I do not own the Elder Scrolls. The main characters, however, I do own.
Dovahkiin. It's Draconic for "Dragonborn."
Or at least, that's what my grandmother told me, back when I was little. Before this even began. Before a civil war broke out.
Before I began my journey to the home of the Nords. Skyrim.
What did the word "Dovahkiin" have to do with me, one might ask? Supposedly, there was someone who was born with the soul of a Dragon every time the old Dovahkiin died. How it happened was unknown; whether it was through bloodline, through destiny, or through pure dumb luck was beyond anyone who wasn't already dead, but I choose to believe the latter of the three. I don't believe in crap like destiny, and I just don't understand what about a bloodline makes people so special; if you were the descendant of a hero... so what? That hero has nothing to do with you. You don't just get something thrown into your lap because you're descended from someone famous; you have to earn what you want, you have to work for it. Or at least, that's how I believe it should work.
Either way, it didn't change what my grandmother thought. According to the Elder Scrolls of legend (or just her interpretation of the legends of what the Elder Scrolls foretold), the next Dovahkiin had been born. I don't know what that had to do with me - the old lady died before I'd gotten everything out of her - but she told me one day, I'd figure it out on my own.
Well, whoopde-frickin'-doo. A lot of good that's doing me, if the old bat wasn't crazy.
I stared up at the gray sky, totally coated in cloud that seemed to be one impenetrable layer of colourlessness, just a single sheet of total gray, not even letting the sun shine through. A perfect sky for an execution, MY execution, no less. For something I hadn't even gotten involved in yet. Great. Fan-fucking-tastic.
The cart I was in gave a massive jump as one of the wheels rolled over a rock. My head snapped to the driver, my pure white hair lashing about as I glared into the back of the Imperial's head, my bound hands flexing, "hey, you. The jackass who's driving."
The driver turned his head slightly, his eyes narrowed as he struggled to look at me past his leather helmet, "are you talking to me, prisoner?"
"Yes, you. Who else would I be talking to? You see anyone else driving this cart?" I snarled, "how about you drive more carefully? There's some who would prefer to make it to their execution with some peace of mind, and you're not helping anything with your distractions."
He snorted, "you have no right to speak, you Stormcloak scum."
I sighed, shaking my head in the knowledge that telling them I had nothing to do with the Rebellion was useless, "whatever. Just pay more attention to the road. I actually want to make it to my execution alive," I leaned forwards, letting my white hair hang over my face, looking over my life like some kind of old man.
"So, you've been awake this whole time, have you?"
I glanced to the voice, and I took in my fellow prisoners for the first time. The one who'd spoken was dressed in nearly all blue scale armour, with shoulder length hair of a dirty gold, tied into a braid framing one side of his face, and a thick mustache and beard, his eyes the constant icy blue that accompanied almost all Nords. His voice was one of a kind gruffness that also accompanied the Nords - the ones who were actually native to Skyrim, anyways.
"Yeah. I'm awake," I left it at that as I took in the other members of the cart - two more Nordic men, and an Imperial woman. The first Nord was nothing special - dark hair and eyes, ragged clothes. But the second one got my interest immediately. With a mixture of armour, nobleman's clothes, and a bearskin cloak around his shoulders, he wasn't just bound; his entire arms had been bound in place with chains, his feet hooked together like some kind of slave. A gag had been wrapped around his mouth, keeping a fleshy wad of... something inside, though why, I couldn't imagine. But I drew in a single breath of shock upon glancing at the woman. Even in the commoner's rags she was wearing, she was a sight to behold - she had a tall, curvacious, yet powerful frame, not as heavy or thick as a Nord, but clearly a stronger build than any normal person from Cyrodiil. Her long, crimson hair hung about her head in tangled clumps, and her hands were tough, calloused from hours of work, not unlike my own. As her amethyst eyes slowly opened, and her regal gaze seemed to pierce through me until I managed to drag my gaze away.
"You were trying to cross the border, right? Walked right into that Imperial ambush, same as us, the girl, and that thief over there."
"Damn you Stormcloaks... before you came along, the Empire was nice and lazy. If they weren't looking for you, I'd have stolen that horse and been halfway to Hammerfell!"
I turned a bored eye to the man who sat at the edge, with the black hair and eyes. He'd been rambling for a while, and until now, I'd managed to tune him out. It was all I could do to keep from kicking him out the back of the cart just to shut him up as he continued, turning to me and the redheaded woman, "you there. You and me, we shouldn't be here. It's these Stormcloaks the Empire wants."
"Well, we're all brothers and sisters in binds now, thief," the armoured man glowered at him.
I snorted, staring at the thief, "goes to show what the Empire's really like. Arbitrary arrests on those who had nothing to do with it. Though arrest for theft isn't quite arbitrary."
The redhead gave me an icy stare, "the Stormcloaks and their sympathizers aren't on a much higher level. Just ask Ulfric here."
She gestured to the man with the gag, who was giving her a glare as evil as the Daedra themselves. He gave a grunt, as though attempting to bite through his gag, then slowly settled down as the soldier snarled "watch your tongue. You're speaking Ulfric Stormcloak, the true High King! I don't care if I'm bound, one more insult to Ulfric out of you, and I break your neck, you bitch."
She merely rolled her eyes, "men. You're all the same. Proud and foolish."
The soldier stood, rocking the whole cart as he did so. I grabbed his wrist and he glared at me as I stated "not worth it, man. Not worth it. It's bad enough we have to die today. Don't make it any worse for yourself."
He hesitated for an instant before sitting back down, slowly, continuing to glare at the woman, who crossed her legs and hung her head backwards, staring up at the sky.
"Ulfric? The Jarl of Windhelm?" the thief's eyes widened with sudden panic, "you're the leader of the rebellion. But if they've captured you... oh, Gods. Where are they taking us?"
"What an idiot," I sighed, letting my head roll back onto my shoulders, "I don't know where we're going, but wherever it is, it's going to be our burial ground. Why do you think we've been talking about execution for the past five minutes?"
"In other words, no matter what, Sovngarde awaits," the armoured one stated, leaning back, surprisingly calm.
"No... This can't be happening. This isn't happening!" the thief shouted.
"Oh, will you shut up?" the woman lashed out with her foot, catching the man in the side of the jaw and nearly sending him tumbling to the road. Her voice was clear and regal as she spoke, holding a fierce flame burning within it, "no one wants to listen to your ramblings. Least of all me."
The man gave a whimper, shrinking back as far as he could away from the woman and rubbing at his nearly broken jaw, "I stole a horse... that's all I did. The three of us... we never did anything to deserve this!"
There was a short silence before the armoured one asked "hey... where are all of you from? You, horse thief, you first."
"Why do you care?" the thief snapped.
"A person's last thoughts should be of home," he stated simply.
The thief hesitated, the stated "Rorikstead. I'm... I'm from Rorikstead."
The Stormcloak soldier nodded, then he turned to me, "I'm Ralof, of Riverwood. Would you two mind telling me where you are from?"
I hesitated slightly before stating "Cyrodiil. I was born in Windhelm and spent the first few years of my life as a child there, but I lived most of my life in the mountains of northern Cyrodiil with my family in a secluded home, pretty isolated. I came here, to Skyrim when I heard about the Rebellion... I was never sure why, really. I just felt like I had to come. This is the first time I've seen the land I was born in. But I think I know," I glared at the Imperial soldier who drove the cart, "which side I'd choose if I were to actually get out of this."
Ralof nodded before turning his gaze to the woman, "and you?"
"Morrowind," she stated simply, "I lived in Morrowind, at the base of the Red Mountain. My family had moved there from Cyrodiil before I was born because of multiple years of bad harvest. I had even less reason to come to Skyrim than he did, but still I came. And here I am, being driven to my execution for no reason."
"General Tulius, sir!" a voice ahead called out, "the Headsman is waiting!"
"Good," another replied, "let's get this over with."
I glanced forwards, taking in the stone walls of the town ahead before pointing ahead as best I could with my bound hands, "there it is. Welcome to Helgen, our execution site."
"... Zenithar, Mara, Dibella, Kynareth, Akatosh... Divines! Please help me!" the thief begged, his eyes cast skywards, almost forced to tears.
As the gate finally came into view, so did the other carts, packed full with Stormcloak soldiers as each cart entered the gate. At the front of the caravan rode a single man, wearing the Imperial red armour of a general - no doubt general Tullius, who'd probably come to see Ulfric's execution to ensure that it went as planned, pulling off to the edge and halting to talk with his men. While most of the village didn't catch my interest, a massive watchtower stood in the center of Helgen, dwarfing the walls by at least twenty feet.
"Look at him. General Tullius, the military governor. And it looks like the Thalmor are with him," Ralof cursed, "damn elves... I bet they had something to do with this."
"Finally, something I agree with you on," the redhead spat, "I can't stand them."
I drifted off into thought as Ralof continued speaking, something about how he used to be sweet on a girl here as a boy, and if someone were still selling a special mead with berries mixed in. But chills shot down my spine as he stated, sorrow tinged in his voice, "it's funny. When I was a boy, Imperial walls and towers used to make me feel so safe."
I lost myself in thought again, the raging storm inside my head beating against the walls of my skull. I was shortly jolted out of my self induced trance as the cart came to a stop, and each person got off the trio of carts. I felt something horribly close to fear as my ice blue eyes scanned over our surroundings. About twenty prisoners in all, almost all of them Stormcloak, the three exceptions being me, the woman, and the guy she kicked. A small group of about ten people stood on the sidelines, about half of them Nords, and Imperial soldiers were scattered throughout the area, two standing off to the side, a legionnaire and a normal soldier. At the base of the watchtower, a stone block sat, a basket at its edge and a giant of a man standing at its side, gripping his massive axe with grim resolve, his expression unreadable beneath the black mask of an executioner.
"Why are we stopping?" the thief began to tremble as he took in our surroundings, sweat pouring off him like boulders off a mountain.
"Why do you think?" the woman shot back, "end of the line."
"Let's go," Ralof stood, "wouldn't want to keep the guards waiting."
"No, wait! We're not rebels!" the thief begged as we all stood, Ulfric descending from the cart first, "we're not-"
He was cut off as the woman kicked him out of the back of the cart. She descended from the cart, giving a snort as she stepped on his back, making him yelp in pain, then stomped on the back of his head, driving his face into the dry, rocky dirt and effectively shutting him up.
"Face your death with some courage, thief," Ralof spat as the woman stepped off of him, and he raised his head again as I stepped over him, his eyes pleading for mercy.
"You've got to tell them!" he begged, "we weren't with you! This is a mistake-"
"For the last time," the woman managed between her grit teeth, "shut the hell up! Or we'll kill you ourselves!"
"Well spoken," I managed as Ralof stepped past the thief, and I turned to face the Imperials.
Their legionnaire stepped forwards, "step towards the block when we call your name, one at a time!"
"Empire loves their damn lists," Ralof muttered, and I gave a slight smirk.
"Ulfric Stormcloak, Jarl of Windhelm," the Imperial soldier stated, and the Jarl walked forwards, cold, calm, regal before his men as he approached his death.
"It has been an honor, Jarl Ulfric," Ralof bowed his head in respect, then started after him when his name was read from the list.
"Lokier of Rorikstead."
The thief, Lokier, broke into tears, shouting "no! I'm not a rebel! You can't do this!"
He almost immediately broke into a run, shouting in his delirium, "you're not gonna kill me!"
"Halt!" the legionnaire shouted. When it became clear that he wasn't about to stop, she called out "archers!"
Within the next instant, an archer launched an arrow, piercing the thief's back, and sending him crashing to earth. The man writhed about, thrashing and screaming like a sick, dying dog for a long thirty seconds before finally going limp, having lost the strength to move, yet still breathed, his breath panicked, blood dripping from the mouth. For a moment, I almost felt sorry for the poor bastard.
"Anyone else feel like running?" the legionnaire hissed.
When no one answered, she snorted, "filthy bastards. Skyrim, no, all of Tamriel is better off without you scumbags!"
"Wait..." the soldier beside her paused, looking up and down his list with interest, before glancing up at me and the redhead, "you two there. Step forwards."
He studied each of us for an instant before asking "who... are you?"
I snorted, "what does it matter? You'll kill me no matter what I tell you. It's not like you Imperial scum give a damn-"
"His name is Rorik," the woman stated, cutting me off, "and I am Valkyrie. Valkyrie Drominas."
I glared at her, partly for cutting me off, partly for giving them a false name, and she merely gave me a sideways glance, as though she wanted to say "there's no point in wasting a life that doesn't need to spent. I'm trying to help you. Don't blow it."
I merely shook my head, and the soldier stated "you two chose a bad time to come to Skyrim. Especially you, kinsman," he pointed at me, then turned to the legionnaire, "captain, what should we do? They're not on the list."
His superior snorted, "forget the list. They go to the block."
The soldier gave a curt nod, "by your orders, captain," he turned to us, seeming chagrined by his orders, gave us each a long, sorrowful stare, "I'm sorry, you two. There's nothing I can do. Follow the captain, prisoners."
"Whatever," I snorted, "and by the way, captain... you're a total bitch. I hope you realize that."
She turned to glare at me, then slammed her gauntlet covered fist into my gut. I let out a slight wheeze as the wind was knocked from my body, but stayed standing, glaring into her eyes before she turned away, and walked through the crowd to the center of the yard. As she walked past, I saw Tullius finally show his face, standing before Ulfric with steadfast determination as he spoke, "Ulfric Stormcloak. Some here in Helgen call you a hero. But a hero doesn't use a power like the Voice to murder his king, and usurp his throne."
Ulfric merely let out a grunt, and for a long few seconds nothing happened before Tullius continued "you started this war. Plunged Skyrim into chaos. And now the Empire is going to put you down, and restore the peace!"
It looked like he was about to continue, but a screeching sound, almost like a howl of triumph echoed down from the distant mountain to the north - High Hrothgar, the Throat of the World.
"What was that?" one of the soldiers asked.
"It's nothing. Carry on."
"Yes, General Tullius!" the captain brought her fist to her chest, and turned to a woman in bright hooded robes, "give them their final rights."
The woman nodded, cleared her throat, and raised her arms skywards, calling out "as we commend your souls to Aetherias, blessings of the eight Divines upon you-"
"Oh for Talos' sake, shut up and let's get this over with," one of the Stormcloaks stomped up to the block, clearly not in the mood to deal with any Imperial bullshit at the moment.
Taking the opportunity presented, I shouted "and to add to that, there's nine Divines, dumbass!"
The woman stared for a moment, then grated her teeth, obviously irritated by both the soldier and my outburst, "as you wish."
The Stormcloak soldier grinned as he got to his knees, "come on, I haven't got all morning!" he set down his neck down on the block, shouting as the executioner raised his axe, "my ancestors are smiling at me, Imperials! Can you say the same!?"
Upon the last word, the axe struck, biting through the Stormcloak's neck severing his head, sending it tumbling into the basket. His body twitched about before finally going limp, and as the executioner removed the head from the basket, one of the Nord women shouted "you Imperial bastards!"
Almost immediately afterwards, as though to counter the outburst, someone from the Empire yelled "death to the Stormcloaks!"
The man holding the list gave a low sigh, shaking his head, and Ralof bowed his head in respect, declaring "as brave in death as he was in life."
The legionnaire beside him continued "next, the Nord in the rags!"
"Just my luck," I muttered, "Divines, Daedra, or whoever made my luck so damn shitty today... fuck you. Fuck you all so hard."
I felt myself go rigid as another howl echoed down the mountain, my gaze once again shooting to the icy peaks of High Hrothgar. I felt my breath go ragged as I continued to stare. That was not nothing.
Something was out there. And it was happy about something, about to go on a celebratory rampage.
"There it is again," another Imperial stated, "did you hear that?"
The captain cleared her throat again, "I said, next. Prisoner!"
"To the block, prisoner. Nice and easy," the Imperial soldier who'd tried to help me stated, trying to calm me, I guess. I merely walked to the block without a word, my eyes caressing each person there, every Stormcloak, every Imperial, Ralof, Ulfric, even Valkyrie, if that was really her name. I sighed, kneeling, placing my head right over the basket and staring up at the mountain that towered over the horizon. I watched as my life flashed before my eyes, and then smirked. It wasn't like it had been all bad. I did have my good moments in life - wait. What the hell did I just see?
I felt myself stiffen again, totally forgetting about everything else as I watched the black shape move across the sky, huge, massive... and getting closer. As it approached, I couldn't believe what I saw. It wasn't possible, shouldn't be possible, couldn't be possible. And yet there it was. Right in front of me.
"What in Oblivion is that!?" the words of the guard echoed in my ears as the executioner raised his axe, and the shape flared its black, massive wings, and began its descent on top of the watchtower.
"Sentries!" the captain shouted, "what do you see?"
The ground shook as the legend before me landed on the tower, knocking everyone to their knees as it stared down at us. The sounds of metal being drawn from sheaths rang through the air, and someone shouted out the one word that I couldn't believe I was seeing.
The one thing in life I had wanted so desperately to see in my lifetime, my obsession right from the first time I'd heard stories about them as a child, right in front of me, encased in black scales from head to tail. Spikes jutted out from its back, tail and shoulders all over the place from the scaled plates that made up its body, and great black wings folded themselves under its body, like a pair of forelegs on an animal. Its head was sharp, jagged, its horns like curved swords, its eyes burning like the red hot coals of a dying fire. It stared down at us for what seemed like hours before raising its head to the sky, and unleashing a roar, the sound echoing over what seemed like all of Skyrim and splitting into my head, wracking my body with pain. The edges of my vision grew blurry as I gripped at my skull, and the skies darkened, the clouds growing in length and twisting into what looked like an inverted maelstrom of sky, the clouds swirling inwards as chunks of flaming rock began to descend from the sky. In rapid succession, the dragon let out another roar, a blast of energy shooting from its jaws and smashing into one of the buildings behind me, the sheer force of the attack making it crumble.
"Gotta... get out... of here," I managed, grating my teeth as pain continued to shoot through my body, the sheer majority of it concentrating in my head, "come on, body... move..."
As another echoing howl shredded through the air, another blast of pain shot through me. I let out a scream of pain as I threw my head back, doing my best to grab my ears to block out the sound, trying to make it stop. I stood, swaying with an unsteady gait as I stumbled away, trying to get as far as I could from the infernal echoes that threatened to rend my mind and sanity. I forced my eyes open, and there stood Ralof. He shouted at me, "enough! Come on, the Gods won't give us another chance!" he gestured to another tower, "this way!"
Dodging through the hailstorm of flaming rock, I managed to follow him through what was left of the Helgen's execution yard to the watchtower. In less than thirty seconds, the place had been turned from a quiet village to what looked like a war zone - the clouds had darkened to an even duller gray than before, flaming rock falling from the sky every few seconds, the air absolutely choked with dust. Imperial soldiers aimed their bows at the dragon, but to little avail - if they weren't killed by the falling fire, they were killed by enraged Stormcloaks, or worse, the dragon itself, leaving corpses strewn throughout the streets, burned and broken.
"Jarl Ulfric," Ralof swallowed, facing the now unbound Jarl of Windhelm. The Jarl's face remained cold as ever as he studied his subordinate's face, which was twisted with disbelief and confusion, "what is that thing!? Could the legends be true!?"
Ulfric's voice, cold and calm, shot through the tower and struck deep into our hearts, "legends don't burn down villages."
Another roar breached the stone walls of the tower, and a familiar voice called down, "what are you idiots standing around for?! Get your ugly asses up here!"
I turned, and there was Valkyrie, halfway up the steps, her face twisted with indescribable pain and confusion as she made her way upwards, struggling to get her hands out of the binds. Almost immediately, we bolted up the steps after her, the only way to go being up. As we were about reach the second floor, however, the wall exploded inwards, and a jet of fire shot in, charring the stone with such heat that it actually began to melt. Screams sounded from within the flame before it dissipated, and a rush of air nearly knocked me back down the steps as the dragon leaped from the tower and flapped to another part of the burning village, leaving the hole in the wall be.
As we ascended to the second floor, I couldn't bring myself to look behind me, keeping my gaze forwards through the hole in the wall. I didn't want to look at the bodies.
"See the inn on the other side?" Ralof asked, pointing at the smoking building below, a hole in the ceiling, "jump through the roof and keep going, both of you!"
"What about you?" I shouted.
"I need to see to the Jarl. I'll be fine. Just go!"
I didn't need to be told twice. I leaped, Valkyrie beside me as we crashed to the wooden floor of the inn. We ran across the creaking, burning floor, and dropped through a hole to the ground floor, making one final break for the hole in the wall as fire ate its way through the charred, smoking wood. We stopped dead in our tracks at the sight of the Imperial soldiers, two of them trying to guide a boy through the street. The boy made it about halfway before the dragon landed behind him. He panicked slightly before the soldier shouted "atta boy, you're doing great!"
That was all the encouragement the boy needed. He sprinted, the soldiers accompanying him as the dragon let loose a stream of fire, scorching the street black as they pulled behind a makeshift barricade that was once part of a building. The one caught sight of us, and I recognized him as the man who had read the list.
"Still alive, prisoners?" he called out, "stay close to me if you want to stay that way! Undar!" he turned to the other soldier, "take care of the boy! I have to find general Tullius and join the defense!"
His friend nodded, "Gods guide you, Hadvar."
With that, the two immediately split up, the one named Hadvar motioning for us to follow him. As Valkyrie started to go after him, I shouted at her, "what are you, crazy!? The Empire just tried to kill us less than five minutes ago!"
She turned to me, her eyes blazing, "not all Imperials are like that, you know. Look at the one who tried to help us, for an example, the one we should be following right now. Plus, it's a choice of him, or the dragon. Which do you prefer?"
I glanced up at the black demon that rampaged through the area, then reluctantly nodded, "alright. But as soon as we don't need him, he goes!"
She nodded in acknowledgement, then we bolted after the soldier, who was coming close to an alleyway made up of a broken stone wall and a burning building. As we approached, he shouted "stay close to the wall!"
He crouched low, and almost immediately the beast landed on top of the wall, its clawed wing inches from my face. It let out another blast of hellish inferno as it reduced another Imperial to ashes, weapons, flesh, armour and all before taking off again. As soon as it was gone, we all bolted, running through streets and wrecked buildings alike and passing another group of Imperials as they tried to combat the monster that was tearing what I assumed to at least be their protective charge if not actual home. Hadvar called back again as we approached the main keep, "it's you and me, prisoners! Stay close!"
As we entered the courtyard of the keep, a familiar face ran through a section of the wall, brandishing an axe that glinted like a beacon in the sunlight. Hadvar's face twisted with rage as his eyes set on him, "Ralof! You damn traitor! Outta my way!"
"We're escaping, Hadvar. You're not stopping us this time!" Ralof shouted back, hefting his axe slightly.
Another roar rocked the foundations of the earth. Hadvar grated his teeth, his grip on his Imperial gladius tightening before he managed through his grit teeth "fine! I hope that dragon takes you all to Sovngarde!"
After that, each went for a separate door in the side of the keep. Without a second thought, I bolted after Ralof, ducking through the door as he threw it open and never looking back. As soon as we were both in, Ralof slammed the door shut, bolting it up and leaning against it, the both of us working to catch our breath.
"So, our little girlfriend didn't come, eh?"
The question shot chills down my spine as a horrible realization came over me.
Valkyrie wasn't here. Which meant...
She'd gone with Hadvar.