The Restless Dead

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.

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