Thanks for your comments/reviews since my last update, and also, a shout-out to those who have added the story to your alert list, c2, or favourite list, it's almost as good as a review, 'ya know!
Posted February xx, 2013.
INTERLUDE I: ESCAPE
Early morning of 17 Last Seed, 4E201
Village of Helgen, Falkreath Hold
Province of Skyrim
They'd been on the road for two days. Two days after that infernal ambush at Darkwater Crossing. The Imperial forces had taken one look at his outfit, and he was lumped in with the rest of the captured. Considering that included Ulfric Stormcloak, the Jarl of Eastmarch, this was bad. Correction, this was beyond bad.
Of course Mazhe knew all about the Jarl's duel with Skyrim's high king. Some called it a duel, fair and square, while others called it outright murder. Naturally, that's exactly what the Empire thought, resulting in the current predicament.
As they passed through the city gates, Mazhe caught a glimpse of their destination. A priestess of Arkay was there, as was General Tullius, the military governor of Skyrim. Another cloaked figure was on horseback—ah, of course. Elenwyn, the Thalmor ambassador. Mazhe had only seen her once before, but he made a habit of remembering their faces. Arrogant asses, the lot of them.
The wagons pulled to a stop, and within moments, the large group were being pulled off. A pair of soldiers were standing a short distance away, one holding a ledger of some sort. The other, judging by the armour, was a captain.
"When we call your name, step toward the block, one at a time!"
"The empire and their damn lists," Ralof muttered. Mazhe knew Ralof, they had met a few times while Mazhe was in the small village of Riverwood on business.
'Exactly as expected,' Mazhe thought, 'End of the line.' He was in a daze at this point. Attempting to escape would mean his end just as quickly—as a fellow Breton had just found out, now laying face down on the road with several arrows sticking in his back. He barely heard as General Tullius addressed the Jarl, condemning him for his actions.
The priestess was then giving them their last rites. "As we commend your souls to Aetherius, blessings of the Eight Divines upon you, for you are the salt and earth of Nirn, our beloved..."
"Oh for the love of Talos shut up and let's get this over with!" the first prisoner snarled, practically storming over to the chopping block, "Come on, I haven't got all morning!"
"As you wish."
The priestess snapped the scroll shut, while the prisoner knelt in front of the block. Mazhe had seen a man executed before—it was one of those things that... as terrible as it was, one could not look away. The headsman brought his axe up high over his head, and brought it down in one swift, terrible motion. There was a deadening 'thunk', and the man's head was severed from his body.
"As fearless in death as he was in life," said Ralof, sadly.
The still of the morning was broken by a strange, distant roar.
"Did you hear that?" asked the soldier with the ledger.
The captain didn't seem to notice. "Next prisoner... Mazhe of Ivarstead."
The roar came for a second time.
"There it is again. Did you hear that?"
"I said, next prisoner!" the captain snapped.
"To the block, prisoner, nice and slow.
"Talos guard you," said Ralof, as Mazhe stepped toward the block. Resigned to his fate, he knelt down, and rested his head on the block. The headsman again raised his terrible blade and—
Something flew overhead, momentarily casting an enormous shadow over the ground. It settled on top of one of the towers on the fort... it was black, with demonic-looking wings, with two crimson eyes that surveyed the scene below it.
"Yol—" A tremendous bloom of fire erupted from its mouth, sending everyone scattering. Mazhe rolled off to the side, just narrowly escaping the blast of heat and flame. He tucked himself up against the wall of the tower, quickly casting a flame spell to burn the bindings off his hands.
"Mazhe! Come on, get up!" Ralof was offering a hand, and Mazhe took it, allowing himself to be hauled to his feet. "The gods won't give us another chance."
The pair charged across the small yard, into one of the towers. There, they found the rest of the Stormcloaks, along with the Jarl.
"Sir," Mazhe greeted, "I do wish our meeting was under better terms."
"What is that thing?" Ralof questioned, "Could the legends be true?"
"Legends don't burn down villages," Ulfric answered, grimly.
There came an awful crash that was a little too close for comfort.
"We have to move! Now!" Ulfric barked.
"Come on, up through the tower!" Ralof shouted, pointing in the direction of the stairs. Mazhe didn't waste any time following their lead.
They'd reached the second landing, when there was another crash and a spray of bricks and debris. And, through the hole, Mazhe knew he had looked into the face of pure evil. Two crimson eyes were staring back at him.
"Yol—" Mazhe jumped out of the way just in time, as the bloom of fire filled the space he'd just occupied. When he looked back, the others were gone.
"Jump! To the floor below!" Ralof urged, "Go! We'll follow when we can!"
Mazhe didn't need any further prompting, but leaped through the gaping hole the dragon had made, to land rather roughly on the second floor of a home that had been wrecked likely moments before. He took a moment to catch his breath... Gods, it was as if the world were on fire. Flaming debris was falling from the sky, which had clouded over with grey and orange shades. For all intents and purposes, it was the end of the world.
"Yol—" Mazhe jumped down through a hole in the floor to land on the ground level, as another bloom of fire set the upper part of the wrecked house on fire. Taking a quick glance around, he then charged out across the ground—Lokir's body was still laying in the middle of the road, arrows sticking from his back. At least that somewhat made sense.
The soldier that had been with the captain was calling out to a boy. Gods... the dragon had spotted him. It settled down on the road, causing the ground to shake with its weight.
"Yol—" A bloom of fire filled the road... Gods, the kid was lucky, just able to stay out of range of the flames. The dragon took off, as the boy ran to who was likely his parent.
"Everyone get back!" the soldier shouted, then, "Still alive, prisoner? Stay close to me if you want to stay that way! Gunmar! Take care of the boy. I have to find General Tullius and join the defence."
Mazhe joined the soldier, as they began to pick their way through the shattered remains of the town. In all his short life, Mazhe had never witnessed destruction on such a scale. Sure, he'd read about the great war and the sacking of the Imperial City, but that had been years ago, before he'd been born. This... here... now, it was happening before his eyes.
Entering the shattered remains of the keep's outer yard, they encountered Ralof.
"Ralof! You damned traitor! Out of my way!"
"We're escaping, Hadvar, and you're not stopping us this time!" Ralof growled.
"Fine! I hope that dragon takes you all to Sovngarde! With me, prisoner, let's go!"
But Mazhe didn't follow. Hadvar hadn't even noticed as he charged inside one of the doors leading into the keep.
"Come on, this way."
They charged into another entrance, and Ralof slammed the door closed. It was only then Mazhe noticed he was actually shaking. A mixture of fear, excitement—the fight-or-flight scenario. This wasn't just a bunch of bandits, though. A dragon. A real, live, dragon. Here. Now.
It was no surprise they encountered plenty of Imperial soldiers inside the keep. This was their territory, after all. Between the pair of them, they dispatched the lot of them. Though certainly more than capable with either a dagger or a bow, he was more than happy to resort to spell-casting. Destruction was his favoured branch of magic, and he was working his way through the expert level of study at this point.
The sun was high in the sky by the time they found their way out of the keep, by way of a cave. They found themselves just north of the town, and even here, smoke was being carried north by the wind.
"Come with me to Riverwood. My sister will see to us and give us a place to rest for a night or so."
"Thank you. Though I will need to dispatch a courier back to Riften. Most unfortunate that my business errand has been completely ruined."
"Guild business, you mean," said Ralof, as they started walking, and then- "Get down!"
An ominous shape passed overhead as they pressed themselves against a large boulder.
"There he goes. Hopefully that's the last of him."
"As much as I hope you're right, I have a feeling I'll be seeing him again," said Mazhe, "A dragon. The prophecy of the end times is coming to fruition."
Ralof arched an eyebrow. "How is it you know of this? You're a Breton."
"Plenty of research back at the College of Winterhold. It's not exactly a secret, am I right?"
"No, you are right, friend."
The rest of the walk to Riverwood was passed in silence, as Mazhe continued to try and come to grips with what he'd just experienced. A dragon. Destruction on a scale he'd not witnessed until now. With the province on the verge of all-out civil war, the prophecy was most certainly in motion, spiralling toward its inevitable end: the destruction of all things, the literal end of the world.
Gerdur, Ralof's sister, was more than happy to open her home to Mazhe. He was more than appreciative of the gesture, and did accept her hospitality, choosing to take a few hours and get some rest, before making the trek to Whiterun. If the dragon decided to attack Riverwood, the town was defenceless. Since Riverwood was in Whiterun hold, it would be up to the Jarl there to send a detachment of guards to help out.
Shortly after three o'clock, Mazhe at last arrived at the gates to Whiterun's city proper.
"Halt. City's closed on the count of dragons. Official business only," declared a burly looking guard, severely.
"I bring news of the attack on Helgen. Riverwood begs the Jarl's aid and protection," said Mazhe.
"Then head on in. You will find the Jarl in his keep at the top of the hill-"
Mazhe cut him off, saying, "I know where to find Jarl Balgruuf, thank you."
The walk up to Dragonsreach took a quarter of an hour; he most certainly knew more than a few people in the hold's capital, given some of his business dealings. He had public business, and business that most people here had no clue about—namely his involvement in the Thieves Guild. He knew about a quarter of the residences here rather intimately—not that the owners knew that! It was about the same when it came to the businesses. The Guild had re-established itself here the previous month, thanks to the Battle-born clan. As much as Mazhe didn't like dealing with them, they were a Guild supporter, and under the current circumstances, the Guild needed all the help it could get.
He pushed open the great doors, but it wasn't the voices inside he was hearing.
"Amigo..." Mazhe felt someone gently shaking him. "Hey. Wake up."