I've had this idea in my head for a while now and it wouldn't leave me alone, so I thought I'd write it down. I get tired of all those stories where the hero is archetypically young and enthusiastic and full of potential and is a character who everyone likes and can identify with. Those stories, in my opinion, get boring fast. I always wondered what it would be like if the hero was the exact opposite, so I guess that's sort of what this story is. Also, since it's not obvious at this point in the story, I'll say that it begins before the main plot of Skyrim starts. Now a couple things before I begin:
Firstly: I don't really know for certain where this is going, it basically just takes shape as I go. I didn't know where to start either, so I figured I'd just jump right in.
Secondly: I listed this partly as a romance and I'm sure that the intended pairing will be obvious from almost the beginning, but since I have essentially no experience in creative/fictional writing, I might just make a horrible mess of it (if I haven't already).
Thirdly, the Disclaimer: I own nothing except for any original characters you happen to see. The rest belongs to the fine people at Bethesda.
Pain and darkness were what seemed to dominate his life now, unbearably excruciating agony and perpetual, total darkness. How long had it been? He couldn't remember; he had long since lost track of time. He had initially kept track by counting when he slept and when he woke, but the agonizing, burning, screaming pain he was forced to experience easily ensured that he quickly lost count of his waking and sleeping cycles. Now, a significant portion of his thoughts focused on the torture he was subjected to by his captors. When would the next session come? What would they do to him this time? Would they lop off another appendage, maybe? Or perhaps they'll decide to burn him some more. And when would he get fed next? Meals were few and far between. But what drove him even further to the brink of insanity was that there was no pattern. There was no order, nothing to get used to; it was all random!
A sound came from the darkness outside of his cell. It was a sound he knew well: the soft padding of bare feet on cold stone. Fear and panic took hold, and a shivering chill suddenly overcame him. That Sound meant one of only a few things: either his next torture session was about to begin, food was being delivered (which he doubted since he had already been fed several cycles ago), or-
"Avernus," came a soft whisper, so quiet that he could barely hear it. A slender arm slid through the bars of his cell, and he felt a hand touch his right shoulder and begin to gently stroke his skeletal upper arm. So it was Leto, then. She was the only one who ever touched him in a manner other than violence. She was the one friend he had in this godforsaken hole, his insider and ally. With his left hand, he grabbed one of the softly glowing, blue rocks in his cell and held it up to the bars of his cell.
The face that stared at him was thin and gaunt, with pale skin clinging tightly to the bones of her skull. Leto had high, pronounced cheekbones and a narrow jaw, and her brow-ridge wasn't as pronounced as those of the males of her race were. She had long, pointed elven ears and long, wispy black hair that fell past her shoulders and down her back. But her two most distinguishing features were her eyes and her nose. Her eyelids, pink and constantly inflamed, were swollen shut, rendering her effectively blind, and her nose consisted of a small indented ridge of flesh between her eyes, under which sat two long and narrow tear drop-shaped slits that served as nostrils, tapering off at a point where the noses of the other races of mer and men would end. It was these features that distinctly marked her as Falmer.
"I brought you your water," Leto whispered, as she passed a large water skin through the bars of his cell. She, of course, spoke the Falmer language, but Avernus understood her; he had studied their language before he ended up here. "Avernus, how are you feeling? How is your magicka? Is it coming back?"
"Thank you. Yes, it's starting to," Avernus whispered back. They never dared speak to each other in anything more than a whisper, for fear of Leto being caught and punished for talking with him. "It's definitely stronger than last time you visited me." A while ago, Leto had told Avernus that the reason why he had no magic was because the other Falmer put ground up chaurus eggs in his water, which had a dampening effect on magicka. She had since been able to intercept his poisoned water and switch it with clean water. Avernus's magicka had been steadily coming back since then.
"Good," she smiled, "we're almost ready to go. I just need to get the food without someone noticing it's missing. I'll get you tomorrow when I have the supplies and then we'll finally escape!"
"Excellent! I'll try not to die before then," Avernus replied, only actually half joking, "good luck, Leto," he said as he closed the hand that was stroking his arm in the remains of his own, and gave a gentle squeeze before letting go. Leto flashed him one last smile before she withdrew her arm, turned, and scurried off back into the darkness.
Some time ago (he couldn't remember exactly when, several months ago perhaps), Avernus had met Leto. Belonging to one of the lowest castes in Falmer society, she had been given what was considered the lowly task of caring for the prisoner, after the last Falmer who occupied this position had been killed – in a feud between two clans, he was told. Her duties including delivering his water and his rare meals, and patching him up to the best of her abilities after his torture sessions.
But she was different from the rest of his captors, Avernus immediately noticed. She treated him with kindness and didn't share the same hostility towards outsiders and anything "un-Falmer" as the rest of her race; in fact, she seemed genuinely horrified when she discovered the way he was treated. But, being of a very low caste, she was also subjected to abuse and brutal treatment by other higher members of Falmer society; not nearly as bad as the slaves, or "servants" as the Falmer insisted on calling them, that were kept, but she was definitely treated as sub-Falmer.
Whenever the two were alone, they talked to each other. But if Leto was found to be talking with Avernus by another captor, she was beaten, he learned, so they made sure that whenever they could talk to each other, they were always alone and never spoke in anything louder than a very quiet whisper.
One of the first things Avernus asked was why he was kept as a prisoner and endlessly tortured. Leto had told him that, because he could speak their language, the higher-ups in Falmer society had decided to interrogate him for information on the surface world. And apparently, despite his claims to the contrary, they insisted that because he could speak and understand their language as well as being quite educated, he must be an important political leader worth keeping as a hostage for when they eventually make war with the surfacers. They claim he's denying this to fool them believing he's not worth much and could therefore be released. As for why they kept torturing him, Leto didn't know. Since he really had no better opinion, Avernus just assumed that, when combined with their deep and long-standing hatred for surfacers, they derived some sort of sadistic pleasure and entertainment from it.
Following that, their conversations usually consisted of taking turns asking the other questions about their society and where they came from, what their homes were like. Upon learning that the myths and stories that she had been taught about the surface-world were mostly twisted over-exaggerations and wild falsehoods, the two had resolved to escape together. The only future Leto had here was one of abuse and misery, and it was quite obvious that Avernus would eventually die. They had very little to lose.
So they had formulated a plan. Leto would switch Avernus's poisoned water for clean water, and while his magicka recovered, she would secretly gather the necessary supplies for a journey to the surface and then a trek to the nearest settlement, which Avernus had determined was the town of Helgen, based on his geographical knowledge of Skyrim and the knowledge of his current location. Being a scholar of the Imperial (formerly Arcane) University, he had considerable knowledge of magic and spell-craft. Leto would physically assist him with his weak, ruined and crippled body, and Avernus would use his magic, once sufficiently recovered, to deal with pursuers once they inevitably learn of his and Leto's disappearances.
And their plan was so close to being carried out; just one more sleep-cycle was all that stood between him and freedom!
Sitting up, Avernus fumbled around for the water-skin that Leto had dropped off. After a moment of blindly patting the stone surface around him, his four-fingered left hand closed around the skin. He uncorked it, brought it to his lips, and took a couple large gulps. Once his thirst had been satisfied, he closed the water-skin and set it down, while carefully adjusting himself, mindful of his utterly ruined right leg, so that he lay in a better position for sleep to come to him. Being as weak and exhausted as he was, it didn't take long for unconsciousness to claim him.
Avernus was jolted into wakefulness by a hand on his shoulder forcefully, but not roughly, shaking him. Initially he panicked, fearing it was time for the next torture session, but as his vision cleared, he could see, due to the faint glow of the blue rocks, that it was Leto. His cell door was open, and she was crouched over him and had a satchel on her back. Instead of the usual rags which the Falmer tended to favour, she was dressed in rough, fur-lined travelling clothes which the Falmer had no doubt confiscated from explorers who delved too deep into the Dwemer ruins above. He also noticed that she had a pair of Falmer swords tucked into her belt, and a bow and quiver of arrows tucked between her back and the satchel.
"Avernus, wake up," she whispered, "it's time to go. I've collected the last of the supplies and everyone's still asleep right now." She offered Avernus her hand and he grasped it with his own, careful not to cut himself on her sharp Falmer nails. Claws might be a better description actually, he thought. Straightening up somewhat, she helped lift him to his feet.
"Here, I brought you this since you can't walk properly anymore," she said as she handed him the top portion of an old, broken-in-half staff with her other hand. Avernus noted that she had wrapped the tip in several layers of rags. Most likely to muffle the tapping sound as it strikes the ground, he thought. Smart.
"Thanks," he whispered back after he stood up and accepted the staff, adjusting his posture so that he held the staff in his right hand and was leaning against Leto on his left, the support of his weight divided between her and his good, left leg.
"So how are we getting to the surface?" he asked.
"We can't go out through the ruins of the Dead Ones you and your party were in when you got captured; there're too many sentries there," Leto informed him, "but there's another ruin through the caves with a lift at the end of it. No surfacers ever come down the lift, so there's almost no one there. We can use that lift to escape."
"Alright, sounds good. Let's not waste any time them."
And with that, the odd due set off. The going was slow and awkward since, due to Avernus's crippled right leg as well as his general lack of physical strength from starvation and torture, he had to lean against Leto, relying on her as well as his improvised cane, for support.
But they were making progress. Every step they took was one step closer to the surface and to freedom. Slowly, they made their way out of the small Dwemer building that housed Avernus's cell and into the system of caves that lay beneath the larger Dwemer ruins. These caves, Avernus noted, were similar to Blackreach in the sense that they were located underneath and connected to several Dwemer ruins and complexes, and that they contained strange glowing rocks and fungi like the varieties from Blackreach which he had read about before. But these caverns weren't nearly as vast and expansive as the Blackreach system of caverns.
The pair continued on for what seemed, to Avernus, like ages. Just as Leto said, they had hardly come across any of her kinfolk, and the odd couple that Avernus did see were fast asleep in their strange tent-like dwellings. But the further they walked, the more intense the pain in Avernus's leg became. The seemingly endless torture that he had been subjected to had raised his threshold for pain tolerance somewhat, but there still only so much he could take. The pain in his leg felt like a relentless, hot, throbbing ache that was trying to claw its way up out of his leg and into the rest of his body. He needed to rest. Just for a bit.
"Leto," he whispered, "can we stop for a little while? My leg. I … I need rest. Please?"
Leto stopped, but she seemed reluctant. She opened her mouth to say something, but then reconsidered it and closed her mouth again. After a moment of thought, she responded.
"Alright, I guess it would give us a chance to eat as well. But we can't stay too long," she declared. Pleased, Avernus led his blind companion over to blue, glowing rock a couple metres from the main path so that they could sit down.
While Leto slipped the satchel off her back and began rummaging through its contents, Avernus thought he'd try and test his newly returned magical abilities, see how much they had come back and how much he could manipulate them. He'd try something simple, he though, but also useful. Silently, he tapped into his inner pool of magicka, merely examining it for a few moments. Then he proceeded to form the channel that would draw on his magicka so that he could manipulate it. Good, he thought, everything's still in order so far. Next, he drew a small amount of magicka through the channel, testing his control. A little shaky, but that's to be expected, considering what I've been through. Once satisfied with his tests, Avernus proceeded to weave the magicka into a spell, proceeding slowly so as to not strain and injure himself. It was a simple spell, but a useful one, and didn't take long to complete.
Leto noticed instantly, as was made evident when she let out a soft gasp and began moving her head around to different positions, her long ears twitching ever so slightly the entire time.
"Avernus, what happened?" she queried him, "I can't hear the cave anymore."
"Magic," he whispered back, "I created a field of silence around us. Sounds from outside will have greater difficulty in reaching us, but the sounds we make will also have greater difficulty reaching anyone outside the field."
Avernus was inwardly pleased. For Leto to notice meant that his spell had worked. He couldn't detect any change in the volume of incoming sounds – as in, he still heard nothing – but Leto's hearing was far more sensitive than his; without vision to rely on, her other senses had sharpened significantly.
"But then how will we know whether or not someone is coming? A sentry could stumble right onto us before us even knowing he was there!"
"Relax, Leto. Did you know that some of the rocks in these caverns glow? The one we're sitting on is particularly bright, bright enough so that I can see by it. If I see anyone coming our way, I'll let you know, alright?"
Leto nodded briefly in response. She went back to rummaging around in the satchel before pulling out a water skin and two cloth-wrapped bundles about the size of her fist. She set one down next to her and offered the other one to Avernus.
"Here. Food" she whispered. He thanked her and took the proffered bundle, unwrapping it and examining the contents. There were several chunks of some sort of salted meat – probably chaurus, he assumed – and a couple different varieties of fungus. One of them, he noted, glowed. Why was that? He was pretty sure he knew something about this fungus. But what is it? After a few moments of wracking his mind for the knowledge he knew he had, he suddenly remembered what it was and immediately discarded it. He glanced over to Leto and found that she was about to stuff a chunk of that glowing fungus into her mouth.
"Wait! Don't eat that," he hissed as he shot his arm out and grabbed Leto's wrist before she could consume the fungus.
"Why not?" she asked, "this food is a staple; it's always been part of our diet."
"And that is why your people are blind," Avernus answered her, "that fungus is the same one the Dwemer fed your ancestors to render them blind and make slaves out of them. It's toxic! Eating it surely can't be good for you."
Leto didn't immediately respond, but instead stared at him (well not stared since she had no vision, more like turned her head in his direction) for several seconds, looking skeptical.
"How do you know this," she finally asked Avernus.
"I studied the Dwemer before I was captured. They left records detailing their…treatment of your people," he answered her, "look, I'm not trying to sabotage you. You've been incredibly kind to me since the moment you met me and not only that, you're our only way out of this place; hurting you in any way would be the last thing on my mind. I'm just trying to help. Please, trust me, Leto."
"Alright," she acquiesced after a moment of consideration and put down the toxic fungus, "I'll trust you, Avernus."
For a while, the two ate their meals in relative silence, but after a short time, Avernus decided to take advantage of the isolated silence he had created and ask his companion a question that he had been curious about for some time now.
"Leto," he whispered.
"Why is it that you have hair," Avernus began, "but that I haven't seen any males with hair?"
"Because we can't see like surfacers can, our men shave their heads to help distinguish themselves as much as possible from our women, who don't cut their hair."
"I see," was his reply, "interesting."
After only a few more minutes, the pair had finished their rations and had taken turns washing them down with a swig from the water-skin that Leto had pulled out.
"We need to move, Avernus," Leto informed him as she packed away the water-skin back into the satchel, which she then proceeded to don, "it's still a ways to the Dead Ones' ruins, and then a while to get to the surface."
"Alright. I'll get rid of the silence then." And with that, Avernus unweaved the spell of silence he had cast and tried to get back on his feet. He grabbed his improvised cane and scooted over to the edge of the rock. Very carefully, always mindful of his ruined leg, he brought his good leg down first and rested most of his weight on that. Then he brought the cane down and slowly brought his crippled leg and the rest of his weight down. A small twinge of pain shot up his leg and into the base of his spine as he brought his bad leg down, but compared to how it normally was, the pain was quite minor. Leto quickly moved over to help support him once more, and the two then set off.
They weren't moving as fast as Leto would have liked; they should have been at the Dead Ones' ruins by now, but instead they were only about two thirds of the way there. Avernus was slowing them down. But she didn't blame him. How could she? He was starved and therefore a lot weaker than she was, to say nothing of him being crippled. She knew what the others had done to cripple him. It was…horrible. Absolutely horrible. She shuddered just thinking about it.
In a particularly cruel session one of his torturers decided that he was bored with the previous methods they'd been using and decided to tie Avernus up and toss him into a cage with chaurus inside, to see what would happen. The creature predictably almost immediately began to gnaw on his right leg and tear out chunks of his flesh. It was literally eating him alive. His torturer, apparently, found it hilarious and quite amusing if the laughter that accompanied the screaming was anything to go by.
When they pulled him out and she was called upon to fix his wounds, his leg was a shredded, torn, mangled mess. Knowing only the most rudimentary of healing spells, Leto had been unable to completely restore it to how it once was. The result was a damaged leg that healed only partially and incorrectly and was almost useless, as well as apparently still painful. And of course, she was beaten afterwards for not fixing up the prisoner properly.
It made her think, though. The only way she could imagine torturing another being and taking delight in it would be if she absolutely hated and loathed the person. And the person would have had to have caused much suffering to others, so she might possibly view the suffering inflicted on him as a sort of justice.
Leto knew this was how a majority of her people thought though. They had legends about the surface people which no doubt influenced her people to think this way, and to hold such views about the surface people. In the legends and stories that children are told, the surface people are depicted as monsters. The surface people, the legends and stories say, aren't people at all but evil, malevolent, ugly monsters of pure hatred that butchered her people, the snow elves, killing the old and the weak, women and children, soldier and non-combatant alike. These monsters utterly destroyed her people's once mighty civilization and drove them underground, so the stories say. The monsters that lived on the surface, the stories say, exist solely to maim and kill and ruin and destroy and are incapable of anything else.
But she always had questions about these stories, about things in them that she could never understand. Like why, for instance, her people were defeated in the first place if their civilization was so grand and powerful, like the stories told. Or why, if the monsters were so malevolent, they didn't follow her people underground to kill the rest of them. Another question was where these so-called monsters came from. The usual answer she got to that was that they had always existed. This led to another question: if the monsters had always existed, and they existed solely to destroy, how had her people built a civilization and become great in the first place.
No one could ever answer her questions when she chose to voice them and then they would tell her that she's not supposed to ask those questions. But why not? No one could ever give any proper answers or reasons. It was all these unanswered questions and flaws in the stories she was told that made her doubt their accuracy. Surely the monsters on the surface couldn't really be entirely evil. And the more she thought about it, the more ridiculous the idea seemed to her. Since when was anything entirely evil, or even entirely good? Since when was anything entirely one thing at all? Her people certainly weren't entirely good, like she had been told. Why, then, was she in one of the lowest castes of society and subject to frequent abuse at the hands of members of higher castes. Why was there even a caste system ion the first place?
But then, her people weren't entirely bad either. Her parents, when they were alive, had treated her with kindness and love. When they punished her, it was because she was misbehaving, or causing them trouble. They never punished her without good reason to do so and they certainly never beat her.
So then if such absolute statements about a people such as "always" and "entirely" and "never" and so on and so forth were untrue, how could these surfacers really be evil monsters? And so her doubts and uncertainties had been planted.
Skip forward years in time, and then Leto met Avernus, one of these "monsters" from the surface. Unsurprisingly, he wasn't like a monster at all. He actually spoke her people's language, which was a stark contradiction to the alleged claim that monsters from the surface lack a desire for anything else other than destruction. How, then, had Avernus learned her language, if the only thoughts he was supposedly capable of revolved around destruction and killing?
She then began to talk to him during the times when she would tend to him after his torture sessions. She'd ask him questions about where he came from, what his people were like, how they lived and so on. And as it turns out, the stories of the surface people as evil monsters are dead wrong.
She learned that they had families, just like her people had. They had no caste system, Leto learned. They built large cities and towns, they farmed the ground and grew their food, they traded with each other for goods and services, and they even had entire organizations dedicated to the acquisition, preservation, and reproduction of knowledge! It was one of these fascinating organizations that Avernus had come from, she learned; a university, he called it.
Upon learning all this, Leto decided that she'd assist him, to the best of her abilities, in escaping this place. Not only was his treatment inherently wrong and appalling, considering that Avernus was a person, just like her, or her parents, or anyone else, but the surface world sounded so much more appealing than the world she knew and grew up in. There was no caste system that devalued certain members of society, no perpetual atmosphere of hate and fear of anything foreign, no system of oppressive lies that blinded and twisted people. She would help Avernus escape, Leto decided, and she would join him.
And so here she was, stumbling along through a cavern with a broken man clutching her for support. But they were making progress and after several periods of walking followed by several periods of brief rest in which Avernus caught his breath and waited for his pain to die down again, the pair eventually made it to the doors of the Dead Ones' ruins.
After stepping inside, the duo came across another gate. However, when Leto pushed against it, it refused to budge, resisting any and all attempts at opening it. Worried, she fumbled around the gate for something that might indicate why she was unable to open the gate. It didn't take long for her hand to close around something that shouldn't be there: a lock. She yanked on it experimentally, but it didn't give way.
"It's locked!" Leto exclaimed, "why is it locked? It shouldn't be locked; it wasn't before. Can you use your magic to get past this, Avernus?"
"Hmm," came his voice, "there are a couple things I can try."
Suddenly, a chill seeped into the small antechamber, and Leto could hear very faint groaning and creaking noises coming from the lock. The chill intensified as time passed but the groaning, creaking noises soon stopped. After a few moments the chill, too, vanished and Avernus spoke once more.
"Try pulling on the lock again," he instructed her.
Leto complied and reached for the lock once more. Upon contact, she immediately noted that it felt different, had a different texture to it. It was no longer smooth and hard, but seemed rough and coarse, and felt as if small chunks of it were flaking off. Doing as she was instructed, she yanked on it once more. This time, the lock snapped and gave way, allowing the pair continued passage through the ruins of the Dead Ones.
"What did you do?" she asked.
"I rusted the lock," he answered, "Dwemer metal is quite resistant to rusting so it took significant energy to do this."
Fascinating, Leto thought, as she led him deeper into the ruins of the Dead Ones. But they didn't get very far before she heard wheezing coming from Avernus. At first it was quite soft, but his breathing, she could hear, gradually started to become more laboured.
"What's wrong, Avernus?" Leto queried.
"I'm exhausted," was his out-of-breath answer, "so tired. I need to stop."
She understood. She wasn't particularly tired, but Avernus was so thin, so light as a result of being more or less starved during his captivity. It made sense that he was so tired. And they had been going for a long time, the better part of a cycle at least. Perhaps they should stop for the rest of the cycle, eat and then sleep until tomorrow. She knew that it wouldn't do to keep pushing him; there was only so much his body could handle in its weakened state.
"Alright, we can stop and continue on tomorrow," she informed him, "there's a passage not far ahead that leads to beds. We can sleep there."
"Thank you, Leto," he answered.
She didn't bother to reply, instead only leading him forward. The passage she mentioned to him lay off the main track of this set of ruins, and was falling into disrepair. It also didn't lead anywhere other than to the beds. This meant that there was a good chance that if Avernus's captors managed to trace them to this particular set of the Dead Ones' ruins (their sudden absence was sure to have been noticed by now), it would be unlikely that they would check this passage, considering how large the ruins were.
So she led them away from the main passageway and into the derelict side passage. Around the rubble and past the broken machinery and protruding pipes whose locations she had memorized and they eventually came to their destination: a small, circular room with several beds.
Avernus disengaged himself from her supporting grasp and she could hear him limp towards one of the stone beds. Fabric rustled as he pulled himself up and then tucked himself under the blankets so that sleep would reach him more easily.
"Goodnight, Leto," she heard as she scurried over to her own bed, next to Avernus's.
"Sleep well, Avernus," she replied as she pulled the blankets over herself and allowed the gentle pull of sleep take her.
And there's the first chapter. I was going to say something here, but I seem to have forgotten. So instead, I'll say I hope you enjoyed this chapter (although it might be more accurate to say that I just hope this wasn't a total piece of crap). Also, feel free to leave a review, as they are appreciated. And that's it. I'm tired so I'm going to sleep now. Goodnight and have a good day :P
Oh yes, now I remember. I used this picture as the basis for my descriptions of Falmer characteristics and appearance:
http :/ images . uesp . net/1/17/SR-creature-Falmer . jpg (minus the spaces, of course)
Here's another picture:
http :/ images . wikia . com/elderscrolls/images/8/84/Falmer_simple . jpg