Katla stepped into the dark alley. Where to hide?
Some barrels stood against the stone wall, just before the back door to someone’s home. In two moves, she was crouched behind them.
She watched and waited.
She heard someone approach, soft steps on the hard stone of Solitude’s streets.
Katla hovered her right hand over her daedric dagger. The daedric dagger Tara had taken off that first Dark Brotherhood assassin she’d killed. Tara had insisted Katla keep the dagger.
“You can’t shoot everyone with a bow and arrow. Keep the dagger. For close quarter fights.”
The first time Tara had saved her. The first of many.
Gods, why had she left her?
Magic. Tara wouldn’t give it up. Katla couldn’t stay. Leaving had to be what would force her to consider giving it up.
And Mira, hopefully. Mira had promised Katla she’d talk to Tara about giving it up. She thought she could convince her this time.
Mira. How different from Tara. Hard to get a read on her. She loved Tara and regretted what she’d done. Katla believed her on those points. Maybe Tara would, too.
The footfalls hit a crescendo and Katla placed her fingers around the dagger, ready to pull it out of its sheath. A shadow crossed the alley, lit by the lantern post in front of the Temple of the Divines, where Katla had left moments before.
The shadow quickly passed, as did the Imperial woman the footsteps belonged to. The sounds of her steps faded as she continued to wherever she was going.
Not following me, Katla breathed. She relaxed and stood.
I’m not paranoid, she thought. She couldn’t be too careful. She needed to get back home.
The safest route was also the closest. The Temple of the Divines, where she’d met with Styrr, was close to Castle Dour, where the Imperial army was stationed. General Tullius himself was here in Solitude.
If she went through the Castle Dour grounds, a staircase led up to the city walls. Katla could walk the walls all the way back home. Enough guards patrolled the walls, plus the Castle grounds were littered with Imperial soldiers, all practicing, or generally standing about. No one would dare approach her.
Katla left the alley and made her way home.
Not really home. Certainly, not a place she felt relaxed. More safehouse.
Her safehouse sat above The Winking Skeever Tavern and Inn, near the front gates of Solitude. The place was well designed, with a cozy feel. And it was hers.
Corpulus Vinius, owner of The Winking Skeever, had offered it to her for a price she couldn’t resist. He’d had it built in hopes to turn it into a private, romantic rental to offer guests, but few had taken him up on the offer, preferring to just rent a standard room in the inn, no matter what activities they were up to. Corpulus had learned the hard way Nords weren’t a very romantic people. Travelers didn’t seem to want to spend time in The Lucky Skeever, as he’d named it, either.
“I just want it off my hands,” he’d told her when she was negotiating a room rental from him, wanting the one at the back of the inn, for privacy.
It’d taken almost all her gold, but it was hers. She had the privacy she needed and the place was fully furnished. It gave her a high vantage point overlooking much of Solitude. Also, it sat across town from the home she’d grown up in here.
They had to be watching the old home, even as it was occupied by someone else. Why had she come to Solitude? Like Dragonbridge, the cultists must have people staked nearby, hoping perhaps she’d come here, or have hidden the soul gem here.
Retrieving her father’s ebony bow had been easy enough. She’d camped above Dragonbridge and waited until late night to dig it up. She’d preserved it well, and it looked no worse for wear, considering the three years it’d been buried. She’d left town immediately, not risking staying even one night.
When she’d had a moment, a quick practice of shooting iron arrows into trees had allowed her to make a few adjustments to the bow. It felt like hers now, not Dad’s.
Of course it did. Dad was gone. They were gone. She still didn’t understand why.
Katla stepped inside The Lucky Skeever just as a sob escaped. They’d been gone four years now.
When did grief stop attacking from the shadows, rising out of Oblivion to overwhelm? Did it ever?
The deeper the love, the deeper the grief.
Stop it, she thought. Get a hold of yourself. Grieving leaves you vulnerable. There would be time for that later, after the cultists were dead and the soul gem destroyed.
Katla wiped her face and ran her fingers through her hair, to clear her mind. She laughed when her fingers quickly ran out of hair to run through. Her short hair. She’d gotten it cut in Stonehills, a small village, on her trek to Dragonbridge.
She’d also bought and changed into more casual clothes, and stopped wearing her leather armor. She needed to look different. Just another citizen. Not some skilled archer.
It wasn’t much, but she hoped the short hair and change of clothes would be enough for watching eyes to skip past her.
She stopped in front of the small mirror hanging on the pillar near the front door. She liked the look. It really changed one’s face without having to go to one of those face sculpting wizards she’d heard about. The ones that used magic to change your look. She’d never do that.
Would Tara like her hair this way? She better, Katla thought. Because I like it, so it stays.
Tara. Her heart stabbed. Gods, she wanted Tara’s arms around her right now.
How long before they would see each other again?
If Tara would have her back.
She would. She had to. Their connection was too deep. This was only a necessary separation.
Katla reached into her pocket and pulled out the note she’d received from the courier two days ago. Tara had written her. She’d kept it simple and short.
I’m working with Mira. For you.
I love you.
She loved her. That’s all Katla had needed to hear.
Katla made herself something to eat and started writing. One more letter to Tara before she left Solitude.
She’d written Tara a week ago, though it wasn’t a letter per se. Just the code. The code they’d need to use from now on between them. In case anyone intercepted their letters.
Now, it was time for a real letter to Tara. She’d tell her what she’d learned from Styrr. And send her the key to The Lucky Skeever. Tara would need a place to stay when she got to Solitude. Katla had no doubt Tara was trying to find where’d she’d gone.
There was no telling how long she’d work with Mira, or how successful Mira’s training would be. If Katla knew Tara, and she did, Tara’s patience wouldn’t last long. She’d want to find Katla. She’d go to Dragonbridge or come to Solitude first. No way she’d respect Katla’s request they stick to letters.
Tara’s impatience worked to Katla’s advantage, though. The red soul gem wouldn’t be left alone for long. Katla looked around. Where to leave it? The Lucky Skeever would be locked, no one would enter again until Tara arrived.
Still. She couldn’t just leave it lying out in the open. That seemed dangerous. Tempting the Daedra for mischief, even. Where to put it? She wouldn’t say where in the letter, just that it was here.
Katla lifted her head up and looked towards the bedroom, which took up most of the second floor. Of course, in the nightstand by the bed. Similarly to where Katla had found it in her parents’ bedroom on that terrible night. She wouldn’t leave it out like her parents had, though. She wouldn’t make that deadly mistake.
Tears threatened to sprout at the memory. Katla shook her head, as if shaking the memory away.
Finish the letter. Hide the soul gem. Then, pack.
The ship Tava’s Venture was leaving early in the morning, and Katla had to be on it. No other ship currently docked in Solitude was headed to High Rock.
She’d leave that out of the letter. Tara couldn’t know where she was going. Not for a while. Not until Katla had answers.
Katla reached for her pouch, the one with the soul gem. She could feel the gem calling through the fabric of the pouch. What was captured in this gem?
If Styrr’s theories were right, something terrible. Katla hadn’t told him about the gem, but his knowledge of the Wolf Queen, Queen Potema Septim, and her use of necromancy back in the Third Era, had been enough to get Katla’s mind working. He was a wealth of information the history books left out about the woman and her evil.
Katla looked again at the pouch. Was it wise to leave it with Tara? To leave it with a descendant of Tara Geonette? Would it tempt Tara? Call to her to release it? To turn it back over to these necromancers worshiping a long dead leader?
Katla could trust her. She had to. Tara had saved her life too many times. Tara was a good person, as horrified by what she knew of Geonette as Katla had been. Katla imagined the information from Mira had only reinforced that.
Yes, she could trust Tara with the soul gem. She couldn’t take it with her to High Rock. That was the real danger. Let it stay with Tara, in Skyrim.
Finish the letter.
Finish the letter. Hide the soul gem, pack, and get what sleep she could.
This was her last night in Skyrim.
(check out the mod, The Lucky Skeever, for an excellent player home in Solitude)