Chapter 26:

Old Wounds

The Elder Scrolls Series is property of Bethesda. Familiar of Zero is (currently) property of Media Factory (I believe)

"Talking"

"Thoughts"

"Powerful (Dragon/Daedra/etc.) speech"

"DOVAHZUL"

/+/+/+/+/

Siesta cried herself to exhaustion not long after…their encounter. Master Johan graciously offered up his cot for her to sleep on. Louise let out a sigh as she looked down on her dozing friend, taking a moment to brush some hair out of her face. "What do we do now?" she asked aloud.

"Continue with our original plan," Master Johan replied from behind her. She turned around, bemused to see him pouring himself a bowl of stew. He gestured towards her, "Want some?" She just slowly shook her head—she'd lost her appetite, and doubted she'd find it for that night. He shrugged, "That's fair; everyone deals with their first time differently."

"You're…awfully relaxed, Boss," Derflinger said slowly. Louise was about to agree with the blade, only to then recall that her master was from a world where such occurrences—demon-gods popping in, terrorizing you, and continuing on their way—were the norm.

"Oh," he said with a grim chuckle, walking over to the table, "don't let my calm veneer fool you. I don't plan on sleeping for the next week, at least, until I'm sure we won't receive anymore unwanted guests." He snapped his fingers as he sat down, "Which reminds me, from now on, don't mention Daedra by name; use titles, nicknames, general descriptors, even initials, if applicable. Less likely for them to find us."

"They know when you use their names?" Derflinger asked askance.

Her master shrugged, "If they're close enough."

"What of the Aedra?" Louise asked. "Should we use titles for them as well?"

Johan huffed, "You can use their names." Before she could even begin to grow exasperated at the double-standard, he added, "Centuries pass without any of them physically walking Mundus. And even then, they only show up when a true disaster strikes."

"Speaking of," Derflinger spoke up, "do you really believe that that…that madman won't tell anyone where you are?" Louise nodded eagerly with his question; how could they trust a self-admitted mad demon-god to keep his word?

"He won't say anything," her master said with a furrowed brow, "because telling his kin of my location would mean going back on our deal. And the Princes, for all their faults, don't renege on deals." He rolled his eyes, "Of course, there's other ways for things to go wrong," he grimaced, "far too many ways…but the Lord of the Shivering Isles won't directly betray us."

"…Lovely," Derflinger drawled. They sat in silence after that. Well, mostly; Johan still ate his meal. It was when he set aside his bowl that conversation started again. Beginning with him frowning at the wheel of cheese lying on the floor. "Suppose I should deal with that," he said.

"Yeah, uh, can we just…throw it out?" No doubt Derflinger would be grimacing if he had a face, "Would…he…be mad if we did that?"

Johan grunted, "Maybe, maybe not."

"Let's assume he will," Louise spoke up. She, admittedly, had no authority to suggest such a thing. But is she treated the mad god's gift like any other gift from a person of higher standing (and who stood higher than a god), common etiquette demanded that they accept it.

"Smart move," her master said with a smirk. "Wait here." He then stood up, telekinetically grabbed the cheese, and exited the tent.

"Wait!" Louise said, grabbing the cloak he'd left on his chair, "It's still…raining?" She furrowed her brow in confusion as she looked outside the tent. The ground was moist, the sun was blocked by steel clouds, but there was storm. Not even a hint of rain.

"One of the mad god's domains is thunderstorms," her master supplied. "In hindsight, the storm heralded his arrival. Now, please, close the tent-flap."

"Why?" Louise felt a tremor in her heart, "What are you expecting, Master?"

"…Close the flap, Louise." She reluctantly obeyed, stepping back a few feet. Not a minute later, he returned, a smile on his piece and two half-circles of cheese in his hands. "We're fine," was all he said as he walked past her, dropping the cheese on the table.

"Boss, what…exactly…were you expecting?" Derflinger asked.

"Anything from an explosion of flowers to insects hatching the moment they hit open air," Master Johan easily replied, settling back into his chair.

"I see, I see," Derflinger replied. "Shall we move on to another topic, so I don't have to think about that?"

"Of course."

"My deepest thanks. Louise," the blade suddenly said, "have anything you'd like to discuss?"

The young mage spluttered at being put on the spot. "Er, uh, well…What was that about He—er," she paused, remembering what the mad god had called his kin, "…slime-eyes?"

"Later," her master replied. When she furrowed her brow, he continued, "That's a topic which is heavily tied to ancient Nordic history," he gestured to Siesta's sleeping form, "one of the few topics that actually interests Siesta, on top of relating to her ancestral home. I'll speak of it when she's awake."

Louise conceded his point; Siesta deserved to hear of her people's history. Thus, she recalled the other most interesting tidbit of their encounter. That recollection came with a widespread numbness, from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. "The Founder," she whispered.

"Oh yeah." Derflinger hummed, "What did the madman call him, a 'poor-man's Talos'? Who's Talos?"

"Talos is a Divine. A…rather divisive one. Have you read about him, Louise?" She shook her head; she'd mainly focused on the Daedra. "Hm. Well, long-story short, he was once a man named—among others—Tiber Septim, who established the Septim Empire, the latest and, once upon a time, largest empire in all Tamriel's history. Upon his death, he ascended to godhood."

"What makes him divisive?" Louise asked, wholly intrigued by this deity. Was it the fact that he was once a man? Such a thing was nigh-unthinkable to Louise; none in Halkeginia dared question the Founder. But, Talos…he'd be a man who became a god in a world with dozens of gods who were born as gods. That would have to cause some friction with people.

"Another topic that we'll have to wait for Siesta for," her master answered. He chuckled, "It's a very…special topic among the Nords, to put it lightly."

"Moving on," Derflinger said. "according to our least favorite crossdresser, the Founders not only still around, but spends all his time crying, right?" Louise wanted to argue that, according to the Church, the Founder was always watching over his children, but she decided that the crying topic was the more important one.

"Yes. Why would a god weep?" Master Johan hummed.

"Maybe because he realized that genocide is wrong and he's nothing more than a self-righteous asshole."

"I beg your pardon?!" Louise cried. She wasn't even angry (well, terribly angry). More confused that such vitriol could come from the normally easygoing living weapon. Even Johan was staring at him in wide-eyed shock, and he'd just had tea with a demon-god.

"Ah," Derflinger started, "sorry about that. Well, not entirely. I meant every word I said." Louise opened her mouth to ask for greater clarification, when Derflinger spoke over her, "Should I tell her, Boss?"

Master Johan blinked, composing himself, "It's your past."

Louise stayed silent, cocking a brow at Derflinger. "Alright," the blade said, "so, you know about my amnesia, right?" She nodded. "Well, a couple days ago, Johan used magic to try and coax my buried memories out—when are we going to try that again?" he directed the question towards Johan.

"During our stay at the Capital, I'd imagine."

"Cool, cool. Where was I…ah! So, Boss's magic worked, and I saw something. Someone," his voice grew softer, "my first wielder." He sighed, "…She was an elf. And a slave, by the look of her clothes."

The Louise of weeks prior, the 'Zero', would have panicked at that admission. She'd have decried Derflinger for a heathen and had him melted into slag. Most likely would have had the store he was purchased from burnt down and salted the earth for good measure.

The Louise of the present merely pursed her lips. "You're positive?" She asked, "That this woman's an elf, and a slave at that?"

"As sure as the steel of my blade," he solemnly replied.

"Then…why are you here? I mean," she added when her master cocked a brow at her, "there are no elves in Halkeginia, much less slave elves. Surely, you'd have been created in the Holy Lands."

"Ah, but you forget, Little Lady, we're not entirely sure how old I am."

"Assuming the elf was enslaved by a human," her master said, stroking his beard, "Derflinger could easily be older than the human kingdoms—they were only established after Brimir drove the elves out, correct?" She nodded wordlessly, thinking more on the problem before them.

"Is she the only one you remember before we found you?" she asked Derflinger.

"Yes…maybe. Remember those Rhyme dragons I told you about," she blanched, but nodded all the same, "I'm not entirely certain when that was. Could have been with my first wielder, could have been after her." He hummed, "I…I don't believe that happened when I was with her, though."

"Why not?" Master Johan asked.

"It…doesn't feel like something she'd have done."

The Nord leaned forward, "You're remembering more of her?"

"No…yes…it's hard to explain. It's right there," he whispered, pained.

"Please," her master said, holding his hands up placatingly, "take your time. No need to push yourself."

"Yeah," the living weapon agreed, "There's other things we can discuss. Like why the Founder's a sobbing wreck," he said, in a much more chipper tone. Louise found it a little offending, but let it slide.

"Right," her master said, eyes glowing with amusement. "So, there's a couple reasons why that could be. One—"

"He's realized he's an asshole," Derflinger cut in. When Louise sent a glare his way, he just scoffed, "I stand by my words."

"Two," her master pressed on, "he's upset that mankind has yet to take the Holy Lands from the elves." He huffed, "Which you've had over six-thousand years to do, so honestly, why haven't you?"

Louise opened her mouth to reply, only to immediately snap it shut upon realizing that she really didn't have any clue as to why mankind had yet to do so. The borders were watched, she knew, but as far as she was aware there were no plans of an invasion. Nor had there been any invasions as far back as she could remember. Odd. Those thoughts did lead to her own theory, however. Blasphemous thoughts, but she'd crossed that line long ago. "Perhaps," she bit her lip, "the Church is to blame."

Her master stared at her in unabashed shock—in any other situation, she'd have laughed—and Derflinger gasped audibly. "…Go on," the former hesitantly said.

"It's just…as you said, it's been six-thousand years. And the Church has a…sordid history." She could admit that, now. "Perhaps they've strayed from the Founders original edicts?" She grimaced, "Be it intentional or not."

"Hmm…and given the lack of overt miracles or sightings, there'd be no reason for the Church to strictly follow his teachings in favor of petty politics." Louise winced at the critique but could admit that there was truth to it. The comparison to Tamriel, who's gods—good and bad—had well-documented habits of showing up at random and performing miracles—or causing destruction—on a whim only strengthened his claim. "Still, there's something else about the Founder that rubs me the wrong way." When Louise sent her master an inquisitive stare, he elaborated, "According to the Prince of Madness, the Founder is the only god that dwells within this plan of existence. Doesn't that strike you as odd? Surely there were other deities prior to the Founder's ascension. To say nothing of the potential elven deities."

"What makes you think elven gods would want to be around the guy that committed genocide against their people?" Louise nodded along with Derflinger's words.

"That may be true, but the Lord of the Shivering Isles said that the Founder was the only god around. That's," his face pinched, "hard to wrap my head around."

"Well I had a hard time coping with the idea that multiple gods could coexist," Louise replied with a smirk. Her master laughed, the mood in the tent rising.

"Hey, Boss," Derflinger said after a moment of comfortable silence, "be honest, how much more chaotic do you expect our lives to get in light of all this?"

"Assuming the Lord of the Shivering Isles doesn't do anything to screw us over—accidentally or otherwise…" he trailed off, mumbling into his beard, "A couple weeks, perhaps. Less depending on how long we stay at the capitol."

Louise stared askance at her master, "You think we'll get into trouble at the capitol of Tristain?"

"Do you know how much goes on in big cities?" he cocked his brow, "Especially ones were royalty dwells?"

Louise opened her mouth to respond, only for a yawn burst past her lips. She clapped her hands over her mouth, her face steadily catching fire. Derflinger's hearty guffaws intensified her embarrassment, her temper quickly rising to match it.

"I believe," Master Johan said, defusing the argument before it could even begin, "that that's as good a place as any to stop for now." He glanced over to Siesta, "I'd thought she'd wake by now, but we can just discuss more in the morning." He gestured towards her cot—opposite Siesta's—which she slowly trudged towards.

"Good night, Master," she said as pulled off her cloak and folded it at the head of the cot.

"Good night, Louise."

"Good night, Derflinger," she said as she lay down, pulling the blanket over her body.

"Sleep tight, Little Lady."

She turned on her said, staring at Siesta's sleeping form—so restful and still, compared how she'd been when she awake—until Master Johan blew out the candles in the tent, allowing the darkness of the night to overtake them.

/+/+/+/+/

Louise awoke to the sound of girl's laughter. Not the gentle kind either—the dainty bell-like sounds of the girls and women she'd grown-up with. No, this was a loud, snorting thing that devolved into wheezes. She blearily raised her head, gaze settling upon the table. There sat, on the same side, Siesta and Master Johan—Derflinger laying just before them on the table. Siesta was doubled over her seat, taking deep, gasping breaths, as Johan smiled down at her.

"And then Farkas, all-covered in spiderwebs and dried guts," Louise gagged silently—what a thing to wake up to, "marched over to me, and said," he affected a gravellier voice, "'Next time, Harbinger, just do me a favor and burn my eyes out." That set off another round of harsh laughter from Siesta, followed by wheezing as her lungs started to give out again.

"That's just gross," Derflinger said with no small amount of disgust. "Like, that entire story was weird, but that's just plain gross." Siesta looked at Derflinger, no doubt to try and counter his statement (which Louise agreed with, even if she hadn't heard the whole thing), but she just started laughing and wheezing again. The contrast in her friend between the current situation and the previous night was…odd, to say the least. Heartening, but odd.

Master Johan chuckled, his smirk widening when he caught sight of Louise swinging her legs over the cot. "Ah, Louise! Glad you're up!"

She nodded at him, "Master." She looked over at Siesta, who was hastily wiping tears from her eyes, her smile threatening to become wider. "Siesta," she said warmly, "how are you feeling?"

Her friend's smile shrank a fair bit, eyes losing their mirth. "Oh, I-I'm fine. Really," she said when Louise cocked a brow, "I mean…I'm still here, so obviously the, uh, Prince of Madness doesn't want anything to do with me. For the moment," she whispered that last part beneath her breathe. Louise grimaced, but kept silent.

"So," Master Johan clapped his hands, pulling her attention back to him, "I'm thinking we break camp after breakfast and be on our way."

Louise blinked, "Is that the," she flicked her gaze back to Siesta briefly, "best course of action."

"Louise," Siesta grimaced, "if a demon-god really wanted to…do anything to me, I don't think the 'where' matters." A fair point. The young mage didn't particularly care for it, but it was a fair point, nonetheless. "Plus," her friend, bashfully turned her head, "I'd like to sleep on a bed sooner rather than later."

Louise hummed, glancing down at her cot. They were nice things; surprisingly comfortable. But there was just something about featherbeds…She turned back to her master, "What's for breakfast?"

"Standard fair. Fruit, bread, stew. The cheese from last night." He gestured to the other end of the table, where the two torn pieces of cheese the Daedric Prince of Madness had 'gifted' them lied.

She shuddered, "I'll stick with the first three."

/+/+/+/+/

They packed up soon after eating breakfast—about an hour after sunrise. Despite his previous assurances, Master Johan was somber as he magicked the camping supplies away. He held Derflinger in his right hand, a series of spells flashing in and out of existence in his left, the living weapon keeping silent as he acted as an extra set of eyes. Master Johan also insisted that she and Siesta walk in front of them at all times; she could feel his eyes burning holes into their backs. Yet, it wasn't a dreadful affair. It was actually…comforting, that he cared so much about them.

Siesta especially needed his attention. She wasn't a wreck like the previous night, but she did flinch at every broken twig and crumpled leaf. Even when Louise took her hand into her own, her friend couldn't resist almost crushing her bones into powder (not that Louise ever voiced her pain).

It was after a couple hours of travel when Master Johan decided that they'd rest by a small brook for a while. He even summoned some pillows for them to rest their heads on.

"Master," Louise asked when he finally settled down from guarding the area, "what's the history between you and, er, Slime-Eyes."

"'Slime-Eyes'?" Siesta parroted.

Master Johan, who had just leaned against a log and shut his eyes, sighed. He snapped his fingers, a book appearing in a flash of purple light and falling in Siesta's lap. "Page 7," he said.

The young Commoner flipped to the page. She frowned, "He—"

"Don't say it!" Louise shouted.

Siesta floundered for a second, "Er, uh…the Prince of Fate, then?"

"That'll work," her master intoned. Siesta nodded, and Louise took the moment to restate her question. He hummed, stroking his beard, "Well, it's something of an involved story. Derflinger knows a bit more than you; how much do you know again?"

Laying across his lap, the living weapon replied, "You told me he killed your brother." Siesta gasped, and Louise was right behind her. Master Johan had a brother? He never really spoke of a family; friends, certainly, but not a family. But then, if his brother had been killed by a Daedric Prince—wait, why would his brother have been killed by a Daedric Prince? A consequence of Johan's Aedric soul—wait, was his brother also Dragonborn? Was that why he'd been killed? To keep the two from pooling their power together?

"You also," Derflinger's voice cut through her thoughts, "told me that you were more pissed that he stole your kill."

…What?

"Let's start from the beginning." He tossed Derflinger over to Siesta (the blade letting out a short, happy 'whoop!'), rising to his feet. He raised his arms, purple, smoky orbs slowly coming to life in his hands. Louise leaned forward with a grin; even if the subject matter was…confusing, the Illusion spell he'd cast when he first taught her wandless magic was very impressive. "Watch this," she said to Siesta.

Only for her grin to disappear as he lowered his hands—cancelling the magic—and saying, "Eh, better not."

"Oh yes, very impressive."

Louise resisted the urge to roll her eyes. She asked, "Why not, Master?"

"I'd rather not risk recreating anything linked to the Prince of Fate."

"Aren't they just illusions?" Siesta asked. "Fake?"

"You're forgetting," Louise spoke before her master, "that the Princes have power beyond our comprehension. And Tamriellic magic is more…weird than Halkeginian magic." At her friend's confused stare, Louise bit her bottom lip, "Er…it has to do with, uh, Tenal Architecutre?"

Her master came to her rescue. "Tonal Architecture," he corrected her. The foundation of reality itself. Illusion spells, when cast by a sufficiently powerful mage," he didn't bother to keep the smugness out of his voice, "can make reality…bend in interesting ways."

Siesta hummed thoughtfully. "…I don't get it."

"Don't feel too bad," Louise huffed, ""I've spent weeks learning this type of magic and I can barely wrap my head around."

"That's probably because you've only spent weeks studying that type of magic," Derflinger snarked. Louise turned her nose up at him in reply.

"I've read a few passages from some of your books," Siesta said with a giggle, "got my head spinning in minutes."

"Well," Master Johan spoke up, "Louise is on some pretty advanced topics." The young mage preened at the praise. "But the novice literature is an easier read, if you're interested."

Siesta frowned, "That's nice, but why would I read magic books when I'm not a mage."

"First off," the elder mage countered, "there's nothing wrong with understanding how something works. Second, who said you can't cast magic."

"…I know you're new to Halkeginia—"

Louise leaned forward, cutting her off, "You think Siesta can learn Tamriellic magic?" Siesta gasped, straightening her spine. Master Johan had mentioned that, given her family's origins, it could be possible. It was still a strange thought—that the ability to cast magic could appear at random, regardless of one's blood. Which reminded her, she needed to ask for some literature on the genealogy of famous mages in Tamriel; for her own personal edification, if nothing else.

"That's an excellent question. Let's check!" Master Johan exclaimed. He rose to his feet, moving his arms in lazy circles as orbs of pale blue light formed in his hands.

"What's that?" Siesta asked warily.

Master Johan stopped moving his arms, clenching his hands over the orbs as he answered, "This spell is known as 'Vision of the Third Eye'.

"'Third Eye'?" Derflinger chortled, "What happened to the first two?"

"I don't need to see through stone, or at night."

"…You're kidding," the living weapon breathed. Only to cut off Master Johan's reply, "What am I saying, you can breathe fire."

"I will it into existence."

"You open your mouth and fire comes spewing out; you can breathe fire." Louise and Siesta both giggled at the blade's blunt snark. The elder mage smirked but said nothing. Instead, he threw his hands down, the orbs in his hands colliding and exploding into a cloud of blue mist. His eyes took on an otherworldly shine—blue, as was appropriate.

He locked his gaze on Siesta, who squirmed a bit at the attention. Then, he clapped his hands in front of his face, dispelling the shine. He sat back down with a small frown, "You can't cast magic."

"Oh, thank heavens," Siesta sighed, placing a hand on her chest.

"Beg your pardon?" Louise asked askance. She was glad she couldn't learn magic? She should be ecstatic for the opportunity! On top of the one in a million odds of a Commoner being able to learn magic there was also the chance to learn a type of magic that, currently, only two people were aware off in all of Halkeginia. Wars had been started for less. A few too many wars, to be honest.

Siesta just huffed, "Magical lessons on top of what I'm doing now?"

That made Louise pause. She wasn't privy to all that Siesta and Master Johan got up to. But if the way Siesta trudged back to camp every other day was any indication, it was much more strenuous than reading a book and waving her hands (she counted herself lucky that Master Johan didn't see fit to increase her own physical workouts in accordance with Siesta's).

"Fair enough," is all she said. She turned back to her master, "So you're…brother?"

"Miraak." A strange smile overtook his features, a mixture of loathing and fondness. "The First Dragonborn."

"The First?" Louise parroted.

"Are all Dragonborn given numbers," Siesta spoke up, "or just the important ones? Does Talos? Do you?"

"Talos has the much more illustrious titles of 'Emperor of Tamriel' and 'Ninth Divine'; him being Dragonborn is almost an afterthought." Siesta frowned, but Louise could see where he was coming from. For all their magical prowess, ruling an entire continent and becoming a god were much more fascinating subjects than being half-dragon. "And most Dragonborn between the three of us did not go on to acclaim great fame. As for me, I am known as The Last Dragonborn."

"Why?" Louise asked

"Because there shall be no more Dragonborn after me." Before Louise and Siesta could press on, he continued, "We're talking about Miraak, not me." He huffed, "Miraak was born during late into the Merethic era—either of you know when that was?"

Louise pursed her lips, "Er…it's, uh…" she trailed off. Her studies on the Daedra didn't really offer her timescales.

"It's the time when the elves ruled all of Tamriel, and mankind was just beginning to establish themselves," Siesta answered. At Louise's wide-eyed stare, she shrugged, "A lot of Nordic authors have a lot of opinions on that time period." She blinked, "Wait, that would mean—"

"That's correct, Siesta," Master Johan interjected with a smirk, "Miraak was old. Going back a couple steps; during this time, Dovah—who'd been around since the beginning—got it into their scaly little heads that they should rule the world."

"What took them so long?" Derflinger snarked.

"That's a long, long, long," Master Johan sighed, "long story. Let's focus on Miraak, hm?" He stroked his beard, "Where was I…ah, yes! Miraak was born under the dominion of the Dovah. But the Dovah—for reasons I can get into later—were not meant to rule as they did. So, Akatosh and Kyne developed a plan—to gift men with the ability to use the Thu'um, and fight against their Dovah overlords." He smiled, then, a vicious, toothy smile. "But Akatosh had a much grander idea; he decided that just being able to learn the Thu'um wasn't enough, there must be those that could live and breathe the Thu'um as easily as his children. Dovahkiin—Dragonborn. Miraak was born as the First. Meant to lead mankind to a new, glorious age."

Derflinger sighed, "But that didn't happen, did it?" There was something in his voice, some sort of resignation that made Louise think he was speaking from experience. Alas, he had amnesia—something he seemed to remember, given the low groan he mumbled beneath his breath.

"Miraak also had grander schemes." Master Johan chuckled, "A persistent problem where Dovah are concerned. He got it into his head that he should rule the world." Louise resisted the urge to roll her eyes. "He got pretty close too. But eventually, the Dovah marshalled their forces, and cornered him on the island of Solstheim." He looked down, voice softening, "He would have died," and then a deep growl rumbled through his throat, "until the Prince of Fate and Knowledge intervened, and struck a deal to hide him away in Apocrypha."

"To what end?" Louise asked with a whisper.

Her master grinned wolfishly—or would it be draconically? "Why, for knowledge, of course!" He clapped his hands together, "Princes have tried to unlock the secrets of the Thu'um from Dovah, but failed time and time again. They were too stubborn, too proud, to break. However, Dovahkiin—being mortal—should have been less so."

"W-Was he?" Siesta asked hesitantly. "Did the Prince of Fate get what he wanted?"

"Not entirely." He smiled, then, a genuine pull of the lips. "Miraak proved as stubborn as our scaly brethren. He was servant, but a wily and insubordinate one. Wouldn't do anything he didn't want to. And while the Prince of Fate could punish his slave, he could not break him."

"Then, why'd you kill him?" Louise asked.

He clicked his tongue, "Like I said, he had grander ideas. In his mind, his partnership with the Prince of Fate was always a temporary one. He just needed time to amass the necessary power to escape Apocrypha of his own volition." He gestured to himself with a lazy smile, "In other words, he was waiting for me."

Louise frowned, "He thought you would assist him."

Master Johan laughed heartily, "My assistance was never part of the equation." Before Louise could say something else, he continued, "Do you know what happens when a Dovah is killed?"

Siesta answered, "I don't know, but given your," she paused, "you-ness, I'm going to assume it's not as simple as 'they die'."

"Certainly not!" He said with a smile. "See, Dovah—being part Divine—are practically immortal."

"Practically?" Louise's cocked a brow.

"See, if someone or something is able to fatally wound a Dovah, their soul," he paused mumbling into his beard, "er…it gets 'scrambled'. It's still bound to their bodies, but while 'scrambled', those bodies are unresponsive until such a time as the soul become 'unscrambled'. While 'scrambled', there's a number of spells one can perform to make that 'scramble' a touch more permanent. But they can still come back under the right circumstances." He leaned forward, a cold gleam in his eyes, "Unless they're killed by another Dovah. Do you know what happens then?" He didn't give them a chance to answer. "Their souls are torn from their bodies and grafted onto their killer's."

Louise's blood ran cold. Unwilling soul transfer? In Halkeginia, such things were myths. Stories that people told children at night in order to frighten them. But then, a lot of things about Tamriel seemed like horror stories. Hell, she'd met one not twelve hours prior.

"S-So," Siesta's wavering voice brought the young mage back to reality, "t-that means that y-you—"

"I've sucked the souls out of my fair share of Dovah, yes," Master Johan interrupted with a ghost of a smile. Once more, Louise was reminded of just how dangerous the man before her was—another horror story, she grimly mused. And how …fortunate?...she was that he deigned to teach her.

"Hold on a minute," Derflinger spoke up once more. "You said that there were other Dragonborn besides you. Why'd Miraak wait so long?"

"Because none of them were fully realized Dragonborn." He waved his hands lazily in the air, "Even Tiber Septim, for all his accomplishments, never killed a Dovah and took its soul for his own. After Miraak, I was the only Dragonborn to actually do so." He hummed, stroking his beard, "It's…hard to explain. Killing a Dovah, absorbing their soul…does something to you. Awakens a dormant, integral part of your being…" he trailed off, breathing deeply. Then, he returned to the present, shaking his head lightly, "Anyway, Miraak needed my empowered soul to escape from Apocrypha—from its Prince—unscathed."

"So, you stopped him," Louise surmised. "Halted his plot to rule the world."

"Nothing so noble," her master said with a growl. "He wanted me dead, I wanted him dead. I never cared for his reasons." He smiled thinly, "Dress it up however you want, any conflict between Dovah is little more than a petty family squabble."

Louise turned towards Siesta, who was looking at Louise with an equally awkward expression. What could be said after that?

Not much, given that Master Johan rose to his feet with a small groan, saying, "Well, we've spent long enough on our butts. We should get moving; as long as we don't hit anymore unseen delays, we should hit the Capital before nightfall."

Louise stood up as well, her pillow vanishing as she readjusted the straps on her pack. Siesta handed Derflinger back to Master Johan, who attached him to his belt. It was as they were leaving the small stream behind that a thought came to her mind. "Master, you didn't kill Miraak, correct? The Prince of Fate killed him?" She instantly regretted her inquiry.

A dark shadow overtook his features; his mouth set into a thin line; eyes colder than ice. "Yes," he said—no, snarled. "Yes, he did. We fought in a pitched, heated battle. A battle of true equals, the likes of which the Nirn shall never again bear witness to. And the Prince of Fate appeared from nothing and stabbed him through his back." He looked down at his hands, clenching his fists, "He could have done that from the start, but he decided to play us like puppets first! Made us suffer for his amusement" he bellowed, his voice reverberating like thunder.

Siesta whimpered, then, pressing closer against Louise, the young mage herself holding onto her friend hard enough to crease her leather armor.

Master Johan jerked back, his dark mood dispelling as his face fell with no small amount of shame. "Ah," he coughed into his hands, "my apologies. The wound is still…still fresh, even now." He stared at them, imploring.

Siesta licked her lips, "I-It's alright, Mister Johan. It s-sounds like a…rough time in your life." Louise hadn't yet found her voice again but nodded fervently. He just sighed, turning his gaze back to his hands.

"We should get going," Derflinger said, breaking the silence that fell over them. "Need to hurry if we want to get to the Capital before sundown."

Master Johan huffed, lifting his head towards the sun, "Yes, let's be on our way."

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A/N: Hitting the capital of Tristain next chapter. Hopefully their time there is less hectic than their time in Tarbes. Be sure to leave a review. Later.