Previously: The Mage

A/N ~ I didn't get screenshots of the battle, but Marcurio wielded the Sparks spell so admirably he helped me write the story, lol.

They set out for Fort Greenwall before the sun came up, but Marcurio wasn't with them. He said he was setting back out for Riften when he woke, and then spent the rest of the evening drinking.

Minerva tried not to be too disappointed; this whole thing had been a gamble from the start, and she should've known he wouldn't go for it. Marcurio was a talented man who was disciplined when he chose to be. It was how he could graduate from the College of Winterhold on one hand, only to turn around and refuse to get a real job on the other.

With no snowstorms working in their favor, they kept to the trees and shadows. She had four archers with her who took out the gate guards and the walls patrols with deadly accuracy. As with all Stormcloak installations, the fort was woefully understaffed.

Or so they thought.

They crept into the dark courtyard, thinking they were still unseen, but then the sun started to rise and with it, the alarms.

"Get to high ground!" Minerva ordered, moving towards the nearest set of steps, hoping to get to the walls. "Take out the archers first!" She was a decent shot herself, but her arrows were limited, and the Stormcloaks emerging from the fort appeared to be anything but limited.

Minerva and her squad managed to gain the high ground, and hold the outer wall by fending off Stormcloaks with arrows, but she knew it was just a matter of time. They were outnumbered at least five to one and they had archers to spare.

Fuck. She had known it could end like this. They had all known and accepted the risk, and yet now, in the face of imminent death, Minerva realized she hadn't accepted anything at all. She wasn't ready to die, not here, not now, not like this.

And then...just as the enemy continued to encroach dangerously close, lightning split the air.

Minerva knew of mages who wield lightning sparks, and it was daunting to behold. But she'd never seen anything on this level, where the reach of the lightning was endless, and it struck multiple people at once. In what felt like seconds, dozens of Stormcloaks lay dead, their flesh audibly sizzling and steaming. The air filled with the stench of charred corpses, so that even Minerva was briefly stunned speechless.

But only briefly.

"Well, I guess Marcurio's awake," she blinked. He was down there, in the courtyard, his jaw tight, his eyes grim as he walked among the dead, bitterly glancing down on them. She didn't know if he was counting them or apologizing to their spirits, but once he was done, he joined her on the wall.

"Clear the rest of the fort," she ordered her soldiers. "I'll send word to Castle Dour." She turned back to Marcurio, unable to read him.

"You did well," she congratulated him.

"You didn't," he bit out. "You underestimated their numbers."

"It seems Ulfric learned his lesson," Minerva admitted, shrugging. "But either way, my people and I have now cleared out three forts." She smiled to herself, satisfied that her plan was finally working. One fort, without orders, was insubordination. Two, was bordering treason. But their success at Greenwall had secured enough grace for both Emperor and the Penitus Oculatus to overlook her little operation. "According to my intel, that leaves Amol and Kastav. I say we take on Kastav."

"You're forgetting Neugrad."

Minerva snickered, "We cleared out Neugrad on our way to find you. Wretched little place with a skeleton crew. I'm guessing Ulfric couldn't sneak enough men into Imperial-controlled territory. So once again, that leaves Amol and Kastav."

"This is suicide," Marcurio rasped. "Amol is literally in Eastmarch, where Ulfric himself awaits. And fucking Kastav is in a small, snow-covered hell known as Winterhold."

Minerva began to pace. "We'll leave Amol for the General; Tullius will want Ulfric's head, and I don't want to overstep...anymore than I already have, that is."


They both turned to see a young soldier exiting the fort excitedly, waving a roll of parchment as he hurried towards them.

Marcurio's brow furrowed. "Who's that?"

"Varinius," Minerva replied. "He's sort of like my second."

"Why him?"

She shrugged. "He reminds me of me."

And when Varinius drew closer, Marcurio could see it. Varinius was like the younger, male version of Minerva.

"Our intel was correct," the young man announced breathlessly, handing Minerva the paper. "We didn't underestimate their numbers."

"More than half the rebels here were actually bound west," Minerva murmured, skimming the page. "Ulfric's finally making his move on Whiterun." She rolled the parchment and looked up at Marcurio. "Now that we've thinned the herd a little, we can go to Whiterun. How grateful do you think Jarl Balgruuf will be once we save his precious city?"


They returned to camp well before sunset. The soldiers began packing their things while Minerva quickly drafted a note to Tullius.

"Your people should rest," Marcurio advised softly, lounging in the doorway.

"We have no idea how close Ulfric is to Whiterun," she shook her head, scribbling furiously. "And I can't be sure of what General Tullius knows."

"And of course, you can't lose this opportunity," he drawled. "As you said, Balgruuf will be exceedingly grateful if you help him save his city."

"Naturally," she replied simply. "Otherwise, what else is the point?"

"Whiterun is home to a lot of people," Marcurio stated somberly. "Perhaps saving them is the point."

Minerva sighed. "Not this again."

"Hey, I saved you today!" he reminded her. "And I may very well have to save you again tomorrow. But I'm not going any further if I think you're losing sight of things."

"Losing sight?" she scoffed. "Losing sight of what, Marcurio? I'm trying to end this war. Do you even know what it's doing to the continent? Disrupted trade routes. Strained diplomacies. Not to mention, the overall embarrassment for the Empire--why, how ripe we must look to the Thalmor!

"You've been in Skyrim too long, old friend," she chastised him, finishing her note to the General and rolling it up. "Too busy burying your head in the books or getting into brawls or whatever the fuck you've been up to all these years. It's easy to get lost standing still, when you never bother to look up and see--really see--what's going on around you."

Marcurio's jaw was tight, his whole body stiff, as if bracing from the sting each word. It's like they were suddenly teenagers again, and he was having to hear once more how the girl he loved in all the world didn't feel the same way about him. He was suddenly remembering new details, things he hadn't bothered to notice back then, like her faded clothes or the way her sister was always hungry. He'd chalked it all up to childhood and thought nothing more.

Now, he wasn't so certain about anything anymore. Was Minerva right? Was he once again not seeing what was really happening around him?


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