The arrow pierced her armor and drove itself into Tara’s right shoulder.
With a yelp, she went down on her right knee. Her right axe fell as her arm and hand twitched out of control from the shock of injury. She raised her left arm and pointed her hand. The fireball appeared and launched at the assassin before she’d given it any thought. An instinct, gut reaction to the arrow. The pain.
The assassin’s screams only lasted seconds, before they collapsed in a heap of ashes. One down.
Tara broke off the tail of the arrow and reached behind her shoulder and pulled it out. Daedric. No wonder it’d cut through her leather armor like butter. She had no more time to dwell on it.
She picked up her axes again. Her right shoulder protested, but worked. She turned to look for Katla and the other two assassins. Please let them not have…
Katla had managed to climb on top of a massive rock outcrop to the left of the road they’d been walking on, headed to Windhelm from Kynesgrove.
Tara saw one assassin directly below the rock, stepping and dodging, a constant blur, keeping Katla from getting a good shot. In a matter of seconds, Katla had wasted five arrows trying to hit them.
Where was the other one?
Tara scanned around Katla. The third one, a woman, had to be nearby. Only one had a bow and arrows when they attacked. The one now incinerated.
Where was the other one? She had to be…where? Other side of the rock, just out of Tara’s view?
The one in sight, an Imperial by the size of him, kept his dodging up, but wasn’t attacking Katla.
Distracting her from the other one.
The third assassin appeared. She leapt suddenly onto the rock, lunging for Katla with her dagger raised.
Tara would never get to her in time. She couldn’t throw one of her axes fast enough. Certainly not run and jump onto the rock in time to deflect the dagger.
She was going to lose Katla. She couldn’t lose her.
“NO!” she screamed.
The word escaped before she’d thought it. As instinctive as the fireball had been.
As instinctive as the wave that shot out from Tara with her scream.
The dodging assassin went flying down the road, landing more than thirty meters away.
The lunging assassin flew off the rock, a scream of shock escaping her as she was lifted into the air and blown back. Her dagger fell on the rock with a clang.
Katla killed them each with one shot. Her back was to Tara for a moment, as the assassins had been blown away from Tara as much as her.
The wave hadn’t touched Katla. She still stood on the rock, as if invulnerable to its force.
She turned and their eyes met.
Shock, amazement, curiosity, and confusion all converged across Katla’s face. And fear. Fear was winning.
“What in Oblivion was that?!”
Katla’s voice was surprisingly quiet, almost a whisper. The question didn’t come with a loud yell, no sudden raising of her voice. Instead, her voice carried the same mix of emotions as her face.
Tara found herself speechless. Why? Why hadn’t she told her about them before?
“Tara. What was that?”
Katla leapt down off the rock in a smooth motion, sheathing her bow just as she landed. The move was a thing of beauty, demonstrating Katla’s athleticism and skill more than any shot. Under different circumstances, it would’ve deserved commentary.
“I…” Tara started. She’d climbed to her feet, and was about to sheath her axes, when a wave of dizziness hit. She dropped down to one knee again.
“You’re hurt!” Katla knelt in front of her and looked at her right shoulder. Tara looked at it, too, and realized she was bleeding profusely. The armor around her shoulder was slick with blood, and rivulets of blood ran down her right arm. The arrow had done more damage than she realized.
“A healing potion from my bag…” Tara said. She raised her left hand and called forth a healing spell. The bleeding stopped, and she felt her skin close, before exhausting her magicka.
Katla had the potion at Tara’s lips within seconds. Tara drank. A warm glow spread across her body, working its way from her head all the way to her toes. She could tell the wound had healed completely. The dizziness vanished.
Tara’s heart was still pounding, though.
Of course it was. They needed to talk.
Katla’s eyes bored into hers. She still looked confused, but now worry joined in the emotional dance on her face.
“What was that?” she asked. Her voice was firm.
“I thought I was about to lose you,” Tara said. “I couldn’t lose you.”
Katla stood, pulling Tara up to her feet.
“That doesn’t answer my question,” Katla said. She looked around. “Where’s the third assassin?”
Tara pointed to the pile of ashes. Katla’s mouth dropped open. She closed it, then looked at Tara. Worried and frowning.
“How…I thought you weren’t good with magic?”
Tara sighed. Why hadn’t she told her more back in Riften? Those months together. The trust they were supposed to be building.
You needed to be honest. She can’t trust you if you don’t trust her.
“Let’s get going,” Tara said. “Before more assassins show up.”
She went over to the dead Imperial assassin. She found the contract note with Katla’s name in seconds. She let her hand catch fire and burn the note. She ran over to the other one, the woman who’d nearly reached Katla. A Breton. Tara burned her note as well. Best not to let anyone else find these contracts and know the danger Katla was in. Or be tempted to turn her in for coin.
She turned to head back up the road, back on track to Windhelm.
Katla hadn’t moved from her spot.
“That…I don’t know what you call it…force. And whatever fire you just used to incinerate someone,” Katla said. Her eyes were intense. An angry fire burned within them. “That’s why your family kept you from magic, isn’t it?”
“Please,” Tara said. “Let’s get out of the open. We need to get to Windhelm. Find somewhere safe. Then we can talk.”
Katla shook her head. “Answer the questions. You’re avoiding. I won’t have it, Tara. I want answers.”
Tara closed her eyes for a moment, and pulled in a deep breath. She couldn’t be like Mira, how Mira avoided answering her questions. Had kept things from her. She couldn’t treat Katla how Mira treated her.
Be honest. Stay with her.
“It’s complicated,” Tara said. Her voice was quiet. Tired. “The force…I call them anguish waves. They came later. After my family was already abusing me.” She took another breath. “But, yes, my fire magic started this. Started their fear and oppression of my magical abilities.”
Katla’s face fought through several emotions. The anger shell cracked. Tara saw a glimmer of compassion at the mention of abuse. She also saw fear. And…betrayal? Hurt? This explanation wasn’t enough.
“Please, Katla,” Tara pleaded. “If I’m going to protect you, we need to get out of here. Now. I will tell you in Windhelm. It’s a long story.”
“Fine.” Katla’s voice was clipped. “Let’s go.”
They walked in silence. Fresh snowfall started as they approached the city. So much for spring. Unless this far north was always this cold, much like Bruma remained snowy year round, Tara thought.
Tara realized some of the coldness wasn’t the weather. Katla wouldn’t say a word or look at her.
“Know where we should stay in Windhelm?” she asked her.
Tara stopped herself from sighing in frustration.
“I’ll look for a place. Tucked away. Where no one would think to look for us.”
Katla didn’t respond, just kept walking.
The air turned colder. Tara gave up hope for a thaw from the weather or Katla anytime soon.