Chapter Five

Forget His Goal

A man on a thousand mile walk has to forget his goal and say to himself every morning, 'Today I'm going to cover twenty-five miles and then rest up and sleep'.

― Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

Ralof was faltering.

Honestly, I was surprised he had lasted as long as he had. Even chainmail, while lighter than many armour types, was still heavy and Liv wasn't exactly a small woman even were she not wearing hers.

The stubborn Nord hadn't let me do any more than carry his short handled axe, which I'd tucked through the back hoops of my jeans for safekeeping. Along with the Captain's dagger I was collecting quite the arsenal.

During our second rest break with Riverwood still not in sight, I broached the subject again with less subtlety.

"Let Hadvar carry Liv, the sooner we get her looked at the better."

Ralof stiffened, scowling up at me from where he was pressing the dampened end of his raiment to his comrade's forehead. "No."

I sighed. A however-many-mile-long hike with a stubborn idiot was not how I wanted to round off my possible concussion, mostly-healed spider bite, and definite dragon related trauma filled day.

"I wouldn't drop her." Hadvar broached carefully. "You remember when we used to play at jousting when we were children? I never dropped you then."

The blond Nord's expression softened. "You did once, right into a patch of summer nettles."

Hadvar snorted. "Only because you told Gerdur I ate worms."

"You did eat worms."

"One worm. And as I recall it, you dared me."

Ralof chuckled and didn't stop. Soon he was laughing unrestrainedly and Hadvar had joined in. Even my own lips were tugged into a grin, their elation infectious.

All too soon however the sound pattered away and Hadvar stood motionless as Ralof sat hunched on the log with Liv's dead weight leaning against him. He rubbed a hand over his face.

"How did it come to this?"

Hadvar watched the slowly descending sun for a long moment.

"I don't know."

Later, Hadvar and I helped drape Liv over Ralof's back again. Somehow during the move, Ralof's bow and quiver had ended up in Hadvar's care and stayed there.

We journeyed on and no one made mention of it.

To be honest, I'd forgotten all about these.

We had finally come into sight of Bleak Falls Barrow. Hadvar had pointed out the ruins, throwing in anecdotes about the nightmares the place gave him as a boy and his stories were a welcome reprieve from the slog of the trek.

Given the extremely stretched out quality of the route between Helgen and Riverwood, I hadn't expected to run into any more of the video game landmarks for at least an hour. To my surprise we were only one steep bend away from the familiar (and suddenly larger than life) sight of the three principle Standing Stones.

"Ah!" Ralof exclaimed, looking and sounding more animated since our last rest break. "The Guardian Stones! Lyra, you don't have anything like this in High Rock, do you?"

"Uhh... not as such." My mind raced. Wayshrines in Oblivion, shrines in Morrowind, neither gave permanent attribute boosts. My mind went blank for anything similar in Daggerfall and I hoped these two didn't know enough about my supposed homeland to call me out on it later. Deflect. "Would you tell me a bit about them? I'm sure books don't do them justice."

Ralof seemed happy to oblige, oblivious to my inner panic, going to rest Liv against a tree near the Mage Stone so he had full use of his hands. "There are thirteen stones in all, one for each of the birth constellations."

"Skyrim is the only province in the world where these Stones exist and here is the only place in Skyrim where more than one stands together." Hadvar interjected, grinning in response to the dirty look shot his way.

"Yes," Ralof huffed, "I was getting to that. All you have to do is touch one of the Stones and it will bestow its gift on you. Unlike a shrine it will never reject you. Every Stone has a different power inside of it and like the powers the stars grant when we are born they are known to change their effects through the ages. That said, the Warrior always grants strength, the Mage wisdom, and the Thief cunning."

Well, I suppose that meant that people in Skyrim got to have birth sign powers, even if the game didn't reflect that. "Do they overwrite what, uh, we're born with? Could someone be born under the sign of the Atronach for instance and lose that to take the Lady's gift instead?"

Hadvar looked at me funny. "Even the gods cannot change how we are born, Lyra."

"Tell that to the Chimer," I laughed without humour. He looked confused so I elaborated, "the precursors to the dark elves? Azura changed their outward appearances and racial abilities thousands of years ago?"

"The Daedra do not have that kind of power."

I squinted at him. "The orcs would also disagree on that front." Seriously, someone really needed to teach the Daedric Princes to lay off bodily autonomy, never mind that most dark elves worshipped Azura now- it was still a dick move. "So!" I changed the subject, because religious debate was the last thing on my mind. "Touching one of the stones doesn't erase the abilities of your birth sign but instead adds to them! What about if you were born under, say, the Thief and you touched the Thief Stone as well? Would you get double Thief powers?"

"It never works like that," Ralof said with certainty. "You can carry two signs of the same court however."

"Oh, like..." I had to think about it for a moment, "Shadow and Tower, or Lord and Lady?"

"Yes, though..." Hadvar looked sideways at Ralof before continuing, "some say it gives a more... stable result to match your sign with a member of another court."

"There is nothing wrong with two Warrior signs." Ralof insisted, gesturing at the right-side figure, "I touched this stone when I was a lad and no ill has ever come to me because of it!"

Morrowind elaborated on the birth signs for the first time in terms of personality; I remembered that those born under the Warrior had shorter tempers. Did the Stones invoke personality shifts as well? Would I be affected if I touched one of them, even if I had no magical power set granted to me at birth to clash with it? Would my lack of exposure to magic make me more resistant or susceptible to magical influence?

On the other hand, could I really afford to walk away from a potential power boost like this? I was in an Elder Scrolls game, a series with almost as many random battles as Final Fantasy VII. I needed all the help I could get.

I tried to think about this logically. The Warrior governed martial prowess and if his Heavy Armour skill learning boost translated to something real in this world then maybe he helped make people more durable. Maybe. If what I remembered from Morrowind was right though, that sign may make me more prone to leaping into danger head-first and that was the last thing I needed.

The Mage was the easiest to figure out: he granted magical aptitude but not more magicka, at least not in Skyrim game play. The signs in the previous two prequels did, although I remembered the former mentioning that those born under the Mage were arrogant and absent-minded. I really didn't need to be any more scatterbrained than I already was and until I knew if I could learn spells there was no point in going with that one.

Without prompting my eyes were drawn to the central Stone. The final figure was cloaked in shadow, as befitting a thief, and according to lore is the only feminine figure of the three. According to Skyrim game mechanics, the Thief governs alchemy as its crafting skill and (due to an error in some versions) archery as well, making it the most versatile of the Guardian Stones. Those born under the Thief are luckier than most, though they tend to die young because their luck inevitably runs out.

This of course was all supposition gleamed from the rigid world of Bethesda coding. Drawing from multiple sources may give me a more nuanced outlook or it might just screw me over. Going by Skyrim, a sum total of eighteen skills might be governed by the Guardian Stones, helping someone to level a third of those skills 20% faster. In a loosely spiritual sense it might work, but when you started dissecting every conceivable ability to try and assign them a celestial patron the idea fell apart. Not everything could be put into just one of three categories.

I needed more information.

"Ralof, when you chose the Warrior, how did it change you?" He had after all only denied any negative influence.

He thought about it for a moment. "I was a gangling lad, too long in my limbs, always tripping over myself. Then I took the Warrior's gift and I was better for it. Stronger, more sure of myself, I understood my body better."

"It was the same for me when I took it," Hadvar agreed, confirming my suspicions that both childhood friends had chosen the same Stone since it was close to home and the only socially acceptable one to pick. "I had been learning the sword for a year before and making little progress. After I took up the Warrior everything my father had taught me came as second nature. I didn't beat him in a spar for another four years, but from that day on I knew I could if I worked hard enough."

"Do you know anyone who's touched one of the other Stones?" I pressed.

"There aren't many mages out our way and any ones who took up with the Thief would be keeping it quiet. There are pilgrims enough who have come through, but I've never known one to turn back with a change of heart." Hadvar mused.

I sighed, knowing that in both versions of this tutorial segment, Ralof and Hadvar looked down on those who made the choice I was leaning towards. "I... don't think the Warrior is going to help me in the short term and I don't have the training for the Mage to be any use to me now."

Ralof visibly winced. "Really, Lyra, you would pick that one? Better a bookish spellcaster than a cutpurse!"

"Choice matters more than the ability to do wrong, doesn't it? And I've had a lifetime of books already and they haven't taught me much about defending myself. I would need a lifetime to be able to make anything of the Warrior's teachings, but being able to creep past danger unseen... I'm sure that will be easier for someone like me to learn than using weapons. Besides," I added when the two men continued to look sceptical, "We need to convince the Jarl that dragons are back from the dead, a honeyed tongue would help, don't you think?"

Speechcraft fell under the Thief's purview and I well understood the power of words already. My words may have saved Lokir's life (or doomed him to death by dragon fire), spun a pretty story which stayed my own execution, and then went on to browbeat two warring factions into a ceasefire, when I knew they would have been hacking lumps out of each other without my intervention.

Oh yes, I knew the power of words.

My decision made, I reached out and touched the Thief Stone. Warmth blossomed in my chest as the circular hole near the top of the monolith began to glow. Even though I knew what to expect, I still gasped when a great pillar of light shot from the Stone's crown into the twilight sky, parting the clouds around it. The etching of the knife-wielding figure with only eyes for her features glowed brightly before overlapping with the stars of her constellation, until the artist's rendition vanished, leaving only stars.

I stood and watched as the whorls of design cresting the utmost part of the structure faded from pure white to green, then the stars faded to dark once more. Finally, only the pillar of light continued to herald my touch for anyone with a high enough vantage point, until even that dissipated into nothingness.

My emotions were complicated; awe and doubt, excitement and fear. Even my future plans for finding the other Stones, in particular the Lover and Lord, fell away as I was left with only a lingering sense of wonder.

The gentle warmth thrumming in my ribcage stayed with me when even my childlike wonder evaporated like the light which once breached the heavens.

"Let's keep moving." One of them said but my ears were too busy ringing to make out who. I nodded and walked with numb feet, down the hill towards Riverwood once more.

The sun had truly set by the time we came into Riverwood and the guard atop the battlements of the western gate eyed us suspiciously as we stumbled in. Hadvar had gotten my torch lit again with flint and a firestarter but it had still been too dark to see well towards the tail end of our journey.

A little boy with white blonde hair watched us unabashedly from the bushes lining the river. When he saw we'd spotted him he darted off in the direction of the sawmill.

Riverwood was bigger than in the game, more expansive. Perhaps fifty buildings clustered on both sides of a single road rather than just ten, as closely knit as before, but with larger vegetable patches and more fenced off areas for animals. Quite a few of them actually.

The smell wasn't great.

"It's good to be home." Hadvar said, the longing in his voice making me feel pretty rotten for thinking badly of the place. "My uncle owns the smithy there- see? As a child I used to watch him for hours working the forge."

"Did you ever consider becoming a smith yourself?"

He let out a breath and the sound was almost jarringly loud in the face of a late night pre-industrial small town. "Not really, my father was a Legionnaire, and his before him. I guess I never considered doing anything else. " He shrugged self depreciatingly. "I could have signed on as an smith for the Empire, but it didn't feel right to tend a forge at camp while everyone else risked their lives in the field."

Ralof was diplomatically silent.

We continued to walk for a time, my hand on Liv's back to help support her and take a little of her weight.

"My sister lives in the house by the river there." Ralof gestured with a jerk of his head. "Frodnar has already run off to tell her no doubt." He looked apologetically in my direction. "I'm afraid we haven't another bed to spare, I'll be sleeping in the loft and the boy with his parents as it is."

"It's all right." I yawned, covering my mouth with the back of my hand. "Remind me to give you the other potions for Liv. Oh and your axe too I suppose."

"Grown attached to it have you?"

"You know I have."

We all laughed and at the sound Liv stirred for the first time since we escaped Helgen. "Hey shield-sister," Ralof spoke soft and low like he was talking to a spooked horse of scared child. "You're safe, we're in Riverwood now, my sister's got a nice warm bed waiting for you."

Liv mumbled something that might have been a name. Not Ralof's. Not any name I recognised. She cried out plaintively before falling back into deep sleep.

Ralof's expression fell.

Hadvar nudged me, handing over Ralof's bow and quiver. "Go help settle her then call by the smithy, we'll have a warm supper and bed waiting for you when you arrive."

"Thanks, Hadvar. I'll see you soon."

We parted ways.

Being the quintessential pseudo-medieval small town, it didn't take us long before we reached Gerdur's. I knocked on the door, as I was the only one with a hand free to do so, then shifted my weight nervously when there was no response for far longer than it should take someone to cross the short distance of a house that size.

Finally Ralof shouted through the door: "Gerdur, it's me, open up!"

"Frodnar saw you with an Imperial soldier." Was the short clipped response from behind the wooden door.

Ralof rolled his eyes, hiking Liv up as gently as he could when she started to slip. "It's complicated. Look, if you're going to make me sleep with the chickens, at least take Liv, she barely made it out of Helgen."

"Liv?" Gerdur flung the door open, "spear-throwing Liv?"

"Aye, that one. How is it you open the door for her and not me?"

"I didn't grow up learning all her bad habits." Gerdur looked me up and down as her husband loomed and their son tried to squeeze past their legs to look. "Who's this? No, never mind that now. Come inside before you fall over, you're drenched in sweat."

While the three adults manoeuvred Liv to the smaller bed alongside the fire, I divulged myself of Ralof's weapons, placing them on a bare patch of table, pointedly ignoring the food laid out on it even though my stomach was trying to digest itself.

When I turned I saw Frodnar eyeing me suspiciously. "Are you with the Legion?"

"No, I'm not."

"Oh, are you a Stormcloak then?"

"No, I'm not one of those either."

The little boy huffed. "What are you then?"

"I'd like to know that as well," Gerdur's husband spoke for the first time, "you're dressed like one of those mages."

As night began to fall a t-shirt had proved insufficient to keeping warm. Laeca had taken the robe from the dungeons as padding to stop the potions knocking together in the pack, but I was just glad it was warm and showed no signs of once holding a corpse. "These are... borrowed. Most of my things were... lost in transit."

"We were ambushed at the pass, they took us all to Helgen. They- they wanted to execute Ulfric as soon as possible."

I nodded, keeping one eye on Ralof whose voice had grown tight. "No trial. No due process. Just summary execution."

"Those bastards!" Gerdur hissed. "Too afraid of the people rallying behind Ulfric!"

I watched Ralof's face carefully. Expecting him to say something. To confide in his sister as he had with Hadvar and I. The moment never came, the matter of Ulfric dodged like an incoming firebolt.

"We would have all surely died, but before the headsman could strike one head from our shoulders something unbelievable happened." Ralof swallowed. "A dragon attacked Helgen, burned the town to ash."

Silence and then-

"You can't be serious!"

"Ralof, this isn't a time for jokes-"

"A real dragon? How big was it? Could it fly?"

Ralof held up a hand. "A real dragon. As big as half a dozen war horses not counting the wings and yes, it could fly. Lyra here recognised it as the black dragon Alduin and told us of the threat he posed to all of Skyrim. It was she who rallied us all to work together and escape."

Gerdur recoiled. "You can't mean..."

"Imperials and Stormcloaks. Working together for a common goal. I never thought I'd see the day, not even when I'd daydream about the lot of us chasing the Thalmor from our homeland." Ralof smiled at me. "I owe her my life."

My cheeks combusted. "He saved my life first. I would have stayed in a broken tower and burned if Ralof hadn't urged me on."

"To be fair I did push her out of the tower."

"From really high up! Through a hole in the wall Alduin had just made with his head!"

"Aren't you happy I saved your life?" Ralof teased.

I smacked his arm. "You need to work on your rescue technique."

"He needs to work on a lot of things," Gerdur said bluntly before sighing, "but you can tell me everything after you've eaten. Liv needs potions and you look ready to fall over."

"I have potions." I pulled out all but one of the small pink bottles I had collected from Helgen and handed them over. In the game Gerdur would normally be giving me things for vague plot related reasons, but this was reality and if the woman I'd resuscitated was going to survive the night she was going to need more potions down her throat.

Gerder nodded as she looked over the small haul, "these will help, at least until Valerius opens shop tomorrow. As much as I hate giving that man a single Septim..."

"Will you stay for dinner?" Gerdur's husband asked as his spouse poured one of the potions into a small jug with a lip, bad-mouthing money-grubbing Imperials under her breath all the while.

I shook my head. "Thank you for the offer, but I have prior arrangements." I turned to Ralof who looked almost as awkward as I felt with his family, likely knowing he was soon due for an interrogation. "I'll see you tomorrow?"

"Aye, tomorrow."

I gave the family at large a wave and a smile, then dodged around Frodnar and out the door.

The night air was bracing and a shockingly sudden change from the cosy atmosphere of Gerdur's lodge, which I'd quickly become accustomed to. My breath was visible but the path less so, weak lantern light insufficient for the trip hazards underfoot.

Now I knew why all the guards carried their own torches, and why it had been foolish for me to extinguish my own before entering Gerdur's house when there were empty torch brackets not far from the door.

Thankfully the smithy was brightly lit and not even I could get lost on my way to it. Hadvar opened the door on my first knock and ushered me in.

Alvor looked me up and down with an assessing gaze. "So you're the dragon expert, are you?"

"Yes. Lyra Aragon, pleased to meet you." The lie was getting easier the more I told it.

He took my hand and shook it after only a minimal pause. "Come have some supper then. Hadvar you have seconds, you fell on your plate so fast I thought I'd invited a wolf to the table." He kept up an non-threatening stream of chatter as he dished up a bowl of stew from the pot over the fire and pushed half a loaf of black bread towards me across the table. "Eat up and then perhaps you can tell me how much of my nephew's tall tale is actually true."

After the first bite hit my tongue I was insatiable, my table manners operating purely on muscle memory. Spoon to bowl to mouth, bread with the other hand, dunking and scooping; rich and hearty with a burst of saltiness in the bread. We'd spent most of the day travelling here, perhaps an hour in the tunnels, and who knew how long I'd been unconscious in that cart.

When I was done I covered my mouth daintily and pretended I hadn't gorged like a wild animal. To his credit, Alvor said nothing, only pushing a jug of milk towards me.

Unpasteurised milk. Ho boy, the potential parasites and bacteria in it really made the thought of it oh so appetising. Lack of refrigeration on top of that...

Weak ale or similar was drunk in place of other fluids in Anglo-Saxon times because the alcohol killed off most things that infected the water supply. Literally more people died in that six hundred year period from polluted water than alcohol related ailments and the Anglo-Saxons drank a lot. As far as I knew about that period, milk was usually only used in cooking, or in the making of cheese.

Alcohol had a dehydrating effect though, could I really subsist off it alone? That historical factoid had never made sense to me. Not to mention, without the built up antibodies of the locals here, did I really stand a chance of surviving past the first few days of my coming here anyway? If this was War of the Worlds, I was the alien-

At some point during my internal breakdown I'd poured myself a cup of milk and taken a sip on autopilot.

Aw, milk no.

Not fridge chilled but hardly warm either, rich and creamy without a hint of decay. Maybe they had an ice box? Was I lucky enough to land somewhere that understood the merits of boiling? Well, if there was anything deadly in it, I was already screwed just from drinking that much.

Still, I waited for any telling after tastes before draining my cup dry. "Thank you for the meal, it was delicious."

"Hard to believe you tasted anything, as hungry as you were." Alvor huffed, though not unkindly.

It had been venison… right? Though I suppose it might have been a very gamey beef. I could distinctly recall the taste of sage. Maybe.

I blushed, the heat starting at my cheeks and creeping its way down my neck.

"Stop teasing her uncle." Hadvar chastised the older man. "Let's get you to bed, eh? The little one turned in already and it's time you did too."

I wasn't going to protest. Until I saw how many beds there were. "Where are you sleeping, Hadvar?"

Hadvar kept his eyes on the beams. "It wouldn't be the first time I slept by the fire."

I opened my mouth. Then I closed it. "I'm staying at the inn. Thank you for your hospitality-" no one had actually told me Alvor's name, "but I really must be going. Please make sure your nephew gets a decent night's sleep, we'll be heading out early tomorrow."

Alvor smothered a grin. "Aye, I'll do that. You take care now."

"Lyra, wait- do you even have the coin for a bed?" Hadvar was already up from his chair and protesting.

I touched the purse and stray coins I'd collected in the tunnels, tucked into one of the pockets of my ill-gotten mage robes. The little fistful of currency should be enough, surely? Though what did I really know about the Tamrielic monetary system? Somehow I doubted that every guest house really charged ten Septims from Riften to Markarth.

Pragmatically I responded: "If you want be a gentleman and pay for my room go ahead, but I'm not taking your bed from you."

Hadvar scowled but sensing my obstinacy he escorted me down the road to The Sleeping Giant Inn without further debate. He did end up paying, three copper pennies and eight half pennies- ten Septims in total according to the price given by the innkeeper. Huh. That meant... a penny was two Septims, a half just one. What were silver or gold then?

At least this place didn't rely entirely on gold, which when you think about it would have been pretty ridiculous and crashed the economy in short order.

I would still throw a straight up hissy fit if every inn guest room was ten Septims without some kind of province-wide decree backing it up.

The price included breakfast and that seemed bizarre, perhaps because I couldn't bring myself to think that far ahead. I was wrung out and utterly spent, not thinking beyond my full belly or the bed I was about to fall into.

"'Night, Hadvar. See you tomorrow." If I ever managed to burrow out of the cocoon I was going to make.

He raised his hand, like he was going to ruffle my hair, but thought better of it. "Sleep well, Lyra."

When he left, I felt weightless, adrift. The was no reason to plaster a smile on my face, or present an optimistic attitude. Without someone else to worry about, I was left with just my own problems and I'd been avoiding those for a good reason.

The innkeeper showed me to a room; bed and dresser the only furniture, a fire banked low in the grate and a woven rag rug hanging in place of a door. "Thank you," I said on autopilot, wondering if tipping was customary even as the man left me to my own devices.

First I checked for bugs in the bed, but despite the mattress being made of straw it looked pretty clean.

I ran my hand over the fur pelts, which seemed impractical as bedding. Beneath those there was a knitted wool blanket which was preferable to direct contact with the animal skins.

My fingers fumbled with the laces of my boots and the room spun when I bent to remove them.

Shit. That hadn't happened since the wagon.

I still had a potion in the backpack and if my head injury was serious then I should take it. It probably wasn't too serious. I had walked miles from Helgen to Riverwood without incident and that couldn't just be down to adrenaline left over from Alduin and the spiders.

The bite mark on my neck had healed over, the skin barely tingling to the touch any more. I should have asked Admand or Alvise to take a look at the lump at the back of my head when I had the chance. It had just been... really hectic trying to keep everyone together, moving forward, that my own discomfort had taken a back seat. It wasn't like I hadn't gotten bumps there before- I'd been notorious for running along the poolside as a child and gaining all kinds of injuries, many of them when my skull struck slick tiles at break-neck speeds.

Was I getting old? When I was a tearaway ten-year-old I'd felt invincible, had gotten back in the water inside of ten minutes every time. Now my head was pounding and running through every potential cranial trauma like a hysterical WebMD page.

"You're twenty-four," I muttered, dragging the pack over so that I could stare into it like a fridge at midnight; like it held all the answers. "You're not allowed to feel old. And you certainly can't feel fragile when there are fucking dragons flying about."

The pack had a few green apples stuffed in the bottom of it, Laeca and Admand must have packed them in the storeroom and forgotten to take them back afterwards. The dagger the Captain gave me had been shoved in there too, the first time it fell out of my belt-hoops on the road.

What else... huh. The bag was surprisingly well equipped, even after I removed the final potion: an empty water skin (I wished I'd known about that while we were still on the road), a whetstone for sharpening blades, a fire-starter stick and flint stones like the ones Hadvar had, and a map of Skyrim rolled up in an oiled leather tube. There was some cloth and other assorted detritus at the bottom, but I hadn't the energy to go through it all.

"This must be some kind of soldier's pack, general necessities for travelling..." I yawned widely until my jaw cracked then rubbed my watering eyes. It was too late and I was too tired to think any more. Shoving everything back in the bag except for the potion I clinked the bottle with a fingernail, tapping rhythmically as I pondered.

At the back of my head, the egg-sized lump continued to throb. If I pressed my fingers to it I felt my skull contract as everything shortened to disorientating pain. It was probably smaller than it felt and I wasn't displaying any concussion symptoms, I would be fine to sleep...

But what if it wasn't a concussion? What was it called again? Cerebral oedema? I wasn't sure what the symptoms for a brain bleed were, but I knew that death or permanent damage were possible side effects of the condition. Could I really take that risk just to hoard equipment like I would if this video game hadn't suddenly become real life?

Fuck it.

I uncorked the bottle, smelling the substance with even more wariness than Alvor's possibly plague-ridden milk. Would magic react well to me? Would I react well to magic?

Cautiously I took a sip, grimacing in reflex before realising the gesture was uncalled for.

It tasted... sweet. Wholesome. Like bran pancakes with maple syrup. How odd. Nothing like medicine was supposed to taste like.

Although I'd been planning to save half of the potion for later, I barely left a third of it unscathed and guiltily re-corked the bottle.

Did I feel better though? Did I feel worse?

I felt the lump again, which was still there. No change. Maybe I was immune to magic? Maybe potions needed people with magic themselves to work. Bugger.

Welp, if I die in my sleep I won't have to deal with Alduin, so that's a plus.

I pulled the robes off and shimmied out of the jeans shortly thereafter. They were all haphazardly stuffed into the dresser and I only displayed that level of care because an oil lamp and wash basin was already on top of it. Plus bugs might crawl into my clothes if I left them on the floor.

I forced myself not to think about any of that. No creepy-crawlies, no dragons, no ticking time bomb brain bleeds. Such concerns could wait until I'd had at least six hours rest.

All too aware of the cold, I crawled quickly into bed and curled up in a ball. I was asleep in short order.

A.N.: Had to pull hen's teeth to get this written, then I remembered the Standing Stones were a thing and it took me forever to work up to that. Thanks to everyone who commented here or on my blog, rereading through those reviews really helped.

I cut a sizeable dream sequence from the end of this chapter which I'll post to my blog (address on my profile page). It messed with the flow and didn't make any sense to show in a past-tense first person story if Lyra was just going to forget it as soon as she woke up.

My question for this chapter: Do you think the Thief Stone was a good choice for Lyra? What Stone would you pick of the big three in her shoes? What Stone would you choose if you had access to all thirteen?

Also go vote on my new poll! I'm down to three options and still trying to decide what story I'll work on for the next NaNoWriMo~ :D