On Blood Red Wings
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.