Grazhir :: Crossover :: Yvara: Goblet of Fire

The Drawing of the Champions

01

“Are you people blind? For one thing I’m quite obviously female. How could I possibly be this Harry person you’re speaking of? And secondly, why would a potter attend a school like this? Don’t they have pottery to be getting on with?”

“Er, what? I think there’s some confusion here,” said the old man. I decided to call him “Beard”.

“Really? You’re just now getting that? Still, that makes me wonder where all the potters learn their craft. I saw pottery everywhere, but never any potters. It’s bizarre. It might even be one of life’s great mysteries.” I looked around, not especially liking what I was seeing, and sighed. “Well, this sucks. How you people managed to drag me through Oblivion. . . .”

“Oblivion?” Beard asked, looking awfully perplexed.

“Well, sure. This obviously isn’t Skyrim and I’ve never seen architecture like this before in any of the books. And let me tell you, the College has a lot of books, on every known subject. Therefore, I’ve been pulled through Oblivion to wherever this is. I wasn’t aware of any other, er, planets? In Mundus, I mean. Just Nirn, because I really don’t think Masser and Secunda count. I wonder if Kynarath will port my house over from Whiterun temporarily.”

Beard was, by that point, looking so damn confused he might well suffer a loss of consciousness.

“Damn. Well, there is one thing I can do, anyway, I think.” I prepped the usual summoning spell and cast it. Luggage skittered in seconds later. Honestly, I hadn’t been at all sure it would work, but the little fellow was already capable of getting to my side from clear across Skyrim in seconds. And, it appeared, across worlds. “Excellent! You all right, then?” I asked it.

Luggage danced in place.

“Good. Pop open, would you? I need something.”

“What—what is that thing?” asked the red-haired lady with the green eyes.

“Again, are you people blind? It’s my luggage. Honestly.” I crouched down to rummage around inside it and pull out a blood potion. “Thank you,” I told it as I stood up. I pulled out the cork and had a healthy drink as Luggage snapped its lid closed.

“Is that blood?” the greasy one asked.

I eyed him up and down, noticing the sheer size of his nose. “Why am I not surprised you have a keen sense of smell?” I asked, more or less rhetorically, then blinked when he brought up one of those silly little sticks and pointed it at me.

Luggage went spastic at that point and rammed into the guy, knocking him flat, then pinned him down between its legs.

“Ah, you were threatening me, I see,” I said, then had another swig. “Are you always so trigger happy?”

“Severus, really,” the redhead scolded.

“Sounds like an Imperial name,” I muttered. “I wonder if I can get a message back letting them know I’ve been unavoidably detained for a bit.”

“Them?”

I eyed Beard, who now had a strained look of politeness on his face. “Yes. Them.”

“Imperial?” the redhead asked.

I eyed her. “The natives of Cyrodiil. I am very obviously in a different world if you don’t even know that much.”

Severus came out of his daze at that point and started yelling. I believe I may have heard something about how I’d be sorry or some other dribble coming from his mouth, so I prepped and cast a Pacify spell at him.

Beard looked put out. “What did you do to him?”

“I simply calmed him down. Would you rather I responded with my more usual?”

“Which would be?” he asked uneasily.

“Ah. Kill it with fire,” I said, grinning. “Look, what am I doing here? You’ve still not explained why I’ve been yanked into this bizarre situation.”

“You were summoned by the magic of the Goblet of Fire, as one of the participants in the Triwizard Tournament,” Beard said.

“Oh, that was so helpful. Thanks so much. Now, what is the—” I broke off at a melodious sound, and grunted faintly when a heavy weight landed on my shoulder. I sighed. “Don’t tell me. Some alternate form of a beloved creature of Akatosh?”

The flaming bird on my shoulder trilled a little melody at me, and I was surprised to realize I understood the thing. In fact, it said, “My name is Fawkes—according to the old man, anyway.”

I eyed Beard.

“You are, most certainly, in a different world. This one is called—rather unimaginatively, I must say—Earth. Sometimes Terra. There is magic here, but only certain people can use it, unlike on Nirn,” it trilled.

“What?” I said, shocked to the core. “Only some?”

“Oh yes,” it trilled.

“How utterly boring.” Beard started to say something and I fluttered my hand at him to shut him up. “Why do I get the feeling all the creatures are different, too.”

“Well, not all of them, but many, yes.”

I was starting to get the feeling that Fawkes was male—something about the way he sang? “If it’s not Fawkes, what is it, then?”

Beard looked upset at the question.

“It’s definitely not Alduin,” the bird trilled, and I laughed myself silly at the idea. “I am nominally attached to the old man for the time being, so Fawkes will do, just to avoid confusion.”

“You’ll have to explain that in more detail at some point,” I said.

“I will,” Fawkes assured me. “Now, as to you being here. Apparently you really did originate on this planet, but an incident—you died, by the way—sent your soul to another world, that being Nirn, and you were born into a new body, with a different gender.”

“Uh huh,” I said, then glanced over at Luggage. “You can go back for now, by the way.”

Luggage danced off of Severus and poofed.

“If you prefer,” Fawkes said, “I can take you someplace private and I can explain things without all these people gawking.”

“Really? I think that would be preferable,” I replied, and the next thing I knew I’d been enveloped in a burst of flames and transported to a nice enough little room with a squashy-looking chair and a perch for Fawkes, who promptly winged over to it. “This is all very bizarre, and that’s saying something considering my life up until now.”

“I don’t doubt it,” Fawkes said. “So, the incident. There is a spell in this world called the Killing Curse. It’s instant death, no reprieve. The most you can do is dodge or block it with some solid object. Or, well, a phoenix can take one and be reborn in chick form, but that’s rather an extreme solution. During this incident you were hit with the killing curse and died, and your body was destroyed. On the other hand, the body of your attacker was also destroyed.”

“And his soul?”

“He stuck around in spirit form, but not even visibly. He ended up having to possess various creatures during the years to survive, and he’s trying to come back, to regain a body. Technically, you’re the one who defeated him, even though everyone here thinks it’s your brother. Well, your previous incarnation’s brother. But as you have the same soul. . . .”

I flopped back in the chair and had some more blood. “And this guy knows it wasn’t my brother and assumed I must still be alive somewhere.”

“Essentially. I assume so, anyway.”

“So, the goblet and tournament Beard mentioned?”

“Ah, yes. The Goblet of Fire is an enchanted object used to pick the best prospect from each participating school for the tournament. It’s only supposed to pick three students, so it must have been tampered with in some way. The catch here is that anyone whose name has been drawn must participate or suffer the loss of their magic.”

“Say what now? It does regenerate and all that.”

“Yes, but I mean in the sense of never being able to do magic again.”

“We don’t even have the same kind of magic, not that I could see. These people use those silly sticks, like tiny little staffs, except they aren’t limited to a single spell. What you’re telling me is that this goblet summoned the current body of the soul associated with a specific Harry Potter?”

“Yes. And I am unsure if your ability to do magic would be harmed should you refuse to participate.”

“Even though I’m not of this world, wasn’t the one to put my name in for consideration, and am apparently much older than these students?”

“Correct. Akatosh has not seen fit to tell me directly.”

“Thanks, dad,” I muttered. “Well, maybe he’ll tell you—no, I suppose I can figure that one out for myself. Hang on.” I summoned Luggage again and had him open up so I could fetch out parchment, ink, and a quill. I scribbled a quick note to Valdimar, dried the ink, folded it up, and gave it back to Luggage. “Okay. Return to Elysium and let Valdimar have that. I’ll summon you again in a bit to test out a theory.”

Luggage poofed again and I had some more blood.

“What did you do?” Fawkes asked.

“Assuming Valdimar gets that, I asked him to select one of the rabbits we keep and give it to Luggage. If it makes it through alive that tells me something important.”

“Thinking of bringing a familiar face here?”

“If possible, yes. I’d like to have someone here I trust to watch my back. Maybe several someones, assuming they’d dare make the trip. Though, considering most of the people I know are weapon users. . . . Serana, maybe, though I expect her being a vampire will give people the wibblies. Marcurio doesn’t know who I really am, so he’s out. Valdimar is getting on in years and only uses magic to give him some protection before flailing around with a blade, so he’s out. Suppose I could get Onmund. Brelyna would be nice, but she’s a Dunmer and I don’t expect that’d go over too well around here.”

“Ah, these people tend to be a bit strange around other races, so I would stick to human races,” Fawkes opined.

“Figures,” I said. “Nice to know that racism exists everywhere. Right, so, I’m going to have to participate. Fantastic. How long is this supposed to go on for?”

“The school year. The first task is set for a month from now. It’s to test your daring.”

I laughed. “Hm. I admit, I wasn’t exactly paying attention in there when it was being explained. But to test my daring? How droll. So, tell me more about this world I find myself in.”

That passed the time until I was ready to summon Luggage again, and when I did it arrived and immediately popped open its lid. A rabbit jumped out and hopped off to investigate. I got more bottled blood and tucked those away in my pouch before closing the lid. “Don’t suppose Akatosh would chime in on the viability of an actual person?”

Fawkes adjusted his wings and cocked his head to one side.

I sipped blood for a while, waiting patiently. After all, I was stuck in this foreign world for an indeterminate period of time. True, I could try getting into Luggage and sending it back, see if I made it home in one piece, but if I might lose my ability to do magic, well. . . . That would be rather unfortunate for the Arch-Mage of the College of Winterhold.

It was also true that I was more than fairly good at holding my own, but I had mostly come into my skills well before I was expected to save the world, and even I had been tossed at high speeds into walls more than once and nearly lost consciousness. Having a trusted friend with me would be comforting. Serana was old enough, experienced enough, and like a sister to me. She could also be very aggressive, which might be a drawback, but I thought the benefits far outweighed the negative.

“I am getting the distinct impression,” Fawkes eventually said, “that one would be acceptable. But not more than that.”

“So, I could bring Serana.”

Akatosh had obviously imparted more than just a general feeling of assent, for Fawkes said, “Your chosen sister?”

“Yes. Not actually sure if she sees it that way, though,” I admitted. After all, she was on the order of several thousand years or more old, so I was just a baby in comparison. “For the love of Kyne!” I said, glancing sideways at a sound to see Beard just coming into the room. “I can’t even have a private conversation without you people barging in like skeevy fetchers. Say now, I just had a thought. Why in Oblivion can I even understand these people?” I asked Fawkes.

He gave me a patient look—at least I assumed that’s what it was.

“What, Bormahu?”

Was it really possible for a bird to shrug?

I shook my head slowly and knocked back the remainder of my blood potion. “I hope I still have a College to go back to when this is over. Gods only know what they might get up to with me gone for so damn long.”

Nose sneered at me. “You make it sound like it belongs to you.”

“Oh gods. What did I do to deserve this kind of torture? It’s like Ancano all over again, except your voice doesn’t make my ears bleed.”

“Ancano?” Beard asked.

“Yeah. Skeevy Altmer mage, Thalmor spy—and not a very good spy at that—tried to blow the College sky high and take Winterhold with it. I fried his ass.”

“Kill it with fire?” Red asked.

“Oh yes. Lots and lots of fire. Well, I had a little help.”

Nose sneered again; it seemed to be his default expression. “You barely look capable as it is, so of course you did.”

I shook my head again slowly while eyeing the ceiling. There was no point trying to reason with an idiot. At least he wasn’t setting me aflame with the depths of hate that Delphine had achieved, but in all fairness, I’d known the man for all of an hour, if that.

“He takes getting used to,” Fawkes trilled helpfully.

“Wonderful,” I muttered. “So would I have to use Luggage, or can Bormahu do the deed himself?”

“You should probably write her a letter to ask. He isn’t in the habit of just popping in to have tea with the denizens of the planet.”

“Good point. Luggage, come here.” I fetched out more supplies and wrote another letter, then dried the ink, folded it, and said, “Okay. This one is to Serana. If she has a letter to send back, you hold on to it and give it to me when I summon you back.” After I deposited the letter inside I let Luggage poof out again. “I hope someone takes care of Horse for me,” I said quietly. “But I can always send a letter to the College and get Onmund or Brelyna to do it, I suppose. Another one to let Brynjolf know I’m all right. One to tell Faralda to hold down the fort and make sure Tolfdir doesn’t do anything silly. One to Jordis and the kids.”

“So many people,” Red said inanely.

I looked over in disbelief. “I do have a life, you know. It’s not like I existed in the Void with Sithis until you people hauled me here. So since we’re all here having a cozy chat, who are you people?”

Beard conjured up a squashy chair—I eyed it with interest, never having thought to attempt something like a bound chair. Would a daedroth suffer to be used like that? They didn’t mind being weapons, but a chair? Maybe it was a matter of visualization and will? After all, I had beat the stuffing out of that one fellow up atop the College until he bent to my will and fetched a sigil stone for me. I realized I had missed part of the conversation when Fawkes trilled at me. “Sorry, my mind wandered into a spell-related conundrum. Could you repeat that?”

Beard gave me a strained smile and said, “I am Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of this school. You are in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. With me presently are Severus Snape, Potions Master, and Lily, your, well, mother—Harry’s mother.”

“Say what now? There is obviously a severe time difference.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m saying I’m thirty-something years old, maybe forty-something, and this potter you keep talking about would be all of fourteen had he lived.”

“How old were you when you were, er, turned?” Red asked.

“Ah, let me think. Maybe twenty summers, I suppose. I was a farmer. Things happened, people died, and I adjusted. Then I said the hell with it and moved to Skyrim to become a mage instead of sticking around to hoe potatoes and cabbages. I have been with the College since I was, what, twenty-five? Been around since then, seen the afterlife a few times, that sort of thing, learned some cool spells.”

I didn’t even have to look to know Nose was sneering at me again.

“C-cool spells?” Red asked tentatively.

Fawkes chose to add his thoughts to the ones running through my head. “This is called the Room of Requirement. You can ‘require’ what you need, though you cannot remove it from the room.”

“So you’re saying I could do something like ‘require’ some draugr and give a minor demonstration?”

“Certainly.”

“Well now.” I got up and wandered deeper into the room, which expanded as if listening to my thoughts, then I ‘required’ a dozen normal draugr. I could hear Red gasping in the background at the sight of them. I ignored that and laid a half dozen fire runes on the floor in front of them, waited for one to be triggered, and then unleashed Chain Lightning into their midst. They went down like kindling. I ‘required’ another dozen and let loose with Fire Storm. They died even faster. “Cool spells,” I said, projecting so my voice would reach them.

Nose looked almost nervous. “What were those?” he asked with admirable evenness.

“Draugr. They are—let me think how to explain. Undead servants and guardians, I suppose, usually found in tombs. Some because of their religious affiliation and being cursed to serve even in death, some because they were being punished, and some as guardians—though the willing ones are usually in spirit form and look more normal instead of desiccated. Let’s see. How about this instead?”

I ‘required’ a couple of giants and heard Red squeak. I conjured a bound bow and laid into them, sticking them with so many arrows they looked like the pincushions of an indifferent seamstress. I released the bow, wandered back to my chair, and dropped into it, pulling out another blood potion. “Don’t be thinking just because I’m small that I’m helpless. And I don’t need one of those funny little sticks you people use.” I grinned at them, flashing some fang, and had a sip of my ‘drink’.

Fawkes trilled again. “You should probably summon your luggage again.”

“Oh?” I did so and Luggage skittered in, a folded piece of parchment sticking out from his seam. I gently pulled it free and flipped it open. Seemed Serana was actually rather touched that I thought of her that way and she was more than willing to come have an adventure with me. “It’s a go,” I said.

Fawkes trilled again, but that time I couldn’t understand what he was saying. The next thing I knew Serana materialized in at my side, so I quickly got up and gave her a grateful hug.

She eyed the others in the room and then smiled at me. “You really think I’d pass up a chance like this?”

“I had to ask, didn’t I? I couldn’t very well kidnap you the way these people kidnapped me. Well, not these three specifically. Some psychotic whackjob. You know, Alduin in human form and probably not nearly as scary. Say, you ever tried conjuring a bound chair?”

She blinked at me in confusion and shook her head.

“I’ll explain later,” I promised, and made introductions all around, then said, “Akatosh saw fit to grant me my request for someone I trust beyond life itself to watch my back here in this bizarre place. You people are just going to have to deal with it.”

Serana leaned in and whispered, “Why do they look like that?”

“I gave them a demonstration of a few spells against draugr and some giants.”

“Oh,” she replied, nodding slowly.

“You are also a. . . .” Nose said.

“You can say it,” I replied. “Vampire. It’s not a difficult word.”

“That will not go over very well with some,” Beard said slowly.

“That’s too damn bad,” I shot back. “Serana’s the closest thing I have to a sister, and to my mind she is my sister.” Hell, she’d even made me into a vampire lord one day when I asked on whim. True, I almost never transformed because I didn’t want to be that ugly for any period of time, but being able to fly sure was helpful at times. “I’m here, unwillingly, to be in some stupid tournament, not to make friends with a bunch of stick wavers.”

“Sticks?” she whispered.

I nodded and looked at her. “Like staffs, but not limited to one enchantment. So when’s the first task again?”

“A month from now,” Beard supplied. “But prior to that is a small event for the Champions only called the Weighing of the Wands. I expect there will be at least one reporter present.”

“Wonderful. It’s that weird lady from the Black Horse Courier all over again, I bet.”

Serana frowned. “She followed you everywhere.”

“I know. It was like I was the only newsworthy person in the damn world. She’d have followed me to Apocrypha if she could have.”

“Apocrypha?” Red asked.

“The Plane of Oblivion ruled over by Hermaeus Mora, Daedric Lord of Knowledge and Fate,” I answered. “Each Daedric Prince has his or her own realm. Not too sure about the Aedra.”

Beard looked both confused and eager to learn so I added, “There are nine Divines, or Aedra, and you may as well just call them gods. The Daedric Lords are also gods, but on the other side, even if not all of them are evil, and there are more of them than Aedra. Hermaeus Mora, for example, is more pragmatic than anything else and hoards knowledge like you wouldn’t believe. It’s just that his avatar is creepy, really creepy. All eyes and tentacles and weird dirty colours.”

Even Nose looked interested at that point. “And others?”

“Well, I met Sheogorath, Daedric Lord of Madness. He’s a handsome fellow. The Shivering Isles is divided into Dementia and Mania, and basically it’s just packed with crazy people. I may have a book tucked away you could read, assuming you could understand the language. Meridia appeared to me as a bright white orb of light. She hates the undead. Sanguine likes to appear as a mortal named Sam and lure people into drinking contests and go wild all over the country, but then he’s the Prince of Debauchery, so when he tried it on me I ignored him. I didn’t meet Vaermina, but she spoke to me in my head briefly. I ignored her because she’s one of the evil ones.”

“Akatosh?” asked Beard.

“The, ah, chief deity of the Divines. Also known as Alkosh, Auriel, Auri-El, Bormah, and often referred to as the Dragon God of Time. His symbol is frequently seen as a winged hourglass. Shrines of him in Skyrim often depict him as a dragon. I actually have Auriel’s Bow in my house on display. Serana and I went on quite the journey to retrieve that. And the shield, now that I think about it. Haven’t met Kyne, either, also known as Kynareth, but the house I have outside Whiterun is blessed by her and the wrong kind of people can’t get in.” I called Luggage over and started rummaging through what it was carrying.

Eventually I tracked down an applicable book—it had been a while since I cleaned Luggage out and I had tons of duplicates in there. I got back up and offered it to Nose. “Can you read that?”

He took it and opened it up, then frowned and handed it back. “It is incomprehensible. It doesn’t even resemble anything I’ve ever seen before.”

I shrugged and dropped it back into Luggage. “Well, we can chat about things like that later, I suppose. Right now I would like for someone to find my sister and I a room. And some blood donors. I have a ton of blood potions stored away, so it’s hardly a priority, but fresh blood is always preferable.”

Red looked confused. “You don’t have to kill to feed?”

“Of course not,” I said, sounding a bit offended. “The only time I drain anyone is when they’re stupid enough to try to kill me. You know, bandits, assassins, necromancers, cultists, other vampires. And then I usually make potions. I have a number of people I get fresh blood from. They’re happy to help. Suppose if necessary I can just—”

“My mother could help,” Serana said.

“True. Nothing saying I can’t send Luggage to her for a refill. Blood donors would still be nice, though.”

The Weighing of the Wands

02

A house-elf was sent to collect me and escort me to a preliminary event I had no idea why I had to go to. I entered the room and saw the other Champions, some old fellow I immediately dubbed “Wispy”, Beard, some other adults, and a strange woman (“Skeevy”) with an accompanying male (“Device”) holding an odd contraption.

I sat in one of the available chairs and waited unhappily. Wispy started rabbiting on about wands and testing them, one by one, for the other three. Then he looked at me. “Where is your wand, my dear?”

‘Did no one tell him?’ I thought disbelievingly, and stood up. “You want to see my wand?” I replied innocently.

“Yes,” he said with a nod.

I pulled the Wabbajack from my Arch-Mage pouch and twirled it around. “Unfortunately, I don’t know if you can personally test it. But you can try.”

“Merlin, a staff user!” he said happily. He held out his hand and I gently balanced the staff on his palm. He gripped it and began to examine it, but—unfortunately, he must have activated the thing, for the next thing anyone knew, Dumbledore was a mudcrab. “Oh! Oh my,” Wispy said in alarm, quickly thrusting the staff back at me.

I took it and tucked it away. “Huh. It’ll wear off in a bit, I’m sure,” I told the old mudcrab, who clicked his claws in frustration, or perhaps good humor.

“Is that all it does?” Wispy asked, looking confused.

“Oh, I almost never use the thing,” I told him. “It’s a game of chance, really, what it’ll do.”

“Then how do you cast any spells?”

My hands twitched as I readied spells, and I held them up theatrically. “My hands are my wands. I really don’t think you can personally test them, not unless you plan on being perverted. Or, perhaps, being a target.”

“I—er—right,” he said. “I’m sure it won’t be a problem.”

I shook the spells away and lowered my hands. “I didn’t think so,” I said cheerfully.

“We must get pictures!” Skeevy exclaimed, patting Device on the arm. “Such wonderful looking Champions!” she burbled excitedly. “And the story I can write!”

‘Gods above. I am not staying for that.’ I surreptitiously readied Muffle and Invisibility, cast them, then skulked off.

The First Task

03

I sat on one of the benches in the large tent set aside for the Champions and tried not to doze off. Some large person dressed like a wasp was there rabbiting on about whatever and I only paid attention when he presented a bag for each of us to remove something from. The blonde girl went first, then me, then the two males. I looked down and realized I was holding an animated model of a dragon. ‘Seriously? This is supposed to test my daring?’

The other three looked sick at the sight of them. The girl was called out first and I could hear all the cheering and gasps and the usual other sorts of noises. Eventually the males were also each called. I should have brought a book. And then it was finally my turn.

I walked out to see a massive dragon with black scales, bronze horns, and a spiked tail guarding a pile of greyish eggs. One brow went up before I confidently moved forward. “Drem yol lok, briinahi,” I said politely.

The dragon blinked and angled her head around so she could see me more clearly.

“Zu’u Dovahkiin,” I added when she said nothing.

Her head reared back in alarm. “Drem yol lok,” she replied stiffly. “Zu’u Briisuah.”

“Morokei! And may I say, you have a lovely name. I never hear ones that pretty back home. So, look. The joor meyye put a volaan in there with vokiini that I’m supposed to acquire. How about we skip the part where I beat the stuffing out of you, and you just let me take it?”

She appeared to be considering that, eyeing me warily, then said, “There are formalities to be observed.”

“You are absolutely correct. That won’t harm vokiini? I admit, I’ve never run across any eggs prior to this.”

“Nid.”

“All right, then. Please, you first.”

She inhaled and Shouted, “Yol Toor Shul!” Fire rushed at and over and around me. The watching crowd screamed in fear and generally made a huge fuss, then went deathly silent when it was revealed I was perfectly fine. My hair wasn’t even mussed.

“My turn, then.” I shot Fire Breath right back at her, to the accompaniment of more screaming. “Morokei!” I cried happily. “All right if I take the fake, now?”

“Geh.”

I nodded and jogged forward, already seeing the golden egg as Briisuah shifted a little. I plucked it out of the pile and went back to my starting point, then turned around to say, “Kogaan, Briisuah. Lok, Thu’um.”

“Lok, Thu’um,” she said in return.

I hefted the golden egg and wandered off toward the tent one of the officials was pointing me at. I should have known it was the correct one because there were three Champions all peering out, having been spying on my efforts.

The healer in there fussed over me—I really wasn’t sure why—and pronounced me to be fine. I refrained from rolling my eyes at her and went back out long enough to get my scores, which I didn’t pay attention to. And then Serana joined me and we strolled off toward the lake so we could get away from the screaming mortal masses. We’d been there for about a half hour or so, having a bitch fest about there not being any blood donors, when the dark-haired Champion wandered up to us.

“Greetings,” I said, eyeing him a bit hungrily. “What brings you to our little section of the lake?”

He gestured at the ground and I nodded, so he took a seat and said, “I was curious. I do not understand how you accomplished the task.”

“Oh, that,” I said. “I’m not from this, ah, dimension? Apparently when my previous incarnation died I ended up somewhere else entirely. My world has a different system of magic and, well, some people are gifted with some fairly odd powers.”

His brow furrowed. “You do not use a wand.”

“None of us do,” Serana said. “We have staffs we can use to cast a particular spell, but those are usually for spells we don’t want to tap our reserves for, or because we never bothered to learn the spell. They have to be recharged every so often.”

“Interesting,” he said. “So this power you used, it is not something the average wizard could do?”

I shook my head. “It’s kind of a blessing from a god. People like me only show up rarely, usually when something awful is going to happen, and some sucker has to step up to play the hero. I just happened to be born to it rather than decide to do it.”

Serana snickered quietly at that so I gave her a playful slap to the arm.

“They do not, er, get upset at having the vampires in their midst?”

“Eh, a lot of them do, actually, but that’s because most of the vampires—though not all, obviously—are little more than mobile flesh-bags of hunger. There are plenty of ways to get blood that don’t involve killing, but I will admit that it’s delightful to drain an idiot.”

“Like all those bandits, assassins. . . .”

I nodded at her. “Exactly. If they’re stupid enough to attack, they might as well be useful as a meal.”

He nodded and looked thoughtful.

“I, ah, wasn’t paying attention that first night, or today, really, so I never did catch your name. Mine is Yvara. My sister here is Serana.”

He looked up in confusion. “Viktor. So if you’re from elsewhere, you really have no idea about. . . . Quidditch, for instance?”

“Don’t have a clue,” I admitted. Oddly enough that made him smile. And what a lovely smile it was. “Why?”

“Oh, I am well known in the wizarding world. It is nice to speak with people who do not know that.”

“I see,” I said knowingly. “I’ve run into that problem myself. The hero thing. I used to have couriers showing up to leave requests at one of my houses all the time, people wanting me to bugger off to wherever and fix some problem for them, like there wasn’t already a very well known band of honorable mercenaries right up the road they could petition.”

“But they’d have to pay,” Serana said with mock dismay.

“You have more than one home?”

I nodded. “I have, ah, lemme think. Elysium outside Whiterun, that weird mushroom house outside Riften, my quarters at the College of Winterhold, a house in Solitude, a house in Whiterun, one in Markarth, one in Riften—I think that’s all of them? But only two of them are known to be owned by my hero persona. The rest are owned by me as myself.”

“So you’re missing one in the Pale,” Serana said, “Hjaalmarch, Falkreath, and Eastmarch.”

“That sounds right.”

“That’s a lot of homes,” Viktor said in surprise.

“I get around,” I said. “Technically I should be staying at the College, but I find it hard to stay in one place for very long. Being here—” I looked around. “It’s pretty enough, I suppose, but I’m fairly restless being more or less forced to stick to one place and have all of it be so unfamiliar.”

“Huh. You were drawn here by the Goblet,” he said, then looked at Serana. “But you?”

“Yvara asked a god if she could have someone here she knew and trusted, and he allowed it. I agreed as soon as I finished reading the letter she sent. Besides, my mother is having raptures over all the ingredients we’ve been sending back to her. She’s very into Alchemy, makes a lot of potions, so she’s having a wonderful time experimenting. But, as I understand it, our Alchemy and your Potions aren’t quite the same thing.”

“Hang on,” I said. “I’ll show you something.” I summoned Luggage and, after it’d finished dancing a greeting, said, “Open up.” I poked around inside for a bit and finally pulled a handful of things out. I set them down on the sand and pointed at each in turn. “Briar heart, glow dust, sabre cat tooth, spriggan sap.”

“Plenty of things can be used in Alchemy,” Serana said, “and Skyrim has a lot of creatures and things that don’t seem to exist here. And the reverse is also true.”

After Viktor had examined everything I packed them away again, and pulled out some blood potions. “Okay, you can skitter off.”

Luggage danced a farewell and poofed.

“And that was?”

“My luggage,” I said, handing a potion to Serana. “I found it in a massive cavern deep below the surface, a place where the Dwemer used to dwell. Dwemer being Deep Elves. They built a lot down there. Anyway, a researcher had taken over a small building as a base while he was down there and, apparently, figured out how to merge a chest with one of the spider automatons. When I got there it was awfully lonely, since the researcher had been dead for a long time. It decided it liked me and I’ve had it ever since. Luggage can find me anywhere, so it’s really handy. We can use it to send things back and forth. I check in with the College or various other people, Serana with her mother, that sort of thing.”

I uncorked my blood and drank some down, humming happily. Before I knew it hours had passed and the sky was rapidly darkening. Viktor really appreciated being able to spend time with people who didn’t fawn all over him because he played some game and was good at it.

“Ah, I must be going,” he said, a bit sadly. “Karkaroff will come looking for me soon if I do not.”

“Well, we’re happy to talk to you anytime,” I assured him. “If you ever need to get away from the screaming masses, just send a message.”

The Yule Ball

04

“Say what now?” I asked.

Tartan eyed me with disapproval and repeated, “There will be a Yule Ball. As a Champion you are required to attend. With a date. And dance at least the opening dance.”

I turned and stalked away, back to my quarters, and called for a house-elf. I couldn’t send a note because odds were no one could read the damn things, but there were ways. “Will you deliver a message for me?”

“Of course, Champion Yvara,” the little creature said happily.

“It will have to be spoken. I don’t write in any language you people do, so—all right. This is going to Champion Viktor. If he agrees to speak with me, please escort him here, to my quarters? Or I can meet him at the lake. Whichever he prefers.”

“Floopy will deliver the message,” it promised and popped out.

About a half hour later there was a knock at the door, so I dashed over to open it, and was pleased to see Viktor standing there. “Thank you, Floopy,” I said, then gestured Viktor inside.

“What is this about?”

“Ah, I’m a bit alarmed, actually,” I said, closing the door and leading him off to some seats. “Tartan just told me I’m required to go to some ball? I mean, I could take my sister as my escort, but people might find that to be a little bit strange. Any suggestions? I haven’t exactly bothered to meet many people.”

Viktor brightened up and said, “Will you go with me?”

“Oh? Sure. I guess that makes sense, actually. You don’t have screaming girls fainting on you, and I get to go with someone I actually like talking to. Ah, I should point out that I have no idea how you people dance. The most I’ve ever seen people do is kind of sway around to a bard playing, usually with a tankard of mead or ale in their hands.”

“. . .I can teach you a simple enough dance,” he assured me. “Do you have any idea what you plan to wear?”

I grimaced. “I’m going to have to get dressed in some poncy finery, aren’t I,” I said, gazing down at my usual outfit. “Damn it. And no Radiant Raiment to help out. Thalmor robes would work, except I’d sooner blast myself in the face with fire than touch any of their stuff. Uh, I could wear my Arch-Mage robes?”

“Arch-Mage?”

“Yes. I’m the Arch-Mage of the College of Winterhold. The one supposedly in charge. I got a special set of robes when I ascended to that position. They’re kind of fancy and they’re enchanted, so. . . .”

“Well, what do they look like?” he asked.

I summoned Luggage and started rooting around. Sergius had made several sets, actually, so there might be one there. “A-ha!” I pulled a set out and held them up.

He tilted his head in consideration. “I think they look interesting. Certainly nothing like we have here.”

“Well, I would prefer to wear something from home, and definitely something enchanted if possible. I don’t really go in for wearing robes of any kind. I only normally wear ones like these when I’m actually being the Arch-Mage, you know? Approving expenditures, requisitions, scolding idiots, that sort of thing. There’s also a set with a hood, but that would be kind of silly for a ball.”

“I think those are fine,” he said. “How did you get to be Arch-Mage?”

“Well. . . .”

*

Viktor picked me up at my quarters for the ball. Serana remained in the suite, reading a long letter Valerica had sent regarding her latest experiments, having refused to “play dress up” as she called it. On the way down to the ground floor he said, “How long do you wish to stay? Only for so long as required, or. . . .?”

I grimaced. “I guess that depends on how bad it is. I can barely dance and I don’t know the customs when it comes to things like people trying to dance with either of us, even though we’ll be there together.”

“If you don’t want to, say so now. I can glare them away.”

I laughed softly and nodded. “Sounds like a plan.” We were called to the side by Tartan so that we and the others would be out of the way while the mass of students filed into the Great Hall, then shoved into a line and paraded in. Unfortunately, we had to sit at a table at the far end of the hall, with the various headmasters and several officials. I ate some of the food I ordered, but mostly just played with it, conversing quietly with Viktor until the meal was deemed over and it was time to start the dancing.

I plastered a vaguely happy look on my face as Viktor offered his arm and then led me down to the cleared area. The musicians started a tune and I frowned immediately. Viktor shook his head and said, “Don’t worry about it. We can do the dance I showed you to anything. People will be too busy being jealous or envious to care.”

“Right,” I said. We started moving around slowly in a little square-type pattern and I tried to keep the look of distaste off my face at it being just three pairs out there. But eventually a new song started and many others joined the floor. “Four hours of this, ugh.”

Viktor chuckled. “So we talk. But it might be a good idea for me to put up a charm to muffle what we’re saying.”

I nodded. “Probably for the best.”

He paused long enough to cast something and then we started boxing around again. “So why not make friends?”

“Well, it’s not like I plan to stay once this is over. I didn’t really see the point in going out of my way to make friends with a lot of people when I’d only be leaving them behind. I’ll actually miss you. But I can’t stay. I have a lot of responsibilities back home. The College, the orphans, my various housecarls, my best friend.”

“Orphans? Housecarls?”

“I sort of but not really adopted two orphans and installed them in my house in Solitude with a housecarl to keep an eye on them. They were sleeping outside, more or less homeless. Blaise wants to join the Legion when he grows up and Lucia wants to be a Bard.” I rolled my eyes. “Housecarls are like a combination of bodyguard, servant, and burden carrier.” I rabbited on about them for another few minutes. “They all depend on me to bring in the coin necessary to keep the kids fed, the houses stocked, for themselves—I try not to abuse my housecarls. I mean, there’s Jordis in Solitude, Valdimar at Elysium, and Argis in Markarth, though he spends just as much time at Elysium.”

“How do they even come to be in your service?”

I gave him a rundown of how things worked in Skyrim, and how anyone halfway competent could have a title thrown at them, sometimes a housecarl. “Technically there’s also Lydia, but I really loathe that girl. She’s a housecarl to my alter ego, and I more or less had that disappear as soon as it was feasible. If I’d become Thane in Riften before the change in Jarls I might have ended up with one there, too. As it is, I let Brynjolf use Honeyside, since it’s my alter ego’s house and I have the other one outside of the city.”

“Ah. Brynjolf is. . . ?”

Was that the delicate scent of jealousy I was detecting? It was hard to say considering just how many people were dancing and how many of them were eyeing one or both of us with heady emotion. “He’s my best friend. Riften has the Thieves Guild, and he’s a part of it. Actually, he helps run it. He originally tried to get me to join the Guild, but I laughed at him—I’m not really the thieving sort—but I’d sit with him in the evenings when I was in the city and tell him stories of my various adventures. Somewhere along the way we became friends. I even asked him to do a job with me, said I’d pay for it like any other customer, but we ended up exchanging favors. I helped him with a problem that needed to be eliminated and he helped me with the job I needed done.”

“I see. Are the two of you. . . ?” The expression on his face was an odd mixture of things, but I could see what he was getting at.

“Oh, no. I suppose it could have been. He’s certainly handsome enough, and we get on really well. But no. He’s my best friend and confidant, just like Serana is my sister and confidant. They’re the only two people who know about my alter ego. Besides, I don’t think it’s all that fair to be in a relationship with someone when I wander so much. Only seeing them for a day or two with a week or more between times?” I shook my head. “He does let me have a nibble, though, straight from the neck. And also, I’ll conceivably live for thousands of years, so. . . .”

Viktor’s expression smoothed out. “Can a wizard learn your way of magic?”

“I have no idea,” I admitted. “Everyone on Nirn has the capacity to do magic, just most of them don’t bother. They don’t see a whole lot of need to learn. It’s not like there are any spells I know of to help with crops or shop management, after all.”

“How do you learn the spells? People are taught in your College?”

“Some, yes,” I replied. “Some people come to the College as students, as I did originally. Some just buy or find spell tomes and learn from those. I learned most of my spells from books, either purchased from one of the trainers or a court wizard, or having found them while dungeon delving.”

He nodded. “Do you have any with you?”

I eyed him. “You want to try?”

“It would be a curious experiment, no?”

“I don’t see why not. But my kind of magic requires a connection to Aetherius. We’ll see, I suppose. Why don’t we ‘dance’ on over toward the doors and make like we’re going to take a break, and then just not come back?”

He nodded again and we danced that way, then stopped when the current music came to a graceful end. When the next tune started up we ignored it and headed for my quarters rather than follow the people headed outside to the winter garden.

I managed to produce a copy of Candlelight and let Viktor have it. He opened it up and started reading—I changed back into my normal gear while he did that—and eventually snapped it shut with an odd look on his face. Apparently the magic of the tomes transcended language barriers. The book was laid in his lap and he brought up his right hand. I couldn’t see anything actually happening—such as the spell being readied in his hand—but he said, “I can almost feel it. It’s like it’s behind some thin veil.”

“You know,” Serana said, lowering her mother’s letter, “there was that ring we found in that barrow on Solstheim. You remember, we left because it had a Black Book at the end?”

“Oh, right,” I said. “It had spells built in to it, ones there are no tomes for.” I rummaged through Luggage again to no avail, and ended up having to send a letter to Valdimar, asking him to find it in my jewelry box and give it to Luggage. A half hour later I summoned Luggage back and retrieved the ring, then handed it to Viktor. “Put that on. There are two spells associated with it: Freeze and Ignite. I had Argis wear it once and he could cast the spells just fine, even though he never trained as a mage.”

Viktor slipped the ring on and then looked puzzled. “What do those two spells do or look like?”

“Good questions. Let’s repair to that Room of Requirement place. No sense burning down half the castle just to experiment.”

Shortly thereafter we were in a ‘required’ room, one consisting of the wilds outside Riften. I demonstrated Firebolt for him and Serana did Ice Spike. “Very similar spells, really. Try reaching for the feeling of flames or ice.”

He concentrated, and his left hand lit up with a gaseous blue-white sphere.

“Morokei!” I cried happily. “Now—” I looked around for a moment. “Target that tree. Try to use what you learned from the spell tome to prepare the spell you’re holding, then release it at the tree.”

A minute or so later Viktor had succeeded in sending a spike of ice at the tree. He missed, but that was beside the point. After an hour of practice he said he thought he could reach beyond that veil and removed the ring, then successfully cast Candlelight.

“Excellent. Now it’s just a question of practice and learning other spells,” I said as I reclaimed the ring. “I would ask, though, that you not show you can do this during the normal course of things.”

He shook his head. “No, no. I would not wish anyone to realize there is something different. I already have enough trouble as it is with the various peoples vying for my attention. I can always come up here to practice, using Disillusionment to get here without people noticing I’m spending a lot of time in the castle.”

“I still think it’s weird they aren’t housing all of you in the castle to begin with,” I replied.

“Ah, school secrets, or some such nonsense,” he said with a scowl.

I got him some more spell tomes—low level ones—and he set to reading.

The Second Task

05

“So,” I said conversationally from my spot next to Viktor, “did you ever figure out the clue, because I didn’t bother. I threw the egg into Luggage and forgot about it.”

He blinked at me in surprise. “We are to retrieve something of value to us from the lake. I suspect that there are hostages down there.”

“Well now. I had wondered where Serana got off to,” I admitted.

Just then Wasp used his stick to make some noise and the younger champions all started casting various spells. Two of them did something that created a bubble of air around their heads before diving into the water. Viktor jumped in and had seemingly transformed half of himself into a very weird fish. I shrugged and readied a water-walking spell, cast it, and strolled on out over the water, listening intently for heartbeats.

I skittered along until I heard a large concentration of life, not to mention some scratchy singing, and went that way, then let the spell wear off. I sank into the water and looked around. Not far distant was a group of strange underwater dwellers, many of them holding spears or tridents, and also four persons floating there.

Serana waved.

I swam over and quickly “claimed” my hostage, and the two of us swam back to the surface so we could see which direction to go in. “Summon horses?” I suggested. We both cast an on-touch version of a water-walking spell, summoned our mounts from the Soul Cairn—Arvak and Alsvid—mounted, and raced each other back to shore where the officials were waiting. The horses were dismissed, and after a once-over by the healer lady, Serana and I parked ourselves in bound chairs and sat back to enjoy some blood while we waited.

Thank the gods she was with me, because it’d have been boring otherwise, waiting for the other Champions to finish up the task. The blonde girl came back after a bit, sobbing her little heart out, covered in bleeding gashes, but the healer took care of that quickly. Viktor came back next, with some fellow I didn’t recognize. The blond one came back a few minutes after that. “Gods above, that took long enough.”

There was some sort of conference going on at the water’s edge between Beard and those weird fish people, but eventually he stood up and went to consult with his fellow judges. The scores were given, not that I paid attention, and we were released from the festivities. Serana and I stuck there by the lake as the teeming masses all filed off, but Viktor showed up again once the place had cleared out.

“You are not bothered by the cold?”

“We have resistances,” I said simply. “Besides, a fair bit of Skyrim often has blizzards. This is nothing unusual. But, if you like, you can come with us to that special little room in the castle.”

He nodded, so Serana and I got up, thereby releasing our bound chairs, and headed off to the castle and up to the seventh floor. I walked past the door thrice, requiring a representation of Elysium, then entered the door that appeared.

Viktor was stunned.

“So, this is one of my homes and the surrounding area. I doubt you could go very far from the house itself, but this is what it looks like. That’s Whiterun over there,” I said, then opened the front door and went inside.

“I’m almost surprised your house looks so normal,” Viktor said as he looked around avidly.

I shrugged. “I like it. But to give you a different perspective. . . .” I ‘required’ Proudspire instead temporarily. “I think this place is a little stuffy, really,” I said, letting him get an idea of the place before letting things revert to Elysium. I showed him around, even down into the cellar where all my tools were. He was suitably impressed. “How’s the practice going?” I asked, after we were soaking in the pool out back.

“Oh, it is well. I think my magical strength translates in some way to your type of reserves, so I am able to cast for quite some time before feeling mostly empty and needing to recover.”

“That’s good to know. When you normally start out you don’t necessarily have the best in terms of reserves. Practice and experience tend to widen the pool. But you’ve been doing a type of magic for years, so I suppose that makes a certain kind of sense.”

“What is it like, being a vampire?” he asked curiously.

My eyes widened for a moment at the enormity of the question and I glanced at Serana briefly. “Not much different from being a normal human in many respects,” I finally said. “You’re stronger, faster, can jump higher, you need blood at least every few days, but daily is best, and your eyes go a bit funny. Depending on what type of vampire you are the sun can be a real problem or simply bothersome.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, Serana and I aren’t really bothered by the sun, but there’s a lot of ice and snow in Skyrim, and the glare off that can be fierce. Our eyes are a lot more sensitive, which means we also have amazing night vision, and that can make things awkward on a bright day. Let me think. . . . We have various powers we can use, but I admit I almost never bother because I have plenty of spells at my command. I do sometimes use my ability to drain life out of targets, because if I get hit that’s one quick way to restore my health while causing damage at the same time. Unfortunately, using that ability on someone you don’t plan to kill can infect them. If they don’t get a Cure Disease potion into them quickly enough they’ll turn three days later.”

“I often use a cloak of bats,” Serana offered. “The bats drain life from targets in range and transfer it to me. I also summon a gargoyle as extra help when necessary. Aside from that I don’t use most of my vampiric abilities. On a side note, would you be willing to help with a little project?”

“What is it?” he asked.

“You can’t read our language, and we can’t read any of yours. If we were to get a Potions book, or something that went over the various ingredients you use, would you be willing to read it to us so we can transcribe the contents? I’d like to get something more detailed to my mother, but. . . .”

“I would be happy to,” Viktor replied easily.

Revealing the Third Task

06

“A maze,” I said flatly. “I am so thrilled I can’t possibly figure out how to adequately express my feelings on this.”

Viktor eyed me in amusement as Wasp rabbited on, then walked with me back to the castle. “I expect it will be filled with all manner of interesting obstacles.”

“Gods above. I know next to nothing about the things on this world. I’ll either have to fall back to my usual or sneak by invisibly. Something like that.”

“Your usual?”

“Well, yes. Kill it with fire.”

“I have to assume that the hedges will be resistant to fire, but the creatures within? I doubt fire would work on any magical traps, though.”

I sighed. “I don’t even care about winning. I just want this over with so the contract is fulfilled and I’m no longer in danger of losing my ability to cast spells. The gods know I’ve never used any weapons aside from a bow, and I conjure that. Besides, some psychotic whackjob—ugh. Right. If I was drawn here to be trapped, that task will be the last chance for whoever it is—that Dark Lord fellow—to do something. I’m probably supposed to win the damn tournament.”

Viktor frowned. “So you think, instead of the cup to claim at the center, something else?”

“Ah, I guess? Maybe? Is there—wait, you were telling me about transportation methods. A—what did you call it?”

“Portkey?”

“Yes, that thing. If the cup itself was trapped in some way, and I tried to claim it, I could be hauled off anywhere, right? Or worse, one of you three, with no idea what’s going on. Well, you’d have a clue, because we’re talking about it, but—hm. I guess that means I have to make an actual effort instead of just accidentally-on-purpose getting lost in the maze and losing the task by default.”

“But if you get whisked away, how would you find your way back here?” he objected.

“Not a damn clue. Oh. I could probably get Fawkes to come fetch me.”

“Fawkes?”

“The old man’s phoenix companion. I can understand what he’s singing, and I already know he can transport people.”

He nodded thoughtfully and we kept walking.

The Third Task

07

I darted off into the maze when Wasp sent the signal and stretched out my senses. The hedges were too tall to see over, and I rather doubted I could jump quite that high. Climbing them, however. . . . While I was contemplating my strategy Viktor showed up behind me. He was second in the rankings so I wasn’t all that surprised. I was surprised at what he said, though.

“We should stick together.”

“Eh?”

“If it is a trap at the center and you get whisked away, what if whoever is on the other side uses the cruciatus curse on you, or the imperius?”

I frowned at the unfamiliar terms and pointed at the hedge. “Give me a leg up, will you? I want to get on top. Then I’ll pull you up.”

Viktor looked confused, but readily enough laced his hands together and let me use that tiny platform as a point to launch myself up from. I landed on the top of the hedge and promptly laid down, extending a hand toward Viktor. He jumped and caught my hand, and I hauled him up as he used his other hand and his feet to try to climb up the side.

From up there we could see the maze laid out and started to puzzle out a path toward the center. “What are those curses?” I asked. The crowds of people in the stands sounded shocked by what we were doing.

“The cruciatus is a pain spell. It’s agonizing. The imperius is a mind-control spell.”

“Well now. That doesn’t sound pleasant. But still. I’m used to people trying to kill me on a regular basis, often multiple times a day. I doubt that’s something you’re familiar with.”

“I’m willing to take the risk,” he said, and I could scent the determination and stubbornness in him.

I heard the signal again and knew the blond had entered the maze, and later, again, for the blonde. By then we were most of the way to the center, using the hedge tops as paths, and it was only a few minutes later that we were standing there looking down at the hedged-in clearing. A massive spider was there, but I just snorted. “At least this one can’t have dropped down from the ceiling. Hold steady there for a minute,” I said, then planted a Dremora Lord and an Ancient Lich down there, and started lobbing fire at the thing. It went down in no time flat, so I flashed a fanged grin at Viktor and dropped off the side.

He joined me after a few seconds, though he cast some sort of spell first, probably to cushion his landing. I wasn’t sure if anyone could actually see us at that point. I went ahead and shoved the spider carcass into my Arch-Mage pouch and then eyed the cup. “You sure about this?”

“Yes.”

“All right, then. Let’s take it together.”

Viktor reached out and grabbed my left hand with his right one, and then we used our respective free hands to grasp the cup. I had the oddest feeling of someone having hooked a rope to my stomach, and was pulled along to a new destination. It was not nearly as pleasing a sensation as having Fawkes transport me.

We arrived in what might have been a graveyard and I heard, “Kill the spare.”

Viktor dove to the side as I lashed out with Paralyze in the direction of that voice. A muffled thud followed, along with ranting. Viktor got up and walked with me toward the sound. There on the ground was a human male and a—I didn’t know what to call it, really. A tiny being, anyway. My spell had hit the main mass of the proper human, but not the thing, so I sent another one to shut it up.

Viktor followed up with some spell that wrapped ropes around each of them, so I allowed my spells to wear off, at least for the big guy. The little one started ranting again the second it could so I lashed out with Paralyze again. Unfortunately, before we could question the adult he transformed into a rat. I blinked and hit him with a few seconds of Sparks, and that caused him to revert back to human form.

“Don’t try that again,” I warned. “I have excellent aim, Rat.”

He blubbered and wailed at the pain I’d inflicted.

I rolled my eyes and said, “Now. Just what were you intending to do?”

Rat blubbered some more and kept shaking his head, occasionally looking for an opening to escape. I absently tossed another Paralyze at Rant and then crouched down by Rat and conjured a bound dagger. “See, I was hoping you’d just tell me. And since I don’t have all those fancy spells the wizards do I’ll just have to employ a little old-fashioned torture.” I slipped the tip of my dagger up under one of his fingernails and wrenched it up.

Rat screamed in pain and a fresh waterfall of tears escaped his eyes.

“I can do this all day, Rat.” Either he had hidden reserves of will I couldn’t see or was more afraid of someone else than me, because it took a few more fingernails before he caved and squeaked out some some plan involving Rant and the rebirth of his “lord”.

“Say what now? You want my blood for this little ritual you’re planning to do? Gods above, what idiots. I eat assassins for breakfast! You really think I’m going to be intimidated by this lord of yours and meekly fall in with your plans?” I sighed and shook my head. “So who exactly trapped the cup?”

Rat blubbered some more, lost a couple more fingernails, and finally told us about the plant at the school. It was that weird one-legged crazy-looking fellow with the fake eye.

“Polyjuice potion is used to take on the appearance of someone else,” Viktor helpfully informed me. “It lasts only for an hour, but it can be taken repeatedly. He probably has the real Moody trapped somewhere so he can continue to get hair for the potion.”

“I see.” I wrenched off a few more fingernails to see if Rat would spill anything else, then released the dagger and stood up. Another Paralyze went out and I considered the situation. Then I called out, “Fawkes?”

His arrival was heralded by a burst of flame and song; he landed on my shoulder and trilled, “Ah, so there you are.”

“Yeah. Don’t suppose you’d be willing to transport us all back? Say, to someplace not right in the middle of things? There’s an imposter too close to Beard and I wouldn’t want to tip him off.”

“I can. But shouldn’t you take care of Voldemort first?”

I blinked and eyed Rant. “That’s him?”

“Yes.”

“Oh. In that case. . . .” I used Telekinesis to move Rant away from Rat a good distance and inhaled. “Yol Toor Shul!”

Even paralyzed Rat managed to release sounds of pain, though I wasn’t quite sure why.

“That takes care of that,” I said in satisfaction. I waited until the thing cooled off a bit then picked it up and carried it over to Viktor and Rat. “If you’ll pick up Rat we can all get out of here.”

Viktor nodded and hefted him up over his shoulder, then reached out to gently grasp one of Fawkes’s tail feathers. A second later we were standing in the Room of Requirement. “Thank you, Fawkes. We’ll keep an eye on Rat here. Maybe you could fetch someone in charge of this madhouse?”

Fawkes flamed away again, and returned with Tartan. She took one look at Rat and gasped. “Pettigrew,” she said disbelievingly.

“Yeah. Could you let the old man know Viktor and I are okay and maybe get him to close out the task or something? I really didn’t want to alarm anyone by poofing in right there at the judges’ table with a captive in tow. Also, apparently that Moody guy is an imposter, so you might want to warn the old man.”

“Moody?” she said. “He collapsed.”

“Huh. Rat here had a bad reaction when I toasted his lord, so maybe that’s why.”

She pulled herself together and nodded, and Fawkes flamed her away.

After a few minutes Fawkes showed up again to transport us to Beard’s office. Red and Nose were there, too. I’d pretty much avoided those two as much as possible. Red might have been my once-mother, but as far as I was concerned my mother had died years ago to a vampire attack and Red could stay a stranger.

“Peter! He’s alive?” Red said.

Beard eyed Rat and a crispy Rant. “I am hopeful that one of you can provide a memory of what happened,” he said expectantly.

I had no idea what he meant, but Viktor promptly used his wand to pull a silvery strand from his temple and offer it up. Beard looped it onto his own wand and fetched a basin of some sort from a cupboard, then dropped it in. He hit some kind of rune on the side and the next thing I knew I was watching an image of the graveyard events.

Beard didn’t seem too happy about my interrogation techniques. I kept a watchful eye on Rat so I could nail him with Paralyze every so often. There were too many people and too many places to hide in Beard’s office to afford him the opportunity to transform and scurry off. I also threw them at the imposter, who had long since reverted to his natural form.

Someone was called in from somewhere using the medium of the fireplace—odd, in my opinion—and Monocle seemed taken aback by the whole situation. But eventually the story was told (and seen again) and Monocle and Beard went off with the captives in tow and Rant in a sack.

Viktor and I buggered off to my quarters and sat down to tell Serana about our adventure. Once we were done Viktor asked, “Is there any way I could go with you two? Back to Skyrim?”

“Say what now? You . . . want to leave here? There’d be no coming back.”

He nodded. “I know.”

“But why?”

“I—well—” He looked away for a moment, biting his lip. Then he said, “I have fallen in love with you.”

Serana promptly got up and disappeared into her bedroom.

I stared at him for a few moments. “I like you an awful lot, too. I hadn’t considered love, though, I admit.”

“Because you’d be going back.”

“Well, yes. And the fact that I’m twice your age.”

“That won’t matter after some time. I already live amongst a people who don’t use machines. I would have to learn a lot, but—”

“What about your family?” I asked.

“Ah, I don’t really have anyone left. And all I have here is a game I’m good at and a lot of people who only want to be around me for my fame.”

“After some time,” I mused quietly, thinking back to earlier conversations. “You want to be turned, don’t you?”

“In a few years,” he said. “After I’d gotten used to life there and could hold my own in the way of your people.”

I nodded at that. Best to be proficient before adding something so life-changing to the situation. “I suppose I could drag you around on my rounds with me, making sure you didn’t get in over your head while you were finding your feet. There really isn’t anyone here for you?”

He shook his head.

“Huh. Fawkes?”

He flamed in and landed on the back of Serana’s chair. “Yes?”

“I have a question for you, zeymahi. Viktor here would like to go with us to Skyrim when we’re sent back. Will you see what Bormahu has to say about the request?”

“Certainly,” he trilled, then adopted that pose again, singing a song I could not understand. Viktor fiddled with the hem of his tunic while we waited, and eventually Fawkes trilled, “He is agreeable. When it is time for you to leave, Viktor will be included.”

“All right. When will that be, by the way?”

“There is the award ceremony to get through in the morning, but any time after that would be fine. Just let me know when you’re ready.”

I nodded. “Thank you.” Fawkes flamed out so I turned to Viktor and said, “Akatosh has agreed. We can go any time after the ceremony in the morning. I suggest you pack up anything you plan to bring along and we’ll sort out the rest when we get there. You’d have to learn to read the language, though—common, at least. Various races have their own languages, but pretty much everyone learns the common tongue.”

“I have already learned English and French. Learning another should not be too difficult, and the spell tomes have been helping already. I can pack things when I go to the ship, put them in an extended container. Do you—do you think you could learn to love me back?”

I smiled. “I already think you’re very handsome and I’ve wanted to nibble on you since I saw you. I very much enjoy your company. I think it’s very possible, but I won’t promise because you can never be certain of that kind of thing. If you still want to go even without that certainty, you’re welcome to come home with us.”

The next morning in the Great Hall I eyed the pouch of gold coins being offered to me and snorted. “Ah, no. You can just donate that to a temple or maybe help some orphans with it.”

“But it’s a lot of gold!” someone protested.

“For the love of Mara. I can mine more gold than that in a couple of hours,” I said. “And silver, mithril, ebony, orichalcum. . . . The point is, I have more money than I know what to do with already. Use it to help some orphans or needy students or something.”

Wasp hesitated some more so I grabbed the pouch and thrust it at the nearest poor-looking student, a boy with bright orange-red hair. “Here. You look like you could use it.”

The boy took it automatically, his mouth gaping open in shock.

I turned back to Wasp and said, “There. Problem solved. Is that it? Good.” I turned and hastened off. Viktor caught up with me a minute later, and together we went to my quarters. I summoned Luggage and added Viktor’s stash of goods to it and sent it off, then called Fawkes in to effect our transportation home.

Skyrim

08

We ended up at my mushroom house, for some reason. “Well now. I was expecting Elysium, but this is fine.”

“I’m going to go catch up with mother,” Serana said. “Well, after I get those things from Luggage.”

I nodded and summoned it. She got the things she wanted and took off. Thankfully, Akatosh had allowed Viktor to understand common as if he was a native, so communication wouldn’t be an issue. He’d still have to learn to read it, though. “I think I’d like to make you some armor,” I said, and rummaged around in Luggage to see if it had the things I’d need, then nodded and had it close up.

“Okay. Let’s head into town. Keep the wand stowed and only use it if it’s absolutely necessary.”

Viktor nodded agreeably so we set off, Luggage skittering along behind us. Brynjolf wasn’t in the marketplace so I headed straight for the forge. “Balimund,” I said happily. I was so damn thrilled to be home!

“It’s been a while,” he said, smiling at me. “What can I do for you?”

“I was hoping you’d let me use your equipment for a little bit.”

“Of course. I have some arrows I need to fletch, so go ahead.”

“Thank you,” I said, and got down to business. In a reasonably short period of time I had crafted a set similar to mine, like the set I’d made for Valdimar. It wasn’t too terrible because it was mostly leather and not having to pound out a large amount of metal. I thanked Balimund again and hastened off to the Jarl’s place and borrowed Wylandriah’s enchanter to get things fixed up properly, then hauled Viktor off to the Bee and Barb so I could rent a room long enough for him to get changed. I stored his original clothing in my pouch and then set off for the Ragged Flagon.

Brynjolf was there chatting with Delvin and grinned when he saw me. He got up and ran over, engulfed me in a hug, and said, “Well now, lass. You’re finally back! It’s been too long.”

“Much too long,” I agreed, “but at least you had some idea where I’d gotten off to. This is Viktor. He came back with us. Viktor, this is Brynjolf. You remember me telling you about him?”

They greeted each other and the three of us went off for a walk in the woods outside the city. “So, lass, tell me all about it! I’m still jealous you didn’t bring me over instead of your sister.”

“Well. . . .”