The Kitten and The Wolf
Chapter Nine-Unwanted Fate
The battle didn't last long after Di'kana joined Farkas in the main fray, the two of them swinging and smashing their way through what must have been at least ten to fifteen draugr that awoke in pairs and trios to come and fight them. Di'kana even traded her hammer to one hand at some moments, sucking down another potion when the pain in her side even tried to return; the mixtures she had chugged down would keep her energy up and the pain at bay until later... how much later, she wasn't sure.
She knew she'd taken more damage than she could stand; the moment the pain got to her again she was sure to have trouble moving and breathing. Her first focus was to finish the fight as fast as possible, and, once that was done, to leave the cairn and head straight for Whiterun. She didn't even talk to Farkas as the last body fell, putting her warhammer on her back and searching for the nearest exit. Similar to the common house cat, her ability to sweat was limited. What few glands she had, on the palms of her hands and bottoms of her feet, were working over time. Even if she wasn't feeling it, her body knew she was hurt. Moving was probably the last thing she should have been doing, but she couldn't let him see her like this.
No. Slowing down others was the last thing she'd ever allow herself to do. She asked for this work, she'd accepted this test, and now she was going to just collapse after battle? No. She would not allow it. She'd found their exit; a rocky passage beyond one of the burial stones that had been pushed open during the fight. It led back to the first chamber she and Farkas had entered in this place; very close to the door that would take them back outside.
Night had fallen upon Skyrim, and she allowed herself a deep breath to drink in the night air. The smell was calming, but she did everything she could to keep moving. Not even looking back to assure that Farkas was still following her, she took brisk steps to the stairs that would get her out of this hole in the ground.
Just have to stay standing until I can get home. Farkas can go back to the Companions for the night, and I can rest...
The very idea of collapsing into bed was a happy day-dream, distracting enough that she lost her balance when she mounted the steps. Suppressing a yelp and one hand reaching out to dig talons into the wall, she desperately tried to recover herself as her armor dragged her down. One boot slipped from the step, and she was falling backwards. Impact with the ground was sure to jar her ribs, even through all the pain-reliving concoctions she'd ingested. Without thinking her body went ridged, bracing for what was to come.
Instead she found herself arrested mid-fall, hands catching her under her arms. She flinched, the cut under her right arm flaring up briefly, but kept her mouth shut as she remembered Farkas had been right behind her the whole time. He'd caught her as if she'd weighed nothing at all, and pushed her back onto the steps. Still, he didn't let her go, even when she was steady again. "You still rattled, Kitten?" He asked. "It was a hell of a fight; we can stop and rest."
No doubt he can tell I'm hurt. Warrior, and werewolf. He have to be blind if he didn't see me shaking, and more than likely he can smell the distressed sweat. It doesn't matter though; stopping is not an option.
"No." Was all she said out loud, leaning forward to get him to let go and continue on. It felt as if he wouldn't let her at first, but then he released and followed after her as she climbed. Daring to spare awareness for him, she got the sense that he was following her closer than usual... as if he expected her to fall over.
She returned her focus to both her breathing and her feet, trying to keep one steady and the other brisk. She had to trust the rest of her body to move automatically and carry the constant weight of her armor and weapon without faltering. No mistakes were permitted; tripping over herself or the terrain would give him cause for concern. Her pride would not suffer such things.
"So..." His voice came after they were several paces away from the cairn's entrance, striking off to make a straight line to Whiterun's front gate. It was the exact same path they'd taken out; she had to hope it was clear of hostile wildlife. "What happened down there? That wall with all the carvings on it; you seemed pretty interested in it."
She felt like growling. At any other time she would have taken pleasure in his every word, enjoying the rough quality and simple cadence of his voice, but at the moment it prodded her into conversation... she wasn't sure she could handle it. Safer to walk in silence, to concern herself only with the tramp of her boots and keeping her mind off of her ribs as their pain continued to bleed through, regardless of how much potion she'd consumed.
Still, she had told him she would explain after they left the cairn. She was many things, but a liar was not one of them. Reaching up and removing her helm to let the cool night air take away the fire her body seemed to be producing at the moment, she turned to look at him over her shoulder. "This one is... gifted, in a way." She spoke carefully, trying to decide just how to explain. "You are a Nord, no?"
"I am." He nodded, watching her carefully. She had some trouble figuring the exact emotions behind expressions of those not of her own kind, but the set of his jaw and the stress of his eyes showed a measure of concern and worry... signs that she was already failing in her own given task of not being a bother. "Why?"
"This one understands that all Nords know the stories." She faced forward again, blinking blearily as she wondered if she even had the strength to demonstrate a Shout at the moment. "Like you showed this one your secret, you will understand better if this one shows you hers."
She then stopped walking, holding one arm out as a warning for him to stay back. Her mind went back to that moment at the wall, when she'd been gifted her latest word of power. She remembered the word, and a dragon soul she'd adsorbed some time ago had already given her all the knowledge she needed to speak it. Staring out into the night, she drew breath and found tranquility in it. Cool air soothed the embers of pain and the fire of her flesh, centering her focus and leading her to that untouchable place the words always seemed to come from.
Holding that breath for but a moment, the Shout ran through her before it was released from her lips.
Fire sprang forth in a bright wave that did well to sear her eyes, as they had adjusted for the darkness. She'd faced herself up, away from the dry grasses of the plain and blowing the flare into the sky. For a moment both she and Farkas were bathed in heat and light, and while her tongue felt as if it had been burned none of the fur on her face had been harmed. Then, without anything to sustain it, the fire was gone.
His shock, like most guards who paid witness to her shouting or adsorbing the power from a slain dragon, started as a moment where he was completely dumb. Then, when he remembered to breathe, he looked back down from the sky where she stood before him. "You're..." He blinked. "You're the one everyone's been talking about around town? The Dragonborn?"
She was still mastering herself after letting off the Shout; vicious pain had stabbed into her as the energy left her. Still, she forced herself to get her breath back and answer him. "This... this one did not want it... Being the Dragonborn..."
"The choice that was made for you." He said it before she could, nodding his understanding. The others made fun of him for being slow, but Di'kana didn't see that. No, he thought about things in a simpler way. That was proven by what he said next. "I won't tell anyone." He assured, not asking any other questions.
"What of secrets?" She saw fit to point out, even though relief flooded her after he made such a statement. "Honesty and honor?"
He came to stand next to her, a heavy hand landing on her head and mussing her hair. "It's one thing to keep a mistake a secret from your family." He said. "But it's another thing to keep a secret safe for a sibling, Sister. You don't want this... this identity that was forced on you to ruin what you're trying to do with your life. You don't want it stealing away your freedom. I can respect that."
She nodded a little, not really noticing his hand. She was aware of the weight on her head, but she was distracted as breathing grew more difficult. It felt like all of her core muscles were going ridged, squeezing her ribs against her lungs. She knew she'd meant to thank him, but whatever words escaped her were likely both in her native tongue and completely unintelligible. Without even realizing it, she'd closed her eyes and fallen to her knees. Did he call for her? She wasn't sure. She was on the ground now, and it was cool against her body.
That was good; it felt like everything was burning up. Maybe she'd just sleep for a while...
Lydia had just been finishing her evening meal when a harsh knock came at the door. Actually, it sounded more like someone had kicked it. The noise was something that made her wonder if the door hadn't just been assaulted with a battering ram, and the time of night for such a knock made her worry. While the title of the Khajiit she served was respected in Whiterun, the breezehome had seen vandalism before from residents who felt having a cat within the walls was a bad idea. Had what she heard been a knock, or another attack from the closed-minded? Rising from her meal, she flinched as the violent noise came at the door again; she was almost positive that was the sound of someone kicking the door with more force than needed.
Checking the mace hanging upon her belt, she went to answer... if only for fear that another knock would cause the door to splinter.
The door opened upon a man whom Lydia has seen for mere moments earlier that day when Di'kana had returned to the house to retrieve her forgotten helm; one of the Companions. She usually would have taken longer to commit some of his features to memory, as well as assess his comportment before questioning the nature of his knocking, but her attention was dragged away by his burden. Carried on his back was Di'kana, her head slumped and her limbs left limp as he held her slung across his shoulders.
"What the...? What happened?!"
"Kit passed out on the walk back to the city." He answered. "Collapsed, more like."
Lydia moved out of the way, waving him in. "The bed upstairs, to the right. Get that armor off of her; I've a few potions in the lab that might help to bring her around."
He nodded, doing as he was told without another word. Lydia shut the door quickly, rounding to scuttle to the lab in the back room and search through the stockpile of potions her mistress kept. In moments she had a number that would serve to assist, rushing upstairs to find the Companion was at her lady's beside, just lifting her breastplate off and seeing the bandages on her right shoulder from under her tunic. By the look of surprise on his face, she had to guess it was news to him that the Khajiit had been injured before they'd gone to their task.
"She'd come looking for work when she was hurt?" He asked, moving out of the way as Lydia bustled in, more practiced hands doing away with various straps and yanking heavy metal plating away from the little body it covered. She would never get used to just how much bulk Di'kana's armor added to her. Sitting at the head of the bed herself, she uncorked one of the potions she'd brought from below and began the careful work of getting her to drink it while unconscious.
"Looking to impress." Lydia answered briskly, too focused on her task to look up. "Or at least not to admit she may have pushed too hard..."
There was a moment's silence, as if he were unsure of what to do with himself. Lydia honestly didn't care; she'd deal with him after Di'kana was once again awake.
"She always like this?"
"Don't look down on her for it." Lydia responded, sensing that the Companion was unimpressed. "It may be tough to tell if you're not familiar with the race... but she's actually pretty young. All she really wants is to prove she's worthy to control her own life; to herself, and to everyone else."
A moment later, Di'kana coughed. Her ears laid back to her head as her tongue flicked out, catching the drops of potion that had ended up in the fur around her mouth, rolling herself onto her right side and one hand feeling blindly for her ribs. Her voice came after, muddled in her native tongue in what Lydia could imagine were the most colorful words. Lydia caught her hand, laying it back down to the furs on the bed and speaking in a soothing tone. "Easy, my Thane... you're back home... now tell me what happened, in common, please."
"Broad side of a battle ax..." Her voice was strangled with the pain she was still feeling through the balm of the potion. "Same side as the centurion..."
With a wince, Lydia nodded and applied her hands to the same ribs that had been slammed by the drawrven automaton. Her Thane kicked, the fur on her tail bristling as she let out a pained yowl that was outside the human vocal range, despite the fact that Lydia kept her touch as light as she could. Still, she knew soon enough what was wrong.
"I told you, you should have rested longer... these ribs were bruised this morning; now they're cracked."
Di'kana shouted something that Lydia didn't even bother to try and understand. It was either not in the right language, or too primal for human ears to comprehend. Putting one hand on her Thane's shoulder, she turned to look back at the Companion who was still standing there, arms crossed over his breastplate. "She needs rest... it might be some time before she'll be able to return to Jorrvaskr."
"That's alright." He said, expression finally yielding to a smile. "The old man said she had fire... my fault for not taking him at his word." He paused, going on after a moment. "We're used to dealing with the injured, you know, and she is part of the family, now. Tilmo's fixed up much worse, faster than you'd expect. We could take care of her."
"It's a mead hall, not a hospital." Lydia felt her grip on Di'kana's shoulder tightening. This was her Thane, her person to care for. "I've cared for her since her arrival in Whiterun. I can take care of her here."
Eyes shifted to Di'kana, who was actually forcing herself to sit up. Blue eyes clouded with pain, she slowly brought herself to be upright and stare at the both of them. She looked to the Companion, and then locked eyes with her housecarl. She made a strange noise, caught somewhere between growling and purring, as the language of both her body and face became too closed to read. "This one will not hide from the Companions." She stated. "Di'kana will go to Jorrvaskr... if they wish to look down upon one who is still learning... then that one must fight until they must look up."
To say Lydia was surprised was an understatement. Staring at her Thane, she wasn't sure what to say. Di'kana was one proud cat; she didn't like other people seeing she was hurt, or even struggling with something. The idea of letting others see that she had been incapacitated, particularly due to her own poor decisions... it was a new measure of maturity that she hadn't been expecting to happen any time soon. Some part of her always expected Di'kana to act like a child, the very same part that liked to take care of her so very much. Still, the steely gaze this cat presented was not one that belonged to a child.
Lydia hated to say it, but Di'kana was growing out of her kittenhood... and much faster than she expected.
"... So she knows." Aela said, looking at Farkas with hard eyes. "Way to screw that up, ice-brain."
"You're telling me you could have handled that many by yourself?" Farkas bristled, openly growling as his shield-sister. "It's good we used that as a test for one of the whelps... if we'd sent one of the veterans by themselves, they would have been caught in that cage and ripped apart without a chance to fight back..."
"Cowards." Aela spat, nodding slightly at the lucky stroke. "Though I have to say, I was expecting the kitten to come back in slightly better condition..."
"She walked in and got herself to a bed under her own power." Vilkas chuckled, the three of them having a sort of impromptu meeting outside the novice quarters where Di'kana had managed herself into a bed before she allowed Tilmo to begin treating her. "Don't think I've seen anyone that hard-headed since we were pups." He said, reaching over to Farkas and ruffling his hair.
"And she did retrieve the blade fragment." Farkas reminded. "All's well that ends well... even if it didn't go perfectly."
"What's the word from Kodlak?" Aela asked, eyes turning to Vilkas. "Are we keeping her?"
Vilkas nodded. "She's our sister. What's more... he wants to bring her into the circle itself."
"What?" Aela's surprise threatened to turn to irrational anger. "She came back partially turned to mush, and Kodlak wants her as part of the circle? I came back from my trial without a scratch, and still had to claw my way through for years before I was-"
"Did Kodlak say why?" Farkas asked.
Vilkas shrugged, shaking his head. "I didn't ask him to explain his reasoning. It's up to all of us, if we want to accept her in. Skjor thinks she might have it in her... but I'd like to see her back on her feet doing a a few more jobs for us before I make my judgment."
"Skjor..." Aela seemed to be musing on something, leaning her head around the corner to look into the novice quarters. Several of the other whelps were also watching Tilmo work, gawking at a much closer range as the kitten occasionally let off a sound that could not be imitated by a human throat. Skjor was among the gaggle as well, back against the far wall, seeming to study the new blood with uncanny interest. It was the look of a hunter, stalking the hunted.
Aela knew that look. Skjor thought the kitten could handle the gift. He was vouching for her so he could share it with her.
"No one toughens up proper taking it easy." Farkas said. "She'll keep up, doesn't matter what we throw at her."
"That sounding a bit admiring." Aela pointed out. "You getting to like our new pet?"
"Spend a little more time with her." Farkas chuckled. "You might get to like her too."