Ma'Oglala yawned. The khajiit woman was sitting on her bed, bowed over a bowl of water, and regarded her drowsy reflection. In spite of herself she licked her paws and ran them over her face.
A high, clear laugh rang out behind her. A blush rose to her face, and she turned around; Lydia, who had been bustling around in the kitchen just moments ago, stood in the door and smiled. Her teeth twinkled like pearls on a string.
"It's moments like this where one can tell you're a cat", she said. Ma'Oglala's eyes narrowed to slits, and the nearest object flew in the direction of Lydia, who dodged the glove with another laugh before returning to her housewife duties.
Just earlier they had been hunting trolls, but the day was short in the snow-covered wastelands of Skyrim's north, and the night dark and cold. Ma'Oglala and Lydia lay cuddling under a heap of furs, concealed from all dangers in a hidden nook in an old ruin.
At their feet, a curled-up husky slept, his nose tucked under his tail. A quiet whine escaped him; perhaps he was dreaming. Lydia, too, was already asleep. Her calm breathing had a hypnotic quality, and Ma'Oglala closed her eyes and hid her muzzle at Lydia's neck, and soon she had likewise drifted off to sleep.
Caring for one's equipment was the most vexing part of an adventurer's life. The process was as necessary as it was dull; for hours, every single piece had to be polished, oiled, and polished again, until even the subtlest hints of rust and the slightest suggestions of notches had dissolved like smoke before the wind.
Whereas Lydia carried out the onerous duty with the stoicism of a warrior, Ma'Oglala cussed like a sailor each time and swore bloody revenge on every bandit who dared dent her armor. Lydia did not look up, but she smiled as she slowly and deliberately drew the whetstone along the blade of her sword.
"Grrrrrmlbll." That was about how Lydia would have written down the sound that Ma'Oglala made, if she had been able to write at all. If allowed to, the khajiit woman could sleep through the entire day; waking her was an adventure in its own right every time, as even half asleep, her aim was surprisingly accurate, and her claws had never lost their sharpness.
In the end, it was the promise of fried meat that convinced the Dragonborn to leave the comfort of her bedroll. Breakfast remained quiet; after all those shared years, Lydia and Ma'Oglala needed few words to understand each other.
Donning their armor, too, was done in silence. After woollen underwear came mail, boots and gauntlets of daedric make, light and yet of peerless hardness. In the light of day, the material appeared black as ink; it was only on moonless nights or deep underground that its dull red, baneful glow showed.
The blackened iron mask that the khajiit woman loved so much finally followed; now she was completely shrouded, a fear-instilling presence. Lydia still helped her into the furs that they had received from the Skaal: coat, boots, hat and gloves that provided protection against the icy cold of winter.
Ma'Oglala waited as Lydia readied herself in turn, then the two women mounted their geldings and rode off, and only the remnants of cold ash, already disappearing under the new snow, gave away that they had ever been here.
Blood gushed from the bandit's neck stump as the razor blade of Ma'Oglala's sword let his head fly, his face still distorted into a mask of pain while his now lifeless body fell into the street's dirt. Crimson slowly drenched the ground, and only the heavy breathing of the Dragonborn could still be heard.
As though in a frenzy, Ma'Oglala looked around; half a dozen highwaymen lay around her, and among them Lydia's body, strangely twisted and contorted. With a scream of pain Ma'Oglala was at her side, picked up her companion in her arms while she sank to her knees, pressed her against herself; then layed her down on the street again, gentle almost, unfastened her helmet and tried to find a whiff of breath that proved that the Nord woman was still alive.
In her backpack, she found a healing potion. The waxen seal broke under her fingers, and she wet Lydia's lips with the life-giving liquid, tried to pour the potion down her throat without having her choke on it. In the end, Lydia's lids fluttered, and she moaned. Ma'Oglala nearly cried as she prepared a make-shift bed for Lydia, from fear endured or from happiness, she couldn't say.
The robbers kept lying unregarded, their faces hidden in the dust of the street.
Warmth. Soothing, relaxing warmth. Ma'Oglala closed her eyes as she slowly waded out into the turquoise water.
She stood, took a deep breath. A shudder ran over her; Blackreach was cool, a sharp contrast to the lake in which she stood. Swirls of steam rose from the quiet surface, then faded like phantasms. Ma'Oglala knelt in the milky water; its strangely mineral scent filled her nose, and the sand under her feet was smooth as silk.
On a whim she reached down, brought a handful of sand to the water's surface. It was fine and black, like ground midnight that ran through her fingers.
She closed her eyes again and surrendered herself entirely to the feelings that streamed through her body. She did not find it easy to relax; without armor, without a weapon she was vulnerable. But she had weeded out the Falmer that prowled Blackreach, had neutralized all the dwarves' automata, and in addition Lydia was standing guard at the lake in which she now swam.
She sighed; only now did she realize how tense she had been. She washed herself thoroughly, then a second time, then a third, and knew that it was not just about the blood that had matted her fur but also about the memories she carried inside herself. It was to get rid of those that she had sought out the unreality of Blackreach, where Skyrim and its civil war seemed nothing but a distant dream.
A far-off hiss pulled her back into her body. Somewhere, steam escaped from a valve; the ancient machines of the dwarves were carrying out their mysterious tasks. Ma'Oglala dove down in the quiet lake, and then swam back and forth, and listened to the distant echoes that filled the vast halls of Blackreach.
"I hope some day we'll get to know each other better."
The remark had been casual, but now Ulundil suddenly found himself eye to eye with the tall warrioress he had spoken to as she had put her horse's reins into his hands. She was wearing a black suit of armor and an awe-inspiring mask, and his face involuntarily contorted into a frightened grin as she looked down on him now. For one panicked moment he wondered if she would kill him.
But when she answered, her voice was friendly; he almost thought he heard amusement when she replied, "I'm awaiting you in Hjerim tonight. Come alone." He merely nodded, and before he found his voice again, she was gone.
The day dragged on agonizingly, but finally evening came, and under a pretence, Ulundil set off to town while his wife remained at the stables. Hjerim was situated in the best neighborhood, near the jarl's palace, but in the seclusion of shady gardens; the few passers-by who were still out and about studiously ignored the altmer.
When he came to Hjerim, he knocked. The warrioress opened the door herself and bade him enter. She still wore her armor and the mask, and when the door fell shut behind him, Ulundil swallowed again, but soon she showed him things he would not have thought possible, and their moans echoed through the house until he collapsed from exhaustion in her arms.
The cold sea smelled of salt and fish. Waves rolled lazily across the coarse, gray coastal sand; a light breeze made the blooming spiky grass wave, and from afar, the trumpeting calls of the horkers sounded as they defended their harems against rivals.
Ma'Oglala's and Lydia's horses found their way under the midnight sun. Every now and then they stopped, for drinking or for plucking a particularly juicy stalk; their riders turned a blind eye. A bottle was uncorked and passed wordlessly from one gloved hand to another before it disappeared again in the depths of Lydia's saddlebag.
The walls that were already visible on the distant horizon slowly crept closer.
It was said that in the moment of death, one's entire life passed before one's mind's eye, but the rabbit who had been running in desperate haste just then had not felt any such thing as the arrow pierced him; just fear of the smell of cat, of the approaching huntress, and pain that slowly faded as his life flowed out of him. He already did not feel the blade anymore that cut open his skin, and the body that Ma'Oglala impaled on a stick, devoid of pelt or innards, was merely a lump of cooling flesh.
The Dragonborn did not realize any of this; her mind was elsewhere entirely, and the words of gratitude that she recited as she flayed her prey were little more than a ritual. Soon the rabbit was roasting over the fire while Ma'Oglala and Lydia talked grinning about the day's events, and when they made love in their camp, only a few bones still gave away that he had ever been alive.
Extra-special thanks to (in no particular order) canisrufus_uk, kevlarhusky and moth_wingthane, who helped me polish these translations to the point where I finally felt comfortable publishing them here. :)
EDIT, 2016-10-06: posted on AO3.