Thu'um is Bolded.
Two: Crowned Glory
When the Imperial Guard had asked her name, she had been dumbfounded to find that she didn't have an answer. So she stared at him instead, pleading eyes wide with horror as the sound of iron sinking through flesh echoed in the courtyard.
He had stared back unflinchingly, repeating the question once more, before huffing at her silence.
But the roister still needed a name.
So, in an action far too soft for his unforgiving features, the Guard had taken a strand of hair that had fallen from her long braid and gently tucked it behind her ear.
"It's almost as if embers of fire have caught hold of your head." He said thoughtfully, softening at the sight of her frightened form.
The comment was strange, odd even, but the Guard was nodding to himself, scratching at the parchment briskly before gesturing firmly at the line of prisoners standing at attention across from them.
"Off you go, then, Ember."
So she went, and took her new name with her. It suited her, with her autumn colored hair and golden eyes. But the acceptance of a name did little to dampen the panic she felt as a black shadow fell over them.
Much of the next few hours were a blur, fear and confusion coupling with the dreadful feeling of being lost, of not knowing one's self. In the lonely hours after Helgen fell, she had racked her mind for any hint of who she was.
And discovered nothing.
The simple shift she wore was generic, common for anyone, and gave her no clues. They told her that she was Norse, though her eyes were a peculiar color and the strands on her head were more vibrant than any they had ever seen. But they could tell her nothing else.
It didn't explain how she could understand the hissing tongue of the Argonian dock workers at Solitude, or why the Dunmer merchant in Windhelm looked so surprised when she answered him with a teasing proverb, native only to Morrowind.
Neither did it explain how the shadows seemed to envelop her when she wished or how she could still the air in her lungs to a whispering breath. Everything about her was an unknown; it left her feeling hollow and hopeless.
Then she found her family: Brynjolf, Vex, Sapphire. She learned that she was Dragonborn, though it meant little to them that she was. She had been happy, content in the role of a thief and gloriously oblivious to the Prophecy of the Greybeards.
Then they'd called her. And like a naive child, she had come running, unaware of the avalanche Fate had waiting, ready to crush her.
And so here she was.
Though she couldn't be sure where, exactly, here was.
Ember floated on a sea of semi-consciousness, thoughts like frothy bubbles, prodding at her, but with little effect. She sighed, stubbornly pushing images of her 'past' away and basking in this pleasant feeling of nothingness. It was almost like that one time she'd tried skooma, she mused, though the effect wasn't lasting nearly as long.
That she was breathing was a good thing, she concluded. She took another lazy breath, her waking mind returning to consciousness in slow, careless fragments.
It was warm, perhaps too warm, but it had been so long since she'd had this foreign luxury, that she ignored the slight discomfort it brought and chose instead to lay still for a while, sighing again as she did so.
The air tasted dry and spicy, stealing the moisture from her mouth, and she suddenly came to the realization that she was parched.
The skin of her forehead wrinkled between her closed eyes as she floated in this not-quite comfortable heat, something nagging at her.
A creak met her ears, metal grinding against metal, and her belly flopped within her as her bed moved. She jerked, eyelids fluttering, still processing what her senses told her at a disturbingly slow pace. The ground beneath her was swaying gently, its surface unbelievably hard.
Ember shifted, trying to find the comfort she had just been embracing, but it eluded her. Bare skin scraped against something rough and her eyes finally flew open, aghast to find that save for her smalls, she was naked.
She curled in on herself, frantic gestures over exaggerated in her panic. Her blood hummed, mind now sharp and scanning for danger.
Embers' golden eyes took in the thick iron bars surrounding her, blinking back water as smoke from an enormous bonfire beneath her reached with gaping red jaws to envelop her prison.
Sweat beaded at her lip and at the nape of her neck. She could feel it gathering in other places, creating a sheen on her body. Her hair was loose, falling around her like a fiery veil.
Her gaze darted beyond the confines of what had to be her cage, catching on the swirling shapes of a mural before her, covering the entirety of a stone wall.
It was one she was familiar with, depicting The Prophecy, Her Prophecy, with a small armored figure facing down a Shadow of Spikes and Fire.
Alduin and the Dragonborn.
But the image was somehow wrong and it took her a moment to figure out why.
It was too new.
Where were the weather marks; the crumbling that comes with age?
In fact, every surface she looked to seemed fresh and clean, like it had all been carved the day before.
A raised platform caught her eye, the giant surface inlayed with ebony and sticking out at the far end of the room like a gigantic throne. Across from it was an enormous archway, obviously an entrance of some kind, because she could distinctly make out a beam of daylight that stole its way past the enormous and intricate ebony doors framing said entrance. The fire pit and subsequently, her cage, lay at the halfway point between them.
Ember unwrapped herself, daring to lean closer to the bars. The ground swayed and she with it, like a sailor on a ship. She glanced up, unsurprised to find that her prison was hanging by a single, thick length of chain, much like a bird cage. Save for the hungry grumblings of the fire, it was deathly silent in the empty room. She shifted again, desperate to further her observations, but gasped as pain rippled through her.
Adrenaline and shock had dulled her wounds, but now that she was fully aware and awake, they howled at her like hellhounds. Ember looked at herself closely, surprised to find light, pink scars spider-webbing her body. The wounds were still tender, the flesh red and puckered. Someone, however, had cleaned them, though roughly, if the raw skin surrounding them was anything to go by.
Ember had little time to wonder why she was left alive in the first place, let alone healed, when suddenly there was a flurry of movement.
Draugr, withered and ancient, emerged from shadowed alcoves lining the walls, falling into rank on either side of the great hall. Some moved towards the door, opening it wide with their shriveled hands before flanking it.
The whole spectacle unnerved Ember, who had never seen the undead creatures move with such precision before. Their usually lumbering steps were sure with silent purpose, the rasping of old skin barely audible, despite so many in one place.
The hairs on the back of her neck rose and she unconsciously held her breath, seeking a shadow to sink into when there was none.
Dragon Priests appeared next, startling her, because Ember knew she had killed some of them.
But there they were, alive.
Ember felt a hysterical giggle bubble up her raw throat, but she choked it back down, stifling her panic. She gulped, still parched, but noted that the tingling burn from her last shout had faded. The rawness must be from the smoke.
Turning her attention back, she saw that they had taken places around the platform, expectantly turning all their masked faces towards the entrance.
The flapping of many leathery wings alerted her to the dragons' entrance, though not so many appeared as she would have thought. They swooped in, sending gusts of wind to roil the fire, before banking and settling along perches dug into the upper walls. She shivered at their silent passing, despite the heat that was becoming intolerable.
Ember could feel a tremor rattle her arms, her tell for nervousness and fear. They were all so quiet, so unbelievably still, that she found herself tensing, balking at the unnaturalness of it all. She could feel their eyes, viciously satisfied at her predicament. She glanced up at them, surprised at their variety and color, but unsurprised by their unrelenting stares. She looked away, her blood singing in her ears and her Dovah soul growling with anticipation.
Then like the day on the snowy ruin, a shadow blocked out the sunlight.
His entrance was grand, like a dark creature from her nightmares, and Ember was distracted enough to jump when the Shouting started. The Dov called down from their high places, words of glory and victory. The Dragon Priests showered their Master with adoration and praise. Even the Draugr spoke, though what they said was beyond Ember. And through it all, his glowering red eyes watched her.
He moved deeper into the hall, blade-like claws clinking against the smooth granite surface. His spiked form was larger than what she remembered, though she seemed only able to recall flashes of black in the sky. He was bigger than any dragon she had ever seen, perhaps twice as large in comparison to those on the balconies. His scaled neck arched tall; proud, as his horned head came level with her cage. His face had a harsh beauty, an uncommon sharpness and for a moment, all Ember could feel was awe. He was close enough to touch and she resisted the absurd urge to do so, coming back to her senses when the dragon's features shifted into something similar to a smirk.
Then he ducked beneath her prison, walking through the fire instead of around it, his back a sea of jagged spines and flames as the fire reached up to kiss his armored flesh. She stood before she realized it, following him to the edge of her barred cell. Flickering images of the Dovah's face, his human face, snarling and furious, flashed in her mind's eye. She wondered if the image was real.
The crowd had become silent and one of the Priests' had begun talking, rasping voice ringing out in the throne room.
"All Hail Alduin, World Eater, God of Destruction!"
The masses cheered, replying. "All Hail Alduin!"
The Priest continued, but Ember could no longer pay attention to his words, amber eyes transfixed upon the one they praised, watching as her enemy sat regally on the platform, tail wrapped around his legs and wings folded impressively at his sides.
It was a coronation ceremony, Ember realized, dumbfounded. They were crowning him and she wasn't even dead yet. But, she supposed, that was the point. A trophy hung up for decoration. It was humiliating, but not so much because she was shamed as the Dragonborn. She knew she was abysmal in that respect. Color rose in her cheeks because she had the eyes of fifty, if not more, of the World Eater's followers locked on her almost naked body.
"Hail Alduin! Hail Alduin!"
The roaring shouts petered off into silence and she flinched when he addressed her, growling voice echoing in the hall.
"What say you, Dovahkiin?"
She bit her lip, hands tightening to a knuckle-white grip as a shudder traveled through her.
Curse that name!
He moved to stand, bringing his form close again, eyes glowing malevolently, cutting her.
Ember didn't know how to react. She had always been, first and foremost, a thief. Not a warrior. Not a hero. But he was going to kill her; she could see it in those ruby depths. And he would relish every moment of his victory. So she did what any self-respecting thief would do when confronted with the executioners' axe.
She spat in his face.
AN: I have no idea where I'm going with this and honestly, hadn't thought about it. I had nagging inspiration the other day about this fic and came up with this chapter. So this is what I have to ask: how did I do? See any mistakes that I can fix?