No sooner had the lock bolted into place, did Luthien hear voices coming from the immediate room to her left. She ducked into shadow to listen to them talk about a dispatch of soldiers that arrived earlier that morning. A group of mages, the other explained. “I guess Herself is finally getting worried about all the dragon attacks.”
“Ah, good. I was beginning to wonder how we would defend this place if a dragon did attack.”
She saw another open door just up ahead to her right, and activating her muffle spell, she ducked across the hallway into that room, still listening to their conversation as she searched for anything she might be able to use on the inside. A set of Thalmor robes was folded on the table, boots laid in front and gloves laid atop it.
“Oh, this is too easy,” she muttered to herself sarcastically. It wouldn’t really be easy. She was tall, but not tall enough to pass herself off as an elf, and without a hood to hide in the fire of her bright red hair would easily give her away.
“If a dragon does show up, maybe it will eat the mages first and give us a chance to actually kill it.”
Their joined laugher echoed through the silent hallway as Luthien slipped out of her party clothes and into the silky, black and gold Thalmor robes, pulling the long boots up the length of her calves and standing up to glance down at her body. If Ulfric could see her, he’d probably be sick, she thought.
“Well,” she heard their laughter subside begin to fade. “We better get back to our rounds.”
She pulled in a deep breath, sighing it free as quietly as she could and then headed back out into the hallway, peeking around the open door to see where her targets were standing. She and Ulfric had studied the layout of the Embassy for hours before she’d come. She knew she needed to get up the stairs and out the back exit into the courtyard in order to make her way to Elenwen’s solar, where any information that might actually do them some good would be found.
If she could sneak past the guards and get up the stairs unnoticed, it would be a miracle, and her hand automatically shot to the place her amulet of Talos normally rested. Not finding it there gave her a moment’s panic, and she winced, lowering her gloved hand back to her side. Lifting her head for a moment, she uttered silent prayers to her god, or any god who might be listening, and then swallowed her fear, ready to face whatever the Thalmor threw at her.
Their patrol seemed to consist of them lingering in that room, trading places from time to time as they listened to the party still going on beyond those walls. At one point they were both standing with their backs to her, and she snuck into the room, ducking behind the pillar just as the one nearest to her turned back into the room.
“Did you hear something?”
“Just Herself laughing out there as if she is actually amused by what those fools have to say,” he shrugged. “I don’t know how she can stomach their company. Just the smell of them makes my belly ache. They all stink of sweat and horse and defeat. It’s disgusting.”
Luthien lowered her nose to her shoulder, breathing in a quiet whiff and then shrugging.
“One day soon, they’ll all be dead and we won’t have to smell their stench anymore.”
“Ah, to breathe clean air.” They laughed again.
As they began to mock Elenwen, imitating her phoniness and false pretense with the filthy humans, Luthien moved quietly up the stairs and didn’t stop until she reached the landing. She closed her eyes, ducking into the doorway before the Thalmor guard, who turned into the room she needed to get to, could see her. She cursed under her breath. She hadn’t wanted to kill anyone while she was there, in fact, Ulfric had pleaded with her not to, assuring her such an attack would have dire consequences for Skyrim, but she didn’t have much of a choice.
Steps still muffled by magic, she snuck down the hall and checked the empty room on her right before glancing left. It was just that one guard; maybe she could hide his body in a place no one would find it until it started to wreak of decay. By that time, they wouldn’t have any idea how long he’d been there or who’d done it. He was also wearing a nice set of hooded robes, and a hood could come in handy if she met with anymore guardsman once she was outside in the courtyard.
Despite having promised she wouldn’t kill Elenwen, Luthien had still poisoned her arrow tips before leaving Breezehome. Pulling back into the hallway, she drew out her bow and lined her target in her sight. He turned just as she’d let the arrow go, eyes catching hers as it sunk into his shoulder, widening in disbelief as he crumbled to the floor, instantly dead. She exhaled relief, rushing over and stealing the clothes off his back before dragging his naked corpse and hiding it in the wardrobe of the room next door.
Straightening her new attire, she tugged the hood up over her head and was glad as she hid within it that there were no mirrors around for her to see herself in that getup. Even worse was the smell. The elves thought Nords smelled badly, but their robes all reeked of smoke and electricity and the scent made her skin crawl.
The darkness outside provided enough cover for her to slip from shadow to shadow, sneaking past the guards on patrol in the courtyard until she found herself lingering in the bushes just near the Solar tower. She watched as two guards came out of the tower, and it felt like hours before they were far enough away to allow her to sneak inside.
She’d expected to face a host of enemies within, but only two awaited her inside: a Nord spy and his Thalmor master, an interrogator the Nord called Rulindil. For a moment, she was at a loss, her mind trying hard to wrap around the concept of that man’s betrayal, but her pause made her linger too long and the man saw her. Fortunately, Rulindil’s back was to her when she entered, and seeing only her robes, the spy didn’t really pay her much mind as she headed left toward Elenwen’s office, but Rulindil turned over his shoulder to see what his companion was staring at.
She cursed under her breath, trying to think of an excuse she could throw over her shoulder to keep from having to use force. “I…”
“Wait a minute. Who are you?” She felt the air change, the static electricity gathering in force as he drew power from the air around him. “What are you doing in here?”
She didn’t know what else to do, so she spun around quickly and unleashed the power of her voice, sending both Rulindil and his weasely friend flying back into the wall behind them with unrelenting force that echoed through the tower like a clap of heavy thunder. Charging toward them as she drew Wuuthrad from her back, she went after the Thalmor first, taking him down before he had a chance to recover his senses before turning her attention to his friend.
“You never should have come here,” the man hissed, lunging toward her with a trembling dagger in his hand.
“No,” she shook her head, tongue sliding across her lower lip as they danced around each other. “It’s you who never should have come here. You ought to be ashamed of yourself, you filthy traitor,” she said.
“Ashamed?” he laughed, circling to her right and lunging in with his dagger. “For wanting to bring glory to my land and my people?”
“You call this glory? A Nord colluding with the Thalmor in hopes that they’ll throw you a crust of bread after they wipe out your entire race and burn your land to ash?”
Throwing back his head, his laughter echoed through the empty solar. “At least I’ll still be alive when the rest of you are long dead…Ulfric Stormcloak has doomed you all!”
She lifted her hand, drawing her own power from the air around her, sparks of electricity gathering in her palm as she stretched and closed her fingers. “I don’t think so. Skyrim belongs to the Nords!”
It shot out in long pulses, his body absorbing the shock in spasmodic shudders, face lengthening in surprise as he cried out and tried to fight his way toward her with heavy steps. She drove him to his knees, filling him with her hate as she stalked toward him. It had been one thing, brother fighting against brother in the Civil War. That had broken her heart every time she went to battle and slew an Imperial Nord who just wanted peace, but this… This man was a traitor and a spy and she would feel no remorse in killing him.
Lifting Wuuthrad over her head, she heard Ulfric bellow from behind her. “Woman! What are you doing?”
She brought her blade down, severing the coward’s head from his body and watching his blood spatter across white marble. “Killing a traitor,” she said, still gripping the axe tight in her hands as she turned around. “I didn’t have a choice. They caught me…”
“Not until I search her office,” she shook her head, lowering her axe over her back and stalking toward him. “I came all this way. I’m not here leaving without something we can use.”
“Woman,” he clenched his teeth as he growled.
She ignored him, pushing past him and darting into the office she’d been heading to when Rulindil had discovered her. Ulfric lingered in the doorway, keeping watch over his shoulder while she rifled through drawers and shelves in search of something, anything that might shed light on the Thalmor’s involvement with the dragons.
“How many?” Ulfric asked, glancing down to where she knelt on the floor in front of a locked chest tucked into the corner behind Elenwen’s desk.
“How many what?”
“How many Thalmor did you kill?”
“Two.” She jiggled the lock, grunting frustration as the pick snapped in her hand. “The one in the Embassy I stole these robes from, and the one you saw out there. I had no choice.”
“Kill or be killed,” he nodded understanding. “Come on, Luthien. There’s nothing here. Just leave it, and let’s get out of this place before we can’t.”
“This chest is locked for a reason and I almost have it.” She turned the lock slowly, fingers working gently as she eased the pick just slightly right to release it from the springs inside.
“It never fails to disturb me that you know how to pick a lock so well.”
“It’s gotten you into a few places you needed to be,” she reminded him.
It popped, the trunk lid slightly lifting, and she smiled to herself when she saw what lay within. A document titled Dragon Investigation nestled atop two bound dossiers, one with Delphine’s name and the other with Ulfric Stormcloak written neatly across the front in bold black letters. “It looks like they’ve been watching more than just Delphine.” She scanned over the investigation document as she stood up straight and cursed. “Damn it!”
“What is it?”
“Then this was a waste of time,” he sighed.
“Not necessarily,” she lifted the dossiers. “There’s something here about you.”
“About me? Let me see that…”
“We’ll look at it more in depth once we get out of here, but we need to move. It says here in this document there is a prisoner in the Interrogation Chamber downstairs who may hold all the answers they are looking for.”
“Let’s move, then.”
There were more guards in the chamber below, and Luthien was no longer in the mood to sneak and spare them her blade. She’d already made a mess, she might as well leave the Thalmor enough gifts that they would never forget she’d been there. She heard Ulfric grumble into his beard behind her as he stepped over the bodies and descended into the cells below. Scanning the area for the prisoner she’d read about, she found him shackled to the wall. Luthien rushed in and began to free him.
“Please,” the Breton cried, struggling against his shackles. “Just leave me alone. I don’t know anything else, I swear.”
He looked up at her, deep blue eyes surprised by the kindness in her voice. “I… you…I am Retienne. I’m just a thief, I swear it. I don’t know anything.”
“Why were they keeping you?”
“I told them about the old man,” he shuddered as he dropped to the floor, tears burning in his eyes. “The one hiding in the Ratway. They kept torturing me, asking me more, but I don’t know anything else, I swear.”
“What old man?” Ulfric lingered at her back, arms crossed.
“The Blade. Esbern.”
“Another Blade?” Luthien glanced back over her shoulder at him behind her. “Delphine said she was the last.”
“I listened to them when they thought I was unconscious. They think this man knows why the dragons have come back. They wrote down everything,” the man said. “It’s over there in a chest near the desk, but please. Can we just get out of here? I saw them dragging the bodies to a trap door over there. Maybe we can get out that way.”
“I need that document,” Luthien said. “And then we will go. I will get you safely out of here, I promise.”
“Hurry,” he gasped. “Please.”
She was already digging through the chest when she heard them come in, Malborn’s squealing protest that he didn’t know anything, as they dragged him down the stairs.
“You let that wretch in, aided her, and we want to know why. What is she after, Malborn?”
“Ulfric,” she called over her shoulder.
“I’ll handle this,” he nodded.
“I knew you two were gonna get me killed,” Malborn called out from the top of the stairs, but his voice was soon lost in the echoing thunder of Ulfric’s Thu’um, Thalmor bodies scattering backward as he broke in and took the two interrogators out swiftly. She was just rising from the chest when he came back to her, Malborn lingering behind him trembling as he repeatedly murmured, “I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die.”
“Shut up, elf! You’re not going to die, but if you don’t close your mouth, I may have to change my mind about that.” Ulfric barked over his shoulder. “I found this on one of the interrogators,” he held up a key. “Maybe it’ll open that trap door.”
The door opened into an underground cave, and the prisoner dropped down first, running headlong into whatever waited for them down there just to get away from his Thalmor captors. Luthien followed next, then Malborn and finally Ulfric, and as her feet hit the ground, the shock of the drop rumbling through her bones, she heard a troll growl and snarl up ahead.
“Retienne, wait,” she grabbed onto the rags of his shirt to hold him back. “You’re not even armed. If you want to get out of here alive, stand behind us.”
Ulfric charged forward, dropping down to face the troll while Luthien drew back the string of her bow from the cliff edge. The poison of her arrow took it out quickly, and Ulfric glanced back up at her with his brow furrowed when it fell, as if to silently ask if she didn’t think he could have taken it. She shrugged, replacing her bow and jumping down to stand beside him.
“My hero,” he smirked, leaning into her as they walked toward the back of the cave in search of the exit.
Malborn and Retienne followed, the Breton stepping up to her as they lingered near the dark mouth of the Reeking Cave. “When I saw you in those Thalmor robes, I thought you’d come to kill me, but I can see now you are no elf. You didn’t have to save me back there,” he said. “But I’m grateful you did. I will never forget what you’ve done for me today, friend. Who are you?”
“No one of consequence,” she smiled softly, lowering the hood of her robe around her shoulders. “Be careful on the road.”
After their two companions parted ways with them, heading in the opposite direction while Luthien and Ulfric made their way south, her husband drew up behind her and asked, “Why don’t you take off those ridiculous robes? Every time I look at you, it unsettles me.”
“What am I supposed to wear?” she laughed. “Delphine has all my gear.”
“Fair point. We should make our way back to Solitude and get you something more appropriate to wear.”
“I want to take a look at these dossiers.”
“We will take advantage of Elisif’s hospitality then. I’m sure she’ll be delighted to see us.”