Selene and Delphine were like oil and water. They didn’t agree on anything, and they spent a lot of time bickering. Poor Brynjolf ran interference as best he could, and Selene felt bad for putting him through it all; but she simply couldn’t stand the woman, and she couldn’t bring herself to be civil. She had to admit Delphine was a good fighter, though. They were attacked by a group of bandits just northeast of Whiterun, and the older woman really held her own. Brynjolf was the shining star in that battle, single-handedly putting away three of the brigands.
On their second night out, Selene awoke to the sound of a sabre cat’s roar. She was on her feet in a second, sword in hand. Brynjolf, who had been standing watch, was already fighting the big cat, which sported a large gash in its side. It roared in pain and took a swipe at Brynjolf, sending him sprawling. It leapt for him before she could reach it, but Brynjolf was ready, bringing Chillrend up swiftly and skewering the beast. It landed heavily on him, and he swore and groaned in pain.
Selene and Delphine rushed over and, with great effort, pulled the sabre cat off him. He lay on the hard ground, gasping for air for several minutes with an agonized grimace on his face. He finally started to sit up, but he flinched. “Damn, that sucker’s heavy. I think it broke a couple of ribs when it fell on me.”
“Let me see.” Selene helped Brynjolf hobble over to the fire and take his cuirass off while Delphine looked in her pack for some healing potions. Sure enough, his side was already bruised and swollen. “Healing spell,” she said curtly. She looked into her hands as if she were trying to see the magicka and then gathered her will for the spell. Warm, golden light appeared in her hand, and she held it over Brynjolf’s ribs as he lay back on his bedroll. His side was still black and blue when her magicka ran out, but the swelling was gone.
Delphine handed him a healing potion, and he drank it off. “That’s better,” he sighed. “You should practice more with the magic, love. That healing spell comes in handy.”
“Get some rest,” Delphine told him. “I’ll take the watch.”
* * *
They passed Windhelm amid a snowstorm, which caused whiteout conditions at times. The snow lightened up a bit as they headed south toward Kynesgrove, which was only a couple of miles away. By the time they reached the little burg, it was only flurrying. On the way into town, they met a woman—the innkeeper, Selene thought—running away.
“No, you don’t want to up there,” she warned them. “A dragon! It’s attacking!”
“Where?” Selene asked.
“It flew over the town and landed on the old dragon burial mound. I don’t know what it’s doing up there, but I’m not waiting around to find out.” A dragon howled, and the innkeeper leapt into the air, squealed, and started running again.
“I hope we’re not too late,” said Delphine as they darted past the inn and up the hill toward the mound.
Then Selene saw him, and she came up short, suddenly unable to go any farther. A cold chill ran down her spine, and her heart felt as if it would stop as she watched the hulking monstrosity hover over the hill. No mistake, it was the black dragon from Helgen.
“Lorkhan’s eyes, look at that big bastard!” Delphine exclaimed as the dragon swooped and circled overhead. “Keep your head down; let’s see what it does.”
Like she was going to try to draw its attention.
As they reached the mound at the top of the hill, the black dragon stopped and lingered over the mound, and in a soft, almost gentle voice said, “Sahloknir. Ziil gro dorah ulse.” Selene had no idea what it meant, but it wasn’t too hard to figure out what he was doing. There was only one reason he would be talking to a dragon mound.
“Steady,” said Delphine. “I don’t know what’s happening. Let’s watch and wait.”
“Do you see me rushing forward to fight him?”
Delphine glared at her but didn’t respond.
“Dien tiid vo!” the black dragon shouted, and the mound burst open and a dragon’s skeleton crawled out.
“This is worse than I thought,” Delphine muttered.
Selene watched as fire gathered around the skeleton in what seemed to be a reverse of what happened when she absorbed a soul. Flames engulfed it as skin and scales reformed around the bones. After a moment, fully whole, the resurrected dragon shook himself off and looked up at the other.
“Alduin, thuri! Boaan tiid vokriiha suleyksejun kruziik?”
Selene didn’t understand much of what the new dragon said, but she understood “Alduin.” She’d heard the name before, and the pieces started to come together. The black dragon was Alduin, the World Eater. And he was hanging in the air only a few feet away from them.
“Geh, Sahloknir. Kaali mir.” Alduin looked down at Selene, and although she didn’t really get dragons’ facial expressions, she could have sworn he smirked. “Ful, losei Dovahkiin? Zu’u koraav nid nol dov do hi. You do not even know our tongue, do you? Such arrogance to dare take for yourself the name of Dovah.”
“I didn’t take the name,” she replied defiantly with no idea where her courage was coming from. “It was given to me. And I did understand you. You said you didn’t see any sign of the dov in me. But you’re wrong.”
The black dragon chuckled. “How many souls have you absorbed, Dovahkiin? How many of my brethren have you enslaved within yourself to learn our tongue?”
“So knowledgeable. And yet you know nothing. You are not worth my time. Sahloknir, krii daar joorre.”
That prompt, Selene understood all too well. Alduin had just ordered Sahloknir to kill them. The black dragon flew away, leaving her and her companions to fight the newly resurrected dragon, who took to the air as well. Selene took aim with the crossbow and shot, catching him in the throat. Sahloknir howled and landed nearby, but before Selene could reload the crossbow, he released his Thu’um.
The great, thundering force hit Selene full on, and she flew backward. She hit a tree, which knocked the breath out of her lungs. As she gasped for air, she saw that Delphine had been thrown back by the Shout as well and Brynjolf was fighting Sahloknir alone. She reached for her crossbow and reloaded, watching as the dragon snapped at her husband. Brynjolf ducked beneath Sahloknir’s great head and drove Chillrend into his throat. The dragon choked and coughed as Brynjolf pulled the sword out and took another swing before he could recover; he must have hit an artery because hot, sticky blood sprayed all over him. The dragon gave one last, defiant howl as his head dropped to the ground.
Chest still aching, Selene dragged herself to her feet and ran to Brynjolf, who stood staring at the dragon. “Are you all right?” she asked, laying a hand on his arm.
“Aye, I’m fine. A little thunderstruck, but I’m okay. I was worried about you.”
Brynjolf looked past her, and Selene turned around to see Delphine standing behind her. “I’ll be damned. You did it! That was well done. Come on. I want a closer look at this bugger.”
“‘Bugger?’” Selene repeated, insulted. Delphine made it clear that she thought of dragons as nothing more than vermin, and with that, Selene realized she held them in much higher regard. There was no question that they were evil, dangerous, and had to be vanquished. But at the same time, they were regal, intelligent, and powerful; and they didn’t deserve to be placed in the same class as a common skeever. And in many ways, she was one of them.
As Delphine neared the dragon, he started to go up in flames. “Wait, something’s happening.” She watched in awe as flames covered him and Selene, churning and swirling around them both as it burned away scales and organs until nothing was left but the skeleton.
Sahloknir snarled at Selene as his essence entered her mind. “Aye, go ahead and howl,” Selene said in her mind. “You didn’t last five minutes in this life.”
“Dur hi wah Uradiin, Dovahkiin.”
Selene rolled her eyes.
“What is it?” Brynjolf asked.
“Oh, he just cursed me to Oblivion. I’m used to it.”
“Gods above!” Delphine gasped. “So you really are…it’s true, isn’t it? You really are Dragonborn.”
Selene opened her mouth to say something sarcastic, but Brynjolf stopped her with just a look. “Aye, Delphine,” she said instead, “I really am.”
“I guess I owe you some answers, don’t I? Go ahead. Whatever you want to know, nothing held back.”
“All right, who are you and what do you want with me?”
“I’m one of the last members of the Blades. A very long time ago, the Blades were dragonslayers, and we served the Dragonborn.”
“I know who the Blades are.”
“Then you know that since the death of the last Dragonborn emperor, the Blades have been searching for a purpose. Now that dragons are coming back, our purpose is clear.”
“I thought the Blades were all gone.”
“Most. I’m sure I’m not the only one left, but the few who survived the Great War have scattered to the winds. Perhaps with our renewed purpose, I can start rebuilding the order.”
“That’s why the Thalmor are after you,” Selene guessed. “They killed all the Blades, and you’re a loose end.”
“What’s our next move?”
“We need to figure out who’s behind the dragons. The Thalmor are our best bet at this point.”
“Why do you say that?” Brynjolf asked her.
“Think about it. The Empire had captured Ulfric, and the war was basically over. But a dragon attacked just before he was executed, and the war was back on. It may be it’s over now, but Skyrim and the Empire are both weakened, and the dragons are only making things worse for us. Who else gains from that but the Thalmor?”
“So we need to find out what the Thalmor know about the dragons.”
“I could ask Ulfric if his spies in Solitude know anything,” Selene mentioned.
“If we could get into the Thalmor embassy,” Delphine said, “it’s their center of operations in Skyrim. Problem is that place is locked up tighter than a miser’s purse.”
“I could get in.”
“You say that, but these people could teach me a few things about paranoia.”
“Did I mention that I was an operative for Ulfric Stormcloak? Do you think he doesn’t already have eyes and ears in the embassy?”
“Fine, you check with him. I also have a few ideas. It will take time to pull things together, though. Meet me back in Riverwood. If I’m not there, wait for me. I shouldn’t be long.”
“Delphine, there’s something else.”
“What is it?”
“That dragon, the black one, I’ve seen him before. He was the one that attacked Helgen. And Sahloknir called him Alduin.”
“The World Eater.”
“Ugh, Divines save us. All right, find out what you can and meet me in Riverwood. And keep an eye on the sky. This is only going to get worse.”
She turned to go, and Selene stood and watched until she was out of sight. “You know what irks me?” she grumbled. “When people treat me like I’m either too young, too stupid, or too inexperienced to understand what’s going on around me.”
Brynjolf shrugged. “You are young, you’re petite, and you’re beautiful. People see those things as weaknesses and easily underestimate you. As a thief and a mercenary, you know that. You’ve used it.”
“‘Keep an eye on the sky.’ Is she kidding? I mean who does she think she is?”
“I’ve never seen you like this. What has she done to make you hate her so?”
“I don’t know. She said the Blades served the Dragonborn, but I get the feeling she’d rather have me serving her instead. Look, I know what has to be done, and I’ll do it, but I can barely bring myself to tolerate her.”
“Well, you’re going to have to get past it, because this situation is already a nightmare and your animosity is only making it worse.”
“Brynjolf, I do believe you’re angry with me.”
“I’m not angry. I’m just telling it like it is.”
She sighed her resignation. “I’ll try,” she promised. “Back to Windhelm, then?”
* * *
Selene and Brynjolf went to Ulfric and told him about Kynesgrove, the black dragon, and Delphine’s plan to get into the Thalmor embassy.
“The dragon from Helgen is the World Eater,” he said softly. “It’s difficult to get my head around that. But Delphine believes the Thalmor are behind this?”
“She says the dragons are weakening Skyrim and the Empire,” Selene replied.
“But the World Eater puts the Thalmor in danger, too. If I remember correctly from my studies, no one is safe, living or dead.”
“Who knows why the Thalmor do what they do?” Brynjolf muttered.
“Indeed. Well, if you’re going to the Thalmor embassy, do it before the moot. When I become High King, my first action will be to eject the Thalmor from Skyrim permanently.”
“Any ideas on how to get in?” she asked him.
“We have people who can get in and out, but we haven’t been able to get someone stationed permanently within the embassy. Talk to Thrand if your friend Delphine—”
“She’s not my friend.”
Ulfric stopped and gave her an incredulous smile, then chuckled. “All right,” he relented. “If Delphine can’t get you in, Thrand will be able to come up with something.”
One of the outer doors opened, and a courier came running toward the throne at full tilt. He stopped next to Selene and Brynjolf, breathing heavily. “My apologies for the interruption, my Jarl,” he gasped. He reached into his pocket for a letter and walked toward Ulfric. “This is of the utmost urgency.”
Ulfric took the letter and nodded his thanks, and the courier turned and headed back out of the hall. Ulfric opened the note and read, and alarm flooded his scent. His eyes opened wide, and he sat up straight.
“Ulfric? Are you okay?”
The jarl looked over at his steward, who stood a few feet away in his normal spot. “Jorleif, I won’t be seeing visitors for the next couple of days.”
“Do we need to leave?” Selene asked him.
He shook his head. “You might want to rethink infiltrating the Thalmor embassy for a while. Things just got much more complicated.”
“Emperor Titus Mede was assassinated in Solitude two days ago.”
“What! But he wasn’t even supposed to be there anymore.”
“My sources told me his departure had been delayed for more than a week. They were supposed to leave port yesterday.”
“And someone got to him before he left,” Brynjolf quipped.
Ulfric looked at Brynjolf sharply. “I assure you this is not my doing. The Katariah stayed in port on the request of a member of a very influential Breton family based in Cyrodiil.”
“Will this delay the moot?” Selene asked him.
“Almost assuredly. The implications of this assassination will take weeks, perhaps months, to work through, and while I could do that better as High King, the jarls will want to wait.”
“I don’t think we can wait that long to get into the embassy,” said Brynjolf.
“Then do what you must, but take extra care while you’re there. Don’t discount the possibility that the Thalmor are to blame for the Emperor’s death. Whether they’re responsible or not, they’ll have extra security at the embassy.”
“We’ll be careful,” Selene promised.
“And if you happen to find anything I can use while you’re there, I wouldn’t be averse to taking a look. Don’t worry, Brynjolf. She’ll be well paid for anything she brings me.”
* * *
That evening, as Selene and Brynjolf sat by the fire at Candlehearth Hall, he took a sip of his mead and regarded her with a mischievous smirk. “You know, this whole thing with the Emperor just makes the thought of breaking into the Thalmor embassy more exciting.”
“After the Katariah, I’m up for most anything. I know Ulfric said to be extra careful, but after this, the embassy is practically begging to be broken into.” She sidled up next to him and started combing her fingers through his hair.
“Do you think the Thalmor assassinated him?”
“No, I don’t. I don’t know anything about his heirs, but I think the Thalmor liked having him in power because they could control him. I don’t think they’d want to risk putting someone else on the throne, especially right now when things in Skyrim are so volatile. I don’t think they’re responsible for the dragons, either, by the way, but it won’t hurt to take a look.”
“What are you doing?” he asked as she tugged on a lock of hair.
“I’m giving you a war braid.”
“Are you serious?”
“You love to say you’re not a warrior, but look at all you’ve done just since we left Riverwood—the three bandits and that saber cat. And then today, I may have gotten in one good shot, but you killed Sahloknir.”
“You don’t like the crossbow, do you?”
“Uh-uh. It’s too slow. You could have been killed while I was trying to reload. Unless you want to keep it in the vault, I’m going to sell it and go back to the bow Karliah gave me.”
“Sahloknir,” Brynjolf repeated, barely above a whisper. When finished the braid and tied a leather strap around it, he reached up and trailed his fingers down the length. “It makes me uncomfortable.”
“What, the braid? Why?”
“It’s something for a—” He stopped and chuckled. “I never planned to be more than a thief.”
“You deserve the braid, Brynjolf. You earned it, even before today. I never thought you’d be the type to lack confidence, but sometimes I don’t think you like yourself very much.”
“I like myself just fine, but I never had any illusions about my station in life and what I was. You make me want to be better. You make me want to be…more.”
Selene laid her head on his shoulder. “You’re already more,” she whispered.