It was less than a day’s journey to Winterhold, but the heavy snowfall doubled the time it took to reach the small town beneath the Sea of Ghosts. When they arrived, it was dragonfire they heard, an ancient beast parked in the middle of the town spraying blasts of fire at the guards and citizens, who desperately fought it back. While it occurred to Luthien that she could have shouted that same fiery conversation right back into the dragon’s face, thanks to the shout she’d learned from Paarthurnax, Farkas took off sprinting into battle with a mighty roar of his own. He charged in to take care of the problem before Luthien even so much as drew Wuuthrad.
Jogging to catch up, she arrived just as the dragon fell under his blade with a surprised roar, heavy body thundering to the frozen ground. Usually, people gathered around the dragon and muttered about how they couldn’t believe it, asking if it was really dead, but not that time. They all circled around their hero, remarking at his strength and bravery. Even Jarl Korir came out of his hall to reward him, and Farkas grinned back over his shoulder at her like a sheepish boy.
She laughed and shook her head, making her way toward the college while Farkas basked in his glory.
She hadn’t been to the college herself since just before she’d joined the Stormcloaks. She kept in touch with Tolfdir and Urag through the seemingly endless and lonely months of her pregnancy, but it had been a long time since she’d felt the warm energy of constant magic that dwelt within that place. She lingered for a moment in the Hall of Elements, breathing in the brisk scent of electricity, fire and the ever-present aroma of alchemy reagents.
Turning left to head up to her quarters, she stopped at the sound of voices and glanced up to see three old friends coming out of the Hall of Elements together. The four of them had arrived at the college within days of each other, taking their first lessons together, pairing up to practice their ward spells with Tolfdir, delving deep into Saarthal.
It seemed some things never changed, as Onmund bickered with J’zargo about his incessant bragging and tiny little Brelyna pushed herself between the two in hopes of actually separating them. “I’m going to conjure up my Storm Atronach if the two of you don’t… Ooh, look!” Brelyna stumbled into distraction, nudging Onmund to silence. “Luthien’s here!” She rushed forward, immediately throwing her arms around her old friend and then stepping back to look at her. “It’s a fine day with you around. When did you arrive?”
“Only just.” She drew Onmund into a hug, and then reached for J’zargo, who had always been awkward about affection until he was actually embroiled in it. “You all look well,” she noted, stepping away from the Khajiit’s embrace to look him over. He was actually grinning, and it warmed her heart. “How goes training? Learn any new spells?”
“J’zargo is now master of destruction magic,” the Khajiit informed her. “Perhaps he will travel with you and burn your enemies with his great fire, yes?”
“Not this time, J’zargo, perhaps another day.”
“Always you say another day,” he said sadly. “You have too many companions already,” he nodded, glancing up at Farkas, who’d just walked through the doors of the Hall of Elements. He hissed disgust and leaned toward her whispering as he pointed with his elbow, “This one with muscles J’zargo thought for certain would be dead by now.”
“Good to see you too, J’zargo,” Farkas laughed, strutting toward them.
“Hi Farkas,” Brelyna cooed, slinking out to meet him. “I heard you killed a dragon down in Winterhold. You’re so big and strong.”
“Word travels fast,” he beamed.
Brelyna was a sweet girl, and though Luthien would never admit it openly to herself or anyone else, a part of her was glad he’d never played on her attraction to him. She wanted him to be happy, sure, but thinking of him being happy with someone else made her feel a little sick to her stomach. Was that how he felt every time he saw her with Ulfric? Jealous, sick in the guts?
“Flex your muscles for me,” Brelyna giggled, and he drew up his arm to oblige.
“And on that note, I’m going upstairs to change before we talk to Urag,” she announced, parting ways with them.
Gods, what was wrong with her? A man like Farkas deserved to be happy, and someone as sweet and caring as Brelyna would make a good wife. Why would she even think of denying him that kind of happiness?
Feeling selfish and stupid, she climbed the long stairs into her quarters, unbuckling the straps of her armor as she walked. It felt good to draw off her breastplate, a huge weight immediately lifting from her chest as she lowered the heavy ebony to the table near the door. She walked to the wardrobe on the other side of the room and opened the doors, admiring her archmage’s robes for a moment before reaching in and drawing them out to put them on.
She’d been so proud of those robes when she’d earned them, though the price everyone at the college paid had weighed heavily on her conscience for a long time after Ancano was finally taken care of. She lowered Savos Aren’s amulet over her head and immediately felt her power double in strength as magicka surged through her veins. She smoothed the robes down over her hips, relaxing into their comfortable fit. Maybe it was time for an abrupt tactical change. She’d appealed to Ulfric to consider using more battlemages in the field, but perhaps it was time to prove to him how well magic and steel worked side by side.
She and Farkas had been an immeasurable force in their travels. His sword, her spells, the two of them had been unstoppable. As if on cue, Farkas walked into the room without knocking, and dropped his helmet onto the table by her breastplate and greaves.
“I’m now a Thane of Winterhold,” he boasted, holding up his new sword to show her, a bemused grin dancing at the corner of his mouth. “If I’d known becoming a Thane was so easy, I’d take up residence in every city.” Stepping back, he looked her over, the smiling broadening. “I haven’t seen you wear those robes in a long time. I almost forgot how good they looked on you.” He tried to hide the mischief in his eyes, but she saw it and quickly changed the subject before her own blushing skin gave away her guilty intrigue.
“I thought it was time to get back to our roots,” she explained. “When Ulfric and I confronted the Thalmor, it occurred to me that pure steel will never work against them. My magic was weak, and they almost took me out. They are powerful, and unless we start focusing on strengthening our own magical forces, we will quickly fall beneath their feet. I need to show him how well you and I work together as a team. Magic and muscle.”
“Shame he won’t be here to actually see it,” he said.
“We will show him,” she looked down, ignoring his tone. “I’ve been trying to convince him to send mages into the camps to offer training to some of the soldiers, but a true Nord would never rely on magic when he has iron and steel.”
“Sometimes Ulfric’s never ending list of things a true Nord should and shouldn’t do feels like it came straight out of the First Age. It’s like saying a true Nord shouldn’t shit in a chamber pot if there’s a tree he can squat behind outside.”
“Farkas,” she swatted at him for being vulgar and shook her head. “Sometimes I think we forget how much older than us Ulfric is. He grew up in a different time…”
“There was still magic when Ulfric was growing up. Magic has always been there, and I get that the Great Collapse made a lot of Nords wary, but even thinking we could take the Aldmeri Dominion without strong mages is just… stupid.”
“Good, then we agree,” she felt herself grinning. “And when we go back to Windhelm, you should say those exact words to the king, especially that part about the chamber pot and then brace yourself for his Thu’um.”
“Maybe I will,” he smirked, leaning into her shoulder to nudge her.
They didn’t allow themselves to relax long, but made their way down the stairs into the Arcaneum. He found Urag where she’d always found him: behind his desk browsing through a book with a sour look on his face.
“Well, well. The prodigal daughter returns.” He didn’t even glance up from the pages. “I hope you brought my books back with you in one piece.”
“Of course I did.” She lifted the satchel onto the counter and he reached out to snatch it with greedy hands.
“Don’t suppose you discovered any interesting tomes in your recent travels?”
“A few,” she pushed the satchel toward him. “They’re in the bag as well.”
He opened the bag and drew them out, inspecting them all to make sure she hadn’t left any fingerprints or stains on his precious books, and then nodding appreciatively. “Did you find what you were looking for in them?”
“Unfortunately, no, but there is something else you might be able to help me with. I’m looking for an Elder Scroll. You don’t happen to have one here, do you?”
She didn’t think in all the years she’d known the old orc, she’d ever heard him laugh, but he was laughing then. A great belly laugh that shook his whole body as he leaned back in the chair. “An Elder Scroll, ha! If I did have one of those here, do you really think I’d let you touch it? I don’t care who you are, or how much weight you pull around here…”
“So you do have one then?”
“No, I don’t, and before you even ask, I have no idea where you’d find one either.”
“Do you have any books that might point me in the right direction?”
“I might have a couple of tomes, hang on.” He disappeared into the library, returning about ten minutes later with two books he said she was free to take for as long as she needed them. “You,” he pointed across the counter at Farkas, “don’t touch them.”
“As if I would,” Farkas balked at the notion, and followed her into the center of the silent Arcaneum, where she sat and began leafing through them.
For two hours, he stared at the floor while she squinted and blinked at the words scrawled across the pages in front of her. The first book told her everything she could ever want to know about an Elder Scroll, but not where to find one. Folding back the cover of Ruminations on the Elder Scrolls by Septimus Signus, not a single world in that text seemed to make sense. At first she thought maybe she was just tired from the road, or maybe she’d contracted Brain Rot unknowingly and its effects were finally starting to eat away at her wits.
Shaking her head, she glanced up at Farkas and sighed, flipping it closed with a thud that she swore was going to bring more than just a surly growl from Urag.
“Everything you ever wanted to know about an Elder Scroll, but nothing about where you might find one. And this book… I swear it was written by Sheogorath.”
“That good, huh?”
“Urag,” she rose from her chair and walked the Ruminations book back over to his desk. “This book is completely incomprehensible.”
“Ha! I’m not surprised. It was written by Septimus Signus. He used to be a mage here at the College. Brilliant man, but mad as a mudcrab. He left here years ago, but if it’s an Elder Scroll you’re looking for, he might be the man to talk to. Savos Aren once told me Septimus located an Elder Scroll, and after he’d read it, he went completely mad, but I always thought he was a little crazy and obsessive before that.”
“Is he still alive?”
“Might be,” he shrugged. “Last I heard, he was living in seclusion in the islands north of here.”
“You really think he could help me?”
He regarded her for moment, his dark eyes shimmering with veiled affection. “What in the name of Malacath do you need an Elder Scroll for, kid? I already told you, it drove Septimus mad. You wanna wind up like that too? Babbling, crazy, a hermit in the Sea of Ghosts…”
“I have to stop Alduin,” she told him. “Getting my hands on an Elder Scroll is the only way I can do that.”
His lower lip twitched over his sharp teeth, and then he nodded. “Let me see your map. I’ll show you where he was last. I can’t promise he’ll still be there, but…”
“But it’s a start,” she nodded agreement. “Thank you for all your help, Urag. If there’s ever anything…”
“Look, you know I’m not one for the sentimental stuff, but gods know I’m already in your debt as it is. It’s the least I could do. You just go on out there and save the world again, kid.”