Disclaimer: Everything belongs to Bethesda Studios and I own nothing at all except for the OC and plot. There is no profit made at all, really.
Summary: Because there was a deeper, darker version of Dragonrend… Now Alduin must learn to live again, not as a devourer of worlds, but as a man.
Quietly, I opened my eyes and stared into the darkness of Sky Haven Temple. There was that curious thrumming, that silent chorus which only I could hear by virtue of the dragon's blood that ran in my veins, blood that I had not known existed until Whiterun, until that stormy day when lightning carved up the sky along with cruel talons and a dragon fell by the combined might of arrows and swords. The killing blow was mine, more by accident than skill; had Irileth not been there, I might not have lived to hear the thunderous roar of the Greybeards, calling me by the name I was now known by. No longer Freyja the Nord, the only thing I could yet remember about my shrouded past, now I was just Dovahkiin, the Dragonborn.
A shudder ran through my frame and I pulled the blankets tightly around me, as though to ward off the memory of myself devouring a soul. Flesh and bone disintegrated to enchanted ash which rose to the sky rather than cleave to the earth and a fire came out of the dead beast, infusing itself with my spirit, wrapping me in hot flames that made me cry out in fear and ecstasy. At first I had been horrified, now I felt exhilarated, as though something inside had been awakened, a stirring that blossomed into a full blown battle cry each time I faced my winged counterparts. But for the body, we were the same beneath the skin.
As the maelstrom inside me brewed, so did the call in my ears. Frustrated, I sat up, threw off the covers and ran a hand over my blonde hair. Pale as the first ray of dawn, Brynjolf had remarked idly once while we were traipsing through the wilds of Skyrim, tracking down Mercer Frey. I had removed the Nightingale cowl in favour of some sunshine and breeze, which had led to his compliment. His on the other hand, stirred like fire in the wind. In spite of the years that separated us, and our destinies, there had always been a frisson of attraction but Brynjolf had always refused to act upon it, not even when I had tentatively tried discussing it.
Pursued by a vague feeling of humiliation, I jumped up, grabbed a thick sleeping robe I had lifted from the Honningbrew Meadery when that nasty piece of work known as Sabjorn still owned it. Briefly, I wondered what had happened to him by now but had long ago decided that someone like him who would send a woman alone and without prior warning to face an insane mage deserved to die for his callous disregard.
Slipping on my boots, I left the room, treading the cold stone floors silently. Esbern and Delphine were nowhere to be seen; the traps would keep us safe and the noise made by any being activated would wake any sleeping Blades. The thrumming hummed in my ears, louder as I passed the hallway. The stone fire stands still burned with low muted flames, empty plates and mead bottles littered one side and I knew Esbern had retired not long ago.
Light played over the frieze wall, shadows shrank and grew, and in their movement, the stone carvings came to life. Great wings moved back and forth, flickering and the low roar in my ears increased. The heat of dragon fire warmed my skin, metal sang and pierced scales, cries of despair and victory rose like twin howls and I did not know how but my feet moved, borne on a strange will and I found myself standing before the centerpiece, Alduin in a tangle of great leathery wings, his body writhing impotently in rage as he was brought low to the ground. A Shout that could bring down a Dragon, a god even. The thought was intoxicating and the fact that I felt that way made me afraid.
The stone never moved but vision clouded my eyes and I could not stop, could not prevent my hands from tracing the stone and my mouth moved but I could not understand all I spoke in the Dragon Tongue. There was a room, books littered every surface and strange writings in different languages were scrawled on paper and the walls. By now the song was so loud it seemed to shake the very foundations of the Temple. Either that or it was tearing me apart.
Feverishly, my palms scraped the jagged edges, curved around the smooth lines. They were chanting, experimenting with different Words of Power, adding on and taking apart. Stone trembled, fire and ice emerged from nothingness, time slowed and finally, for the first time an ancient dragon tumbled from the sky. But it did not stop. The room returned, darker now and there was only one person, a man wreathed in shadow whose face I could not see and whose voice whispered frantically in my ears. A Master of the Voice, a secret Shout not known to the others.
My hands drifted lower, seeking that which had been hidden, reaching for the man who stood beneath the falling dragon. Then my hands touched his face, my fingers brushed the mouth and I felt lips move. Light pierced my eyes as Words of Power sprang to life, emblazoned on the wall and they were brighter, more dreadful than any other Word.
I think I screamed as the Shout transcended my flesh and wrote itself in my mouth, on my soul.
Cold stone pressed against my cheek; I was lying on the floor at the foot of the wall. My limbs would not obey the order to move and it was then I realized how bruised I felt, as though several Draugr deathlords had combined their Unrelenting Force Shouts and sent me through a mountainside.
"Why is this happening?" I whispered, thankful to find I could still speak. Learning the other Words of Power had never harmed me before. Summoning my strength, I focused on the refreshing chill of the stone, muttered the healing spell and relaxed as warmth suffused my battered body. It took several castings before I felt sufficiently strong enough to get up. On shaking legs, I made it to the table before sinking into a hard chair and grabbing the first opened bottle of mead I could see. Heedless of whoever's mouth had preceded mine, I downed the remainder and did the same with the next two bottles I could lay my hands on.
The mead did little to ease the feeling that I had somehow been violated, entranced into performing something I had no knowledge about and no will over. Turning around, I glared at the now silent wall. Everything had gone back to the way it was before and the Words were now hidden. For a moment I wondered if it had been nothing more, just a trance. And then it came back, the foreign words which shaped my lips and tongue and found existence in the faint whisper it drew from them. The air seemed to shiver and the fires on the stands leapt violently in response. 'Alright, not just a trance then,' I thought. 'But why me?'
…Last of the Dragonborn… Arngeir's words resonated in the stillness. There are no others, at least none that we can tell of…
The last time Aiduin had been brought down, there had been Three Masters of the Voice. But none of them Dragonborn. Perhaps whatever fate had dragged me back to Skyrim had a hand in this; perhaps it would be impossible for me to bring down the World Devourer by myself without additional aid. Something from the past had reached into the present and I was left to discover the repercussions.
"Are you sure you wish to journey alone?"
Delphine looked sceptical as she watched me don my Nightingale armour. I could sense her disapproval as I pulled on the Ancient Cowl of the Assassins, my way of honouring an assassin who had seen me fit to wear his robes, and of acknowledging my link to the Dark Brotherhood. I was after all, their leader although I often left them to their own devices and I only listened to 'Mother' whenever I had need of coin. Some killings were necessary, but I did begrudge the fact that I was used to settle petty quarrels as well. Delphine had been horrified to discover my link to the Dark Brotherhood but realized there was more harm than good to be done if she forced me to sever ties with them.
"Yes," I replied as I strapped my Nightingale Blade to my back and picking up my Daedric Sword, fastened it to my side. An Elven dagger hung at the other hip; I carried no shield. "You have no love of the Greybeards and I would not be so cruel as to take Esbern from all the Blade Lore he has found here."
A smile that others would have termed gentle briefly touched Delphine's face before it vanished. I suspected sometimes that this hard woman who had survived years of Thalmor persecution felt fondness for her fellow Blade because they were the only two left. "That is true. Besides, I need to train Onmund. He has the makings of a fine Blade."
I used building up the Blades as an excuse to both of them. The truth was, I had fallen asleep at the table and somewhere between dreams and waking, an idea had been conceived in my head and I had no intention of letting it go until I had tried it. Delphine and Esbern would probably lock me up in the Temple if they knew what I was planning and the last thing I needed was to worry about the life of any follower I brought along. I could still feel the tears of guilt and sorrow as I placed the last stones over Jenassa's burial mound. That would be the only time I brought someone with me when I was not even certain of besting my opponent.
"There may be others. When I find them, I will bring them to you. It's time the Blades arose again." Outside the Temple, Shadowmere waited. He whickered upon seeing me and not for the first time did I wonder how he had spent the night. Delphine followed a few steps behind, eyeing him warily, especially when he shook his head at her and chomped on the bit, revealing white teeth. Tying my knapsack to the saddle, I double-knotted it, tugged a few times to make sure it was secure, and swung myself up on Shadowmere. His coat was thick but it did not glisten as an ordinary horse's would in the light. The only things that gleamed about Shadowmere were those unnatural eyes, red like coals. If I ever met the Headless Horseman that was rumoured to haunt the roads of Skyrim, chances were that his horse would run from mine.
Raising a hand in salute, I waited until Delphine returned the gesture before wheeling Shadowmere around and heading down the slope at a brisk trot. I hope she did not still see me as she originally had. "A mere slip of a girl," she had exclaimed. "I could not believe it when rumours pointed to you being the Dragonborn."
Training had put muscles on my lean frame but most opponents still took it for granted that I was no threat until the fight began in earnest. Most of them only saw a relatively tall, slim woman with blonde hair and ice blue eyes. Usually it was the fact that I was a woman that made most of them complacent, especially the thieves and brigands I encountered while travelling. By the time they learnt their lesson, they were on their way to the netherworld while I relieved them of their worldly goods.
When I was sure Delphine could no longer see me, I withdrew the crumpled map I had stuffed into my boot. "Freyja, Freyja, where will you go next?" I murmured almost subconsciously. It had always been a habit of mine, talking to myself. Sometimes, I could almost swear I could hear another voice in my head calling me by my name, a man's voice. It could have been my father; I doubted I would ever know. I could not even remember how I had ended up on that prisoners' wagon with Ulfric Stormcloak.
"X marks the spot indeed," I crowed as my eyes settled on my next destination. Shadowmere neighed softly as I tugged on the left rein, indicating which path he should take. All around, the valley was still, save for the rushing waters that took along the bodies of the Forsworn I had slain the day before. The scent of rancid blood and bloated flesh tainted the air and I could smell it through the mask of the cowl. Though I could sympathise with the Forsworn, their savagery and pigheaded refusal to let me pass their camps unmolested had prevented me from doing so. Instead, I felt perverse satisfaction in plundering their sites and killing off whoever challenged me, which usually meant slaughter because the Forsworn would not give up.
I lifted up my eyes to the mountains of Karthspire. Somewhere on those mist-wrapped heights lay a dragon burial mound. I hoped it was yet unopened. There, I would await the Devourer of Worlds.
It had been two weeks now and while I was sure dragons were out there wreaking havoc in Skyrim, I was even more certain that Alduin would arrive. He had to.
A small cave nearby provided shelter from the driving rains and bitter cold as I watched the skies. Occasionally, a wild bear would amble up and once, I had been awakened to find Shadowmere locked in fierce combat with a sabre cat. These were easy enough to dispatch with a few quick blows but it was the sword which was a true marvel and I was once again glad that I had forged it. Flesh and bone knit back even as I stabbed the blade into the bodies of my enemies, draining their life force to heal myself. The Nightingale Blade had stronger enchantments but the metal was not as strong, nor did it make blood run the way the Daedric blade did.
Plucking at the scant grass around my boots, I watched as Shadowmere stood silently beneath a tree with few leaves, its gnarled branches like skeletal fingers raised to the sky. He never cropped grass, never drank, never slept but kept watch over me like a silent sentinel. No wonder Lucien Lachance had never forgotten him.
Then, it finally happened. I was burying the remains of the rabbit beneath sand and grit at the back of the cave when Shadowmere neighed furiously and thundered past the entrance. "Damnation and the Nine Divines," I cursed as I grabbed my sword and ran out to see a great black dragon wheeling above the mountaintops and my horse, pawing defiantly at the sky in challenge.
Jumping over the stones and a small rocky outcrop that barred the way, I landed hard, cursed as I almost slipped and clawed my way back to balance as I charged onwards. I could not afford to engage two dragons in battle and live, not if one of them was Alduin.
High above he flew, jagged ebony on wings of fear, his voice a low mellifluous thrum of evil that shook the mound I stood on. "Alduin, World's Bane!" I roared as I raised a hand to the sky. Fire erupted from flesh, flowed like a white red extension of my skin before it was thrust into the air, a bolt of destruction that he easily evaded. But now I had his attention.
"Dovakiin!" He turned my title into a venomous curse, a battle roar as he swooped low, so close the draft from his wings almost knocked me from my feet. A barrage of flames singed his belly; I was not going to let any opportunity slip by. He roared in fury, rather than rage and the mountains rang with it; I could hear rocks slide loose and fall into the valley below.
"You arrogant human fool!" And then a rush of heat seared the air around me and I threw up a greater ward wall just as a sea of flames surrounded me. From behind the blue glow of my protective spell, the heat singed and I could smell the earth around me burning. Beneath my feet, sand turned to glass. My arms ached, sweat poured down my brow and into my eyes, stinging them and obscuring my vision. I could feel the flames physically pressing in on me. How long was Alduin going to keep this up, I wondered and found myself praying to the Divines that this onslaught would end soon.
Just as my knees were about to buckle, the flames vanished, punctuated by an infuriated roar. "Not as weak as you imagined," I taunted, hoping he would not hear the slight pant in my voice. "Come down from on high, Alduin who was vanquished, and let history repeat itself."
The sentence had not yet left my mouth completely when he broke off in midflight and headed straight for me. I raised my blade in challenge, fire still gleaming from one hand as I waited. Behind me loomed Shadowmere, his presence more a support than actual help. At least he would die to live again, I thought, comforting myself, if it ever came to that.
He was not going to stop, I realized, my eyes snapping wide open at Alduin's enraged headlong rush. He meant to crush me on the mound, along with the dragon bones beneath. It was now or never.
Air rushed into my lungs, filling my nostrils, every cell swelling with a simmering power that could never be fully comprehended. Dragon's blood awoke and I could feel the change sweep over me. Everything became clearer, sharper, colours brighter, I could smell snow on the air above the smoke and fire, smell him as he bore down on me.
My spine curved as my body gathered itself, arched as I lunged forward, head thrown up and from my mouth the secret Shout ripped out, an inhuman roar, a dragon's roar in Dragon Tongue that tore the sky in a blaze of blue as it met Alduin in the air. My strength followed, sucked out from my flesh by the force taken out of my being, greater and more draining than any other Shout previously experienced.
The edges of reality blackened and I fell to the ground, desperately clinging onto consciousness as above me, Alduin screamed so loudly that I feared for my life. Then Shadowmere was there, grasping my cloak between his teeth as he dragged me at a gallop from the burial mound onto the sickly green grass, saving my life as the great black dragon crashed down upon the spot where I had lain.
From a safe distance I watched, Shadowmere's cool muzzle against my cheek as he nudged me. Alduin screamed again, writhing and thrashing on the ground, gleaming blue with the Shout that bound him, his tail tearing up the earth and scattering the long dead bones of the dragon he had been about to resurrect. Trees fell to his struggles, the rocks and stones were crushed into pebbles, and the repeated snapping of jaws, the gnashing of great teeth rent the air.
Commanding Shadowmere to lay down, I fumbled for my knapsack, dug out a large green bottle and downed the Stamina potion in one gulp. The icy cold sensation spread from my throat to the tips of my toes and scalp, reviving as it melted away the fatigue. Attempting to stand, I held on to Shadowmere's withers and then flinched, burying my face in his flank against the sudden explosion of light. Only when he whickered did I look up.
Alduin was gone.
Dumbly, I stared at the scene. Had he died? Imploded into nothingness? Did gods not leave behind corpses? Grasping my sword, I summoned fire once again and approached, warily. The mound was a mass of churned up rubble and destruction. Here and there, white fragments of bones dotted the scene. Kicking them out of my way, I climbed to the top of the mound, hoping to witness Alduin's fallen body crushed at the bottom.
The last thing I expected to see there lying on the brown dirt was the body of a man. A man who was as naked as the day he had been born. "What in the name of Mara…?" I muttered as I hurried down, boots digging into the earth as the fiery blaze left my hand and was replaced by the warm comforting glow of a healing spell. Since when had a traveller passed the battle scene without my knowledge? And why had he no clothes on?
Sheathing my blade, I knelt beside him and pressed two fingers to his neck. His pulse was shallow and rapid but most importantly, present. His smooth pale skin, Nord skin, was unblemished; there were no visible injuries I could find, not even when I turned him gently to examine his back. He was extremely tall, and the lean muscle on his large frame seemed to indicate a warrior's life or a man who worked hard for his living. His palms though, were smooth, which was a puzzle. I would have taken him for a Nord, except for the shoulder length hair, black as ebony, that crowned his head. As I pressed a hand to his forehead, whispering the healing spell, his eyes fluttered open and that was when I noticed their unusual colour. The irises were pale golden-amber, and the pupils were blacker and more slanted than any I had ever seen, almost like a cat's.
Then they narrowed and an expression that could only be called rage entered them. He hissed viciously and as I snatched my hand back, he attempted to bite me. "By Talos I am not trying to hurt you!" I exclaimed. "Be still else I will not give you my help." An empty threat, a habit I had yet to break completely.
His brow furrowed in confusion but he twisted his head away as I attempted to place my hand on him again. Garbled sounds issued from his lips and I could see he was becoming more frustrated by the second. Then, he happened to glance down his body and froze. I assumed it was because he had no clothes.
Those amber eyes snapped back to mine and I had the strangest feeling I had seen them somewhere before. And then with great effort, he spat out something that chilled me to the bone.
I was right; I had seen them before.
Rolling away, I came up in a crouch, my sword out and singing in for the killing blow when I halted my arm in mid-strike.
Alduin, World's Bane, Destroyer of Worlds, Devourer of Souls, had passed out.
"Come on Freyja, do it! Now!" Delphine and Esbern would have hacked him to pieces by now, conscious or not. The Jarls to whom I was Thane would have ordered me to do so.
The Daedric Blade whispered that it needed Dragon Blood once again.
Sword touched flesh, pressed hard enough to open the skin and out came the blood. It was red, as red as mine. He was both dragon and man. 'Like me,' came the thought, which I hastily brushed away. But more importantly, he was naked and helpless and if I struck him down now…
With a loud curse, I climbed back up the mound and whistled for Shadowmere to approach. I knew exactly what I was going to do to my worst enemy.
I was going to cloth him as best I could and find the nearest inn.