Haters are still welcome!
For those that don't know, I usually write my rough draft in a physical notebook. The biggest pros of doing this are that a notebook is light and small enough to carry in your pocket and doesn't have the annoying keyboard of a mobile phone, and I get a free although mandatory editing run. The cons, well… Sure, it takes longer, but the biggest con is still this: jhonie . webs apps / photos / photo?photoid =140323590 (Remove the spaces. Photo was taken 2011, and it's only gotten worse since)
Yeah. That's why I'm later than I intended. Even I have difficulties reading that. Yes. That's my handwriting. You're welcome.
Now, onwards with that which you've all waited for…
No, not the disclaimer, it's still redundant.
Journey of a Lilmothiit
Black wings in the Cold
Fire. Wherever he looked, fire, overwhelming, devouring. Murderous, hungry fire. A constant.
He was running. Running, running, running, praying that the weight on his back was still all right. How? How could everything have gone so wrong so fast?
How long had it been? Not half an hour ago, he'd still been standing on his tower summit, doing some katas to pass the time.
It felt like a lifetime had passed since.
When the imperial caravan of fugitives had arrived twenty minutes prior, Naruto had been astounded by the sight. Never before had he seen such a massive gathering of the Cyrodiilic Samurai. At least, that's what the shinobi saw them as, since their purpose was similar enough. The caravan was grand enough, but in the end its purpose still disturbed the boy. He understood the reasons for the mass-execution, as well as its importance, but he still couldn't bring himself to stand behind it as a supporter.
Perhaps he should follow his sensei's advice and try to join the Companions after all. They were mercenaries without any affiliation other than to themselves, which was quite alluring, for he had no intention to take sides in a war that wasn't his to fight. He doubted the conflict would be over with the death of Ulfric, the rebel leader. This execution would only make him a martyr to them, strengthening their resolve to fight.
No, this wasn't something he wanted to be a part of, so joining an openly unaffiliated guild like the Companions did seem to be for the best. That wasn't something without its drawbacks either, though. Naruto felt certain apprehension regarding the idea of joining a guild, especially one as tightly knit as the Companions. After all, he was searching for a way home, to leave this world for an entirely different one, and he wasn't sure that he'd actually be able to return here again, despite what he'd told Torolf and Haming. Oh, he'd try, by all means. He'd do his best, he'd promised to, but if it was impossible, it was impossible, and tying more bonds than he already had could become problematic.
Naruto sighed to himself. When had he become so detached? It wasn't like him. Connecting with people was in his nature, why was he trying to deny it? This whole business had really shaken him up, it seemed.
No. He'd keep following his instincts. Sure, they were kinda the reason he was in this mess in the first place, but to be honest, he wasn't entirely sure that this was a bad thing after all. True, he'd been pulled away from his home and everybody he'd ever known, at least apart from Kurama, and he'd kinda been put through a forced racial switch, but on the other hand, if all of that hadn't happened, he would never had come to Helgen, and he'd grown very fond of the tiny little community.
With a wall. A tiny little community with a wall. Can't forget the wall.
As the carts began to roll in, Naruto let his gaze wander over them, doing his best to remain neutral, but his attempts were steadily failing. So many people, just being shipped along to meet the axe, like cattle. It made him queasy just thinking about it. Why did Hadvar have to sign him up for this again? Right, strongest in the village, reliable and all that.
Why did they have to make such a spectacle about it, anyway? Had it been in the Elemental Nations, they would simply have sent an assassin to deal with Ulfric. Swift and clean, and no needless spectacle. On that thought, wasn't there a guild of assassins here, anyway? The dank brothers or whatever they called themselves. Why hadn't anybody thought of hiring them to take out the rebel leader? Probably because they were Nords, he figured, and their code of honour could rival that of the Samurai of Iron.
"Stupid Nords and their stupid Bushido," the blond muttered to himself as the many carts kept rolling in, settling at the large courtyard that usually was their town square, bustling with market stalls. The usually merry place was now reduced to naught but a site of death and despair.
"Fuck off, Kurama."
The Youma snickered. "Really?"
He would have shuddered at the implication, but he was growing used to Kurama's antics by this point. "No. Go away."
The teasing tone made the edge of Naruto's lips twitch upwards. While his methods were a bit unusual, Kurama did tend to at least try to cheer him up when he was down, in his own way. He still wasn't sure why the big oaf started caring, but it was definitely better than his "rawr, I'll devour you and all that you hold dear"-attitude that he so stubbornly persisted with before.
It was then that he noticed something was off. The last cart of the caravan was now in sight, which granted him a small sliver of relief, but its occupants were... unique, and it wasn't just because one of them was Ulfric himself, although he certainly called upon his attention as well. Of all of the fugitives, the rebel leader was the only one who was gagged. Not that strange, if they wanted to keep him from shouting out some order to hiding troops, but anyone could do that, so why wasn't everyone gagged, then? Besides, why did they only tie the soldiers' hands up? Flimsy. Flimsy and downright retarded. Those bounds wouldn't hold a shinobi down for two seconds...
However, it wasn't Ulfric or the flimsy bounds that had really caught his attention. No, it was the single non-Nord of all of the fugitives in the entire caravan. She was a Khajiit woman with a coat as white as snow, her hair in long, thick braids, reaching down to the base of her tail. The cart was too far away for him to see any details, but he could feel hints of an almost regal aura, one that seemed broken and replaced with jaded bitterness. Unlike the Stormcloak soldiers, her hands were actually tied behind her back, and not with ropes, but chains. There were several elves of the faction he'd come to know as the Thalmor circling the cart, but they didn't seem to be guarding Ulfric, but rather the Khajiit.
Why was she deemed to be such a threat, and why was she even tossed among the Stormcloaks? She couldn't be one, obviously, since the Stormcloaks were quite notorious for being Nord supremacists. With the stigma that the so called beast-folk held these days, there was no way that they would even let one into their ranks in the first place. Hell, the Khajiit usually weren't even allowed into the cities.
Something just wasn't right here.
The grogginess lingered as the comfortable drowsiness seemed to be in no rush letting go of her mind. Frankly, she didn't want to wake up, not really. The foggy blanket of almost-sleep was so much more nice and simple than the harsh and so frustratingly complicated fangs of the waking world. But no, her so-called brothers in binds would not let her, as they'd much rather try and converse. Humans… At least one of them was gagged, one less voice to bug her.
Nords they were, her companions on the cart. Not the friendliest of folk, especially not towards outlanders such as her, so the politeness of the blond one was a surprise. She supposed that race mattered but little when facing the gallows, in the end. The blond Stormcloak was at least somewhat decent company, if a bit too philosophical for her liking. Oh, she could appreciate the occasional bit of poetry, but she found little to be poetical about when heading to the headsman's block.
The Nord in rags was not nearly as calm, no. He was panicky, even. Horse thief. Heh. Tamriel held no mercy for those that would steal a horse, just like it held no place for people like her. The animal thief kept insisting that the two of them shouldn't be there, trussed up on a cart with the Stormcloaks, heading towards the chopping block. Hah! What a joke. 'Shouldn't be'? How cute. The Legion didn't care about any 'should'-s or 'shouldn't'-s, only what was and wasn't. The world was a cold, hard place with no place for any idealistic 'should be'-s.
The gloomy young Khajiit inspected what she could see of her binds. Flimsy, at best. She could pick a lock of this level in half a moment! If she had any picks, that is. She would use her claws, but her tail didn't really have them, and with her hands restricted like this...
A faint sliver of blue light darted across the surface of the chains. Che. Enchanted. To restrain her magic, no doubt, and with four Thalmor Justiciars watching her every move and only minimal cover nearby, things were looking very bleak for the renowned 'Ghost' indeed.
She couldn't help but let out a low growl. All of this, and in the end, that bastard she once called a brother would go free. Of course he would. That magnificent bastard of a traitor always did. She sighed, resigning herself to just observe the walls around them. End of the line, it seemed. End of the Ghost story. But perhaps this was for the best, in the end...
"I thought cats weren't allowed into the cities?" The horse thief's words cut through her thoughts, snapping her attention to the conversationalists.
She snorted at him. "This one is on the way to the chopping block. What would such silly things matter?"
"I'm pretty sure that only applies to the caravans, anyway," the blond Stormcloak added. Ralof, was it?
"I mean that one up there," said the thief, indicating with his head towards one of the towers. "Curious they allowed one into the guard, as a lookout, no less."
"It's a time of change, horse thief," Ralof remarked. "I just hope that it is for the better."
"But a Khajiit guarding a Nord town-"
"That is no Khajiit."
The three Nords, even the gagged one, regarded the white Khajiit with confusion. "If that's not a Khajiit, cat, then what is he?" Ralof couldn't help but ask.
"Khajiit does not know," she admitted. "But no Khajiit looks like that."
No. The person, just a kid she realised, seemed too... vulpine to be one of her people. He was too far away for her to see him properly, but she knew that no cat of Elsweyr had ears that large. They brought the foxes of the desert Anequina to mind. A fox-person? She had a vague memory of some old book mentioning a race like that. Lilmothiit, the seafarers, if she remembered it right. Weren't they supposed to be extinct? If her memory served correct, nobody had heard of them for millennia. Most curious...
Their eyes met for a brief moment, and while he was too far away for her to make out any details, she couldn't help but feel a certain sense of... familiarity, as if she knew him. But the moment was broken as the wagon stopped, and she realised once again that it wouldn't matter, not in the end. Not after this.
For this was the end of the line...
From his perch high upon the ridge, our young hero had been trying to listen in on the prisoners' conversation, with little success, and all the while his sense of foreboding had grown. To be on the safe side, he'd made a few extra clones to keep a more thorough lookout, a few were even watching the streets from the shadows between the houses.
The Khajiit puzzled Naruto, and it wasn't just the heavy restraints she was under. No, the emotional read she got from her was so much different than the ones he got from the soldiers, or even the cattle thief. While the latter was overcome with fear and confusion and the soldiers emitted a solid aura of defeat, the white cat was bitter, annoyed and filled with regret, and... self-hate? Not that surprising in itself perhaps, but it stood out, and in most cases, one would be bitter at oneself for getting caught. Her bitterness was indiscriminate. He didn't really bother to look too far into it, though. Everyone was different, after all.
When the cart stopped, Captain Hadvar ran up to it, along with some Legate he didn't know and started going through a roll-call. It was disheartening, really. Just listing people like that. For the block, he meant. Checking them off, to die, like they were... This was people, not... not some objects they could play around with! It was so... impersonal. Insensitive. Inhuman.
When Lokir – that was the horse thief – couldn't handle the pressure anymore and made a break for it, Naruto couldn't stand watching him be shot down. It was a good thing that Torolf had insisted that Haming went inside earlier. No need to make a child see all of this.
Then, they called for her.
"Inorra, the 'Ghost' of Anequima."
"This is the end for you, 'Ghost'!" The commanding voice of the Legate cut through the air like a knife. "I don't exactly like doing the Elves' dirty work for them, but you brought this upon yourself!"
Inorra hissed at the Legate. "'Brought this upon myself'? All that Khajiit did was being born! It is Vasha you're after!"
"Your words carry no weight here, cat. Now get to the block!"
The wayward shinobi could just barely restrain himself from shouting out loud in protest as the white Khajiit begrudgingly joined the crowd of Stormcloaks. This was insane! Didn't these people have any proper interrogation techniques? That Khajiit, Inorra, was telling the truth! There had been no lie! An execution he would withstand, but not the execution of an innocent!
Thinking quickly, Naruto made a Kage Bunshin, positioned so that it wouldn't be seen from behind the ridge. He made an approximate guess of distance. Good, she was within his range. Giving his clone the signal to go ahead, it henge'd into the Khajiit and did a Kawarimi with her as noiselessly as it possibly could. He wasn't entirely sure what to do when the clone would inevitably dispel, but he'd figure something out.
There was a low 'thump' as the cat convict lost her balance and fell to the floor in surprise at suddenly being at an entirely spot than she was half a second ago. Acting quickly, the young fox covered her mouth with his hand. "Keep it down," he hissed, mostly as a precaution, since she hadn't made a sound. "I'm trying to save you!"
Inorra narrowed her eyes. She was not swift to trust, by any meaning of the word, but she was at a clear disadvantage here, and this strange young... whatever he was had apparently at least saved her from a more immediate danger with whatever it was he did, but if she was this quick to trust, she'd been dead a long time ago. The boy uncovered her mouth, allowing her to speak.
"And why would you save this one?"
His answer was simple. "You didn't lie."
The fugitive raised an eyebrow. "You would trust a criminal above men of the law?"
"The truth is the truth, no matter who-"
Naruto froze at the warning, shooting back up in position. Kurama barely had time to utter those words before the memory of a dispelling clone had hit him. A great shadow was approaching from the Jerall Mountains, from the sky, no less. The young Lilmothiit couldn't help but feel a moment of Deja-vu, as if he should know what it was.
"That's Alduin, Kit!" the older fox supplied, before grumbling to himself. "Just got back and I have to see his ugly snout again? Fucking irresponsible Lizard bastard..."
"What do you mean?"
"Run, Kit. Just run. You can't fight that thing. As we are right now, we don't have a snowflake's chance in Hell!"
The young teen grit his teeth. Time to sound the alarm. If they couldn't fight it, then they'd have to evacuate, and fast. He channelled chakra to his voice box to make sure that he would be heard. "INCOMING! DRAGON APPROACHING FROM THE SOUTHEAST!"
All action stopped below. Torolf turned up to give him an incredulous stare. "Have you had too much drink, boy?"
As if to prove him wrong, the black harbinger of destruction let a thundering roar echo across the sky.
Naruto grimaced. "HE'S GETTING CLOSER! WE NEED TO EVACUATE! NOW!"
"Sweet mother Mara..." gasped a guard on a neighbouring tower. "It is a dragon! Everyone, we gotta-"
He couldn't even finish his sentence as Alduin, devourer of worlds, landed upon the very tower he stood upon, crushing the poor guard dead.
The sky itself darkened, storm clouds circling overhead as if they were in the middle of a cyclone. Fire started falling down from the heavens like rain, crushing and burning anything unfortunate enough to get in its way.
All in the span of a few seconds.
Inorra managed to stand up, her hands still bound. The black dragon turned his head to the two youngsters, and for a horrifying moment, their gazes met, and the dragon smirked at were unsure how, but somehow, they just glared back at the black harbinger and they could feel... something stir within.
Then the moment was over, and Naruto finally found his voice again.
Everything seemed to blur together after that point, leaving only vague impressions behind with only a few moments of agonizing clarity. Flames devouring everything in sight, the screams of panic and agony that seemed to come from everywhere at once, the desperate yells from the soldiers, the frantic orders from the officers and the overwhelming feeling of hopelessness… It was just as devouring as the flames around them, eating away on their already low morale, leaving only one thought left in Naruto's already quite battered mind.
Why did this have to happen? Why Helgen? Why now? Why Helgen?
Why did these things always happen to him?!
He remembered setting Inorra free from her bonds before looking for the people he had begun to think of as family, only to see Matlara being pierced trough the chest by dragon claws. When he found Haming and Torolf, the latter was shielding the former with his own body from lethal dragon fire. Feeling numb, Naruto had managed to grab Haming and get out of there. The keep had an escape route he knew, and for now, getting Haming out of this flaming inferno alive was all that mattered.
Inside, he encountered Inorra again, along with Hadvar and Naruto felt relief, knowing they were still alive. Stormcloaks and Imperials alike were littering the tunnel, both alive and dead and Naruto remembers fighting his way through. Who his opponents were wasn't clear, he just wanted to get away, to get Haming away. To keep his otouto alive. Haming wanted to fight too, and Naruto remembers a feeling of panic. He couldn't let him fight, Haming wasn't yet strong enough! There had been an argument, but he couldn't remember the details. Inorra had kept her head cool and mediated. Haming had folded. He remembers feeling relief and gratitude.
It had been a hunt from that point, he realized. He and Inorra, they had been two predators stalking through the cave, and the hostile humans their prey. It made him queasy just thinking about it. They had struck from above, killing everything in their path just to clear the way to the exit. Sure, they had survived, but killing never came easy to him. Oh, he'd grown used to it, but what really frightened him was how naturally it had come to him at that moment.
In a way, it just served to further hammer down the fact that he wasn't human anymore. It was horrifyingly tempting to call himself a monster, but Kurama had more or less beaten the notion out of him. He wasn't a monster, and if he dared to call himself that again then Lilmothiit or not, the fox would pound him senseless.
It didn't change the fact that he was now irrefutably a predator, and that was something that the young ninja found very difficult coming to terms with.
That curiosity killed the cat is a common saying and Inorra, the renowned 'Ghost' of Anequima now found herself firmly held within the grasp of an unusually high concentration of the potentially lethal sensation, despite her many years of living with entirely justified paranoia that should by all means discourage such a sensation.
The subject of this fascination? Why the first Sea strider to be seen in Tamriel for millennia, of course! She had almost felt stupid for not recognizing what he was at first, but when she remembered how few traces the foxes had left behind that notion had been dropped like a hot potato. In fact, the recorded history from that day and age was sparse and eroded by time, to the point that most of her people of this day believed the Lilmothiit to be a mere myth that very few bothered with anymore. Indeed, most peoples didn't even remember they ever existed. They had become a legend, a myth that she herself had favored dearly as a young kitten, but had almost forgotten about in all that had happened since then, so it was no wonder it had taken a while for the realization to hit her.
To think that she would actually meet one. A live, genuine Scribe! The inner child she thought she had killed off years ago seemed to have reappeared and she found herself having a hard time suppressing it. By Alkosh, she had so many questions! Where had they gone all those centuries ago? Why had they disappeared? Were there others alive? Where? How did their culture look like? Why was he in Skyrim of all lands? Why now? Why had he saved her, really?
And just why did she feel as if she should know him?
But she couldn't ask him, not now. She could see the pain and grief in the young fox's eyes clear as day and could tell that all of these questions would have to wait until a later date. The poor boy needed a chance to heal, and such questions might very well tear up other wounds, something that was the last thing he needed right now.
To think she had planned to ditch this group at first opportunity, at first, but now…
No, the Ghost would stay with the young Strider for a while. Inorra knew she should leave, to keep her enemies away from these youngsters if nothing else, but there was just something about the fox that made her want to stay, and it wasn't just her curiosity and childhood dreams that caused it. The blonde teen just had this strange feeling about him that just made her want to follow him, despite all that her experience told her.
Her experience told her to stay away, to not get close, never ever, not to anyone. It told her she would get hurt, that they would get hurt. That she couldn't trust anyone. That she should just cast an invisibility-spell on herself and sneak away at first opportunity. That she shouldn't drag anyone else into this. That she should hide in the shadows of the night, away, away, away.
And yet, for the first time in years, Inorra silenced the voice of her paranoia and decided to listen to her heart, just this once. For the first time in over a decade, the Ghost of Anequima decided that this time, she would cover someone else's six.
That night, they set up camp by the White River. Riverwood wasn't far away now, but they were exhausted both physically and emotionally and needed to sleep. Inorra was best off, unsurprisingly since she hadn't lost anyone close in the chaos, and was already asleep. Hadvar was fast asleep as well, though his sleep was fitful, tossing this way and that. Naruto had already woken him up once, but the nightmares persisted. The poor officer had lost all of his men that day and if the young shinobi had had any drug for dreamless sleep, he would have gladly shared a dose.
Not to mention that he would have given little Haming one. The poor child was suffering from a pretty bad case of survivor's guilt and kept seeing the burning body of his father whenever he closed his eyes. As it was, the eleven-year-old was awake, sitting alone on a log, facing the river, staring blankly ahead. It didn't take an expert to tell that the kid was blaming himself for his parents' deaths, illogical as it might seem. Naruto was unsurprised. In that situation, anyone would.
The blond teen was mourning them too, but this time just like when he last time had lost someone close, he found that he was unable to shed any tears. It wasn't that he didn't let himself cry, it was simply that the tears didn't feel like coming. With a sigh, the fox walked over to little Haming, taking a seat right beside his surrogate brother on the log. He didn't speak, settling for gazing at the rushing river. The sound of water had always had a calming effect on him, and the river water rushing towards its distant freedom in the open seas... It was poetic, in a way. Poetically soothing.
"Haming..." he said after a while, never turning his gaze away from the running waters. "Did I ever tell you about the time Konoha was invaded?"
The boy still didn't say anything, but he turned his head towards his big brother, indicating that he had his attention.
Naruto nodded faintly, leaning forward with a faraway look in his eyes. He was no longer gazing at the White River, but into the rivers of time, remembering things he'd honestly rather not. "It was... almost two years ago, now. Oto, a new village, and Suna, our long-time allies teamed up and struck during our most... our most open moment, during the Chûnin Shiken. We were caught pants down."
"I..." The young fox lowered his head. "I was fighting Gaara, their... uh... their ace, a few miles away from the city walls and missed most of it all. By the time I got back to the village, a whole district the size of Whiterun was in ruins. We did chase the invaders off in the end, but... our leader died that day." Turning his head, he gave Haming a sad smile. "My parents died the day I was born. Growing up, that old man was the closest thing to family I had."
Silence fell upon the duo once more like a heavy thicket. A wolf pack could be heard howling in the distance.
After a while, Haming spoke quietly. "How do you stand it?"
Naruto smiled, wrapping an arm around the younger boy's shoulders. "I live." Live the life he'd have wanted me to live. Live the life he couldn't. The words went unspoken, but oh, so very heard. The young Nord bit his lip, shaking slightly. Naruto noticed grasped his shoulder more firmly. "Let it out."
Haming's shaking got worse, but otherwise, he didn't respond.
"Let it out", insisted the fox. "You don't need to be strong, little brother. I'm here. It's okay to cry."
As if a switch had been turned on, the little Nord started hugging his brother like a lifeline, sobs racking his small form. All of his fear, his utter despair was laid bare for his brother to see, and Naruto took it all in, whispering soothing words in the little one's ear.
He had no idea how long they sat there, but before he knew it, Haming was asleep, and Naruto could feel sleep burrow its claws into him as well. They fell asleep like that, sitting on a log, lulled to sleep by emotions flowing as freely as the river before them.
Neither could imagine what future held in store for them.
A few meters away, by the edge of their camp, two glowing, yellow eyes observed the two surrogate brothers. The owner let a melancholic smile escape her before she went back to her tent. Maybe, just maybe, things would be different this time...
And thus concludes chapter four, Black Wings in the Cold! For those that don't know, the word Khajiit means 'Sand Strider', the Khaj meaning 'Desert' or 'Sand' and the Iit meaning 'One who walks' or 'Traveller of'. Do remember that, because it's kind of important.
This chapter didn't really turn out as well as I'd have liked. It feels... choppy towards the middle. What do you think? Should I rewrite it? Should I let it be? Please let me know.
(Edit: Re-wrote the escape from Helgen and made a few major and some rather minor adjustments. Hopefully, it's better now...)
I was really happy with how the last scene turned out, though. I really loved writing that.
Until next time, take care, peeps!