AN: In the first few chapters there are some long paragraphs. I've been told that makes it more difficult to read. This is something that I changed very quickly, but rather than go back and re-edit the first few chapters I am focusing on pushing the story forward. So even if the paragraph lengths bother you a little, I'd press on. The story is worth reading and you won't have to worry about long paragraphs for too long.
The headsman's axe whistled down and with a meaty thump came to rest in the wooden block. Ralof of Riverwood clenched his teeth and looked on impassively as the headless body of his former comrade slipped off the block and fell with a boneless thud in the dust. He watched the blood jet from the severed arteries as the corpse's heart pumped a few last times not realizing it was already dead. No. thought Ralof as he cast his eyes up at the sky in despair or perhaps denial. This is not how this ends! This is not how Jarl Ulfrich or our cause dies. He looked back down at the body and the now dark, damp earth. Not how I end. The imperials continued to bustle along and two soldiers bent and hooked the corpse under the arms and dragged it off to the side.
"Keep it moving!" called the legate "Next prisoner." Ralof stumbled forward as the guard behind gave him a swift shove between the shoulder blades. Ralof recovered his balance and strode toward the block with as much dignity as a bound prisoner could muster, determined to meet his end with the same courage as his compatriot. To his ears his footsteps seemed to almost echo in the dusty courtyard of Helgen's fort as he neared the bloodstained block.
Funny, Ralof thought to himself, as everything seemed to slow, this is the longest and shortest walk of my life. His breath misted the chill alpine and he laid his cheek on the rough, scored surface of the bloodstained block, smelling the clean mountain pine under the over powering metallic tang of blood. With his cheek now damp with blood and pressed against the headman's block ignoring the immediate future was now impossible. Ralof's hands clenched involuntarily and strained against the leather thongs that bound them behind his back, his breath began to come more quickly as the immediacy and seeming inevitability of death's cold embrace stuck him. Talos, give me strength and shepherd me home to Sovngarde. The executioner took up his axe and stepped back towards the block. Both the executioner and Ralof were jerked from their respective thoughts as something happened. It was almost as if there were an enormous and terrifying sound that would have deafened everyone in Helgen if it weren't pitched too low to be audible to the ear. But it could be felt. It was a sudden push and a pulse that shook the bones in Ralof's flesh and rattled the teeth in his skull; an immense and crushing pressure that made it impossible to draw breath. And then the moment passed almost as if it had never occurred at all. Ralof took a shuddering breath and raised his head from the block, a fresh new thread of fear working in his heart, to see the executioner and all the other imperials and prisoners looking at each other in bewilderment. The legate looked about her seeing the breathless and rattled soldiers "Ca – Carry on. Carry on!" she called with a stammer, gingerly trying to regain her own breath and ignoring the awful pressure in her skull. "We haven't got a—" She was cut off abruptly as a terrible roar split the air, one that immediately made her a child again, turned her guts to ice and stopped her cold with the visceral and instinctive fear it provoked.
The wicked rush of wind drew every eye up to the tower to see an ancient terror make itself known. The black dragon landed, shattering the crenellations of the tower and sending out shards of broken stone and plumes of dust. For a heartbeat all were frozen by the terrible beauty perched above them, the artistry of the midnight scales, the terror of its rending claws and twisted horns, but most of all by the unfathomable rage in its blazing reptilian eyes. The dragon's second roar was accompanied by flame and death
Everything devolved into a frenzied haze of fire and ash.
Ralof cursed as he ran through the madness that Helgen had become, he could not believe that he had let himself become separated from his stormcloak companions. Fires blazed out of control everywhere and the crackle of the flames was interspersed with the cries of the burned and dying and roars of the dragon. His breath came in ragged gasps and the hot smoke seared his lungs as he ran for the keep. He knew that of all the buildings in the settlement the keep was the only one that had any chance of withstanding the dragon's fury.
Dragons! thought Ralof, hearing the beast's roar from the other side of Helgen They are supposed to gone! Myths! He shook his head angrily. Caught in a border ambush by imperials only to be eaten by a legendary monster. Gerdur was right for all her teasing. I AM unlucky. Ralof rounded the final bend and vaulted some rubble from an out building that had been pulverized earlier by the great beast, and there before him was Helgen's keep and the cleared ground around it. He paused a moment and searched the skies, blinking rapidly as the air swirled with ash almost as if he stood in a snowstorm. Not seeing the dragon nearby he sprinted for the sturdy double doors of the keep. As he closed with the doors something caught his eye. Off to the right of the doors lay a large man face down. He was not obviously burned, blackened, or torn to bloody ruins like the other victims of the dragon Ralof had passed on his way to the keep. He focused again on the keep door, maintaining his rush. He skidded to a halt at the door, seized the handle and paused a moment. "Divines curse it!" Ralof spat as he turned to the other man. He wasn't going to leave someone to be food for that thing, especially not when they are only feet away from safety that is not what a true son of Skyrim does. Ralof grabbed an arm and tried to pull him up "Come on, man! On your feet!" He struggled a brief second seeing the man was still firmly unconscious. Ralof unceremoniously shoved the man over on his back and hooked his hands under his arms dragging him back to the keep. "Why", Ralof panted as he shuffled those 20 feet to the door as quickly as he could, "did you… have to be… so damn big?" Ralof turned briefly and opened the keep door, sighing with relief that it was unbarred. He pushed the door open the rest of the way with his back and dragged the stranger inside. Once they had cleared the entrance, Ralof roughly dropped him and ran back to the door, peering out. He saw nothing but fire and cinders. The dragon let loose another earth shaking roar and Ralof slammed the door. Looking about, his eyes lit upon a heavy cross bar. He rushed over, hefted it up and paused setting it down again. This won't do a bloody thing against that monster. All I'll do is doom some other poor bastard that manages to make it this far. Decision made he sank into a nearby chair and looked around the sparsely furnished circular room he found himself in. I've heard the keep has an escape tunnel if I can work my way further in and down, then maybe… He saw the only path further into the keep was behind a heavy metal grating. Immediately, he crossed the room and tried the latch on the gate set in the grating. Locked. "Shit." He muttered under his breath, turning to lean back against the grate. He heard a noise and saw the man he had pulled inside stir. Divines! Thought Ralof as the man rose slowly to his feet, He is a big bastard isn't he! The man rose to a crouch and then stood slowly. His skin was pale with an ashen tone and a deep red tattoo wound around his body like a ribbon extending across his torso, down his left arm, and up over the back of his hairless head before coming down past his left eye and terminating in a point. He rose to his full 6 foot 8 inch height, towering over Ralof, who was not a small man. His torso was mostly bare but for a boiled leather pauldron with its harness and the broad fur-lined leather girdle that wrapped his stomach. Heavy leather vambraces reinforced with steel encased his forearms and all this combined with his full beard and broad powerfully muscled frame gave him a savage aspect and air of brutal power.
Kratos stood a moment, brows drawn together in a deep frown. He did not know where he was. The last thing he remembered… His eyes closed slowly.
Kratos walked along the branches of Yggdrasil between the realms back towards his home. Kratos paused. Something disturbed the impenetrable silence of the void around him. He heard a strange chant, faint and sourceless. The chant quickly came to a crescendo and as it did Kratos felt a rumble, as that of sound too low to hear but is only felt. The still air of the realm between realms became an abrupt unstoppable gale, and a force began to pull on him as if gravity itself had changed its orientation. Kratos set himself against the wind but could find no purchase. With a low shout he pulled the axe from his back and sank it into the world tree's branch. His hands clamped like iron bands around the haft of the weapon and halted his slide. The pressure grew even greater, pulling with ever increasing force until his feet were pulled from the ground and he hung suspended, kept from the void only by his grip. Kratos grit his teeth and with a growl shifted one hand higher up the haft of his axe. With another grunt he pulled himself back closer to the branch, his feet still stretched out towards the void between worlds. Another titanic effort against this inexplicable force brought him closer again to the branch. He felt the tremor in the haft of his weapon as the blade shifted. His eyes widened. With a roar, Kratos pulled with all his might, throwing his body forward as the axe came loose. His hands reached the branch and scrabbled for a hold seizing the bark. With a tortured snap the bark came free and Kratos was dragged into the void. He turned as he was dragged towards nothingness determined to face it head on. There before him like a tear in the fabric of reality was a void deeper than the emptiness of the realm between realms. If this is my doom, so be it. But I will not go quietly. Goodbye, Atreus. He roared his defiance into the void and was pulled into nothing. Then pain. It was if he was destroyed and remade, a fresh new agony, then the vague sense of falling.
Kratos opened his eyes on the circular keep of Helgen. He noted and ignored the other man in the room, turning towards the door. "I wouldn't go out there, brother. I didn't drag you in here just to have you go back out and get eaten by that monster." Kratos paused looking over his shoulder at the other man. "The only things out there are fire, a burning fort, a dragon and death. I'm Ralof. I'm from this area. There's an escape tunnel from the keep, through this door." He said gesturing at the door behind the metal grating. Kratos glanced down and realized that he was entirely unarmed. With a brief sigh he turned back towards Ralof.
"Very well. Take me to these tunnels." Kratos rumbled with a glower, his voice low and gravelly, as he stepped towards Ralof.
"I would, brother, but the gate is locked." He said gesturing towards it. He swallowed nervously at the sheer sense of menace coming off the man. Ralof walked towards a set of shelves along one wall turning slightly trying to keep him in his peripheral vision, "There may be a key in here somewhere we can search fo–" He was cut off by a crash. Ralof spun in time to see Kratos step forward to the now bent and warped gate and plant a second kick on the locking mechanism. The gate crashed open, slamming into the opposite wall, twisted and with its lock shattered. Ralof's jaw dropped.
Kratos turned back to him, "The gate is open, soldier. Take me to these tunnels." Ralof approached slowly, clearly wary of him. Kratos let out an impatient snort and stepped through the gate ahead of Ralof who continued to eye him carefully.
"Who are you?" Ralof asked slowly "And how did you do that"
"My name is unimportant. And I kicked it." Kratos replied in his bass rumble. "Now move." Ralof hesitated at the ruined gate then his eyes widened and he pointed down the corridor.
"Look!" he cried "Imperials!" Kratos spun, falling immediately into a warrior's stance.
Three imperials had rounded the corner and when they saw Kratos and Ralof, the officer drew her sword, pointing it at them and shouted "Stormcloak fugitives! Kill them!" Ralof was still wearing his armor and uniform but had no weapon. He fell back into the room frantically searching for a weapon. Ralof looked back to check on his pursuers and was shocked to see the stranger he had rescued step forward to meet the charging imperial soldiers. The leading soldier attacked with a cry, bringing a bearded axe to bear on Kratos, aiming for where his neck and shoulders met. Kratos shifted left with a quick bob causing the weapon to pass harmlessly by as he snapped a kick in the soldier's midsection forcing him to double over as the wind was knocked out of him. Kratos instantly rose to his full height, arms high above his head, anger across his face and with a snarl brought his linked hands crashing down on the imperial's back. Ralof's jaw dropped when he heard the crunch, like someone stepping on so many dried twigs, and watched the man slam into ground, blood issuing from his slack mouth. Kratos stepped over the body and swiftly sidestepped a thrust from the second imperial. Moving left, his right hand darted up to catch the imperials sword hand and his other came around in a brutal left hook that connected with such force that it tore the helmet from the soldier's head. Kratos ducked back under the stunned imperial's arm, inside his reach, batted his shield out of the way and seized the imperial by the collar of his cuirass and his belt. Kratos heaved the man up above his head and with a roar threw him headfirst into the ground. The noise of the impact reverberated through the corridor and the soldier lay like a ragdoll, his body unnaturally contorted. Ralof and the imperial officer locked eyes for a moment both stunned and gaping at seeing the two soldiers so demolished in the space of mere moments. The moment was broken as the unstoppable force of Kratos' flying knee smashed into her, crumpling her breastplate like so much paper and sending her flying back to slam against the wall.
"Fools." Murmured Kratos "They rushed blindly to attack. Reckless. Without cause." He stepped back from the last of the crumpled bodies of the imperials and turned to Ralof "It is time we leave this place. Lead me to the tunnel. I do not wish to stay here." Ralof walked over to the fallen soldiers and gingerly picked up a sword and a wooden iron bound shield. He was no stranger to death… but this… It seemed to him to be more execution than battle. The imperials had stood no chance against this man. He picked up the axe as well and extended it towards Kratos.
"Aye, it's time we go." he said as Kratos took the axe from him. The weapon looked almost dainty in his hands as he examined it and then slipped it through a loop on his belt. "But what do I call you, friend?" Silence stretched as Kratos eyed him for a moment before letting out a small grunt and replying,
"Very well. You may call me Kratos." He turned and looked down the stairs at the end of the corridor that the imperials came from.
"Kratos, eh? Can't say I've heard that name before. By your look and stature I would have thought you a nord, but that's not a name I've heard in Skyrim." Ralof pulled a torch from a nearby wall sconce and began to lead the way down the stairs. "What hold do you hail from?"
Kratos considered the unfamiliar terms for a few moments. Nord. Skyrim. I was pulled from Yggdrasil, which touches all realms. I could have landed anywhere in the 9 realms he mused to himself. "No hold." He replied shortly, following Ralof deeper into the fort. "Which realm is this? Midgard?"
"Realm? We are in Skyrim. A province of the Empire though, Talos willing, hopefully not for much longer. I have never heard of this Midgard. Is it in the southwest? Perhaps beyond Elsweyr?"
"No. This reality. This plane of existence. What do you call it?"
"Do… Do you mean Nirn? We're on Nirn. There's nowhere else except for oblivion and the realm of the gods." Ralof eyed Kratos as they descended further into earth. Kratos brows had drawn down over the course of their exchange. "Are you to tell me that you're not from Nirn? Which from what I just saw makes as much sense as it doesn't. By the Nine! Dragons and a man from beyond the realm in one day! At the same time even. What are the odds?"
Kratos stopped and looked intently at Ralof, "The dragon appeared as well." Ralof nodded his head.
"Apparently you both appeared out of thin air so to speak."
Kratos let out a low rumble and continued to walk, pondering his new situation, Dragons appear and I am pulled from my realm. This goes too far for coincidence. The origin of these beasts may be some clue or key to how I came to be here. And how I will return home. He dragged his thoughts back to the present. The boy would be fine. He was strong and had learned much on their great journey and in the times after. Kratos took a deep breath. Focus on the task at hand. Where these dragons came from and how they did so. That will return me to my son. Kratos and Ralof continued down the stairs coming to a short hallway with several closed doors. Ralof examined the signage and then indicated the far left door. "From what I know it should be through here, the oldest part of the keep, the dungeons." At Kratos' gesture he opened the door and continued on. After another brief descent they entered a larger room with holding cells, a large fireplace and a large scarred table covered with various unsavory implements. Two imperials had been watching the entrance Kratos and Ralof used. One was simply another soldier but the robe and heavy stained leather apron of the other spoke to a different vocation. Seeing the stormcloak blue of Ralof's uniform the soldier's brows drew down and started forward drawing his weapon, but halted when a booming voice cut across the room.
"Cease, fool! Your keep burns and your allies are dead. You would seek more foes?" The imperial's grip on his weapon shifted uncertainly on his weapon and he licked his lips nervously. "If you would die, then come and have done. I have no more time to waste." Kratos strode forward like inevitability personified and Ralof followed, shocked and drawn almost helplessly in his wake. The soldier stepped aside, hands drooping to his sides. The jailer looked at the other imperial in shock as he allowed the stormcloak and stranger to pass. At the exit on the far side of the room, Kratos paused, seeing a nearby weapon rack. He reached out and picked up a simple two-handed axe with one heavy blade, almost more executioner's tool than weapon. He hefted it experimentally, grunting in satisfaction at the weight before turning back to the door. Kratos paused, hearing an unfamiliar crackle and felt what could be described as a tingling sensation on the back of his neck. The sound intensified and he spun back to the imperials to see Ralof step between them, a spear of ice slamming into and shattering against his upraised shield. Ralof, more familiar with Nirn's magicka, had recognized the sound and reacted immediately. Kratos, immediately connecting the jailer's posture and expression to the spell, stepped out from behind Ralof's shield and with a shout threw his newly acquired axe. Ralof would never have believed it if he had not seen it, though the same could be said for the majority of his day. The axe was punishingly heavy and not weighted for throwing but it shot across the room quick as an arrow, completed one perfect rotation and slammed into the jaw and upper chest of the jailer. Kratos stalked forward his face a thundercloud, full of menace, as the soldier scrambled out of his path, sheathing his blade and holding up his empty hands. Kratos spat at the corpse's feet and wrenched the gory blade from the body. He walked back to Ralof, looked at him a moment and gave him a tiny nod of approval and continued on his way. Ralof exchanged a final glance with the imperial and hurried after Kratos.
They wandered through several more old corridors before they found their way out into natural tunnels. They encountered dead ends and some of the enormous spiders to which Skyrim is home. Kratos found the dead ends far more frustrating than dealing with the inconvenient arachnids. Eventually they were able to find the exit and came squinting out into the sun. Ralof was exhausted. He had been captured the night before and then escaped execution and the destruction of Helgen in the early morning hours. He could see the greasy black smoke rising from the ruins higher up the mountain. Some instinct warned Kratos and he seized Ralof and moved him bodily back into the cover of the cave mouth "Be silent!" he hissed when Ralof opened his mouth to protest. Just then the roar from the skies above them answered the question for him. The waited in silence listening to the beating wings pass high above them and then could see the beast flying away to the east. The enormous black dragon flew on, occasionally letting loose a blood curdling screech. Eventually they could no longer see the monster for the distance and the clouds. They stepped back out of the cave on to the path. Kratos looked down at Ralof as the stormcloak cleared his throat.
"I would never have made it out of there if it wasn't for you. I owe you my life." Kratos' only reply was a faint grunt. After another beat he continued, "Where will you go now? What will you do?"
Kratos stopped to consider. I have no home. No place. No people. No purpose but that I must find a way back. But little clue how to accomplish that. He did not like these thoughts. They were daunting. He had a world to search and nowhere to start. A world in which he was a complete stranger. Fortunate enough that the Norse tongue and Skyrim's language match sufficiently. This was not his area of expertise. This was not an enemy to be fought or destroyed but a puzzle. With the whole world before him he felt keenly his lack of direction and his lack of knowledge. "I… do not know." He said finally. Ralof gave him a thoughtful look.
"One thing to start with at least. Accompany me to Riverwood. If we hurry we can make it by nightfall. My sister lives there. It is poor repayment but at least we can give you a hot meal and a good bed." He extended his hand to Kratos and said "It would honor me." Kratos eyed his hand for a moment before stepping forward and clasping his forearm in the traditional exchange of warriors.
"Very well. Let us hurry then."
AN: First chapter is in the books. Hopefully you've enjoyed it. It's the first writing I have done in a very long time. Please leave a review if you liked it or if you have some helpful advice.
PSA - This will not simply be a main quest line retelling.