mir-aak; "allegiance guide".


The man held his midsection as tightly as humanly possible. Forced onto his knees by all-too-mortal injury, proud Miraak looked up, defiant in the face of destiny. In that moment, Midaar was struck by familiarity; but to what, exactly, he didn't know.

The wind howled as the sun rose. Or fell. Midaar wasn't sure.

The snow under Miraak was red, as were his clothes. Liquids leaked from his wounds, not all of them blood — like an ugly, pale acid that left burn-marks on his fingers. The man himself was shaking in agony, and yet, he still raised his shoulders and tried to move. He made a noise and persevered. He'd see this to the bitter end, Midaar knew. It was what his friend always did.

...He was a traitor. He was his friend no more.

(When had he stopped being the man Midaar had known all his life? When had Miraak stopped being the person Midaar had befriended; when had he instead been captured by greed, by an otherworldly spirit's smoky promises? Had Midaar taken his eyes off him for too long, for just a moment—?)

"You know I expected better of you, Miraak." Midaar's voice was icy.

Miraak laughed, a gross wet chortle. "Of course you did." He tried to laugh as he started coughing, and then he kept coughing. Miraak crawled further, maybe an inch. His free hand held onto the ground, carving the snow as he went; droplets of hot acid smoked as they hit snow. He raised his mask just a little bit and uncovered his mouth; Miraak then stared defiantly upwards, into the slits of Midaar's mask, and retched blood onto his feet.

Midaar waited for him to finish. Once he did, he knelt and with almost no resistance grabbed the back of Miraak's head, and he smashed it into the ground once, twice, three times, careful not to let his body shake. Midaar then kept Miraak's face pressed against the ground, teeth against the cold, and spoke.

"Looking back, it's obvious. You were always too independent. Too bright, too clever for your own good. You were naïve, Miraak, to think you could best the dragons."

Miraak grunted something against the snow. He was shivering, burning. Crashing.Kᴀʜᴠᴏᴢᴇɪɴ

"What was that?"

The traitor twisted his head, freeing his lips. "I bested twenty."

Midaar froze for a moment, horrified, iracund, disgusted , and then replied, "And look where you are now. Dead by the hands of a man." His chest felt empty. "A man who used to be your friend, Miraak," he whispered (was he pleading?). "Why did you do this?"

Miraak's breaths were more and more shallow. He didn't look at Midaar. "Does it matter?"

"Not to our lords, no." But you can tell me anyways.

"Then I'll take it to the grave." Miraak smiled, wicked and bitter and angry and small. Bloody vomit trailed from his mouth, tears (of pain?) stained by ice and mud. "But I can tell you one name," he then added. "Kᴀʜᴠᴏᴢᴇɪɴ."

"...Who?" Midaar blinked, taken aback.

Miraak grinned wider. "Ask the dragons."

And then Miraak Shouted,

F̬U͍̞̬̰͉̞͖S̜̻
͙̩̣̱͉̱RO͍
D̪̗̩A͔̙̳̗͍̭̠Ḫ̬̹͈ͅ!̠̺̭͍

The world, for lack of a better world, shook.

A void of ink appeared around Miraak; Midaar only realized he'd fallen once the ringing in his ears began. He could feel a trail of — blood? — from his ear. He watched as the ink swallowed Miraak. He thrashed, surprised, and Midaar saw it all, saw him disappear, ( "MIRAAK!" ), saw him gone. He threw out his hand, and Miraak struggled to catch it and failed, his eyes suddenly huge and dark and dark and dark and Midaar's ears kept ringing—

—and as Midaar watched, the continent broke.

The wave, the huge dark wave of sea-salt and foam was the last thing the dragon priest saw that day.

The boy waiting on the stairs was pretty excited about joining the ranks of the Dragon Priests, all things considered.

He glanced back at the big door and then decided to wait for the Priest who'd welcomed him to come back. The boy didn't know how old the ma was, but he was a grown-up and he was a Priest and he'd said his name was Vo-something maybe and that he should wait outside until he came back and the boy's new name was called and then the door had closed and dawn was coming and he'd been waiting for hours, now, and his legs were getting kind of tired.

He watched the people around Labyrinthian. There were also a few dragons, but the boy didn't find himself caring about them too much. Oh, sure, they were huge and good and stuff, and they sure seemed to be watching over the people wisely and stuff, but the novelty had worn out hours ago and the boy liked people, anyways. Simple dumb people. He found them funny, and fascinating, going around places doing everyday stuff. There was a Dragon Priest talking to a few workers. One of them was a nervous woman who kept shuffling from one foot to the other. The Dragon priest then said something to the nervous worker, and she jumped in place and stared wide-eyed at the maybe Dragon Priest and then began glowing, like straight-up glowing and smiled real wide and gave the priest a short bow and left really fast. The boy smiled. The priest then talked to the other two a bit more, and the boy looked away.

He kept watching as the sun rose, light bouncing off the snow, and he was definitely not scared when a big dragon walked close enough to the entrance to make the entire stone platform shake with his weight. He remembered something his father had told him once, about big things and dragons maybe, and then he remembered that he wouldn't see his father for a really long time and he felt a little sad. He didn't know why, though, because being a Dragon Priest was the best thing you could aspire to be, and you got to talk directly to the dragons and change things about Skyrim if they listened to you, and it was much better than the farm and he wouldn't have to share everything with five siblings.

His thought process was interrupted when he saw a small child by themself.

"Hi," he told the younger kid. They were maybe four, so definitely younger than the boy, who was eight and three months and five days. "What's your name? I'm, uh," and then he stopped because he realized he'd abandoned his old name and he didn't have a new one yet.

The kid turned around. Their eyes widened for a second when they found him, but they shook their head and stood up straighter. "Hel-lo," they said, very serious. Little kids usually were annoying, the boy thought, but maybe this one wouldn't be as bad.

"What's your name?" he asked, curious.

"...don't have one." They seemed… embarrassed. "Had an old one. It was dumb."

"Are you here to be a priest?"

"...yeah."

"Me too." The boy thought for a moment. "Maybe we'll get matching names. Since we were in-duc-ted on the same day."

The kid's eyes filled with tears, suddenly. "No!" they yelled. The boy leaned backwards, a little surprised. They stomped and then started flailing their arms, angry. They yelled for a bit, before shouting out, "I don't wanna share my name!"

"Shut up! Shut up shut up shut up!" The boy covered his ears as the kid started wailing. He groaned. Nevermind on them not being annoying! He hated little kids sometimes.

He remembered his baby brother Eluf's screaming when he wasn't allowed to pet the chickens. Then the boy remembered he wouldn't see Eluf for a while and felt… sad. He froze for a moment and didn't realize he'd dropped his hands until the kid had tugged on one of them.

"Why are you sad?" the kid asked, blunt.

"...it's nothing." He raised his shoulders, defensive, but the kid just tugged on his arm again. And then again. The boy huffed. "...I miss my little brother."

"Oh." The kid thought for a moment. "Was he nice?"

"He was. He liked to hug everyone. Even the chickens, but he scared them, because he hugged them too tight, and he didn't know he was scaring them." There was a ton of other stuff to say about Eluf, but the boy right now could only remember his little brother skinning his knee on the dirt path to the coops while chasing a very shy hen, crying like little waterfalls from his eyes.

The kid stared at him for a moment. "How did he not know?"

"He was a little kid. He didn't know better."

The kid then started thinking. And they thought loudly, humming out-loud. "Can grown-ups don't know, too?"

"I don't know. I guess?"

"Oh." They paused. "Thank-you."

"...It's no problem."

A little bit afterwards, the doors opened — and their new lives began.


Midaar awoke slowly, unsure.

The first thing he saw was a high stone ceiling. The second thing Midaar saw after Miraak's death was a healer.

(Miraak's death. Miraak's death. Miraak was gone.)

He blinked slowly, trying to make sense of the blurry shape by his side.

"Sleep, my lord," they whispered. They touched his forehead for a moment (was he running a fever? He didn't feel hot) and then, seemingly content, tucked Midaar further into bed.

"What day is it?"

"It's been three days since your duel with… him," the healer looked behind themself, alert, then slowly returned their gaze to him. "You were lost for a day. A wave dragged you onto the beach on the second day, my lord Jailor. You were unconscious and had a fever, in addition to multiple bruises and graver wounds."

"Solstheim. The land…"

"It broke," the healer interrupted him. "Solstheim is… an island, now. It drifted northeast from the mainland, my lord."

"...I see." A blurry thought made its way through Midaar's mind. "...Why are you calling me your lord?"

"You've been made governor of the island for the time being, my lord." The phrase had been blunt, simple. A punch to the gut. Midaar's chest went hollow.

"Oh."

He turned around and fell back asleep.


Years earlier, one late afternoon, Midaar found him staring off into the distance.

His friend looked thoughtful. He hadn't even noticed him; Midaar had an opening. Nice. He looked at him for a moment, hesitated perhaps? — and then punched his shoulder hard enough to bruise.

"FUCK!" were his victim's first last words, followed by "OW! What is WRONG with you, Mɪᴅᴀᴀʀ?!"

"Payback, you twerp." Midaar ruffled his hair and grinned at his scowl. "What are you thinking about, Miraak?"

Miraak huffed, rubbing his wounded shoulder. "...Many things," he said.

"You can tell me." Midaar sat down on the cold ground and patted the snow right beside him. He raised a quizzical eyebrow towards Miraak from behind his brand-new mask. Miraak sighed and sat down. He stared away from Midaar, silent, head tilted like the few birds that came to Solstheim in the summer.

"Come on, Miraak. I'm not gonna become a snitch just because I'm a priest now."

"...it's not like I think you'll tell on me," Miraak began, doubtful. "And it's not like it's a bad thing."

Miraak was silent for a moment.

"One day, I will rule this land."

"Huh?"

"When I finish my training, I will be part of the High Council of Dragon Priests."

Miraak always had replaced his want-to's with will's. "You're confident in this, then." At Miraak's unimpressed glance, Midaar rolled his eyes. "That's good, Miraak. You'd be a great councilor."

"You say that because I'm your friend," Miraak noted dryly. "But it's no problem. You will be a councilor, too."

"What?"

"You're a great leader, Mɪᴅᴀᴀʀ, and you excel at worshipping our ᴊᴜɴ. You might even be heard by them, one day." Was it just him, or were there hints of bitterness in his voice? Of anger? Did he think he wasn't worthy of being heard by the dragons one day, when he'd already surpassed Midaar in all his studies of the thu'um? No .

"Miraak. Listen to me." Midaar grabbed him by the shoulders and physically turned Miraak around, and Miraak yelped. Midaar pointed at Miraak's chest. "You," he told him, "will be heard by the dragons more Loudly than I ever will, and this is a promise."

Miraak's eyes widened as he heard Midaar's words, but then his face fell. He looked away from Midaar, clearly angry. He glanced once more towards Midaar and then his face softened, maybe in acceptance. Midaar let go of him.

"Thank you," Miraak said. His voice was empty, his words a mere courtesy. Had he said something wrong?

"You're welcome," Midaar replied, and he looked back towards the sunset.

They both stayed like that for a moment, watching the sun go down at the end of a day that had started fast and lasted long, and Midaar thought not of ink-black or mold-green but of red, red, red, like the blood that ran along his veins, if not Miraak's too.

The dusk was cloudless. No storm came that night, nor the next, nor storm for years to come. But one day it would come, and it would water some interesting seeds.


The next morning after he woke up, when Midaar was well enough to stand, the dragons came.

The Priest was called outside early. He was still recovering from the fight, sleeping far too much and being only woken up for things of extreme importance — such as this. He'd gone outside in the snow barefoot but masked, wearing the pants and loose shirt he'd slept in and a fur cloak, jaw dropped to the floor at the dov that perched on the roof and ground before him.

Midaar recognised most of them. There were many dragons he'd either seen around or had spoken to a few times; Sahrotaar, Krosulhah, Relonikiv, Kruziikrel. Most surprisingly of all, however, was that they were led by the dragon Paarthurnax, the Dovah-jun Alduin's lieutenant, who Midaar had only seen once in brief passing. He started… he didn't know if he was shivering from cold or shaking from awe, but it was likely both. The sky was a light blue, and Paarthurnax, perched on top of the temple, was staring at him.

"Mɪʀᴀᴀᴋ Dɪʟᴏɴ," the gray dragon began. Miraak is dead . It wasn't a question.

"He has… disappeared. It is likely he is dead," Midaar explained.

"That is enough. As long as you are ready to kill him again, if he comes back." Paarthurnax stood perfectly still, his head tilted just slightly to the side, and Midaar realised.

He nodded slowly, thoughtful. "Yes, my lord."

"But Solstheim is an island, now," Paarthurnax continued. "And it is too small for ᴅᴏᴠ to reside comfortably in. Nᴜ ᴍᴜ ꜰᴇɴ sᴘᴀᴀɴ ɴɪɪ." Yet we have to protect it . "So we have decided that that shall be your reward for slaying Mɪʀᴀᴀᴋ."

Midaar went still under the morning sunlight and broke eye contact, just for a second, to nervously glance away. He looked back at Alduin's lieutenant. "What shall?"

"You will ʀᴇʟ over Solstheim," Paarthurnax told him. Reign. "You will ward ꜰɪɴ Lᴇɪɴ from his influence." The world. "And you will also wield a new name, a new title; one befitting your new position."

"I am profoundly honored, my lord." He was. (He wasn't).

"From now on," Paarthurnax continued, perched above the Solstheim temple, his face tired and cold and hard, "you will be known as Vᴀʜʟᴏᴋ, and you will guard the island of Solstheim."

Midaar… Vahlok fell to one knee. "I am so profoundly honored," he began, and then he started coughing.

Saltwater and blood fell from his mouth as the dragons watched, impassively, and he felt somehow so incredibly desperate to escape this coughing fit he started worrying this was the proverbial straw and the world's back was about to be broken. He closed his eyes, hoping against everything the dragons would not see this as weakness.

When he was finally able to open his eyes, he saw the consequences of his actions; disgusted, definitely, all of the dov gathered had flown away, their wings like thunder on the too-far blue horizon. All of the dov but one.

Paarthurnax stood, an undeniable shape the color of envy, before Vahlok.

Vahlok looked up, worshipful but hesitant. "My lord Paarthurnax," he began. He paused for a moment, to think. Should he heed his last words? He was a traitor, of course, but he was Midaar's friend. He was clever, and inquisitive, and hungry for knowledge in a way Vahlok had never seen anywhere besides him — and was yet strangely familiar. He was… He'd been . His friend was dead, he reminded himself, whether or not his heart kept beating. And that helped rationalize his actions, at the moment and perhaps later, because he was honoring his dead friend's memory, and that was something no one could take away from the mortal.

"...Yes," Paarthurnax said, clearly confused about the long pause after Vahlok's words.

"My lord Paarthurnax, I… I wish to ask for something."

"Have we not given you enough?" Paarthurnax huffed through his nose, clearly annoyed, but his sentence had no bite. Vahlok decided not to question his luck.

"Of course you have, my lord. I just wished to know of a dragon. To… congratulate him, or at least speak to him." Before Paarthurnax's watchful eyes, Vahlok shrunk a bit. "Miraak mentioned him with hatred," Vahlok added, and Paarthurnax snapped to attention.

"Vᴏᴛʜ ɴɪ…?" Paarthurnax stopped there. Midaar waited, to see if he'd continue, and then spoke.

"Yes, my lord. And — and I just wished to perhaps see him. To see what role he might have played, perhaps… to warn other priests not to fall into the same traps as Miraak did." He was only half lying; as he spoke, those became his intentions, his ambitions, and while he didn't forget Miraak's words, he wanted with all his heart to believe he didn't care about them.

"...Wᴏ?"

"The dragon Kahvozein, my lord."

The frills and spikes that dotted Paarthurnax's face and ran along his spine bristled for a moment. "...Kᴀʜᴠᴏᴢᴇɪɴ," he stated, thoughtful. "I… have not seen him in a long time." He shook his head, and the shaking went as a shiver down his back and to the tip of his tail. Paarthurnax then lowered his head, staring right into Vahlok's eye. "You cannot see him."

Vahlok took a step back, then another. "My lord," he said, simply.

"If he has…" Paarthurnax began, and then sighed. "Rᴏ ʟᴀᴀɴ Aʟᴅᴜɪɴ ᴡᴀʜ ᴏꜰᴀɴ ʜɪ ᴀᴀᴢ, ᴀʜʀᴋ ʜɪ ʀᴏ ɴɪ ʟᴀᴀɴ ᴅᴀᴀʀ. Jᴏᴏʀ sᴀʜʟᴏ — ꜰᴏᴅ-ᴅʀᴇʜ ɴɪ ʟᴀᴀɴ ᴍᴜ...*"

Vahlok looked at the dragon. Slowly, the realization sunk in that he would not be allowed to find answers, that his request would be forever denied. That he would not be able to prevent his greatest failure. That he would not be able to mourn his brother. His face felt foreign all of a sudden, his bones distancing themselves from his nerves. A perfect poker face crept onto his features. Midaar looked away for a moment, then looked back into the dragon's eyes, hardened by resolve.

"Of course, my lord," he found his lips saying, independant. "Forget I ever asked."

Paarthurnax paused for a moment, then looked at Midaar, his face tired and cold and hard, and nodded once before leaving — with the beat of his wings like a punch to the gut.

Midaar turned around, and remembered, offhandedly, that the healer had told him the next ship towards the mainland would be lifting its anchors tonight. He wondered… he'd been masked for so long. Had the metal blinded his mind, or had it only changed his face?


"On three," Miraak told him, dead serious. Midaar stared at him in sheer disbelief, but breathed in deeply and prepared for Miraak's ridiculous request. "One, two…"

"You two, stop immediately."

Midaar froze.

He slowly, slowly turned his head around, never letting go of Miraak's shirt's collar. He lowered his fist, and missed Miraak stealing a glance at how it shook.

At the door's frame stood the priest Geinmaar, his mask a cruel caricature of a grimace. His shoulders were tense, and his hands were balled up into tight-knuckled fists. Midaar flinched.

"What are you doing?"

"Nothing, sir," he said, at the same time as Miraak replied, "Training, sir."

"Training?" Geinmaar asked, dryly. He didn't wait for an answer before oh-so-slowly walking over to the two. Midaar's hands shook. "What kind of training begins half past midnight?"

"Urgent training, sir," and Midaar looked at Miraak, eyes wide. What a bold-faced lie.

"I don't believe you, Miraak." Geinmaar crossed his arms behind his back and leaned over him. Midaar tried to hold his breath, but it went by far too fast.

"See, sir, Mɪᴅᴀᴀʀ had slacked earlier today." Midaar gaped openly at Miraak. The little— "And I graciously offered to help him. However, he didn't relate the information until just recently, and we'll be tested on our hand-to-hand combat abilities soon, so it was urgent."

"I see." A wicked gleam shone through the older man's eye. "But," he added, "if that is the case — then why are you offering no resistance?"

"Uh," Miraak stuttered, his brain visibly trailing off. Midaar glared at him.

"Sir, if I may," Midaar told Geinmaar, voice trembling as he went, "Miraak had told me he was afraid of being unable to stay conscious after being punched. To the extent of nightmares, sir."

"...Really," Geinmaar said. His voice was distorted by his mask's metallic shape, echoing oddly into something far more threatening than a mere human voice. Midaar hated it.

"Really, sir," Miraak answered, smoothly continuing his performance.

"...Well. If that is all." The priest tilted his chin up, disdainful. "But if another noise complaint comes my way, you'll both be in very serious trouble."

The dragon priest then turned around and left the room.

Midaar sighed with relief. "By the Lord Alduin," he whispered, "that was close." And he shook his head. "Why are you even asking me to punch you?"

"To prove a point to you, obviously, since you don't trust any pain I may inflict on myself anymore." Miraak sighed. "Just do it."

The resounding punch echoed on the stone walls. Midaar made a noise, head flooding with possibilities — would Geinmaar come back? Would he hit them? Shit.

"Mɪᴅᴀᴀʀ," he heard, and then a single hard shake of the shoulders. He focused. Before him was Miraak, still held by the neck of his shirt, nose bleeding from the hit — and before Midaar's very eyes, the blood stopped flowing barely seconds after beginning to gush.

"...Oh," Midaar said.

Miraak wiped his face. "As I was telling you," he continued, and then he paused to pull away from Midaar's grasp. "As I was telling you," he repeated, "I'm stronger, and heal faster…"


Vahlok's footsteps on the echoing chamber were nearly silent. The high stone ceilings, fit for a dragon, held for him the same meaning as a night devoid of stars. He hurried up. The cold air felt strange on his face; it had been far too long since he'd been maskless outside of his own chambers.

When he finally finished crossing the grandiose hallway, the last one in a series of tunnels best left unremarked upon, he found himself before an arch. A curtain was draped over said archway, a thick piece of purple cloth Vahlok quickly pushed away. On the other side — and he remained on this side of the archway, only looking — on the other side was a room Vahlok had never seen before. Decorated with more of these thick purple curtains — all hanging from the ceiling, tall as the mountains — and entirely lit by candlefire — including a few dangerously close to the cloth —, a stage stood in the middle of a room, and on it a slab of rock like a table. One side of the room had another platform, higher than the one in the middle, and he couldn't help but note it seemed the right size for a dragon to lay upon.

He was wondering whether to continue or to stay where he was when, suddenly, a few of the curtains were pulled aside. Chatter filled his ears. Dozens of men and women, all in robes and hoods, made their way around the stage. Their footsteps echoed against the stone floor. Vahlok stood still, as silent as he could, and closed the curtain nearly all the way. Only a sliver of an opening remained, mostly so he could see. He held his breath.

A thunderous noise. Vahlok froze in place, unable to move even if he'd wanted to, before the very sight: a gigantic purple dragon, with wings spotted white, had appeared from behind one of the curtains. The dragon settled on top of the taller platform and languidly raised his head. Soon, a hooded mortal scurried across the multitude, holding in their wobbly arms a shaky bronze tray full of what looked like enormous chops of raw meat. They climbed onto the smaller, central platform and placed it upon the larger platform, then bowed deeply and stood in place, shaking. The dragon inspected the tray with one compound eye. The mortal shivered. The dragon then, simple as the act of breathing, stretched forwards just enough to bite onto the mortal, grabbing their body tightly with his teeth, before launching them upwards — and as gravity forced the body onto a downwards momentum, the dragon opened his maw to rip the body messily in half. Blood rained across the people around them. Vahlok watched, silent, as they cheered the dragon on, screaming in joy as their robes were covered by blood.

After the screaming lulled to an end, one of the curtains was pulled. A dragon priest appeared from behind it, followed by three people. Vahlok didn't recognize her, at least not at a distance. Out of three people behind her, two were wearing armor and hoods, and were dragging the third across the floor in chains. The multitude parted like an impossible sea as the woman walked up the steps to the central stage, followed by the two ...guards? and their prisoner, the only one not wearing a hood. His head bumped on the steps. Vahlok could gleam from his position that he was a man with longish auburn hair, his face streaked with warpaint, but not much else. The man was led to the stage and then thrown on the table in the middle. He fell unconscious. The Dragon Priest dismissed the guards with a gesture, and they hurried down into the multitude as she began circling the chained prisoner.

There was a gleam of metal. Vahlok watched as the Priest produced a sharp, curved bronze knife, somewhat resembling a dragon's tooth, from the folds of her clothes. She stopped before the dragon and gave a deep bow, placing the hand that held the dagger behind her back.

"Kahvozein, my lord," she said. "I bring to you this sacrifice, only just captured — a rebel against the glorious regime."

The dragon chuckled, a deep laugh that seemed to shake the very foundations of the chamber. "A traitor, you say?" he said, his teeth bared in an approximation of a smile. "Do you all ʜᴏɴ these words?"

The audience broke into a hellish sort of noise, fueled by pure hatred. Mere inches behind one, Vahlok stifled his breathing, trying his damndest to not be caught. His mind had crawled to a stop at about a thousand miles an hour in mid-flight. The multitude screamed vile words towards the rebel, spit out their darkest curses and cursed him down to his earliest ancestor as the man regained bleary consciousness. The rebel realized what his situation was all of a sudden and began struggling against his bindings. Vahlok watched, mesmerized, as the Dragon Priest walked up to his face and gave him a resounding slap that echoed through the room; the man visibly gave up on freedom as soon as his cheek hit the table. He whimpered.

The Priest placed her hand on the man's chest. "Well, well, well," she said, "weren't you a hunter before you fell? I wonder if you were good with the bow." She chuckled and lifted the knife, placing it under one of the man's eyes. He screamed, muffled by a cloth gag, and she just shook her head. "Now, now," she added.

Before he saw something he wouldn't be able to unsee, Vahlok violently averted his gaze from the spectacle, instead focusing on the candle closest to a nearby huge curtain. He heard muffled screaming. The candle seemed dangerously close to the curtain. The audience held its breath. He looked into its flame, burning a white smear into his gaze. He didn't think about the wet, ugly noises he could hear coming from the room, until —

"And now," the Priest said, "perhaps the other one."

Perhaps not, Vahlok thought, and he kicked the candle onto the cloth.

The fire spread in huge, sudden bursts, consuming the curtains hungrily. The mortals gathered started screaming. The dragon stood up, glared from side to side as smoke began filling the room, then roared; useless, because Vahlok had hidden behind the archway's side once again. He heard hundreds of footsteps storming out of the room, hid in the darkness behind the archway as people poured out of the chamber through his very own archway, and then suddenly, on impulse, slipped inside the chamber and ran towards the stage.

Vahlok hurried through the crowd, being bumped around and almost ran over, before he reached the stage. It'd been deserted by the Priest, but the rebel remained bound on the table, sobbing hysterically. Vahlok hurried up and produced a lockpick, thanked Miraak for teaching him how to break locks. Thanked Miraak… oh, he'd have time to thank Miraak for everything when he was back in Solstheim. He clumsily opened the chains' padlock. The rebel fell into his arms, already coughing up smoke, and Vahlok coughed with him, too. He glanced at the rebel's empty eye-socket. Fuck. Vahlok managed to get the rebel to stand up, holding onto his shoulder, and began half-carrying him towards the exit, until he heard a voice like thunder.

"YOU!"

Vahlok turned around. Face bared to the world, he made eye contact with the dragon Kahvozein, Proud-Reversing-Beyond. His eyes widened, and he turned away as soon as he could, but the damage was done; the dragon, coughing up smoke, was after them.

Vahlok dove to the ground, bringing the rebel down with him, just barely avoiding the dragon's maw. He coughed and crawled forward, bringing the rebel with him, and pushed himself and the man both off the platform. They fell onto the quickly-emptying chamber's floor. Vahlok stood up and held the rebel as he ran, as fast as he could, away from the great wyrm's snapping jaws; finally, he was able to get both of them past the archway, too small for the dragon. He heard Kahvozein Shout furiously, uselessly filling the chamber up with even more fire before leaving in a hurry, and slid to the floor, still holding onto the rebel.

The rebel looked at Vahlok, wide-eyed. He coughed and seemed to notice something, touched his empty… orbit… ah. Yes. The man blinked and then gave up on reality, falling unconscious on Vahlok's chest.

"...I was wrong," Vahlok whispered. "I was so, so wrong. All this time." His shoulders shook, and he began sobbing from shock into the stranger's auburn hair.


Someone knocked at his door, that fateful day. (A year ago; remorse bit at Vahlok. An eternity).

At the sound, Midaar blearily blinked the last bits of sleep away from his eyes. He slapped his nightstand until he found his mask and stood up, sliding it in place; then he yawned.

"Who is it?" Midaar asked.

"It's me, Mɪᴅᴀᴀʀ," Miraak's voice replied. There was a tone in his voice, an edge of urgency, that Midaar had rarely seen from him before. It finished waking him up. Midaar grabbed the nearest clothes he could find — yesterday's — and went to the door, which opened with a soft click.

Miraak wasn't wearing his mask.

Midaar hurried to slide the mask halfway off his face. "Miraak? Is everything alright?" he questioned, suspicious. He had barely seen Miraak's face in years, since his friend had been made a Priest.

Miraak shushed him, urgent. "I need to talk to you now."

"What's wrong?"

Miraak stared at him for a moment. "I… Fuck's sake, Mɪᴅᴀᴀʀ." He let his head drop on Midaar's chest; Midaar took a step back, surprised at Miraak's arms around his ribcage. He hugged him back. Miraak breathed in deeply, then continued. "There's things I need to tell you. Things I didn't trust you enough to tell you."

"How important?"

"Very."

"I thought you knew you could trust me."

"Not with this, though." Miraak's voice was muffled. "But I'm here to right those wrongs."

Midaar pulled Miraak away from him. "Alright. Tell me then." His brow furrowed in worry.

Miraak looked away. "Where to begin," he mused. "Where to even begin." He shook his head, then looked back at Midaar. "I saw a dragon die, six months ago from today."

"You — what?" The dragons were immortal. If one of them was somehow slain, Alduin would claim his soul and resurrect him. No dragon could die, and this was known.

"I saw a dragon die, Mɪᴅᴀᴀʀ. I had — sneaked," Miraak admitted, just a smidge shameful, "sneaked somewhere I never should've gone to. Two dragons fought, enraged by clashing… it doesn't matter. One died. And I… Its soul. I saw it."

"You — Lord, Miraak, where did you go?!"

"It doesn't matter. Not far from here. Mɪᴅᴀᴀʀ, I… I need to tell you something I discovered about myself that day, and I need you to know I was scared."

"What are you talking about? Are you still scared?" Priorities, snarked a voice in Midaar's head.

"I'll explain, and no — I assure you, I'm not scared anymore. I will not be scared anymore, and this is a promise."

"Then tell me." Midaar's grip on Miraak's shoulder tightened.

"When the dragon died," Miraak said, slowly, "it glowed. I saw its soul, an orange flame — an impossible flame, forged through eons of living. And it… went, inside of me."

Midaar's mouth opened. It stuttered silently, then closed.

"I know," Miraak replied. "This was the answer, Mɪᴅᴀᴀʀ. When we were children — I was stronger, more powerful. Healed faster. I've always had the ᴛʜᴜ'ᴜᴍ on the tip of my tongue. And I found my answer. I absorbed the soul, do you understand what it means? Mɪᴅᴀᴀʀ, my soul is that of a dragon's."

"I…" Midaar just stared at his friend.

(That was the pivotal moment. Vahlok, in but a few months, would rewind the entire conversation a thousand times in his head, thinking over and over what he could've done better, how he could've helped his brother. And it always, to him, revolved around that moment — the moment Miraak's face fell for the first time in ten years, since that talk under the sunset. The last in a string of times Midaar wilfully had let himself be left behind).

Midaar's first words after the pivotal second had been, "This cannot be."

Miraak's eyes widened, and his face hardened. "It can. I've ached for power just like one of them from day one, Mɪᴅᴀᴀʀ, and you know this."

"You — dragons don't own the spirit of conquest. I can't… Lord Alduin, is this why you…?" He trailed off, shaking his head. This was a nightmare, a bad dream. It would soon pass.

"There is a spirit, a god of wisdom, Mɪᴅᴀᴀʀ. He knows everything. He could grant me the wisdom to rule — grant us the wisdom to rule, my brother. I did what I had to do for the best of this land, and I beg of you to join us."

"Us."

"Yes. You think I am alone in this rebellion? No. Others have seen the truth too, Mɪᴅᴀᴀʀ. Please, listen to me. He could be so much more to us than a dragon who does naught but allow his fellows to toy with our kind."

Midaar stared, wide-eyed, at his brother. There was a look in his brown eyes that made him hesitate for a moment, but then blinked and looked away.

"A spirit," Midaar said. Empty. "Miraak, you cannot trust him." He looked back at Miraak, put a hand on his shoulder. "Please. It's not too soon, Miraak, I beg of you to desist. This is not—" Not how we were raised. Not how we lived. (Unlike anything we ever knew).

"No, you don't understand — they were wrong!"

"I can't! This is how it's been our entire lives, Miraak. You— This isn't right! The dragons will kill you, and the spirit — what says he's trustworthy?! And you'd make a shit ruler!"

"What was that?!"

"You don't care about people! You just care about power! And you're so fucking rebellious, you refuse to listen to anybody! You'd end up a tyrant!"

The fire in Miraak's eyes flickered and died. "...Fine," he said. He smacked Midaar's hand away from his shoulder, stepped back. Rage built up in his shoulders, built up his shoulders. He made as if to turn around, only to abort the movement.

"Go fucking die, then, with your precious tyrannical regime," Miraak told him, disdainful, cold — and he punched Midaar's face.

It caught his mouth, the side of his cheek. Midaar's head was slung backwards and he bent over, spitting out blood. More than blood; one of his canines appeared on his hand, and his tongue immediately went to poke in its place — empty. Shit. Shit!

"Miraak," he muttered, just slightly sibilant. "Miraak! What the fuck?!" His head whipped upwards — but Miraak was already gone.


A year and a day after Miraak's defeat, Vahlok watched silently as the dragons landed upon the island of Solstheim, and Paarthurnax watched him back, equally silent. Blood dripped from the arrow wound over one of his eyes, but Paarthurnax ignored the warmth on his temple as the last of the other dragons settled.

Vahlok stared from behind his mask, hands clasped behind his back, regal.

"...And so, the dragons have come to Solstheim," he began, simply.

"And so we have," Paarthurnax echoed. "To one of the last bastions of our rule, we come, so that the revolution might not have spread here."

Vahlok did not move. That should've been the first clue, in retrospect; Vahlok did not bow, did not take a knee, did not seem particularly worshipful at all of the dragons. He simply stared, his head swiveling left and right, and behind his mask his eyes jumping from dragon to dragon. Counting them.

"I am afraid," he said, "I cannot afford you safety."

Paarthurnax tilted his head. "...How so?"

Vahlok's eyes snapped to him, and he took a moment to reply. "This island is too small, its harvest too poor," he blatantly lied. "We do not have enough room to afford even thinking about it."

"These sound like excuses, Vᴀʜʟᴏᴋ," Paarthurnax replied. "We can clearly fit, seeing as we already do so."

"Oh, but there are no buildings designed for dragons on this island anymore," Vahlok replied. "No grand stone arches, no purple curtains."

"...Purple curtains. A strange choice of words." Paarthurnax didn't notice Vahlok's shoulders stiffening. "I admit I have seen them. Nonetheless — a ᴅᴏᴠᴀʜ does not need ᴊᴏᴏʀ's buildings."

"No, you don't."

"And you can feed us. Even if you couldn't, we do not strictly need food. This we know, and so do you. So why lie, then?"

Vahlok stood for a moment, arms straightened, quiet. He slowly bowed his head. Paarthurnax did not expect the next thing he heard from the mortal's lips to be a chortle — a small, choked-down laugh, escalating into a giggle and from there onto an open laugh.

Vahlok bent down the middle, consumed by laughter. The dragons' wings rustled. His laughs echoed in the empty morning, bouncing off the gently-falling snow like sunlight would've done otherwise.

"Ah, hah hah!", he wheezed, holding a hand to his stomach. "Oh, you've caught me, my lord." He sighed. "I'll miss this land."

The dragons looked at each other, uncomfortable. "What are you talking about?", one spoke up.

Vahlok huffed, the last of his laughter left behind, and straightened up, chest puffed forwards. "I reject the charge of governor of Solstheim," he said, his words muffled from behind his mask. "I reject the charge of the guardian of Solstheim. I reject the charge of jailor of Miraak."

As he spoke, he dug his hands into his hood, untying something; he pulled down his hood and his mask fell onto the ground. Big, dark eyes on a pale face, copper wisps of hair flicking against his face in the wind.

"And... I reject the charge of sonaak," he finished.

"You— you cannot do that!", shouted another dragon.

"Oh, I can," Vahlok replied. "I quit. I desert. I am finished with your horrible little charade of a religion."

Angry roars and affronted whispers sprouted in the crowd of dragons. Paarthurnax silenced his entourage with a look, then looked back into Vahlok's eyes; the mortal did not flinch.

"You are bound to us until death," Paarthurnax said.

"I am bound no longer," Vahlok replied. "As are the innocents and guilty alike you've captured, careless, to be sacrificed as entertainment. As are the multitudes dead in mismanaged famines. As was my brother, Miraak — the priest named, as I once was, for loyalty."

The dragons seemed about ready to jump on Vahlok, but Paarthurnax taking a step forward embarrassed them, cowed them into watching what would be a fun spectacle.

Paarthurnax looked down at Vahlok, just a tiny speck of grey and brown some distance below his field of view. Vahlok stared up at him, his hair whipping in the wind — definitely longer than a sᴏɴᴀᴀᴋ's should be.

"And this is where you truly wish to stand, then? Nᴀᴜʀ ᴅᴀᴀʀ ᴋᴏʟ, ʜɪɴᴅ-ᴅɪʀ?"

"Yes," was Vahlok's succinct response. "Miraak was right."

"...You have planned this," Paarthurnax realized. "For some distance."

Vahlok frowned, confused. "You could say that, yes."

Paarthurnax huffed a passable sigh. "If you will not give us your servitude unto death," he said, slowly, "we will take it."

Vahlok blinked back tears and smiled. "Take it," he said. He faced the sky. "I have loved Skyrim for thirty-one years," he said. "If you loved her as much as I did, as much as men did, as much as Miraak did… things would be different." He closed his eyes.

Yᴏʟ
Tᴏᴏʀ
Sʜᴜʟ!

Paarthurnax's voice was the last thing the dragon priest heard.


mid-aar; "loyal servant".


A/N: * (non-literally) "[I] fairly requested of Alduin to give you mercy, and you unfairly/harshly ask of me this. Mortals [are] weak, should not request [of] us…"

wrote this last year, posted it earlier this year to ao3, am now re-editing and reposting here too. to the person who told me in my other fic that "Miraak and Kohnariik fought over Tamriel in the first age": it's spelled Konahriik, babe :-)