A/N: I realise this has taken rather a long time to come, but it's been really, really hard to write. It's been emotionally challenging, and I've had to keep stopping. So...good luck. You may not like what this has in store...
"You have it."
I swallowed hard against the lump in my throat. Paarthurnax lowered his scaly head and fixed me with a piercing gaze. It wasn't a question. "Yes."
"Tiid kreh...qalos. Time shudders at its touch. There is no question. You are doom-driven. Kogaan Akatosh. The very bones of the earth are at your disposal."
I nodded slowly, wondering when the earth had grown bones.
"Go then. Fulfil your destiny. Take the Scroll to the Time-Wound."
I stepped backwards, fumbling with the Elder Scroll as Eric handed it to me. What would happen?
"Do not delay. Alduin will be coming. He cannot miss the signs."
My hands shook as I pulled open the Scroll...
The parchment lit up then what seemed to be a whirlpool appeared before my eyes. I stumbled back, but I didn't move...as the world went white.
Next thing I knew, I was back on the Throat of the World...only...there were voices I didn't recognise emitting from around me. Great roars shook the air as well. And, even more peculiar than all of these, a strange hazy white...something...clouded the edges of my vision. A blood red tinge stained the sky.
A dragon crashed to the floor. "Daar sul thur se Alduin vokrii! Today, Alduin's lordship will be restored! But I honour your courage. Krif voth ahkrin. Die now, in vain."
"For Skyrim!" A heavily armoured man charged at the beast, before being engulfed in a jet of flames. He wasn't deterred. He swung his axe with ferocious might at the dragon as it snapped at him.
He wasn't alone. A woman entered the fray, her sword slashing mercilessly at the scaled behemoth. "Know that Gormlaith sent you down to death!" She leapt onto its head and stabbed at its eyes. It let out a howl of rage and pain, writhing to dislodge her, but, in a bath of blood, she beat it to death. As she jumped back to the scarlet-splattered snow, she beamed. "Hakon! A glorious day, is it not!"
"Have you no thought beyond the blooding of your blade?"
She snorted. "What else is there?"
His face remained grave. "The battle below goes ill. If Alduin does not rise to our challenge, I fear all may be lost."
"You worry too much, brother! Victory will be ours!"
Wow...if only I had her brazen courage...or was it just bravado? I watched them move until another man came into view, this one clothed in the raiment of the Greybeards.
Hakon, the warrior type man spoke. "Why does Alduin hang back? We've staked everything on this plan of yours, old man."
The 'old man' replied. "He will come. He cannot ignore our defiance. And why should he fear us, even now?"
"We've bloodied him well. Four of his kin have fallen to my blade alone this day." Gormlaith, the woman, added, in her voice that was rapidly becoming annoying.
The wizard maintained the solemn voice of Hakon. "But none have yet stood against Alduin himself. Galthor, Sorri, Birkir..." and fribble and frobble and wobble...I was getting off-track.
Gormlaith shook her head. "They did not have Dragonrend. Once we bring him down, I promise I will have his head!" Oh, lovely. Would she put it on a silver platter? Decorate it with a wreath?
"You do not understand. Alduin cannot be slain like a lesser dragon. He is beyond our strength. Which is why I brought the Elder Scroll."
I gasped, but no sound came out. It was like foreshadowing...
"Felldir!" Hakon exclaimed. "We agreed not to use it!"
"I never agreed. And if you are right, I will not need it."
"No. We will deal with Alduin ourselves, here and now."
"We shall see soon enough! Alduin approaches!" Gormlaith readied her blade, and the other two copied as a great dragon swept down from on high. Alduin landed on the stone wall.
"Meyye! Tahrodiis aanne! Him hinde pah liiv! Zu'u hin daan!"
I have no idea what he said, but Gormlaith cried "Let those who watch from Sovngarde envy us this day!"
Then, as one, the three Shouted. "Joor Zah Frul!"
Dragonrend! I felt the words sound inside my head, ringing out. I had it. I had Dragonrend!
Alduin roared and landed before them. "Nivahriin joorre! What have you done? What twisted Words have you created?! Tahrodiis Paarthurnax! My teeth to his neck!" Slowly, he revolved his head, looking between his assailers. "But first...dir ko maar. You will die in terror, knowing your final fate..." he gave a long, dramatic pause. I tried not to laugh...not that I could. "To feed my power when I come for you in Sovngarde!" Why did no one tell these people that these 'scary words' just made them sound stupid?
"If I die today, it will not be in terror!" Gormlaith advanced on him, swinging her sword wildly.
"Fo Krah Diin!" The old man Shouted at Alduin. No idea what that Shout is, I made a mental note to look it up...if I ever made it out of this whole thing alive. It was hardly like I had ample reading time while my duty as Dragonborn still remained.
"You feel fear for the first time, worm. I see it in your eyes." I was pretty sure the best thing to do to a pissed-off dragon was not to insult it. However, she had little time to remedy this...Alduin lunged forward, encasing her in his mighty jaw and locking her body in a death grip. He shook her fiercely then flung her aside. She flew, limp as a ragdoll, to the ground, where she moved no more. I didn't even feel bad for her.
"No, damn you!" Hakon cried. "It's no use! Use the Scroll, Felldir! Now!"
Felldir, the old man, lifted the Elder Scroll. "Hold, Alduin on the Wing. Sister Hawk, grant us your sacred breath to make this contract heard." Er...what? Moving on... "Begone, World-Eater! By words with older bones than your own we break your perch on this age and send you out!" He was illuminated by a jet of fire that erupted from Alduin's mouth, but his voice rang out. "You are banished! Alduin, we shout you out from all our endings unto the last!"
Alduin twisted as a hazy blue light enclosed on him. "Faal Kel...?! Nikriinne..." he roared in anguish then...
He was gone.
"You are banished!"
The blinding white light appeared before my eyes again...
Eric wrenched the Scroll from my hands as I wheeled around, searching the sky incessantly for the voice. It was Alduin...he was here...
"Lost funt! You are too late, Alduin!" Paarthurnax soared into the sky, and then I saw it. The other dragon. The obsidian black, monstrous giant of a dragon.
Before I could move, before any of us could draw our weapons, he landed on the ground in front of us, snow spraying from the collision.
I was no longer looking at a dragon. He was...a human.
"What are you doing?!" I stepped back, horrified. Since when could dragons take human form?
"Think this is strange?" Alduin smirked. I stared at him. His hair was charcoal black and his eyes dark, and his lips twitched in a way that only malice could invoke, "I'm surprised."
"And what do you mean by that?" Why was he doing this? Surely this wasn't involved in his plot to destroy Skyrim...have a chit-chat first?
"Take a look around you."
Hesitantly, only briefly flicking my eyes away from Alduin, I glanced around me. What was I looking at?
"How does it feel, being betrayed?" He strode towards me and though every nerve inside me screamed to run, I was rooted to the spot.
"Wait-" Eric began, but Alduin shot him a dark look and he fell silent.
"Be quiet. It's about time she knew, wouldn't you say...Eric?"
My lungs contracted painfully as I expelled a gasp of breath. My eyes shot to the blond male beside me. How did Alduin know his name?
"And what say you?" Alduin turned his malicious gaze on Harald. "You often do have some input or other. Come now, Harald."
I felt a hand grab hold of my wrist as my jaw dropped. Epona glared at Alduin. "If you have something to say, say it."
"Oh, but this is much more fun, Epona. How about a little game, Rhiannon?"
"You want to play games? I'll kill you!"
"No, you won't, child."
"How do you know my name? And how do you know their names?!" I breathed heavily, my insides squirming with fury.
"I've watched you for long, Rhiannon. Very long. Since you were born, in fact. I've always known it would come to this." Alduin drawled, sounding almost bored. It was his choice to have this discussion!
"You're not answering my question."
"Did I say I would?"
"Rhiannon, I can explain-" Eric tried to speak again, but Alduin cut across him sharply.
"You mean you'll lie to her? Like you have done countless times before? You're no different than you were all those years ago."
"All..." my brain was aching from trying to process all these thoughts. Of course, that's not entirely true, as you can't feel your brain.
"Dovahkiin." Alduin spoke softly, but his words echoed eerily in my head. "Dragonborn. The mortal with the soul of a dragon. But look at you. You are weak."
"So what if I am? I'm still Dragonborn!"
"You are Dragonborn without a dragon soul."
I blinked. "What?"
"Your soul is not in your body. When I was cast forward through time, part of the Nord magic weakened me. I was left able to assume this human form. At will, so perhaps not a curse, but it proves I am vulnerable. However, I am not the only Dovah to take a man's body."
Something clunked into place.
"Yes." Alduin's lip curled as he saw the realisation on my face. "One as feeble as you was incapable of containing the dragon soul. Therefore, it latched onto another."
I took a deep, shuddering breath and whispered "Eric."
"You were not chosen by the Gods, Rhiannon. You were chosen by me. The dragon soul in you belonged to an old...friend...of mine. He betrayed me, so I devoured his soul. This I cast onto you."
"I knew a Dragonborn would one day reveal itself. So I made one before it could. Then again, I didn't expect you to be such a disappointment. To think, every soul you absorb is forced to latch onto a human. You don't know these two Nords. You know the two Dovah they once were."
Epona's grip was vice-like on me. I turned to her in desperation. No one could see Eric and Harald...because they were a part of me? But Alduin, Epona and Paarthurnax...unless...dragons could. I looked into her eyes and she shook her head just a fraction. She was human. But then, behind her, I saw Harald. Or...could I even call him Harald? He was gazing imploringly at me. I ignored him.
"Would you like to know more?" Alduin jeered.
"No." I whispered.
"Well, you don't have a choice. I will make you suffer, Dovahkiin. I know what you feel. I know how much it hurts you to think that he" he shot Eric a malevolent look "is one of my kind. Perhaps, to cheer you up, I shall tell you that, in fact, he has been spying on you for me this entire time."
It felt like someone had clawed their way through my flesh, curled their hand around my heart and ripped it out.
It explained everything. Harald's warnings. The words 'Forgive me'. The dragon in the fire. The Shouting. It all pieced together. But there was one final piece that just didn't seem to fit...
"You better enjoy these next seconds, because they're the last you're ever going to live." Epona's breathing was ragged and her shoulders shook with wrath.
"You're unwanted here, Epona. You always have been unwanted, and you always will be." Alduin laughed mercilessly.
"I don't care. Because if you dare lay a finger on Rhiannon, I will make sure you don't see tomorrow's sun rise."
"Come, Rhiannon." Alduin stepped towards me and ran his finger along my jaw line. I stood rooted to the spot, unable to retaliate as he forced my chin up to fix his dark eyes with mine. "If you were going to kill me, you'd have done so already. You know you won't be able to. You're scared...of death."
"I may not have the dragon soul in me, but I'm still Dragonborn. I can still Shout. And I know Dragonrend."
His nostrils flared and he dropped my head, his nail scraping my skin. I flinched but didn't break away from his piercing glare. He wouldn't see me break. I may have been weak physically, but I'd spent a long time making sure my heart was kept locked for my access only. Yet...
Someone had broken in. And that someone had betrayed me. They were a monster, and had never loved me.
Suddenly, my insides ignited with a burning hatred. Whether it was for Eric or Alduin, I didn't know. But I felt the flames erupt from my fingers and I hurled them at Alduin.
With a roar that rocked the mountain, wings burst from his back and the 'man' became Dovah as his gigantean, scaled body leapt into the air. This was it.
The sky was smothered in darkness as boulders rained from its deathly depths, alight and scorching the snow they collided with. I dived aside as one hunted for me, smashing to pieces where I had just been standing. Paarthurnax expelled jets of flame, trying to tackle Alduin from the air. I desperately launched spell after spell, but I feared to hit the wrong target and I was too cautious. None of them reached Alduin.
"Dovahkiin! Use Dragonrend!" I heard Paarthurnax's voice only faintly, but it was enough. I staggered back, glancing around to see Harald, Epona and Eric braced to fight. I swallowed back every wave of pain that hit me seeing the last and raised my head to the heavens.
"JOOR ZAH FRUL!"
With a shriek of pain, the Shout encased Alduin in bright light. He writhed and tried to escape the force that compelled him to the ground, but he crashed before me. I looked into his onyx eyes and I saw fear flicker behind the facade. "Do not pretend you are strong, Dovahkiin." He spat.
"I'm not pretending." I relished as tongues of fire lapped at his body and I heard his faint whimper of anguish.
Then, before I could even scream, he lunged for me. I felt his teeth sink into my leg and a blinding pain shot through me. The ground disappeared from beneath me and I fought desperately for consciousness. As though from another mind, I knew I was flying through the air, but then I felt my head collide with something hard and I couldn't struggle against the light.
But I had to.
"Rhiannon!" I heard someone yell. Suddenly, I heaved a gasp of air and the world came into focus. I scrambled to my feet, feeling something hot trickle down my neck. My leg seared and dangled limply, the bone snapped in half.
Arms closed around me and I felt myself lifted into the air.
"Eric." Alduin's voice rang in my pounding head. "After all this time, you turn on me? You actually care for this joor...this mortal?"
"She's better than you, Alduin, and she will kill you." This came from above me, and I would have recognised the voice anywhere. He thought he could make it better?
"I don't need your help, Eric! I don't want it!" I yelled, forcing myself free from his grip and barely wincing as my leg hit the floor.
"Weak, Dovahkiin." Alduin sneered. "You are weak. And you will die."
"I'm not weak. If it were true, I wouldn't be alive right now. And that scares you. What's it like...being scared?"
He roared and spat a bolt of fire at me, but I was one step ahead of him. I ducked and dove towards him. His head followed me and I saw his body expand with shock as he realised a split second too late what had happened. With a rattling breath, he slumped to the floor from the blade that impaled his body.
Blood seeped over my hands and spattered the snow with scarlet as I wrenched Eric's sword free from Alduin's underbelly.
"Meyz mul, Dovahkiin." Alduin's hulking form shook as he struggled to draw breath. "You have become strong." With all his might, he pushed himself up and I stepped back as his wings unfurled and his voice rose. "But I am Al-du-in, Firstborn of Akatosh! Mulaagi zok lot! I cannot be slain here, by you or anyone else!" I stepped around to look him in the eyes and I saw them burn with hatred. "You cannot prevail against me. I will outlast you...mortal!" With one final, blood-curdling roar, he took off into the night.
For a second, the world seemed to stop. Then it all returned in a mass of pain. I slumped to the ground, unable to suppress the sobs that tore from my throat. Tears flooded my face as I curled up on the snow, the stench of blood burning my nose.
Through blurry eyes, I saw a blond figure standing above me.
"Go. I want you and Harald to go." I whispered.
"Rhiannon-" Eric began.
Epona's small hand closed around mine as I heard the two sets of footsteps retreat down the mountain.