A Doom Driven Hero: Civil War Epilogue – The Light at the End of the Tunnel
Marcus stood near the northernmost window in Proudspire Manor, looking out at the sea as ships drifted in and out of the harbor. He could see the lighthouse in the distance, having been lit now that it was nearly evening. His face sported a smile, wide and content. His chest felt lighter than it had in ages.
After such a long time, after what must have been three years of uncertainty the civil war was over. No shaky ceasefire, no stalemates… peace had arrived in its entirety. Marcus felt… overwhelmingly relieved. Like his legs could give out at any moment and he'd sink to the floor. He'd put in so much energy and thought, and it'd all paid off. He could hardly believe it, as if the world might decide to snatch this moment away and ruin it like it had for so many others.
It was a nice feeling, to have your efforts vindicated. Marcus wished it happened more often in his life.
A huge event was coming up in a few days to celebrate the success of the peace talks. It seems that everyone had secretly been harboring hopes that the war would end without bloodshed, and the last few days Marcus was yet to see a face without a smile on it. As a result, the Jarls of Skyrim had decided something would be done to commemorate it. Solitude would soon become the site of the largest celebratory festival Skyrim had seen in centuries, with decorations and supplies being sent in from all over the province.
It made Marcus… more than happy. To finally, truly see the effect of his actions. To see the shape that Skyrim was beginning to take now that it was healing… He wouldn't swap the feeling for anything in the world.
"I don't think I've ever seen you smile like that before."
Marcus turned to see Jordis standing behind him holding a small pile of clothes.
He said, "Well, practically everyone's been walking around with a stupid grin lately, and I don't want to stand out."
Jordis rolled her eyes, and stepped forward. Marcus had a closer look at what she was holding. They were men's clothes. They were 'fancy' men's clothes.
"Oh no..." Marcus' smile faded.
"Oh yes," Jordis' smile widened. "This is your attire for the festival."
The clothes were blue and white, and looked very tight and uncomfortable. Marcus took an involuntary step back, only to bump against the windowsill. "Why can't I just wear my robed armor? You know, I specifically made it look regal for formal occasions. Isn't it fancy enough?"
She sighed and handed the clothes over to him. "Marcus, that armor is alright for visiting the court to turn in a bounty or two, but this is important… you're going to need something a lot better."
"Well..." Marcus turned the fabrics over in his hands. "How do I know this is what I need? It looks awfully garish."
"It was made especially for you by those elves at Radiant Raiment."
"Those bitches? They'd dress me up in a pig costume if they could."
"Which is why Serana was the one to place the order, and threatened to disembowel them if they made even the slightest error in the design."
"Oh… I see." Marcus still looked doubtful.
"Just trust us, Marcus." Jordis pleaded. "You deserve to enjoy this event more than anyone, so don't go dressed up like a guardsman."
"Fine, fine..." Marcus relented, putting the clothes under his arm. "Where's Serana now?"
Jordis smiled. "Girl's secret." Then she turned and began walking away, heading back downstairs. Marcus watched her go with a frown, then walked in his bedroom to try the clothes on. He'd wear them, but damned if he wasn't going to make a few alterations. He was the Dragonborn for Akatosh's sake, and he refused to go dressed up exactly like the dozen other preening idiots with a tailored outfit.
Marcus stepped into Angeline's Aromatics and instantly began scanning the shelves for what he was looking for. Angeline wasn't anywhere to be seen, so she must've been somewhere out the back. He walked up to a particular shelf and began shifting about ingredients in search of the familiar orange glow of the item he was searching for.
His searching was interrupted when he heard a cry of pain from the back of the store. He recognized Angeline's voice.
Instantly, Marcus bolted across the room and vaulted over the counter. He sprinted behind the storefront and barged through the door leading to the back storeroom. Angeline was lying on the floor with a pained expression and a box of potions broken beside her.
Marcus dropped to his knees and sent a blast of restoration magic through the old woman, hearing a click in her back after a second. She let out a gasp, her eyes seemingly focusing again.
"Oh… Marcus." She slowly sat up with the young man's help. "Thank you so much… lucky you were nearby."
"What on earth were you doing moving these things about without help?" Marcus asked, carefully picking up the remains of the box. "You know how big and heavy these potions can be? Where's Vivienne?"
Angeline looked sheepish. "She's out helping with the decorations… I told her I'd be able to handle the shop for a few days."
Marcus sighed, and placed the box on a table before helping Angeline up. He was loathe to tell her she was too old to do things like this without help, as he knew that frailty could be a touchy subject with the elderly. But still, she needed to know her limits.
Marcus said, "Just be more careful, ok? You can't expect to handle everything in the shop on your own. I doubt you even need to. What's wrong with closing it down for a few days anyway? At least until the festival is over."
Angeline smiled. "People will be needing an alchemist's services now more than ever. Just because I'm old, it doesn't mean I can't help people."
"Do… do you think there's ever a point when you'd retire? For good? Or do you think your duty is more important?"
She shrugged and brushed herself off. "Duty? That's reading a bit much into an alchemist's role."
"Sorry, I mean that… well, you know what I meant."
"My work isn't very taxing. A sharp mind can help in just as many ways as a strong body."
Marcus nodded "You're right. Sorry to pry."
"It's fine, Marcus. What did you come in here for in the first place?"
He explained that he just wanted a small bowl of fire salts for a personal project, and Angeline was only too happy to help him. After a brief discussion about pricing, where Angeline tried to refuse Marcus' payment and the young man tried to insist on it, he left and headed back to Proudspire Manor. Decorations were still being put up everywhere, with lanterns and colorful silks being draped over pretty much everything. Banners depicting various hold emblems were being hung from windows, to further add color to the appearance of the city. Marcus couldn't remember a time when Solitude had looked so vibrant and pretty.
People were smiling as they passed each other in the streets, or offering to lend a hand to the guardsmen setting up stalls. Marcus mused that perhaps the reason why his little 'treaty' facade had been bought so easily was because it was what people wanted. They wanted peace. To return to their natural state where they didn't have to worry about soldiers kicking down their front doors.
He wasn't sure how well he'd fit into a province of peace, but figured he'd have plenty of time to adjust. Banditry and monsters wouldn't go away overnight either, so he'd have lots of things to occupy himself with, although they might be harder to track down.
In high spirits, Marcus walked through the front door to his Manor and promptly bumped into Serana, who'd just been leaving the building.
"Oh!" She exclaimed. "I… I was just heading out to look for you."
"Well, don't let me stop you," Marcus stepped aside and gestured out into the street.
She rolled her eyes and walked back inside. "If you're cracking jokes like that, you must be in a good mood."
"For the first time in my life, Skyrim seems to be safe. Why wouldn't I be happy?"
Serana sat down in one of the chairs close to the door with a sigh. "I wish I felt the same."
"What's the matter?" Marcus sat down in the other chair and placed a hand on her knee. "Something go wrong with that 'girl's secret' Jordis deigned not to inform her thane about?"
Serana gave a wry smile. "No, that's worked out fine… It's… it's about me."
Marcus glanced around quickly. "You mean… about becoming human again?"
Serana nodded, thin lipped.
He shuffled forward and gave her knee a reassuring squeeze. "Well? What do you need?"
"I… I want to get it done before the festival."
"Really? That only gives us a few days. It's… quite sudden."
"I know. Where is it I need to go?"
Marcus chewed his lip. "It's in Morthal. I'm willing to take you, but… are you sure you're ready?"
"No." Serana admitted. "But if I waited until I was ready, I'd wait for eternity. And… I want to spend that night as a normal person, or as normal as I can get. I want to walk through the crowds without wanting to eat them, to dance in candlelight without the fear of the open flames, to experience the haze of alcohol, to..."
Serana looked down at her feet. "I want to feel alive."
Marcus stood up and held out his hand. "Do you want to go now?"
Serana took his hand and got to her feet. "Can we?"
"Of course. Let me grab my sword and something else we'll need, and then we can depart immediately."
He took the stairs two at a time, grabbed his sword from beside his bed along with a black soul gem from a chest and then returned downstairs. Serana was waiting by the door anxiously. He offered his hand again and she took it immediately, almost timid-like. They walked outside and towards the stables, hoping to get a carriage ride to make the trip easier. Marcus felt like he owed Serana that much, at the very least.
The sun was just cresting over the short, squat marshland trees. The early morning rays hit mist pooling on the ground and turned it yellow. It would've been a nice sight, if not for the situation Marcus was currently in.
The pair was waiting for Falion at the summoning circle. Serana was as anxious as he'd ever seen her. She was squeezing his hand so tightly the fingers had turned white. Marcus was anxious enough himself that he didn't really care. He just wanted it to be over, for both their sakes.
"Run me through the ritual again." Serana asked quietly.
Marcus nodded slowly. He'd detailed the process about ten times already, but knew that she was just looking for something to occupy her thoughts. He remembered the time he'd cured himself of vampirism well enough. He hadn't been as nervous as her, but that's because he'd only been a vampire for less than a week. He didn't really have much of an attachment to the condition, aside from the enticing power it brought.
For Serana though… It meant turning her back on her entire past. He couldn't believe she was willing to do it for him.
Marcus began explaining. "He takes the black soul gem, and gets you to stand in the centre of the circle. He'll cast a few spells and the sigils on the stone will glow a soft purple light. Then he begins the ritual proper, and calls upon the plane of Oblivion. He'll chant for a few minutes, say a few prayers to the Daedra, and then everything will go black. You'll feel faint, and will probably collapse for a minute or so. Everything goes back to normal a few minutes later."
"Ok..." Serana chewed her lip. "Does it hurt?"
"No… it's more of a dizziness. Then feeling of warmth entering the body is a bit strange too."
Serana nodded, a little too quickly. She picked at her knuckles with her fingernails.
"Hey," Marcus stepped a little closer and placed his hands on her shoulders. "It'll be ok. Falion's an expert, and I'll be here every step of the way."
Serana nodded again, and didn't speak any further. Marcus figured she was finally steeling herself for the task, and respected the silence. Falion showed up a few minutes later and set about preparing the ritual circle with an almost casual demeanor. Marcus wasn't sure if that would help or not.
The ritual proceeded initially in the exact same way as he'd described. Serana began to look pale… or paler than she normally did. Marcus was forced to step out of the circle, as the magical sigils began to glow.
Falion cleared his throat and raised his arms. "I call upon Oblivion realms, the home of those who are not our ancestors. Answer my plea! As in death, there is new life, in oblivion there is a beginning for that which has ended!"
Serana began to sway. Her eyelids fluttered. She suddenly looked very frail.
Falion continued. "I call forth that power! Accept the soul that we offer… As the sun ends the night, end the darkness of this soul. Return life to the creature you see before you!"
Then things deviated from Marcus' experience. A loud crackle filled the air, like ice over a lake breaking all at once. The stone of the circle cracked around where the sigils were carved, and Serana fell to her knees. Her chest heaved and she emitted a sound like she was choking.
Marcus tried to dart forward to help her, to do something, but Falion grabbed a hold of him with a surprisingly strong grip and restrained him.
"No… This is how it's supposed to happen!"
"Something's wrong, this didn't happen for me!" Marcus shouted, and shoved Falion off.
"Interrupt the ritual and she dies!" Falion shouted in return before Marcus could move. "She's several millennia old, while you were practically a fledgling!"
Marcus stopped, moments before his foot stepped over the edge of the circle. Serana's now prone figure shuddered and spasmed, coughing and gasping all the while. The young man felt paralyzed, unable to do anything but watch.
Then with a last crack of magical energy exploding outwards from the sigils, it was over, with the magic in the sigils instantly fading and Serana's pained gasps ending. She went silent.
"The ritual is complete." Falion said with a relieved sigh.
Marcus was by her side in an instant, placing a hand to her neck and feeling for a pulse. It was faint, but regular. He felt a knot of tension release in his stomach so large he almost threw up. He had not enjoyed that one bit. Gods knew how it'd been for her.
Serana was out cold though, and looked as if she'd be that way for a while. Gently, Marcus lifted her up and carried her away. As he walked through the marshland, Falion walking behind him whistling a casual tune, he realized something important.
"Why would me getting into the circle kill her?" Marcus asked Falion behind him.
"Why do you think?"
"It wouldn't have been magical disruption, would it?"
Falion shook his head with a small smile. "No. Although that certainly would've interrupted the ritual, what with you containing about a quarter of the magical energies on Nirn just within your body. The problem lay in the Lords of Oblivion learning of your involvement."
Marcus went silent.
Falion continued. "Yes, if they knew you held a personal stake in seeing the girl become human again, you can be assured that soul of hers would never be returned. In addition, I'd wager they'd remove her vampirism as well, rendering her as naught but a true corpse."
"Fuck..." Marcus breathed, looking down at Serana's unconscious face. "I should've realized. I've spat in the faces of more daedra than anyone else alive."
Falion made an affirmative 'hmm' noise, and started whistling again. The young man wondered just how much the guy must've seen to be taking this event so nonchalantly.
Marcus slowed for a second, frowning. "Wait… If that's the case, why was my soul returned? Surely Molag Bal would've kept it."
"He would've liked to. But a Dragon's soul is a much harder thing to retain than that of a regular mortal."
"You mean Akatosh would've retrieved it?"
"Maybe. Tell me, what would you do if the Daedra wouldn't return you to normal life?"
Marcus thought for a moment. "I'd go and get my soul back, physically."
"Precisely. A literal hell-bent Dragon demigod with vampiric abilities is the last thing I'd want in my dimension, if I was a Daedric Prince."
"Huh… They're really that scared of me?"
Falion sighed. "Why do you think Hermaeus Mora hasn't tried contacting you since Solstheim? Why do you think Azura practically handed over her star without a fuss? Why do you think Boethiah hasn't sent fanatics to kill you? Why do you think you've never been called to defend the Twilight Sepulcher?"
Marcus blinked and stopped walking. He didn't know whether to let the man continue talking or ask how the hell he knew so much about him.
Falion laughed. "Why do you think we haven't seen any of those monsters this marsh is renowned for?"
Marcus went to answer, but realized the question had been rhetorical. He instead kept walking, keeping his thoughts to himself.
Marcus walked up the path to Sky Haven Temple. Serana was still unconscious in Morthal, and would be for about another day according to Falion. He'd decided to use the time productively, and made his way to the Blades as quickly as he could. Delphine's time had come, and he didn't want to attend the festival with a dark cloud hanging over his head.
He wasn't in his armour, but if the talk with Falion had told him anything, it was that he didn't need it.
They saw him coming a mile off, of course. He saw the flickers of movement on the rocky outcrops easily enough, and knew he'd have a reception party. He could've approached stealthily, but he wanted Delphine to know it was coming. He hoped the extra time might help give her a change of heart. Doubtful, but everyone deserved a chance.
An hour later and he reached the back path up to the balcony of the temple. Marcus let out a breath of resignation, and walked up. He gave it a 70 percent chance he'd have to kill Delphine, but he allowed himself to be hopeful for the other 30.
At the top of the Balcony, Delphine stood in front of a group of seven Blades barring the way. Marcus was surprised. He'd expected more. It seemed not as many people were willing to follow Delphine as he'd thought.
"I told you what would happen if you showed your face here again." The woman spat.
"Yeah..." Marcus crossed his arms and leaned on his back foot. "I'm wondering why you didn't have me killed earlier. It can't be because you knew you'd need a numerical advantage to stand a chance, would it?"
Delphine scowled. "Enough. I gave you plenty warning, and now you've forced my hand."
Marcus sighed. The woman had such irritating overconfidence. "Crossing swords with me is a death sentence, and you know it. Last chance Delphine. Walk away, and you live."
"Never. The Blades are mine."
Delphie reached down to draw her weapon. She never even got it halfway out. A single word of whirlwind sprint and a flick of Marcus' wrist meant her head was sailing through the air within moments. Quick, but brutal enough to send a message. One that her seven followers were quick to heed, and they ran off amidst cries of alarm and fright.
Delphine's body collapsed to the ground, blood rhythmically spurting out of her neck. Marcus released the breath he'd been holding and looked down at the corpse with a solemn face.
"It shouldn't have come to this. But I can only take half the blame."
Then he kept on walking, heading for the Temple to sort out who would take the woman's place. The Blades would need a leader, and he didn't want it to be him. This was one faction that he needed to ensure would thrive without him.
The magical orb shot up into the night sky like a reverse lightning bolt. It reached a height of around 300 metres and then exploded into a spectacular display of lights and colours with a colossal bang.
And it was that bang that broke the expectant silence filling Solitude, in turn filling the air with cheers and jubilant cries. Residents and visitors alike raised their arms up, or hugged their loved ones and began celebrating. The bards, on cue, started their songs and added a plethora of bouncing, jaunty music to the mix. On any other day, Marcus would've found it overstimulating. But on that night… it felt just right.
Serana grabbed his arm and pulled his gaze away from the magical sparkles Sybille's spell had filled the sky with. He looked upon her face, flushed with blood and boasting a huge, happy smile. Her eyes, sparkling bright blue like the sky on a summer solstice. Her dress, the "girl's secret" that he hadn't been told about, was a stunning red and white marvel of fashion. He had no idea where she'd gotten it, only that it'd been brought in from Cyrodiil.
She'd been beautiful before, but now… she was otherworldly. The gazes of everyone around were routinely drawn to her. Marcus couldn't have been happier.
"Come on!" She said, tugging at his hand. "They'll start serving the wine now!"
"We don't want to get too drunk too soon," Marcus laughed, running along after her.
"I know, but the spiced wine will be the first thing to go. We don't want to miss out!"
He followed her along and reached the wine stands soon enough. A queue had already formed, but a single glance at Marcus and the entire crowd parted. The young man allowed himself a small smile. His attire certainly made it clear who he was.
The white and blue clothes were largely unchanged, with the exception of the doublet. Emblazoned on his chest was a large depiction of a dragon infused with fire salts. The lines detailing it didn't move, but rather glowered like embers, pulsating as he walked. It was mesmerizing, and left no doubt as to the identity of the wearer.
Marcus and Serana strolled up to the stand and were each given a silver goblet of wine. Marcus didn't know if they were supposed to pay or not, but he figured they wouldn't accept his money anyway.
"I could get used to that." Serana smirked as they walked away.
Marcus laughed. "Well, don't. This is a one-off so that all the cute noble girls no exactly who to pander to."
Serana spun around and fixed him with a glare. "Oh really? Perhaps I should go look for some nice young noblemen then?"
"Relax. I'm just messing. None of them could hold a candle to you."
She rolled her eyes, and they continued walking to find a nice bench to sit and enjoy their wine.
"Is it anything like you imagined?" Marcus asked.
Serana's smile widened. "No. It's better."
The evening passed quickly, with high points and low points. Things did get a little dreary when a thane or noble saw Marcus' doublet and, after putting two and two together, decided to market themselves to him. Thankfully, Serana usually was close by and was able to rescue him.
Marcus also got a chance to talk to most of his companions, as pretty much everyone with the exception of some thieves and brotherhood members had shown up. It was nice to see 'the whole gang' as it were. Many of them were beginning to move onwards and upwards in their own lives, since Marcus had gone off to Solstheim. Illia was now the second-ranking priestess at the temple of Mara in Riften. Mjoll was thinking of becoming an instructor for new guardsmen, and was in correspondence with Captain Aldis. Jon had officially joined the Bard's College, and both he and Olfina were sporting matching rings on their fingers… Marcus decided not to pry.
He was about to go find Jarl Balgruuf, to discuss a certain matter with the man, when he saw a familiar dry smile coming through the crowd towards him.
"Marcus!" Marcurio said, spreading his hands – each one holding a goblet – wide.
"Marcurio, you rogue. I assume one of those is for me?" Marcus gestured to one of the goblets.
"Hell no, go get your own."
Marcus laughed. "Of course. How you holding up?"
"Well, with the war being ended and the greatest party Skyrim's ever seen all around me, I'd say I'm pretty good. Nice work, by the way."
Marcurio rolled his eyes. "Don't play coy, Marcus. The two leaders of the warring factions suddenly agreeing to a peace talk mere days after you returned from that Solstheim business? I'm not an idiot."
Marcus looked around quickly. "Keep your voice down, hey? I don't want everyone knowing."
"Relax. No-one would care anyway. Those two stubborn soldiers were the only ones that actually wanted to keep fighting."
"Mmm… I guess." Marcus glanced around. "Can I ask you something, actually? Somewhere more quiet?"
"… Sure, I guess."
The two walked a little further away from the commotion, to a spot near the Solitude Windmill. Marcurio sat down on a rock, periodically sipping from his two goblets while Marcus paced.
Marcus began. "How has the whole 'mercenary' gig been shaping up?"
"Well, business is much slower, thanks to you."
"Is that gratitude or sarcasm?"
"Bit of both, I guess. I like the business, but I like living in a safe province more."
"Hmmm..." Marcus stroked his chin. "What do you think of the Blades?"
Marcurio blinked. "The Blades? They're alright I guess. Do you want me to join up with them?"
"No." Marcus shook his head, and Marcurio relaxed momentarily. "I want you to lead them."
The other man jolted backwards, almost spilling his wine. "The hell? You want me to lead a group of warriors I've barely met? Why would you want that? Why would I want that?"
Marcus shrugged and sat down next to him. "They need a leader. Esbern's filling the role currently, but he's more of a scholar than anything else, and he's getting on in the years."
"What makes you think I'm the best candidate? I'm not even a Blade!"
"You wouldn't lead them straight away, of course. But I'd wager within a few months you'll be either their official, or unofficial leader anyway. Regardless of my endorsement."
Marcurio shook his head. "You're not answering my question. Why do you think I'm the best candidate?"
Marcus sighed. "I need someone I can trust in charge of that group, and as stubborn as you can be at times, you're both an exceptional warrior and a borderline genius."
"Uh… Can I get that in writing?"
"Don't push your luck. You have a strong moral code, and a firm grasp of how the world works. Plus I've seen some of those books you've written on dwemer theory, so I know you're not stupid."
"Wait, what?" Marcurio stepped up and backed away from him. "How do you know about those books?"
The younger man rolled his eyes. "Please. I saw you taking notes whenever we were in a dwemer ruin. Plus, you used our adventures as source material several times."
"Damn… I guess I should've expected that."
Marcus stood up. "There's one more thing though. Whoever leads the Blades has to do it for the right reason. Most of the people I know, if put in that position, are going to use me as the foundation for all their decision-making. They'll constantly be going 'What would Marcus do in this situation?' I don't want that. I want someone who'll make a decision because it's the best available option, not because it'd be something I would do."
Marcurio sighed. "Is this payback for all those times I questioned you? Challenged your opinions?"
"I need someone independent on this. A true, free-thinking friend, not just another follower."
"Do… do the Blades know about your choice?"
"They know I'm sending someone new to join them, and that this someone has leadership potential. That's all."
Marcurio rubbed his forehead. "Well… I'm probably going to regret this, but I accept."
Marcus smiled, and patted him on the shoulder. "Good man. I knew I could count on you."
"If I fuck something up, it's on you."
"It always is. Now go and enjoy the festival."
Marcurio shook his head slowly, and walked off. Marcus breathed out a heavy sigh of relief once he was gone. One less weight on his mind. Only one more thing to do…
Marcus found Jarl Balgruuf near the marketplace, with his ever faithful Irileth by his side. The dark elf was wearing formal clothes, although she still carried a sword. The young man walked up, and soon grabbed their attention.
"Marcus, my boy!" Balgruuf boomed. He stepped forward and wrapped him in a hug. "Good to see you alive and well!"
Marcus embraced the older man and nodded towards Irileth. "Likewise Balgruuf. Irileth."
The Jarl released him and took a look at his clothes. "Well, looks like you've put in some effort, fashion-wise."
"Yeah, take a good look, cause this is the last time it'll be happening."
Balgruuf laughed, and offered him a bottle of mead. Marcus took it, though decided to sip it slowly instead of gulp it down. He wanted to remain sober until the important part of the night was over.
Marcus began. "I wanted to talk to you about a certain 'thane' matter."
"That sounds awfully serious for such a light-hearted occasion."
"It's not really. I just want to release Lydia from her Housecarl duties. Nothing to do with her performance, I just feel she's earned a chance at a normal life."
Balgruuf raised an eyebrow. "Well, that's certainly quite… unusual. Normally Housecarls serve for life."
"Can it be done?"
"Well, it isn't unheard of. If you're certain, I'll get started making the arrangements when I return to Whiterun."
"Fantastic. Also, let her know she can keep living in Breezehome. Get Proventus to transfer ownership of it to her, if you'd like."
Irileth spoke up. "That's very charitable of you, Marcus. Are you sure?"
The young man shrugged. "I've got more than enough houses. Like I said, she's earned it."
Balgruuf clapped Marcus on the shoulder, causing him to spill a bit of his drink. "You're going to make that girl very happy, Marcus. I'll see it gets done."
"Thank you." He embraced the Jarl once more and shook Irileth's hand. "I better get going. There's a lot of people that probably want to talk to me, and hiding from them is a tricky task."
They all laughed again, and parted ways. Marcus relaxed a little more. One last loose end tied. About time too, Lydia deserved a life out from under his shadow. With a deep swig from his bottle of mead, he walked off into the crowd to actually enjoy himself properly.
He got a chance to speak to nearly everyone. General Tullius seemed to be enjoying himself for the first time Marcus had ever seen. The old soldier even cracked a smile once or twice. Elisif seemed… bright. As though some weight that'd been resting on her shoulders since Marcus had first seen her had been lifted. The young man felt he should take some pride in that.
Maven had showed up, which soured Marcus' mood slightly. Luckily with a few clever insults he was able to get her storming off before she could waste too much of his time. Vilkas and Farkas were near the Bard's college, drunk off their asses and singing a very poor accompaniment to one of Pantea's songs.
Marcus spoke to most of his Housecarls, though decided to let Balgruuf tell Lydia about her release from servitude. He'd probably make a better show of it anyway.
Around halfway through the night, people began to drift upwards towards the Castle Dour courtyard, which had been transformed into a very large dancing area. Where there had been archery targets, a small wooden platform had been set up and a group of bards were playing a number of dancing tunes. Below them, a large section of carpet had been set up to create a 'dance floor' of sorts.
Marcus clung to the shadows, having already turned down a number of noble girls and ladies who'd asked him to dance. He felt flattered they'd offered, but he knew it was only because of his status. If he'd worn more normal attire he doubted they'd have spoken to him at all.
"Want to give it a go?"
Marcus jolted, and turned. Serana was standing behind him, and gesturing towards the dancing couples.
His face turned pale. "Er… n-no thanks. I'm not much of a dancer..."
Serana smiled. "Come on, it's easy." She stood up and pulled at his hand. "Just follow my lead."
Marcus shook his head and pulled back, his eyes taking on a scared glint that trapped animals often have. "No, really. I'm fine. I'd only end up embarrassing you and I -"
"You're embarrassing me by not dancing with me," Serana said, fixing him with an intense glare. "This is the sort of thing most normal couples do, so stop complaining and stop skulking in the shadows!"
She pulled him out of his gloomy spot and grasped his hand firmly, before dragging him out into the centre of the courtyard. Despite her newfound humanity, she was surprisingly strong. People on the edges began to stop and look, Marcus' renown bringing him much unwanted attention. Curious, and perhaps jealous, they parted so that the pair essentially had the entire dance area to themselves.
"Serana please..." Marcus whispered desperately, glancing around at the mass of eyes fixed on him. He cycled through every spell and shout he knew to see if any of them could get him out of this situation. "This is a really, really, bad idea."
She took his hands and moved them into a simple dance pose. "Stop fussing. You've got great coordination and dexterity. You'll do fine. Just mirror my movements."
His mind raced for last-minute excuses. "I'm gonna pass out..."
"No you won't."
Marcus swallowed nervously. She was right. He would need a few solid minutes of hyperventilation to even come close. Almost every eye was now trained on him and Serana. Give him a Dragon or cave of bandits any day, this was horrific. He gritted his teeth and focused on her, trying to block out the view of everyone else. They began to move about the dance floor slowly.
As Serana had said, Marcus had better hand and feet coordination than almost anyone else, courtesy of his martial prowess. Following her movements, he managed to do quite competently. He did much better than he thought he would, and towards the end of the song many female onlookers were glowering with jealousy.
As soon as it ended, Marcus and Serana broke apart and moved away from the dance floor, with light applause coming from the onlookers. The young man was as red as a tomato, and made a beeline for the stairs leading up to the ramparts where he'd have a little privacy.
The bards started playing another tune, and most people began dancing again, quickly forgetting about the Dragonborn and his stunning partner.
Marcus took the stairs three at a time and made it onto the ramparts as fast as he could without – Gods forbid – drawing more attention to himself. He leaned against one of the walls and looked out over the northern shores, raking in deep breaths of cold night air.
Serana made an amused chuckle behind him. "For goodness sake Marcus, it wasn't that bad."
He glanced behind him briefly. "Putting a glowing Dragon on my doublet was the extent of my extroversion, Serana. I… I don't do public spectacle well, and especially not in the case of performances. It's why I never did well in the Bard's college."
"Well… You won't have to do it again."
"For a while."
Marcus groaned and briefly considered throwing himself off the wall.
It was three weeks since the festival. 'Aftershock' celebrations around Skyrim had quietened down, and things around the province were beginning to settle into the routine that would most likely exist for a long time to come. Marcus had been sorting out administrative issues with his guilds and helping the Blades sort out their 'rebranding' with Marcurio's help. It was dull work, and he'd often grab Serana and sneak away from Windstad Manor in the early morning to go hunt bandits or monsters. The woman was beginning to develop an affinity for fire magic, and Marcus was only too happy to teach her.
Which was a fun enough pastime, but was harder than it sounded in recent times. There simply weren't many bandits or wild beasts left to cause trouble. It used to be that you could shoot an arrow into the air and have a fair chance of hitting something evil when it came down. But now? No luck.
So Marcus had taken a more… creative pastime. An architectural pursuit aimed at creating a new, less 'functional' home close to Riverwood. Today was the day that he'd decided to show Serana the location.
Marcus swept his arm out over the view of Lake Ilinalta with an expectant look on his face. "What do you think?"
"Not bad..." Serana hummed. "Actually, it's pretty damn gorgeous. Was this the exact spot where you had the dream?"
"More or less."
Serana inspected the area, walking up and down the clearing and gazing at the view of the lake. Marcus watched her, fidgeting with his hands and wondering whether he should tell her the rest of the dream.
He'd left out the part with the child's hand. He didn't know how to break it to her. They both wanted to be together for the rest of their lives and now that she was human again, they'd actually have a chance of a normal relationship. Or at least, as normal as they could ever get.
But would a child fit into that? Marcus wondered. He'd been asking himself that question so many times over the few weeks since the festival. It was so far from anything he'd ever conceived as possible, but… he had received a letter from Constance quite recently…
"Hmm?" She turned around expectantly.
Marcus took a deep breath. "I… I didn't tell you about how the dream ended."
"You didn't? Why not?"
"Because I was afraid."
"At this point, what could even make you afraid?"
"There was a child there too… I think it was ours."
Serana didn't say anything. She was frozen. After several long moments she eventually turned to face him.
She said quietly. "Yeah… I can see how that'd do it..."
He took a few steps away, running his hands through his hair. "I know how crazy it sounds. For someone like me, who can't even control himself long enough to keep from slaughtering an entire embassy in an act of revenge, to be a parent..."
"It's not you I'm worried about so much. Up until a month ago I was a monster. A creature of the night." Serana sat on a stone, hugging herself as if she was cold. "I've literally torn people apart, Marcus. I know I've come a long way, but can you ever truly escape such things?"
He didn't have an answer for her. It would've been easy to say that worse people have become parents, but that really wasn't an excuse. They should be judged on their own merit, without consideration to any norms or comparisons.
Marcus sighed and sat down next to her, looking out over the lake. Neither of them even had a good frame of reference for parenting. Serana's experiences had left much to desire, and Marcus' memories of his parents were vague, faded, and tainted with grief. As much as he hated to admit it, Marcus had probably torn apart more families than he had repaired. He never bothered to find out if the bandits he'd murdered had anyone left behind. He'd never cared.
"I don't know Marcus..." Serana breathed out slowly. "Are we really cut out for something like that?"
"I…I'm not sure. Maybe not right now, but I would like to be... one day. Don't you?"
Serana went to speak, but a lump formed in her throat and her voice cracked. Instead she just nodded quickly, and looked down.
He wrapped an arm around her shoulders, she sighed and leaned into it.
Marcus continued, "You're not immortal anymore, but we still have a lot of time. Nobody's forcing us to make any decisions sooner than we're ready."
Serana took a deep breath and nodded. "You're right. There's no need to rush."
He smiled. "Besides, I'll have a full plate babysitting the Blades and all the other guilds for a while anyway."
6 Months Later
Marcus looked up and down the orphanage slowly. Serana spoke to Constance about the details of the adoption process. The children tried a mixture of looking busy and looking hopeful. They knew why he was here. There was only one reason why a young couple would be at an orphanage.
"Is this everyone?" Marcus asked.
"Umm..." Constance glanced around, doing a headcount. "I think… I think Lily is missing. Typical."
Serana blinked. "Where is she? Shouldn't you be more worried?"
Constance sighed. "She likes to go off on her own, despite how often I tell her it's dangerous. She's probably down by the docks. That's her favorite spot."
Marcus shrugged. "Well, I don't want to leave anyone out. I'll go find her, and at least bring her back."
The headmistress nodded solemnly. "If you want to. She's a strange one. Stands out, but not in a good way. Many other adoptive parents have passed her by."
The young man raised an eyebrow, but didn't say anything more. Leaving Serana to talk to the other kids, he walked out and headed for the docks. It was a sunny day, so he could imagine why she'd decided to go there. The sun reflecting off the water, combined with the orange trees, made the whole world seem vibrant and golden.
There weren't many people on the docks that day. A small girl sat at the end of the furthest dock from the city, gazing out at the lake and the mountains beyond. Marcus walked up behind her, curious more than anything.
He asked. "Why are you out here alone?"
"I like the solitude." The young girl replied evenly. She didn't seem phased by the stranger who'd walked up behind her and started asking questions. She didn't even look up away from the water.
Marcus tilted his head sideways. "Am I bothering you?
"No. You're interesting."
"The wooden boards creaked under your weight as you approached, but your boots themselves made no sound. Are you a wizard?"
Marcus smiled. This had to be her. For a nine year-old, Lily was very smart. "Sort of."
"What's that supposed to mean? You are or you aren't." A small frown creased her brow, and she looked up at him for the first time. Her eyes were full of curiosity and thoughts.
"Well then, I guess I am a wizard." Marcus said. He could see why Constance had said she stood out. But 'strange' wasn't the word he'd have used to describe her.
"A wizard who wears chainmail and carries a sword as well." Lily stated.
"I'm a special wizard."
"Did you come from the orphanage?"
He nodded. "Yes. My… partner and I are looking into adoption."
"Oh shoot..." Lily looked down at the water, crestfallen. "And I've gone and ruined my chances by acting weird."
"Asking too many questions, making statements about people. I'm told it's bad for a young girl to behave that way."
Marcus lowered himself down and sat next to her. "You don't strike me as the kind to care about what others say."
"I don't want to live at the Orphanage forever. Constance says I've 'scared' some of the other adults that come looking to adopt."
She shrugged. "Or annoyed. Or weirded out. They all had a reason."
"Hmmm… Some people are intimidated by those unafraid to speak their mind."
"Doesn't change my situation" Lily mumbled, her tone taking on a glum note.
Marcus smiled. There was only one other person he knew of that spoke in such sombre, introspective tones.
Lily looked sideways at him. "How come you're still here?"
"Because you don't scare me."
A flicker of hope entered the young girls eyes, followed by more curiosity. "Why not?"
"Because I've faced a lot of scary things, and you hardly qualify in my book."
"What sort of things?"
"The sort that people write songs about."
"What do yo- Oh..." Lily's eyes widened. "You're… you're the Dragonborn, aren't you?"
Marcus blinked. She'd deduced it quickly. Serana herself had taken a couple days to reach that conclusion. The young girl had him cracked in a few minutes. "W… What makes you say that?"
"There's only one thing people are singing about these days. Or one person."
"Well..." Marcus looked down at his feet. "That's the price of fame."
"Plus that sword looks like it's made of bone. Your armour looks well-crafted, your face has many faint scars and you have an amulet of Akatosh on. There's also your eyes."
Marcus raised an eyebrow. "What's wrong with my eyes?"
"They look like a spot of ink surrounded by fire. That's in the songs too."
"… Ok, now you're actually scaring me."
"Sorry..." Lily smiled sadly. "I've been called too smart for my own good before."
"Hmm…" Marcus smiled. "Sounds like you might be a threat in future… As my Dragonborn duty, perhaps I'll have to adopt you just to keep an eye on you."
Lily frowned, then her eyes slowly lit up as she understood what he was implying. With a squeal, she leapt up and wrapped her arms around his neck, hugging him tightly.
"You mean it? You really mean it?"
Marcus laughed. "Well, you've only got half the party convinced. Still have to convince my plus one. Come on."
Lily released him and let him stand up. Eagerly, she skipped alongside him as they walked back to the orphanage, babbling quickly about how much of a great, obedient daughter she'd be and how little he'd have to worry about her. Marcus listened to her earnest words with a soft smile, feeling something 'click' together in his chest that'd been broken for a long time.
Serana wasn't hard to convince. She saw in Lily the exact same thing Marcus had. A quirky, deep intellect that reflected both of them to a great extent. A few minutes later and their decision was made. Lily left with them that very afternoon, packing up her tiny amount of belongings into a bag and heading out. She was so happy to leave the orphanage that Marcus would've wondered if she'd been mistreated, if he didn't know what Constance was like.
They took a carriage, knowing that the young girl wasn't capable of the same cross-province treks that Marcus and Serana were well acquainted with. They arrived at the construction site near Riverwood well into the night, having wanted to show the girl what her new home would look like. Alas, Lily had already fallen asleep by then. Marcus carried her to the large tent set up near the site that they slept in whenever inspecting the build progress.
They let her be after that. Serana couldn't sleep, and Marcus couldn't either. Both of them were too nervous, and excited. They sat outside the tent and talked long into the night about goals as parents and potential rules, before eventually falling asleep leaning against each other during a lull in the conversation.
They awoke to Lily poking their faces in the morning, eager to show them something. She led them to just behind the site, where the view of the Ilinalta was visible. The sun had just crested the trees, flooding the valley with morning rays.
Lily looked up at her new parents, and said what all of them were thinking.
"Looks like a home."
Author's Notes: Well… this is it. At this point I think the story has reached its natural conclusion. Writing anything more would probably be pointless as the updates would be too sparsely spread and not of a very high quality, because without any actual game content, the writing won't have a whole lot of depth. I think it's had a good run.
I do have more ideas though, and potentially at some point in the future I may be struck by a burst of creativity and motivation to come back to the story and write one last dimension-spanning adventure. But there's no knowing of when or if this will ever happen. It could be three months, it could be a year, it could be never. If it does, it wouldn't be episodic. I'd write it all and upload it in one or maybe two chapters.
But anyway, I wanted to thank you all for following this story, over the several years I've been writing it. It's been a very enjoyable experience, and I'm glad I could share it with the world.
So, for the last time:
Thank you for reading.