The Edge of Madness
Chapter 1: An Old Friend Comes A-Knockin'
Two figures made their way through the empty streets of Bliss, the brighter half of New Sheoth, the Shivering Isles only true city. Both were dressed in somber gray cloaks that clashed spectacularly with the surrounding environment though that was hardly the oddest thing about the duo.
The first stood at a good ten feet tall and a little over half that wide. His stride echoed with the resounding thud one would associate with someone wearing heavy armor and flashes of said armor, made of some silvery metal, could be seen under his cloak with each step. The few Aureals on patrol stared in shock and quickly stood aside to let the figure pass with respectful bows as he made his way purposefully towards the brightly lit New Sheoth Palace.
His companion, a middle-aged Imperial male, was much plainer in appearance with shoulder length brown hair and a round face deeply etched from stress and age. He wore the simple gray robes of a priest underneath his cloak and looked around with the unrestrained curiosity of a scholar in an unfamiliar place.
As the pair made their way up the steps leading to the main doors more Aureals, and their counterparts the Mazken, parted with awed and curious looks plastered on their faces. The taller of the two didn't even falter in his stride as he neared the doors, simply pushing them open with a mailed hand and stalking into the main Hall.
There was a rather lively banquet being held with members of both the Houses of Mania and Dementia in attendance, eating, drinking, dancing and plotting with and against each other. Many of them stopped cold at the sight of the figure towering over them, lowering utensils and goblets back to the table, stepping away from partners and, discretely, sheathing poisoned daggers.
And sitting languidly on his throne with his chin propped on his hand, Sheogorath himself smiled gleefully when his pale eyes settled on the intruder to his Hall.
"Oh ho HO!" The Mad God crowed exultantly as he leaned forward. "And what brings the least loved of the Nine Divines, the Man-God, Talos, ol' Tiber Septim himself, to my humble Hall?"
"A mutual friend," the now revealed Divine rumbled as his cloak peeled away and disappeared into thin air, leaving Talos standing there in all of his shiny, martial glory.
Now normally such a sight would be enough to keep Sheogorath enthralled for days or perhaps bore him to tears or, and more annoyingly to a particular Divine, decide that nothing should be that shiny and promptly douse him with tar.
In point of fact he was on the cusp of doing one of those very things, though which one was up for debate since it was doubtful even the Mad God himself would know till the moment he actually did, when the "mutual friend" Talos spoke of stepped out from behind the God of War and caught Sheogorath's eye.
A moment later the other was caught up with it's mate and Sheogorath stood rather abruptly, his earlier cheer gone and his normally gleaming eyes now carefully blank.
"Everyone...out," he declared with a quiet calmness that, quite frankly, scared his subjects even further out of their minds. "Except you, Haskill. You get to stay."
There was a flurry of activity as his subjects rushed to obey their Mad God's command, those of the Houses of Mania and Dementia trampling each other in a near frenzy while the Aureals and Mazken moved with more discipline and purpose. In short order the Hall was cleared as the last trampled body was dragged out the door and slammed them forcefully closed.
"Be with you in a just moment," Sheogorath murmured, his previously thick accent nearly gone.
The remaining beings in the room watched with interest as the Mad God slipped his fingers under the ruffled collar of his dual colored regalia and gripped the flesh at the base of his neck. As he did that the Prince of Madness seemed to fold into himself before their very eyes until all they could see was his lower half and the top of his head.
Sheogorath stayed that way for a moment before straightening back up to his full height with the sickening sounds of flesh ripping and bone snapping once, and then again. Sheogorath's face, eye's and mouth nothing but gaping black holes, landed on the floor at his feet with a dull splat, leaving an entirely different person standing in his place.
He was a Breton, though slightly larger than the average specimen one would likely meet in Tamriel, standing at just a little over six feet with the powerful build of a warrior used to combat. His hair and beard were trimmed in the exact same way that Sheogorath's had been though his hair was longer, hanging down to his shoulder blades, and instead of being gray was a sandy blond.
The only thing that didn't change drastically were his eyes. The iris' simply darkened until they were a light gray just barely darker than the whites around them. They were, however, far more expressive than their previous blank expanses and positively dancing with happiness, much like their owner as he made his way down from his throne towards his guests.
He leaped down the last couple of steps and the moment his feet touched the ground the Hall shortened so suddenly that the brown haired Imperial nearly stumbled into the rib crushing hug the Prince of Madness enveloped him in.
"Martin," he cried happily as he picked up and spun the man around gaily. "It's so good to see you again, Big Brother!"
"It's good to see you again too, Aldanon," the now named Martin replied with a quiet laugh. "It's been a long time, Little Brother."
Sheogorath, or rather Aldanon, set his "Big Brother" back down and nodded thoughtfully, still grinning like a loon.
"Two centuries is 'a long time' indeed," Aldanon remarked with a quiet chuckle. "You're looking pretty good for a dead man nearing his two hundred and fifty-sixth birthday."
"You still haven't changed, bringing up my age the first chance you get," Martin shot back playfully. "And look at you! I honestly didn't think your star could soar any higher than it had and yet here you are. A god. The Mad God himself!"
"Well...I don't like to brag," Aldanon said with a sheepish grin.
"Much," Haskill's dry voice interjected.
"Oh hush you," Aldanon said waving a hand dismissively in the general direction of his smirking Chamberlain.
Aldanon nodded respectfully to his fellow deity as he ascended the steps back up to his throne and settled himself comfortably therein. With a snap of the Mad God's fingers the throne area reshaped itself, the dais lowering till Aldanon's feet settled comfortably on the floor of the Hall. Before him the stone rose into a table similar in shape to the old wayshrines one could find scattered across Cyrodiil, rather tastefully decorated with the blessings of Talos along it's fringe. Two thrones similar to the Prince's own, one noticeably larger than the other, formed across from him decorated accordingly for their recipients.
Talos removed his helmet, revealing an ageless face and a head completely devoid of hair, and placed it reverently on the table. He ran his mailed fingers approvingly over the writing, rites commonly used by his priests before the Great War and the advent of the White-Gold Concordat, along the table's edge as he took his seat. Martin had a melancholy smile on his face as he took a moment to examine his own throne decorated with the symbols of the Septim Emperors, a position he'd held officially for only a few short hours before giving his life to force Mehrunes Dagon from Tamriel and prevent his return.
"Firstly I'd like to apologize for my comments upon your arrival," Aldanon said, directing his words to Talos. "When I wear the face of Sheogorath such things come naturally and my tongue has a tendency to run away from me at times."
"No apology is necessary," Talos replied. "Tact isn't normally something to be expected from the Prince of Madness after all."
"Not that I was often accused of having much even before my ascension," Aldanon remarked, sharing an amused smirk with Martin. "And while I could spend years catching up with Martin here I doubt that this is a simple social call."
Aldanon leaned forward intently. "So tell me, what brings two of the greatest Septims to ever live from Aetherius to my little slice of Oblivion?"
"Something dire no doubt knowing your luck, My Liege," Haskill said with a long suffering sigh.
"I said hush, Haskill."
"Unfortunately your Chamberlain is entirely correct," Martin confirmed with a grimace. "An evil is approaching Tamriel that threatens every living being on Nirn. In time, not even the dead will be safe from it's power."
"And does this mysterious, all-devouring evil have a name?" Aldanon inquired archly.
"'All-devouring' is an apt description, even if spoken in jest," Talos replied gravely. "Alduin the World Eater, the First-Born of Akatosh now threatens the existence of the Divine's greatest creation."
"Alduin," Aldanon repeated slowly, as though tasting the unfamiliar word. "'Fraid the name doesn't ring a bell. First-Born of Akatosh though? Daddy's little angel going to throw a tantrum?"
"Hardly an 'angel', Aldanon," Martin said, not even bothering to hide his snort of amusement. "Alduin is a dragon. The first dragon as a matter of fact and one with enough divine power flowing through him to be a minor god capable of crossing the barriers separating Aetherius from Nirn and keep that power."
"As for a 'tantrum' as you so eloquently put it," Talos picked up where his descendant left off. "He has already rebelled once, many thousands of years ago, and paid the price for it. A hero of that age used an Elder Scroll to cast Alduin from the mortal plane and send him adrift through Time itself but it was unfortunately only a temporary solution. Alduin has recently managed to escape from his makeshift prison and is gathering his power to raise his fellow dragons and begin the purge of Nirn."
"Okay," Aldanon drawled. "But that still doesn't answer my question. What does this have to do with me? I may not be a 'proper' deity like my fellows but I still hold absolute power here in the Shivering Isles and this Alduin would be a fool to challenge me in my own home. Surely you have a hero or two all lined up and ready to throw at this threat...right?"
The last word was accompanied by a suspicious glare as an idea began to percolate in Aldanon's mind, an idea that gained momentum at the sheepish look on Martin's face and the carefully blank one Talos leveled at him.
"Thanks to you and the machinations of Sheogorath we do not," Talos replied in a clipped tone.
Seeing his old friend about to retort sharply, Martin spoke up. "A specific kind of hero is needed to defeat Alduin and his ilk. One blessed by Akatosh himself, known throughout history as the Dragonborn."
"Dragonborn?" Aldanon echoed. "As in the Dragonborn Emperors of the Septim line?"
"Indeed. My kin and I were some of the more prominent ones to bear the title though the true potential of the blessing lay untapped as the centuries passed until Martin here unleashed it's most powerful aspect against Dagon. However we are not the only ones to bear this power."
"Interesting knowledge to be sure but I'm still not seeing how this pertains to me."
"Oh honestly, My Liege," Haskill broke in exasperatedly. "They mean that you are one of these...Dragonborn was it?"
"Indeed," Talos confirmed. "Despite your murderous tendencies and faith in that Void spawned filth Sithis, Akatosh saw fit to grant you and your bloodline his blessing in the hopes that, when the time came, the Pendragon name would be one the people of Tamriel could rely upon again."
The tall Divine scowled heavily before continuing. "But then that fool Sheogorath lured you into his domain and trapped you here in his place, throwing everything out of balance."
The braziers lining the Hall flickered ominously as Aldanon narrowed his eyes at Talos. "The Dread Father does not need me to defend Him from the likes of you but I'll thank you to hold your tongue in regards to my predecessor. What was done to Jyggalag was reprehensible and no matter how ill used I may have felt at the time or how much of a burden it became nor how much it throws your precious destiny off course I do not regret my actions in the slightest."
Talos swelled in anger at his words but Aldanon was not finished. "And again you skirt around the issue. What does this have to do with me? You said it yourself, you and your line were simply the most well known of the Dragonborn. There must be others still out there that carry Akatosh's blessing that'd be more than happy to run around at your beck and call to play the hero. Why. Should. I?"
Talos deflated as Aldanon finished his rant and sighed tiredly as he made to stand and leave. Martin however held up a hand pleadingly to halt his ancestor, who narrowed his eyes at the disciple of Akatosh before sitting back down with a huff to Martin's obvious relief.
"If it's answers you want then I'll give them to you," he began under Aldanon's scrutiny. "In the last fifty years all but three Dragonborn lines died out and they are dangerously close to being snuffed out forever. One of those three was a general in charge of the Eighth Legion who died when the Aldmeri took the Imperial City during the Great War. The second is an old, crippled grape farmer living outside of Skingrad whose children were taken and killed by the Thalmor for worshiping Talos. It's doubtful he'll live more than a few more months at the most."
Seeing that he had his friend's full and undivided attention, Martin continued. "The last is an orphan child in Skyrim, a young girl not even old enough to walk much less do battle with a god. Although there is a chance that she could eventually grow up to be the savior of Nirn, Akatosh...he..."
"He is not confident in that chance," Aldanon finished quietly, getting a mute nod from Martin.
"He sees too many futures where she is killed by beasts and monsters, men or mer, dragons, even Alduin himself should he discover her before she is ready leaving the world to burn in the fires of Alduin's wrath," Talos spoke up, grudgingly. "You are the only one with the power and skill to stop Alduin now, before his own power grows too great."
Aldanon slumped back in his throne, throwing a pensive look towards Haskill as he considered the dilemma.
"Is it even possible for me to return to Tamriel after being here for so long?" He asked no one in particular.
"Of course, My Liege," Haskill replied without hesitation. "You would be forced to leave the bulk of your power here to anchor yourself but it is entirely possible for you to walk and interact with the mortal realm as you once did."
"Even diminished you'd wield more power there than you ever could when you were a mortal," Martin picked up eagerly, encouraged by Aldanon's lack of refusal. "You'd be stronger and faster than ever before and your magical might would be unmatched by any mortal alive today."
"Stronger you say? Stronger than...Mannimarco mayhap?" Aldanon inquired remembering his desperate battles, despite being acclaimed as the most powerful battlemage in the Empire at the time, against the Altmer necromancer in the years after the Crisis.
"Mannimarco is anything but mortal thanks to the events in High Rock and Hammerfell so long ago," Talos interjected. "But yes it is likely that in a magical contest between you, you would be able to overpower the foul creature. You would also be crossing the barriers with the consent of the Nine thus..."
"...allowing me to keep more of my divine spark and afford me a measure of invulnerability," Aldanon finished.
He frowned though as he realized something important. "You said that Alduin had enough divinity to cross from Mundus to Aetherius though, which would mean that he too enjoys all the same perks as I would. The best I could manage is a stalemate against him and while we battle his minions could ravage the land nearly unopposed."
"There is a way to strip him of his invulnerability and defeat him, just like nearly any god," Martin informed him. "It was done once before to weaken Alduin enough for the ancient Nords to cast him adrift through Time. Unfortunately the method has been lost in those very same mists of Time and Akatosh refuses to reveal it."
"Which means that there is a way to find it on my own then," Aldanon stated thoughtfully. "Good, I'd hate for this to be too easy."
"You agree to this then?" Talos asked.
A dark grin spread across Aldanon's face. "You're damn right I agree. I'd always wanted to visit Skyrim back when I was mortal and I've missed Tamriel over the years. That and it'll be a refreshing change to harass people directly rather than through proxy's."
Talos frowned but held his tongue on the matter. Unleashing the Prince of Madness on Tamriel was a small price to pay to save his people, and the world, from destruction.
"Very well then," the Divine said as he collected his helm and stood, his throne melting back into the floor. "Once you have your affairs in order I suggest you leave for Tamriel as quickly as possible. I would also suggest heading for the Imperial outpost at Helgen, in southern Skyrim. It is there that Alduin will announce his return to the world and begin his great purge. It would be an excellent opportunity to take the measure of your enemy."
"I wouldn't miss it for all the cheese in the world."
Aldanon snapped his fingers as Martin stood to join his predecessor and the Hall quickly reshaped itself to it's previous form. Aldanon likewise stood and gathered his old friend once more into a rib crushing hug.
"It was good to see you again, Big Brother," he murmured, clapping Martin heartily on the back. "Don't be such a stranger in the future you hear me? I'll conjure you right out of Aetherius if I have to, don't think I can't. I've practiced a lot since our discussions in the Temple."
Martin laughed softly at that declaration as he held him out at arms length.
"I don't doubt you one bit, Little Brother," he replied fondly. "I'll be looking forward to it."
Aldanon watched as the last of the Septim Emperors joined the first in the center of the Hall. He felt it as the man turned god gathered his power around himself and his descendant, probably to make a flashy and messy exit in an attempt to intimidate or impress him. Aldanon smirked knowingly at the Divine and discreetly snapped his fingers behind his back.
As he expected Talos and Martin disappeared in a near-blinding burst of light and he could feel as the Divine's power battered against the barriers that normally prevented such forms of transport by anyone but the Prince himself. They gave way quickly under the onslaught and Aldanon could just imagine the smug satisfaction Talos must feel, thinking he'd cowed the normally unshakeable Prince of Madness.
As his shiny armor and vestments clattered to the floor however Aldanon couldn't restrain the nearly manic laughter that bubbled up from within him at the mere thought of Talos' shock, and embarrassment if he'd gone straight back to his fellow Divines to report, when he arrived at his destination buck naked. He only hoped that Martin didn't suffer any permanent scarring from the experience but no one, not even another god, would get one over on Sheogorath ever again.
"Well that was fun," he said, clapping his hands together enthusiastically. "Come, Haskill. Let's raid the Treasury."
"As you will, My Liege."
A/N: I bring to you the new and vastly improved "The Edge of Madness"! There isn't a whole lot that needed work in this chapter, being as short as it is, but some of the later chapters were worked over to remove any blemishes that remained. Leastwise I hope they've been removed.
Anyways, as before this story was inspired by "Through the Portal" by FirenIce15 and is my attempt to write a slightly more serious (though I'm failing at that miserably I've been told) and darker version of the concept of the Hero of Kvatch/Sheogorath also having the role of Dragonborn thrust upon them.
Skyrim, and Tamriel beyond it, will never be the same again once I've had my way with it. Onward!