The years passed, and life carried on as life always does. Vilkas and I had children and we continued as Companions, or Blades, or Nightingale – or just husband and wife, which I think we both liked best. Njada left Farkas for another man and after I comforted my friend’s tears, I hunted her down with Aela and thrashed her within an inch of her life, telling her to never return; it was the one time I defied my role as Harbinger and took direct action but I didn’t regret it. Aela died to a sect of werewolf hunters on a job but we did not seek out revenge – I’d had enough of that. I hope she enjoys the Hunt with Hircine and does not regret it for a moment. Brynjolf was replaced by his daughter when he retired and Vex’ son runs the Thieves Guild now. Tilma’s grand-daughter cleans Jorrvaskr, my son is Harbinger now, and Eorlund’s grandchildren work the forge as well as he did. The world moves on, and will continue to do so after I am gone. It is well.
There have been good days, and bad days throughout the years. And one very bad day in particular when Vilkas fell fighting trolls and a dragon came upon him unaware. I wasn’t there. I wish I had been, but it had been years since I had fought a dragon, and Vilkas died as he lived, which is what he wished for in any event. We consigned him to the flames of the Skyforge and my heart grieved in a way I never thought possible. But at the same time I know Sovngarde awaits and that his place there is secured. He will be drinking and laughing and waiting for me, watching the door and hoping yet dreading the moment I walk through. I hope I’ll have my youth again when I do – I’d hate to spend my time in the Hall as an old woman!
And what of the stories? You may have noted they’re a bit embellished – the Bosmer who defeated Alduin is tall and fair and beautiful and cunning. Most people these days don’t recognise me as being Dragonborn; my grand-children don’t believe it at all! But that is how I chose my life to continue on; my task had been done, and I opted to live my life as Dreema rather than as Dragonborn. There’s no statues anywhere in my honour, no books, no histories, just a few glorified songs which used to make me grin and chuckle under my breath. I’m sure in a few generations the story will change further till even my own descendants don’t know the half of it but that also is as I would have it. I would die as I have lived; Dreema, wife of Vilkas, Companion, Nightingale, Thief.
It has been forty years since my battle with Alduin. It has been nearly ten since we gave Vilkas’s body up to the flames. For the past few nights, when the pain in my chest got too bad to sleep, I have sworn I could hear his voice and see him just out of the corner of my eye. My time approaches and I welcome it, for I am weary and ready to go. And so I took one last trip up the Pilgrim’s Path – all the Greybeards are different now, with Farkas’s own son among their number. I went to speak with Paarthurnax one final time – as just another joor he watched grow old and fade away. I didn’t know who else to give the Scroll to, so I gave it to him, and he put it…somewhere. Let it stay there! It is not magic any mortal should have.
I have been preparing for the past week, when energy allows, but the light fades from my eyes and I can feel death is waiting. As I write these last sentences in this book, I would ask that any reader remember that while your wyrd is your own and that it is never too late to take the reins of your destiny and do what you must, even if you are afraid.
I never took well to Skyforge armour, but I’m wearing my old Grandmaster leathers; a footpad and sneak to the end, that’s how I want to go. I have left the Dragonslayer blade to my son to keep safe…just in case. If Alduin ever returns, then a Dragonborn will need a blade.
I’m going to lie down and rest now, and I will summon my strength for a final Shout – I wonder which hero from Sovngarde will come to my call to guide me home? We will see.
Pour a mug of mead for me, Vilkas. I’ll be there soon.
Alduin soared overhead on wings that seemed to span across the sky – my spirit took another dip at the sight of him as he was bigger than he had been before. For a moment, we were all silent as the dragon roared and circled, but I steeled myself. No time for fear – I had a job to do and I would see it done, for Kodlak, for the Companions, the Thieves, for the children playing in the market square, for Skyrim – for me.
“Shout him down!” I cried as I readied my blade and glared up at Alduin. “Face me, lizard! Or are you afraid?”
Alduin was not going to be taunted however; he knew now to stay well out of my reach, and he banked and Shouted flame, ash, and ice at us. The others weren’t mortal or living any more, but I was – and every bit of damage I took meant they’d be back down to three again. And Alduin knew it. He aimed all his ire at me, and I had to duck and dive with all my skill, leading him a merry dance. His fire was hot and burned for many meters – some of the lost souls of the valley were caught in his flames and they howled and rolled upon the ground to try and smother the flames; even in death, Alduin’s fire burned.
“The Dragonrend Shout, use it!” Hakor cried out as the others aimed their own Shouts best they could, but Alduin stayed out of their reach. Perhaps he didn’t think I knew the Shout myself, but as he banked again with his claws extended, I planted my feet firmly and glared into the creature’s enraged eyes.
“Joor Sah Frul!”
I have rarely had such a satisfying moment as when I saw the horror in Alduin’s eyes as my Shout hit him head on. He tumbled out of the sky, screaming and carving a furrow into the valley floor. His claws scrabbled for purchase as he righted himself but my three companions were there almost immediately, hitting at the World Eater with a barrage of Shouts and swords.
“Such pests, away from me, insects!” Alduin roared, flicking his tail and wings, scything his claws round as Hakor and Felldir harried him on either side. Gormlaith laughed grimly and aimed the Shout which weakened him – we know it as “Marked For Death.” But still, death did not come easy, and I ducked just before a snap from Alduin’s jaws nearly chewed me in half.
“Quickly, before the spell wears off!” Gormlaith yelled, bashing away at Alduin’s neck with her sword.
Dragonrend isn’t permanent – I knew the timing of it to a nicety but there was no time to waste. If Alduin got airborne again, we’d lose him and have to chase him round the whole valley. More to the point, I was beginning to tire – if he wore me down, all was lost.
I danced backward as Alduin advanced and then I ran forward full tilt. Just like a rooftop – just like a tree branch; the Treesap people fight in air if we have to, and this I intended to do. Hakor must have intuited my plan, for he darted in front of me, then knelt down to make a convenient platform for more height. I planted my foot on his shoulder and launched into the air straight at Alduin’s head.
The dragon went mad with fury, rearing up and shaking his head from side to side as I clambered over his brow, nearly slipping but I saved myself by grabbing one of his horns.. I clamped my legs on the monster’s neck, my Dragonslayer sword high, and then I buried it up to the hilt into the back of his skull, pinning his jaws shut.
Alduin shrieked through his pierced jaws – a sound which I can still hear now as I write this. He reared violently and threw me to the ground where Felldir dragged me clear. I rolled onto my back and watched as cracks appeared all over Alduin’s scaly body. The creature writhed at beat the ground with its tail, thrashing in its death throes. The cracks began to glow and the air was filled with a high-pitched whine. Suddenly, Alduin’s scales exploded outward – the dragon’s entire body was wreathed in golden flames which burned its body away. The soul was tearing itself asunder even as we watched, until there was nothing left but bones.
I panted, lying on my back and staring into the sky as the whorling purple clouds faded and drew back. Rays of sunlight broke through, and suddenly it was daytime in Sovngarde; a beautiful Skyrim summer at high noon was overhead. The mist was gone, Alduin was ended. It was over. It was truly over. I closed my eyes and just lay upon the tundra blooms, taking great breaths into my lungs and trying to still the trembling in my exhausted limbs.
It took some time for me to register I was hearing a distance noise, gaining in strength – it was cheering, coming from the Hall of Valor. The day had been won, and the Nord dead were cheering our names – some of whom had fought Bosmer ages past.
“Sit up, Bosmer, and accept your praise!” Gormliath said as she smiled and reached a hand down to help me up, and I stared at the souls which were striding up from the valley, applauding and hailing me as hero and friend. I wasn’t sure what to say – fame has never been a strong point of mine – but I was never happier than when Kodlak approached me. He was whole and well, and I leaped and hugged him tightly.
“Praise be, Dreema of the Treesap people,” he said with a smile. “I hope this will be the last time you save this old man’s soul.”
“Kodlak,” I began, but I didn’t know what to say. Sorry for getting him killed? Thank him for the journal? I wanted to say everything, but there wasn’t time. There’s rarely time. He merely shook his head and raised a hand to halt me.
“I have no wisdom to give you, Dreema. You have more than your share. You are a good Harbinger, an excellent Dragonborn – and a good friend. There isn’t much time here for you but I would ask you one thing: how is Vilkas?”
I stared at Kodlak. “Did everyone know but us?”
“I believe so, yes,” he chuckled, and held my hand up to admire my wedding ring. “Ah, yes, so you both saw sense. I am glad. Give the boy my regards, and I will see you both when your time comes.”
“If they’ll let me in,” I said. I felt that familiar fear again, you see – I was the only face in Sovngarde that wasn’t a Nord. But Kodlak put his hands on my shoulder and guided me toward Tsun. And I asked the one great favour of my heart – and Tsun smiled, and granted it. So now I had everything I ever wanted, and it was now time to go – provided I could.
“Sovngarde is no place for the living,” Tsun said. “I will send you back now, but if you call for one of us in an hour of need, we shall come.”
I gave my final farewells and with the sound of Nord heroes toasting my health and my ancestral line in my ears, Tsun gathered his strength and sent me back across the border of life and death.
At first I wondered if he had, for I felt a chill – great cold, actually, and I shivered as I could hear roars and deep voices chanting. When I opened my eyes, I was disoriented because I found myself at the Throat of the World, surrounded by dragons. Not exactly the best way to come to awareness! For a fatalistic moment, I merely stood there without the energy to raise a blade but as I came more to myself, I listened.
“Hail Dovahkiin, ihv-stamah,” the dragons intoned.
“Alduin navah,” Paarthurnax rumbled, perched upon his Wall.
“Alduin,” the dragons intoned.
They were speaking in their own tongue now, and while I couldn’t understand all the words, I knew what it was – they were speaking a lament; singing his dirge with a hundred voices upon Skyrim’s peak. Not one touched me at all. Instead, they all took to the skies and circled, a chorus to the dead.
On shaky legs I staggered over to Paarthurnax, who lowered his great head and breathed a Word of Healing in my direction, fusing my wounds shut and filling me with energy so I could stand on my own feet.
“It is done, dovah. Alduin is fallen and slain. The world is saved.”
I could hear the notes of sadness is Paarthurnax’s voice, and I sighed. “I am sorry, my friend. But it had to be done; he over-reached himself, seeking power rather than his place in the Universe.”
“It is true, what you say. And he has paid the price for it. So then your war is over and done, but my tasks have only but begun.”
“What will you do, elder?” I asked Paarthurnax as he spread his tattered wings.
“I will teach my brethren the Way of the Voice – a lifetime of meditations! They will know the way of peace and contemplation rather than blood and power, and they will listen to me – or I will make them. Be well, Dovahkiin; you and I have much to speak about in your brief life, and I would cherish tinvaak with you.”
With a roar, Paarthurnax rose into the sky, and Odahviing strode toward me through the snow. “I doubt many will listen to his way of tyranny,” the dragon rumbled, and I frowned.
“What’s so tyrannical about trying to teach dragons and mortals to live in peace?”
“It is a yoke around the neck, it is like being taken from the skies,” Odahviing replied, blinking his reptilian eyes. “We are made as we are made. And I doubt many of our kin will heed his words, but then you will handle those who do not, yes?”
“If I must,” I replied, my expression grim. I had cut Alduin down – I could handle a few rebellious lizards! But my mind wasn’t on that at the moment; the enormity of what I had done was only just sinking in. I had done it – I had slain Alduin and saved the world, but rather than feel victorious, I felt rather lost.
It must have shown on my face, for Odahviing stared at me, shifting his clawed wings in the snow. “Your fate is now open to you, your destiny done. Mortals do not know what to do with themselves once they have done what they strived to do! But perhaps you will take some wisdom from the dov in time. We have watched eternity unfold. But for now, I will say to you that you have proven yourself to me. If ever you need my aid, you know my name. Shout it to the heavens, and I will come if I can.”
“Thank you, dov,” I replied, and Odahviing also took to the air to sing Alduin’s lament.
Wearily I made my way to High Hrothgar and was greeted by Arngeir, who turned and regarded me with his hands clasped before him. “I see in your eyes….you’ve done, have you? Alduin is dead.”
“For the moment,” I replied with a small smile. “I doubt anything will truly kill him. He’s a part of wyrd.”
“Indeed. So; what will you do now? Do you know?”
I had to admit that I didn’t; ever since I had come to Skyrim I had been caught up in being Dragonborn and facing Alduin. There had been branches in the path along the way, but they had all still led in one direction. And now that was done.
“I don’t know,” I said simply. Arngeir gave me a rare smile.
“The future now is up to you – you can be a mighty hero, and fight battles which will immortalise your name if not your flesh. Or perhaps, you will fade away and allow history to make its own tales. Your fate is now your own to do with as you see fit. Don’t waste it, Dovahkiin. It is a great gift. So, what will you do?”
I took a deep breath, feeling the weight I didn’t know I had been carrying fall away from me. I was free; free to do as I wished, and the world was saved and done. I knew the answer for the moment, and the moment was the important thing.
“I’m going home.”
When I came to the last score of stairs from High Hrothgar, Vilkas and Farkas were just riding up hard and fast on their sturdy Skyrim horses. They had heard the dragons roaring in unison as Alduin had fallen – it had shaken Dragonreach to the foundations. You’ve probably heard the stories of the dragons all howling in despair when Alduin died – and now you know how and why. When the roars had sounded, Vilkas had taken like a madman to the Pilgrim’s Path with his brother in quick pursuit. Both men now stared at me as I made my way down into the valley, battered and weary but alive.
“I hope you haven’t drunk all the mead,” I said with a smile just as Vilkas leaped down from his horse’s back and swept me up into his arms. With laughter and tears and kisses and hugs aplenty, we rode to Jorrvaskr, and home.
When I opened my eyes, I stood still for a moment in wonder. My limbs were all where they were supposed to be, and my heart was still hammering in my chest. But here I was – and it looked no different from Skyrim. Ancient stone statues flanked a path, and there was a mist before me extending down into the valley. It didn’t look different, but it felt different – it felt wrong. No birds. No beasts. No one to greet me, no herald at the gates for the dead. The braziers burned fitfully but they gave no warmth, and very little light.
In the distance, far beyond in the mist, I could see the high roof of the main hall – but I had to get through the valley first. I sighed – so far, the trip seemed a bit anti-climatic! But as I walked down the steps, I could hear a dragon’s roar, distant yet strong. It strengthened my resolve and my eyes narrowed to slits. Alduin was out there; I had no time to lose.
I picked up the pace and faced the mist, determined to begin, but a voice stopped me.
“Don’t go in there! You don’t know what’s waiting!”
I turned – a Nord strode forward, wearing an Imperial uniform which was stained with his own blood. His face was gaunt and pale, but he was as solid as you or I. And afraid; absolutely terrified. He pointed toward the wall of mist. “It’s Alduin. He’s called the mist to make us lose our way, and then he devours us. Eating souls – I keep hearing the cries of the dead as they are lost to him.”
I stared into the mist with a sinking heart. So it was already begun – Alduin was eating scores of the dead and gaining strength. I had little time.
“I need to get to the hall beyond,” I said. “Come with me, I think I know a way.”
But the man shook his head, his eyes wild with fear. “I dare not. I used to think that being a brave Nord was all I needed to get on in the world. But courage is useless here. The dragon feasts, and we are lost.”
Despite my urging, the soldier shook his head and shambled back the way he came. I was left alone again, with the mist before me like a wall, and Alduin lurking somewhere out there, waiting to snap me up in his jaws. He was stronger now, and I knew I couldn’t defeat him, so I did not cry out a challenge. I would have to go swiftly as I could.
And so I filled my lungs with air, giving the Shout of Clear Skies as I had done to get to the Throat of the World. The mist parted, and the path was now clear. I moved as quickly as I could, trying to go quietly as Alduin flew and devoured in the mist. I came across many a wandering soul, panicked and with no will to fight. I could only leave them where they were and continued on. With each step, my own spirits sank – there were uncountable dead here, and Alduin would eat them all. What was the use? Everyone was gone, and I was alone. Perhaps this was the effect of the mist as well – it tended to sap my very spirit from my marrow. If I had wandered longer, I might have lost the will to even use a Shout. But one soul in particular put more speed into my steps.
“Kodlak,” I murmured, horrified as I came upon him beside a monument.
He looked up at me with eyes that barely knew me. “I tried to get to the mead hall, but the mist came down…and I am lost. Lost forever. It would have been better to keep the wolf’s blood. No! Leave me, child, save yourself. Hurry, for I can hear his black wings. Run!”
And now, my anger was renewed. I would not see Kodlak die a second time. He had earned his rest and would have it if I had anything to do with it. I couldn’t lure him to the hall, but I could get there and rally whomever I could to fight Alduin before his power outmatched us. There would be an army of heroes at the meadhall – and perhaps even the Dragonborn before me. I embraced the old man and murmured assurances, then sped off into the mist again as fast as I could; I ignored the roars and cries of the lost. There would only be one way to help them.
Finally I came to a clearing in the mist, and the huge hall before me rose up into the vortex in the sky. It floated in space upon a crag of rock, and across the expanse was a bridge built of the bones of whales and dragons. Guarding this bridge was a man I at first thought it was a giant. His arms were massive, and the top of my head only came to his midriff.
“I am Tsun, shield thane and guardian of the bridge,” he rumbled as he braced his huge hands on his hips. “By what right does a mortal come to the Hall of Valor?”
“I am Dragonborn,” I replied – I’d dealt with a dragon before, I wasn’t going to let this man intimidate me as well, god or no. “Let me pass – it seems we’ve got a fight on our hands, and there is no time to waste.”
“You will not pass until I have tested your strength,” Tsun replied, stretching his arms out to either side as he regarded me. “If you are worthy, then you may enter.”
“Oh for – fine!” I cried, rolling my eyes. “Trust the Nords to stick to traditions even in the face of doom. Come, then!” I waved my tiny fists at him – too desperate to feel anything but impatience, though I marvel now at my arrogance – and we squared off.
He knew how to Shout, which surprised me at first, but I am a boiche, and I wasn’t about to fight fair. I climbed on his back and pummelled blows onto his thick skull, I dodged and Shouted and stabbed and kicked. Finally, staggering back he held up his hand.
“You fight well, Bosmer,” he said, his wounds already healing. “Never have I met a fly so hard to swat! Go now, then, and be swift. There is little time. Alduin gains strength.”
I nodded curtly, turning and running across the rather precarious bridge – but to one used to running over rooftops and boughs, what’s a few bones? Eventually I came to the door of the Hall, and shoved it open wide.
I can say this about the Hall – every story you’ve ever heard is true. I don’t know who brought the story back with them, but they have it mostly right! The hall was massive; I literally couldn’t see the walls to either side or ahead. It was the size of a city, with a roof made entirely of the bones of dragons bound together with thatch and gold fittings. Scores and scores of men and women, a crowd of them, uncountable – warriors, fighters, mages, poisoners and kings. Men, women, children, it was full to the brim with laughter and song. Entire boars were being cooked on a roasting hearth bigger than Jorrvaskr itself, and the mead was kept in huge barrels with taps of gold.
I was the only non-Nord there, so it didn’t take long for me to garner attention! A burly, white-maned Nord came up to me, and beamed from ear to ear. “You seem to have lost your way – your wyrd is strange if it would bring my ancient enemy to this hall. No, stay your hand! Old grudges have no place here. I am Ysgramor. Who are you?”
I stared – now I knew who he was, I wasn’t sure what to say. Wait until Vilkas heard of this! But I had to push that aside – there was work to do. “I am Dreema, Dragonborn and – believe me or not – Harbinger to the Companions.”
That got the reception I expected – the First Companion put his hands on his hips and roared with laughter, his head thrown back and his eyes merry. “Wyrd indeed! But I have heard whispers of this, and while I am amused, I am not surprised. You made it through the mist – if we had more time I’d try my had at a spar with you to test you myself for such a feat is impressive, but time is short.” He was more somber now, and he pointed through the crowd to the far end of the hall. “The Dragonborn which came before you are over there somewhere. Gormlaith, Felldir, and Hakon were the first to fight Alduin and win the day. So you may have a chance if you are swift.”
And swift I was; I made the way as quickly as I could through the throng and eventually came to the trio – two men and a woman; I recognised them from the vision I had glimpsed with the aid of the Elder Scroll. I managed to bump into many people there in Sovngarde – but do not ask me about them. It is not my place to say much about those who have passed before. All I will say is death heals all regrets and wounds – so rest easy with that knowledge and let it soothe your grief if you have it.
I skidded to a halt before the three Dragonborn and bowed – they were in discussions already about what to do.
“We have no scroll this time,” Felldir said, arms folded across his chest. “We didn’t defeat him the time before, and he had not been feasting on souls then.”
“Take heart, old man,” Gormliath said, her head raised proudly. “I’ve no worry about getting my head snapped off now, we can surely try in our full strength.”
“Still, three is not enough,” Hakon sighed.
“Then how about four?” I interjected, and all three turned to me.
“What, a boiche?” Gormliath said, eyes widening slightly, but I raised my hand wearily.
“I know, it never gets old, does it? But we don’t have time for that. I’ve beat this lizard once – I can do it again with help, but we need to get rid of that damned mist outside first and summon the dragon down. If we can do it before he gets stronger, we have a chance.”
“A slim chance,” Felldir said, stroking his braided beard.
“I will take a slim one over none at all,” Hakon replied, drawing his blade and stalking toward the Hall’s doors.
“Come then,” Gormliath said as she thumped my shoulder with her mailed fist. “Let’s see if this elf knows how to use her Thu’um – and I’ve a score to settle with that dragon!”
Out we went – and I travelled in fine company with my Dragonslayer in my hand. It is difficult to believe that I stood with dead heroes in Sovngarde to face a dragon created to destroy the world, but I was there. I stood there with the blade in my hands, looking to right and left to the other three Dragonborn standing with me, and nodded together as we prepared ourselves.
“Lok Vah Koor!”
We Shouted as one – I was staggered at the force of it; our combined Thu’um spiralled outward like a storm and swept the valley clear of mist in moments. I could see far below as some dead Nords staggered, turning round and staring in surprise, then running as fast as they could toward the Hall. I scanned the skies for my enemy but couldn’t see him.
We could however hear him! With a voice like thunder, Alduin gave his Shout, and the mist crept back again, filling every nook and cranny – and hundreds of dead cried out in dismay.
“Again!” Hakor cried, and we each took a breath, then Shouted again. The valley cleared, and then Alduin brought the mist down once more like a curtain.
“Once more,” Gormliath said, bracing her feet. “We’ll have it this time and the damned lizard will have to face us!”
So a third time we wove our Shouts together, and this time, the mist stayed banished. Droves of men and women staggered toward the Hall, scrambling for succour and safety. Tsun would be busy testing strength for a time! But we had other problems – the outraged roar over our heads heralded Alduin’s coming. Frustrated in gathering souls and refused his vampiric mist, he was coming for us first so he could finish the job. It was time for the greatest battle of all.
The scant sleep I had managed held no comfort for me, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep. All was prepared, and it was time for me get ready for the last knot of my wyrd. The final battle would not be long now, though I still had time, or so I thought.
I went to Dragonsreach with a host of Companions, and Vilkas at my side. He had been up almost as soon as I slept, polishing his armour and getting his sword repaired. His brother and Aela were at his side when I entered the hall of the Jarl, who greeted me with a smile. – and Irileth even gave me a cursory nod of her head.
“You managed what many could not. I am impressed, and I thank you.” The Jarl rose from his throne and gestured to the stairs, with the rest of us walking alongside. “Everthing is prepared. To be truthful I didn’t know what all that equipment upon the far platform was for…but now I know. My men had been working hard on repairs and at least the machinery is ready.”
He opened the door to the castle dias – which opened out to space. Above a huge, carven yoke was suspended by ropes as thick as my waist – pulleys, cogs, wheels. It looked impressive.
The court wizard Farengar was nearly beside himself with excitement. “To think I will actually get to see this in action. The mechanism has been here for thousands of years – I had to dig through hundreds of scrolls and books, studied the schematics – it’s incredible!”
“But will it work?” Farkas asked, which was the question in all our minds.
“It better,” the Jarl said, shooting me a look. “A dragon rampant in my castle and town is not something I wish to see.”
“Nor I, but I know the Thu’um which will subdue it,” I replied with more confidence than I felt. “Then we’ll have to interrogate the dragon to find out where its Master has gone.”
“Well then,” Vilkas said grimly, striding over to the ramparts and gazing up into the sky. “Let’s get it over with.”
I ushered everyone to their positions, and the keep guards lined the ramparts. I stood upon the stones of Dragonsreach, and filled my lungs with air, feeling my Thu’um stir within me. To summon a dragon – I’d never done it before, but everything hung now on me doing so successfully. I concentrated on the name – Snow Hunter Wing. I’d be ready for ice attacks, and I could see the dragon in my mind’s eye. It was enough, and my Shout made the stone walls ring.
The ground shook, and everyone staggered slightly, gazing expectantly up into the sky. A moment, and then another, but we did not have to wait long.
“There!” A guard pointed into the sky, reached for his bow – and then was gone. With incredible speed, the dragon had swooped down and grabbed the man in its talons, banking back up into the sky and dropping the guard, shrieking, into the air. The roar was deafening – and Odahviing banked and hovered, its voice thundering down to me.
“So calls the Dovahkiin, and I come – I am curious to test your power for myself, so prepare yourself, dovah!”
The guards aimed impotent arrows into the sky, though the Companions had more discipline and held well back. We needed the dragon alive after all, though Vilkas had his Dragonslayer sword drawn, just in case. Before the dragon could aim a shot, I filled my lungs again.
“Joor Zah Frul!”
I knew I had aimed true – even at this distance I could see the alarm in the dragon’s eyes. Down it tumbled out of the skies, skidding upon the stones of the castle floor, its scales carving deep scores into the stones. Where Alduin had run however, this dragon showed fight, and it crawled on folded wings, aiming a snap at me, which I managed to dodge with a backwards leap. Every step back, drew the dragon ever nearer. Nearly….nearly.
“Now!” cried the Jarl.
His men kicked away the braces on the levers, and down slammed the weighted yoke upon the dragon’s neck, snapping into place and pinning its head and wings to the stones. The dragon roared and struggled while the men cheered, but it was in vain.
“Now, lizard,” I said, striding forward and staring the dragon in the eye. “Answers are needed.”
“Ah, so you are as strong as I had heard,” Odahviing said, scraping its talons along the floor. “Cunning as well! The word has spread that you defeated Alduin, and he fled before your Thu’um.”
“It is so,” I replied. “And I need to know where he has gone. You can tell me now, or can be imprisoned here for as long as necessary and share tinvaak with Numinex’s soul.”
“You need make no threats, Dovahkiin,” Odahviing said, lowering its huge head. “I have felt your Thu’um. Alduin is no king of mine now, not since he has been bested. I will tell you what you wish.”
I was somewhat surprised, and the dragon must have seen this, for it rumbled a choked-chuckle in its throat. “We have our own codes, dovah. Alduin has been defeated and disgraced. He is no longer fit to rule – it could be said all he does now is beyond his reach, and his own time approaches. Let it! He has gone to Skuldafn; it is a Dragon Temple, from many thousands of years past when we were worshipped as gods.”
“A time gone, thankfully,” Aela grunted, but the dragon merely snorted at her.
“It is stronger than you know, joor. As is Alduin. Through this Temple he can open a portal and enter into Sovngarde itself, and reap the souls of the slain to grow strength.”
“What blasphemy is this?” Farkas growled. “Dare he bring his filth to Sovngarde.”
“He will, and can,” the dragon said. “For it is his right to reap the souls of the slain as his rightful prey – though it must be said that this way….no, this is not should be done.”
It had never occurred to me that Alduin could eat souls – but then, how else could he raise dragons except by regurgitating them out again? This must have been why he feared me, as did the rest of his kind; I could store the souls within myself, and make them unclaimable. Again, the feeling of being a vessel more than hero came to me, and I shivered.
“How do I get there, then?” I said, once I had steadied myself.
“You cannot,” Odahviing replied in a flat refusal.
I narrowed my eyes at the dragon. “I’m not playing a game.”
“Nor I. Only those devout to dragons can enter – and there have been none of those kinds of joor for many an age. You will find nothing but death there.”
Vilkas stirred at my side, but I was still staring into the dragon’s eyes. There was something the creature was leaving out – something to test me.
“So, unless a dragon gave me leave…I cannot go, yes? I assume – I assume because you have to fly there,” I hazarded a guess, and the dragons double-lidded eyes closed, then opened as it gave me a snaggly grin.
“The dovah is wise, even for being such a small mortal. But yes, that is the way. And I can take you, Dovahkiin, if you release me.”
“What?” Vilkas barked out. “Are we supposed to believe a lizard’s forked tongue? What of the rest of us?”
“Only she can go,” Odahviing replied. “It is a path for Dovahkiin. No one else. Alone, or not at all.”
I swallowed a lump in my throat as Vilkas shook his head, hands trembling. “You will call another dragon down from the sky! She will not go alone. Do it, dragon!”
“Vilkas – ” Farkas began.
“No! I will not leave her to this wyrd by herself – ”
So, it was now. Not a week, or a fortnight. There was no time to prepare – it was now; my fate and wyrd opening before me like a yawning abyss, and no one else could hold my hand and jump with me. I couldn’t have possibly asked them, anyway. This task was mine, and mine alone.
Farkas and Vilkas were arguing, and Aela was standing ready, her hands on her hips. Most eyes were on them, but I could feel the dragon’s eyes were on me – at least until –
“Argh! What pain in my wing?” The dragon roared and struggled against the yoke round his neck, and Farengar peered round the dragon’s bulk with a vial in his hand.
“Forgive me, just a few samples!”
“Get away from me, joor-ahma!”
The chaos wasn’t helping me think, but there was little to think about. I knew what I should do, but I was wavering. I needed the strength to just…do it, but could I?
It was the Jarl who gave me impetus as came up beside me, holding out a pack and speaking only loud enough for my ears to hear. “Potions, food, drink. It’s just a standard guardsman’s kit, from our supplies. On a Jarl’s head hangs much responsibility. Now you know why I risked so much to save my people.”
“Yes,” I said. For I did. It hurt me to see Vilkas so torn, but if I refused now, the entire world was done.
“Are you ready?” asked the Jarl, his wise gaze studying my face.
“I am,” I said, speaking through numb lips. “Let the dragon go.”
The Jarl gestured to his man upon the main release, and the guard saluted and raised the mechanism. With a loud ratcheting noise, the yoke gave way round Odahviing’s neck and rose, freeing the dragon from its bonds.
Vilkas made to rush forward, but Aela and Farkas were waiting, holding him back as he fought and cursed them, his ice-blue eyes fixed on mine. I doubt he knew what he was fighting at that moment; fate, life, wyrd. Farkas was barely able to hold him. I stood before Vilkas finally and cupped his face in my hands, staring up into his eyes.
“Vilkas,” I said with a calm I did not feel. “I have to go. I have to.”
Eventually, he stilled, and shook off his shield-kin, dismay etching deep furrows into his features. So much to say at these moments, and yet there’s never any time. There just…isn’t time. He embraced me tight enough to bruise my ribs, and kissed me before gently placing me down on the ground and holding out the Dragonslayer blade. I slipped the pack over my shoulder and belted the sword round my hips, gazing up into Vilkas’ face one last time.
“Don’t stay in Sovngarde without me,” he murmured, his voice flat and lifeless. He stood back, clasping his hands behind his back with his face impassive and cold as stone. Farkas placed a hand on his brother’s shoulder, and Aela slipped an arm round Vilkas as well, but I could see he barely knew they were there.
There was nothing left to wait for – I had to go.
I turned now to Odahviing with my heart heavy, but my face was set. It was time – there could be no more delay. I had to do what needed to be done.
“Come, dovah, and taste what makes us the rulers of air,” Odahviing said as he dipped his neck down for me to clamber upon rather precariously. “You will have the envy of an eternity in your heart after this flight is done!”
I didn’t look back as Odahviing crouched upon the rampart, but I could feel Vilkas staring at me. Then the dragon stretched out its wings and dove into space, me clinging to its horns like reins, the wind biting into my face and ripping my breath out of my throat. Vilkas stared after me as Dragonsreach shrank behind us. Farkas told me later he stared till the sun went down, and then without a word, went back to his old rooms in Jorrvaskr and closed the door.
But I couldn’t think of that right now. Now was the flight to Skuldafn – and yes, it must be said, flight is exhilarating. I wish others could experience it, but it isn’t to be. And I filled my mind with vengeance, and power, and Thu’um until I could focus on nothing else. There was nothing but this final battle now, and I would see it to its end.
We lit down upon the cliffside, and Odahviing let me down from my scaly perch. “This is as far as I can take you. You will have to find your own way. Once you go in, there is no way back. Fight hard, and may your Thu’um strike true!” And with that, the dragon was gone, and I was alone in the Temple of dragons and dead.
Draugr. Yes. You know what I’m going to say – but I’ll say as well that I had no time for them, or their fear. There were those who knew the Thu’um among them, but that mattered not. I fought with a fury I have never had before, or since. Not when entering the Companion’s Tomb, or fighting Mercer. This was rage distilled down so far I could feel nothing. Calm, centred, and cold. I slew with precision, and left bones and dust in my way. Even when I came to platform with the rip in the world and the thrice cursed Dragon Priest there, I did not pause – the foul Nahkriin never had time to get to his staff before I blasted him into powder, and the dragons on the archways standing guard fell to my Thu’um.
Now, I faced the gate where Alduin had gone. The predator was prey – but would it be true once I entered Sovngarde?
I closed my eyes and summoned up Vilkas’s face. At least I could recall every line, every hair, and the hue of his eyes. And with that comforting thought, I leaped into the abyss. Alone.
Paarthurnax warmed the Wall with fire till it glowed a sullen red, and Vilkas and I sat in its warmth as the dragon crouched and told us the story of Dragonreach; of how it was constructed as a prison for a dragon named Numinex – all for the amusement of the ruling king who had mastered it with his Thu’um.
“You’re speaking of Olaf,” Vilkas said with a warning growl. “He was a great hero!”
“Perhaps he was, to the joor,” Paarthurnax replied. “But Numinex was one of the dov. To be kept in a trap, unable to wing across the skies – you cannot comprehend what it means to us. He went slowly mad over the years, witless and rambling until even his Thu’um left him.”
I winced at the bitterness in Paarthurnax’s voice – and perhaps because I could understand the concept of Thu’um, I could envision what he meant better than Vilkas; the despair of a winged, immortal, thinking creature locked in chains. I lowered my gaze as Paarthurnax spoke on.
“Be it as it may, if you can lure a dragon into the trap, you may be able to secure its oath to tell you where our elder brother flies. I assure you – to be forced out of the sky is no small thing. To be kept out of the sky is enough to sway even the strongest of us. Eventually, a dragon will speak.”
Vilkas shifted slightly beside me, his own innate curiosity getting the better of him. “So – there are two stories of Olaf the One-Eyed. Which one is true?”
“Ah, joor, that is the difference between myth, and history,” Paarthurnax replied, lowering its great head to ponder Vilkas with one large eye. “Which would you want to know?”
“Both, I think,” Vilkas replied with a small smile. “I admit I am fond of the old stories – it won’t ruin it for me to also know the truth of them.”
“Perhaps when all is done, you may have your wish,” Paarthurnax said, nodding its great head, and I smiled slightly – perhaps I wasn’t going to have to worry about Vilkas slaying Paarthanax after all. In any event, it seemed we had another job before us and therefore we took our leave and went back down the mountain.
“A word with the jarl of Whiterun, then?” Vilkas asked, tucking the Elder Scroll back into his packs. “I’ll be putting this in Jorrvaskr’s Underforge for the time being till we figure out what to do with it.”
“Very well, on all counts,” I sighed, rubbing my weary eyes. “I hope my standing as Thane will help at least, if the Jarl remembers me!”
But I proved to overestimate my standing. “Are you telling me you want to imprison a dragon in these walls with a civil war going on right outside my doorstep?” the Jarl roared. Irileth bristled at his shoulder, staring at me rather impassively as I pinched the bridge of my nose with my fingers. Not my best reception.
“Jarl Balgruuf, I respect you and your dedication to your people – but understand if I don’t do this, there isn’t going to be a Whiterun to protect,” I said in my most convincing tones. “I come to you as Dragonborn and Harbinger of Jorrvaskr – ”
“You what?!” Irileth burst out in disbelief, and I gave her a bland look as Vilkas and the other Companions – who had come with me to give some weight to my words – took a mute step forward. It wasn’t how I wanted things to play out at all, but it got the point across and the Jarl gave Irileth a sharp look.
“I would not take the words of a Harbinger lightly, and not in my halls,” the Jarl said smoothly. He turned back to me, regarding me from his throne, then grunting and shaking his head.
“I take your point, Dragonborn – but I owe no allegiance to anyone but the people of Whiterun. I will not put them in further jeopardy with a civil war battering at my gate. However, I will tell you this: if you can manage to get the Stormcloaks and Imperials to agree a truce, I will try your plan.”
I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing. “You want me to stop the war?”
“Oh, you won’t be able to manage that,” Jarl Balgruuf said with a dry chuckle. “But you may be able to coordinate a cease-fire. I will not have such…volatile…people in my halls, but perhaps the Greybeards would host such a meeting, as they are neutral ground.”
I rubbed my brow with my thumb as the Companions and I exited Dragonreach, and Farkas barked out a humourless laugh. “That’s going to be one interesting meeting. How are you going to pull that off?”
“I have no idea,” I admitted, gritting my teeth in frustration. How was I going to get all the squabbling groups of Skyrim to agree to hold off? I knew enough about mortal nature to believe they’d fight each other as the world burned – but I wasn’t doing this for them. I was doing it for all those poor souls who had no idea what doom was coming upon them. I watched them as I leaned in the walls of the Dragonreach steps – market sellers, children playing on the cobbled streets. I knew these people. I couldn’t fail them.
“Right; well, first thing to do is get the Stormcloaks and Imperials to agree to even meet in the first place,” I continued, surveying Vilkas, Aela, Farkas, Njada and Athis in turn. “And since there’s nothing else for it, I’ve got a job for each of you.”
I sent Vilkas, Farkas and Njada to have a word with Ulfric, and Aela and Athis to General Tullius. From there, Vilkas would seek out the Blades, and Aela would gather any other stragglers; I actually needed the Thalmor to stop trying to take potshots at me whenever I went anywhere, at least for now! For myself I made my way back up to High Hrothgar – I was learning to loathe stairs – to have a word with Arngeir. He was decidedly reluctant, and I could certainly understand his point.
“Do you know the Nord words for war?” he asked me quietly, and with a fair taste of contempt on his lips. “They call it ‘Season Unending’. And so it has proved. Nothing will change this land – they will take up their weapons and fight dragon or not.”
“I know,” I admitted. “But as I told Paarthurnax, I am not doing it for a bunch of hardheads – there are children and families in Whiterun who have no idea what will befall them. And there are the same in Dawnstar, and Riften, and Markath. All over Skyrim. All over the world, Arngeir. They can fight each other after I’m done, but I will at least deal with the World Eater first. So, will you aid?”
The Greybeard sighed, clasping his hands in the folds of his voluminous robe. “Very well then. We here are aware of the threat, and if it is your wish to try and seek its end, we will aid you. I shall stress as best we can to our guests that it is no time for past grievances. But I’m certain they shall attempt to try and solve things messily. What should we do then?”
“Well, if all else fails, Shout at them till they shut up and listen,” I retorted with a mutter, and I took a room in High Hrothgar to wait.
It took a day, but eventually our uneasy guests arrived. Blades, Stormcloaks, Imperials, Thalmor, and the Jarl of Whiterun streamed in the door and stood, scowling at each other across the round table of parley – and they didn’t do so nicely.
“Ah, yes, you were at the party,” Elenwen said, fixing her jewel-toned eyes upon me; her manner was the usual Altmer archness, but I could sense the malice beneath the barbed tone. “The dress didn’t suit you at all, really…but now I know who you are.”
“You’re down a few bounty hunters, I imagine,” I replied, leaning against my chair. Vilkas was standing behind me, and I could hear his gauntlets grind together as he kept his hands tightly clasped behind his back. If he didn’t strangle anyone, we’d be lucky.
“I will not sit at this table with….that….here,” Ulfric growled as he gestured at Elenwen. “A representative of the people who neutered Skyrim and outlawed our proudest God?”
“I’m inclined to agree,” Delphine grated, glaring daggers at the Altmer, who stared a moment, then narrowed her eyes.
“I thought we had managed to route you all out,” Elenwen said in mock surprise. “A shame, we didn’t do a thorough job – ”
“If you please,” Arngeir interjected smoothly, gesturing to the table. “This is no time for aggression and past grievances. Be seated, and let us discuss what can be done to bring a truce to Skyrim, at least for now.”
I took my seat, and eventually, grudgingly, the rest did the same. I can tell you that it was hour upon hour of bickering and vitriol, sometimes hidden behind diplomatic language, and sometimes spat with vehemence. We moved cities, towns, and settlements round like bartering chips – and of course no one was ever entirely happy with the decisions.
“This is hardly fair!” General Tullius protested, pushing back away from the table with a grunt of disgust.
“I would say that it’s not particularly fair to the people who are living in these villages and have no idea what we’re doing here,” I shot back – my patience was growing thin by this time. “We’re playing draughts with lives who will have to be informed tomorrow whether they are Stormcloak or Imperial!”
“We are making as generous a gesture as we can being here,” Tullius began.
“I don’t see anything here as a generous gesture!” Galmar Stone-fist growled, slamming a hand down on the table.
“Let me remind everyone here,” Esbern interjected, leaning forward and fixing everyone round the table with a hard stare. “We are not here to argue. The dragons are destroying Stormcloak and Imperial forces – oh yes, I’m well aware! And unless we allow the Dovahkiin here to face Alduin, there will be nothing left. No Stormcloaks, no Imperials. No Skyrim.”
“Please don’t tell me this insulting old fool is with you?” Ulfric snarled at Delphine. “He should mind his tongue!”
“You cannot expect such a thing of those tired old relics,” Elenwen interjected. WIth a snarl, Delphine stood on her feet, and suddenly everyone was standing arguing in louder and louder voices, while Arngeir attempted to calm them, and the rest of the Greybeards looked on impassively.
I however had had more than enough. Rubbing my face with my hand, I gathered air into my lungs.
It was stronger than I actually had wished it to be, but it did what I expected of it – everyone standing before me staggered to one side, off balance and shocked. The Greybeards recovered quickly enough, but the rest stared. Ulfric glowered at me, and I saw his chest hitch a moment, but I raised my hand. “Don’t.” It was the only thing I had to say, and he darted a glance round as all the Greybeards and Vilkas were watching him intently. With a muttered curse, he relented, and now the room was silent.
“I do not expect everyone in this room to accept peace and happiness right this moment,” I said quietly, leaning back in my chair. “Honestly, I don’t care what any of you do to each other. But I have a job to do here, and I will see it done. The only way I can do this is if Whiterun will be left in peace. So – you can sit here and argue until the dragons come here and topple you all, or we can agree this truce now and everyone can go their separate ways.” I gave everyone a hard look – I was getting a headache now and just wanted the job done.
“General? Ulfric? Are we agreed?”
There were several moments of silence, before each man nodded his head. I exhaled a sigh of relief, and the tension flowed out of the room slightly.
“Then it is done,” Arngeir said quietly. “My brothers and I will draw up and deliver the terms to each party. Let the truce be known and come to pass.”
And that was that – the meeting was adjourned and that is how the civil war was brought to an end. This is why the map of Skyrim is as it is – and money changed hands for blood-prices and compensations. It isn’t a perfect alliance and I am sure at some point it will all blow up again, as ever. Season unending. But at least it has held during my lifetime, and I was able to continue to follow my wyrd.
The Imperials and Stormcloaks departed, and the Thalmor as well although they gave the Blades and myself a final glare. Esbern bustled over to me, with excitement in his face. “Well well, that went better than expected! Now, it’s just a matter of capturing a dragon.”
“And I have no idea how I’m going to manage that,” I sighed, glancing round for Vilkas. I wanted nothing more than a horn of mead and a long rest – where was that Nord?
“Ah, but that is what I’ve managed to find,” Esbern said proudly. “You can call a dragon if you know its true name, and I’ve found a name for you: Odahviing. You’ll want to call him with his words of power – he won’t be able to resist if you do. Here, I’ve written them down for you. How you’ll get him out of the sky, I’m not sure.”
My attention snapped back to the scholar – this was good news indeed. “Esbern, you’re a marvel. And I know exactly how I’ll get him down.” That was what Dragonrend was meant for, after all! I studied the power words – and even reading them was quite effective – I could feel their understanding fill me, and I shivered as I could even see the dragon in my mind’s eye; red as blood, strong and old.
I thanked Esbern and was just on my way out when Delphine came forward, a rather shame-faced Vilkas behind her.
“We know,” Delphine said tersely to me before I could say anything at all.
I stared at the elder Blade, unable to understand what she was saying at first, but Vilkas’s expression was easily read. Paarthurnax. He hadn’t wanted to tell her, but grilled at length he had relented; he was oath-sworn after all.
“You need to kill him,” Delphine said flatly, and I stared now at Delphine, staggered.
“I have no intention of doing that,” I responded quietly, although my eyes narrowed slightly. “Don’t you realise I would have never got this far without Paarthurnax’ aid?”
“He’s a dragon!” Delphine hissed, her eyes flaring.
“And I am a Bosmer, married to a Nord,” I replied, and this time my own temper flared. “So much for blind obedience to popular opinion.”
“We are sworn to kill dragons – ”
“And sworn to protect the Dragonborn as well,” I added, nearly toe to toe with the Imperial. “But I’ve been doing all the saving and protecting here. I’ve killed for you, I’ve gone on completely wild hunts of no relevance for your need for vengeance. I will aid you here in Skyrim, but I will not be killing a dragon solely because Paarthurnax happens to be one. He has been invaluable – and he is a friend. And that is final.”
Delphine’s face drained of colour, her lips set in a thin line. “Then there is nothing further we can do for you,” she murmured frostily. “It would be in direct violation of my oath.”
I snorted – I wanted to say a lot more, but there was no point. “I won’t be needing your help any longer. Go safely, Blade – I’ve work to do.”
In a sour mood, I stumped out of High Hrothgar with Vilkas at my heels. Before he could say anything I shook my head and gave him a weary smile. “I know – and I don’t blame you. It’s all right.”
“I’m sorry,” Vilkas said regardless, wrapping his cloak round us both. “I am oathed as well. By all rights I should be trying to kill him too but – as you say, he’s been a great help. I’m looking forward to hearing what stories he can he can tell me! Still, what you need right now is rest.”
“What I need to do is – ”
“Rest,” Vilkas said sternly, putting an arm round my waist as we made our way down the pilgrim’s path. “Sleep, and prepare. And give me my wife for a few hours. At least can I be granted that little boon before the world comes down?”
We made our way to our small house in Whiterun, and left the world to its own devices. We couldn’t sleep – we both could feel that the end of my wyrd was nearing, that I was coming to the final battle which would either see me victorious or see me broken and dead, with all of Skyrim to follow. Exhaustion had to force our eyes closed, though I fell asleep gazing at my husband’s sleeping face – drawn and pinched, with dreams that made his brow furrow. My time was close now. I would either defeat Alduin…or I wouldn’t. What else was there?
The sun was rising, filtering through the chinks in the roof, before I finally abandoned myself to dark dreams, filled with smoke and a dragon’s roars.
The following morning, the Companions and I ventured back to Whiterun, leaving Brynjolf and Karliah to recover and sell some of the spoils for the Thieves’ Guild coffers. I’d get my cut at a later date, but to be truthful I was just happy my friends had all managed to come out of Blackreach in one piece. Better still, a friendship was forged between the Thieves and the Companions, with each promising to come to the aid of the other if there was true need for it. That oath still stands today, and I hope it shall continue to do so – and that is why there is no Thieves’ Guild quarter in Whiterun, in case you’re wondering; respect for the Companions has forbidden in. I’m grateful for that.
In any event, back we went, with Vilkas still carrying the Scroll. Aela and Farkas swore not to breathe a word of the whole escapade to a soul, and I took them at their word. Vilkas however was not so easily swayed.
“I’m sworn to the Blades now,” he said to me as he hefted the bag over one shoulder. “I’m going with you to the top of the Throat of the World. If I am the last thing you will ever see, then I will have it so.”
I winced – the last thing I wanted to do was drag Vilkas up to meet Paarthurnax, specifically because he was oathed. Being a stubborn Nord, he’d probably try to kill the elder dragon, and the last thing I needed to do was anger the Greybeards. I also knew that trying to forbid him to follow me would end up with him getting himself killed as he tried to follow me anyway.
“All right, all right,” I sighed, giving in, but giving him a warning look. “You give me your word you won’t be drawing your sword up there, Vilkas. Leave it where it is and let me handle it.” His ice-blue eyes narrowed, and I thought we were going to truly get into a right row over it, but his temper kept itself at merely a simmer rather than a boil. He nodded curtly in acquiescence and that was that.
Up the Long Stair we went, and through the hall of the Greybeards. I didn’t tell them what I was carrying – I had a feeling they’d not be particularly happy. The Scroll was a piece of the universe in mortal hands, and had already been misused time and again. I wasn’t going to give them anything to get further fussed over. I was already playing several games at once as it was, and didn’t need further headache.
We came to the pass, and with the Shouts to calm the skies I blew the biting winds and icy sleet away. Vilkas marvelled and eyed me with a frown, but I shook my head and nuzzled his cheek. “I’m Dreema, I still live and breathe,” I murmured quietly. “Not a goddess or anything else.” That seemed to steady him a bit – at least it did me! – and on we went, to the Throat of the World.
It was dark when we finally ascended, and the lights were dancing high in the sky. Paarthurnax himself was awaiting my return, perched upon the Wall same as ever.
I almost didn’t have enough time, but I heard Vilkas curse and half -draw out his blade. I managed to whirl on him and gave him a piercing look. “Remember your oath to me, Vilkas!”
Vilkas blinked, then glared down at me. “What? But it’s – ”
“The elder of the Greybeards and the dragon who taught mortals how to Shout,” I responded firmly, while Paarthurnax shifted slightly upon the stones and bowed its head, peering at Vilkas from beneath its horned brow ridge.
“You bring a joor with yol in his veins to my strunmah, dovahkiin,” Paarthurnax rumbled, though the dragon did not move from its perch.
“He is sworn to me in more ways than one,” I replied, my eyes still on Vilkas. “And he’ll remember it in a moment.”
Vilkas struggled, then with a curse he sheathed his Dragonslayer. “As you wish, Dovahkiin,” he muttered, though his eyes held a fair bit of reproach. Yes, we were going to argue about this later, but at the moment there was little time.
“Paarthurnax, we found the Scroll. Where’s the tear?”
Paarthurnax nodded his head down just to the left of the Wall. “See as dov do, dovah, and you will see it. Stand there, and open the Scroll.”
With a qualm, Vilkas finally reached into his packs and handed the scroll to me, and I took it into my hands. I focussed on the ground, frowning as I couldn’t see what it was the dragon was indication. So I took a deep breath, exhaled and allowed my eyes to go out of focus. And then – yes, there; the air was flickering, like snow beneath a strong sun – a haze that shimmered in midair.
I gave Vilkas a smile over my shoulder, gazing at him for a long moment – and he’d been right. If he was going to be my last sighted memory, I wanted it to be just so. I studied his face for several moments, then turned round and stepped forth upon the tear. It didn’t feel like anything at all, but once I opened the Scroll’s tube with a hiss and a pop, then rolled it out and stared at it – well…
I can’t really describe what happened. I was seeing into the past, somehow, and I saw everything that had taken place – the first dovahkiin who had faced Alduin, the death of the blond woman whose head was ripped clean off. I felt the power of their Shout – heard it in my very bones, and felt it surge through me. Even just watching the past unfold before me – for it wasn’t just watching, I was there – I felt their strength as they roared the words.
And now, I saw what they did with the Scroll. No, I won’t tell you – let’s hope some other misguided soul doesn’t decide to do the same! I understand their reasoning, and the whys and wherefores. Perhaps it was even the way it was supposed to play out but still….no. After using the Scroll I understood how dangerous the things could be. And yes, I got rid of this one too eventually.
At any rate, I listened to those long-dead heroes of ages past, and realised how it bore now on my future. This was what needed to be done, and how. And now I knew, I could bring this back with me to my own time.
I could feel my hold upon the past unravelling, bits and pieces of my consciousness scattered EVERYWHERE and yet nowhere. It was not the most pleasant of experiences, and I understood how Septimus could have gone mad with it. I held onto Dreema as best I could, tumbling into every point in the universe at once before I came back to myself, gasping and shaking as I was lying in the snow on Paarthurnax’s mountain.
I blinked back blinding tears, trying my best to focus, and looked up into Vilkas’s face, which was expressionless but pale as cream. “You fell. Are you all right? I’m not sure you should try it again – ”
“I don’t need to,” I croaked hoarsely. “I saw it.”
“What? But you were only gone for a moment – ”
“A moment to us, joor,” Paarthurnax said in a deep rumble. “But she was at every time, and this time all at once. She saw. You did see, did you not, dovah?”
I opened my mouth to respond, but before I could, I stiffened. A dragon’s roar was on the wind, faint but there. Paarthurnax’s head came up sharply and he hissed as loud as the Skyforge bellows.
“Aiy! Alduin comes! He felt the power of the Scroll. Quickly, dovahkiin, and your heart-sworn! Prepare!”
I staggered to my feet just as Paarthurnax spread his huge, tattered wings and leaped into the air, bellowing a challenge. Just over the mountain ridge, I could a black dragon soaring in the sky, then banking and plummeting down – growing immensely large as he came closer.
“Aye!” He quickly unbelted his sword and tossed it toward me, then snatched up the Scroll and got under cover. He knew this was no battle he could fight, but if he could get away with the Scroll, he would somehow. I knew my man.
Now, I was alert, and angry. I had faced this dragon once before and been dismissed. Dismissed. My anger seethed in my belly as I watched the dragons wheel and snarl, feeling their Shouts in my guts as they belched fire and ice at one another. But now I had the Shout I needed. I no longer needed to jeer from below.
“Now, dovah!” cried Paarthurnax, and I gathered air into my lungs.
“Joor Zah Frul!”
Yes…why does Dragonrend work? I’ll explain that, now. The first word, you may recognise by now. “Joor” – mortal. “Zah” – finite. “Frul” – temporary. To a dragon, it’s like stepping into a mortal body for a moment; it makes them experience our mortality, our eye-blink lives. It’s as outside of their comprehension as the Scrolls are to us, and it shakes them to their very cores, robbing them of the power of their Shouts and of their flight. They can neither use the Shout nor defend themselves against it.
And Alduin knew it. He howled in fury, the sound nearly causing an avalanche. I had hit him square with my Shout and my rage, and the black dragon literally tumbled out of the sky, with Paarthurnax wheeling overhead then landing behind me – in between us and Vilkas, actually, and for that I was grateful. Alduin himself came down before me into a rather ungainly heap, which gave me no end of satisfaction, but now I faced the World Eater alone, and I raised the Dragonslayer blade, with another Shout upon my lips.
“How does it feel, World-Eater, to be prey rather than predator?” I cried, my eyes narrowed to slits as I gathered myself again.
“Krii Lun Aus!”
I spared no quarter – I still don’t quite understand where all the power came from. Perhaps the Scroll, perhaps the fact I had my enemy finally within my reach. Perhaps knowing that now was my time, now was my wyrd before me and I would not run or falter. I still don’t know, but I look back and marvel as I blasted Alduin, a dragon more powerful than this world has ever seen, and then leaped at the weakened creature before he could do more than snap his jaws at me.
The blade I carried bit deeply, and black blood spurted upon the ground, steaming through the snow as I danced here, then there, ducking claws and teeth and wingbeats. When I smote Alduin’s head to the ground I had little fight left in me, but I felt victorious even so, and I could see in those reptilian eyes that I was winning the battle, and the creature knew it.
“I underestimated you, Dovahkiin,” Alduin rasped, rearing up wearily away from my blade. “But you cannot defeat me alone. No mortal can. You can have your small victory – but the battle is still mine!”
He roared – and at this close quarters it was deafening. I did not know the Shout, but it seemed to slow the very blood in my veins. The sword in my hands seemed impossibly heavy, and I staggered backwards. Alduin raised his wings and with a fierce downbeat I fell back sprawling. Up he went into the sky at speed, and before I could scramble to my feet and Shout again, he was gone, dripping blood and roaring into the night.
I cursed, panting for breath and resting upon my knees. Vilkas and Paarthurnax came up behind me, with the former helping me to my feet and checking me over.
“Ah, well done, dovah,” Paarthurnax said. “That was a great victory.”
“Was it?” I asked blearily, eyeing the black blood upon the sword.
“Yes, yes! He had to yield, and that has not happened at the hand of a mortal in…well, not in my memory. You defeated him, and hence he fled. The other brethren of mine will hear of it, believe me, I shall spread the words of it far and wide!”
I’d done it – I still couldn’t believe it, but I had. I had faced the World Eater one on one, and I had bested him. Not even the three Dovahkiin I had glimpsed in the tear had done that! I didn’t know what power had made me Alduin’s equal, but it had worked. I beamed, still feeling rather giddy as I wiped the Dragonslayer, sheathed it and handed it back to Vilkas, who hugged me almost desperately. “I’ve aged years in the past half hour,” he muttered, then frowned slightly as his mind was quicker than mine at the moment. “So, where did the great lizard go, then?”
“To lick his wounds and prepare, would be my thought,” I said, managing to stay on my own feet now. “Still, it’s a good question.”
“Wherever he is going, he is going to become stronger,” Paarthurnax said quietly as he slithered forward to perch upon the Wall again. “One dovahkiin defeated him – it has never happened before. He will need strength, and he will attempt to go somewhere to claim that as is his right through the laws of the World. Though where, and how….that I cannot say.”
So, my victory was short lived – after all, I was still just a mortal, and Alduin was not. If he could somehow gain strength, he might end up defeating me this time. I also believed him – no one dovahkiin would be able to defeat him. I was still at a loss, but perhaps…perhaps if I could get to him now whilst already wounded, I could finish the job.
This seemed to have occurred to Vilkas and Paarthurnax as well. “I know I should have no love for you, dragon, but you’ve fought hard and given good counsel,” Vilkas said, eyeing Paarthurnax with something akin to respect in his eyes. “Would you know how we could find out where Alduin has gone?”
“I may not know, heart-sworn, but those among Alduin’s army would do. And you will need to get another dragon to tell you. For that, I may know a way. Do you know what the castle below is called Dragonsreach? Sit joor, sit, dovah…and I will tell you what next must be done.”
There was nothing for it – we had to carry on down into the dark, extinguishing our torches and allowing our eyes to get used to the eerie blue glow from the funguses on the walls and ceilings. It was strangely beautiful and yet entirely foreign to anything any of us had seen before. I’d had a taste of it when we tracked Mercer, but it was completely new to Vilkas, and he scowled, blinking myopically in the blue-tinted light.
We came to a door which had no key or mechanism that Karliah or Brynjolf could dismantle. “It looks like something is supposed to go here,” Karliah murmured, nodding to a round crevice in the machinery.
“Those things we were given by Septimus, maybe?” Vilkas said, looking back the way we had come with blade drawn.
I kneeled down, and opened my packs, taking out the Attunement Sphere, turning it this way and that, before just deciding to trust to luck and shove it in. Apparently that seemed to work well enough, for the sphere slotted perfectly. We stepped back as old machinery began to churn, gears grinding and echoing clicks and rumbles came up from the deep. Beneath my feet, the floor began to shift, and I skipped hastily back as the stones parted, revealing a stair which led down to a intricate, golden door of dwemer make.
“Here we go, then,” Brynjolf said, bracing himself as he took the lead, and the rest of us, giving a final glance back, followed. We piled into the tiny room before us, shuddering as the walls rushed on above us and our stomachs lurched, only to find ourselves now far beneath the world above, and in the bowels of Blackreach proper.
I think we spent at least three days in that lightless, Divines-forsaken place. We slept in shifts and crept quietly through the dark, ever on the watch for Falmer. They didn’t have to see us to track us, and we had to be ruthless – cutting them down before they could report back, and then moving on. For three days, there was not a whisper of Farkas and Aela, and though neither Vilkas nor I said anything, we grieved, grimly marking our way with pieces of chalk which were now starting to run down to nubs though we felt it wasn’t of any use.
Wrong turns, and flaring tempers, silence and cold and damp. It was easy to see how adventurers before us had lost their minds, but we pressed on, making our way ever deeper into the bowels of the Falmer holdings, staggered at its size.
“I don’t think anyone in Skyrim knew how many falmer there are,” Brynjolf whispered in a hushed voice. “It’s worrying, if they decided to rise up at night…we’ll be hard pressed to fight them off.” It was only what we were all thinking – we could dent their flanks a bit down below, but four people weren’t going to inflict too much damage upon them.
We were deeper than any topdweller had ever gone now; and we were filling our packs with spoils that many a scholar would have sold his soul for. We had to be picky, but we managed with gems and gold and forgotten weapons. We even found what must have been a marketplace for the dwemer in ages past – a vast expanse of space which, after the claustrophobic tunnels we had been skulking in, almost made us uneasy at the sheer amount of space overhead.
We made our way hastily through, but Karliah held up her hand. Our senses were growing more acute in the gloom but not as good as the falmer. Someone was coming up behind us, possibly another patrol. We scrabbled for hiding places, weapons drawn, as falmer came into view, leading their trained insects along. They must have followed in our footsteps, no matter how quiet we had thought we were being. Hiding from falmer was impossible – they could hear our breathing even though we were halfway through the hall, and there was nothing else for it but to put the walls to our backs and prepare.
I drew my Nightingale bow and made it sing, hitting one of the spiders full square. Down it fell as Vilkas stood up before me, brandishing his blade as the falmer turned their sightless faces toward the sound of his shifting armour. They surged and prepared to leap –
– and never reached us. Their heads turned again, wet noses sniffing – they had enough time to emit one of their batlike squeaks in alarm before a blur – huge, black, furry – swept into their sides with a growl. Ripping, tearing, and leaving them bleeding upon the stones, the shape turned its glowing yellow eyes to us as Farkas stepped out from behind some waterpipes.
“Thanks,” he murmured to Aela in her shifted form. “I hate spiders.”
We stared at them both, almost unable to believe they were standing before us. Vilkas literally dropped his sword and rushed to his brother’s side, nearly crushing him in a mute embrace. I was just as happy to see them both and Brynjolf and Karliah clapped and praised Nocturnal as Aela stepped back for a moment to shift out of her beast form and put on her gear.
“Brother…” Vilkas’s voice was rather choked, but Farkas grinned and waved a hand after he extricated himself from his twin’s grip.
“Me too. We thought we had lost you all. We took a wrong turn, but Aela managed to track your scent. Everyone all right?”
“Fine now,” I said quietly, striding up to tap his chest with my fist and give Aela an awkward hug. “Never happier to see you both. Now, let’s press on.”
Our spirits slightly lifted with our reunion, we continued onward, trusting to Brynjolf’s uncanny ability to navigate through. We were travelling blind now – there were no maps in existence for a journey this deep into Falmer country, but Brynjolf had a way with keeping his bearings even so.
“Double back, and then…yes – this way, have a care.”
We came through a massive expanse – higher than even the phosphorescent light could reach. We were hushed, one and all, at the spectacle of the lit tower before us, with vast pillars, arches and walkways arching round out through space.
“Up we go,” I said, then gestured to the Tower entry. “Karliah?”
“Done and done,” she replied, melting into darkness to be on lookout. She could alert us if the Falmer approached – getting into the Tower seemed simple enough, but getting out would be impossible unless we had enough time to escape.
Brynjolf managed to open the door, and the rest of us ventured inside, eyeing the silent room and the spiralling staircase beyond.
“With me, Ice-brain,” Aela said grimly as she tapped Farkas on his huge bicep with her fist. “Too close now to botch this, so let’s make sure to clear a path.” And clear they did! There were traps of course, and a centurion or two but we won through, finding a few books on the way clutched in the mouldering hands of adventurers from before. I no longer turned my nose up at such doings, as the books often held secrets or riddles – and once we came to the main room, we were aware we were going to need more than swords.
I could try to describe what we found in the Tower of Mzark, but you’d not believe me. The machines were so far beyond anything I’ve seen before or can possibly comprehend. In the centre was a pod of some kind, and within this a cylindrical tube of a metal I had never seen before, sealed behind seamless glass. Our Elder Scroll, apparently, though we could tell there was no way to open it, and were sure if we tried we might come to a fair bit of harm.
“A puzzle, more than likely. There has to be something here that explains what this is, and how it works,” Brynjolf muttered, scanning over the room.
“I’m not a great reader,” Farkas sighed. “I’ll keep watch on the stairway.”
The rest of us set to, scanning through crumbling books and trying to piece together bits of knowledge well beyond many of us. Still, luck, wyrd, whatever you wish to call it was with us.
“Here, I think,” Vilkas said, as he gestured to one of the books he was holding. “Oculory – it’s going to need some form of focus; I think I know what Septimus was babbling about now. Dreema, love, where’s that Lexicon?”
I rummaged the square-shaped artifact out of my packs and tapped it. “Should I find somewhere this is supposed to go?”
We searched and sure enough, managed to find a depression which the Lexicon fitted perfectly. There was a soft hum, a click of gears and the hairs on the back of my arms began to stand on end. Aela shivered and growled as several pillars began to pulse then went dark again, but the chamber which held the scroll stayed locked behind its glass.
“Let me think,” I said, my eyes half closed as I studied the pillars with a frown.
There was nothing else for it now but a trial by elimination. Thankfully I had Companions and Thieves with me; people who were committed to getting a job done, and could think quickly. Eventually, we managed to work out the pattern, and with Aela and Brynjolf holding down the respective buttons on the appropriate pillars, Vilkas and I watched as the pod opened. The scroll was offered to my hand, and I strode forward –
– and Vilkas was right there beside me with his hand on my arm. “Don’t touch that thing. I’ll carry it.”
“Vilkas, you mustn’t.”
“If that’s going to end up making any of us blind by mistake, it’s going to be me,” Vilkas said tersely, and before I could take another step, he stepped in front of me and took the Scroll into his hands, bundling it away into his packs as I snorted, sighed, then reached for the Lexicon.
Aela turned now toward the door, and frowned, drawing her blade and grabbing her shield. “I heard something.”
It was Karliah, with Farkas behind. The Dunmer raised a hand, panting. “There’s a patrol of Falmer making the rounds. They may not have scented us yet, but I wouldn’t want to bet on it.”
Time to leave, then! “Nearest way up, Brynjolf?” I asked, shoving the Lexicon down into my bags.
“Easily solved, for once,” Brynjolf said, turning to a golden door to one side of the Oculory. It took some work to get it open but we managed it – all of us straining to fit into the tiny elevator room. I am probably not the only one who worried that it wouldn’t move, or would break before we reached the summit. We had been underground for days and to breathe fresh air again seemed a distant memory.
But out we came, upon the white crust of the world, gasping at the chill air and shielding our eyes from the sunlight. Light! Air! Space! Sky! It was a blessing, and we cheered weakly and praised the sunrise, hugging each other and taking the time to marvel at the spoils we had brought up from below. I was as euphoric as the rest – but Vilkas was not. He slung his pack over his shoulder and waited, his face drawn and wary as he scanned the horizon.
“I’d take a guess at where we are, but I’d fail utterly,” he sighed, rubbing his brow with a gauntleted fist.
“Dawnstar, or near to it,” Karliah said, proudly wrapping some gems back up in cloth and placing it in her bags. “We can manage to rest there and bathe – yes, a bath! I’d give one of these sapphires for a bath – but only one!”
And so our merry band won out, and in one piece as well. Joking and laughing even though our feet ached, we made our way to the small port-town. But Vilkas still said nothing, and still did not smile, even with a belly of venison and mead when the we stuffed ourselves at the inn and prepared for some much-needed rest. Vilkas placed his pack beneath his pillow and wouldn’t let me touch it as he stared at the ceiling with his hands behind his head.
“Your wyrd frightens me,” was all he’d say, and I got no more out of him. I didn’t need to tell him I was also afraid of the morrow. He knew. He always knew.
But the morrow would keep, and I rested my head upon his shoulder and slept.
I’d like to think I was a brave woman, but I’m not. Draugr still give me the shudders. If a shadow passes overhead that seems a bit overlarge, I still reach for a blade I no longer wear. And Blackreach…well, Blackreach gave me nightmares for weeks. I know I wasn’t the only one, either. I thought Irkngthand had been bad; or the first time I entered a cairn. Blackreach wrapped it all up into one, and I couldn’t have made it alone.
And so on we went, Companions, Thieves and Dovahkiin; a more unlikely group of world heroes I couldn’t have imagined. We rode hard and rested when we could, thankfully without any harassment of the draconic variety though the roads that way stayed clear of bandits for a very long time due to our impatience with tolls and bravado. We rode strong to Winterhold and left our horses at the nearest stables and headed forward on foot, Aela and Karliah in the lead, Farkas bringing up the rear, and Vilkas, Brynjolf and I poring over the books and scripts the best we could. It was going to be grim work – we could only hope we all stayed professional and keen, but I knew these people – not a single untested soul among them. I couldn’t have been in better company.
“We need to head into Alftand first,” Brynjolf said, tracing a finger across the map. “There was an expedition there, I’ve heard. Known a few Khajit who were doing some work there, and they’re going for information as long as you keep the skooma flowing.”
“We’ll see when we get there,” Vilkas said, wrapping his cloak round his shoulders as he surveyed the frozen landscape. “Ready for anything.”
The frozen canyons of the expedition eventually were before us, with lashed scaffolding being buffeted by the winds. What we found wasn’t however what we were expecting – the entire dig site was abandoned with the scaffolding in poor state of repair. Not a soul was anywhere at the site – at least, not a soul alive. I murmured one of the Shouts for sensing heartbeats beneath my breath, and frowned – there was hardly anything to sense. Us, yes. And a lot of silence…and one ragged, irregular beat.
“Down there,” I pointed, homing in best I could at a huddle far below on the ground.
A Khajit was lying in the snow, gasping, with the red blood beneath him freezing to grisly ice. I didn’t have to say anything – everyone was on the alert, with Kharlia and Aela taking defensive positions and Farkas drawing his blade and fanning out. I moved forward swiftly, gingerly lifting the Khajit’s head to try and get its huge-pupiled eyes to focus. A packet of skooma tumbled out from its curled paw – trying to dull the pain, or kill itself? Probably both – the wounds were grisly.
“What happened?” I said tersely, snapping my fingers in front of the Khajit’s face.
“They rose,” it rasped, wheezing and coughing through a throat full of blood. “They rose, from the deep. Killed them all. No one left.”
“There’s corpses down along that way,” Aela murmured as she jogged up to report to me. “Looks like everyone’s been wiped out.”
I fumbled in my packs to get a healing potion, but the Khajit waved it aside. “No point, no use.
“How far in?” Vilkas asked, scanning the gaping maw beyond – I had only just spotted the entry; dwemer doors open wide, but not a single torch lit beyond.
“You’re not…going in?” The Khajit gaped, coughing and spattering its fur with its own blood.
“I must,” I replied quietly.
“Poor fools, then. Mind them, mind how they rise. They don’t need to see you to catch you.”
There wasn’t much else to do. The Khajit wasn’t going to last much longer, and he knew it. The best we could do for him was to send him swiftly to his Beyond, and thus we did as painlessly as possible, though none of us were particularly happy about it.
We at least managed to cover the corpses and then with the grim work done, discussed the way forward. Aela was a fierce hunter and her heightened senses would probably prove vital. Then Karliah and Brynjolf, myself, and Vilkas and Farkas bringing up the rear. Everyone knew their roles and what had to be done, and now all conversation lapsed into silence. We had thought the expedition might be guarded, an easy way down and in – but this destruction proved there were more beneath the ice and crust of the earth than even the expedition had expected. Our handful of people against, potentially, thousands. We all thought this, but said nothing. I had to go in; there was no other way.
Torches lit, swords drawn, and faces stern we entered into Alftand, swallowed whole by the world.
It started out well enough at least – there were centurions and other dwemer creations which unfortunately don’t require much in finesse to destroy – just a lot of persistence. Hit it enough times, and it stops moving. Karliah managed to work out some of the traps, and we navigated through the rest, marking our way on the walls with bits of chalk, just in case. So far, no Falmer. However, there were oil lamps lit here and there, although very low – from the study crews? Or someone else? We weren’t sure, but we decided at that point to douse our own lights and allow our eyes to adjust to the gloom.
“There’s some places here and there where something’s been removed,” Brynjolf murmured quietly over his shoulder. “It’s not our chapter, but someone’s looking for spoils.”
“Maybe more profitable for you further in,” I replied.
“I’ll count coming out of here alive as profitable,” Karliah said dryly.
At that point Aela hissed a warning and we halted in our tracks. I couldn’t hear anything, but apparently she could, and she gestured over at us, sniffing the air and pointing off to the right. We were all on our guard now, and carefully crept forward. However whoever was ahead of us wasn’t even trying to be quiet, and finally I could hear two voices arguing.
A man and a woman, I could tell that much. We heard them more by cavernous echoes than proximity though they sounded close, but there was something in the voices themselves that put me on edge. Aela certainly heard it, for she was snarling and her irises were edging into gold.
Now we could all hear it. Two people arguing – apparently they were lost treasure hunters who had been ambushed by falmer. Most of their band had been dragged down into the dark, and these two were all that remained, trapped on all sides by centurions and probably a fair few falmer as well. That was a problem for all of us – but what was making it worse was the noise; they were shouting now, and the notes in their voices were unmistakable – both sounded completely unhinged. Whatever they had seen down here in the dark halls had broken their minds, and now it was breaking our stealthy advance.
“If those two keep it up, they’ll alert everything down here here, machine or falmer,” Vilkas muttered at my shoulder.
“I’ll handle it,” Farkas said grimly as he drew his sword, but I held up my hand. Needless slaughter wasn’t something I wanted to condone. “Maybe we can point them to the way out, they’re too dangerous to take with us but we know the way.”
As soon as I moved our group closer to the pair, I could hear swords drawn and the sound of ringing blows and cursing. They were really going for it now. I’d have to work fast – they were making too much noise. Motioning for everyone to take a position against the walls of the junction, I stepped out into view.
It was a vast room, lit by guttering lamps. The Imperial and the Dunmer with him weren’t sparing each other at all; their eyes rolled, their jaws flecked with foam as they battered at each other. I winced – they seemed pretty far gone, but I’d give them the benefit of the doubt. I let out a shrill whistle to alert them as I stepped forward into the lamp light.
My heart was in the right place, perhaps, but it didn’t help. They both froze in place, staring at me with eyes gleaming entirely too brightly in the shadowy hall. I could see now, they really had lost any and all reason, and I just had enough time to draw my own blade before they both seemed to forget their quarrel with each other and instead charged right at me. Who knows what it was they thought they were seeing, but I can guess.
They didn’t get far however – Aela and Karliah were blessed with a bow, and within seconds the eye of the Dunmer and the throat of the Imperial seemed to sprout arrows. Down they went with a crash, and I sighed, shaking my head.
“Well that wasn’t quite what I had in mind – ” I began, turning round, but then we were brought short once more by Aela sniffing the air, then hissing under her breath and drawing her blade.
“We need to go, and now,” she murmured. “Those fools awoke this damn hive of beasts.”
“Which way?” Vilkas nodded to Brynjolf, who sprang forward into the dark, leading us even deeper through the warren. The walls were changing now from the level-straight stones of dwemer architecture to the fungus laden rough-hewn walls of forgotten caves. We had left Alftand, and entered into Blackreach, although this didn’t make Aela any more at ease.
“There’s a fair few ahead of us by the smell,” she warned. “Be ready!”
It was a fair wall of falmer before us – it could only be expected considering we were heading right into their stronghold, but where I had glimpsed handfuls before, this was a small battalion of falmer and the chitinous insects they kept on leads like hounds. It was going to be bloody, and we held back nothing.
“Shield your eyes!” I commanded as we squared up against our foes – I filled my lungs with air and winced pre-emptively.
“Yol Toor Shul!”
Fire belched out and engulfed the front line, dazzling me even as I closed my own eyes. Flame licked out my throat into a roaring blast of flame, hot as the Skyforge, and sent the Falmer shrieking and howling, cooking the chaurus in their shells. Pandemonium reigned, and Aela shifted and tore through their flanks to attempt to break their numbers – we had to win through and come out the other side.
“Quickly!” Karliah cried, slicing through a falmer with her Nightingale blade. I dove through the gap, with Vilkas at my heels, but Farkas and Aela hung back.
“Go on!” Farkas roared. “This fight will just bring more – Aela and I will finish this lot off.”
Vilkas hesitated, eyeing his brother. Farkas shook his head, flinging half a piece of chalk at Vilkas and swinging his blade back in a scything arc. “Go, go, we’ll make enough noise to draw ’em off. Get going!”
It was a worthwhile plan, but a difficult decision to make, and I gave Farkas and Aela a last look – as if to remember them as they were; Aela in beast form with claws dripping blood, and Farkas grinning fiercely as he cut a falmer nearly in two with his blade. Vilkas did the same for a moment, but then Karliah was at my elbow, pulling me forward into the cavern beyond.
“Quickly now,” Karliah murmured tersely, and I had to obey. On we went into Blackreach’s heart, leaving the smell of cooking flesh and battle cries behind us.
Mother has been poorly again, which can be expected at her age. She has said she wishes to get her story on parchment before she joins my father in Sovngarde, so expect her back soon – as I doubt even death will stop her till she’s had her say!
Vron, Harbinger of Companions, son of Dreema, son of Vilkas
I didn’t get much sleep in Jorrvaskr that night as I paced the Harbinger’s quarters, mulling over what steps to take next. An Elder scroll – I had no idea how to find one. It was going to require detective work. There were the Blades, that’s true. Esbern could be asked, but I also had a few less traditional routes to pursue – who else would know something as precious as a Scroll but a thief? I imagined perhaps Delvin might have an idea where it could be found. But that would mean dividing my time, and time was something I didn’t have much of. I’d probably have to delegate, and I could trust Vilkas to that.
Eventually after several hours of lost sleep chasing my own thoughts round my head, I looked up at the door to find Vilkas standing there, buckling on his armour. I doubt he had slept much either. “Figured you wanted to get going sooner rather than later,” he said, yawning and handing a cup of chai to me. “Want to tell me what I can do?”
“I think I may have to call a bit of help in on this one,” I sighed, and I explained as much to Vilkas as I dared, though I said nothing about Paarthurnax being a dragon. “This Scroll could be anywhere, but it’s the only chance I have. Esbern may have an idea where to find it.”
“Then I’ll go ask him,” Vilkas said, nodding. “Where will you head off to?”
“Going to visit friends in Riften who may have some information as well,” I replied, taking the chai from Vilkas as I kissed him briefly. “We’ll meet back here when we’ve got something we can use.”
“Very good, Harbinger,” Vilkas said, striding towards the door.
I managed to get a horse at the stables just as the sun was creeping over the horizon and made my ragged way, managing to get some sleep in a tiny village that night before pressing on to Riften. All the while, I chased my thoughts round in my head – would the Shout even work? When others had decided to send Alduin forward in time rather than use the Shout – but no, they had devised the Shout later. To be truthful I had no idea what I would find, or how I could use it. Everything hung on a hope. And when I needed luck, there was really only one place to go.
I made my way into the Thieves’ Guild byways, feeling a small swelling of pride at the bustle; we were fully restored to glory – there were alchemists, poisoners, armoursmiths and mead by the barrel as Maven Black-Briar was never happier with our work. The whole place was filled with new faces, and even a few wearing Nightingale armour. When I strode in, I was halloed and grinned at by all and sundry. Brynjolf and Vex were poring over some of the plans I had recovered from Mercer’s house, and Delvin was fingering a few trinkets which had been added to the special cache of valuables we had on display.
“Ah, a pleasure, boss,” Delvin said as I bowed before Nocturnal’s shrine. “Good ta see ya, what can we do for ya?”
“I need all your knowledge, Delvin,” I said, nodding a greeting to Brynjolf and Vex. “Got a special job – personal one, really.”
“What’s up, lass?” Brynjolf asked, sitting down in a chair and pouring some mead for us both while Vex scuttled off with the plans.
“I’m looking for a scroll, a special scroll. Something called an Elder Scroll.”
“You’re joking,” Delvin said flatly after nearly choking on his mead. “Those things are legendary, not even sure they exist!”
“Neither do Nightingales,” I said with a small smile. “And you’re the authority on the obscure and half-forgotten. Are you sure there isn’t some sort of knowledge somewhere?”
“That’s much too mystical for me,” Brynjolf said, shaking his head. “But there’s a reason you’d be asking for such a thing, lass. I remember the stories when I was a kid, but never thought they’d be true.”
“I dunno,” Delvin said slowly, scratching his stubbly cheek with his fingers. “I could do a bit of digging; pretty sure someone back in the dawn of time tried to steal one at some point. I know a lot of mages that would gleefully murder to get ahold of one. Let me do some digging in the old memory and read a few pieces I’ve got here and there. You got a little time?”
“A little, but not much, may as well have a look at the coffers while I’m here and line my pockets, if nothing else, eh?” I took my mead with me as I did the tour round the Guild, surveying the wet ears and getting the gossip from the street. It wasn’t really an act – these were my people, and I was the Guildmaster. I needed to show my face from time to time, see if anyone needed some help, keep things smooth. I didn’t realise how much that meant to people until later, but it meant a fair bit.
A few hours later, while I was in a game of drafts with some of the crew, Delvin came looking for me. “Well the good news is, they actually exist,” Delvin said dryly. “Turns out there’s a story that the Grey Fox himself stole a scroll from the Imperial Palace some time ago. Where it went from there, I don’t know. But I can try and chase that up for you and get some of our boys on it. We’ve got branches all over Skyrim now, thanks to you.”
It wasn’t what I needed, but it was a start. “Thanks, Delvin. Do you think you could let Karliah know what I’m looking for as well? She’s got other connections.” I didn’t go into detail but I was pretty sure Karliah would know what I meant; the Nightingale Sentinels had long memories, and perhaps if she consulted them, they might be able to tell her where an Elder Scroll could be found.
There was nothing else for it at this point – it was time to head back to Jorrvaskr with the hope that Vilkas had managed to do more than I had done. A week had gone by now, and when I entered Jorrvaskr’s halls again, Farkas hailed me. I hadn’t seen him for some time and I hugged him as he lifted me off the ground. “There’s my favourite fur-less troll!” I chided, kissing his cheek.
“Evenin’,” he rumbled as he set me down, studying me with his ice-blue eyes. “Vilkas is downstairs, and he isn’t happy. I’m not sure why, but you and my brother haven’t been around much – what’s going on?”
I sighed – what could I possibly say? More to the point, what could I say that Farkas could grasp? I didn’t want anyone to worry, and the story itself would take too long. Instead I gave Farkas my best smile and thumped his chest with the side of my fist. “Making history, Farkas; it will be worthy of a song, just wait.” I left him with a very furrowed brow as I made my way below, where Vilkas was poring over a map with Aela, and their faces were grim.
“You didn’t find much either, did you?” I said, misinterpreting their faces, but it was Aela who spoke first.
“Actually, we did. I managed to talk Vilkas into letting me accompany him – ”
“She held me down and didn’t let me up till I agreed,” Vilkas muttered.
” – and we spoke to the scholar, Esbern. He had much to say about the scrolls, although I admit I only understood the half of it.”
“There was some form of cult from ages past,” Vilkas said, reaching to unfold a scroll. “The Cult of the Ancestral Moth – strange name – that studied the scrolls. Apparently doing so eventually made them blind, or mad…not an auspicious thing to have it seems, but coveted all the same.”
“Esbern seemed to think we’d have luck among other scholars and wizards of the area, so we ended up making our way to the College of Mages in Winterhold,” Aela continued. “I convinced them to let us enter – ”
“She shifted,” Vilkas added with a sigh.
“And with evidence of magic ability, they let us in. And well done too, or I would have taken a bite out of that Altmer! We went to the library and found it was held by a rather gruff orc. Vilkas used his own charms on that one.”
“I didn’t do anything untoward, no duels, nothing like that!” Vilkas said hastily when I gave him a glare. “Actually we discussed the Nord classics – the library is extensive!”
“After softening the librarian up a bit – and what a boring conversation that was – he allowed us to read a book from a scholar, Septimus-something, ” Aela said. ” To be honest, it wasn’t exactly a fount of wisdom. The scholar had gone quite mad.”
“Still, the librarian did tell us where to find the man,” Vilkas said, pointing at a map of Skyrim. “He was studying a puzzlebox and other dwemer artifacts just to the north across the ice flows.”
“Mad as a rabid wolf, that one,” Aela added with a sniff as she lifted a pack and then handed it to me. “I couldn’t make any sense out of him, but Vilkas managed better.”
“I’m used to talking to my brother,” Vilkas said with a small smile, then tapped another place on the map. “I managed to get a bit more of the story out of him, although it was wrapped in mutterings and madness, and he mentioned a place called Blackreach – a forgotten dwemer city; and a dangerous place too. Filled with falmer and dwemer machines which are still active. He couldn’t get in, so he told us the way as long as we brought some things back for him.”
“That bag has what he called an attunement sphere – we’ll need to charge that in some way so he can open the puzzlebox,” Aela said. “The blank lexicon will scribe itself apparently once we reach our destination and give him the information he needs. To be truthful, whatever the madman is tinkering with, I wouldn’t bother about. He’s mad, but he’s very intelligent – and that makes him dangerous.”
“But the only way to get the scroll it seems is to have those,” Vilkas nodded to the pack. “There’s no other way. I gave my word as a Companion that I’d bring them back, but beyond that, it’s up to you.”
I listened to their interplay of voices, and sighed, nodding in thanks to them both. “You’ve both been very resourceful, and I thank you. How do I get to Blackreach? I’ve dealt with Falmer before.”
“That’s just it, it’s huge,” said Karliah. I startled and turned round to find she and Brynjolf were both stepping into the room, dressed in the Nightingale armour, with Farkas behind them.
“Just keeping an eye on these strangers,” Farkas said, eyeing the pair dubiously and flexing his massive arms. “Don’t like strangers – they all right?”
“Yes, they’re fine, thanks,” I said, staring at my fellow thieves. “What are you two doing here?” I was hoping there wasn’t going to be a scuffle, but I needn’t have worried – I made hasty introductions and it became apparent to everyone that the one thing that united them all was their loyalty to me. To say I was humbled was an understatement.
“We did our own checking, lass; Delvin did some digging,” Brynjolf said as he brought a very worn book out of his packs. “We were able to trace back about the Scroll the Grey Fox stole, and how the Imperial Palace had found it. We found that these things tended to be in the depths of dwemer ruins most the time. Maybe they found a way to harness their power, it’s hard to say. In any event, we then did a track of every single dwemer site the Guild has ever come across.”
“They’re usual ripe for the picking, filled with artifacts and spoils so they’ve always been profitable to know about where they are,” Karliah added as she started to flip through some of the rather battered books. “There’s a few that we came up with as possibilities, but we did find out about Blackreach – and it’s massive – bigger even than Irkngthand. We’ve got account after account here of lone thieves who went in and didn’t come out. One did, and the stories he told were pretty unpleasant. It’s not passable with only one – you need a small army.”
“And that’s where we come in, isn’t it?” Farkas asked, his eyes gleaming.
Things were running away from me again, and I raised my hand. “Oh no, now that I will not have happening. I’ve got two places to run now, and I need help to do that – ”
“And none of that will happen if you fail to get the Scroll, Dragonborn,” Vilkas said.
“Wait, Dragonborn?” Brynjolf said. “You’re joking, it’s all just a rumour!” I winced. Damn Vilkas and his cunning – he just gave me his blandest look.
“She is what she is. I’ve fought more than a few dragons at her side. And if she fails to bring the Black Dragon down, the whole world is done. Believe me when I say this – everything, gone. This is the only way, the only chance we’ve got to stop that. And while she may be Dragonborn, she needs help to get this Scroll. I’m sworn to protect her, and protect her I will.”
“You’re not the only one,” Aela said as she nodded firmly, eyes blazing and Farkas beamed fiercely.
“I don’t know what sort of code you follow, thief,” Vilkas said to Brynjolf, eyeing him warily, “but it was honour that brought you here ready for battle if need be, aye?”
“Aye,” Brynjolf said quietly, and Karliah nodded. “We owe her a debt, as Guildmaster, and as friend. You’ll need help, and if it’s an unpassable door or a lethal trap, we can manage to get you through it.”
“Oh come on – ” I interjected weakly, but Farkas stepped forward, his arms folded across his chest and his brow furrowed.
“Why would you deny us the chance to do some small thing for you when you have done so much? Isn’t that what friends are for? Haven’t I sworn an oath to you? I’m not all that smart, but I don’t have to be. I still meant it.”
I looked round at each of them in turn, and any argument died away. I want to make this clear – I was and am Dragonborn. But I would have never got there, there managed to have gone as far as I did, never survived without many people, large and small, hero or merchant or gossip all lending a hand in their own way. There is no hero, no king, no rich man who managed to do everything to get there without aid in one way or another. Only an arrogant fool would dare to suggest otherwise. From the first moment when Ralof cut the bonds off my wrists and saved me from Alduin’s ire I had been in the debt of good friends, and it was people who believed in me who had helped me live this long. Never forget that lesson – no one rises to glory and good deeds by themselves.
I smiled, blinking rapidly so I didn’t embarrass myself with tears. “Oh, you’re all in league, bless you!” I said softly. “And I thank you. Farkas, get Tilda to make up some more beds. Aela, would you take my friends up to the Skyforge and have Eorlund put the best edge on their blades he possibly can? Let me see those books, Brynjolf – I want to see that map; I know it’s not complete but it’s better than nothing.”
I set them all to work, and they moved with efficiency until the room was all but empty. Vilkas looked back at me as he took up his bow to go hunting – we would have a decent meal before we left. He gave me a smile, but his eyes were clouded. “Your wyrd worries me, sometimes,” he admitted. “I would not put a scroll in your hands for anything in this world. But that you have many who would stand with you gives me hope.”
“It’s why I’m doing all this,” I said, sitting down and gazing at the pile of books before me, more with determination than despair. “I won’t let Alduin destroy this. I won’t have it, Vilkas.”
We could have said more, but we didn’t have to. We knew each other’s hearts. And so he hunted, and so I read, and we prepared to venture into the depths of the world.