The blaze of the dragon’s icy breath swept across their upraised shields, and Luthien could feel the charge of her spell wearing off. She ducked behind Vilkas’s shield and rifled through her pack for a potion to strengthen her magic, gulping it down quickly and refocusing her energy. She’d already shouted fire at the damn beast, and that had barely stifled its fury.
“Talos!” Farkas growled, charging in from behind as the dragon landed. “Ice isn’t supposed to burn.”
“Careful, brother,” Vilkas called. He turned his attention to his wife, eyes blazing bright blue in the light of magic as another blast of ice shot out to meet them.
“I’ve got this, don’t worry!” Farkas bellowed, bringing his blade down into the hard scale of the dragon’s back with a hearty battle-cry. The dragon roared, sweeping its tale left and sending Farkas flying backward into the mountain behind him. The earth shook under the stomp of its heavy feet and Luthien stumbled into Vilkas.
“You’d think he’d have learned by now,” Vilkas shouted, drawing back his bow and releasing an arrow into the dragon’s long neck. It screamed with rage, thumping its tale on the ground as he reeled around to face them again.
“Get over there,” she nodded toward Farkas. “I’ll buy you some time.” Luthien summoned her Flame Atronarch and watched as fire writhed in spirals, circling the dragon’s cold, silver body, heating its scales until they glowed orange and began to cook the monster beneath its own natural armor. It screamed again, throwing its head back and whirling on her so fast she almost didn’t have time to pull Wuuthrad from her back.
She charged, her own battle-cry echoing through the mountains as she swung the axe left, brought it around and chopped right, her third and final blow severing its head from its body. For a moment, the dragon didn’t seem to realize it was dead, its body quivering, feet stomping like thunder, and then its body fell with a great crash, the head rolling until it landed just in front of her feet. She kicked it out of her path, her Flame Atronarch hovering in behind her as she ran and knelt in front of Farkas who was clutching his leg and groaning. The dragon’s soul followed her, whirling around her, seeping in through her pores and melding with her own soul until she owned it completely.
“Are you all right?” She pushed his hands away to inspect the wound.
“Don’t waste your magic on him. He’ll live.” Vilkas shook his head and thrust a healing potion into his brother’s hands, rising to stand and watching warily as she summoned her magic and held healing hands out to tend to her shield-brother’s wounds. “He’ll probably get the rest of us killed in the meanwhile, but all hail Farkas. The man who lived to fight another day.”
“I had that dragon,” Farkas growled. “I could have taken it.”
“It’s dead now,” Luthien soothed their tempers with a calm voice, hoping to steady them both before they started brawling. “That’s all that matters. Here,” she held out her hand to help Farkas to his feet, the Flame Atronarch behind her dwindling into a pile of ash. “I’ve used the last of my magic for now, but when I’ve had time to recharge, I can heal the rest of your aches.”
“I’m fine, Lu, really,” he assured her.
Vilkas had walked over to the dragon, and bent to search it. “Good, then you’ll be strong enough to carry these bones. My pack is full and Luthien should reserve her strength.”
“Why do I always have to carry the bones?” Farkas grumbled, walking away from her to kneel down beside his brother and start gathering bones. “I’m not a pack mule, you know.”
“They fetch a good price, and Eorlund can use the bones and scales to make stronger armor.”
“That’s what I’m talking about.” Farkas grinned back over his shoulder at her as he loaded the last bone into his pack.
“Warriors are not supposed to be invincible,” Vilkas muttered, more to himself than anyone else, but Luthien had still heard him.
He hadn’t been happy about her heading into the Mages College above Winterhold, and he’d been even less thrilled about how quickly she’d taken to magic. She’d become Archmage of the College in less than a year, but her studies had kept often away from home. Vilkas had shouldered her responsibilities as Harbinger in her absence, but she knew he’d grown restless waiting for her to come back to him. Still, he’d supported her wishes, even said he understood why she felt the need to fill her mind with arcane wisdom, but she knew he didn’t trust magic and probably never would.
Necromancers had killed their parents when the twins were barely more than four years old, and Kodlak had taught them both that a good warrior didn’t need magic to get come out triumphant on the other side of a battle. Coupled with that, witches had tricked the Companions centuries before into taking the beastblood, and everything about magic had left a bad taste in his mouth. Luthien had argued with him long into the night before he’d conceded and given in to the idea of her heading up to Winterhold, reminding him that Kodlak had lived most of his life in a world without the threat of dragons always hovering overhead. Magic combined with her ever-growing abilities as Dragonborn could come in handy.
He’d sent Farkas with her, to watch over and keep her out trouble, and though it hurt him that she’d gone so eagerly forward into the unknown without him, he knew he couldn’t stand in her way. Proud as he was and dominant as he tended to be, Vilkas had a hard time saying no to her and that was just the way she liked it.
They lived in dangerous times, and magic had saved all three of their skins far more times than she could count. Vilkas couldn’t deny that, even if it made him uneasy whenever forced to admit it was true.
He dug out the last dragon bone and dropped it on the ground beside his brother. “That’s the last of them. Finish filling your pack and let’s be on our way. I’m anxious for home.”
“Me too,” Luthien admitted catching his gaze in the moonlight.
They’d been out for weeks, the three of them together, hunting dragons in attempt to bring a bit of peace to the land. There were more bones and scale between them than three people should be able to carry, but home was just over the hillside and that night she would curl up in her husband’s arms and remind him exactly why he’d married her in the first place two years earlier.
Maybe his seed would finally settle and grow in her womb, and the promise of a coming child would make her still for a while. A baby would hold her in place, keep her at home, where Vilkas longed for her to stay, even if he knew she never could. Not as long as the dragon Alduin still lived, rallying his brethren to burn and destroy everything in their paths until naught was left of Tamriel but an ashen wasteland to lord over. But a baby… Even Vilkas had come to believe that a child was a symbol of hope, and he’d desperately wanted to start a family with her. It just seemed like there was always one more thing that needed done, one more artifact she needed to recover, one more dragon that needed taken care of.
As she slung her heavy pack over her shoulder, and started down the hill, she thought maybe it was finally time.
The brothers were bickering up ahead of her, not about anything serious, but she left them to their disagreement. She’d heard Farkas mention something about eating a slaughterfish for the right amount of coin, and Vilkas insisting it would eat a hole in his stomach even if it was dead. Shaking her head, she grinned to herself. Her life may not have been slow, every moment seeming to pass by so quickly sometimes she could barely grab onto it for more than a second before the moment was gone, but she liked it interesting. Vilkas and Farkas definitely made life interesting, even if the things they argued about were utterly ridiculous sometimes.
She was just thinking about how easily Farkas could drag his incredibly intelligent brother down to his level when she heard a voice call out from the darkness just up ahead. “That’s far enough, citizens. This is official Imperial business and not your affair.”
“We’re just passing through on our way home,” Vilkas held up a hand.
“I don’t give a damn what you’re doing or where you’re going. I said that’s far enough.”
There were only three of them, and between them a Stormcloak prisoner in chains. Luthien scanned the hillside for others, then narrowed her gaze back in on the prisoner. She’d seen plenty of Imperials over the last three years, mostly in Solitude, but the sight of their armor never failed to make her stomach churn with nervous acid.
“It’s all right,” she called out. “We will go around…”
But before the final word had left her mouth, the Imperial guard attacked. A flash of steel and the clang of metal as they charged in, leaving their prisoner unguarded. Farkas drew first, shoving his brother behind him and brandishing his sword like a barbarian. Luthien unslung Wuuthrad from her back and ran forward into battle, taking out one of the Imperials in a single hit that sent the man’s body tumbling down the hillside.
“You always have to open your big mouth,” Vilkas chastised his brother.
“At least I stuck up for you,” Farkas pointed out as they skirmished with the unexpected foe.
“The next time I need you to fight my battles for me, I’ll let you kn—”
The end of that sentence was cut off by a gurgling gasp, as sharp steel cut through armor, piercing Vilkas unexpectedly through the chest. Luthien saw the look of surprise on his face as she spun back around to join the battle, and then she saw him fall. As she ran toward him it felt as if time had slowed. Farkas saw it too, terror immediately wiping the teasing smirk from his face and sending him into a battle frenzy. He whirled right, his broadsword striking the guard who’d stabbed his brother, hacking deep into the man’s armor.
Blood poured through his fingers when she dropped to the ground beside him, trying to summon her magic to heal him. There was barely even a spark inside her; she’d used it all to recover Farkas, and she felt panic grip her in its jaws and wrench. She didn’t even look up to see Farkas finish off the last Imperial guard, but his shadow quickly fell over them, blocking out the light of the moon while Luthien worked the straps of her husband’s armor so he could breathe. It didn’t help. He gasped for air, flecks of blood spotting his lips and she could hear his lungs filling with it every time he drew a breath.
“It’ll be okay,” she whispered. “It’ll be okay.”
“Heal him, gods dammit! What are you waiting for?”
“I used my magic to heal you,” she shouted.
She watched the color drain from Farkas’s face, but she couldn’t trouble herself with his guilt. Not now. She had to figure this out. Had to find a way to stop the bleeding before it was too late.
“No magic,” Vilkas shook his head in protest as he choked, reaching out to touch her face. She could feel the warmth of his blood growing cold against her skin. “If this is how I die, then so be it. It is a warrior’s death.”
“You’re not going to die,” Farkas said, but there was doubt in his voice and more fear than Luthien could stomach.
“It’s all right little brother.” In the time she’d known him, she had never seen Vilkas at such peace, but there was calm in his eyes when he searched her face and said, “Today was a good day.”
“No,” she heard her own voice, but it sounded like it was coming from a million miles away. “No, Vilkas. You can’t leave me. Not like this. Not now.”
“Look after each other,” he rasped, drawing her hands into his brother’s and using what little strength he had left to hold them there.
And then he was gone.