Shadows Deep and Shadows Wide
Arvel's journal did indeed make for some interesting reading. The, late, Dunmer bandit had been a cut above the many others Aldanon had killed in his lifetime, of course being literate automatically elevated him above about ninety percent of them. All of his plans were meticulously laid out in the small leather bound book in cramped, narrow writing up until several weeks before this particular job.
The Bleak Falls job was quite a bit different from the others outlined therein. From the very start Arvel was working with little more than vague rumors, ancient legends and little else, a fact that he'd been smart enough to keep from his little band of cutthroats. He'd worried that they might actually mutiny as the second week passed with how little progress was being made and he knew he needed something special to get into the deeper portions of the ruins but no idea where it might be.
It was a stroke of unbelievable luck that he'd found the claw during one of his forays into Riverwood for some supplies, sitting completely unguarded in the little shop just down the road from the Barrow and he'd wasted no time in having some of his men break in and steal it.
'My fingers are trembling,' Aldanon read the last entry silently as he waited for the fires to die down. 'The Golden Claw is finally in my hands and with it, the power of the ancient Nordic heroes. That fool Lucan Valerius had no idea that his favorite store decoration was actually the key to Bleak Falls Barrow. Now I just need to get to the Hall of Stories and unlock the door. The legend says there is a test that the Nords put in place to keep the unworthy away, but that "when you have the golden claw, the solution is in the palm of your hands."'
"How wonderfully vague," Aldanon muttered aloud as he snapped the book shut and tossed it aside, having no further use for it.
The flames, which had spread far beyond Arvel until the web covered walls and ceiling were ablaze, had by then died down enough that he could pass without singeing his gear so Aldanon stepped over Arvel's burnt husk and passed through the doorway he'd been hanging in.
There was a marked difference in the new area compared to the long hallways and empty rooms that had marked the first half to the Barrow. There were alcoves along both walls, many of them filled with skeletons though more than a few held dried, mummified remains wrapped in surprisingly well-preserved linen cloth.
'I wonder if that's what these draugr creatures look like?' Aldanon mused as he paused to examine one. 'If that's the case this would be a necromancer's paradise. A body that can withstand the centuries like this would make a far tougher and more reliable minion than all but the freshest corpse yet have the longevity of a lich, if not their intelligence.'
He shuddered to think what Mannimarco could have done with an army of such creatures at his beck and call in the old days. Zombies were dangerous enough, if only because it took either a tremendous amount of punishment or a prodigious amount of skill to put them down permanently, and the so-called "dread" zombies, the ones further enhanced by the sacrifice of souls, were even stronger and more durable not to mention their ability to stunt their victim's magicka regeneration.
'I doubt it would have changed the overall outcome,' Aldanon decided after a few moments of consideration. 'But I don't doubt he would have been far bolder and the death toll much higher if he'd held that sort of advantage from the beginning.'
It didn't take long after his impromptu introspection for Aldanon's usual dour prediction, that somewhere there was always something that wanted him dead, to come to pass. He paused just outside a modest sized chamber as the smell of death grew noticeably stronger and the oily, unclean feeling he always felt around the undead grated across his senses like a rusty dagger.
With a sigh he reluctantly readied a fire spell and drew Umbra on the off chance they differed from zombies, and their vulnerability to fire, before stepping inside.
Almost immediately three desiccated corpses, garbed in ancient iron armor and wielding swords and axes of a similar age, slid out of their alcoves and advanced on him with a smooth gait very unlike any animated undead Aldanon had ever encountered, their glowing blue eyes fixed unwaveringly upon him.
Undeterred by their nature Aldanon unleashed a blazing fireball towards the one at the far side of the chamber that promptly exploded into a fiery blaze. The engulfed draugr flailed momentarily as it tried futilely to put the flames out, yet another strange quirk of these undead, before whatever foul energy drove it succumbed to the fiery power eating away at its vessel.
To his slight surprise the two remaining draugr actually paused to take notice of its demise then split up to come at Aldanon from opposite sides, thus keeping him from hitting them both with the same spell and displaying a level of thought he certainly wasn't expecting. As the one closest swung it's blade at him it surprised him yet again...by speaking.
'Well that's new,' Aldanon thought as he parried the blow, which was stronger than what he'd expected but not by any significant margin.
"Aav Dilon," the other hissed as it brought its battleaxe down in an overhead strike.
Aldanon caught the haft of the axe before the blow could land and heaved mightily sending it staggering sideways into its companion, thus interrupting both attacks. Umbra flashed forward in a straight thrust, piercing through the back of one ancient skull and right through the face of the second one on the other side.
Both collapsed like puppets whose strings had been cut as soon as Aldanon withdrew his blade. He toed the one so it lay on its back and glanced between the two, noting that the glow had faded from the dried, empty eye sockets.
'Note for the future,' Aldanon thought. 'Same weakness to fire as zombies with an additional weak point in the head.'
That last was the more important bit of information seeing as he'd encountered more than a few zombies in his time that hadn't been impeded by the loss of a head in the least. Or any of their limbs for that matter, having once encountered one without either its head nor arms that never-the-less tried to club him to death with its rotting torso.
Took forever to get the stains off his armor.
He was so busy reminiscing and comparing these creatures to what he was used to Aldanon didn't see the pressure plate until he'd already stepped on it. The tortured squeal of metal heralded the massive spiked trap as it swung out from the wall to impale Aldanon on it's many sharp, pointy bits. He managed to just raise his hand in time to catch it, though one spike pierced straight through his hand in the process, and set his feet firmly to stop it mid swing.
Aldanon grit his teeth, mostly from the pain of having a spike through his hand and partially from the strain of holding the mechanism at bay, but ignored the pain and pushed back against it. For several moments nothing seemed to happen but in short order the sound of snapping metal echoed through the chamber and all the force behind the trap dissipated.
With a quick yank Aldanon pulled the spike from his hand and pushed the grate so that it swung back to it's original position. He watched impassively as the bones in his hand popped back into place and the flesh flowed back together seamlessly, leaving no trace that he'd ever been wounded at all
"Sithis damned traps anyways," Aldanon grumbled as he stepped over the pressure plate. "I can't believe I ever found this kind of thing enjoyable."
Well to be fair it was the deadly, at least at one point, traps and endless horde of enemies out for his blood that tended to sour the experience for him. Aldanon certainly did tend to enjoy the treasures he found.
Another chamber much like the last, complete with three more quickly dispatched draugr and a swinging blade trap, marked the end of the large open tunnels Aldanon had traversed thus far. A narrow, cramped and twisted hallway led further down into the ruins with an increasing number of draugr rising from their long rest to try and bar his way with about as much success as anything before them had ever achieved.
That is to say, absolutely none.
The narrow hallway widened in short order, the hewn stonework giving way to more natural cave walls with a small river flowing from somewhere deeper in the mountain through a metal gate with a pull chain nearby to raise it, guarded by an easily slaughtered draugr in a sarcophagus.
'Something about this just seems...lazy,' Aldanon thought as he pulled the chain and found himself making his way through a regular cave. 'I mean sure it's nice when nature does some of the work for you but come on. At least have enough pride in your work to not leave sections completely untouched like this.'
Two more draugr fell to his blade and spell work before Aldanon found himself back in the Barrow proper, an inner sanctum of sorts with more swinging blade traps and far more elaborate resting places for the draugr interred within.
The moment he crossed a narrow bridge above a grate-covered pit and opened another set of double doors Aldanon realized he was drawing near his goal as he entered a long rectangular room with several bas-relief carvings along the walls. All of them showed ancient Nords kneeling in worship of robed figures, some wielding staves or powerful magic, with what Aldanon assumed were dragons in flight in the background.
Either that or really big moths.
At the far end of the room, or Hall of Stories as Arvel had called it, lay a stone door. It was rather elaborate, at least compared to the rest of the crumbling ruin, with intricate patterns carved into it's surface and three concentric rings arrayed around a circular protrusion with three oddly spaced holes.
Holes that a certain golden dragon claw would fit beautifully in.
"So this is the so-called 'test' then?" Aldanon wondered aloud as he pulled the claw out. "A simple puzzle lock? Not even a passing chance at dismemberment to be had, how disappointing."
He spent a few moments examining the door and the claw making note of the markings on the rings, a moth, owl and bear from top to bottom respectively, and the palm of the claw itself.
"'The solution is in the palm of your hands,' indeed," Aldanon snorted. "It will be an extremely odd day when my hands ever look like that, Dragonborn or not."
A couple of quick rotations of the rings and a turn of the claw/key activated whatever mechanisms operated the door and it slowly sunk down into the floor. Aldanon gazed at the claw for a moment as he waited for the door to fully open, trying to decide whether or not he should simply toss it, before stuffing it back in it's pouch.
'It'll make a nice souvenir if nothing else,' Aldanon decided as he stepped through the doorway. 'I wonder if there are others? They'd make a nice conversation piece after everything's said and done.'
A massive cavern greeted Aldanon on the other side of the doorway with just a hint of old Nord architecture present, a couple of columns to support the towering ceiling and a small bridge across another stream that led to a massive dais with an even taller, curved wall-like structure illuminated by a soft light from somewhere above.
The whole dais and everything on it radiated several different forms of powerful magic. Alteration primarily, likely spells to preserve the structure through the Ages, but there were faint traces of soul binding and necromantic spells present beneath that as well.
Aldanon could also clearly make out the same incomprehensible chanting he'd heard when he'd seen Ulfric at Helgen. This time however the chants were clearer, spoken with much more force behind them and seemed to be speaking to Aldanon directly from the wall itself.
And something, somewhere deep within Aldanon, was responding.
Aldanon was only peripherally aware of the writing etched into the wall, it may as well have been scratched there by a chicken for all that he could understand it, as his entire focus zeroed in on one particular marking that began to glow as he approached it. His vision tunneled when he drew close enough to touch it as swirling tendrils of energy arced out of it and into him, the chanting reaching a crescendo and then, just as quickly as the whole event began, it stopped and Aldanon knew what that mark meant.
"Fus..." Aldanon murmured as he tried to regain his bearings. "Force?"
A heavy thud and high pitched shriek interrupted his moment of introspection, making him stumble as he whirled around in surprise to find the sarcophagus behind him open. An emaciated figure garbed in tattered vestments, much like one might expect to see on a priest perhaps, and wearing an elaborate metal mask floated several feet off the dais right behind him.
And clutched in one hand was a large stone tablet that couldn't be anything other than the Dragonstone.
"Oh joy," Aldanon remarked dryly as he drew Umbra. "A lich."
It responded by launching a fireball from the golden staff in its other hand. Aldanon sidestepped the attack, letting it explode harmlessly against the wall behind him. The heat washed against his back as Aldanon restrained himself from returning fire, and chuckling at the unintended pun, in kind seeing as he wasn't entirely sure the Dragonstone would be able to survive a chance hit from his own magic.
"The old fashioned way it is then," Aldanon said as he brandished Umbra at the lich. "Well come on then, let's see some of the fabled magics of Ages passed!"
It answered his challenge with another screech and a barrage of fireballs. Aldanon raised a ward to weather the assault and cast a resist fire spell just in time for the lich to switch up its tactics and fling one at the ground, going under his ward and exploding at his feet. It was mildly uncomfortable but not much more than standing next to the lava flows in Dagon's realm used to be.
"Getting bored now," Aldanon remarked warningly. "You wouldn't like me when I get bored."
Again came a fireball. Aldanon backhanded it irritably away with a carefully angled reflective ward flat against the back of his hand and sighed irritably.
"Fine then, time for you to die," Aldanon told it. "Properly this time."
He lunged towards it, Umbra poised to skewer and ward ready for any further fireballs, but the lich didn't react, not until the last possible second. Instead of a fireball or some other spell it brought its staff blurring around and deflected his thrust, sending Umbra flying wide of its mark. It followed that up by smashing him in the face with the Dragonstone itself, sending Aldanon tumbling backwards, blood flowing from a gash in his forehead and into his eyes, to crash into the sarcophagus where he slumped to the floor dazed.
A rush of intense cold brought him back to his senses but when Aldanon tried to get back to his feet he found that he could barely move. Blinking the blood clear from his eyes Aldanon found himself greeted with the sight of his body covered from the neck down in a thick layer of frost and ice and the lich, sans staff, floating almost gloatingly just above him.
"Much better," Aldanon said approvingly as he flexed his hands carefully. His right, and by extension Umbra, were held fast but he could still move his left with a little effort. "A very clever trick. How about another?"
It shrieked at him and Aldanon was certain he detected a bit of anger though it might have just been his imagination seeing as his empathy didn't let him get a read on undead, not even the intelligent ones. Several clusters of ice spears, three in each cluster with a condensed ball of frost magic anchoring them in the center, formed in an arc over the lich's head.
"That's a neat one," Aldanon remarked admiringly as he subtly snapped his fingers. "How about I show you one of mine?"
With a slow, deliberate and overly-dramatic motion it brought one skeletal hand up and then scything down to point ominously at Aldanon. The spear clusters reared back momentarily before shooting forward with unerring accuracy, truthfully the only way the thing could miss at that range was if it was facing the other direction.
Exactly as Aldanon had hoped.
His body glimmered with powerful magic moments before the spells could strike and for one brief second every single spear disappeared entirely and in the next reappeared, this time shooting back at their caster.
Even caught by surprise the lich was still quick enough to turn slightly, shielding the Dragonstone with what little mass its ancient form still possessed. The arm holding the Dragonstone was sheared clean off letting the priceless artifact fall to the ground, crushing the mummified hand that held it, and several of the ice spears pierced straight through the lich or buried themselves deep into it's back. Aldanon was sure that the only thing keeping the thing upright at this point was its levitation magic.
Aldanon gathered his magicka and an aura of lightning surged into being around him, shattering the ice that held him prisoner with ease. He sheathed Umbra as he absently brushed the frost off of his armor, sizing up his foe as it wallowed pitifully in the air.
"Well it's been fun and all that," he told it, easily catching the lich by the wrist as it tried to surprise him by swinging around and launching another volley of ice spears at him. "But the time for play has passed and I have more pressing matters to attend to."
Aldanon dragged the struggling lich towards him and wrapped it in a crushing hug. It gave a pained shriek as he fed more magicka into his lightning cloak and held it in place as the energy coursed through its body. The necromantic magic driving the creature resisted for a few moments before slowly, inevitably succumbing to the destructive energies being channeled through its body and turning into dust in Aldanon's arms.
He reached down and grabbed the heavily enchanted mask it had been wearing and examined it closely before stuffing it into the larger satchel slung under his arm.
'Definitely not going to wear that to find out what it does,' Aldanon thought as he walked over and picked up the Dragonstone. 'Not until I can clean it properly at least.'
Aldanon looked over his hard-won prize and found that it was actually an engraved map of Skyrim with dozens of markings scattered across the country. Turning it over he found more of the same strange and incomprehensible writing like what was on the wall nearby just lacking the chanting and glowing bits so, with a shrug, he carefully placed it in the same satchel as the mask.
"And now, time to make my exit," Aldanon mumbled as he looked around the cavern. Most ancient ruins he'd explored usually had an alternate exit of some sort, either a secret escape route or a looped path leading back to the entrance.
It didn't take him long to spot the one here, just a little further in and at the top of another set of stairs. Pulling the handle set in a pedestal caused a section of the wall to slowly lower revealing a short tunnel that led to an altar or memorial of some sort in a cave.
Aldanon breathed in deeply the moment he caught a whiff of fresh air. It was quite refreshing after the the musty, death-laden stench permeating the Barrows and was something he enjoyed immensely after many of his dungeon forays.
Upon exiting the cave Aldanon found himself on a high cliff overlooking the northern shore of Lake Ilinalta. The moon was high in the sky but, judging by its position, it was only a little after midnight and Aldanon wasn't entirely certain what he wanted to do.
He could simply teleport back to Whiterun and hopefully get a room at the Bannered Mare, if it was still open, and wait until morning to head up to Dragonsreach but that was a rather boring prospect. Aldanon was almost tempted to trek to Riverwood again and drop in on Delphine, see how she'd react to him staying for the second time in as many days, but ultimately decided against it. No need to harass the woman just yet after all.
'Camping' Aldanon decided after several minutes of consideration. 'I haven't gone on a proper camping trip in an Age.'
As an added bonus he could spend his time out in the wilds productively. Perhaps examining the mask, after a thorough cleaning of course, or learning how to use his newly found Thu'um without disturbing the locals.
Or at least those he couldn't kill without feeling a little guilt.
His decision made, Aldanon stepped off the cliff and set out to find a proper campsite for the night.
Dawn in Whiterun found the city bustling with activity, children chasing each other through the streets, vendors hawking their merchandise in the Plains District, a group of Companions setting out on a job, Heimskr bombarding all and sundry with his unceasing sermons.
And a handful of panicking guards when Aldanon suddenly appeared right in front of Dragonsreach.
"Hold it right there!" One shouted as they scrambled to draw their swords. "Who are you?"
Aldanon merely raised an eyebrow at the blades pointed his way and replied calmly. "Aldanon Pendragon, battlemage and etcetera. Weren't you here when I left yesterday on Farengar's little Barrow expedition?"
"We were out on patrol yesterday, no where near the palace," another replied though they did sheath their weapons, which is what Aldanon had been aiming for when he mentioned Farengar.
Aldanon sighed and waved his hand dismissively. "Honestly I can't tell any of you apart. You all look and sound the same to me in that getup."
They all shared confused looks but one decided to take offense at his observation or casual dismissal, or both, of them.
"So you're Farengar's newest errand runner then?" Said guard asked snidely. "You certainly came running back quick. Did you get lost Breton?"
"Hardly," Aldanon scoffed. "I told him I'd get the stone to him bright and early today and, as soon as you lot get out of my way, I aim to deliver on that."
He held in an annoyed sigh when his statement was met with an outpouring of silent disbelief. He spared himself any further snide comments with a well-practiced glare he reserved for the most annoying of his courtiers, one that generally preceded a long stay in Xedilian if they continued to irk him.
Even lacking the rather fearsome reputation Aldanon enjoyed in the Isle, for now, the guards simply didn't have the nerve meet his stare and silently parted to let him pass.
'What a lovely way to start the day,' Aldanon groused. 'Almost enough to make last night seem productive by comparison.'
Aldanon's little camping trip the night before had not gone entirely as he'd hoped. He'd found a nice enough spot at the edge of the lake and thankfully nothing had been stupid enough to bother him for a change.
However his attempts to use his newfound knowledge of the Thu'um he'd gained in the Barrow, and the knowledge was still there burning deep down within him, had amounted to nothing. It didn't matter what he did, how much he focused on the Word or twisted his magicka or simply shouted in frustration, Aldanon simply could not get the power to flow. He was missing something, some key component, and it irked him to no end.
Still, the night hadn't been a complete waste. After washing it thoroughly in the lake half a dozen times, and then a few more just for good measure, Aldanon had set about actually examining the mask that he'd taken from the lich. A standard examination had revealed several different enchantments on it though the magic involved was radically different from what he was used to, unsurprising considering the mask was likely several thousand years old at least, and therefore nearly unidentifiable through current magical means without the aid of an enchanting altar.
With great reluctance, it had after all been worn by a several thousand year old corpse until recently, Aldanon had slipped the mask on and, the moment he had it settled properly, was promptly overcome as several of his senses increased exponentially.
His nose suddenly registered a dozen different scents at once and, when he inhaled sharply in surprise, dozens more assaulted him sending him into a coughing fit. Aldanon's hearing fell under similar assault which was only exasperated by his fit, leaving him nearly deaf and greatly disoriented by the time he'd managed to reign in the mask's enchantments to a more reasonable level.
When his ears had finally stopped ringing he'd continued to test the mask to find that not only did it increase his hearing and sense of smell and that he could block out either or both enhancements at will, most likely to avoid the very same problems he'd just encountered, but it also sharpened his eyesight to similar levels though thankfully without the overwhelming drawbacks the other two effects seemed to engender.
All in all it was an impressive work of old magic, one that nearly rivaled the works of the Princes themselves in some respects. 'Though I have to wonder what use a mage-priest, even before they became a lich, would have for most of those enchantments,' Aldanon mused as he stepped into the palace.
Inside, Dragonsreach was blessedly quiet. The massive fire still crackled in the center of the hall and a couple of servants chatted as they swept the floors in the main entryway but the Jarl was not yet in attendance and thus, other than the aforementioned servants and a handful of guards, the hall was empty.
As Aldanon approached Farengar's quarters he heard the Nord mage speaking to someone.
"You see? The terminology is clearly First Era, or even earlier," he was saying. "I'm convinced that this is merely a copy of a much older text. Perhaps one dating to just after the Dragon War. If so, I could use it to cross-reference the names and locations with other, later texts."
"Good, I'm glad you're making progress," a very familiar female voice responded. "My employers are anxious to have some tangible answers."
Aldanon stopped dead in his tracks the moment he heard the woman's reply and a wide grin spread unchecked across his face.
'Dear Delphine,' he thought gleefully. 'I just knew you'd be interesting.'
"Oh, have no fear," Farengar hurried to assure her. "The Jarl himself has finally taken an interest thanks to all the rumors flying around, so I'm now able to devote most of my time to this research."
"Time is running Farengar, don't forget," Delphine said chidingly. "This isn't some theoretical question or mere rumor anymore. Dragons are coming back."
"Yes, yes. Don't worry," Farengar replied impatiently as Aldanon stepped through the doorway at last. "Although the chance to see a living dragon up close would be tremendously valuable..."
His musings tapered off at the end, his imagination most likely following that tangent for a moment before he shook it off to continue their discussion. "Now let me show you something else I've found...very intriguing I must say, I think your employers may be interested as well..."
'And he's off,' Aldanon thought fondly, remembering some of his more scholarly friends in the past. It was damn hard to get them to stop once they got going about something they were passionate about.
A situation that Delphine was apparently well acquainted with. Farengar couldn't see her face, thanks to the deep hood she wore, but Aldanon had a clear view of her and instantly recognized the expression there. It was one he was certain he'd worn more than a few times before, when a colleague began a long winded dissertation on some topic or another. Sure the subject may be interesting but it was hard to muster the same kind of enthusiasm they harbored.
Her eyes scanned the desktop restlessly as she nodded or made a noise of agreement at the appropriate times but apparently couldn't find anything there to hold her interest or deflect Farengar onto a less important topic and inevitably her gaze wandered to the room itself and, by extension, Aldanon.
It took a supreme effort of willpower not to laugh outright, nor even smirk, at the way the poor woman went rigid in surprise or how wide her eyes became when she finally noticed him standing there in the doorway watching them. Other than the hood Delphine had taken no other precautions to disguising herself not that he could blame her really, there weren't really many people who would be able to recognize the owner of some backwater inn especially if they frequented places like Dragonsreach often.
All the more fun for him then that he was exactly that type of person.
It took her but a moment to reign in her initial reaction and allow her posture to relax somewhat though she made no effort to hide the suspicious glare she shot at Aldanon. He raised an eyebrow and held her stare in a silent challenge, waiting to see how she would react.
"We seem to have a visitor."
Her words proved very effective at knocking Farengar off his current tangent and setting him on Aldanon. "Hmm? Oh, yes, the Jarl's protege! Back so soon too, did you encounter...difficulties at the Barrow? Nothing too detrimental I trust."
"No, no nothing of the sort," Aldanon assured the court mage, paying Delphine and her unrelenting stare no heed, as he reached into his satchel to grab Farengar's prize. "I promised you I'd have it back to you bright and early today and thus here it is. One ancient Dragonstone fresh from the dank, corpse infested ruin of Bleak Falls Barrow exactly as you ordered."
"Ah, the Dragonstone of Bleak Falls Barrow," Farengar said, almost reverently, as he took the heavy tablet from Aldanon. "You are certainly a cut above the usual mercenary brutes the Jarl typically sends my way, much as I expected."
"So what's next on the agenda?" Aldanon asked as Farengar studied the Dragonstone intently.
"Well your work here is done, at least for the time being, and mine now begins," Farengar replied. "The work of the mind, a sadly undervalued quality in Skyrim."
"At least until someone unleashes some ancient horror upon the land," Aldanon quipped. "Then they come running for a solution."
"Ha! Another sad truth," Farengar agreed mirthfully before something occurred to him. "Oh yes, I'm sure my associate here will be rather pleased with the results of your handiwork as well. She discovered its location, by means she or her employers have so far declined to share with me."
"A...pleasure to meet you," Aldanon said as he held his hand out, all the while acting as though they'd never met before.
Delphine seethed for a moment, no doubt aware that he was playing with her, before stiffly clasping his hand.
She let go as quickly as she could without seeming suspicious as Farengar continued speaking.
"Well it would seem that your information was correct after all," he said somewhat condescendingly. "And we have our friend here to thank for recovering it for us."
Delphine grimaced slightly but before she could respond another voice called out. "Farengar!"
They turned to find the Jarl's Dunmer bodyguard, Irileth, standing in the doorway. "Farengar, a word if you please."
Farengar frowned at the interruption but Irileth's tone forestalled any protests he might have made as he moved over to begin a quiet but heated conversation with the woman, leaving Aldanon and Delphine to stare each other down.
"So," Delphine said after a moment. "You went into Bleak Falls Barrow and got that? What happened to teaching at the College?"
"I hadn't intended for this to happen," Aldanon replied quite truthfully. "I met another survivor from Helgen on the road here and they asked me along to help spread the word about the dragon attacks. Everything kind of escalated from there."
"It's an odd thing," Aldanon remarked. "A backwater innkeeper with knowledge about ancient ruins and what's in them at her fingertips, rubbing shoulders with the Jarl's court mage too."
"My employers-" Delphine began to say.
"Psh," Aldanon scoffed dismissively. "Employers my ass. If that sword at your waist still means what it used to then there aren't more than a handful of your 'employers' still alive today and no way the paranoid bastards would congregate in one province. Be too easy for their enemies to find them that way after all."
For the first time in either of their meetings Aldanon got to see a reaction that well and truly matched her emotional state as Delphine paled fearfully. One hand crept slowly towards the hilt of the Akaviri katana, the traditional weapon of the Blades, sheathed at her waist while the other gripped the spine of the heavy tome she and Farengar had been discussing earlier, likely in preparation to fling it at his face as a distraction.
Any further movements on Delphine's part ended when Aldanon flashed her a discreet hand sign, one used by covert Blades agents to identify one another on missions in the field. He wasn't even remotely worried about the fact that his knowledge of Blades protocols was nearly two centuries out of date.
"We didn't change our ways when Reman's line died out," Jauffre, the Grandmaster of the Blades during his time, had told him after Aldanon had coerced him, by way of Martin, into teaching him the signs. "We kept them when Talos' direct line died out and should, Talos forbid, the day come when the current line ends the Blades shall continue on as we always have."
Considering the current state of the Blades though, perhaps a little change couldn't have hurt much.
"You..." Delphine breathed in shock but anything further she might have added was drowned out by Farengar's surprised shout behind them.
Both of them turned their attention to the pair by the door as Irileth tried to calm the excitable mage down. "Yes, Farengar, a dragon and it's been sighted out near the western watchtower. The Jarl is waiting for us upstairs with the messenger."
She frowned as she stared over Farengar's shoulder at Aldanon. "You should probably come along as well. We may need your experience as well."
"We shall have to continue at a later date," Delphine murmured to Aldanon. "Make sure to send me a copy when you've deciphered the Dragonstone, Farengar. I have to return to my superiors and deliver the news."
"Of course, of course," Farengar replied, waving a hand absently. "A dragon...how exciting! You say it was spotted near the western watchtower? What was it doing?"
"We aren't sure yet, the messenger wasn't in any state to tell us anything when he arrived," Irileth replied. "You should take this more seriously. If a dragon were to attack Whiterun I don't know if we have the manpower to stop it."
The thought seemed to sober Farengar up some and the three made their way upstairs in silence. On the second floor they found Jarl Balgruuf and one of the city's yellow-garbed guardsmen leaning over a large map of Skyrim on a table there.
"You've done good work, son," the Jarl was saying. "Ah, Irileth! You've brought Farengar...and Pendragon? You're back so quickly? Good, we could use all the help we can get right now."
"If I can help, then you'll have it," Aldanon replied.
"Good, good. Now tell them what you just told me," Balgruuf ordered the guardsman. "About the dragon."
"Right, my lord," the man said. "We saw it coming from the south. It was fast...faster than anything I've ever seen."
Aldanon was only vaguely aware of Irileth asking the man a question as his attention was no longer focused on the meeting. His senses stretched out over the miles, searching for any sign of Alduin, but beyond the standing stones, the Gate to the south-east and the thrum of the Skyforge's power beneath his feet nothing else registered.
'So Alduin has his lackeys doing the terrorizing now,' Aldanon thought. 'Guess I made quite the impression.'
"I see," Irileth was saying when Aldanon tuned back into the proceedings. "We'll take it from here. Head down to the barracks and round up some of the men, then get yourself some food and rest. You've earned it."
"At once, housecarl," the guard replied, bowing to the Jarl as he moved to follow his orders.
Balgruuf was silent for several moments before he turned to Aldanon. "There's little time to stand on ceremony, so I must ask you to tell me truly. Can we defeat this thing?"
"Assuming it isn't the black dragon that attacked Helgen, and I'm almost certain that it isn't, then yes," Aldanon replied. "We certainly can."
"How can you be so certain?" Irileth asked incredulously.
"Well the fact that your man actually survived long enough to make it to the city and warn us is a good indication," Aldanon shot back. "One of the things I'm really good at is getting...impressions from people, places, and now dragons apparently, and what I got from the one at Helgen didn't present a picture of restraint and mercy."
"And if you're wrong?" Farengar asked.
'Not likely,' Aldanon thought derisively, though he only shrugged before replying. "If I am wrong then it's a good thing I'm going with you. I'm probably one of the few things in Skyrim capable of running it off."
It was an arrogant thing to say aloud certainly but it didn't change the fact that it was the truth either, regardless of the skeptical look Irileth was shooting him. Aldanon might not be able to actually hurt Alduin but he was willing to bet he had staying power necessary to hold the dragon god off till he got bored and looked elsewhere to practice his destructive habits.
Unstoppable force meets immovable object and all that.
The Jarl sighed resignedly. "I am reluctant to admit that I was going to ask you to help us once again so soon after, I'm assuming, you returned with Farengar's artifact?"
Receiving a nod of confirmation Balgruuf continued. "But you were there at Helgen. You faced one of these creatures and lived to tell us about it. If-"
"When," Aldanon said firmly, earning a small smile from the Jarl.
"Very well, when you return we shall have to speak about a suitable reward for your services. I think it's safe to say that property rights are the least we can offer you."
"Perhaps I should come along as well," Farengar interjected as Irileth and Aldanon began to leave. "I would very much like to see this dragon."
"No, I can't chance losing the both of you," Balgruuf replied quickly. "I need you here working on ways to defend the city from these dragons."
"As you command," Farengar said, a bit glumly.
"One last thing, Irileth," the Jarl called out, halting them as they began descending the stairs. "This is not a death or glory mission. I need to know what we're dealing with. Your success could very well decide the fate of Whiterun."
"Don't worry, my lord," Irileth replied with a wry smile. "I'm the very soul of caution."
"I envy you this chance to see a dragon up close!" Farengar grumbled as they all made their way down to the main hall.
"I doubt you'd envy us much out there where the beast is trying to kill us," Irileth snapped. "It is one thing to read a book about a creature or study its remains, it is another entirely to face one in a life or death struggle."
"She's right, my friend," Aldanon proclaimed, clapping the mage lightly on the shoulder. "Maybe sometime in the future you'll get your chance to meet a dragon face to face but for now we have larger concerns."
"I suppose," Farengar agreed with a sigh. "You'll tell me all about it afterwards won't you?"
"Every bloody detail," Aldanon reassured the man.
"You certainly seem to know how to handle him," Irileth remarked with grudging curiosity as Farengar left them for the safety of his study.
"Comes from experience," Aldanon replied. "Used to have a few friends like that, letting their work get the better of their common sense."
"Oh? What happened to them?"
"Their work got the better of them," Aldanon remarked softly before motioning her towards the door. "Lead on, we shouldn't keep our scaly adversary waiting lest it get impatient and actually attack the city."
"No signs of the dragon," Irileth said as she peered over the rocks they were using for cover. "But is sure looks like he's been here."
"Certainly looks bad enough, doesn't it?" Aldanon agreed as he surveyed the destruction.
It had taken them the better part of an hour to muster the small squad of guards, making sure they were properly equipped for the coming battle and psyching them up to actually face a dragon with a rousing speech courtesy of Irileth, and make their way out to the watchtower.
And had arrived to a scene of total destruction. Now Aldanon doubted that the ramshackle state of the place was entirely the doing of the dragon alone, much of the fallen down sections certainly looked like scars of past battles and age, but the raging fires here and there were definitely recent additions.
"I know," Irileth replied with a grimace. "But we've got to figure out exactly what happened and determine whether or not the dragon is still lurking about."
She drew her sword and turned to the men. "Spread out and search for survivors. With any luck we'll be able to find out what we're dealing with."
"Try to keep something at your back at all times and one eye on the sky if you can." Aldanon added.
The guards murmured their acknowledgments as they drew their own weapons, following after Irileth and Aldanon as they sprinted across the short distance separating them from the watchtower. Aldanon and Irileth passed by several corpses, some burned or crushed beyond recognition, but paid them no heed as they made directly for the tower on the shared assumption that if anyone survived they would have hid there.
They were right too. As soon as they reached the bottom of the crumbling ramp one man, missing his helmet and half his armor blackened and burned, came stumbling out of it only to collapse and fall at their feet.
"No! Go back!" He gasped as Irileth tried to help him to his feet. "It's still out there somewhere! It just snatched up Hroki and Tor when they tried to make a run for it!"
"Pull yourself together," Irileth snapped at him. "Where did it go?"
A distant roar from the south answered her.
"Kynareth save us," the man whimpered. "Here it comes again."
Aldanon could just see it, clearing one of the peaks of the mountain range. "It's coming back, from the south!" He shouted to the others.
"Get that man back inside, he won't be much use to us," Aldanon ordered Irileth. "Then get your ass back out here."
He thanked the Dread Father that she was a practical woman, merely nodding and hauling the poor man away rather than arguing with him.
"Stick to your cover!" Aldanon shouted as it drew nearer. "Aim for its wings and knock the bastard right out of the sky!"
It roared yet again as it came within striking distance and Aldanon responded with a bolt of lightning. He grimaced when the dragon simply swerved to the side and dodged both the lightning and the hail of arrows that followed it, strafing one of the ruined walls and bathing it in fire though thankfully missing any of its targets.
"Something that big should not be that agile," Irileth complained after several minutes of frantic combat.
Aldanon grunted in agreement as it dodged his magic yet again. Its ability to sense magic must have been nearly on par with his own for as soon as he'd unleash a bolt or ice spear it would swerve unerringly out of the attacks path. The others hadn't really done much in the way of damage either. The guards simply weren't trained to hit targets moving at the speeds the dragon could attain and Irileth suffered from the same setback he did.
As a plus though they'd managed to avoid any serious injuries or deaths thus far. The dragon had begun targeting Aldanon and Irileth almost from the moment it realized that they were the ones flinging magic at it but Aldanon's wards, which had been more than enough to hold back Alduin's fury, and Irileth's natural resistance to fire kept them safe enough.
"If the damn thing would just land we could hit it," Irileth hissed as it strafed them to little effect yet again.
"And that's exactly why it hasn't," Aldanon shot back. "Dragons aren't mindless creatures destroying things on instinct. Legends tell that they're more intelligent than most mortals and I doubt this one is any different."
"Well then what chance do we have?" Irileth snapped at him.
"I said 'most mortals'," Aldanon replied confidently. 'Which I most certainly am not.'
He tracked the dragons flight path and unleashed yet another bolt of lightning, not really expecting it to actually hit its mark but forcing it to abort its own attempt at roasting some of their men as it dodged.
"We need something that it can't dodge so easily," Aldanon mused aloud as he scanned the battlefield for inspiration. "Something bigger and more destructive than arrows but less obvious than direct magical attacks..."
A manic grin spread across his face when an idea suddenly struck and he turned, yelling to Irileth over his shoulder as dashed off to implement it.
"Keep it busy!"
"What!" Irileth shouted after him as he ran around the tower. "What else are we supposed to do, throw rocks at it?"
She grit her teeth when giddy laughter was her only response. The man may have been powerful, even she couldn't deny that after seeing him hold a ward up almost continuously since the battle began while casting all manner of other spells, but he was obviously insane.
Irileth turned back to the battle to rally her men for a tactical retreat. Not back to the city of course, no reason to give the beast any further incentive to attack than it already had, but further west towards Fort Greymoor a couple miles down the road.
'I just hope Agnis can keep her guests from trying to kill us on si-' Irileth's thoughts ground to a halt when she spotted the dragon once again.
Two of her men, having grown frustrated with their lack of success thus far, had abandoned the relative safety of the scattered rubble they'd been using to shield themselves from the dragon fire to climb the broken wall and gain a better vantage point.
It would have been a wise tactical move in any normal situation but this was anything but a normal battle. The dragon, taking advantage of the fact that the mad Breton had apparently quit the field, swooped in and, in a move that should have been impossible for something of its size, came to a stop directly over them flapping its wings to keep aloft.
It inhaled mightily in preparation to unleash its fiery breath attack on the two unfortunate souls and for the first time since the battle began, Irileth actually heard it speak.
A sudden rush of air above her, a sound she'd come to associate with the massive form of the dragon flying through the air, caused her to look up in trepidation, fully expecting to see another dragon swooping in to devour her.
Instead she was greeted by the sight of a massive hunk of rock, one of the chunks that had once made up the watchtower's outer defenses, soaring in an impressive arc directly at the dragon. It noticed the projectile almost exactly the same moment she did but by then it was too late and the boulder, that probably weighed as much as three or four of her men combined, caught it directly in the chest sending it flying backwards to crash into the ground on the far side of the road.
Irileth felt a shiver crawl up her spine when what she could only call a mad cackle wound its way into her ears. She turned slowly and felt her jaw drop in utter shock at the sight that greeted her.
Aldanon was standing there in the open with the widest, most insane grin she could ever remember seeing on a person. That wasn't what she found shocking however. No, what had her jaw trying to separate itself from the rest of her head were the five or six boulders, each as big or bigger than the one that had taken out the dragon, floating in the air above him.
She was a fairly accomplished magic user in her own right, perhaps not to the extent that Farengar or even Danica Pure-Spring were but skilled enough to hold her own in a magical battle, and everything she knew about magic was telling her that what she was seeing before her was completely and utterly impossible.
"How about that, you scaly bastard!" Aldanon cackled again. "Well come on, let's see you dodge more of these!"
Irileth barely even flinched when the dragon roared angrily in response as it took to the air sluggishly, obviously injured. Her eyes, and those of every living thing on the field or in the air, were fixed firmly upon the still cackling battlemage.
'Well that certainly got its attention!' Aldanon thought triumphantly.
He flung another boulder at the dragon, testing its reflexes to determine just how badly he'd hurt it, and watched with a critical eye as it just barely managed to duck under his improvised projectile. Its evasive maneuvers quickly brought it around to face Aldanon and, as it bore down upon him, the dragon opened its maw to unleash its fiery Thu'um upon him once again.
Aldanon clapped his hands together sharply. The boulders, all held aloft and guided by his telekinesis spell, came together with a jarring crash to form a barricade of solid rock between him and the flames.
As the dragon soared over him Aldanon spun on his heel and gestured languidly, sending one of the now scalding hot hunks of rock after it.
The boulder scraped painfully, if the dragon's ensuing roar was any indication, along its side and grazed the joint where its right wing met its body, leaving a scorched trail along the leathery skin of the wing itself.
It banked hard to the right as the boulder flew past, attempting to use the tower as a shield against any further attacks and to hide its movements. Unfortunately, for it at least, Aldanon could sense its magical signature just as easily as it could his own and was ready for it when it came around the far side. The moment it soared back into his sights Aldanon thrust both hands out, sending all of his remaining boulders directly at it.
At that range and as fast as the dragon was flying there should have been no way he could miss and yet, impossibly so, he did. The dragon tucked its wings in close to its body, curled its tail up in a rather awkward looking manner and then simply moved left, looking for all the world like someone had stuffed it into a barrel and rolled it out of the way, allowing the barrage to pass harmlessly by.
It righted itself quickly, wings snapping back out to their full and intimidating width and tail back to its proper position, just in time to catch a boulder that Aldanon resummoned to the back of the head.
That last hit was too much it seemed for the beast as it nose dived sharply, impacting the ground and digging an impressive trench as it skidded along a fair distance.
The whole world seemed to hold its breath for several seconds before excited cheers and jubilant shouts rang through the air as the guards celebrated the dragon's death. A celebration that was cut woefully short when it suddenly rose up to its feet and spoke, this time in a mixture of its own language and the common tongue.
"Brit grah," it rumbled as it turned to face them. "I had forgotten what wonderful sport you mortals can provide!"
"Well get your scaly ass over here and see how much more sporting we can be when you're on our level!" Aldanon challenged, drawing Umbra with an impressive flourish.
"You are very brave," the dragon replied as it scrutinized him closely. "Aan balaan hokoron. Your death shall bring me great honor."
"You're welcome to try, just like everything else before you!" Aldanon retorted as the dragon began stomping towards them.
"Attack you worthless milk drinkers!" Irileth shouted, snapping the guards out of their terrified daze. "It's down, now let's finish it off!"
She let out a war cry as she charged the dragon just behind Aldanon. Half of the guards dropped their bows and drew swords, shields and hammers, following after their Jarl's housecarl while the remainder scrambled for higher ground to unleash a barrage of arrows.
Aldanon raised a ward to block the stream of fire without even breaking stride as he continued his charge. The flames parted suddenly as the dragon's tooth filled maw shot forward to snap shut with a sound like a massive steel trap in the place where Aldanon had been standing a second before. Aldanon swung Umbra in a mighty arc as he dodged that cut deep into the flesh along the dragon's face, sending scales and blood flying.
The dragon roared in agony and swung its head violently in response, slamming into Aldanon with great force and sending him tumbling head over heels. Irileth took advantage of the opening presented and began hacking furiously at its neck and unleashing a steady stream of lightning to weaken the scales there.
It responded in much the same way as it had with Aldanon but Irileth was prepared for its reaction and rolled under its scaly neck as the head swung around and renewed her assault on the other side. By that time the guards had caught up and began their own assault, moving to flank the dragon and avoid its head.
They hacked away viciously at anything they could reach as it thrashed about in retaliation, whipping its tail and flailing its wings to fling them away but doing little real damage otherwise. On the ground the dragon lacked the maneuverability that it enjoyed in the air and couldn't turn quick enough to catch the mortals with its most potent weapons.
Irileth had moved further down its body and was busy carving long gashes in the dragon's wing when one of the others landed a truly devastating blow with his warhammer on the opposite wing where the dragon's "hand" was located and the sharp crack of breaking bone echoed across the plains.
A truly enraged roar followed as the dragon reared up on its hind legs, wings sweeping out and knocking away many of its attackers. A powerful bolt of lightning crashed against the spot where the first boulder had struck, sending scales flying and leaving scorched flesh in its wake.
The dragon turned quickly to meet Aldanon's renewed charge and fell forward again, jaws opened wide.
The flames engulfed Aldanon, who hadn't had time to erect a ward like he had before. The fire raged relentlessly until Aldanon suddenly emerged from the stream with a mighty leap, his armor smoking and body glowing with the most powerful resist fire spell he knew. He landed heavily on the dragon's snout and managed to keep his footing as he brought it crashing to the ground.
"End of the line for you," Aldanon snarled.
He drew back and then thrust Umbra deep into the dragon's eye and, hopefully, into its brain. It convulsed wildly, either in an attempt to throw him off or death throes, but Aldanon stubbornly held fast to Umbra's hilt.
As its struggles began to lessen the dragon spoke again in its unintelligible language. "Thurri du hin sille ko Sovngarde..."
Aldanon waited a moment more before yanking Umbra free and leaping back to the ground. As he sheathed the cursed blade the dragon spoke one last time, awe and fear tinting its voice.
Aldanon, recognizing the dragon word for Dragonborn, turned just in time to witness the dragon's body begin to disintegrate before their very eyes.
"Everyone, get back!" Irileth shouted but Aldanon paid her no mind as he watched.
Scales peeled off and floated away like leaves in autumn before burning up and the flesh beneath seemed to melt from the inside out. Power burst out of the rapidly deteriorating corpse and rushed into Aldanon in arcs of energy similar to when he'd absorbed knowledge of the Thu'um from the wall back in Bleak Falls Barrow.
As the last of the dragon's body burned away, leaving just its massive skeleton behind, the last streams of energy flowed into Aldanon and he was overcome by a rush of sensations and information so potent that he very nearly collapsed from overload.
While Aldanon was trying to sort through his new found knowledge the others were cautiously gathering around him.
"I can't believe it," one guard muttered. "Can he really be...Dragonborn?"
"Do you have any idea what you're saying?" Another asked incredulously. "There hasn't been a Dragonborn in centuries."
"You know the old tales as well as I do," the first one snapped back. "Back when there were still dragons in Skyrim, the Dragonborn would slay them and steal their power and that is exactly what he did isn't it, absorbed the dragon's power after he killed it?"
"Mirmulnir," Aldanon muttered suddenly.
They all took a cautious step back when he spoke for fear that he might unleash his Thu'um, as the old tales say he could, but when nothing obvious happened one of the braver guards spoke up.
"What was that he said?" The man asked cautiously.
"The dragon," Aldanon elaborated. "His name was Mirmulnir. I think you might be right, though I absorbed a little more than just his power it seems."
And it was true. There was more than just power transferred there, though he could feel the new energy thrumming deep within his very soul it seemed, but memories and experiences as well. Considering the fact that Mirmulnir was apparently one of the few dragons had survived the Blades great purge of dragonkind and stayed in Tamriel there was a considerable amount of both muddling up his head right now.
"Yes, I think I am," the first guard said firmly. "There's only one way to be sure. Try to Shout."
Aldanon closed his eyes to block out the curious and disbelieving stares directed at him and reached deep down, just as he'd tried to do the night before, to where the word he'd learned lay. This time though he noticed a difference.
Whereas before he'd known the word and knew what it meant in the human tongue now...now he truly knew the word. Could see it and understand the true power of it as only a dragon could. Using that new understanding he focused all the power he could muster behind it, tilted his face towards the sky and unleashed it.
A shockwave of energy blasted skyward, kicking up dust and debris all around him and buffeting those gathered around him.
"By the gods!" One man cried. "What manner of power was that?"
"Thu'um," Aldanon replied as a grin split his face. "The power of the Dovahkiin, one with the Blood and Soul of the Dragon within them. Like Reman...and Tiber Septim."
"I never heard of Tiber Septim slaying any dragons," one guardsman said as he examined the dragon's remains.
"There weren't any dragons left by then, idiot," his fellow replied. "But now they're coming back for the first time in...forever."
"What do you say Irileth?" Someone asked. "You're being awfully quiet."
"Yeah, come on Irileth tell us! Do you believe in this Dragonborn business?"
The Dunmer woman stepped forward with a scowl on her face, one directed firmly in Aldanon's direction.
"Hmph," she scoffed. "Some of you would be better off keeping quiet than flapping your gums about matters you know nothing about."
"Here's a dead dragon," she continued. "And that is definitely something I can understand. Now we know we can kill them."
"But I don't need some mythical Dragonborn," she nearly spat the word like a curse. "Men brought these creatures down in the past and it will be men that will bring them down once again."
"You wouldn't understand Housecarl," someone else said condescendingly. "You ain't a Nord."
"I've been all across Tamriel," Irileth snarled back. "I've seen plenty of things just as outlandish as this. I'd advise you to trust in the strength of your sword arm over tales and legends."
An uncomfortable silence followed her tirade as the guardsmen looked at each other in confusion, wondering just where the sheer venom in her voice stemmed from. Aldanon had an idea or two about it but decided it would be better to remain silent than poke another hornet's nest so soon.
Before anyone could gather their wits to do or say anything further a sound like thunder clap shattered the relative peace of the plains, startling several of the men present. As they looked up in confusion, the sky being clear and cloudless for miles all around, something else could be heard over the lingering echoes.
As the men around him began breaking out in excited muttering Aldanon could only grin.
'Yes,' he thought in satisfaction. 'Yes I am at last.'
A/N: Almost there ladies and gents! Aldanon, as you can plainly see, is an old hand at dungeon delving and not easily deterred from his goals either by traps or anything foolish enough to challenge him.
For those of you whom might have missed it, the Dragon Priest guarding the Dragonstone in this chapter was Krosis. Originally the poor bastard was stuck out in the middle of nowhere at Shearpoint with pretty much no purpose compared to his compatriots, who usually had some quest revolving around them, so I decided that he deserved something a bit different and thus a new guardian for the Dragonstone was arranged. How many people remember the spell reflection from Morrowind and Oblivion? Aldanon certainly does as you can see and uses it to great effect. One thing I always thought was odd was how limited Dragon Priest magics were...these were the best of the best over 4,000 years ago and most of them just use a staff to fling shitty spells at you? What the hell is up with that? I'm going to be expanding upon their abilities in future confrontations you can bet on that.
As for the mask Krosis, I needed to think about what enchantments that increased your skills in Archery, Lockpicking and Alchemy, the first two of which are somewhat pointless for mage priests as Aldanon notes, would actually do. So, in order, it boosts the wearers sight, enhances their hearing so they can hear the clicking of the pins better or whatever, and the sense of smell to pick out that particular herb.
Also highlighted is another, though admittedly not so important, weakness in Aldanon's repertoire of abilities. His ability to sense the emotions of undead, even the ones like liches that were once human, is nonexistent though he generally compensates by sensing the necromantic magic that created or drives them but that isn't something he actively does unless he is forewarned or in a tomb/crypt/ect like the Barrow here.
And of course I finished things with a bang, with the showdown between the forces of Whiterun and Aldanon against the long-lived survivor Mirmulnir. One point I felt I needed to make there is that dragons are not simply mindless beasts. Why would something that has the advantage of flight over its opponents/prey abandon that advantage and place itself in danger? Some might say arrogance or pride and I can agree with that to a degree but in Mirmulnir's case he survived for thousands of years where most of his fellows did not so the only way they were getting him to come down was to force him.
And force him they did.
Now there have been at least a dozen different ideas by as many different authors here about just what absorbing a dragons soul would entail. From simply using those souls as a power source for each word the Dragonborn learns, pretty much like it is in the game itself, to actually waking up some kind of inner dragon spirit to guide them. I'm shooting for a Highlander-esque style here myself. Were we dealing with a normal Dragonborn they would absorb the soul and gain an increase in power, magical and/or physical, along with the ability to use whatever words they've learned while the rest of the dragon's essence would be discarded. As I've been pointing out a lot however, Aldanon is anything but normal. In his case what would otherwise be discarded, memories as he notes above among a few other things, his mind and body can handle and so integrates. Not without cost of course, he doesn't gain any actual power from the process like a normal Dragonborn would seeing as he is already at his peak and probably slightly beyond.
The benefit I'm shooting for here? Language, pure and simple. I had just finished the quest where you meet and speak to Alduin properly for the first time and his mocking little bit about "...you call yourself Dovahkiin and yet you can't even understand the language…" struck me. So Aldanon now has, or rather will have, an innate grasp of the language of the Dov though it will take him some time and study to sort through the knowledge.
Which segues nicely into this last part. With his understanding of the Thu'um from a dragons viewpoint, what use would Aldanon have for Word Walls beyond serving as shortcuts? If a bunch of non-Dragonborn could create a shout that is capable of stripping Alduin of his invulnerability what could a Dragonborn with such extensive knowledge of the language at his disposal be capable of?
So I propose a challenge to my readers! Shouts, ladies and gentlemen! I already have a handful of my own personal creations but I want to see what you are all capable of coming up with! If you have access to the list of words Bethesda so kindly gave us, or know where to find it, try to come up with some shouts of your own, and/or give me a description of what they are meant to do. I reserve right to use or dismiss any submissions at my discretion however and full credit will be given to the creator whenever it is used. Leave submissions in a review or drop me a line with the PM system, just please make sure you don't have PM's blocked!