A/N: Here it is, the third instalment in the Cicero Dragonborn series, set around the Dragonborn DLC, and in a Skyrim post Main Quest and Dark Brotherhood questline and about halfway through the Companions questline (ie. just after the Silver Hand).
The first two instalments are With A Dragonborn Like This and All Skyrim's Foes - please read those first or this story will make no sense whatsoever.
Summary: Cicero Dragonborn's life is going well - he has his beautiful Listener, his dear sister Eola, a functioning Dark Brotherhood and a father who accepts him even if he doesn't entirely approve. Right up until another Dragonborn appears, one who's had centuries to master the Thu'um and amass a following, and who wants to wipe out the competition.
In this chapter - a new threat appears from out of nowhere, and everyone Cicero's ever called friend is a potential target. Warnings for blood and character death - Miraak's cultists don't mess about.
Chapter 1: From Out of Nowhere
"Isn't it lovely?" Cicero cooed as Delphine admired her new outfit in the mirror. "Do you like it, my Listener?"
"You made this?" Delphine could only stare at it, wondering just how much this had cost. Black leather armour in the same style as her other set, but with added dragonscale and Shrouded Enchantments. A worthy counterpart to Cicero's own special armour. She had no idea how Cicero had managed to keep its construction hidden, although he'd been acting secretive for a while, doing dungeon runs and contracts and dragonslaying and keeping the proceeds, not handing the bulk of it over as he usually did. Clearly this was what he'd been planning.
"Yes!" Cicero giggled. "Wait. No. Cicero found all the materials and took them to nice Eorlund at the Skyforge, gave him your measurements and a large amount of gold for his time and asked him to make some armour. Then Cicero bought some black soul gems off the Thieves Guild along with a few he'd found in various ruins, asked Eola to help him fill them, and paid Calcelmo a suitably large amount of gold plus some Dwemer Centurion cores to enchant the finished armour. What do you think? Is my sweetling pleased?"
"It's... it's lovely," Delphine breathed. "You went to all that trouble for me? You shouldn't have, my old leather set's got Shrouded enchantments on it that Sapphire did, and my Blades armour's pretty good."
"Cicero wanted to," Cicero purred, slipping his arms around her. "Cicero had not forgotten it was your birthday today. 17Th of Last Seed, born under the Warrior."
"Serpent, actually," Delphine admitted. "Not something I tell people, but now you know. Most blessed and most cursed."
"Not cursed as far as I can see," Cicero murmured, nibbling her neck. "The Night Mother made you her Listener. There is no higher honour."
Delphine smiled, closing her eyes and leaning back in her husband's arms. It wasn't a bad life she had, all told.
"You've been listening to Lucien again," she told him. Cicero laughed.
"Lucien is right in this," Cicero murmured. "Also, it is not just your birthday. It is a year since the dragons returned. Since Cicero became Dragonborn. Since... since he met you." He turned her around, stroking her face, staring intently at her. "A whole year, and you have changed poor Cicero's life. Of course Cicero wished you to have something special. How else is he supposed to repay you, hmm?"
"You're my husband, you don't owe me a thing," Delphine said, putting her arms around his shoulders. "Thank you. It's gorgeous."
Cicero pressed his forehead to hers, eyes closed. "It is no trouble," he sighed. "You hardly ever wear your Blades armour these days because you prefer not to attract unwelcome Thalmor attention. And Cicero will not have the Listener walking around in armour befitting a common mercenary, no. You deserve better, so better you will have, yes?"
"You're so lovely," Delphine whispered, pulling him in for a kiss. "Come here, husband."
"Dearest wife," Cicero murmured, smiling as she kissed him. Next came unlacing of the motley, and after that... an early night.
"For Namira!" Eola shouted, blasting the necromancer in the face with fire. On the other side of the cave, Aela's arrows found his back, and seconds later he was lying face down on the cavern floor, dead.
Eola sheathed Dawnbreaker, looking for the other werewolf. Aela had already started going through the dead mage's things, laughing in triumph as she raised an ancient carved thigh bone in her hands.
"Is that it?" Eola asked. "The last one?"
"Yes!" Aela laughed. "Yes, this is it, we found it!" She staggered to her feet, clutching the bone to her chest before putting it away and turning to Eola. "Thank you. I'm no weakling, but I think I would have found that mage challenging on my own."
"You're quite welcome," Eola grinned, still catching her breath from the fight. She wouldn't be able to feed on the mage with Aela around, sadly. But they had all three Totems of Hircine now, and Eola was going to have to use Beast Form to get to Markarth for her Temple duty anyway, she could always feed on the way home. No point going back to Sanctuary, not given it was nearly midnight. Even if it was Delphine's birthday. She'd be all right, Cicero would take care of her, and Eola could spoil her tomorrow night. "So, that's the last one, is it? Does that mean we're all square now?"
Aela hesitated, and Eola looked up. Surely not, surely the damn weregild was paid now, right? What more did Aela want?
To Eola's surprise, Aela actually looked a bit sad. "We're square, yes. You don't owe me anything. But... I've enjoyed hunting with you. If you want to... I mean, you don't have to, but... if you wanted to hunt with me again some time..."
Eola couldn't repress a smile. "What happened to me not being allowed to hunt in your territory?"
Aela stared at her feet, scuffing the floor with her boot. "That was different. You weren't pack then."
"I'm still not a Companion," Eola pointed out. "Chances of me getting allowed in are fairly minimal, given you all know what I do for a living."
"No, but you have the blood and you're talented," said Aela. "Also you're the only one who gets it, the only one who appreciates it. Don't get me wrong, I don't condone murder. But if you want to hunt beasts or other lawful prey with me or in my tundra without me... I'd like that. It's nice to have company now and then."
"It is that," said Eola, smiling. While hunting with Aela wouldn't be quite the no holds barred bloodfest hunting with Cicero usually turned out to be, and certainly was unlikely to end in frantic and noisy sex while their prey cooled behind them, the simple fact remained that Cicero wasn't a werewolf, wasn't going to become one and just couldn't keep up with her in beast form. Some company for her wolf would be nice. "All right, next time you come across some nasty dark mages or some lowlife scum the world is better off without... you let me know, I'll come give you a hand."
"I will," Aela promised. "I meant what I said about the Totems too – you're welcome to visit Jorrvaskr any time and pray to them. Just find me first and I'll get you into the Underforge. Don't try and get in there on your own – wouldn't want any misunderstandings if Vilkas or someone were to find you there."
"Sithis save us from misunderstandings," Eola laughed. "I need to head back to the Reach, but maybe I'll tag along next time Cicero visits Kodlak."
"I'll be sure to keep a tankard of mead warm for you," Aela promised, as she and Eola left the cave.
Once outside, final goodbyes were said and Aela took off for Whiterun, while Eola assumed her beast form and ran for Markarth. Time to go back to being an assassin again.
When she finally got to the Temple of Sithis, a little after sunrise, things were quiet. The Temple was in total darkness – unusual, but not unheard of if the fire had burnt out and the braziers hadn't been filled. All the same, Muiri was usually very good at remembering to do this sort of thing. Odd. Eola lit them with a Flames spell and made her way inside.
More braziers that need relighting, and Eola felt her neck begin to crawl. Something wasn't right here – and then she nearly slipped on something wet on the floor. Some sort of spillage? Eola cast a magelight – and screamed in horror. The liquid was blood, and before her lay the butchered remains of Argis the Bulwark, the Brotherhood's housecarl, a gift from Madanach. A quiet man, didn't say much, but always polite and always unfailingly nice to Eola. She'd liked him. And now someone had come here and killed him. On the other side of the room lay Muiri's unmoving form, likewise lying in a pool of blood. She'd not even been an assassin, just an alchemist wanting to branch out on her own and honoured to help the Brotherhood out after they'd seen her ex-boyfriend to his grave.
"Who...?" Eola breathed, calling fire to her hands. She would find the bastards who did this and personally fry them. Then a footstep behind her, and she realised they were still here.
She spun round and blasted a fireball in the general direction of whoever poor fool had decided to trifle with the Brotherhood. It turned out to be a man in strange purple robes and some mask shaped like a squid? Eola hadn't seen its like before and didn't care, she just wanted him dead.
The intruder cried out as he beat the flames from his robes, and Eola would easily have bested him... had there not been another one behind her. A paralysis spell flared out and smacked straight into her, causing Eola to fall to the ground, staring furiously up at the two of them, a man and a woman, both in those strange outfits.
"Should we kill her too?" That was the woman.
"No," the man said, and from the tone of his voice, he was clearly smiling. "Get those spare robes and the sleeping potions, we're taking her with us. I think this might just be Eola, the false Dragonborn's slut. I think Lord Miraak might have a use for her."
"Eola the Reach-Princess?" the woman laughed, tracing a finger down Eola's face. "Why yes, the eye, I do believe you're right. Oh yes, she's perfect."
False Dragonborn? Miraak? Eola wanted to shout at them that Cicero was no false Dragonborn, as they'd likely find out when he found out about this. But a cloth soaked in sleeping potion covered her face, and she knew no more.
"Wha- let me sleep," Delphine murmured, turning over in her bed. Winter was coming and the mornings were getting chillier. She'd no wish to get up any earlier than she had to.
Delphine opened her eyes. Next to her, Cicero was still fast asleep, and he'd not summoned Lucien for a few days. No one else in the room, so who would be calling her at this hour?
"LISTENER! COME QUICKLY!" Delphine finally recognised the voice as that of the Night Mother, and she sounded distraught.
"All right, all right," Delphine sighed, pulling on a night dress and robe and sliding her feet into her slippers. "I'm coming!" She left the room, running down the corridor until she reached the Night Mother's chapel. Inside all seemed well, some of the candles in need of replacing but other than that, fine. In front of the coffin's cage with its soul gem barrier sealing it off from the world's impurities was the new shrine, a human skull coated in ebony, two rubies for eyes and a hand-print on the forehead painted red with blood from a daedra heart. When prayed to, it granted a blessing to the devotee's sneak attacks, either greater skill at stealth archery, greater power to one-handed attacks or the ability to cast magic quietly, whichever skill the devotee was best at. Only temporary but it was a powerful thing to have. Worth the expense and effort involved in creating it.
"What is it, Mother?" Delphine asked, trying to sound as soothing as possible. "Are you all right?"
"No!" came the anguished reply. "My Shrine – desecrated! Blood in my Temple! One of the Black Hand taken! Get dressed and get down there! Now! Make them pay, Listener. Make them pay dearly!"
Nothing more, but there didn't need to be. Delphine had gone from sleepy to fully alert at the mere mention of one of the Black Hand being taken. She was here, so was Cicero, and the reference to the Temple meant it was definitely Markarth not Dawnstar or Windhelm.
"Sithis, no," Delphine whispered, feeling her heart sink. "Eola."
It had been as bad as the Night Mother had said. It had been worse. Delphine had raced back to her bedroom, woken Cicero up and his shrieking had woken the entire Sanctuary. She'd calmed everyone down, got Cicero and herself dressed and the two of them had run for Markarth.
They'd got to the city to find two Forsworn guards barring the way. Apparently the blood trailing out of the front door had been noticed by one of the guards, who'd investigated. Now half the city was on alert, it seemed.
"Matriarch, Keeper, thank the old gods," the gate guard had said, relieved. "Your Temple, it's... we're looking into it, the Reach-King's personally involved, we don't know who did it, but we'll find them, I swear."
Delphine hadn't stopped to listen to any more. Heart in her mouth, she ran into the city, taking the steps to the Temple two at a time, Cicero close behind. There were more guards barring the Temple Entrance, but they stepped aside to let her in.
The place was a bloodbath, the antechamber kitchen room a mess. Muiri's body was lying on the floor – she looked to have been dragged from her bed in the alchemy room and butchered. Argis' body was lying in the doorway between the antechamber and the chapel proper. He'd put up a good fight but he'd been outnumbered from the look of it and without time to get his armour on, he'd succumbed.
Next to Argis, Madanach was seated in one of the chairs, staring at the body, horrified. He had Elisif there, sitting on his lap but he wasn't paying her any attention. He seemed lost in another world and that was unlike him, if anyone was inured to death and blood, it was the former King in Rags.
"Sir, it's the Matriarch," said one of the guards. "Sir?" Madanach barely stirred.
It was Elisif who actually responded. "Thank you, Soneen, I'll talk to her. Delphine, thank goodness you're here, I'd have sent word but I don't know where your Sanctuary is and Madanach..." She gestured helplessly at her husband. "He's been like this ever since he got here and saw Argis. Madanach? Darling? Delphine's here. And... and Cicero. Won't you talk to them? Please?"
Madanach slowly lifted his eyes to Delphine's, devastation clearly apparent for all to see.
"Who did this, Delphine?" he whispered. "Who would dare? I know you have enemies, but who's foolish enough to attack you direct?"
"I don't know," said Delphine gently, dropping to her knees and taking his hand. "But I will find out and make them pay, I promise you."
"Will it bring him back?" Madanach asked, eyes returning to Argis' prone form.
"Well, no, but why..." Delphine tried to think why Argis' death had devastated Madanach like this and tried to recall what she actually knew about the man. Not a lot, only that his mother was a Nord who'd been killed when Ulfric sacked Markarth and his father was a Reachman who'd been able to get the young Argis out of the city and to a Forsworn camp where he'd grown up and later become a Forsworn agent with the guards of Markarth. A Reachman with sufficient clout to get a Nord child accepted by the Forsworn.
"He was my son, Delphine," said Madanach, his voice rawer and more savage than usual. "I kept it quiet, didn't want Mireen finding out, but every man has his moments of weakness and after Inga saved my life after a Nord ambush one day, well, I was injured, she looked after me, things happened... it could never go anywhere, I knew that, but I made sure our son was taken care of. Kaie and Eola don't know, hardly anyone knew, just a handful of people who were at Druadach Redoubt with me after the Bear ravaged my city. Oh and Nepos. Nepos knows all my dirty little secrets. But Argis knew and I knew, and I loved that boy. Sent him to you because I thought he'd be safer there than being on regular guard duty. Safer!"
Delphine squeezed his hand, not sure what else to say. She'd never really been any good at comforting people, apart from Cicero, but he wasn't too hard to look after once you knew what made him tick. Fortunately Elisif was on hand to deal with that.
"Oh love," Elisif whispered, cradling Madanach in her arms. "Why did you never tell me?"
"Didn't think you'd approve of me having illegitimate offspring running around," said Madanach faintly. Elisif just held him, rubbing his back and kissing his cheek.
"Just don't father any more, that's all I ask," said Elisif. Madanach actually laughed at that.
"I'm an old man, Elisif. I don't have the energy to go fooling around any more. You don't need to worry about that."
On the far side of the room, the young guardswoman Soneen started shouting.
"No, for the old gods' sake, this is a crime scene, that's evidence, put it down!"
Delphine turned round, her heart heavy, just knowing who that was without even having to look, but looking anyway. Sure enough, Cicero was kneeling in one corner, clutching something in his hands and ignoring Soneen entirely. Soneen threw up her hands and turned to Delphine.
"Matriarch, I'm sorry, I don't mean to be rude but can you get the Keeper to stop picking things up? We've got jobs to do here."
"Of course," Delphine sighed. "Cicero, put it down and get over here. Cicero? Cicero, what is that?"
Slowly, Cicero raised his own head, eyes twin pits of darkness and his expression the mirror of Madanach's. Delphine looked at what was in his hands, and felt her heart stop as she recognised Eola's Forsworn headdress, covered in blood from where it had fallen into a pool of it. She'd been here... and now wasn't, and she'd not left willingly or that headdress would not be here, not without her anyway.
"They have Eola," was all he said, voice low and deadly. "They have sweet Eola Tinvaaki. They have desecrated the Dread Father's Temple and taken my sister."
Delphine felt everything around her go quiet, the only sound a desperate, grief-stricken howl that was coming from her own throat.
Hand on her shoulder, and then Madanach's voice with that ring of authority back in it.
"All right, I want every guard on duty last night or this morning interviewed. I want every citizen spoken to, I want to know who saw anything. You don't just ambush and abduct a trained nightblade like my daughter without someone noticing. They may have killed my son, damned if they're taking my daughter too. Elisif, we're going back to the Keep. I – I need to be alone. You there, Soneen. You're in charge of co-ordinating all this. You find anything useful, you come find Nepos immediately, or the Matriarch if she's in any state to deal with it. And somebody send a runner up to Dead Crone Rock. I need Kaie back in the city, she needs to know... damn it, I just want the girl where I can see her, all right? And... when you're ready to bury my son, call me."
A shadow and then Madanach breathing in her ear.
"Come to the Keep. Bring Cicero. Anything we find, anything at all, you'll know as soon as I do. When we've got some leads, I've got no problem with your people following them up. Anything you need in the way of assistance or expenses, you've only to ask. My daughter is worth all the Reach's mines put together."
Delphine nodded, not sure she felt able to speak. She let Madanach and Elisif help her up, then went to get Cicero. He put the headdress down and got up, tears glittering in his eyes.
"They will pay," he breathed, and this cold fury was worse than if he'd been shrieking the place down. "The filthy desecrators will die and they will die in pain. They shall die in screaming agony and Sithis shall claim their souls for the Void. Cicero swears it, Listener."
Delphine pulled him into her arms and held on to him. She could believe it too. She had no idea who was responsible or where they'd gone, but when they did find them – she'd take them apart herself if she had to. Anything to get her girl back.
"I don't know who they are," she whispered. "I don't know where they've gone or where they've taken her or if she's all right or what they might be doing to her. Gods, Cicero, I don't even know where to start."
Cicero didn't react, hardly moved, although she could feel him shaking.
"When the Daedra took me, what did you do then?" he asked quietly.
"Asked questions, had the entire Brotherhood all over Skyrim looking for you, asking in every Hold. Then we listened out for sightings and followed the bodies. But that was different! That time you'd just wandered off, there were sightings to find. This time someone took her by force. Someone hurt her, and they might keep hurting her until we find her. And I'm scared, Cicero. I'm so scared."
Cicero clung on to her, and when he did speak, there was a lump in his throat and he was as terrified as she was.
"Listener... Listener, we'll find her. We have to. Cicero never... Cicero never told her he loved her before... So we have to find her so Cicero can tell her. We have to, Listener, so we will. We will!"
Delphine recognised the rising note of hysteria in his voice and knew he'd lose it if she didn't pull herself together. Cicero and Eola had been spending time together, either snuggling in a quiet corner of the Sanctuary, or in their own rooms, or off terrorising the countryside, and while she'd not delved too deeply, they'd both told her separately that things were going well, and they'd both looked happy together. It had been nice to see, especially as they'd both gone out of their way to be affectionate to her, together and separately. She hadn't realised they'd not actually said the words.
"We will find her," Delphine whispered, stroking his hair. "I'll speak to Soneen, get her to bring everything to me. We will track her down, I swear it, Cicero."
Cicero nodded, kissing her on the cheek, looking a little less frantic. "You might try asking Hogni the meat trader, or Banning who works at the stables. They are Eola's friends. They might have seen things, heard things. Tell them the Champion needs to know."
Namira's coven. Well, why not? It was as good a place as any to start.
Aela ran up the steps to Jorrvaskr, eager to stow the Totem in the Underforge and see if it truly did what Skjor's book had claimed. Finally, finally, she had them all!
We did it, Skjor. I can't claim the deaths of your killers, but I did what you wanted. I got the Totems. It wouldn't bring Skjor back. But it would at least mean she and future generations of Jorrvaskr werewolves would have the power he'd wanted for them. The dream hadn't died with him.
Her good mood lasted right up until the doors of Jorrvaskr flung open and a masked man in purple robes staggered out, blasting lightning into the mead hall.
"You may fight now, Companions, but the True Dragonborn is coming!" the man shouted. "Miraak will come and he will destroy you and your false Dragonborn – aak!"
Aela had grabbed him from behind in a move she'd copied off Eola and rammed her dagger into his kidneys. The man's magic died as he fell to the ground, dead. Inside, a fight was still raging, with tables overturned, food everywhere, lightning blasting all over the place. Two more masked figures were fighting inside, one blasting lightning at Farkas and Ria while the other faced off against Kodlak and Vilkas.
"Tell us where he is!" the man fighting Kodlak shouted. "Tell us where you are hiding your false Dragonborn!"
"The Dragonborn hides only when he wishes to," Kodlak roared back, blocking a thunderbolt with his shield and swinging forward with his sword. "But that is when he is most to be feared!" One swipe later and the intruder's head went flying, severed from his body in a spray of blood. The other one, a woman shrieked in fury and sent a fireball flying at Kodlak, knocking the old man off his feet and into a pillar.
"Lord Miraak will take your false Dragonborn and destroy him!" the woman screamed, raising her hands to finish Kodlak off. She might even have succeeded had Vilkas not charged in, greatsword raised and a bloodcurdling scream coming from his throat. The blow struck her torso, cutting deep into her and nearly severing her in two. The magic died from her hands and she collapsed to the floor, dead.
"Kodlak!" Ria cried, rushing to the Harbinger's side. "Are you all right?"
"Aye lass," Kodlak gasped. He'd dropped and rolled, beating the flames out, and was slowly getting to his feet, fingering a silver necklace Cicero had given him for his birthday, a necklace with a powerful anti-magic enchantment that he'd found in some old ruin. Bless the lad. Kodlak had protested that the chances of him fighting off against some necromancer were fairly slim these days, but Cicero had been very insistent and looked up at him hopefully, so Kodlak had taken it and worn it regularly under his armour. Today it might just have saved his life. "Takes more than some insane priest to bring me down. Does anyone have a healing potion – thank you, Farkas. Now, is everyone else all right?"
Everyone was, although the place was a mess – blood everywhere, furniture everywhere, food and mead everywhere, Torvar and Brill beating out a small fire that had started after a log from the hearth ended up on a mead-soaked banner. Tilma was going to be less than pleased, but at least none of them had died.
"What happened here?" Aela asked, surveying the wrecked mead hall. "Who are these people? And what were they saying about a false Dragonborn?"
"That's what I intend to find out," said Kodlak grimly. "They weren't here for us. They were after Cicero. They were trying to kill my son."
"Good luck with that," Vilkas snorted. "They've clearly never met him." He stopped talking at a glare from Kodlak and Ria.
"Vilkas has a point though," said Athis, leaning over the rail. "We've all seen Cicero in action, we all know he's not an easy man to kill. We've also seen him breathe fire, land in our backyard on a dragon, and Ria says she's seen him take a dragon's soul. We know he's definitely Dragonborn, so why is someone saying he's not and sending minions to kill him?"
"Well, that's what we need to find out," said Kodlak. "Search the bodies, let's see if any of them had any clue as to who these people are and who sent them."
Not a particularly pleasant task, especially with the one Vilkas had carved in two, but eventual searching revealed, aside from some food, magicka potions, daggers and coins, a note.
"Take the Northern Maiden from Raven Rock to Windhelm. The False Dragonborn, called Cicero, also known as the Jester Dragonborn, is known to be affiliated with the Companions of Jorrvaskr in Whiterun, but spends most of the time in the former province of Skyrim called the Reach. His home is unknown but he and his lover, Eola, are known to frequent the Temple of Sithis in Markarth. Take care while in Markarth – the woman Eola is the daughter of the local king and therefore untouchable. Ensure you attack in stealth if you seek him there – if you are seen attacking either of them, the guards will intervene, and they are as skilled in magic as any of you.
Find the pretender and bring his head back to Solstheim to adorn our Temple. For the glory of our Lord Miraak, the True Dragonborn!"
"Miraak?" Farkas asked, confused. "I've never heard of this lord Miraak."
"Nor have I," said Kodlak, frowning as he folded the note in half, staring out at the mead hall but not really seeing anything. "But it's clear this Miraak, whoever he is, is Dragonborn or at least thinks he is, and has sufficient power to convince other people of that too. Enough to recruit a cult of fanatics."
"Can there be two Dragonborns at a time?" Ria asked. "I suppose there's no reason why not, but all the stories..."
"I rather think that the stories tend to have only one Dragonborn at a time because the most powerful one would wipe out rivals," said Kodlak sombrely. "It would seem that's what this Miraak is trying to do."
Silence fell over the room as everyone contemplated a war between two rival Dragonborns. One the leader of a cult of murderous fanatics... and the other one a murderous fanatic married to the leader of a death cult. As far as heroic battles went, neither side had a lot going for it. However, Cicero might be a murdering lunatic, but when it came right down to it, he was their murdering lunatic.
"So what do we do?" Ria asked. "Did you want us to go to Solstheim and fight this Miraak?"
"Ready when you are, Harbinger!" Farkas growled, cracking his knuckles, and Vilkas was nodding in approval as well, as were Torvar and Athis, in fact the only one looking uncertain was Aela.
"Calm down, everyone," Kodlak sighed. "Yes, of course we'll help Cicero any way we can, but we can't just go to Solstheim and declare war. We need a plan of attack, and in order to formulate one, we need to get Cicero himself involved. Not to mention his extremely formidable wife who when she finds out about this will almost certainly start planning a strategy herself. No, what we need to do is – yes, Aela?"
"Harbinger, by your leave, we need to leave for Markarth at once!" Aela cried. "You see that note, they know about the Temple, if the attack here failed, that's where they'll hit next, if they've not done so already. And... and they know Eola's his lover, she's in danger too. Harbinger, today's her day at the Temple, we have to get there now!"
How Aela knew that, Kodlak decided it was best not to ask. He was aware that Aela had been out on solo trips lately, and there were now two Totems of Hircine in the Underforge that had been the result. He didn't think she'd have wanted to delve into dank caves and dangerous ruins without someone to watch her back, and given the nature of the prize, she'd want another werewolf. It hadn't been Vilkas or Farkas, Aela would never have asked Arnbjorn given their history, which only left one option. However it had come about, it seemed Aela the Huntress and Eola ap Madanach had formed an alliance of sorts.
"Aela, have you been out all night?" Kodlak asked. Werewolf stamina was considerable, he knew that, but sending someone with a clear head was probably a better option.
Aela admitted that had been the case.
"Then get some rest. We all know where Markarth is. I can send one of the others – yes, Ria?"
"Harbinger, I'll go," said Ria, practically bouncing on the spot. "You can spare me for a day or two. The Circle should stay here in case any more cultists turn up."
"You are not going out there on your own!" Vilkas snapped at her. "It's dangerous! There's beasts-"
"I killed a bear yesterday!" Ria cried.
"And bandits! And thieves and now these cultists as well? No, it's too dangerous-"
"Vilkas," said Kodlak wearily. "We are Companions, we face danger on a daily basis. Ria is a very capable warrior, I'm sure she will be fine."
"I don't care, she's not going on her own," Vilkas snarled. "I'm going with her. She'll be safer with a Shield-Brother to watch her back."
"Oh good, just what I need, you constantly telling me I'm holding my sword wrong," Ria sighed. "You're my mentor, not my father!"
"That's enough!" Kodlak cried before a full-blown argument developed. It had been happening more and more often lately, and everyone knew what was behind it – Vilkas' pig-headed refusal to admit he had feelings for his young protégée, never mind act on them. Honestly, a mission away from home together might just be the very thing to get Vilkas to finally open his eyes and speak to the lass. "You're both going. Ria, it is safer with two, I agree. Vilkas, Ria's a full member of the Companions, she's no shrieking maiden. Go with her, but you are watching her back as she is watching yours, you are not there as bodyguard. Get your things and go, you've no time to lose. Get to the Temple and give this note to Cicero or Eola. If they're not there, wait for them or alternately go to the Keep and speak to Madanach. He won't sit idle while his daughter's in danger, and I'd be very surprised if he didn't know where their Sanctuary is."
Vilkas and Ria nodded their assent and ran to get their things. Kodlak sat back while everyone else set to work, still not entirely recovered from the magical attack yet. These cultists were vicious and fanatical and not going to stop any time soon. This time they'd won, but what if they came back? And what if they found Cicero? Well, the odds were that they'd end up dead in fairly short order, Kodlak knew. But all the same, he worried.
A/N: I feel so bad about Muiri and Argis. Especially Argis, I really wanted to do more with his character, but never got the chance. Alas. At least he's in Sovngarde. Stelmaria can look after him and generally fuss over him.
I am torn between having Eola rescued before they get her to Solstheim, or not. Whether that happens or not sends the plot off in two different directions, one of which is very dark and angsty. Will need to think on this.