Thu'um of A Distant Utopia
I soared through the skies, enjoying a freedom only my kind enjoyed. I am so high above the clouds that everything else is too miniscule to be seen. My jaw lowered, letting my tongue roll out slowly and skim a line along the clouds. They are tasteless, but grasping these vaporous bodies is a delight that only we can enjoy. And I enjoy it, never taking it for granted. With a beat of my heavy wings, the forces of the world bows before me.
Time, space, gravity… to one of the children of the gods, these are just toy blocks to be played with. How the humans must envy what we have? How all things must envy us? How many magnitudes are we superior to all things… and that is why we shall rule, conquer and dominate… because everything else has no other choice but to acknowledge our superiority.
I am the blood dragon lieutenant of my father, Bonaaraakkul. While I have one thousand brothers and one thousand sisters, I will take all things for what they are. This s a wondrous world our maker has created and we must show our appreciation to our father thus. It is our duty. Duty binds all things…
For these lesser beings to serve us, to toil at our will, that is our right. That is their duty. This is the order of the world and how our great brother, Alduin, has taught us to be. Staad Naal Heyv… we are all bound by duty. All things are bound by duty. That is the law of the world…
Arturia's eyes shot open with a gasp.
The dream was more than any dream could be; it was so vivid. It was a memory, not a dream, she quickly realized. The soul of the dragon she had slain boils within her, and she feels its power pulsing softer and softer as the images from this memory seemed to fade into the background. She found herself out of breath, exerted but not knowing what she was exhausted from. The soft thunder of war drums seemed to beat in her ears, as a choir of warriors hummed an ancient hymn.
Dizzy and confused, she stood. The night was so silent that the grinding of her feet against pebbles sounded like gongs. No one seemed to awaken. As she walked away from the camp slightly into the night, the light of the orange embers dimmed against her back. She stalked silently into the head, feverish in the mind. Her body has broken down the soul of the beast, but it was no mere beast. It was a divine being, son of the god that created this world… according to it. She could still feel the dragon's thoughts and memories bouncing within her head.
…She needed to get away. She felt like… like…
This isn't the place to figure this out. She shook her head violently and glided across the wreckage of the town. The blackened earth and melted stones were cold down and the ice have all but melted. There was nothing for her here. She kept walking, her strides wide and fast, making her a blur to anyone but herself. She felt the call of the snow, the wind and the rocks. She felt the barrow atop the mountain calling out to her, as if to grasp at her soul. There was something there that could answer her questions.
So she leapt forward, picking up speed. She needed to know.
Arturia quickened her pace when the winter winds began to howl. As she made her way up the mountain path, icy shards began raining down all around her and the scenery changed. Moist earth and flora quickly made way for jagged boulders and harsh snow. She soon found her sense of smell growing weaker as the cold numbed her nose. It was an uncomfortable feeling that forced her to raise an arm in order to shield her face, though it was an action that did entirely too little.
In the back of her mind, she grumbled that she should have brought more clothing, but she still climbed up. There was something calling her and beckoning her on, like a hundred tiny chains pulling at her limbs. Soon even her armor was not enough. The ice that built up on her armor slowly melted down, making the leather wet and stick to her skin, which resulted in her shivering. The cold was numbing; she couldn't but help think of the last time she had been so affected by the weather as a human. It seemed like a lifetime ago now.
It felt like only moments ago that she was running up the side of the mountain, but she found herself laboring for each step. She lifted her head and saw a wall of white before her. A thousand flakes as large as her eyes fluttered before her, like a swarm of angry bees. These flakes of snow certainly stun like bees against her skin, she mused grumpily.
The snow beneath her was getting thicker now. With each step she took, she could hear and feel a drawn-out crunch of powdery snow. It wasn't a pleasant feeling to be knee-deep in snow. Bits and pieces of ice had slipped into her boots and melted on the fur-lined soles, making her movements even more sluggish than earlier.
Arturia kept climbing until she reached a split in the trail. One side pulled at her, yet that was where all the cold winds flew from. Through a thin veil of snow, she could see that the other road led to some kind of tower. It was closer than whatever was pulled at her and she desperately needed the rest.
The tugging feeling, as she soon found out, was not something that was physical. It affected her mind only, like a song that was too soft to be heard but kept growing in volume as she moved closer. She felt her teeth grit when she exerted her efforts to resist the urges to keep going, if only for a moment's rest.
In all honesty, she welcomed this feeling of tiredness. It told her she was human, even if she knew she was more than that. But she tried to latch on to that forlorn fondness of her past and used it to direct herself towards the shelter.
As she moved away, into the shadow of the mountain, the howling grew soft. The winds died down and she felt a soft spread of warmth over her skin as the sun reflected off of the snow around her. The song grew louder. It was like a hundred warriors uttering a solemn war-chant from every side.
It was distracting.
Arturia didn't even notice an arrow fly pass her left ear, taking a few strands of hair, until it clattered onto some rocks in the distance behind her. The buzzing sound of the arrow flying by shook her into awareness. She was quick enough to bat away the next arrow, which flew at her right eye.
She squinted up at the base of the tower. There were two men in crude iron and leather armor, yelling profanities at her while waving their weapons. The larger of the two walked towards her with a tall mace in his hands and swung without warning. The attack itself was too slow for her not to dodge, but his lack of words for her caught her by surprise. These people must be bandits, but even thieves in her time had the courtesy to at least say a few words before assault. These ruffians sought to simply kill her and loot her, she realized. If they had no words for her, then why should she have words for them?
As a knight, she would challenge them each individually, but Arturia has grown out of that naïveté. No, that wasn't right; she still believed in knighthood, but she knew enough about bandits to know that any efforts she made would be lost.
She took a lazy step back, just out of the range of the first swing. The next swipe came across from the left down towards her right, but she only needed to lean left to evade the second clumsy mace-swing. Behind the man, his friend was notching up another arrow. Arturia lined herself away from the mace-wielding man, but lured him on. It was a silly thing to do, but she didn't like to be teamed up on.
She watched her footwork; being nearly knee-deep in snow caused her to stumble a step before she caught herself. Thankfully, she was not fighting against a weapons master; this thug didn't even take advantage of her own sluggish mistakes. Nonchalant, she still didn't draw her weapon and still egged the man on. The mace user took another step at her, roaring something incoherent, but before he could finish, an iron arrow pierced his throat and came out of his Adam's apple.
Arturia dodged the gory mess that splattered all over the snow.
She pushed the man aside, noting that there was only a near path up the slope to the tower. The body fell into the snow and slid down the hill a few inches before it came to a stop. The man was already dead. Arturia felt she should feel remorse, but the loss of this man was nothing like the loss of someone with morals… she wondered if she should really separate people this way, as she side-stepped another arrow and punched the archer so hard, he back flipped twice and crashed against a tree.
Several voices shouted at the sound of the archer's skull crunching against bark from the tower. It seemed like there were three more. Arturia grimaced, seeing one of them staying atop the tower and trying to rain arrows down at her. Another was running down the stairs, and a third… she couldn't see the last bandit.
She looked down at the archer. Like all archers who used bows, this one had a nice visible knife sheathed away. She frowned; it was a curved dagger. She pulled it out and twirled it with one hand a couple of times, testing the weight and balance of the thing. It was dull, but it would do—Arturia tossed it at the archer on the top of the tower. The dagger whirled into action like a tiny disc of death. Arturia had intended for its edge to slit the archer's throat, but instead, the hilt smashed into the archer's throat. The archer fell, making an audible gurgle that caused Arturia to frown—she would have to put the man out of his misery in a moment.
Just then, one of the bandits charged out with sword and shield in hand. Arturia blinked in surprise—this one was a female. It was rare in her time for this kind of bandit to be female, since bandits usually stole, killed or raped. That probably means this bandit could be a stone cold bitch, or she is a family member. Judging by the way her sword-hilt was stained by so much blood that it had several layers caked up, Arturia thought the bandit was the former.
Yet this bandit had no grace or practice with the sword either. Arturia had to move faster to evade the blade, yes, but she hadn't felt the need to parry or block. It was almost… disappointing. But on the other hand, dragons were phantasm beasts of great magical power… bandits were simply bullies who continued to prey on the weak. Arturia felt a tinge of disgust as she saw how much blood covered the bandit's leather gloves. There must have been at least a dozen dead by her hands alone.
Arturia batted a clumsy swing aside. To the one who is the epitome of Servant Saber, such sword-work was disgraceful. She grasped the bottom of the bandit's shield and slammed it up against the bandit's chin. The bandit was unlucky enough to be forced into biting her own tongue. Arturia saw her opponent's weapon slip from her hands, picking it up into her expert hands before it even touched the snow. Then she shoved it into the bandit's throat, spilling the murderer's blood all over the virgin snow.
There was a last accomplice somewhere in the tower. After trudging through the snow for so long, Arturia found the feeling of stepping on wood or stone to be a welcoming change. Her footsteps were soft, but the wetness and the ice made her each step echo in the tower's walls. A soft whimpering drifted into her senses. She almost felt like the evil doer in this instance, to have someone cowering from her in their own residence—except she knew from the scattered, stolen goods, the small piles of weapons and the piles of snow inside the tower, that no one had lived here in ages. The bandits must have only come in recently…
…and they were dangerously close to her own little caravan.
Arturia walked up the stairs calmly, taking her time and enjoying the splendid view of 'Skyrim' that this tower had to offer. From this high up on the mountain, she could see the entire forests down below… along with the wreckage that was one Riverwood. She shook her head sadly at the sight, before walking up to the third floor.
The floors here had a thin layer of snow, and she noticed a man huddled and shivering in a corner. She frowned and walked closer, only to have the man jump up and notch an arrow at her. But he didn't fire, so she stayed her hand. But he didn't say anything. A moment passed, and then two, Arturia realized this last bandit's lips were frozen shut. Parts of his skin had blotches of black and even he should know that he was close to death without her.
So she put him out of his misery.
The slope was not steep, but she felt short of breath by the time she had reached the ancient mausoleum the locals called Bleak Falls Barrow. The snow storm she had waded through left a rough layer of tiny icicles along her skin. If she had not been burning away the prana within her, she doubted her skin would have been as rosy as it was now.
Every step she took had been tough. She was high up in the mountains and trudging through a path between two peaks—the winds constantly tried to remove her breath from her lungs. No matter how she tried to block these harsh airs, they would just twist around and strike from a different angle. Instead, she had opted to simply ignore it all together and focus her energy on climbing.
She wanted to move forward. Standing still and waiting for a dream to come were actions she might have taken a lifetime ago, but not this life. So she endured these natural hardships without flinching, glaring back at the reflected sun that glared up at her.
The Barrow itself was a massive structure of stone. These bricks were huge, and the building itself must have drained from its creators decades of work and resources. In the Modern Era, such a building might have necessitated maybe one or two years and very few laborers, but in a time akin to the time of her kingdom, this…
These thoughts slipped through her mind.
She did not want to think of other things, but something forlorn and distant grasped her consciousness and pulled her towards the massive iron doors of the Barrow. The creatures etched onto the door seemed to almost come alive and grasp at her, clawing and biting before turning back into a glaring demonic gateway to the dead. Thoughts of her time, of other things, all disappeared. She was familiar with focus, but this feeling was forced upon her and she shook at it. It was like an icy claw and reached into her skull and scrapped against her brain. It was a horrible feeling that made her shiver even when the snow storm had not.
But it was only when she shivered that she noticed the three people standing around at the top of the stone steps of the Barrow. They watched her warily with dangerous eyes. These were killers, a part of her mind whispered. They bristled when she saw that she did not stop in her approach, but they did not attack her either. They wore thick furs and little metals, a sign that they were well prepared for staying here in the snow. There were other signs too—there weapons shone in the harsh sun, sharper than those of the bandits below.
These are trained killers, she thought. They came here for something, perhaps even the same thing she came here for. And these… mercenaries… might kill her too. Arturia would give them a chance, however. A sad part of her smirked at the thought; a king must be fair, even if it is only the king's own fairness.
One of these mercenaries approached her, a crude, blonde woman with a horribly scarred face. Several of those scars looked like they were made by clubs or maces, though there was an old fire-wound that removed the woman's left eyebrow. Right behind the scarred mercenary, a strange looking man notched an arrow but held his hand. Arturia thought the man was frostbitten on all of his skin at first, but realized that was his natural pigmentation. The man had strange, red eyes and even stranger, pointed ears. The other mercenaries also looked very diverse. She didn't know what this meant.
"Halt, I said halt!" the scarred woman growled in a harsh, rough tone as she walked down the stairs towards Arturia, "What's a dainty, little thing like you wandering up here in these mountains? You don't look like one of the villagers…"
"I am curious about this place," Arturia answered honestly. She had no reason to hide anything, but she realized warily that some discretion would save her a lot of trouble here.
The scarred woman did not seem to lower her guard, but she moved her hand away from her short sword. The soft click of the hilt clashing with her scabbard was barely heard over the sounds of the howling winds, but Arturia noticed after this, the mercenaries seemed less tense. The scarred woman crossed her arms and smirked, "What's this? The little lass is curious? You know what they say about curiosity…" The brutish woman trailed off. Her men laughed, but she was put off by how nonchalant Arturia was. Then she tried a different tactic, "Say, little girl. You must be from the city, eh? You're here for some fun. Well, I think I'll let my men have some fun with you."
Arturia was once called the Heroic Spirit of the Sword by those who summoned her through time and space. She was to be the epitome of the sword—of its craft and of its use. Supposedly, those who were called 'Saber' had mastery over the blade to such an extent that they were elevated above humanity into something… more. But Arturia felt otherwise.
In her countless confrontations in the infinity of time, Arturia had clashed with many masters of the blade. Even in her time, there were those who dedicated their lives to mastering their weapon to such an extent that they would be one; the weapon would be an extension of its wielder's body. In a sense, this had happened to Arturia too. As a Heroic Spirit, Arturia was known for her legend which inevitably led to the sword Excalibur. Not unlike many other masters renowned for their skill, Arturia had always been summoned with her weapon, the main sign of her legend. She might claim mastery over the use of Excalibur, but she felt she would be lying. All she had was her mastery over the mystical properties of the blade. Was she truly a master of the blade then?
When she clashed with those like Sasaki Kojiro, she met real masters of their blade in combat. Without those mystical properties of her blade, could she have matched them so well? She didn't know, but now, without her blade she might.
She did not attend a special school, or learn from some old sage about a way of the sword, or hide in a cave like a hermit for her entire life to master her weapon. She did have training, but what of it? She learned how to wield the sword beside Kay, as a squire. She learned to kill in her wars. She wasn't known for her skill with the sword however, even if she was known for her sword. Those legends lie with Lancelot and Gawain and her knights…
She often wondered, if she had stopped and studied the blade a little more, might her legend have been different? All she remembered from her lifetime of training and hardship, truly of the sword, amounted to little.
Thrust, beat, parry.
She knew how to wield a sword, a knife, a lance, a shield… but why was she only known for her sword? The legends of her other skills had often faded into history.
Thrust… she jabbed her own pilfered short sword forward at the scarred mercenary, running the blade through the woman's abdomen as the woman blinked. She moved as the woman's eyes closed, and penetrated into her flesh before her eyes had opened. But the human bone was stronger than what many gave credit for and the scarred mercenary's spin prevented her blade from coming out from the mercenary's backside cleanly.
Beat… Arturia knew not to back off, because in confrontations like this, a single moment's respite was all that her opponent's needed to draw the fight out. She angled her blade forward, towards the third mercenary. The last one was a man with long, blond hair and a huge, blooded axe. The many notches on the weapon told Arturia of how skilled the man was. But her blade was not coming forward to kill the man in a single swipe. She tapped against him, pushing him. To wield such a large, two-handed weapon left the man easy to push off balance.
Parry… she then spun her blade around, intercepting the iron arrowhead of the first arrow the dark skinned elf-like man had let loose. She could have dodged, but reading the path of the missile and moving away would mean giving the man a means of controlling the area around her. Instead, she parried it, letting it fly off harmlessly and clattering away on the stone steps.
Was this all there was to her skill in the sword? She could feint and perform flowery tricks, but fights were rarely won by a grandiose display. Timing and luck were factors, but they alone didn't determine her victories at all.
She did not have fancy forms that she practiced every day and she did not have specific swings that she purposely made a thousand times over in practice. Of course, she had been wielding her sword for as long as any other master. But it came down to her technique, she realized in chagrin. She simply didn't have anything, with a simple sword, that was a fancy technique…
What else could she do? Other than thrusting, beating, and parrying, she could hack, slash, hew, and backhand. She could make precise moments that only a master of the sword could… and mastering the sword was a life-long career choice! But all of these movements, in comparison to her past foes, were just simple, basic movements.
In her annoyance at this thought, Arturia took a step forward that was unconsciously quicker and stronger than she had intended. As she shifted her weight forward, the front foot crunched into the stone floor and left an imprint of the soles of her leather boots. Her short sword slashed up diagonally, at first striking her opponent's axe and sending hundreds of sparks flying for a single moment. Then, before the force of her blow sent the opposing weapon flying, her sword cut through the axe and sliced the man's head off in a single, clean cut.
She spared her weapon a glance. Unlike her Excalibur, this rough weapon was not made for such an impact. It was already dull and had several cracks. The weight of the sword was also slightly off balance, as if the metal had bent slightly.
The archer looked at her with some kind of expression that was akin to fear. She saw the man's red pupils shrink and his eyes widen. But there were twitches here and there that were alien to a human's face. How curious, she thought, as she tossed her short sword through the man's skull. She would have to investigate this later. Perhaps the villagers she was compelled to abandon would have something to say about this. But now she was unobstructed, her legs moved again, as if with a will not their own. She found her hands pressed against the towering iron gates before any other thoughts passed through her mind.
Then she pushed, and walked through.
Arturia's eyes narrowed as she walked into a vast cavern. The air was moist and damp in here, as if untouched by the snow storm. It was a little warmer inside too. But she appreciated the shelter most for its lack of howling winds. Without them in here, everything seemed eerily silent.
That is, until a giant rat-beast of something kind dropped out of the ceiling.
The creature was as large as a canine and had sleek, spiked fur covered in rotting filth. Its round, rabid red eyes seemed to only scream a carnal need to feast to her. Arturia's fist flew up and smashed the critter's skull before she could even survey the cavern she had stumbled into. The rat flew with a crunch of bone against metal, and then crashed against bricked walls in another sickening crunch of bone against stone.
"What was that?" A male voice called out from the far end of the cavern. It sounded further away than the man actually was.
The cavern was dimly lit by several fresh torches and a large camp fire that sat oddly in the other end. There were pillars, bodies, and random things littered all over the room, though most of them were corpses of those rat things. However, Arturia saw a man's body hanging off of one of the tables to her right, with several chunks of flesh ripped out of it about the same size as these overgrown rats' mouths.
Although there was a large campfire on the other side of the cavern, the light from the fire did not reach her. However, the ruckus she caused was more than enough to lure whoever was on the other side out to greet her.
Two more mercenaries crept out, wearing and wielding similar items as the three she killed outside. The other was a woman, who yelled, "Stop right there and I'll kill you!"
Arturia frowned. If she were a person who liked to banter, then she might have taken the time to point out how stupid that request sounded. But she wasn't one for banter, so she grabbed the man's weapon—a steel long sword—from his scabbard before he could draw it, and dealt with both of them before they could react.
The weight of a long sword felt comforting in her hands…
She didn't have any time to enjoy the feel of the weight, nor could she even feel pity at the needless deaths of all these mercenaries, before the feeling grasped her again. It was a compulsion—that much she was sure of—but she had no idea how it could simply pierce through her protections. Didn't she have the ability to resist most magics? Something…
Something whispered to her. She could not make out what the words were. They sounded, if they sounded at all, more like roars and grunts and growls than anything else. She…
She shook her head and felt her body sway from side to side. She fell into a stance with a lower center of gravity, just to stabilize herself, but the compulsion continued. It was a howling now, the signs of something violent and forceful.
But as quickly as the feeling came, it faded away and Arturia regained her bearings just in time to see a large man in full armor charging at her.
The metal was similar material to what she was holding, a form of forged iron that was crude, yet practical. But the armor the man wore was simply too cumbersome and gaudy. It looked like something that a merchant might wear to impress his friends, not something a mercenary should wear…
…but Arturia guessed that was how this man had acquired this armor in the first place.
It was a ceremonial wear, so there were large chinks and gaps in between plates of iron. She felt almost bored when she slid her sword through the gap between the man's chest plate and helmet. The man fell with a soft gurgle, just as Arturia saw another man in similar armor fall to a pack of rats.
She had found herself deeper within Bleak Falls Barrow. The ceilings were dripping with water now, but the rooms felt even warmer than before. The room before her was something she did not expect. It was half collapsed, and there were some mechanisms here and there. She could guess that it was a puzzle of some kind, with three obelisks to the left side of the room and a lever in the middle.
It reminded her of Merlin's games that he used to 'teach' her this or that lesson.
…She hated Merlin's games.
With an almost feral growl, Arturia dashed forward. Within two steps, she was at the gate that barred her way further into the dungeon, but she didn't stop. The prana within her roared with the strength of her emotions, her irritation of Merlin, and fueled her muscles, strengthening her body and wrapping around her armor like a second layer. Then she tore the metal gate in half.
As she descended deeper, the iron gates and hordes of starving rats that greeted her were all crushed and fell into pieces. Why place these kinds of minor obstacles before her? They would not stop her and even if she did slow down and spend time to solve these children's riddles, there was no benefit in this. And if whatever is compelling her to go on cared about her desecration of the protections of this Barrow, then perhaps it should stop compelling her to keep going.
It wasn't until she walked further into the dungeon that she heard a faint voice call out to her, "Hey, whose there? Is that you…?"
The rooms grew darker as she progressed. The next room she walked into was filled with webs. These were not webs she was used to; they were as strong as bronze, but many times more elastic. Arturia felt an eerie chill settle, when she noticed that there were several cocoons lying around with the shape and size of human adults. There were dozens others, around the size of those rat-things too.
The room was dark and cold, unlike the others. Here, she saw a hole in the ceiling, where the Skyrim winters fell through…
…Her eyes widened when a giant spider as large as a horse dropped from the hole, clicking its mandibles and hissing angrily at the opposite direction. Behind the spider was another one of those dark elves, tangled in the spider's web. He saw her and cried, "Oh, thank the Eight! Come help me!"
Arturia did not feel so inclined to help the man immediately, seeing as he also wore furs similar to the mercenaries outside. But the spider was a foe to her as well, so she stepped through the webs and into the room.
This turned out to be a mistake, because the moment she stepped in, she found one of her feet stuck to the ground.
Immediately, the spider turned away from its elf, and turned to her. With an angry click, it spat a green, viscous liquid at her.
The liquid came at her like a spray, but she rotated the blade in her hands around quick enough to deflect most of it. The iron that it touched hissed and began to make a sort of gas in reaction. Arturia looked down suspiciously. The iron was being melted away by some kind of poisonous acid that ate at it. The process was slow, and she only noticed blots of rust growing on her sword, but that means she would not want this spider ichors landing on herself!
She side stepped one of the beast's attempts at biting off her head and chopped down. The spider's shell clashed with her blade, and to her surprise, her blade was turned away. She had used only enough force that it would not morph the metal and she felt the blunt of the force go through enough that two of the spider's legs gave out, but the shell was strong.
The spider hissed again and jumped at her.
Seeing this opening, Arturia ducked down and impaled the spider's underbelly. It was one of the few times she would admit she was thankful for her superhuman speed, because she was able to toss the corpse away from her fast enough that the green ichors that exploded from the wound she made did not splatter all over her head.
The smell of spider's insides almost caused her to gag—it was a sickening smell of rotten flesh mixed with poison. She poked the body away from her with the point of her sword, not wanting to get any closer to it. It was almost as disgusting as Blue Beard.
"Oh, you… you're alright," the dark elf remarked. "Well, what are you waiting for? Cut me down!"
"Why?" Arturia asked. She was prepared to do it anyway, but this was the first mercenary she met down in this crypt who did not immediately attack her. "Why should I?"
The elf replied cockily, "Aside from going passed me is the only way to keep going? Because I know how to open the door! Is that good enough for you?"
"Which door are you talking about?" Arturia asked, genuinely curious.
The elf rolled his eyes at her and replied sarcastically, "What other door is there? The door in the Hall of Stories, to the Sanctum. That's where the treasure is, after all!"
She was not here exactly for treasure, but whatever was inside must be a clue as to why she was here, in this world. At least… it should be. Arturia was satisfied enough with this answer to cut the man down, only to have him run away.
"Ha! Like I'd share with you!" The dark elf-man laughed as he ran through the halls, "I'm going to get all that power for myself!"
Arturia frowned again.
This… something wasn't right…
Her senses all tingled in alarm. There was something here as dangerous as the dragon. If the man went… Arturia had half a heart to just let him die. But if only he knew how to open this door, whatever it is, there is a chance she might need him.
She ran down the halls, chasing after him, only to see him run faster when he heard her footsteps. It was an infuriating chase, but it was a short lived one. The chase was killed by a growl. It was not any growl, it was a growl someone could only make if someone's throat had been completely dried out and preserved… it was a sound of something inhuman.
"Oh—what the hells!" The dark elf yelped when a dried hand shot out of the walls and nearly grabbed him. "Oh, shit! Draugr!"
Just then, the sound of metal bashing and breaking wood echoed through the room they were in. All around her, the tombs where the dead were buried slid or broke open, with the dead crawling out, as if dragged by a puppet master. They all had dark hollows for eyes, and ancient looking armors and weapons. And they all had one purpose: kill.
The intent of killing, even from the dead, was so obvious; Arturia barely had time to push the man aside before a slash of an ancient weapon flew through where his neck used to be. The man yelped, and flipped onto his back and tried to crawl away.
Arturia found herself surrounded by these undead, or Draugr as the black elf called them. She weaved around them easily enough. Though she was cold, tired, and more than a little annoyed, these undead moved slower than any other undead she had faced before. It was as if their hips couldn't bend anymore. However, their swings were still as quick, and from the looks of it, they didn't tire easily.
She chopped and hewed, parting their limbs from their bodies. But even without their arms or with only half a torso, these Draugr still moved with unrelenting strength. They kept attacking, and in this moment of distraction, Arturia was pushed back just enough to allow two other Draugr a moment to rush the dark elf.
They jumped at him, stabbing and slashing. Arturia gritted her teeth and leaped up and over the undead that crowded around her. She flew over their heads quick enough to reach the dark elf, but not before one of them took a slash at the man. He cried even louder for some reason, though Arturia took enough time to note that he wasn't really harmed by that attack. She then turned her attention towards the undead, and took her time cutting them up enough so that they could not get back up again.
She did not use any special techniques and she did not move faster than a human being. But a human could slash very fast; Arturia spared barely five seconds on each Draugr, cutting them up into a dozen pieces each time.
"No, no, no…" The dark elf whimpered when Arturia finally turned her attention towards him.
Arturia blinked, "What's wrong now? Weren't you just going to abandon me for treasure?"
The dark elf grimaced at Arturia's jab, but sighed and let his glaze fall down. He sighed again before saying, "Look, there's… one way into the Sanctum. There's just one, that the Nords used to keep people out. But… it's pretty much worthless now."
Arturia frowned, "What do you mean?"
"Hey, hey, don't look at me like that… shit, that's scary…" The dark elf tried to placate her, "Look, getting in, you need a key. Each of these Nord tombs is supposed to have a different key, and the one for this place is… well, gold."
"…And?" Neither Arturia's frown nor her glaze budged an inch.
The dark elf grimace, "And…" He held up what looked like a golden claw, in two pieces. "That means it's made of gold. And gold is soft. The Draugr cut it in half when you were too slow to save me."
"I see…" Arturia frowned. "But I will continue."
"W-What?" The dark elf gaped.
Arturia did not turn to see his expression. She did not need to. Cowards were common, no matter what the time period and no matter what the world.
"W-Wait! Let me come with you, I might figure this out!" The dark elf scrambled up and ran after her, "Maybe we could use the two pieces together or something…!"
Walking through the Barrow was uneventful.
There were undead and there were traps, but both were so… simple. Arturia felt almost insulted by how easy she stomped over these obstacles. A normal human, or even a large group of normal humans, would probably have trouble, but every obstacle she faced in this dungeon seemed to have a glaring weakness. There were several halls with axes swinging on pendulums, but she just had to cut one side for all of the blades to fall. There were giant doors made of spikes, swinging around with enough force to crush the body, but they were activated by pressure sensitive plates that were so obvious, only the Draugr had problems evading them. And those last two problems canceled each other out.
Then she found herself looking through a long hallway. From behind her, the dark elf muttered, "The Hall of Stories…"
Arturia's grinded her teeth. The pressure on her mind was back, booming and present from all sides. She clutched her head with both hands, but nothing seemed to help. Yet again, whispers came. They were louder now. And the voices came with images too blurred and faded to be seen. Arturia grimaced, but the moment she did so, they presence was gone. She sighed in relief; it was like a weight off of her shoulders every time the compulsions disappeared.
No… that was not quite right. They were not compulsions. They were…
"Hey, boss girl, er… boss lady!" The dark elf called from the other side of the long hallway. He was holding up the golden claw when he said, "Look, the blades were really weird, so they made it so I couldn't put the claw in. Er, sorry…"
Arturia wanted to stop and look around. She wanted to study the hall, to read its walls and learn of the stories they told. She wanted to stop for the moment and take this all in. But she could not.
She stepped up to the door. It was a large circular gate made of stone. There were three circles, one within the other, on the door with patterns of animals carved into them. It was yet another puzzle, but with the claw cut in half, she would be unable to go through even with the puzzle complete. Yet Arturia felt the need to keep going. She wanted to keep going, of her own will now, strangely enough.
Arturia had not tried to manifest her legend within this world, because that would be impossible. Her legend did not exist in this world, after all. But that did not mean she could not gather her prana and focus it into her palms. It was a technique she learned long ago, for protecting her own identity. It was also associated with yet another part of her legend. But she knew she could release the force…
…After all, it is merely a sheath she manifested with her power.
The dark elf looked up and around in surprise.
This hall was so far down into the earth, that it was impossible for fresh air to get in. It was even more impossible for natural wind to seep down into this place. There were no magics that could make winds, and this door was protected from magic. But somehow, he could feel the hairs on his body fluttering. He could feel the furs on his armor ruffled and waving in the air.
The air, it howled.
It howled with a ferocity greater than even the snowstorm from outside. The wind blew passed, almost lifting him off his feet with pressure alone.
Then it all stopped…
"…Strike Air!" Arturia gasped softly, thrusting her fists from under her torso out at the center of the door.
For a fraction of a moment, nothing happen. The air stood still as if time had frozen. The world seemed to mute as all sounds stopped. The sounds of dripping water paused. The smell of dead flesh, stone, moss, and rot all fell to the ground. For that moment, the silence was deafening.
Then air exploded from her palms.
Like a drill thousands of razor thin blades, a hammer made of wind under unimaginably high pressures condensed the air before her. It sucked in everything, but blew it all out, in a burst of power grinded on their ears as the thousands of blades grinded on stone. Immediately, hundreds of web-like cracks formed, before the now hundreds of slabs of stone were flung through the doorway, flying dozens of meters before rolling to a stop.
It was not the exertion that drained Arturia. She realized it was not a drain at all. Like hundreds of voices singing to a crescendo, the world pulsed around her. Everything seemed to beat to a pulse, a rhyme that grew louder and louder.
They were not compulsions. They were images and sounds of a memory. It was a memory of what happened before, of another's footsteps that drew her to this place.
She saw a man, proud and tall.
He stood where she stood, at the foot of a great teacher.
This teacher was no ordinary teacher, for it breathed fire and the world. Yet it would sit and listen, sing songs and create poems with those beneath it. It was a great teacher.
But then the man…
…the man died. And the teacher spoke in a guttural tongue that Arturia shouldn't understand. By all means, she did not. But she did.
HERE LIES THE GUARDIAN
KEEPER OF THE DRAGONSTONE
AND A FORCE OF ETERNAL
RAGE AND DARKNESS
This was not the tongue of mortals.
Arturia felt the world blur yet again, and once again, she stumbled. The soul within her that was not her own recognize something within these words. It was something old beyond time and meaning, though it stemmed from the weave of the universe itself.
As the dragon rose, roaring in force, the world shook and trembled. The beat grew quicker and quick, coming to a peak where the volume drowned out everything else. Arturia felt herself collapse to her knees as something twisted within her soul. Knowledge and power grew from a seed.
Behind her, a slab of stone slid off a tomb, and a man crawled out. His eyes were hollow, yet filled with rage and darkness. And in a single swipe, he cut down on the dark elf, splitting the mortal into two.
The power within Arturia welled up, flowing through her every fiber of being into her heart. Then grew and grew, washing into her throat. Before she could take control of herself, the primal roar within her was too great to contain. Her lips parted and a bestial growl strum out of her, making the cavern she was in quake, "FUS!"
The man of rage and darkness answered, "FUS RO DAH!" But his voice was that of a dead man's. The man who was in the memory was no longer what he was. His skin had aged to the point of decay. His proud muscles have atrophied into moss and mold. His blood had dried into dust. And even his soul was no longer his.
When his Voice shouted against hers, he too let loose a Shout that shook creation. Yet his voice was cracked and his throat was dried, too much for him to endure.
And so, his Shout, an answer to the unrelenting wall of force that flew at him, was blown aside. And then he was flung away, utterly crushed by the pure force. And for the first time in many centuries, the man had rest.
Arturia felt physically and emotionally drained, but somehow, she understood. Even if she had only achieved one of the many pieces of the puzzle, this had all been worth it. And within her, the power of the dragon's soul that had been bubbling away began a new course, where it transformed her words into raw power, obliterating anything in her path.
Trudging out of Bleak Falls Barrow took much longer than wading in, Arturia decided. Her muscles were worn out, her mind was tired from a lack of sleep, and there was no supernatural force compelling her to move faster anymore.
As she walked out of the dirty and dank mausoleum, Arturia marveled at the freshness of the air outside. The snowstorm had passed and she could now see the blue skies.
Standing at this peak over looking Skyrim stolen a breath away from her that none of the snowstorm's harsh winds ever could. The tall lines of trees, the mirror-like lakes, and everything else!
From here, she saw the land and its beauty. She stopped, amid a step, taking time to admire the view. The villagers could wait a moment longer, she supposed. It's not as if she had not earned this short respite.
He groaned, wiggling his nose exaggeratedly with an expression of annoyance. There was an awful, just simply awful, smell—no, a stench—that had spread all over the room. And this was no ordinary room either, for it was his bed room! Or, it was until he willed it otherwise.
He opened his eyes, to see that his clothes, that suit of elegant purple and gold, had turned into… well, cheese. To be sure, he stuck a hand down and rubbed his genitals obscenely. Yes, at least this was all there. He grumbled something or something else before growling, "Yep, it's cheese alright."
And with that, he jumped up and walked into his throne room, while eating a piece of his clothes (which was actually cheese, so it's not really his clothes, or is it?).
One of his beloved swords, whose name he had forgotten looked at him queerly and asked in a regal tone that denoted the blade's background, "My lord! Why are you wearing a wheel of cheese?" That is to say, he spoke with a very French accent. Perhaps he was a sword of Charlemagne's or perhaps he was just a random sword he had picked up, who was to know? Certainly not him!
He stared down at his pants. It wasn't really his pants anymore, since it was made of cheese. It wasn't even in the shape of pants either! It was a giant cheese wheel that covered his extremities. But of course, that's only what it looked like! He smirked and waved his hands into the air majestically, "Why but this is no cheese wheel! It is a potion of fire resistance!"
With that, he chugged the potion, for it was weighing down his inventory space. Even as a Daedric Prince, he could only carry a few hundred thousand pounds!
"Why, oh my!" The sword gasped, not unlike a comment George Takei would have made.
It was then that he realized he was nude. But then he wasn't anymore, because he equipped a pair of pants. It was his favorite pair… well, he would be lying if he said that was true. It was actually an elf's favorite pair: a pair of very tight, black leather pants that seemed to gleam in any light.
"My lord, what are you doing?" The sword asked. Obviously this sword had not been materialized very long. No, he wasn't tracing them, not anymore!
So he replied succinctly, "I am what I am. Now what are you?"
The sword blinked back at him, confused by the question and by the way he strutted around in his leather pants. Or the sword could be confused as to why he suddenly sprouted white hair and his skin grew tanned. Or whatever else… the point was the sword was confused and stared oddly at him while answering with more of a question, "I… I am a sword, my lord?"
"A sword… a sword…" He swayed from side to side. It seems like someone had hidden alcohol in his pants. Or they had hidden alcohol in his cheese wheel. Or was it actually him, who put a bottle of alcohol in his pants, and then changed the pants to look like cheese, while it was actually a potion of fire resistance?
…Or perhaps the potion is alcoholic? He smiled, "A sword is a snake!"
And then the sword was a snake.
The snake hissed up at its lord in surprise, "Ah! A curse of flesh! I have dangly parts!"
"CHIM!" He roared, thrusting another sword through the snake's neck, divorcing its body from its skull in a single slash. Then he added, "Chime! I call and the bell calls!"
The new sword that had materialized in his hands queried, "My lord, whatever do you mean by that?"
"Oh, just that, did he really believe he was made of flesh?" The Daedric Prince responded jovially, "Did he really believe himself a sword?"
The sword tried to stay silent, for he had seen what would happen to swords who questioned the lord. Even crossbow-swords that shot swords with little swords on them suffered his wrath! But the sword was a loyal sword of a loyal knight, so he responded dutifully, "But my lord, if he was neither snake nor sword, then what was he?"
"What indeed!" The Daedric Prince cackled like the Joker. For those of you who don't know, that means he cackled madly. "Do you believe yourself a sword?"
"Why, of course, my lord!" The sword claimed, affronted by its lord's suggestion that it wasn't a sword.
"Then what… do you call yourself?" The lord asked, speaking patiently as if a teacher to a child.
The sword puffed out its pummel like a proud man and stated, "I am the sword of…" Here he said something about something, which the man blocked out. It couldn't have been very important… something about a hard head and a hound from a place called Ulster.
The man shook his head slowly in amusement, reminiscing about some past battle with some man who wore a skin-tight, blue leotard. That man was always horny too.
"Ahem, right, where was I?" The man shook his head and shook his mind out of his thoughts.
The sword replied, "You asked for my name, my lord."
"Ah, yes," the man nodded. "Do you really think yourself a sword? Or are you all just part of a game?"
"A game, my lord?" The sword asked curiously, "What kind of game do you mean?"
"Why a grand game!" The man spread his arms around, dancing madly. Then he settled down and returned to looking like a blind Scotsman with a pimp cane. "A game about kings and demons, and the end of the world! There was a dragon and a… oh, but wait! The dragons are coming back!"
"Are they really, my lord?" The sword asked again, long since used to its lord's swaying mood.
The man stopped and crossed his arms. He looked deep in thought, or perhaps rather serious, when he replied, "Yes, that's something I need to work on. If I follow the script, then this game would be rather droll."
"The game, again, sir?"
"Ah ha!" The man took the blade and jabbed it into a wheel of cheese, and then shot it off a catapult made of swords. As he flew with the blade, he replied, "That reminds me! I don't think we're in a game anymore!"
Through the sword's screams of fright, it asked, "Again with the game, my lord? You have yet to enlighten me on what it is!"
"Oh, but we all used to be but codes, my dear sword!" The man replied, "But now we are no longer thus! We are now merely words on a page… though perhaps we are still in a form of code! How complex is this? How fascinating!"
"My lord, I don't understand," the sword didn't understand.
But it didn't need to. After all, it was just a sword. Or it was just a word, or a concept, or… simply nothing! For the Daedric God of Madness, who realized he was in a story, there was only one road to go. If he wanted to stay, he'll have to become a main character. And to become a main character… he would need to interact with his little Arturia!
"Ah," he laughed as he rode a sword away to Skyrim while sipping on his wine, "This will be even better than that time I duked it out with old man Zelretch. Interlude, end!"
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