Tara and Katla stared at each other.
“What in Oblivion?!” Tara said. The voice had been everywhere. A booming voice that came from above. It shook them for a moment. As if the Divines themselves had spoken.
Katla looked to be in awe. She stared at the sky, looking towards The Throat of the World.
“That was the Greybeards,” she said. “I…that’s something I never thought I’d hear in my lifetime.”
They started walking again. Tara gave her a quizzical look. “The old men who teach this shout-magic thing? Was that a shout?”
Katla nodded. “Must be. Not like I’ve ever heard one before.”
They were walking along the road from Riverwood, heading, eventually, to Riften, a city in the southeast Katla insisted they go to next.
“It’ll be winter soon,” she’d said that morning. “I don’t think we should get ourselves trapped in Winterhold, or Windhelm, for the winter. It’s brutally cold.”
“You have business in Riften, I take it?” Tara had asked.
“Yes. There’s a court wizard there, Wylandriah. She might know something about, you know.”
Tara had agreed. She wondered why Katla didn’t want to go straight to Winterhold. Wouldn’t the College hold the most information? But, secrecy was probably a good idea. One court wizard versus an entire College of them. Plus, Tara had to admit she hadn’t thought yet about how cold Skyrim might get. She’d need to invest in some furs soon.
“What was that word they said?” Tara asked, as they continued walking. It was another gorgeous autumn day. The river, White River, Tara had learned it was called, was steady and sure on their right. To their left, some rocky and forested ground, which butted up to The Throat of the World. An ancient Nord ruin, Katla called it Bleak Falls Barrow, sat high in the mountains across the river. The architecture was striking, large angled stone archways leading to some stone structure built right into the rock. You couldn’t help but stare at it as you walked along the road.
Katla thought for a moment. “I think it’s an ancient language. The language they teach? I don’t know what it means, though. Maybe it’s in one of your Nord history books.” She stuck her tongue out at her.
“Not sure why you can’t just be my personal Nord historian,” Tara replied, also sticking out her tongue.
“I’ll be your personal Nord something else.” Katla winked. Tara laughed and blushed.
They continued down the road a ways, Tara keeping an eye out for danger. She’d heard wolves in the distance, but none came near them. Bandits were her top concern, as, at least by her map, there were several caves nearby. Caves almost always held bandits, wild animals, or even worse. They didn’t need fresh trouble.
Of course, there was still the concern more assassins would attack. Apparently, once the Dark Brotherhood took a contract, they wouldn’t stop. How to get the contract cancelled? Katla couldn’t have this over her head for the rest of her life. Maybe I need to kill whoever hired them, Tara thought. These necromancers. Once she knew what this was all really about, of course. Whatever the object was.
Give her time.
They came around a curve in the road, it was curving up slightly to meet another road, when Tara saw a sight that made her stop.
Three stone pillars sat at the edge of the road, at the river, on a stone, round platform. Each pillar was intricately carved, with a hole near the top of the pillar, letting light through.
“The Guardian Stones!” Katla exclaimed. “I’ve never seen them in person.” She skipped over to them. Skipped. Tara had to smile. That was charming, she thought. She sprinted to catch up.
They both stepped up on the platform. Each pillar had a different figure carved on them. They were constellations, with figures etched to what each represented. The Warrior, The Mage, and The Thief.
“They’re beautiful,” Tara said. Tara had seen various shrines to the Daedra in Cyrodiil during her travels with Freta. Hidden shrines to the deities, the ones considered lesser than the Divines, the ones evil by most standards. They’d avoided them, of course. There had also been a couple of the ruined Oblivion Gates, the old stone structures from the Oblivion Crisis, the great event two hundred years ago, in the Third Era, when Mehrunes Dagon, the worst of the Daedra, had tried to enter Nirn, their world.
She’d seen nothing like these pillars, though, in Cyrodiil, and they did not exist in High Rock, either. Definitely, a Nord custom of some kind.
“They grant blessings,” Katla said, her voice carried an aura of wonder. “You choose which one confers the blessings you want.” She stepped towards The Thief and pressed her hand to the stone. A blue, glowing light filled the etched lines, illuminating the figure. A blue orb of light appeared suddenly in the hole at the top of the pillar. It faded within a minute. Katla stepped back and smiled at her.
“Archers have to be sneaky. Seemed the best choice for me.” She nodded her head at The Warrior. “Touch it.”
Tara studied The Warrior, then looked at The Mage stone. Which one was she?
No, she thought. I’m here for The Mage. I’m here in Skyrim for magic.
You deny who you are.
The Mage. All this time. All this sacrifice. For The Mage. To be a mage.
Let go of who never came to pass. Let go of that pain. Embrace who you are now.
Tara felt tears start to form. Who was she?
“Tara?” Katla asked. Her voice was gentle, worried.
Tara looked at her. “I…I don’t know which one.”
Katla studied her, then gave her a gentle smile. “That is for you to decide.”
Tara looked at The Mage. The sun was behind them, so its rays were just now lighting up The Mage. Was it inviting her? She looked at The Warrior. It was closest to the rushing river, sun rays already enveloped it. There was a strength, and comfort, in the face of the warrior figure.
Stop denying who you are.
Who am I?
Tara stepped off the platform. “Let’s go,” she said.
Katla looked at her for a moment, nodded, and then stepped off the platform. She pointed to the section of road that curved to their right.
“That way,” she said.
They walked in silence for a while, the sun continued to rise, as did the road. They were climbing. Katla had said they’d pass by the now destroyed Helgen, then take the left road up, into the mountains. It was the pass that led into the Rift, the hold Riften sat in. A new hold, so a new jarl would be in control of the territory.
The assassin attacked as they passed under a small outcropping on their left. A short cliff, rich dirt and tree roots erupted out from it, just over their heads.
This one was an Argonian, the reptilian people from Black Marsh. Another Dark Brotherhood assassin, in red and black leather.
Tara heard a shift in the ground above them and looked up in time to see her leaping down, dagger out. Tara rolled right, coming out of the roll with both axes drawn. Katla was faster.
She’d jumped back, pulled out her bow and drawn an arrow before Tara finished her roll. Her arrow hit, catching the assassin in her heart. Tara sheathed her axes, approached, and examined the dead Argonian. She found the contract note.
“It’s for you.” She confirmed. “Same as the other one.” She crumbled it in frustration. How had they found them so fast?
Katla pulled her arrow out of the body and wiped it down. Her face remained still, unreadable.
“More will come,” Tara said.
Katla nodded, staring at the body. She looked at Tara, fear now on her face.
“I…How did they find us so fast?”
Tara thought about the past day. She sighed.
“I don’t know. Maybe they send more than one at a time. Maybe people are easily bribed for information. We’ve been careful.” What could she say to comfort Katla? She had nothing.
Katla nodded. “I guess.” She looked at Tara again. “I’m scared. This is serious.”
Tara felt her heart pulled. “I know,” she said, softly. “I’ll do everything I can to protect you. I’m not a soldier, or even a professional bodyguard, but I have good instincts. I’m not leaving you before we figure out how to cancel the contract.”
Katla’s face relaxed and she gave her a small smile. “That’s a commitment.”
Tara smiled, then chuckled. “You better make it worth my while.”
Katla laughed. She winked. “I will.”
“Let’s get to, what is it again, Ivarstead?”
Katla nodded. “Yes, Ivarstead, then Shor’s Stone, then Riften. Maybe we’ll climb the seven thousand steps, just to get away from everyone.”
“The how many steps?! To what?”
“Come on. I’ll explain,” Katla said. They continued on and Tara learned about the famous pilgrimages some made to visit the Greybeards. Her personal Nord history lesson.