mouth briefly, while holding her breath. Then she burst to the surface, grinning, and slipped away as he tried to grab her. She led him on a merry chase back and forth across the little swimming hole, splashing and giggling at his frustrated efforts to catch her. He was pretty fast for a man his size, but she was faster. Finally she let him catch her, and he clutched her to him for a deep kiss; but by then they were both starting to shiver from the cold.

Wyll’s erection had ebbed during the pursuit, though it was rising again as he held her. But Katja fended him off. “We just don’t have time, love!” she protested. “We need to get back to the Suite and plan what we’re going to do with the Scroll.” He looked abashed. Truth to tell, he felt as if he’d had every drop of semen extracted from him already today, and he’d be surprised if he could even come again. Not that it wouldn’t be fun trying…

They donned their clothing and armor, and Katja fast-travelled them back to the Suite. They found Anders awaiting them in the common room, chatting with Lane at the bar. He spun on his stool to greet them, giving Kat’s armored form a slight hug. He looked them both over and remarked mildly, “My, you both certainly look… clean, for having just come back from killing bandits.” Katja gave him a fond smile. “It’s a long story, my love. What do you say we get some supper, and we can talk about our next move?”

Katja ordered some food to be brought to them by Lane, then the three friends took their usual table on the mezzanine overlooking the pool. “I just felt like I needed a little break,” she told Anders. “But the Alduin threat is serious. I need to quit fooling around and go read that scroll at the Time Wound, as Paarthurnax instructed me. And I want you both to come with me as backup.” Wyll and Anders exchanged a look.

At this juncture plates of sizzling venison steaks, with roasted potatoes and steamed cabbage on the side (along with the usual bread rolls and some freshly churned butter) were delivered to the table. Using a dagger to cut her meat, washing down mouthfuls of the food with some tolerably good wine, Katja continued explaining to her two companions what she planned.

Talking with her mouth full, never the lady, Katja waxed enthusiastic. “I picked up a magic sword on one of my expeditions recently. Was it Ustengrav? Anyhow, I’m going to try learning its enchantment and then putting that on a bow. I can’t see what good extra dragon damage is, in a short sword. While you’re bopping the beast on the nose with the pointy end of the sword, he’s taking your arm off up past your head with his jaws or crisping you with Fire Breath. But if each one of my arrows could do more dragon damage, that would be really useful. Oh, and Anders, I want to make you some of this Elven armor like Wyll’s wearing.” She stopped to swallow, and Anders took a good look at his friend.

“Wow, that’s some nice stuff,” he said appreciatively. To Katja, he added “I don’t suppose you want me in it just so you can admire my manly chest?” Katja grinned, taking another massive bite of venison. “Perish the thought!” she laughed around her mouthful of sizzling meat. “It has magical properties. And I’ll add an enchantment so you can get extra magicka for your Destruction spells. Would you like a nice Elven battleaxe?” Anders just smiled at her and went back to eating his supper.

After they’d eaten, the three of them went down to the basement and Katja bustled around the forge and crafting stations, making herself a Dragon Damage Elven bow and passing her Fire Damage bow to Anders. She discovered that adding quicksilver to the mix of metals in the Elven armor enhanced its armor value still more, while looking just as handsome.

Anders looked so heart-stoppingly sexy in his new getup that Katja feared for her powers of concentration in battle. Would she be standing there, waiting to get struck down by their foes, while transfixed with lust gazing at her companion? She hoped not. For the moment, at least, Katja felt as if she had recently been well and truly fucked into oblivion and the effect was likely to last for a few more hours at least.

All three of them had spent several of the recent hours napping, and though it was getting on toward later afternoon it seemed that they might as well go ahead and travel to Throat of the World. Her new bow at the ready, Katja touched the map and in a few moments they found themselves standing on the snowy slopes leading up toward the Word Wall. Stepping around the bend, they found Paarthurnax perched atop it.

Chapter 39: Alduin’s Bane

The old dov’s eyesight was sharp. Paarthurnax spotted Katja immediately, and knew at once that she had come with the Elder Scroll. “You have it!” he rumbled in his deep, wise voice. “The Kell, the Elder Scroll. Krech, kalos. Time shudders at its touch.” He went on to tell her that he knew that she was “doom-driven.” Is that what it is, she wondered. She felt as if her actions were motivated by common sense; but if she were driven to them by fate, would she be able to tell?

Paarthurnax directed Katja to fulfill her fate, and read the Scroll at the Time Wound. This would enable her to learn the Dragonrend Shout, her tool for defeating Alduin. But what about the blindness, insanity, and death that had been mentioned? Maybe those didn’t apply to the “doom-driven.” She hoped not, anyway. She walked over to the area the old dragon had indicated, where swirling motes of light indicated the presence of the rift in time left behind by this very scroll in ages past.

Biting her lip and casting one last look at her two protectors, wanting a beautiful sight to remember if this should end in blindness, Katja unfurled the scroll. Immediately, she saw a mysterious pattern of runes and geometric shapes superimposed on her view of the mountaintop. Then the colors began to swirl and her vision seemed to fade to white. Surely it would fade to black, if she were going blind?

No, not going blind, Katja quickly realized. Her vision seemed blurred and warped, hung with clouds and a strange orange light. But she could see people moving before her, fighting a dragon; and she could hear them and understand their speech. One cried, “Gormlaith! We’re running out of time! The battle…” The dragon attacking the two humans spoke then: “Daar sul thur se Alduin vokrii. Today Alduin’s lordship will be restored.” It occurred to Katja that so far she’d only ever had converse with one dragon. Did they all talk that way?

The dragon continued, saying “But I honor your courage. Krif voth ahkrin. Die now, in vain.” The man who had spoken first charged the dragon, wielding a sword and apparently not caring whether death was the result. “For Skyrim!” he cried. He and his female companion, Gormlaith, dealt the boastful dov a death blow, and she turned to him saying “Hakon! A glorious day, is it not!”

The two of them, Katja learned from their conversation, had killed many dragons during the course of the day. But the outcome of the contest was still in doubt. Hakon said, “The battle below goes ill. If Alduin does not rise to our challenge, I fear all may be lost.” Gormlaith replied, “You worry too much brother. Victory will be ours.” Brother? Katja wondered. Brother in truth or brother in arms, she didn’t know which.

The human figures moved out of her field of vision, and Katja discovered that she could turn and look about her. She could not move forward or backward, draw a weapon, or interact with these people out of the distant past, but she could change what she was seeing. The two dragon-slayers were joined by a third, and it seemed that their ploy to draw Alduin near, to what they hoped would be his destruction, was working.

The third man said, “He will come. He cannot ignore our defiance. And why should he fear us, even now?” Gormlaith replied, “We’ve bloodied him well. Four of his kin have fallen to my blade alone this day.” “But none have yet stood against Alduin himself,” the man responded. “Galthor, Sorri, Birkir…” Gormlaith was unworried. To Katja, the woman seemed brimming with a level of confidence she herself could only aspire to. Gormlaith’s reply was “They did not have Dragonrend. Once we bring him down, I promise I will have his head.”

Gormlaith’s companion wasn’t finished delivering his bad news. “You do not understand. Alduin cannot be slain like a lesser dragon. He is beyond our strength. Which is why,” he said, producing a familiar looking tubular object, “I brought the Elder Scroll.” Hakon spoke sharply. “Felldir! We agreed not to use it!” Felldir replied, “I never agreed. And if you are right, I will not need it.” “No,” Hakon said. “We will deal with Alduin ourselves, here and now.”

Katja found herself transfixed, watching this exchange. The heroes of ancient times were not so different, really, from her and her companions. Maybe in another couple of thousand years, it would be she and Anders and Wyll who would be immortalized in song and story. Meanwhile, before her eyes, Gormlaith alerted her own companions: “We shall see soon enough. Alduin approaches!”

As the enormous and ancient dragon hovered above them, Hakon leapt to the attack saying, “So be it.” Alduin’s voice was the echoing of dark tombs, laden with the dust of ages, as he spoke in the dragon tongue: “Meyye! Tahrodiis aanne! Him hinde pah liiv! Zu’u hiin daan!” Whatever that meant, Katja thought, it did not sound good. Gormlaith, crying “Let those that watch from Sovngarde envy us this day!” drew her sword and joined Hakon in the attack.

The sword was not Gormlaith’s only weapon, however, and as she neared the fearsome creature she Shouted: “JOOR…” Alduin was shaken, falling from the skies, and outraged at the power of the Thu’um. “Nivahriin joorre! What have you done? What twisted Words have you created?! Tahrodiis Paarthurnax! My teeth to his neck!” He turned angrily to the woman who had struck him so unexpectedly and continued in tones of menace, “But first… dir ko maar.”

Meanwhile, the words of the Dragonrend shout were being absorbed into Katja’s mind, as always accompanied by that strange, exultant chorus. As had been the case when she was taught a Shout by the Greybeards or their leader, no unlocking was needed. As soon as the words had passed her ears, she knew this Shout as well as she knew her real name – and would be able to use its power.

Alduin continued addressing Gormlaith. “You will die in terror, knowing your final fate… To feed my power when I come for you in Sovngarde!” Ever brave beyond belief, the woman responded proudly, “If I die today, it will not be in terror. You feel fear for the first time, worm. I see it in your eyes. Skyrim will be free!” At that, as she swept her blade toward the ancient monster, Alduin’s head snaked out to grasp Gormlaith in his jaws.

“No, damn you!” cried Hakon, as his sister was shaken like a rat in the grip of a terrier. But he was helpless to do anything to stop it. Felldir, though, produced his scroll and began speaking some kind of an incantation. “Hold, Alduin on the Wing! Sister Hawk, grant us your sacred breath to make this contract heard!” He continued, “Begone, World-Eater! By words with older bones than your own we break your perch on this age and send you out! You are banished! Alduin, we Shout you out from all our endings unto the last!”

Katja, utterly spellbound, watched as a nimbus of light engulfed Alduin, the magic of the Scroll taking effect. The ancient dragon, not believing what was happening to him, spoke in confusion: “Faal Kel…?! Nikriinne…” As he winked from view, disappearing before their eyes, Felldir spoke with finality. “You are banished!” Hakon was astounded. “It worked… you did it…”

Felldir seemed to be less than exultant, however. “Yes, the World-Eater is gone… may the spirits have mercy on our souls.” In another heartbeat, Katja found her vision cleared, looking once again on the rocks and snowdrifts surrounding the Word Wall. She immediately readied the Dragonrend Shout, also drawing her new bow, as she heard a familiar voice speaking words of dread. As Paarthurnax had warned might happen, Alduin had immediately been drawn to this site.

Bahloki nahkip sillesejoor. My belly is full of the souls of your fellow mortals, Dovahkiin,” Alduin taunted her as he approached on the wing. Katja considered retorting, “Well, my belly is full of the souls of your fellow immortals, dov” but inasmuch as she’d only actually consumed a couple of them so far, she felt the boast was exaggerated. And she’d noticed that Gormlaith hadn’t done all that well, defying this dragon. Better not make him any madder than he already was.

Alduin continued, “Die now and await your fate in Sovngarde!” But as the World-Eater swooped to the attack, Paarthurnax launched himself into the air to add his efforts to the battle. Katja already had an Elven arrow, one she had crafted herself at the forge, nocked and ready in her enchanted bow. She fired it true, but it was like a pinprick to the massive dragon as he wheeled aloft, flying in circles around the mountaintop. Ancient Paarthurnax, his wings tattered but still worthy, followed, calling to Katja to use the Dragonrend shout.

Not just yet, Katja thought, watching closely. Both dragons were too far away, and flying too fast. As she waited for her opportunity, she found herself under bombardment. Whatever ancient secrets the World-Eater possessed, they seemed to include the ability to shower the ground below him with… meteors? Katja had never seen a meteor striking the ground, though she had heard that one could obliterate an entire village and leave a crater hundreds of feet across. These didn’t seem quite so destructive, but there were an awful lot of them, falling all around her, Anders, and Wyll as the two dragons clashed above them.

Injured by dragonfire and flying rocks, Katja downed a couple of health potions and drew her bow again, as Alduin circled lower. When he halted to hover in midair above them, flapping his huge wings and readying a blast of dragonfire that would obliterate them all, she gathered her power and Shouted “JOOR-ZAH-FRUL!” These three words, she had learned with the Shout, meant “Mortal, Finite, Temporary” – concepts Paarthurnax had said were alien to the immortal dovah.

Whatever the mechanism, the effect on Alduin was dramatic. A multi-colored shockwave seemed to ripple through and past him as Katja’s words left her throat, and he glowed momentarily. Then he backpedaled as if slapped, wheeled away, and in moments came down to the ground near where she stood, her men by her side.

Paarthurnax was still wheeling above them. “Now!” he shouted. “Attack him while he is on the ground!” Squinting up at him through the swirling snow and rain of fiery stones, Katja grinned wryly and thought, no sooner said than done old fellow. Arrows flew from her bow into the vulnerable area just under the wing where it joined the body, as her valiant and well-armed companions braved Alduin’s teeth and claws to attack him with bladed weapons.

The World-Eater did not stay on the ground for long, under this fierce onslaught. Anders and Wyll each drew their bows again as he lumbered skyward once more, trying to get in a few more shots before he was out of range. Again, Alduin circled the area pursued by Paarthurnax, raining death and destruction on them from above. The three took cover in among the rock spires surrounding the Time Wound, where the dragon’s missiles were less likely to strike them.

Katja had to drink another couple of health potions before she got another chance to bring Alduin down again. Despite the freezing conditions on the mountaintop she was running with sweat, her chest heaving and heart pounding as she whirled in place, trying to keep the dragon in view and ready to strike him with arrows if the moment came. Then, once more he tried to hover for a shot at them with fire – and once again she staggered him with “JOOR-ZAH-FRUL!”

This time, as Alduin came in for a landing, he fell heavily – as if he had been drained of the energy to stay aloft, not merely staggered by the Shout. Once again Paarthurnax exhorted them to the attack, and all three puny humans gave it their best shot. It was working, too! As Alduin weakened under their attacks, no longer having the strength to fight back, Paarthurnax came in for a landing and told him, “Lost funt. You are too late, Alduin!” Alduin replied scornfully, “But I am Al-du-in, Firstborn of Akatosh! Mulaai zok lot! I cannot be slain here, by you or anyone else!” Turning to Katja, backed by her two defenders, he said “You cannot prevail against me. I will outlast you… mortal!”

With that, he took off and flew away, vanishing in moments. Katja stood there panting, her bow hanging at arm’s length, wondering what had just happened. Why had he fled? She looked to Paarthurnax, hoping for some answers. The ancient dov spoke. “Lot Krongrah. You truly have the Voice of a dovah. Alduin’s allies will think twice after this victory.”

It hadn’t seemed like that much of a victory to Katja. Alduin had escaped them, and she said as much to Paarthurnax. He replied “Ni liivrah hin moro. True, this is not the final krongrah – victory. But not even the heroes of old were able to defeat Alduin in open battle. Alduin always was pahlok – arrogant in his power. Uznahgar paar. He took domination as his birthright.” Trying to make this fierce young mortal understand, the ancient dragon continued, “This should shake the loyalty of the dov who serve him.”

Katja pondered this. Dragons have politics? I suppose they’re the same as any other sentient creatures in that regard, she thought. But she had more pressing concerns. “I need to find out where Alduin went,” she told Paarthurnax. “Yes,” he responded. “One of his allies could tell us. Motmahus… But it will not be so easy to… convince one of them to betray him.” He hesitated, musing. “Perhaps the hofkahsejun – the palace in Whiterun… Dragonsreach. It was originally built to house a captive dovah. A fine place to trap one of Alduin’s allies, hmm?”

Katja recalled having heard something of this history, and had visited the Great Porch at Dragonsreach once when looking for Proventus Avenicci to claim a bounty. It was certainly large enough to lend credence to the tale of a dragon having been held captive there in ages past. She tried to envision how Balgruuf would react to the suggestion that he turn over his hall for the purposes of dragon-catching. To Paarthurnax she said, “The Jarl of Whiterun might not think so.” “Hmm, yes,” he replied. “But your su’um is strong. I do not doubt that you can convince him of the need.” “All right,” she told him. “I’ll try.”

She turned away, finding Wyll and Anders standing close at hand. Katja had been so caught up in the battle and its unexpected aftermath that she had not given them a thought beyond a fleeting appreciation of their ferocious efforts as they had helped bring Alduin to defeat – however temporary. Now she anxiously peered at each of them in turn, before rushing forward into a sort of group hug. “You’re all right? No, you’re not!” she cried after getting a close-up look at their injuries, immediately using her Healing Hands spell on first Anders, then Wyll.

They were fine, really. Just a little beat up with the sort of cuts, bruises, and second-degree burns anybody can expect to get fighting dragons. But Katja wouldn’t cease her efforts until her magicka was exhausted and the two of them, dirt aside, were standing there looking good as new. Ah, so good. Anders stepped forward and gently squeezed Kat’s shoulder, kissing her on the brow. “Save some of that for yourself, love” he urged quietly. “Me? I’m perfectly fine!” she took a step forward and nearly staggered. “OK, that might be an overstatement. But I’ll be all right in a minute.” Anders fished a health potion out of her pack and handed it to her. Then he and Wyll stood there, arms crossed, and watched her drink it.

Moments later, Katja felt much better. “Well, team,” she told them. “We did it. Sort of. I’m so glad I had your help! But now we have to go talk Balgruuf into letting us use his place for a dragon trap. And I, for one, could use a bath and probably a nap first.” Wyll dazzled her with his angelic smile, saying “You, my darling, are the boss.”

Chapter 40: An Accommodation

Katja, Anders, and Wyll arrived outside the Luxury Suite in the early evening, local time. She decided to drop her things in the master bedroom before slipping into her robe and returning downstairs for that bath. Her two guardians were right on her heels. Pulling out her robe first, Katja tossed her pack and weapons into the room’s large trunk, then asked Anders for some assistance in removing her armor. She threw that into the trunk on top of her pack.

Katja now stood in her underwear, and as she began removing it both men watched her with a rising interest. Anders’ gaze was particularly intent, as she stood there revealed in her naked splendor and reached for her robe. He couldn’t stand it any longer, and stepped forward to embrace her carefully, mindful of his armor against her bare skin. Kissing her fervently, he then took a step back and looked her in the eyes. “I believe it’s my turn to sleep here tonight?” he asked.

Katja was startled. This direct approach, coming from Anders, was a surprise to her. But she liked the idea. Might this be the way they could handle their three-way relationship without awkwardness and resentment? She was certainly eager to be back in bed with Anders after days without his touch. And it would be nice to be able to move back and forth between her lovers without having to leave town.

“Um,” Katja hesitated while her mind raced to think through the implications, “I believe you’re right, my love.” She looked questioningly at Wyll. A brief shadow may have crossed his eyes, but his slight smile didn’t waver. “I’ll see you downstairs, then,” he said cheerfully, and took his leave. Katja’s eyes lit, and she gave Anders the full benefit of a loving smile. “You’re a genius!” she told Anders. “Now, let’s get you out of that armor so I can give you a hug!”

Anders didn’t really need her help to get out of the less-bulky Elven armor, but Katja was eager to assist him anyway. Still naked, she ran her hands up his torso, savoring the feel of the hard muscles beneath supple skin – even if that skin was a little bloodstained here and there and sticky with dried perspiration. After the top section of the armor had come off, she hooked a finger into the “waistband” of the bottom section, between the armor and his flat belly, before working the mechanism that would release the buckle.

In moments both pieces of armor had fallen to the carpet beside the bed, and Anders stood there in only his underdrawers. They looked like a tent pitched on its side, the pole jutting straight out. He looked so adorable that way, Katja was torn between gazing at him in avid admiration and devouring him on the spot. She chose a third option – stepping into his arms, pinning that “pole” between their bodies.

After squeezing Anders tight, Katja licked salt sweat from his chest and then raised her head for a deep kiss. For a moment or two, her mind floated away on a wave of peace and pleasure. “Oh, darling,” she breathed, before kissing him again. “We are so… sticky.” Anders was brought up short by this unexpected comment; but knowing his little light-o-love as he did, he was not terribly surprised.

“Bath first?” he asked her, nuzzling her neck. “Yes, please…” They stepped apart, and Katja resumed putting on her robe. Anders stepped out of his drawers, his cock still standing mostly at attention, and threw on a robe of his own. Then, hand in hand, they descended the steps to the ground floor and the central bathing pool. By the time they got there, he had subsided to an acceptable level.

Dropping their robes at poolside and getting into the water the pair joined Wyll, who’d already been soaking for a while. He looked relaxed and happy, and was having a friendly conversation with a stunning, statuesque brunette who appeared to be in her late 30s. From her commanding bearing and polished appearance, she was probably from one of Skyrim’s elite families and used to having her way.

As Katja and Anders sat down in the pool, Wyll greeted them before introducing them to his companion. Katja was polite, but forgot the woman’s name as soon as it was spoken. She didn’t tend to make many women friends. Most of tomboy Katrine’s friends throughout her life had been male, whether she’d slept with them or not.

Rather than interrupting Wyll’s conversation, Katja and Anders sat soaking and talking quietly between themselves. The pool wasn’t too crowded, so Katja lay back and floated for a moment atop the water, soaking her hair. Anders was entranced at the way her full breasts bobbed on the surface, and having a hard time maintaining decorum.

After resting like this for a short time, Katja executed a backward somersault, swimming underwater to come up beside Anders once again. She was grinning and shaking the excess water out of her long, auburn locks. Then she squeezed up beside him and gave him a sweet, more-or-less chaste, kiss. Sitting there just relaxing, she picked up a little of Wyll’s conversation with the black-haired beauty. Katja had noticed that, while Wyll was a magnet for all women, it was the older ones that went after him particularly. They were probably less intimidated by his size, she mused.

Just then, Katja heard the woman say to Wyll, “I am in need of a bedwarmer.” “Let’s go, then,” he replied, and the two of them stood up and walked to the steps, picking up towels as they exited the pool and walked off toward the trap door to the basement. Katja watched Wyll’s finely chiseled behind walking away, thinking ruefully that the taste of her own medicine was not so sweet. Then she sighed, snuggling closer to Anders, and said to herself, get over it, girl. You can’t have your own freedom and then deny it to everybody else.

“Her” golden god wasn’t really hers, any more than she was his. But they cared deeply for each other, and their lovemaking was so sweet, so powerfully exciting, that Katja hoped she never had to give it up. The same went for this beautiful man beside her, though she suspected that in Anders’ case there had been no substitute women for him while they were apart. She turned to him, drinking in the look of love she found in his warm brown eyes, and said softly, “I feel pretty clean now. How about you?”

He gave her a gentle smile and murmured, “I thought you’d never ask.” They arose and, holding hands, climbed up the pool steps. After toweling off, they put their robes back on then walked side by side, each with an arm around the other, toward the staircase leading to the sleeping loft. In the bedroom, the robes were off in seconds and they stood, glowing pink from the hot water, just gazing at each other. Anders’ cock was swollen and stiff once more, straining toward her.

Smiling radiantly, Katja took him by the hand and led him to the bed, beckoning him to sit on the edge. Then she knelt beside it and took his member in her mouth – licking, sucking, and squeezing until pre-cum was oozing from the tip and it looked as if it were quivering, about to explode. Anders was gasping, eyes closed, swimming in the sensations. But as he felt his balls screaming for release, he held back.

He cupped Kat’s chin and lifted her face, tilting her head back to kiss her, then said in a hoarse whisper, “My turn.” Drawing her onto the bed, he had her scoot up until she was lying with her head on the pillow, her legs wide apart. He knelt between her legs, dipping into her glistening sex with his tongue like a hummingbird sucking nectar from an exotic orchid. She didn’t taste like nectar, of course. She tasted like Kat. Clean, wonderful Kat. The throbbing in Anders’ cock eased slightly now that she was not rubbing and sucking it, but it still stood rigid, an arrow pointing the way home.

Katja loved the things this man could do with his mouth. She writhed and moaned as he filled her entire crotch with tingling sensations, then bucked wildly, her hands pressing down on his head, as her orgasm surged over her. When her quivering had subsided he crawled up her body, hands fondling her breasts for a moment, tongue tweaking her nipples. Then he found her mouth, his own slightly salty with her juices, and as his tongue went between her lips his thick, hard cock pushed in between her nether lips – dripping wet and eager to receive him.

Though she had just come, Katja gave a stifled moan of pleasure as he pushed inside her. Not quite as enormous as Wyll, Anders was still a very well-endowed man; and he filled her with an aching sweetness that made her want to hit the ceiling again only moments after he had entered her. While claiming her mouth with deep soul kisses he began stroking in and out, lingering to press up a little on the out-stroke, stimulating her clit. As she responded to this with a rhythmic keening, rising higher with each set of strokes, his thrusts became stronger and faster. Now he could contain himself no longer, and with a groan and a shudder, legs straight and toes curling, he shot a hot gush of cum deep inside her while her vaginal muscles locked around him, rippling in spasms as her own climax engulfed them both.

Katja wrapped her legs tight around his middle, her pelvis still thrusting up to meet his, gasping, her heart pounding like a galloping horse. “Oh, Anders! My love!” She smothered his face with kisses before slowly subsiding, just trying to catch her breath. Clasping her tight, he rotated them around so that his weight was not pressing on her. She let her bottom leg come down, his still partly stiffened cock pinned within her, her other leg thrown up over his hip. Anders kissed her more tenderly, now, stroking her face, then drew her head into the shelter of his arms and just hugged her to him.

They lay there like that for some time, as he slowly slipped out and they both began breathing normally. Then they talked in murmurs, of inconsequential things, just savoring their closeness with one another. Anders rolled over on his back and lay there, one arm behind his head, while the other was cradling Kat where she lay resting her head on his shoulder. After a long while she said, “Are you hungry? ‘Cause I’m starving!” That’s my girl, he thought, a smile wreathing his lips.

Katja wriggled out of bed and he joined her, both of them choosing to slip back into their robes rather than get fully dressed. Downstairs they found the Suite beginning to come alive for the evening, with many chattering inn guests at tables here and there, the clink of tableware, Lane playing his lute. He broke into “The Dragonborn Comes” as they appeared, which brought a grin from Katja and Anders as they looked at one another, sharing their not-so-secret joke.

Ellis was on duty at the bar, and it appeared the inn now had a couple of female employees filling the customers’ needs, as well as the men that had been employed there before her arrival. Katja and Anders took seats at the owner’s usual table, with a good view of the common room and pool. She ordered up some food and they were soon served bowls of a savory stew, rich with beef, vegetables, and mushrooms. There was plenty of warm, fresh bread to go along with it, and the two ate with good appetite. It had, after all, been a long day.

Katja looked around, but there was no sign of Wyll. That middle-aged beauty was giving him a run for his money, she’d bet. Katja had been told once or twice that a woman’s sexual appetites only increased in the middle years, though she was hard put to imagine how that was possible. As far as she was concerned, she’d become randy as hell from about the age of 13, and had spent two years developing her technique for self-pleasuring before getting that amulet from Selene along with the confidence to go out there and start taking what she wanted. If she was like this now, at 22, what would it be like in ten years? Would she need a whole stable of men like Wyll and Anders to keep her satisfied?

Katja grinned around her mouthful of stew, her eyes twinkling with amusement at the thought. Right now, at least, two men like Wyll and Anders were plenty – all she could handle. Not that she wouldn’t consider a roll in the hay with somebody else, if somebody irresistibly sexy should happen to cross her path; but there was no way she was getting into any deep relationships with another man while these two were in her life. She loved them both to distraction, distraction from what she saw as her duties to mankind.

Well, that was a sobering thought. Time to lighten the mood a little. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we must march up to Dragonsreach and impress the Jarl! Katja called for wine, and she and Anders shared a bottle. She even got him up off his chair for a bit of dancing. But before too long they were yawning. The fight with Alduin had taken its toll, and they headed for bed again. This time, just to sleep.

Chapter 41: Dragonsreach and Diplomacy

Less early than usual, Katja’s eyes fluttered open. She could hear people stirring in the Suite below, and knew she should be getting up; but it seemed to her as if each step in her journey to fulfill her “destiny” was becoming more daunting. I’m getting good at killing dragons and draugr and bandits, she thought. But what on Nirn is supposed to make me qualified to bend Jarls to my will?

So instead of leaping right out of bed, she rolled over in Anders’ warm arms and reached down between his legs to squeeze his member where it lay, already semi-turgid. Her touch soon had it rising more, and he woke to look at her with a mixture of delight and bleary puzzlement. His Kat, initiating sex in the morning instead of jumping out of bed and cracking the whip over him to get up as well? Hmm, he recalled. It had happened at least once before.

Why argue? He gathered her to him and fondled her breasts, thumbing her nipples to stiffness, as he kissed her deeply. What’s a little morning breath amongst friends? When a gentle probing with two fingers between her legs told Anders that she was ready for him, he pressed the now-quivering tip of his engorged member into the folds of her swollen vulva and slowly worked it inside. She threw a leg up over his hip, the better to allow him access, and they made love in this position, lying on their sides, until both of them were fully awake and getting more and more excited. Katja always found morning sex to be delicious but somnolent, no mind-blowing explosions; yet as Anders’s thrusts became more urgent she felt her desire rising.

“Wait!” she told him. Pulling away from him and throwing off the covers, she crouched on hands and knees with her back to him. “Take me from behind!” Oh yeah, thought Anders. The sight of her rounded buttocks, her swollen and glistening sex nestled below them, caused his already rock-hard member to stiffen even more, pointing the way. In a moment he had entered her, and her screams told him that he had hit the spot. He pumped away furiously, sinking his shaft to its full length with each stroke, and soon they were both coming hard.

Katja flattened on the bed, Anders atop her, his cock ensheathed, as the pulsations of her climax still surged through her. More sensitive about such things than Wyll, he soon rolled off of her and they lay face to face for a moment as he cupped her head in his hands and deposited sweet kisses on her forehead, her chin, her eyelids. When their panting had subsided she opened her eyes and said softly, “It’s no use. We really need to get up and get on with it.”

They put on robes and hit the bathing pool, then returned upstairs to get dressed. Katja, returning to her usual cheerful self despite the weight of her responsibilities, grinned at Anders. “I almost forgot – I have a present for you, love.” She dug into the chest and came out with a complete set of fine clothing: a tunic in fine embroidered wool with velvet sleeves, woolen hose, a fur mantle, and jeweled embellishments. A stylish fur hat and a pair of gleaming leather boots completed the ensemble.

Anders was touched, and surprised. “For me?” he asked, running his fingers over the soft wool. “Why…?” “You, my dear,” she replied with a fond look that melted him, “are going to accompany me to impress the Jarl with the urgency of our need to use his residence as a dragon trap. Wyll looks too much like a Nord warrior, but I think that in these clothes you’ll do nicely as a nobly-born counselor to the young yet also nobly-born and Very Important Dragonborn.” What could he do but smile, and put on the clothes?

Meanwhile, further rummaging in the trunk produced Katja’s fine clothing that she’d worn during her spy mission to the party at the Thalmor Embassy. She felt that while heavily armed and dressed in battered armor she had a certain hard-bitten authority, it seemed (and what did she know? She was nothing but a Breton lass from a remote rural village) that a Jarl would be more likely to take her seriously if she were dressed as a member of his own exalted class.

Thus splendidly attired, the two returned to the Suite’s main floor and found Wyll, wearing casual clothing, sitting alone at their usual table. No sign of last night’s raven-haired beauty. She was probably sleeping off the effects of a night spent with Wyll, Katja thought cattily. He goggled at them, a half-eaten bread roll suspended in midair on its way to his mouth. “What…?”

Katja grinned at him and stepped over to give him a hug, her breasts pressing against his ear, filling his nose with her scent. She smelled clean and… determined? Dropping into the chair beside him as Anders took the one on her other side, Katja squeezed Wyll’s enormous hands in her little ones and gave him a peck on the lips. “We’re going to Dragonsreach to get Balgruuf to let us trap a dragon there,” she reminded him. “Do we not look magnificent?”

Wyll smiled his lazy grin, understanding. “Going to impress him with your upper-class ways, huh?” She nodded sagely. He had a whole plate of bread rolls and some honeycomb on the table before him, and Katja reached over to help herself. A little light breakfast would be good, to fortify herself before bearding the Jarl in his palace.

Munching away, and passing a roll to Anders as well, Katja asked slyly, “Wyll, where’s your friend?” He flushed. Despite the arrangement between them, it still embarrassed him somehow that she knew of his other activities. “Sleeping,” he replied shortly. She rolled her eyes and murmured, “I’ll bet…” Preferring to drop the subject, he bent to his interrupted breakfast.

Katja and Anders soon washed their abbreviated meal down with some tea and then took their leave. “I’m not sure when we’ll get back,” she told Wyll. “But I’ll come get you when it’s time for dragon-trapping.” “I’ll be here if you need me,” he responded, standing to give her a hug before the pair departed. They fast-travelled to the gates of Dragonreach from the Suite’s front porch, not wanting to get any road dust on their fine clothing.

At Dragonsreach, Katja strode in the front doors unopposed and up the long hall to the dais, Anders flanking her. He looked remarkably sober and important in his unusual outfit. The Jarl, who knew her well and had been the first person in Skyrim to accord her respect as The Dragonborn, blinked as if he did not recognize her at first. Then he greeted her with a nod, and waited for her to state her business.

I’m not a diplomat! Katja thought. Might as well just spit it out… “I need your help. I need to trap a dragon in your palace,” she told him bluntly. Balgruuf looked perplexed and addressed her politely, “I must have misheard you. I thought you asked me to help you trap a dragon in my palace.” Well this was going well… “You heard right. It’s the only way to stop the dragons,” she replied. Now understanding what she wanted but utterly rejecting it, the Jarl told her “What you’re asking for is insane. Impossible! You want me to let a dragon into the heart of my city, with the threat of war on my doorstep?”

Perhaps another tack might be more effective. “The dragon threat is worse than you know,” Katja informed him. “Alduin has returned.” Balgruuf was shocked. “Alduin? The World-Eater himself? But… how can we fight him? Doesn’t his return mean it’s the end times?” Now, Katja felt as if she was on firmer ground, declaring “I’m dragonborn. It’s my destiny to stop him.”

This seemed to move Balgruuf in the right direction. “I don’t know about such things, but I heard the Greybeards summon you. That’s good enough for me.” or maybe not… “Now, what’s this nonsense about trapping a dragon in my palace?” Katja pushed forward: “It’s the only way to find Alduin before it’s too late.” The Jarl now seemed to be willing to consider her proposal, and replied “I want to help you, Dragonborn. And I will. But I need your help first.”

He explained his fear, and likely a justified one, that the Stormcloaks (who had been pressuring him to join their alliance) would attack Whiterun while his forces were committed to an attempt at dragon-trapping. “No,” he told her, “I can’t risk weakening the city while we are under the threat of enemy attack. I’m sorry.”

Katja considered this. The civil war was a problem, even more so now when the entire province was threatened by dragons. She had an idea, and asked Balgruuf, “What if you didn’t have to worry about an enemy attack?” He replied at once, “Then I would be glad to help you with your mad dragon-trapping scheme. But getting both sides to agree to a truce will be difficult at this point. The bitterness has gone too deep.” Balgruuf seemed to have seized on Katja’s idea, and was now running with it. “Maybe.. hmm… what of the Greybeards? They are respected by all Nords. High Hrothgar is neutral territory.”

He continued, “If the Greybeards were willing to host a peace council… then maybe Ulfric and Tullius would have to listen.” Her confidence burgeoning, Katja responded: “Leave that to me. I’ll talk to Arngeir about hosting a peace council.” Balgruuf seemed pleased. “Aye, Dragonborn,” he said. “Maybe you can stop the dragons – and this war into the bargain. Now, if you don’t mind, I’ve got a city to keep.”

Accepting her dismissal, Katja turned. She and Anders walked down through the hall and, outside the doors, she immediately pulled out her map and wished them to High Hrothgar. She was mightily glad of her multiple layers of wool and fur as they picked their way up the snow-covered steps and entered the monastery.

Katja was pleased to find Arngeir standing in the main entry hall. He turned as soon as she came in, excited. “Alduin… we heard the Dragonrend Shout from here… you defeated him?” he asked. “Yes,” she replied, “but he escaped. I need to find his portal to Sovngarde.” Arngeir looked resigned. “I feared as much,” he said. “I thought it was him we saw flying east after your battle.”

Feeling much better now about her powers of persuasion than she had the previous evening, Katja told the ancient, “I need your help. I need to capture a dragon.” Taken aback, Arngeir replied, “We are not warriors. What is overlooked in The Dragonborn is not permitted to any other followers of the Way of the Voice.” She brushed his objections aside. “I’ll worry about capturing a dragon. I need your help to stop the war.”

Again, she’d failed to make herself clear. He replied “You misunderstand our authority. The Greybeards have never involved themselves in political affairs.” “Jarl Balgruuf won’t help me while the war rages,” Katja tried to explain. Arngeir replied “I see. The dragon will lead you to Alduin, but without the Jarl’s help…”

Finally Katja managed to get her point across. “Both sides respect the Greybeards. They will listen,” she told him. Bowing to higher authority, Arngeir said “Paarthurnax has made the decision to help you. This is the road we have to walk.” Her spirits soared. This was a big change from Arngeir’s initial attitude, that they should simply let Alduin destroy the world. He continued, “Even the Greybeards must bend to the winds of change, it seems. So be it. Tell Ulfric and General Tullius that the Greybeards wish to speak to them.”

Thanking the old man, Katja took her leave. Throughout the exchange Anders had remained silent by her side, his presence nonetheless lending her confidence. Outside, they conferred. “Let’s go to Solitude first,” Anders suggested. “The Imperials are more likely to go along with this, and once they’re on board you’ll have another point to use in convincing Ulfric.” “Good plan,” she replied. Truth to tell, neither of them was looking forward to another visit to Ulfric’s grim and snowy capital city.

Solitude was actually quite a bit further north than Windhelm, yet somehow the climate was much more appealing. Only a few days ago Katja had been making love outdoors in the woods near here, and the weather as she and Anders arrived was still quite pleasant. The strolled up the main street of Solitude from the gates, then went up the ramps leading to the smithy and one of Castle Dour’s main courtyard entrances.

There were wolf’s head Imperial banners flying on either side of a nearby door into the castle and Katja headed for it with Anders in tow. As they entered the large stone chamber, they found General Tullius (whom Katja had seen during her escape from Helgen weeks earlier) in conference with a grim-looking female officer and an Imperial soldier.

“The road to Whiterun’s not safe these days,” the soldier was telling them. “Lots of travelers just… disappear, south of Dragon Bridge. Can’t find a trace of them.” This didn’t seem to be the main focus of the discussion, however. The female officer was convinced that Ulfric Stormcloak was planning to attack Whiterun, just as Balgruuf had feared. Tullius insisted that this would be insanity, as Ulfric did not have enough men to take the well-fortified city. Katja wasn’t sure sanity was one of Ulfric’s strong points, however.

The female officer, whom Tullius identified as Legate Rikke, disagreed with Tullius’ assessment. Riften, Dawnstar, and Winterhold were now supporting the Stormcloak rebels. Tullius was scornful of the rebels and their cause of home rule for the Nords, but Rikke was convinced that Ulfric did mean to try to capture Whiterun. Katja hoped there was a way to prevent that. She liked Whiterun, and it was close enough to home that an armed invasion might have very negative effects on her beloved Luxury Suite.

Considering Rikke’s point, Tullius spoke: “Jarl Balgruuf…” Rikke cut in with, “Balgruuf refuses the Legion’s right to garrison troops in his city. On the other hand,” she admitted, “he also refuses to acknowledge Ulfric’s claim.” This angered Tullius, who was pacing around the chamber, still more. “Well, if he wants to stand outside the protection of the Empire, fine, let Ulfric pillage his city.” Glaring at Rikke and other Nords in the room he said, “You people and your damn Jarls.” Bristling, Rikke retorted “You can’t force a Nord to accept help he hasn’t asked for.”

Acknowledging her point, Tullius stifled his anger and became more businesslike. To Rikke, he said “Draft another letter with the usual platitudes, but this time share some of your intelligence regarding Ulfric’s plans. Embellish if you have to. We’ll let it seem like it was his idea… You Nords and your bloody sense of honor.”

Yet again, Katja was struck by the seeming incompetence of the Imperial forces. They couldn’t maintain the roads, they let most of the province’s fortifications be taken over by Forsworn and bandits, and they discussed what sounded like highly sensitive military matters in front of somebody who’d just walked in from the courtyard, ignoring her as if she were invisible. But would Ulfric and his home rule be any more effective?

Katja finally succeeded in catching Tullius’ attention, and he turned to face her sternly. “Do you have some reason to be here, citizen?” he demanded. “It’s seems as if they’re letting just anybody walk in.” That’s the situation sir, she thought. Maybe you ought to do something about it. Aloud, she said “I have a message from the Greybeards.”

Tullius looked surprised. “The Greybeards? What do those old hermits want with me?” he asked. “They’re convening a peace council at High Hrothgar,” Katja told him. The grim-looking, iron-haired old warrior responded “Why? There’s nothing to discuss as long as that traitor Ulfric is in arms against his rightful Emperor.” “We need a truce until the dragon menace is dealt with,” she explained.

Thoughtfully, Tullius admitted “They are getting to be a problem.” Then he added, “But I wasn’t sent to Skyrim to fight dragons. My job is to quell this rebellion, and I intend to do just that, dragons or no dragons.” Waxing her most persuasive, Katja told him, “The dragons are a bigger problem than the Stormcloaks right now.” “You may have a point,” he replied, continuing “It’s getting difficult to even move troops around without attracting a dragon attack. By all accounts the Stormcloaks are suffering just as badly. Even Ulfric might see the sense of a truce under these conditions.”

Hopeful, smiling, Katja said “You’ll come to the peace council then?” Tullius conceded, “Yes. Yes, fine, I’ll come to this Graybeard council. For all the good it will do.” “Thank you, sir!” Katja said respectfully before turning to depart. As she and Anders walked back down the ramp to the city street below, she was exultant. “I can’t believe I talked him into it! One down, one to go!” Anders looked thoughtful. “What about the Blades?” he asked. “Should you maybe consult with Esbern about this dragon-trapping business before going back to High Hrothgar?”

“You’re right,” Katja said after a moment’s thought. “Maybe we’ll hop over to Sky Haven before going to Windhelm. But what do you say to some lunch first?” The Winking Skeever was near at hand, and the innkeeper was extra-solicitous toward these two finely dressed customers. They seated themselves at a table and enjoyed music from the pretty female bard while eating some kind of roasted meat with grilled leeks and boiled potatoes on the side. Katja hoped the meat was not skeever. It tasted OK, if a little chewy. Being here brought to mind a vivid memory of the time she and Wyll had enjoyed in one of the inn’s upstairs rooms, just a few weeks ago. She felt a warm flush run down her thighs at the thought, smiling slightly to herself.

On leaving the Skeever, Katja touched Sky Haven Temple on her map and she and Anders soon found themselves standing in the courtyard before the temple’s main gates. Climbing the several staircases (an exercise that made Katja wish she were in her Blades armor instead of these heavy skirts), they were happy to find Esbern and Delphine seated at the long table in the central hall, eating a meal.

Katja excused herself for intruding, then as concisely as she could she laid out what had happened: finding the Elder Scroll, learning the Dragonrend Shout, the fight with Alduin, and Paarthurnax’s plan to trap one of Alduin’s allies so that she could learn the whereabouts of his portal to the netherworld Sovngarde. There, in the Hall of Valor, the souls of the Nords were said to live out eternity in feasting and song. But Alduin claimed that he devoured those souls at will. And seemingly, it was only by tracking him there that she had a chance of permanently defeating him.

Esbern took all of this in, considering the lore at his disposal. When she had finished, he said “I have an idea of how you can lure a dragon into Dragonsreach, once this peace council has established a truce and Balgruuf is willing to let you try. But I’m going to have to do some studying. After I find the details, Delphine and I will meet you and the rest at the peace council in High Hrothgar.” “Thanks,” Katja said, smiling. “We’ll see you there as soon as possible.”

They’d run out of excuses and delaying tactics, so Katja and Anders now reluctantly fast-travelled to Windhelm. It was dark, barely past dawn, and snowing heavily. Pulling her fur-trimmed cloak a little tighter around her shoulders, Katja asked Anders “do you know where Ulfric hangs out?” “At the Palace of the Kings,” he replied, gesturing up the hill from the gates. “All the way up.” They began trudging up a series of stone stairways, heading in the direction he’d pointed. Around them, the city of Windhelm squatted grim and wretched. Why would anyone want to claim this place as home?

Despite the early hour they were admitted by the guards at the massive doors fronting the palace. Within, they found a layout similar to that at Dragonsreach, with a large table running down the center of a soaring hall, a dais with a throne at the far end. Jarl Ulfric, clearly a hard worker, was already on the job and deep in conversation with one of his generals. The subject appeared to be the same as the one under discussion at General Tullius’s headquarters: the planned Stormcloak invasion of Whiterun and the Empire’s efforts to forestall it.

The Jarl seemed to be at odds with Galmar, his hulking Nord general, as to what they could do about it if Balgruuf agreed to accept an Imperial garrison in his city. Ulfric rose from his throne and began pacing around, still arguing with Galmar. “You think we need to send Balgruuf a stronger message,” he said. Galmar, sneering, replied “If by message you mean shoving a sword through his gullet.” “Taking his city and leaving him in disgrace would make a more powerful statement, don’t you think?” Ulfric countered.

Ulfric and Galmar strode into a wood-floored stone chamber, and Katja, still awaiting a chance to speak to Ulfric, followed them – Anders at her side. On a table in the room a map of Skyrim was spread out, red pennants spread mostly across the east side while blue pennants dominated the west. You forgot to include a few dozen black pennants for the bandits and Forsworn, Katja thought sardonically. And let’s not forget the vampires, hagravens, and hostile mages…

The two men appeared to be wrapping up their discussion, concluding that the planned attack on Whiterun must go forward. They seemed to regard the other Jarls, those that would not support them at least, as impediments to be swept away. But Ulfric was canny enough to realize that whoever they replaced those Jarls with would need the support of the Stormcloak armies to withstand the forces of the Empire.

Galmar assured him, “We’re ready when you are.” Ulfric continued indecisive, saying “Things hinge on Whiterun. If we can take the city without bloodshed all the better. But if not…” “The people are behind you,” Galmar asserted, but Ulfric wasn’t so sure. “Many I fear still need convincing.” Galmar’s response was bitter. “Then let them die with their false kings.”

Ulfric took a more moderate and compassionate approach, making Katja think maybe he wasn’t so bad after all. She had heard many people say bad things about him, but this was the first time she had heard him speak – and he sounded sincere. “We’ve been soldiers a long time. We know the price of freedom. The people are still weighing things in their hearts.” Galmar, on the other hand, remained obstinate and impatient. “What’s left of Skyrim to wager?” he asked. “They have families to think of,” Ulfric replied.

Galmar, sensing he still had not won Ulfric to his viewpoint, tried another tack. “How many of their sons and daughters follow your banner?” he asked rhetorically. “We are their families.” That struck a chord with his commander. “Well put, friend. Tell me, Galmar, why do you fight for me?” Galmar replied, with suppressed emotion, “I’d follow you into the depths of Oblivion, you know that.” But Ulfric was looking for motivations beyond friendship. “Yes, but why do you fight? If not for me, what then?”

Galmar’s response revealed the deep-seated racial hatred that Katja had seen in this city before, though this time directed against the Altmer rather than the Dunmer: “I’ll die before Elves dictate the fates of men. Are we not one in this?” The two men had pushed past Katja and Anders as if they were part of the room’s furnishings, and were moving back out toward the main hall again. Katja’s hope that she might be able to get a word in edgewise was dashed as Ulfric launched into something that sounded like a political campaign speech.

“I fight for the men I’ve held in my arms, dying on foreign soil. I fight for their wives and children, whose names I heard whispered in their last breaths. I fight for we few who did come home, only to find our country full of strangers wearing familiar faces.” His tone grew even more impassioned. “I fight for my people impoverished to pay the debts of an Empire too weak to rule them, yet brands them criminals for wanting to rule themselves! I fight so that all the fighting I’ve already done hasn’t been for nothing. I fight because… I must,” he finished at last.

And the crowd goes wild, thought Katja. Oh for the life of an adventurer, far from the rantings of such men. And from the pointless wars they pursued. From what she’d seen, most people in Skyrim were living their perfectly ordinary lives in as much happiness and prosperity as anyone could reasonably hope. The ambitions of the Empire, the machinations of the Thalmor, and the disruptions of the Stormcloaks were all just hazards they had to avoid. Better all these military drum-beaters should just go home and let the rest of us get on with it.

Katja schooled her face to reveal nothing of her thoughts as she approached Ulfric and got his attention at last. Suddenly aware of her presence, he said sternly “Only the foolish or the courageous approach a Jarl without summons…” That would be the latter, blowhard, she thought. I hope. Aloud, she chose the answer most likely to win his favor, reminding him that she was at Helgen and had in fact been sitting beside him in the cart that carried them both toward execution.

“I helped Ralof escape,” Katja told him, overstating the case. “He said he’d vouch for me.” She was sorry to learn from Ulfric that Ralof had not yet returned, however. She hoped he was safe. The Jarl incorrectly assumed that she had come to sign up to fight with the Stormcloaks, and began urging her to talk with Galmar about enlisting. Now that she had seen that their leaders included a bloodthirsty bigot and a sincere but misguided dreamer, there was little chance that was going to happen. But in any case, she needed to tell him why she had come here in the first place.

Getting to the point at last, Katja said “I have a message from the Greybeards.” Ulfric accepted that with a degree of irritation. “It’s about time they turned their gaze from the heavens, back to our bleeding homeland. What do they want?” he asked. “They want to negotiate a truce until the dragon menace is dealt with,” she told him. He replied, “I have the greatest respect for the Greybeards, of course. And the dragon attacks are a growing plague. But the political situation is still delicate. Not all the Jarls are fully committed to supporting me as High King.” He went on, “I can’t afford to appear weak. I can’t agree to this unless Tullius himself will be there.”

Thank you Anders, Katja thought. You nailed it! To Ulfric she said, only slightly smugly, “General Tullius has already agreed to attend.” “Good,” the Jarl replied. “We still hold half of Skyrim despite everything the Empire could throw at us. I doubt the Empire has the stomach for much more bloodletting. Yes,” he continued in a self-satisfied tone, “I’ll give Tullius one more chance to quit Skyrim with his tail between his legs.” With that, she was dismissed.

Chapter 42: The Peace Council

Leaving the Palace of the Kings, Katja remarked to Anders, “I get the idea Ulfric thinks he’s going to the council to accept Tullius’ surrender, or something. That man seems to be a few turnips short of a cartload.” She glanced sidewise at her companion to see if he picked up the reference. He had twitted her on more than one occasion for being a bit of a bumpkin – since the small town in High Rock he grew up in was so much bigger than her rural village. Anders smiled at her, and turned to give her a hug. “What do you say we get the hell out of lovely Windhelm, my love?” he suggested. Indeed.

After some discussion, they decided to go right back to High Hrothgar. Neither of them knew how soon the council would be held, and they needed to be on the spot when it was convened. Lost in the time distortions of fast travel, they were not even sure what day it was, though it seemed like only a few hours had passed since their hasty breakfast at the Suite.

Fast-traveling to the icy slope below the monastery once again, Katja hoisted her heavy skirts to climb the steps to the front door with Anders close behind her. Boy, she thought, I’ll be glad when I can get back into regular clothing again. The high-class garb looked impressive, perhaps, but it was hardly any more comfortable to move in than heavy armor.

The two stepped into the entry hall, brushing snow from their shoulders, only to find all four Greybeards awaiting them. Arngeir didn’t seem too pleased as he said “So, you’ve done it. The men of violence are gathered here, in these halls whose very stones are dedicated to peace.” He continued, “I should not have agreed to host this council. The Greybeards have no business involving ourselves in such matters.”

“Don’t worry,” Katja told him, wondering at the correlation between the study of Shouts aimed at blowing your opponents into the next province, and a “dedication to peace.” “I’ll get them to agree to peace,” she assured him. Arngeir remained pessimistic. “Peace? I doubt it. They may put their weapons down for a moment, but only to gather strength for the next bloodletting. They are not yet tired of war. Far from it. Do you know the ancient Nord word for war? ‘Season unending’… so it has proved. But regrets are pointless. Here we are.” Katja was afraid he had a good point, unfortunately. Arngeir continued, “Take your seat at the council table and let us see what wisdom we can find among these warriors of Skyrim.”

On an earlier visit with Anders, while looking for Arngeir, Katja had stumbled across the monastery’s conference room. It was large, with an oval-shaped stone counter running around a central fire pit, and would seat far more people than she had yet seen here. She led Anders there, off to the right and around a couple of bends, and was startled to see how many had come. Each side in the conflict had brought along its own contingent. Clearly, she was not the only person around with a magic map.

Arngeir acted as the host and took a seat at one end, gesturing to Katja to take the seat across from him. The rest of the participants were milling around, and bickering was already breaking out as bitter enemies confronted one another. Arngeir called them to order, saying “Now that everyone is here, please take your seats so we can begin.”

Esbern and Delphine had arrived, and were seated on Arngeir’s left. On his right, Katja recognized Elenwen, the Thalmor ambassador. She was there, she claimed, strictly as an observer – to make sure that the terms of the White-Gold Concordat (the treaty that had ended the war between the Empire and the Altmeri Dominion a generation before) were observed. Jarl Ulfric, at Katja’s right, was outraged at the High Elf’s presence and refused to come to the table.

Beside the haughty-looking Elf woman Jarl Balgruuf was seated, with General Tullius on his other side and a pretty young woman Katja took to be Elisif the Fair (Jarl of Solitude and widow of the late High King) beyond him, then Legate Rikke on Katja’s immediate left. Tullius claimed that Elenwen was a member of the Imperial delegation, and her presence not a matter for Ulfric to decide.

Arngeir, frustrated at the enmity that had erupted before they even sat down, said “Please. If we have to negotiate the terms of the negotiation, we will never get anywhere.” Ulfric, flanked by the heavily-armed Galmar, remained standing as he addressed Katja: “By Ysmir’s beard, the nerve of those Imperial bastards, eh?” Katja guessed that he believed her to be a fellow Nord. Well, she was supposedly a descendant of Ysmir’s, if the Bride of Migal was to be believed.

Katja tried to sooth him, saying “What’s the harm? Besides, Tullius doesn’t really want her here either.” The Stormcloak replied “Maybe so, but bringing her here is a deliberate provocation. Tullius needs to know I won’t be pushed around.” “Let Tullius have his way on this,” she urged him. “He’ll have to give ground later.” That seemed to mollify the rebel leader, and he and his general took their seats – after first making it clear that they would not negotiate with the Thalmor woman.

Elenwen’s comment in response to this suggested she thought Ulfric should be less hostile to the Thalmor than to the Empire, which didn’t sit well with Legate Rikke. After some more acrimonious discussions, Ulfric pointed out that they were there only to deal with the dragon menace. “There’s nothing else to talk about,” he said, “unless the Empire is finally ready to renounce its unjust claim to rule over the free people of Skyrim.”

This provoked more outrage, until Ulfric turned toward Katja and said, “We’re here to arrange a temporary truce to allow The Dragonborn here to deal with the dragons. Nothing more. I consider even talking to the Empire a generous gesture.” Tullius broke in, angered by Ulfric’s tone: “Are you done? Did you just come here to make speeches? Or can we get down to business?” “Yes,” Ulfric replied, “let’s get this over with.”

After some more introductory remarks from their moderator, Arngeir, the parties began laying out their demands. “We want control of Markarth,” said Ulfric. “That’s our price for agreeing to a truce.” This provoked outrage and vituperation from Elisif. After all, this was the man who had murdered (or killed in fair combat, depending on whom you asked) her husband. No wonder she hated him.

Both sides began trading threats and insults, and Katja feared that the peace mission was doomed. But the bickering subsided, and all at the table looked to her. General Tullius addressed her with respect: “Since we’re all here at your request, I’d like to hear what you think Markarth is worth.” Katja had not yet seen Markarth, though she had been close enough to it to know that the Reach was a wild and perilous place. Considering the problems with the Thieves’ Guild, though, she told them “How about Riften?”

Tullius seemed to think this a fair proposition, which of course meant that Ulfric was sure he was being cheated. He accused Katja of favoring the Empire, and another round of verbal provocations and threats to leave the bargaining table ensued. Katja was despairing of making any headway with these two rock-headed adversaries, when Esbern suddenly spoke up. “Stop! Are you so blind to our danger that you can’t see past your petty disagreements?” What he said, Katja thought.

Esbern rose from his seat and continued, “Here you sit arguing about… nothing! While the fate of the land hangs in the balance!” Ulfric didn’t like being talked to this way, and said “Is he with you, Delphine? If so, I advise you to tell him to watch his tongue.” Esbern was undeterred. “Don’t you understand the danger? Don’t you understand what the return of the dragons means? Alduin has returned! The World-Eater! Even now, he devours the souls of your fallen comrades! He grows more powerful with every soldier slain in your pointless war! Can you not put aside your hatred for even one moment in the face of this mortal danger?”

Several faces around the table looked shocked, but the Elf Elenwen remained cool. “A very pretty speech,” she said, “but what does it have to do with…” She was interrupted, and Ulfric now appeared willing to renew the bargaining. In addition to the exchange of Markarth for Riften, he wanted Falkreath to be put under control of the Stormcloaks, with Siddgeir stepping down, and Dengeir resuming his Jarlship. This seemed like a good idea to Katja. Falkreath as a hold was mostly a stretch of unpopulated woodland, with one medium sized town. And it would do her heart good to see that young snot Siddgeir booted out on his ear.

When asked for her input then, Katja said “I agree. The Empire should turn over Falkreath.” “Spoken like a true daughter of Skyrim!” Ulfric exclaimed. Of High Rock, Katja said silently. But who’s counting? Arngeir recapped the terms, with the Jarlships of Markarth and Riften changing hands in addition to Falkreath’s. And Maven Blackbriar, who Katja knew to be hand-in-hand with the Thieves’ Guild, was to rule in Riften! That ought to be interesting.

Elisif agreed to be guided by Tullius in this matter, and the Imperials agreed to the terms as did Ulfric and his general. No hands were shaken – and some threats for later, after the dragon menace was deal with, were issued. But the two sides had reached an accord that was acceptable to both parties, and would halt further hostilities until Katja could deal with Alduin.

Katja felt as if she had just spent an hour fighting draugr, though she’d remained nearly motionless the whole time and her foes had been attacking each other, not her. This diplomacy stuff was not easy! Now, Arngeir addressed Whiterun’s Jarl: “Jarl Balgruuf, I assume you are familiar with The Dragonborn’s plan?” “Just say the word,” he replied, addressing Katja, “and my men will help you spring this trap.”

Katja nodded thankfully to him, as Arngeir went on. “But the difficulty remains – how to lure a dragon to Dragonsreach at all?” Katja hoped the answer was at hand, but said nothing as Tullius spoke: “Well that’s an excellent question. You haven’t overlooked that little detail, have you?” Then Esbern raised his voice. “Ah, I believe I can be of help here.” He went on, “I anticipated the problem. While you were arranging this meeting, I was busy in the library of Sky Haven Temple. An unguessed trove of lost lore… but the important thing is that the Blades recorded many of the names of dragons they slew. I cross-referenced this with Delphine’s map of dragon burial sites, and I believe I’ve identified one of the dragons that Alduin has raised up.”

Katja had been expecting him to come up with a magic horn, or a spell or something, and didn’t understand what he was getting at. “How does that help us?” she asked. “Ah, don’t you see?” he replied. “The names of dragons are always three Words of Power – Shouts.” Katja was dumbstruck at this piece of information. Why had no one mentioned it to her before? Esbern continued, “By calling the dragon with the Voice, he will hear you wherever he might be.”

“Why would he come when called?” Katja asked. “He’s not compelled to,” Esbern replied, “but dragons are prideful by nature and loath to refuse a challenge. Your Voice in particular is likely to intrigue this dragon, after your victory over Alduin. I think it very likely that he will be unable to resist investigating your call.” Hmm, she thought. Okaaayyy… “So what’s this dragon’s name?”

Esbern demurred, “Ah, indeed. I’m no master of the Voice like these worthy gentlemen, but it is written here in this scroll.” He bent to the scroll before him and read, “Od-Ah-Viing. ‘Winged Snow Hunter,’ as I read it.” At this Katja was staggered to find that the three words of the Shout penetrated her mind, the chorus ringing in her ears, just as if it had been spoken by one of the Greybeards. Now she knew how to call this dragon. Would he come and lay his head in her noose?

Ulfric and Galmar had already departed. Now the rest of the council’s participants stood to leave, Rikke’s parting shot to Katja being, “I hope this truce gives you what you need. It won’t last.” Katja sighed, knowing the words were true. Even as she made to rise from her chair, Delphine approached her. Though they had parted on good terms, the woman now seemed somewhat hostile.

“We know about Paarthurnax,” she said resentfully. “Turns out he’s a dragon,” Katja admitted. “But he helped me.” She was shocked to hear what Delphine had to say next, though: “That’s fine. We needed his help. Now we don’t, and it’s long past time for him to pay for his crimes. He’s not just any dragon. He was the right hand of Alduin.” What, Katja thought, three thousand years ago? Talk about holding a grudge!

Delphine continued angrily, “He committed atrocities so infamous they are still remembered, thousands of years later. He needs to die. He deserves to die. And it falls to you to kill him. Until he’s dead… well, I’m sorry, but we would dishonor our oaths as Blades if we continued to help you.” Katja just stared at her, unable to formulate a reply. Were these people serious? Maybe Paarthurnax had been allied with Alduin millennia ago, but he seemed both wise and kindly by dov standards. He’d taught the Way of the Voice to mankind, giving them weaponry against his own kin, for generations. And he’d provided more real, concrete help to Katja in her battle against Alduin than the Blades ever had.

Delphine had stalked off, and Katja just watched her go. She supposed that was going to be it for any further help from the Blades, but considering that organization now consisted of one old man and one blonde bitch on wheels, perhaps that was just as well. No way was she going to repay the chatty old dragon’s help by murdering him.

Katja stood up, finding Anders standing so quietly behind her chair she had almost forgotten he was there. As he escorted her out of the room, he murmured quietly to her, “Are you really going to kill the old dov?” “Not a chance,” she murmured back. “I stand by those that help me, and without his help against Alduin you and I and Wyll would probably in Alduin’s belly by now.” “Good,” came the soft reply.

Outside High Hrothgar, the pair conferred. “Is it supper time yet?” Katja asked. As if Anders would have any more idea of it than she did. “I think it’s bedtime!” he leered brightly, though in fun. By rights, it would be Wyll’s turn to share Katja’s bed when next she returned to it. The thought made her feel a little moist between the legs. She had worries and troubles aplenty, but there was a joyfulness to making love with Wyll that could drive all of them away – for a while at least.

“Well,” Katja said after giving it some thought. “I think we’d better go back to the Suite. Aside from a meal and a nap, I’m going to be needing armor and weapons for my dragon-trapping. And I want both you and Wyll by my side when I go up on the Porch to call the dragon.” “You’re the boss,” Anders replied cheerfully.

Chapter 43: Wyll’s Turn

Katja and Anders walked in through the front door of the Luxury Suite as evening was setting in. Neither of them had any idea how much time had elapsed since they left, but judging from the growling of their stomachs it was now way past time to eat. Both of them were fairly anxious to change into more comfortable clothing; but as what they were wearing was both presentable and free from the bloodstains, arrow holes, and grime more usual when returning from a quest, they decided to eat first.

Katja was delighted to find Wyll sitting at their usual table, right where they’d left him. Presumably he’d been elsewhere in the interim, but there he was again – and once again, with food on the table in front of him. He was no longer wearing the same clothes, at least. Her spirits soaring, Katja hurried over to the table as Anders sauntered behind her.

He sat down on one of the other chairs, but Katja seated herself on Wyll’s lap, throwing her arms around his neck and giving him a hot kiss. Then she pulled back a bit and beamed at him. “So it worked?” he asked. “You got the Jarl to say yes to using Dragonsreach for a dragon trap?” “It wasn’t easy,” she replied, putting one arm across his broad shoulders while reaching down with her free hand to steal a morsel off his plate. “It was extremely complicated – we’ve been all over Skyrim, and I am now a highly respected diplomat! If you can believe that…” She devoured another bite of Wyll’s supper, and before it was completely chewed up she said indistinctly, “Eat first! Talk later!”

Anders motioned to Lane, who was doing innkeeper duty at the moment, and in a few minutes plates of food began appearing on their table. Wyll resumed eating his own supper, while Katja (having relocated to a chair) and Anders bent to their own meals with determination. After the immediate yawning hunger had been sated, she continued eating at a more measured pace, actually chewing the food and swallowing it before trying to talk.

The three friends sat at the table for some time, as Wyll was given all the details of their trip around Skyrim, the peace council that had almost erupted in war, the revelation that dragon names were actually Shouts, and the temporary truce that would, Katja hoped, result in Whiterun being safe from attack for the immediate future. Wyll’s eyebrows rose as he learned that he and the other residents of the Suite had narrowly avoided being caught up in a war zone.

Katja ordered a bottle of wine for the three of them to share, nicely washing down the huge meal and taking the edge off her anxieties a little more. Just being in company with Wyll and Anders, relaxing in the Suite over a good meal, was balm to her soul. And she was already starting to think of something else that would take her mind off her troubles. Wyll was looking at her in a way that suggested he, too, was thinking of that; and Anders was studiously ignoring the situation.

Sighing, Katja stood up. “Time to get out of these clothes,” she said, heading for the stairs. “I’ll be down in a minute – I’m going to have a soak.” She hoisted her skirts one more time to negotiate the steep stairs up to the loft, and the two men watched her go. Wyll spoke frankly. “I’ve missed her. The women around here… they’re just… not Kat,” he finished lamely. Anders smiled at his friend. “I know,” he said softly. “Nobody on Nirn is Kat, but Kat.” He gazed at the tabletop for a moment, then looked up at Wyll again. “I’ll clear my gear out of the master bedroom for the night…”

Wyll returned the slight smile, interrupting him to say “You don’t have to do that. I’ve taken over the bedroom down in the basement. Kat and I can sleep down there tonight, so you don’t need to move your stuff.” Anders looked Wyll in the eyes, a certain amount of pain showing in his own. “Thanks, buddy,” he said. He thought wryly that if he got any more noble, he’d have to start wearing clothes like this all the time.

After another couple of breaths Anders sighed slightly and stood up, giving Wyll a bigger smile. “That bath sounds like a good idea. I’m going to go get out of these clothes.” As he started to walk away he said, “Oh – Kat says she wants us both with her when we go up to Dragonsreach tomorrow to try to trap the dragon.” Wyll grinned, a wolfish expression that suggested he was mentally sharpening his axe. Dragons, beware! “Thanks,” he said.

While his friend and his lover were gone upstairs, Wyll nipped down to the basement and put on his own robe, a tent-like affair that fitted him nicely and would have completely obscured Katja had she tried to wear it. When he returned to the main floor, he found Kat and Anders already soaking in the pool. She gave him a huge grin as she spotted him approaching them in his robe, and beckoned him into the water.

Immediately, Wyll discovered a familiar problem. This woman who haunted his dreams seemed to cause his cock to swell at the mere thought of her, let alone her touch or the sight of her in a fetching pose. He’d been stiffening while she sat in his lap, stealing food from his plate. Now he was standing in the middle of the Suite’s ground floor common room, about to climb into the clear water of the bathing pool; and there sat his Kat, their Kat, glowing pink from the hot water, utterly naked save for that amulet she always wore. Her slender waist and flat belly were set off by the curve of her delicious hips and her full, shapely breasts bobbed on the surface of the water, nipples rosy.

Argh. Wyll hadn’t even gotten into the water yet and already his cock was so hard he imagined he could use it to pound armor on the crafting table downstairs. He felt like a 15-year-old getting his first look at a naked woman. He turned as pink as Kat and, clutching his robe around him, he said “I’ll be back in a little while.” Then he dashed back to the trap door and returned to the basement.

Letting his robe fall open, with a towel to hand, Wyll seized his recalcitrant member in one huge hand, and began stroking it firmly. He hadn’t done bedwarmer duty with any of the Suite’s clientele since that insatiable brunette a couple of days ago, and he was horny. He let his mind run back a few days to that last time with Kat, making love in the woods, pumping into her from behind. In moments his cock exploded in his hand, soaking the towel, and he felt a great sense of relief. This was nothing like the transport of an orgasm with his lover, but it went a long way toward easing the pressure he’d been feeling.

Cleaning himself up, tying the robe around his midsection again, Wyll hurried back upstairs. He was now able to climb into the hot pool beside Katja, naked but not rampant. Anders seemed oblivious. At seven years Wyll’s senior he no doubt had all such things nicely under control. Katja eyed him a bit curiously, however, and scooted over slightly to touch hips with him. Then she put her hand on his thigh, and when this too failed to elicit the expected response her eyes widened. She cast an analytical gaze at him, and then burst out laughing.

Anders looked at Kat in curiosity. Had there been a joke he missed? Still chuckling, Katja threw her arms around Wyll’s neck and kissed him. Her voice bubbling with laughter, she said “I love you, Wyll Jarskarvir!” His face reddened. Anders was quizzically looking from Kat to Wyll as he tried to figure out what just happened, which triggered another peal of laughter from Katja. She repeated her actions with Anders now, saying “And I love you, too, Anders Lanya.” Well, that was alright then…

The three sat soaking and talking quietly about nothing much until they were starting to prune. Wyll put an arm around Kat and murmured in her ear, “We’re sleeping in the basement tonight. Okay?” The basement? Sure, why not. The bedroom down there was often more private than the master suite actually, certainly quieter. And if you woke up early, as she was wont to do, you could get in a little smithing without leaving the room.

They all climbed out, drying off with towels and donning their robes. Kat stood on tiptoe to give Anders a hug and a kiss, then she and Wyll made their way to the trapdoor and their subterranean boudoir. On reaching it, Katja was surprised to see that some changes had been made to the décor. “Have you been fixing this place up, Wyll?” she asked. “I like it!”

He grinned somewhat shyly. “I picked up a few things in town. I wanted to make it nice for you… when it’s my turn to…” he trailed off, embarrassed. Katja was touched. How could this huge, deadly warrior be so sweet? “Oh, Wyll! Thank you! It’s wonderful! I especially like the satin coverlet…” His confidence returning, Wyll gestured around the room. “I kind of like this place as a bedroom, you know. It has so many… accessories available.”

Taking Katja by the hand, he led her over to the forge area at the far end of the room. “See, it’s even got an enchanting table…” Wyll had stood right here in this room watching her work at that enchanting table, creating some of the magically-enhanced armor and weapons he’d been using in their recent quests. What was he getting at… Oh! Katja’s memory suddenly returned to the first time she had made love with Wyll, in that bandit stronghold… on the enchanting table! A hot thrill shot through her from her crotch, up through the center of her body, and became a warm glow rising in her cheeks.

Wyll was looking at her expectantly, and Katja could tell that he knew she had remembered. Her eyes were alight with desire, her face flushed, as she approached him and picked at his robe, pushing it off his shoulders to lie crumpled on the floor. “Are you bleeding?” she asked him, stepping close to run her fingers over his torso, his chest, his nipples. Those were stiffening now, as they had then. His cock, so recently quelled, had recovered its enthusiasm and was now standing at attention once again.

Katja dropped her own robe and fell into his arms, bent back with her breasts pressed into his belly, reaching to have her mouth engulfed by his. His tongue down her throat, he clutched her to him, his powerful arms holding her as if he never planned to let her go. Then he released her mouth and, slipping his hands down lower, he clutched her by the buttocks and carried her over to the enchanting table.

This time, Wyll had control. Masturbation less than an hour past had left him feeling like he could make love to this woman, this beautiful, maddening woman, for the rest of the night. Perching her at the edge of the table he entered her carefully, making sure she was ready for him. His size could be an issue with some women, but with Kat he always found her wet, eager to receive his full length and girth.

On this occasion Katja was ready to soar to the skies, almost at once. Though she and Anders had made love before leaving on their extended diplomatic mission, it felt as if it had been days since then. And the excitement of reliving that first red-hot encounter with Wyll had her passion surging even before he pushed that giant hot cock inside her.

Kat bucked and screamed as Wyll pumped into her, bumping against her clit on each stroke. Her legs were spread wide as her buttocks perched on the edge of the table, allowing him full access and a good height for thrusting, his powerful legs bent slightly at the knees. After she came the first time he cradled her in his arms for a while, but didn’t cease his strokes. He just slowed down a little, savoring the way it felt in there. So hot, so wet, her vaginal muscles clutching him as she climaxed. If he hadn’t taken some of the pressure off earlier, he’d have been a goner just like that.

After an indefinite time on the table, Wyll eased off his strokes for a moment, still inside her but moving less as he cupped her face in his hands and kissed her tenderly. Then he gestured to the other side of the room. “There’s other accessories, too,” he pointed out. Katja’s mind was nearly gone at this point, but she followed his gaze and spotted… the crafting table?! “Wyll Jarskarvir, you are wicked! And I like that in a man…”

Pulling out, his cock still jutting skyward and now reddened and glistening, Wyll helped Kat down off the enchanting table and the two of them padded over, barefoot, to the crafting table. This workbench, used for improving everything from boots and breastplates to greaves and shields, was just about the right height to support her as she bent over it, allowing him access to her from behind. As he surged inside her, she cried out “Oh!” Followed by “Yes, yessss!” Kat did like those rear-entry positions. She was soon screaming again, as he fucked her harder and harder. Despite his earlier release of tension, the passionate reunion under exotic conditions was starting to get to him, and his control was beginning to slip away from him.

Easing his rhythm once again, Wyll bent over Kat where she rested against the crafting bench, to murmur in her ear. “I think the grindstone, forge, and smelter are right out, Love. How about the bed? I want to see your face.” “Okay,” she murmured hoarsely. She had come so many times she could barely walk, let alone think. Observing that he’d put her in such a state, Wyll smiled with satisfaction. Then he scooped her up in his arms as easily as if she were a small kitten, and carried her over to the bed – his cock still sticking out in front of him like a lance, bobbing slightly as he walked.

Wyll laid his lover gently on the bed, face up, then climbed onto it beside her. He looked into her eyes, letting his love shine naked in his gaze, and she looked back at him with the slightly glazed expression of somebody who has nearly had her brains fucked out. And with love, too. A surge of emotion welled up inside of Wyll. “Augh, Kat!” he groaned. “I can’t get enough of you!” He buried his face in the flesh between her neck and shoulder and began kissing her passionately, sending renewed thrills through her. She grinned weakly and opened her legs to him. “Well,” she said softly, “you can try…”

Some time later Wyll shuddered and gave a prolonged groan, as he spent his seed at last. Katja rocketed with him to orgasm one last time as he did so, feeling as if her mind were ready to disintegrate under the repeated waves of pleasure that had assaulted her for the last… hour? For a change, her gigantic lover was sensitive to his mass atop her, and after collapsing briefly he quickly rolled over so they could face one another. She covered his face with kisses, hands stroking his cheeks. Then she gave a sigh as if all the air had been let out of her at once, and melted into his arms. Before long, both of them had dropped off to sleep.

Chapter 44: To Trap a Dragon

Katja awoke to the dim light of a candle on the nightstand, wondering what time it was. Down here in the basement there were no windows, and one could not even really hear if people were stirring in the Suite’s common room above. Somehow, though, she sensed it was morning and time to get back to work. But oh! Her mind played back over her evening of passion with Wyll, and the throb that went through her as she recalled it was accompanied by a less-than-pleasant ache. It’s possible, she thought, that we may have overdone it.

She was lying nestled against Wyll’s chest, and as she stirred against him Katja noticed that his cock remained quiescent. Even he’s fucked out, she thought. Squeezing into him, she kissed his nose and his eyes opened, looking sleepy but lighting with love as he beheld her. He was usually a little quicker to shift out of bed in the morning than Anders was, though neither of her lovers was the sort of guy to spring up at dawn with a song on his lips.

“We’d better get up, love,” Katja told him yawning. “Dragons to trap and all that…” He hugged her to him and kissed her firmly, then released her so she could crawl out of bed. As she stood, she realized that she was standing bowlegged. Ow. “Oh shit, Wyll, you’ve ruined me!” she cried. “How am I supposed to trap dragons if I can barely walk?” He looked at her with concern. “I’m sorry, love. You just inspire me, I guess… Hey! Why don’t you use your Healing spell?”

Katja mentally slapped her forehead. Wyll was no dummy, but sometimes she was. “Of course!” she said, and in moments the glow of the spell took form around her right hand. Compared with being raked by bear claws, blistered by dragon fire, or sliced up by broadswords, the results of being shagged ragged by an enthusiastic Nord with a cock of heroic proportions were a snap to heal.

“Would you like a little too, dear?” Katja asked Wyll tenderly. Now sitting up in the bed, admiring her as she glowed with wellbeing from the application of the spell, he stroked his cock thoughtfully. It was a bit sore, and oh how Kat inspired him. Sometimes he felt as if he’d like to make love to her until if fell off. Having plenty of magicka left over after her brief self-treatment, Katja applied Healing Hands to Wyll. The result was less spectacular than the closing of wounds and vanishing of bruises the spell could produce when treating someone with severe injuries; but it was still fascinating to behold – his cock immediately rose to rigidity, and an expression of surprise and delight suffused his perfect features.

Katja was grinning at him now, a powerful surge of affection washing over her but not much desire. She had stored up enough orgasms to last her until the other side of Sovngarde, she felt, and their pressing business pushed aside all thoughts of romance for the moment. “Not right now dear,” she told him. “We’ve got work to do.” Wyll smiled back at her a little wistfully. He knew her well enough by now to realize that once she got into go-ahead mode, there’d be no luring her back into the sack.

Wyll rose from the bed, his cock subsiding, and began getting into some underdrawers. As Katja put on her robe, kissed him, and headed up the ladder to go retrieve her gear from the master bedroom, he put on his armor and gathered his weapons. This expedition should be fun, or so he hoped. Upstairs, Katja saw that light was coming in through the Suite’s amber glass windows. Daylight was burning!

She continued up the stairs and found Anders still in bed, lying on his back with his mouth open and snoring gently. True love is willing to make allowances, and Katja thought he looked cute that way. Not to mention, lazy. She set her robe down, then pounced on him naked, which very quickly got his attention. His eyes lit up to see her looming above him, and he grabbed for her breasts.

Grinning, Katja dodged him, backing down the bed. Come and get me, she seemed to be saying, and he started up from between the covers, his manhood on the rise, and caught her before she could put a foot on the floor. Both of them kneeling on the bed, he pressed her to his chest and kissed her enthusiastically. Feeling his stiffening, Katja had a moment of regret. Both of her men had the power to fill her with lust at a moment’s notice, it seemed, even after a session like last night’s with Wyll. But no.

Katja slipped out of Anders’ embrace and walked to the chest, digging for her underclothes and armor. “Sorry, love!” she told him. “We’re off to save the world today, remember?” Oh right, he thought ruefully. Save the world. At least, once he’d helped his beloved perform that feat, he had hopes of a happy reward. Anders sat on the side of the bed, trying to get his brain in motion, then stood up, his stiffness ebbing, and began gathering up his own armor.

When the two of them were completely equipped, they trooped down the stairs and met Wyll in the common room. Rather than take their usual table the three sat at the bar, where Ellis served them room-temperature ale and sweet rolls for breakfast. An odd combination, but Katja was focused on the mission ahead and filled her stomach without paying much attention as the food passed her mouth.

Everyone was counting on her to come up with a plan to defeat Alduin, and Katja had only the foggiest, general idea of what she was going to do. Trap a dragon, and then what? Get him to come over to her side from Alduin’s, and help her kill the World-Eater? She briefly imagined herself riding heroically into battle on dragonback, bow hurling bolts of death while her steed roasted her adversary with his Thu’um. Katja snorted softly to herself at this thought. She wasn’t even that good at riding horses, let alone a dragon!

Her eternal optimism returning, Katja told herself that things would, somehow, work out. What 22-year-old is not convinced of his or her own immortality? The companions had finished their meal, and they now climbed off their barstools and headed for the door. Katja could see that both Anders and Wyll were excited, looking forward to the adventure ahead of them. Onward!

It was a lovely morning in the Whiterun region, blue sky and puffy clouds extending to the horizon. Katja briefly considered walking instead of fast-traveling, but concluded that time was of the essence. In moments they were standing outside the doors of Dragonsreach, and headed inside. The truce, and the plan to trap a dragon here, were evidently now public knowledge and one of the gate guards was eager to discuss it with her. She brushed past him, anxious to talk with Jarl Balgruuf.

As Katja and her companions approached the Jarl’s throne, Balgruuf greeted her respectfully. “May the gods watch over your battles, friend,” he said. “We’re ready, Dragonborn,” he added. “Just say the word.” Not sure how far he had taken his part of the plan, Katja double-checked. “Are you ready to spring the trap on the dragon?” He assured her, “As I promised, my men stand ready. The great chains are oiled. We wait on your word.”

How could he just sit here on this throne with this about to happen? Katja wondered. If this were my palace I’d be up there fussing around, checking every detail, to make sure nothing could go wrong. Aloud, she told him “I’m ready. Let’s go trap a dragon.” Might as well get to it. He replied “My men know what to do. Make sure you do your part. I’m putting the city in your hands.”

Katja, flanked by Anders and Wyll, climbed the stairs leading up from the dais and went through the double doors above to the Great Porch of Dragonsreach. This cavernous space, built to hold a trapped dragon eons ago, led out to a broad, semicircular stone balcony that offered a magnificent view of the countryside to the north of Whiterun. Katja stood there for a moment taking it in, as Balgruuf, who had opted after all not to sit out the festivities, asked her, “You do have a plan for luring a dragon here, yeah?”

You were there when I formulated it, were you not? she asked him silently, a bit irritated. “Most assuredly, my Jarl” Katja replied with only the slightest hint of sarcasm. Standing in the center of the plaza with a few guards and her two companions, she gathered herself and Shouted “OD-AH-VIING!” At first, it seemed nothing had happened. Katja was braced for immediate action, but she soon chided herself. Did she think calling the dragon would cause him to materialize out of thin air?

In fact, it was only a few moments before they saw a dragon winging toward them and heard its deep, chilling voice calling out in challenge. By the Divines, Katja thought, Odahviing was enormous! The dragon came flapping in, raking the balcony with Fire Breath as she and the rest of the defenders scattered for cover. Running into the Porch, Katja began firing Elven arrows from her Dragonbane bow, even as Whiterun guards attacked the dragon at closer range. Anders was by her side, hurling bolts of destruction magic, while Wyll shot his fire-damage bow.

Odahviing lifted and ponderously flew away again, calling taunts and threats in a mix of dragon tongue and the common speech. Katja hit him with the Dragonrend Shout and soon sent him dropping from the sky again. Likely very few dov had heard this Shout, lost as it was for millennia. Odahviing admitted being impressed by her Thu’um, but he had other weapons at his disposal. As Anders and Wyll got closer to attack the dragon with their axes, he lumbered forward, awkward on the stones, snapping at them with his enormous jaws. Those teeth were half the size of her forearm!

Convinced her guys knew what they were doing and were safe, Katja kept approaching Odahviing and then running back to the shelter of the Porch, trying to lure him to follow her as she stood pelting him with arrows. She was beginning to think it had been a mistake bringing Anders and Wyll with her for this stage of the operation. She loved having them by her side, but as guardians they were almost too effective. Their close-up attacks were preventing Odahviing from moving from the balcony to the location where the trap was set to spring.

Finally, after Odahviing looked almost ready to collapse, he flew off again. Katja and her fellow defenders stood there panting, mostly unhurt, and waited. In moments he was back and she yelled at Anders and Wyll, “Run! Into the Porch! We need him to follow us!” As the huge reptile came crashing down behind them they sprinted into the dim recesses, and Odahviing chased them – only to have an enormous wooden bar lowered from the ceiling as he approached the center of the space, pinning him helpless to the floor.

Chapter 45: Negotiations

Success! Katja exulted, followed by now what? She approached the gigantic, trapped dragon leerily, staying a little off to the side lest he decide to toast her with his flames in payment for her trick. Odahviing rumbled, “Horvutah med kodaav. Caught like a bear in a trap.” He seemed to be disgusted with himself for falling for this scheme. He continued in dragon speech, “Zok frini grind ko grah viiki, Dovahkiin,” then said “Ah, I forget. You do not have the dovah speech.”

Anders and Wyll hung back, panting, letting their hurts mend themselves while their Dragonborn lover did the negotiating. Odahviing went on, “My… eagerness to meet you in battle was my… undoing, Dovahkiin. I salute your, hmm, low cunning in devising such a grahmindol – stratagem.” Speaking as though it pained him, he added “Zu’u bonaar. You went to a great deal of trouble to put me in this… humiliating position. Hind siiv Alduin, hmm? No doubt you want to know where to find Alduin?”

Despite the size difference, it appeared that Katja had the upper hand here. And she seized it firmly. “That’s right,” she demanded. “Where is he hiding?” The revenant monster replied, “Rinik vazah. An apt phrase. Alduin bovul. One reason I came to your call was to test your Thu’um for myself.” He went on, “Many of us have begun to question Alduin’s lordship, whether his Thu’um was truly the strongest. Among ourselves, of course,” he demurred. “Mu ni meyye. None were yet ready to openly defy him.”

Odahviing seemed to be straying from the topic, perhaps intentionally. “You were telling me where to find Alduin?” Katja reminded him. He replied, “Unslaad krosis. Innumerable pardons. I digress. He has traveled to Sovngarde to regain his strength, devouring the sillesejoor… the souls of the mortal dead. A privilege he jealously guards… His door to Sovngarde is at Skuldafn, one of his ancient fanes high in the eastern mountains.”

The dragon continued in a warning tone, “Mindoraan, pah ok middovahhe lahvraan til. I surely do not need to warn you that all his remaining strength is marshaled there.” Then, concluding, he asked “Zu’u lost ofan hin laan… now that I have answered your question, will you allow me to go free?” Sure, Katja thought. Thanks for the info, ta-ta now. Not without some guarantees, first. “Do you promise to serve me?” she asked.

Odahviing replied, “Aam? Serve you?... no. Ni tiid. If and when you defeat Alduin, I will reconsider.” The battered monster seemed to searching for something he could offer her instead. “Hmm… krosis. There is one… detail about Skuldafn I neglected to mention.” Which would have remained unmentioned, Katja knew, if she’d simply let him fly away. “Tell me what you know, then,” she demanded.

“Only this,” the dragon replied. “You have the Thu’um of a dovah, but without the wings of one, you will never set foot in Skuldafn.” He continued wheedlingly, “of course… I could fly you there. But not while I’m imprisoned like this.” Katja didn’t know what to think. Could she really trust this… creature? If not, it would be insane to let him go. But if the only reason she had trapped him was to get to Alduin, and the only way she could get to Alduin was to trust Odahviing, then trust him she must. Unless there was another way?

Feeling as if her negotiating skills were improving, Katja said coldly “We seem to be at an impasse, then.” Odahviing was unmoved, however, replying “Indeed. Orin brit ro. I cannot leave here until you defeat Alduin, which you cannot do without my help.” Katja wavered. But in all of the dragon lore that she knew or had heard of, there was no mention of their wiliness or tendency to break their word once given. Maybe she had no choice.

While Katja was still hesitating, wondering if she should take the dragon’s bargain, Balgruuf’s court mage Farengar Secret Fire came in. He had apparently been lured by the chance to examine a living dragon close up, and Katja soon had the idea that his presence might act as a further incentive for Odahviing to make a bargain with her.

“Incredible!” Farengar exclaimed. “Uh… sir, you have no idea how long I have waited for such an opportunity!” The dragon looked taken aback, as the young mage continued, “I would be most appreciative if you would permit me to perform some, ah, tests on you. Purely in the interests of the advancement of knowledge.” Looking at Farengar as if he were a particularly annoying gnat, Odahviing said, “Begone, mage. Do not test my promise to the Dovahkiin.”

Undeterred, Farengar continued “I assure you, you will not even notice me. Most of them are hardly painful at all to a large dragon such as yourself.” Irileth, who was also standing nearby, spoke as Farengar headed around toward the dragon’s rear: “Farengar, very bad idea. Even for you.” Unheeding, Farengar (now hidden somewhere in the area near Odahviing’s tail) said, “Surely you won’t miss a few scales… or a small amount of blood…”

The dragon exploded in outrage. “Joor mey! What are you doing back there?” Convinced that there would be no better time to urge Odahviing to deal, Katya said “How about this? You agree not to harm me or my friends, and to stop helping Alduin. And you promise to take me to Skuldafn. Then I’ll set you free.” He replied, “Onikaan koraav gein miraad. It is wise to recognize when you only have one choice.” Was he talking about me or himself? Katja wondered.

Odahviing continued, “And you can trust me. Zu’u ni tahrodiis. Alduin has proven himself unworthy to rule. I go my own way now.” “Done,” Katja replied. She climbed the steps at the back of the hall to a balcony where one of the Whiterun Guards manned the mechanism that dropped the bar, telling him “Open the trap.” He looked at her questioningly, or so she assumed though his uniform’s helmet made it impossible to see his face. “You sure about that?” he asked. “You want to let that dragon loose after all the trouble to catch him in there?” “Just do it,” she replied, turning on her heel and hurrying back down the stairs.

The bar lifted. Odahviing, tattered and dripping blood from their earlier battle, made his way awkwardly across the stones of the Porch to the balcony. There he stood, awaiting her command to carry her away to the ill-omened Skuldafn. It suddenly struck Katja, with a sensation like an icy hand grasping her heart, what she was getting into. She had just signed up to have the dragon fly her, alone, to do battle with “all of Alduin’s strength,” in order to then enter the land of the dead and challenge the World-Eater there. There was a good chance she would never see Anders or Wyll again.

They were hanging back, watching in awe, as she prepared to climb aboard the enormous beast and take to the skies. Katja ran to them, pale faced, tears starting from her eyes. They drew together, and she hugged both of them. “If I don’t come back… I love you both!” she declared, struggling to keep from breaking down sobbing on the spot. Not the sort of image you want to project as The Dragonborn, savior of the world.

Katja took Anders’ face in her hands and kissed him, as he clasped her lightly. Then she did the same for Wyll. If she didn’t come back, she realized, they wouldn’t miss her for long because with nobody to stop Alduin, the world would be destroyed and everybody she had ever known and loved would be dead. This realization hardened her resolve, and with a grim smile she told Odahviing, “Let’s go.” Then she climbed up his scaly shoulder to perch on his neck, just behind the head, where she could hold onto his horns.

Odahviing seemed a lot happier now he was no longer trapped. For a creature used to the freedom of the skies, imprisonment would be a hard burden indeed. “Zok brit uth!” he cried, “I warn you, once you’ve flown the skies of Keizaal, your envy of the dov will only increase.” That’s assuming I can bring myself to open my eyes, thought Katja, as the dragon struggled forward a little further onto the balcony before flapping his wings and leaping into the sky.

Katja surprised herself by being exhilarated as they soared above the mountains, valleys, and streams of Skyrim. The view was so breathtaking (though, she had to admit, the smell of dragon in such close proximity to her nose was a little breathtaking as well) that it was as if she forgot to be terrified. “This is wonderful, Odahviing!” she whooped . “You were right!” Ah, to have wings and be able to travel like this whenever you wanted!

All too soon, Katja’s mount alit on an area of flat stone before a chasm, surrounded by steep mountains. On the far side of a narrow stone bridge loomed an ominous-looking stone fortress, its gate open. Soon, she would find out what “all Alduin’s strength” really meant. After she climbed down from his neck, Odahviing turned to her and said, “This is as far as I can take you. Krif voth ahkrin. I will look for your return, or Alduin’s.” With that he launched himself into the air and was gone.

Chapter 46: Skuldafn

Katja felt woefully alone and afraid, but took a deep breath and stiffened her resolve. She drew her best bow and nocked an Elven arrow. Creeping carefully toward the bridge, she had her eyes wide open, searching for enemies. Just then an arrow whizzed past her head, coming from one of the walls of the fortress on the far side of the bridge. A draugr, she realized; and as she took aim, she was utterly astounded when the undead warrior was suddenly hurled from its perch into the chasm below by dual bolts of lightning streaming from behind her left shoulder.

Katja whirled, dumbfounded. “Anders! You’re here! And Wyll… how?” She was almost crying again, so strong was her joy to see her two lovers, her protectors, her boon companions here beside her. Anders smiled at her, and came close to give her a little squeeze, saying. “While you were climbing onto the dragon, we just sneaked up onto his back in between the spines. I don’t think they have much feeling in that scaly hide of theirs. He didn’t even seem to notice we were there.” “Yeah,” Wyll added, delivering one of his famous grins and a second brief hug. “You didn’t think we were going to let you save the world all by yourself, did you?”

Katja reached out to draw them close, hugging them as much as was possible in heavy armor. “Oh, you two! I love you so much! I can’t believe you’re here – thank you!” At that point, a roar from the sky alerted them to a smallish dragon, which had just spotted them and was wheeling in for an attack. The three instantly scattered into a defensive formation. Katja readied Dragonrend and her bow, and between that and the combined efforts of her two champions, the beast had soon fallen to the stones of the bridge. Its flesh disintegrated almost immediately, as she quickly absorbed its soul.

For once, Katja was so distracted by the imminent peril all around that she passed through the exalting experience of the soul capture without paying any attention to it. The three of them moved on, up a flight of stairs, and were soon attacked by a trio of draugr. These were the first such undead guardians she had ever seen wandering around in daylight rather than down in the corridors of some tomb, but they were no less effective in the open. Sven’s explanation that some thought the draugr to be servants of the dragon cult was evidently borne out, if these were the “strength” Odahviing had spoken of.

Across a broad concourse stood another massive building, carved double doors set in the side. As the trio were deciding what direction to go they were attacked by another dragon. With three experienced dragon killers arrayed against it, it was down and giving up its soul to The Dragonborn in under a minute. After that, Katja decided to check the nearer building first and they ventured up a long, broad stone staircase at the front.

Before long more draugr began to appear, each attacking as soon as it sighted them. These seemed to be mostly of the middle-range type, draugr wights. Some of these had Thu’um, and Katja found herself staggered and nearly thrown down the stairs even from 50 feet away. Not wanting to use her own Shout with Wyll and Anders in the way, she settled for trying to make arrow shots on the walking corpses, even as her companions attacked them at close range. Wyll was a demon with his axe, hurling himself at his adversaries and shouting out curses. “I’ll see you dead! Victory or Sovngarde!” His fierceness thrilled her to the marrow even as she feared for his safety. He was not invincible… was he?

They fought their way up a series of staircases and went around a few corners, to find themselves at another pair of carved double doors similar to those across the courtyard. Now this, Katja thought, looked more like the entrance to a typical draugr den. She was not disappointed. Soon she, Anders and Wyll found themselves moving stealthily through a labyrinthine barrow, fraught with traps and draugr guardians. The draugr never knew what hit them.

There were puzzles, as well, and both Anders and Wyll stood in awe of Katja’s knack for these things. As if she knew what she was doing, she studied the surrounding walls and then set the rotating columns to show the correct animal symbol, in each case getting it right on the first try. A pull of the lever, and an iron gate raised itself to allow them to continue.

After the first of these puzzle gates, Katja had to swap her bow for a mace as she found her passage blocked by a thick net of spider webs. As soon as the way was clear, she switched back to the bow, quickly dispatching a frostbite spider the size of a large dog that had not yet noticed her approach.

That one’s death triggered the attack of three more, and Katja began dropping them one by one as they raced nearer and nearer. The last, and largest, almost had its fangs in her before her last arrow struck it, but a blast of lightning hurled by Anders dropped it at her feet. Katja, panting, took a moment to assess herself and decided she had not been poisoned.

The trio killed a few more spiders as they wound their way through a maze of corridors, then came into a second puzzle room. As Katja was approaching to inspect the situation, a pair of draugr burst from vertical sarcophagi on either side of the room. Wyll had chopped one into kindling almost before she got her bow up, and the other soon fell to blasts of Anders’ Destruction magic. My heroes, Katja thought with a wave of gratitude. She was so glad they were here!

The walls began opening out after they passed the second set of gates. They were attacked by a small pack of draugr all at once, keeping all three of them busy in a dizzying melee. Katja felt as if she wasn’t holding up her end, here. Bowshots from hiding were her best killing skill, and in these situations with friends and enemies all jumbled up together she could neither shoot nor Shout. Still, the men seemed to be handling their foes with ease, and enjoying it a great deal as well. Polishing off the latest round of undead foes, she found them grinning fiercely and looking to her to lead the way to the next batch. Perhaps she should just assume a management role and leave the killing to her staff.

Shortly they came to a series of unpopulated halls lined with bas-relief scenes, which reminded Katja a lot of the Hall of Stories in Bleak Falls Barrow. And sure enough, at the far end was one of those dragon claw doors. It was guarded by a draugr, but three against one was tough odds for him and he soon lay at their feet. Katja was immensely pleased to discover a diamond-tipped dragon claw among other items on his person, one that opened the puzzle door in short order.

A little further up, they came to a cavernous hall, with a catafalque lying in a central position up a broad flight of steps. Katja was relieved to find the platform littered with burial urns and embalming tools, rather than inhabited by a draugr Deathlord or some such. As they went along, she had of course been helping herself to a handful of gold there, a few gems or a potion there. The Dragonborn’s got to eat…

There seemed to be no enemies at all here, and as they moved beyond the catafalque Katja spotted what she now immediately recognized as a Word Wall. An area slightly above the center was already glowing faintly, and as she approached the familiar chorus sounded. Runes blazed to light on the wall and within her mind, teaching her the Call Storm shout. That ought to be useful, she thought, and infused the Shout with one of the dragon souls she had harvested, giving it the power that it needed for her to use it.

Katja felt empowered after the experience of acquiring the Shout, but she found her two companions looking bored. Time to move on! They needed to find Alduin’s portal to Sovngarde, so they could fight him in the one place where he could actually be killed. She led them up a flight of steps, and through a door that opened onto a raised courtyard.

As she came through the door Katja was immediately attacked by a draugr archer, shooting at her with Ancient Nord arrows from a dozen yards off. For a change, she was able to drop the foe before Wyll got there with his axe. But no fear – there were plenty more adversaries for her homicidal honeys to play with. Katja moved around as they fought, getting in a shot whenever the opportunity presented itself without hitting either of her companions.

In a minute or less, all of the undead had been returned to dead status, and Katja checked their motionless corpses for valuables before exploring further. Ahead, a stone tower had wooden walkways leading down. She went into it hesitantly, not knowing what perils awaited below; but it was unoccupied. At the very bottom, though, she found a chest with some really nice weapons and armor inside. That was worth the trip. There was no exit from the bottom of the tower, so Katja returned the way she had come down; and as she was nearing the top, looking up, her heart froze. An enormous dragon was perched like a vulture at the top of a tall tower ahead of her, its wings moving slightly.

Katja and her companions sneaked quietly back out of the tower and headed along the raised courtyard in the opposite direction, around a corner of the building from the seemingly quiescent dragon, which ignored them if it even ever saw them. Her heart already beating fast, Katja nearly jumped out of her skin when a pair of draugr wights appeared from around the corner and began attacking them at close range.

Anders fought the one nearer at hand, and after getting out of its range Katja focused her attention on the far one, with which Wyll was contending. He looked well on the way to defeating it, and she added her two septims’ worth with a well-aimed arrow shot. But just as the draugr fell, a swing of its war axe pitched Wyll over the edge of the courtyard, into a recess that plunged down to ground level some thirty feet below.

“Wyll!” she screamed, rushing to the edge. He had just vanished from sight! But as she approached the edge and looked down, she saw him, looking quite unhurt, clinging to a projection about halfway to the ground. “Are you all right?” Katja cried anxiously, though she could see that he was. Her heart was still in her throat. Were her golden warrior to be snatched from her life, it would be worse than losing a limb. He looked up, grinning at her, and said “I’m fine. Just hanging around…” with that he dropped the rest of the way to the ground, muscular legs flexing to absorb the shock. In moments he had run around to a staircase and climbed back up to join them.

Katja rushed to him and clasped him briefly. “Don’t do that!” she scolded him. “You just gave me a heart attack.” “Won’t happen again,” he rumbled, kissing her forehead. They shouldered their weapons and pushed on. Around another bend and up a flight of stairs, their eyes were suddenly drawn to a column made of scintillating arrows of light, rising from what appeared to be a stone pillar at the top of a short, narrow flight of steps ahead of them.

Katja turned to Anders questioningly. She’d come to rely on him as an encyclopedia of facts, but in this case he drew a blank. Shrugging, he said “My bet is that’s Alduin’s portal to the underworld. What else could it be?” “Good point,” she replied. While they’d been speaking, a curiously emaciated figure in what looked like a ragged brown robe was climbing the steps, approaching the column of darting light streaks. And Wyll, having decided that figure was hostile, was already most of the way up those steps and attacking it with his axe.

Katja and Anders broke off their conversation and ran to assist. Wyll’s battle with the strange figure had now pushed back out of the light column, and the two were fighting fiercely on the courtyard beside the pillar from which the light emanated. Now the light had vanished, but the two fought on. Katja saw a chance at a bowshot, and as her arrow struck home the thing vanished into a pile of ash. Wyll, once again, seemed unhurt.

Exploring the ash pile Katja came up with a twisted staff, probably one of those magical staffs she had heard about but not yet seen. There was also an odd-looking metal mask. Anders was watching over her shoulder as she sifted through the ashes, looking excited. “Let me see those!” he said, reaching for the staff and mask. She certainly had no idea what to do with them. Anders pointed the staff at the ground at the foot of the stairs, and a sheet of lightning shot out to engulf the stones. Whoa!

Next, Anders put the mask on his face. It rather spoiled his looks, but when he turned and blasted a nearby ornamental carving with fireballs, the “attack” seemed to go on for much longer than what he was usually capable of. Removing the mask to smile broadly at Katja and Wyll, he said “I knew it! That thing you just killed was a dragon priest!” Calming down a bit, he explained further. “The dragon priests were the servants of the dragons in ancient times, and they had special staffs and masks. This one” – beckoning to the mask in his hand – “Is Nahkriin. It boosts your magicka and gives you destruction spells for less power usage. Kind of ugly, though. Anyhow, it’s worth a fortune. Good score, love.”

Katja and Wyll goggled at him for a moment. When Anders got going on bits of obscure lore he’d managed to pick up in his magical studies and/or his years wandering Skyrim, it was hard to remember he was the same guy who had just slaughtered half a dozen draugr, almost without breaking a sweat. The three resumed their progress up the steps to where the portal had been, but there was nothing there but a stone circle, now. Anders spotted a small hole in that circle, and had an idea. He placed the staff in the hole and immediately the column of light reappeared, as a broad circle of swirling chunks of stone formed before them.

Chapter 47: Sovngarde

It looked hazardous, but Katja bit her lip and just stepped off into the light. Moments later all three of them were standing at the top of a series of stone staircases that ran down a hill. The walkway was flanked on either side by worn statues some twenty feet high, portraying figures robed and hooded. Around them, the land looked just like parts of Skyrim. Even the vegetation seemed the same, though the light was an odd color and the sky looked as if the aurora borealis had taken it over from one side to the other.

They left the staircases behind and headed along a path, seeing a building in the distance that Katja assumed must be Shor’s hall, the legendary Hall of Valor where the dead heroes of Skyrim feasted throughout eternity. They had barely set their feet on the trail when Katja spotted a dragon that could only be Alduin, riding the air currents above a rock promontory some distance away and roaring out his hunger. She and her companions ducked down, not wanting him to see them. He very likely held a grudge against these three.

A few dozen more yards down the trail Katja saw a figure garbed as a Stormcloak soldier coming their way, and she stood erect so that he would see her. This must be one of the dead, she guessed. The man spoke, saying “Turn back, traveler! Terror waits within this mist.” She could see a sort of mist swirling above a valley in the near distance. He continued, “Many have braved the shadowed vale but vain is all courage against the peril that guards the way.” “What is this mist?” Katja asked him. “I do not know,” he replied, “but none have passed through. Alduin, his hunger insatiable, hunts the lost souls snared within this shadowed valley. Can you lead the way to where Shor’s hall waits, beckoning us on to welcome long sought?”

This was monstrous, Katja thought. To die in battle, only to find one’s soul trapped in mists and devoured by a dragon instead of the reward one had been promised? “Yes,” she told the lost soul. “It’s at the far end of the valley from here.” He replied sadly, “I saw it fair when first I trod this long-sought path. The pain and fear vanished, dreamlike, and a vision beckoned – Shor’s hall, shimmering across the clouded vale. But quenched was hope by the shrouding mist – my mind is darkened. I’ve lost the way and wander blindly. Hurry! Before Alduin your life devours, bring word to Shor’s hall of our hard fate.”

Feeling a stab of pity for this forlorn creature, Katja told him “Follow me. I’ll lead you through this mist.” She was here, it seemed, to save not only the living but the dead. The former soldier answered sadly, “I’ll try to hold to your hopeful purpose. Quickly, before this encompassing fog once more snares me in the World-Eater’s net.”

They forged on, but before they had gone any great distance Alduin swooped down and snatched the Stormcloak like a hawk catching a running rabbit. Katja was stricken, watching as the World-Eater flew away again; but there was nothing she could do. Except to get to the Hall of Valor as quickly as possible, before Alduin ate any more mortal souls.

The three came to a hill standing between them and the hall in the distance, and up it ran a series of stone steps. Katja took them up to the top, only to find that the steps suddenly ended with no way down the other side. She cast about for another trail and eventually found that she could pick her way over the rocks to ground level on the left side, bringing them almost to the front of the Hall of Valor.

The Hall sprawled massive before them, taller in the middle and with stylized dragon carvings decorating the eaves. In front of it, a staircase flanked by massive bones, which must surely be dragon ribs, led to a bridge formed from an enormous dragon’s spine. And before this bridge stood an impressive warrior with dark shoulder-length hair. Irrepressible even in the midst of deadly peril, Katja couldn’t help admiring his massive chest and shoulders. Ah, if only you weren’t dead, she thought. Then wondered, can the dead get it up?

The faintest of smiles curved Katja’s lips, thankfully unseen by her two stalwart companions, as she approached the warrior. “What brings you, wayfarer grim, to wander here, in Sovngarde, souls-end, Shor’s gift to honored dead?” he asked ponderously. Whoo, they do talk funny around here… “I pursue Alduin, the World-Eater,” she told him. “A fateful errand,” he replied. “No few have charged to face the Worm since he first set his soul-snare here at Sovngarde’s threshold. But Shor restrained our wrathful onslaught – perhaps, deep-counseled, your doom he foresaw.”

Katja needed to get into the Hall and report the situation, hoping that she would find some help within. The place was crawling with legendary heroes, after all. “I seek entrance to the Hall of Valor,” she told the magnificent doorman. “No shade are you, as usually here passes, but living, you dare the land of the dead” he replied. Uh huh, you hit the nail right on the head, she thought. Now… He went on, “By what right do you request entry?” Time to play the Dovahkiin card. “By the right of birth,” she declared in her best approximation of hauteur. “I am dragonborn.” This seemed, finally, to make an impression. “Ah!” he exclaimed. “It’s been too long since last I faced a doom-driven hero of the dragon blood. Living or dead, by decree of Shor, none may pass this perilous bridge ‘til I judge them worthy by the warrior’s test.”

Uh oh. Katya grabbed her mace and shield, prepared to do battle with this guy who couldn’t be much more than twice her size. After all, dragons are a lot bigger than that and she’d brought them down a time or two. Of course, there was no stopping Anders and Wyll when they saw him attack her, and she barely had to lift her mace before he was declaring her the winner and new champion. Evidently the system here allowed you to count your entire team in your final score.

The dead warrior, recovering himself after his temporary defeat, told her “It is long since one of the living has entered here. May Shor’s favor follow you and your errand.” Nodding to him in thanks, Katja led her troop across the bridge. The spinous processes on this side were tall, requiring you to pick your way carefully along the short ribs lest you slip and find yourself in the chasm below.

On the far side of the bridge they stepped up onto the porch and entered through one of the tall, narrow doors. Inside, Katja saw that the Hall of Valor was constructed of stone. The space inside the doors was forty or fifty feet high, with feasting tables and an enormous, raised fire pit in the center. Two spitted whole oxen were roasting over the coals. There seemed to be surprisingly few people there, considering that this was supposed to be the eternal home of all the heroes of antiquity. Could Alduin have eaten that many?

As the trio descended the steps to the central hall, a tall, bearded Nord warrior dressed in antique armor approached them. He spoke, saying “Welcome, Dragonborn! Our door has stood empty since Alduin first set his soul-snare here. By Shor’s command we sheathed our blades and ventured not the vale’s dark mist. But three await your word to loose their fury upon the perilous foe. Gormlaith the fearless, glad-hearted in battle; Hakon the valiant, heavy-handed warrior; Felldir the old, far-seeing and grim.”

Gormlaith, Hakon, and Felldir! The three ancient Nords from the Elder Scroll’s “vision” or whatever it was! If anybody could help Katja fight Alduin, it was those three. Though she’d put her money on Anders and Wyll, if it came to that. She moved a little closer to the impressive fellow with his long dark-blond hair and he reiterated, “The three await your word to loose their fury upon the perilous foe.” Thanking him, Katja stepped further into the room, looking around. She thought she might be able to recognize those three, having watched their battle with Alduin 3,000 years in the past.

As she did so, Anders caught her arm and hissed, “Ysgramor! That was Ysgramor!” “Really?” She whispered back at him. Even in High Rock, the deeds of Ysgramor were legendary. He was said to be the ancestor from whom all Nordic kings were descended. “Absolutely. I recognized him from his statue. Wow, Ysgramor…” Anders would probably like to stay here interviewing all the ancient heroes and pumping them for lore, Katja thought affectionately. But she just wanted to kill the damn dragon and go home.

She shortly spotted three familiar-looking figures on the far side of the fire pit, and they were looking at her expectantly. The clarity of Katja’s sight in the scroll vision had been poor, but there was no doubt these were the warriors she sought. The woman, feisty Gormlaith, spoke urgently: “At long last! Alduin’s doom is now ours to seal – just speak the word and with high hearts we’ll hasten forth to smite the worm wherever he lurks.”

A gray-bearded man wearing mage robes, who must be Felldir, said “Hold, comrades – let us counsel take before battle is blindly joined. Alduin’s mist is more than a snare – its shadowy gloom is his shield and cloak. But with four Voices joined, our valor combined, we can blast the mist and bring him to battle.” Katja then turned to a grim and fierce-looking one-eyed warrior, surely Hakon, as he put in, “Felldir speaks wisdom – the World-Eater, coward, fears you, Dragonborn. We must drive away his mist, Shouting together, and then unsheathe our blades in desperate battle with our black-winged foe.”

With that, the three headed for the doors. Katja prepared the Clear Skies Shout, fixing it in her mind, as she and her companions followed them. With six such doughty warriors, four of them with the powers of the Thu’um at their command and two of them destruction mages, the worm didn’t stand a chance! They filed across the bone bridge to stand on the slope below the entry to the hall.

Gormlaith directed their efforts as the four Voices thundered out in unison, “LOK-VAH-KOOR!” The sound was ear-splitting, and the mists ripped away. But moments later, the voice of Alduin could be heard Shouting “VEN-MUL-RIIK!” and the mists reformed, instantly. The four repeated their Shout, but each time the mists cleared Alduin, circling above them, would call them back. After the third time, Gormlaith called “Stand fast! His strength is failing! Once more, and his might will be broken!” Felldir added, “His power crumbles – do not pause for breath!”

Katja Shouted as she never had before, pouring her full power into it as “LOK-VAH-KOOR!” exploded across the landscape before them. And the mist vanished for good! Now they could see Alduin, and he was coming for them in a rage. “Use Dragonrend!” Gormlaith urged. “Strike him from the skies!” As soon as Katja had recovered enough power, she did so. The other three Voices had that Shout as well, and once Alduin was on the ground he was under attack with bow, blade, and spell from a half dozen champions.

But oh, he was strong! Much stronger here than he had been at Throat of the World, Katja thought, or perhaps it was just that Paarthurnax’s contribution to that battle had been greater than she realized. They brought Alduin to the ground time and time again, yet he seemed unscathed. Between times, he flew around raining destruction on them with Fire Breath and whatever spell it was he used that caused meteors to fall everywhere.

Katja was spinning in place, trying to keep Alduin in view so that she could hit him with the Dragonrend shout if he hovered, and simultaneously trying to avoid being killed by the fireballs that were dropping around her. She didn’t even realize that she was badly hurt until she suddenly staggered and almost fell to the ground, bleeding and battered. In an instant Wyll was at her elbow, handing her a health potion. As it took effect and her thinking became clearer, Katja realized that he and Anders had come better prepared than she had – and that they were keeping an eye on her.

A powerful wave of love and gratitude swept through her, before her attention was wrenched away again by Alduin as he came in again and she blasted him out of the sky with her Shout. Katja had noticed that he was coming to ground in the same place each time, which made it a little easier for her to have her Dragonbane bow ready.

And this time, as her companions and the three ancient heroes swarmed around him, Katja was able to strike him with a critical shot, the arrow sliding deep into the flesh along his side and passing between two of his ribs. It buried itself to the fletchings, and the First-Born, most ancient of dragons, gave out a cry of mortal agony.

Zu’u unslaad! Zu’u nis oblaan!” he screamed. As Alduin sagged to the ground, his life force ebbing to nothing, his scaly hide became crisscrossed with glowing dark orange lines. Then he began to disintegrate before their eyes, his outer form flaking and flying apart to reveal a darker dragon-shape within. It coiled like a serpent made of ink-drops, writhing in the air. And then it just… faded away.

Katja was watching avidly, her chest heaving. Alduin was gone! The three ancient heroes were jubilant, and she herself was as pleased to find Anders and Wyll in one piece as she was at the defeat of their relentless foe. The Hall’s gate guardian approached her as she stood, still taking it all in. “This was a mighty deed!” he declared. “The doom of Alduin encompassed at last, and cleansed is Sovngarde of his evil snare. They will sing of this battle in Shor’s hall forever. But your fate lies elsewhere. When you have completed your count of days, I may welcome you again, with glad friendship, and bid you join the blessed feasting.”

Katja appreciated the thought, but while it did look as if they might get a pretty good party going in there, it didn’t seem like the way she wanted to spend the rest of eternity. Or even the next couple of days. There was that unresolved question about the virility, or lack thereof, of the honored dead. And she had two men at her elbow whose virility was beyond question. She approached the warrior.

“When you are ready to rejoin the living, just bid me so, and I will send you back,” he said. “Right now, please,” she replied. They had done it! And now she was free to go adventuring for fun and profit, spend days just enjoying herself at the Suite with her beautiful lovers, or whatever else she wanted to do. But first, the ancient warrior had a gift to offer her. “Return now to Nirn, with this rich boon from Shor, my lord: a Shout to bring a hero from Sovngarde in your hour of need.”

This was an unexpected boon, indeed! The words “HUN-KAAL-ZOOR” sank into her mind: Hero, Champion, Legend. Even as the chorus rang in Katja’s ears, the landscape around her faded to white. She had half expected he would return them to the point in Skuldafn where they’d entered Sovngarde in the first place. But instead, she found herself and her companions standing on a snowy expanse surrounded by rocky peaks.

Chapter 48: Aftermath

Katja jumped, reaching for her bow. That was a dragon, flying down to land on the low peak in front of her. And there was another, and another – they were all around! Anders and Wyll were on the alert too, ready to do battle against insurmountable odds; but Katja soon realized these dragons were not attacking them. Turning around, she spotted a Word Wall, with ancient Paarthurnax perched upon it. They were at Throat of the World, and the dragons had gathered – to mourn?

One spoke: “Sahrot thur quahnaraan.” Then he took to the air. Others came and went, all around them, as Paarthurnax yet rested atop the Word Wall. Katja approached him, hoping for some explanation. “Dovahkiin los ok dovahkriid,” he said in his deep, ponderous voice. And again, “Thu’umii los nahlot.” She might be Dovahkiin, kin to the dovah, but Katja felt profoundly out of place at this gathering of dragonkind. If her soul was the soul of a dragon, her human heart and mind could not comprehend what passed here.

Finally, Paarthurnax spoke to Katja in Common speech. “So, it is done. Alduin dilon. The Eldest is no more, he who came before all others, and has always been.” She sensed a deep sadness there, and understood the reason for it – but she felt a need to justify what she had done. “Alduin brought this on himself,” she told the ancient dov. “Indeed,” he replied. “Alduin wahlaan daanii. His doom was written when he claimed for himself the lordship that properly belongs to Bormahu – our father Akatosh. But I cannot celebrate his fall. Zu’u tiiraz ahst ok mah. He was my brother once. This world will never be the same.”

It’ll be better, Katja thought, somewhat stung. Though why she should expect dragons to thank her for killing one of their own, she couldn’t explain. “I was just fulfilling my destiny as Dragonborn,” she said. Paarthurnax seemed to acknowledge her justification. “Indeed, you saw more clearly than I – certainly more clearly than Alduin. Rok funta koraav. Perhaps now you have some insight into the forces that shape the vennesetiid… the currents of Time. Perhaps you begin to see the world as a dovah.”

Katja had nothing to say to this. She was troubled by the weight of Paarthurnax’s words, and the import of her deeds. She, a 22-year-old snip of a girl, had ended the life of a being ancient beyond belief. Paarthurnax continued, “But I forget myself. Krosis. Melancholy is an easy trap for a dovah to fall into. You have won a mighty victory. Sahrot krongrah – one that will echo through all the ages of this world for those who have eyes to see. Savor your triumph, Dovahkiin. This is not the last of what you will write upon the currents of Time.”

With that the ancient dov shook himself, declaring “Goraan! I feel younger than I have in many an age.” As he took to the air, his words could still be clearly heard. “Many of the dovahhe are now scattered across Keizaal. Without Alduin’s lordship, they may yet bow to the vahzen… rightness of my Thu’um. But willing or no, they will hear it! Fare thee well, Dovahkiin!” And with that he was gone. Katja stood as if spellbound, watching him fly away. The thought crossed her mind that his motives in helping her against Alduin might not have been so altruistic as she’d assumed. But she still didn’t believe that he deserved death.

As Katja turned to her companions, another huge dragon came down to land at her feet. Odahviing! “Pruzah wundunne wah Wuth Gein. I wish the old one luck in his… quest,” he said. “But I doubt many will wish to exchange Alduin’s lordship for the tyranny of Paarthurnax’s ‘Way of the Voice’.” He went on, “As for myself, you’ve proven your mastery twice over. Thuri, Dovahkiin. I gladly acknowledge the power of your Thu’um. Zu’u Odahviing. Call me when you have need, and I’ll come if I can.”

“Thank you, Odahviing,” Katja said as the huge dragon gathered himself and then flew away. Now she and her companions found themselves alone on the snowy mountaintop. Anders and Wyll stood on either side of her, their arms crossed across her back. Shaking off the pall of sadness the dragons’ melancholy had cast on her, she turned her head to look at first one then the other – joy bubbling up within her like the purest spring water. “You did it,” Anders said, his eyes glowing. “What are you going to do for an encore?”

Katja beamed at him and Wyll in turn, as if the sun shone from her soul. To them, it did. “I want to go back to the College and learn more magic,” she said. Then, picking up speed, “and spend some time in Solitude, visit Markarth… oh! And find out who put out a contract with the Dark Brotherhood on me…” She began ticking things off on her fingers as her lovers watched in amusement. “Take a sea voyage, raid some tombs… we’ll be rich!” She stopped for a heartbeat, eyes sparkling and breath coming faster. “But first,” she continued, “I think we could all use a bath.”

Anders and Wyll’s eyes met across the top of Katja’s head, and they grinned at each other. Then they said, in unison, “How can I argue with that?”

The End (for now)

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