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Skyrim: The Novel

Discussion in 'Skyrim Fan Fiction' started by Neriad13, Jan 31, 2012.

  1. Neriad13 Premium Member

    Member Since:
    Jan 13, 2012
    Message Count:
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    Things to Know

    - This is the ongoing novelization loosely based around my current character’s adventures in Skyrim. Chapters will be posted as I finish writing and editing them.

    - For the sake of realistic storytelling, in some places, I’ve changed the game mechanics. For instance: multiple followers are allowed and healing potions cannot heal all wounds.

    - It contains massive spoilers, especially for the main quest.

    - I hope to see you around for a fun read. =)

    Take a look at the Skyrim: The Novel Illustrations album too.

    Chapter I: The Tanner's Daughter
    Chapter II: Dovahkiin
    Chapter III: Lydia
    Chapter III: Lydia, Continued
    Chapter IV: To Oblivion
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  2. Neriad13 Premium Member

    Member Since:
    Jan 13, 2012
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    Chapter I: The Tanner’s Daughter

    The draugr crept out of its casket slowly, shaking the long-congealed sleep from its misty eyes. Its ancient joints popped and cracked as they moved. He flexed his pale limbs, marveling in their leathery strength, their remarkable tenacity all this time after death. All of a sudden, a gout of orange flame seared his sunken torso, its light casting his dark surroundings into sharp relief. His waxy skin caught light like a candle and a groan of pain rumbled past his shriveled lips. But there was still yet something to gain from this event – the brightness of his enemy’s assault revealed the attacker’s position. With glazed eyes he sighted her. With wheezing breaths and dragging steps he moved inexorably forward - his rusted axe clenched in an unforgiving hand. Cloaked in an unceasing stream of fire and melting in its heat, he heaved himself toward the object of his scorn.

    It was a young, fresh-faced woman dressed in much-abused armor, her skinny arms shaking as she held them aloft, a ball of flame cradled between them. Her teeth were chattering and her eyes were wide with an all-encompassing fear. It looked as though there had once been fearsome-looking war-paint carefully applied to her features, but now it was smeared into a timid mess.

    [IMG]

    Abruptly, the stream of fire stopped. Thick darkness fell upon the chamber once more, concealing all who dwelt within it. The draugr stood still, listening intently and sniffing the air. There it was – the sound of heavy breathing, the scent of sweaty, living skin. He followed it, taking off running, his axe hissing as he swung it through stale air and clanging as it struck empty stone wall. The girl’s legs were tangled up around his own. She was frantically trying to squirm out of his reach but was pinned between him and the stone behind her. He felt a cold dagger plunge into his abdomen and stick there. It was like a bee sting. He shrugged it off, raising his axe for another blow and feeling it satisfyingly hit flesh. The girl shrieked in terror with her shrill voice, frenetically calling out words in a language that he didn’t understand.

    He fumbled around for the location of her throat in the dark, just to stop the screaming, this infernal noise that was keeping him awake. Once it was silent, he’d sleep again. He’d rest from long labors and in his dreams he’d remember the glory days of what was. In his reverie, he barely heard the clang of steel boots upon weathered stone coming up behind him. He noticed the torch’s light a moment too late. And then, he looked down to see the tip of a sword poking through his chest. It twisted in his emaciated heart and he fell.

    ***

    Uthgerd nudged the limp body to the side with the toe of her boot and extended a gloved hand to the still shaking girl, the blood drained from her tight features. She wobbled as she was pulled to her feet and fell back against the damp wall for support.

    "You know..." Uthgerd said warily, bending down and retrieving the dagger that was stuck in the draugr’s belly, "You're not much of a fighter, for a Nord. Dropping your weapon? That’s the worst you can do in here."

    She held the dagger by the tip of its blade, presenting it to the girl hilt-first. “This.” she said, holding it up for emphasis, “This is your bread and cheese. It is your life and its strokes are your pulse.” Her face grew stern and frightening in the dancing shadows cast by the torch she held. “Hang on to it.”

    With a shaking hand, she took it gingerly and not without a little disgust, wiping it on her thigh before attempting to tuck it back into its scabbard. It slipped from her unfaithful fingers twice, clattering on the stone floor with a sound that seemed too loud, considering its cause. Uthgerd watched in mild amusement, saying nothing.

    "I-I w-wasn't b-born in S-Skyrim." the girl stuttered, trying to gain control of her chattering teeth and jam the dagger home. She was missing the scabbard by smaller and smaller margins but couldn’t quite bridge the last gap. "M-My p-parents e-emigrated t-to C-Cyrodiil b-before I-I w-was b-bor- oh!"

    She jumped upon noticing how much blood had leaked out of her injured left arm. The dagger slipped out of her sweaty fingers again and fell with a splash into a murky puddle. A shiver of worry shot through Uthgerd's body. She swallowed thickly and bent low to the muddy ground, shining her torch into the dark corners lining the pitted wall. And there it lay - the draugr's fallen axe. It was dull beyond repair and covered in a thick coating of red rust.

    "Tanniel." she said briskly, rising to her feet, "We have to leave. I've seen this before. If we don't move now and get you to the Temple of Kynareth, you'll lose that arm."

    The girl’s wan face changed in an instant. Her pale eyes narrowed in animal fury and her quivering lips were suddenly set in a firm line.

    "No." she hissed under her breath, "I-I c-can't leave without the thing I came here for."

    "Oh?” Uthgerd countered snidely, her free hand on her hip, “And what good will this thing be to you when your arm rots and falls off of its own will?”

    "I-I'll fix it myself." The reply was thin and faint and just as Uthgard was going to open her mouth and argue with it, she jumped backward in surprise as Tanniel's right hand burst into flame. Her burning fingers were shaking, sending odd quivering shadows across the walls of the barrow. She squeezed her eyes shut and before anyone could interfere, gripped her wounded arm in a fiery grasp. Sweat and tears poured down her face and a sound like a dying deer echoed down the empty stone halls. It was a moment before the girl could hear Uthgerd over the sound of her own screams or feel her armored gauntlet savagely ripping her hand away and dunking it into the muddy puddle at their feet.

    Tanniel was on the floor again, her hand in the puddle and the scorched flesh of her injured arm smoking. The room stank anew of burnt hair. The trembling tips of her fingers bumped into the fallen dagger in the muck and she drew it carefully out of its resting place, dripping with grime. Uthgerd's angry face hovered above, its eyes wide in half-concealed terror, its teeth bared in compensating anger.

    "Never do that again!” she snarled, “By the Eight, you could have killed yourself! You might’ve lost control and just kept burning!"

    The girl sighed, leaning back against the damp wall. The moisture from the floor was seeping into her undergarments. She groaned miserably, heaving herself to her unsteady feet. With a careful grip, she wiped the filthy dagger on her thigh, getting it as clean as she could, before neatly tucking it back into its scabbard. And then she looked at her right hand, still coated in thick barrow-mud. Shrugging and gritting her teeth, she rubbed it on the hand-shaped burn.

    "W-We're going to the end." she said sternly, her voice betraying her fear. She stuck her thumbs through the straps of the pack on her back and took a wobbly step forward. A little smile crept onto her dirty face as she took step after triumphant step, fighting the weakness of her tremulous body with every one, though there was no one to see it in the dark.

    ***

    "So...you're from Cyrodiil then?" Uthgerd asked conversationally, after they had been treading pathways in the gloom for half an hour or so. She knew that the girl was nothing close to a warrior and probably wasn't used to sustaining grievous injuries. If they talked, if her thoughts glimmered with conversation, then perhaps it would take her mind from the boiling cut on her arm.

    Uthgerd had wanted her to carry that arm in a sling. It would take some of the stress off of her wound, she had argued. She’d be more comfortable with a sling than without. But Tanniel wasn’t having any of it. She maintained that she needed both hands free to cast spells. And eventually, no matter how immense her fear and hatred of magic was, Uthgerd agreed with her. Over the course of this long, shady journey, she had come to depend on Tanniel’s power. When they came upon enemies, Tanniel would set them on fire, destroying their flesh and softening their resolve. Then Uthgerd would step between them as the girl’s reserve of energy wore out and take out the draugr far more easily than she could have if she had been alone in her task. Still, her concern for Tanniel’s health was never absent from her mind. It may have been the torchlight, but she looked frightfully haggard. She moved at a leisurely, limping pace, with odd, halting steps that shuffled and scuffed across the barrow floor. Uthgerd had made up her mind to never wander more than a moment from that girl's side again.

    "Yeah." Tanniel finally answered, a frail voice in the dank, ancient darkness, "My mother did laundry and my father tanned hides for a living. I was supposed to be his successor. Because I'm named Tanniel, get it? Eh heh. Heh. Hoo…"

    She smiled bitterly and then grimaced in pain.

    "And what happened?" Uthgerd pressed gently.

    Tanniel flipped over a clay pot and sat on it heavily, causing a poof of dust to rise up around her. She put her feet up on the rim of another nearby pot and leaned back against the chilly stone wall, her arms crossed for warmth, her eyes half-closed with weariness.

    [IMG]

    "They were arrested." she answered in a watery monotone, her sagging features showing no trace of any emotion, "When word of the Stormcloak Rebellion got to Cyrodiil, some of our neighbors became paranoid. They thought that if Ulfric Stormcloak wanted to wrest control of Skyrim from the Empire, why wouldn't he want to go all out and strike at the seat of power? And why wouldn't he use Nord immigrants to do it?"

    She clenched her teeth momentarily, if in pain or anger, Uthgerd couldn't guess.

    "So somebody turned us in to the Thalmor. Of course we worshipped Talos in secret. My father carried our shrine all the way from Skyrim to Cyrodiil on his back and set it up above the hearth as soon as he had a piece of property to his name. No one ever bothered us about it before. When it happened, my mother was taking lunch to my father at his tannery outside the Imperial City. I was making a delivery to an armorsmith. They were ambushed while I was away, halfway through their meal together. I would have been taken with them if Henricus - he was another apprentice - hadn't slipped away and come charging down the path to town at full speed to warn me."

    "I was afraid of every shadow. I couldn't go home. I didn't know who it was who had turned us in and didn't trust him to spare my life. So I foraged in the wilderness for a time. I begged my way from province to province. I burned anything or anyone who tried to harm me."

    Here she paused for breath, staring at the small coil of flame that she was nursing playfully in the palm of her hand. Its orange light was reflected, dancing in the blank voids of her pupils.

    "This party trick…” she said, holding up the growing blaze and then crushing it between her fingers, “This was the only thing I had with which to defend myself. A bard taught it to me for a septim in a pub."

    For a moment she looked disgustedly at her own hands, before casually stuffing them into her armpits and shivering a bit. She was quiet for a time now, resting her eyes and leaning back against the wall. Uthgerd didn't mind. This was the first time she’d managed to get Tanniel to sit down since their fateful encounter with that restless draugr. It was good that she was regaining her energy now. Maybe she just might be able to hold out until the end of the barrow.

    When she next looked over at the fledgling mage, a remarkable softness had come over her features. She was smiling gently. It was the first real smile that she'd seen out of Tanniel, one that wasn't tinged with bitterness or nervous energy. Even when they had brawled way back in the Bannered Mare in Whiterun and she had emerged as the victor, standing over Uthgerd with skinned and bleeding knuckles, she hadn't looked happy for her victory.

    "And then..." she continued softly, her contentedness seeping into her voice, "...one night, as I slept in a mound of heather in the open air, cold and hungry, it dawned on me that I did have a home to return to. A powerful feeling came over me - an intense and demanding drive to go back to the home of my ancestors. In my dreams, I cried out for Skyrim and I heard it answering me. I thought…”

    She opened her eyes and blushed, as if realizing exactly how ridiculous what she was saying sounded. Uthgerd was listening intently, giving no clues as to her opinions on insanity.

    “I thought that I belonged to Skyrim and ownership of it was mine. I couldn't control myself. I couldn't sit still for a minute longer. I just got up and started running, barely stopping for food or rest. And running turned to climbing and grass turned to stone and nights became fights for life. I, uh..."

    Here she looked sheepishly at the steel toes of her boots, grimacing.

    "I lost my toes to frostbite. I would have died if I hadn't found that Stormcloak camp on the border. I hadn't eaten or rested for days. They did what they could for me before heading off to battle. I was napping in the camp with a few other injured soldiers when those Imperials woke us up. They set the place on fire. I was so afraid. I couldn't run. My feet wouldn’t work properly and all I could do was crawl into the ankles of the man who was burning down my refuge."

    "Everyone was taken prisoner. Those Stormcloaks who had found me in the Jerall Mountains had walked into an ambush and later led the Imperials back to their camp. We were bound and carted off to Helgen for execu-"

    "You were there?" Uthgerd suddenly exclaimed, snapping out of her sleepy stupor. "At Helgen when the dragon attacked? I'd heard about that."

    "Yeah." Tanniel answered, refusing to make eye contact and looking intensely sorrowful, "I really don't remember much about it. My head was pounding and my feet were throbbing and my knees were all torn up. In the chaos of group of prisoners broke away. Ralof - he's one of the soldiers who saved me - he dragged me off the block to safety when I couldn't make it there myself. He carried me when limping along behind him became too much."

    She had put her hands back down on her lap and Uthgerd saw that they were shaking.

    "We made it through the bowels of the fort together, fighting through waves of frightened Imperials with the same idea, I backing up Ralof with firepower and he going in to do the dirty work. This armor..."

    She tapped her chest and the steel plate echoed hollowly.

    "I killed a captain to get it. She was already injured. I-I just...I just burned away the rest of her life.

    Her bottom lip was quivering and her eyes were getting shiny with tears.

    “I-I’m sorry.” she murmured, wiping her nose on the back of her hand, “I’m just so glad to finally tell someone all this. I’ve been terrified for weeks, looking over my shoulder constantly. I always thought there was someone watching and listening to every move I make. One wrong step and I’d be arrested again a-and k-killed. But who’s listening in a barrow, r-right? Ah hah hah!”

    Uthgerd exhaled heavily, slowly drawing in all the information she’d just been given. “And then what happened?”

    “I stayed with Ralof’s sister in Riverwood, resting and healing for a time. I was feverish after the adventure. When I was well enough to leave bed and my feet could take more than a few steps at a time, Gerdur and Hod – Ralof’s sister and her husband - gave me a job at their mill. It wasn’t much. It was just something to do that wasn’t too strenuous. I chopped firewood for a few hours a day. I brought water to the other workers when they had to spend long days in the field felling trees. I helped Gerdur cook supper for everyone. There was a smith across the stream from the mill. He would give me a few coins for help too – for tanning his leather!”

    The corners of her swollen eyes crinkled in merriment at this thought. Then she sighed as she continued.

    “I was so content there. I would have been happy if I had never moved from that spot again, even if every day for the rest of my life was exactly the same. Work, food, sleep, companionship – that was all I ever needed. All anyone could ever need. But things were changing outside the peaceful valley and that change seeped in through the river and air and the roads. Ralof never left his sister’s house, except at night, in the time he spent there. Riverwood is an Imperial village and not friendly to Stormcloaks separated from their comrades. Every time a group of soldiers passed through town, or stopped in the inn for a drink, Ralof would huddle behind his sister’s door, cursing them all under his breath. Some weeks after we had arrived, he decided that it was time to return to Windhelm and rejoin Jarl Ulfric. He wanted me to come with him, to become a soldier in the Stormcloak army alongside him. We’d become quite close through our time together and he didn’t want to leave me behind. I told him that I couldn’t make that journey. I was still so weak and afraid and couldn’t wield a sword to save my life. He was angry with me when he slipped away through the mountains. I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again. I keep thinking that I’ll find him by the side of a road or draped over some fortress’s battlements. Or maybe he’ll be the one attacking me – if Jarl Ulfric’s the one to take Whiterun Hold.”

    “I stayed in Riverwood a while longer, paying for my keep in the inn with my paltry wage from the mill. I missed Ralof and had noticed that Hod and Gerdur didn’t look at me quite the same way anymore. Gerdur had wanted to go with her brother – she shared the same burning hatred of the Empire with him. I’m sure she would have followed him to Windhelm if her husband hadn’t reminded her of her duties at home and her age. She never said anything…but I think that she was disappointed in me for not making the choice to leave town for a greater cause when I had the chance that she didn’t.”

    “We never had time to talk about it. The incursions of the world outside Riverwood were persistent. One morning, as I was enjoying breakfast outside the mill, dunking my feet in the White River, I saw a dragon swoop down from the sky and snatch a wandering dog from the road in his claws. The guards in town fired on it as it flew away. It they hadn’t, it might very well have left us alone. In its rage, it flew back, setting the guards alight and catching the roof of the Sleeping Giant on fire for good measure. Hod yelled at me over the hubbub to run for help to Whiterun, to ask the Jarl for forces. I dropped everything and swam down the river, slipping under the bridge as the dragon flew above me. And then I ran down the road to Whiterun, soaking wet and barefoot, my dress tangling infuriatingly around my ankles. I ran farther than I’d run in a month, straight past the meadery and the farms that circle Whiterun. I stumbled up to the gate and pounded on it frantically, barely able to get a sensible word out. The guards let me in and pointed me in the direction of Dragonsreach.”

    “And then I was there, in front of the Jarl, on my knees in a puddle, my feet bleeding on Dragonsreach’s floor. When I could breathe again, I told him what had happened. He sent troops immediately and in my relief, I must have fainted in front of him.”

    “In my drowsiness, I remember someone carrying me to a strange bed and bandaging my feet. I woke up later in a set of clothes a size too big, in the Dragonsreach servant’s quarters. An elderly maidservant named Gerda had been caring for me at the Jarl’s request. She had laundered my clothes and laid out breakfast for me. But my stomach was in knots with worry and though she was so kind, I couldn’t sit still to enjoy her hospitality. I headed out as soon as I politely could, a piece of sackcloth wrapped around my head to keep the sun off my neck, hobbling down the road to Riverwood like a cripple with the aid of an old stick I’d found by the side of the road. The way home was considerably longer than the way to Whiterun the day before. Every step was agony, every pebble dug into the tender soles of my feet, or worse, the still-healing stumps of my desiccated toes. I’d left my shoes by the side of the river in Riverwood, just about twenty-four hours beforehand and didn’t have a septim with which to buy a new pair. From the way I was moving, a trio of Imperial soldiers on the road thought I was an old beggar. They were kind enough to give me an escort the rest of the way home. I was terrified to go back there. I had no idea what it was that I’d find.”

    “The damage was less than my imagination had told me. The roof of the Sleeping Giant had burned and caved in on the front of the inn. The two guards who had fought the dragon were badly injured, but alive and being healed in the Temple of Kynareth. I was told that when the Jarl’s forces had arrived, the dragon had already left, his appetite for destruction sated. The Jarl’s soldiers helped to put the fire out, but could do nothing else but watch for the beast’s return.”

    “In the meantime, the room that I had called my home in the inn was destroyed, along with nearly all my belongings. I found a pouch of septims fused together into a useless mass in the smoking rubble. An arrangement of flowers in a vase that I’d put together to brighten the place up was in melted pieces fused to the surviving floorboards. The ironbound chest in which I’d been storing the captain’s armor was badly scorched and the lock was melted shut. But I managed to drag it out and break it open with the help of the smith’s hammer. My armor was still warm from the dragon’s breath, but relatively unharmed by the ordeal.”

    “A good part of the town was reduced to homelessness just like me. Orgnar and Delphine, the innkeepers, suffered the most with the destruction of their inn. Embry, the town layabout, was forced to go without his mead or his bed to pass out in for a time. Riverwood opened their homes to the homeless, making for cramped quarters. I stayed in uncomfortable silence with Gerdur and Hod once again. I joined in the effort to repair the inn by gathering fresh thatch with which to repair the roof. I spent time in the wilderness just outside town on this task and every moment of it was terror. Every breath of wind sounded to me like a massive wingbeat. In the days that followed, I grew to hate the open air and how easily a dragon might find me in it. “

    “By the end of that week, tempers were running high in town. In their fear, people were sniping at each other over every little thing. Gerdur’s resentment of me grew hotter in the wake of the disaster. I was purposefully avoiding her during daylight hours so as not to start another argument about how much I ate or drank or how I’d cut that wood all wrong for the task it was needed for. Then one morning, before anyone else had awakened, I packed my armor, my woodcutter’s axe, a bundle of food…and left. I longed for the security I’d found before within Whiterun’s walls. I had a mind to find some work and make a life for myself there.”

    “And that I did. There were crops to be harvested, leather to be tanned and firewood to be chopped. I had a regular firewood business going. It all started in the Bannered Mare. Hulda needs a constant supply to keep her inn’s hearth burning. In exchange for chopping it for her, she allowed me a room in the inn and supper to boot. I’m sure you saw me going in an out with my loads of wood.”

    Uthgerd smiled at this sleepily. “Yes, though I never paid much attention. I spent my nights there gambling with Mikael in between songs and tankards of mead.”

    “How nice it’d be to go back there with this story to tell!” Tanniel whispered excitedly, “We, shield-sisters, triumph over the ancient undead to snatch back an artifact for the court wizard! What’ll they think of us then, hmm?”

    Uthgerd laughed lightheartedly, the sound like a songbird chattering away at the crack of dawn. “But go on, you still haven’t gotten to the beginning of this story. However did you catch the attention of the court wizard?”

    “Well…” Tanniel started again, clearing her throat, “I delivered firewood to anyone who was willing to pay me for it. Gerda put in an order for the Jarl and when I came with her delivery, much to my shock, the Jarl suddenly called me aside. ‘Girl, you were the one who survived a dragon attack, have you not?’ he said. Before I could think about it, the true answer slipped from my mouth. ‘No, my Jarl. I’ve survived two dragon attacks. I was also in Helgen at the time of its destruction.’ His eyebrows went up in as surprised an expression as I’ve ever seen on a Jarl. ‘Then Farengar would most certainly like a word with you.’ He said as he physically pushed me into that strange study filled with objects of sorcery.”

    “Farengar Secret-Fire was overbearing and snobby. He terrified and infuriated me, with his belittling comments and baffling power I knew that he must hold. He quizzed me at length about my experiences with dragons. How they moved, how they flew, how hot their breath was, how many scales covered the tips of their noses, what they did upon entering a populated area. My mind melted with the barrage of questions until I wasn’t entirely certain that I was giving him the right answers. As time wore on, the candles in his chamber burned down to nothing. When a servant came in with their replacements, without thinking, I lit them with a spell, as I always do. Farengar was taken aback. ‘You are a destruction mage?’ he asked me in his half-shocked, still-superior way. He went on about how rare and strange it is to find another Nordic mage in the city, let alone the rest of the country. He asked about the extent of my power, demanding answers quickly, his curiosity growing more uncomfortable by the question. I tried to be modest about it, to tell him that I truly wasn’t a mage at all; I was just a small-time practioner doing what came most naturally to me. He eventually eked it out of me that I’d defended myself against packs of ravenous wolves and that when a bear had wandered too close to the mill in Riverwood, I’d successfully driven it off by setting its fur alight.”

    “I could see him making devious plans in his mind throughout this entire conversation. He eventually came out and told me that he had just learned of a possible location for an ancient dragon artifact. He very much wanted it for his study and would have gone out to get it for himself, had the Jarl not forbidden him from leaving the safety of Whiterun. He had thought about hiring mercenaries to fetch it, but didn’t trust the hands of brawny warriors to transport delicate things. What he needed, he told me, was for someone with a light touch and great firepower to slip in and fetch it for him.”

    “I declined over and over, telling him that I was nothing close to what he thought I was. And then he left the room to speak with the Jarl. When he returned, he told me that there would be a great reward in it for me. Were I to successfully make it back with the artifact in tow, I would be rewarded with citizenship in Whiterun. I-I…would be given permission to purchase property in the city.”

    Tanniel exhaled heavily, breathlessly and then turned to Uthgerd, looking her straight in the eyes, fires burning behind her irises.

    “That’s why I’m here. If I do this, I will no longer be a wayfarer in a strange land. I-I’ll save up and buy a house, a place to call my own.”

    She was shivering with passion and excitement.

    “And this! This is what’ll buy it!” she exclaimed, loosening the strings of a pouch on her belt and gazing at the gleam of barrow-gold and dusty gems inside momentarily. Then she sighed, relaxing back down contentedly against the wall. “I’ve been homeless and cast adrift for so long. This is everything I’ve ever wanted. A bed to fall down in, work to keep my hands busy…good friends to talk to.”

    “Ah…” Uthgerd sighed, “And perhaps some mead to take the edge off of Skyrim’s chill.”

    Tanniel snorted. “Yes, most definitely that too!”

    “But where do I come into this?” Uthgerd queried, her curiosity still hungry for answers, “I don’t mean to belittle you but…how on Nirn did you beat a trained warrior in a fistfight?”

    “O-Oh.” Tanniel stuttered, a hot blush abruptly spreading over her face, “W-Well…I evened the odds. I cashed in on a favor from Arcadia, the alchemist. You see, I slipped some of her love potion into Farengar’s mead stash at her request when I was in Dragonsreach. In exchange she brewed a potion for me that would give me more fortitude. I uh, I drank it just before speaking to you that night.” She paused to look up at Uthgerd, shrinking backwards like she expected to be hit. When the blow wasn’t forthcoming, she went on.

    “I knew that I was going to need someone’s help to do this. I didn’t have enough money to hire a mercenary, let alone ask the Companions for help. S-So, my choice fell to you. If I was going to gain your respect, I knew that I would have to make a show of force. It’s the Nordic way, r-right? Eh heh?”

    Uthgerd’s visage was stormy. She was staring at the floor, her face set in an expression stern and unforgiving.

    “So it is.” she finally replied, “This doesn’t change a thing. You came to me, knowing that your failure in the fight could well be certain. And yet you beat me and brought me to my knees with your own two fists when you very well could have burned me.”

    She turned back to Tanniel, a small smile creeping up the corners of her mouth.

    “Tanniel, you will never lose my respect for that. But damn if you aren’t a crafty skeever!”

    The girl sighed deeply in relief, nearly coughing on her own breath as she tried to suppress her impending giggles, her eyes shining with gladness, a bright and broad smile beaming on her face.

    “I-I’m s-so glad!” she sang, leaping to her feet and stirring the dust of the barrow once more.

    Uthgerd drew her greatsword with a satisfying shing and bared her teeth like a hungry wolf.

    “May we die as Nords with swords in our hands!” she cried, her voice booming in the empty corridor.

    Tanniel grinned tensely, setting her fingers alight.

    ***

    The trail of smoking corpses stretched deep underground, the stench of their decay and consummation by fire polluting the dusty air of the crypt. Their slayers soldiered on, braving traps and their own growing terror, claustrophobia and the weariness budding in their bones with every step. Until finally, ahead of them they saw a dim light illuminating a grand chamber.

    Tanniel made a motion with her hand, telling her friend to stop and keep close to the wall of the tunnel leading up to the final chamber. She almost toppled over herself when a cluster of bats sprang from the ceiling, flying straight toward her. But they passed the adventurers by, the sound of their wings echoing noisily off the empty walls.

    “This is it.” Tanniel whispered when she had regained her footing, “Farengar told me the Dragonstone would be here, along with the master of the barrow. I’m betting that’s his casket right there.” She gestured toward the focal point of the room, a cold stone box, black as onyx. “Now, what I’m going to do is…agh!” She abruptly stopped speaking to rub her forehead nervously and scrunch her face up in pain, smearing her warpaint until it was almost beyond recognition.

    “Are you going to be okay?” Uthgerd asked, looking her straight in the eyes unflinchingly.

    “Yeah, yeah…” she muttered unconvincingly, “It’s just…do you hear that chanting? It’s like there’s a thousand voices behind that wall screaming the same thing over and over directly inside my head.”

    Uthgerd peered over Tanniel’s shoulder into the chamber. It was devastatingly silent except for the eerie sound of a subterranean wind and quiet burbling of an underground stream. Nothing stirred in the vast chamber.

    [IMG]


    “Your plan. What was it?” Uthgerd asked, changing the topic as fast as she could so as not to scare her friend.

    “Yes…” murmured Tanniel, shrugging her pack from her shoulders and digging around in it. She gingerly pulled out a very weathered piece of paper. It was already crumbling at her touch. “A while back, I found this scroll in a chest. If…” She paused to dig her knuckles into her forehead. “If I read the spell on it, I-I t-think that I can kill him.”

    Uthgerd nodded curtly. “Very well. I’ll stand back then. We ready to head out?”

    Tanniel smiled weakly, rising to her feet. They crossed into the room before them, wading through an underground stream, inching as fast as they dared toward the foreboding casket at the end of their journey. Tanniel’s free hand flew back to her forehead, her fingernails digging into her flesh in agony.

    “Damnit. What is that?” she groaned through clenched teeth, stumbling right past the casket toward the back of the chamber.

    “Hey!” Uthgerd hissed after her, running at full speed to catch up.

    Tanniel bumped into the intricate wall at the back of the chamber and stayed where she had landed, forehead to the cold stone. When Uthgerd reached her, she saw a look of profound terror upon her friend’s shadowed face. Her eyes were stretched wide open, tears pouring out down her cheeks, teeth were grinding against one another in her tight jaw. She was shivering as if she had been struck by a gust of bone-chilling wind.

    Gingerly, Uthgerd put a hand on her shoulder. Tanniel snapped away from the wall, gripping her arm with white knuckles and then patting her startled face frantically.

    “U-Uthgerd?” she wailed in the small voice of a little girl, her eyes glassy and unfocused, “I can’t see you.

    Uthgerd felt a spectral hand reach up and grasp her pounding heart.

    “L-Look, I’ll get you home! To Whiterun! To Farengar! You’ll get a house just like you said! I-I’ll carry you there if I have to!”

    Tanniel sank to the dusty floor, shivering and gripping Uthgerd’s hand as she went down.

    “You’ll get up NOW!” Uthgerd screamed, pulling her to her feet, nearly ripping her arm from her socket. It was at that moment that she heard the cracking of stone. She savagely shook Tanniel‘s grip loose and drew her sword. The draugr master was emerging. Slowly, painfully, his bones creaked and popped, leather tendons groaning as they awakened from millennia of sleep. With a scream of rage Uthgerd dove on him, slashing and hacking at any part of him she could reach. Chunks of his withered flesh flew off his bones, but he remained, countering with devastating blows from his own sword. Every slash of it froze Uthgerd’s blood and drained her energy. Her limbs grew heavy as the two of them danced around and around the black casket. When she aimed for his neck in a moment of unblocked respite, he opened his mouth with a booming sound that struck at the core of her being, spewing antique moths and a hundred lifetimes of dust. The sound reverberated inside her ears and sent her flying backwards down the short flight of stairs. She cracked her head on the floor and saw stars dancing on the ceiling of the cavern. The draugr strode toward her, his face in a permanent skeleton grin, his sword raised to finish her off.

    And then across the room she saw Tanniel, standing against that accursed wall, the crumbling scroll in her hand. She was reading intently – the scroll was disintegrating in flame and surrounding her in its glow. Her hands burned, filling the dim chamber with blinding light. Uthgerd gazed in wonder, a sense of peace washing over her. She closed her eyes against the light and bathed in its warmth.

    ***

    The draugr still walked, shrouded in flames, inching ever closer, his skeletal hand extended toward Tanniel’s throat. His right arm hung limply from his charred shoulder, the strange blade dragging heavily across the floor in his burning death-grip. Tanniel stood still for a moment, watching its progress, frozen in the horror of her approaching end, of all the collective failure and trauma that had led her to this very place and time. Then with a scream, her hands burst into flame and she lurched toward him, aiming a fresh stream of fire at his crackling skin.

    He stopped in his tracks. His charcoal bones gave out with a snap as he fell to his knees. The sword hit the floor, clanging against it noisily. Tanniel stood over him in shock, breathing heavily, a smile just barely winning out over her tight features.

    “U-Uthgerd!” she shrieked in joy, dropping her hands at last, “It’s over! It’s done!”

    She ran through the chamber, waving her arms wildly to clear the thick smoke. Coughing and gagging on it, she called her friend’s name through the fog but received no answer. When it finally started to clear, she spotted a blackened lump on the floor, not far from the casket. Her blood became ice in the instant she spotted it.

    Uthgerd was a mess of charcoal on the barrow floor. Embers still burned in her flammable hair. She was making painful sounds in her desiccated throat. Her arm stretched frantically, with pitiful, mincing movements, blackened fingers curling toward some goal only she knew.

    “Ohhhh, nonono!” Tanniel cried, rushing to her side, “Just hold still! I’ve got potions, herbs! I-I’ll get you to Kynareth’s Temple! Just – ”

    Uthgerd groaned, still scraping about on the floor beside her. Tanniel followed her fingers with her eyes. Just out of reach was that greatsword that had served them so well on this adventure, now blackened with soot. She picked it up and dropped it again when it burned her hands. Uthgerd groaned in agony as the noise assaulted her. Sobbing, Tanniel sucked in her breath and grabbed it again, gritting her teeth as the hot metal seared the palms of her hands. She laid it gently across Uthgerd’s chest and wrapped the warrior’s wandering hands around its boiling pommel.

    Uthgerd sighed, her tense body relaxing at the touch of her weapon. She laid back and grew still.

    ***

    And there was that wretched stone, in a bed of dust at the foot of the black casket. It was pentagonal in shape and flattish in construction, a little smaller than the width of a man’s shoulders. It was covered in cobwebs and dust that obscured the identifying markings on it. Tanniel didn’t care to examine them any closer. She wrapped it in her old gown roughly, angrily despite the court wizard’s instructions to be gentle with it, securing the package with a tight knot of the gown’s sleeves. When she found that it was too heavy to be supported by the cloth of her pack and would probably crush her stash of healing potions on the trip home, she rigged up a harness for it from a bundle of leather strips that had been floating around in the bottom of the pack for ages. It seemed to be holding just fine. She tied it to her back, staggering a bit at the extra weight, picked up her pack and headed out.

    She trod solemnly through the long tunnels, so eerily silent now except for the sound of her businesslike footsteps and occasional sniffles. Uncontrollable fear gripped her once again. She wondered what would happen if the Jarl found out that it was her who had killed Uthgerd. Would there be jail, death for the action? She shivered at her thoughts. She wondered if Uthgerd had a family that was worried about her.

    The way back to the outdoors stretched for cold, dark miles, littered with twisted corpses in their death pirouettes. The mage stumbled over them in the dark, kicking them aside in disgust when she realized what it was that she’d stepped in. Tanniel’s spirits perked up for a moment when the air started smelling fresher again. She was getting closer to the bandits’ territory and the surface. And soon enough, there was that Dunmer thief who’d run straight into a mass of draugr and gotten himself killed. A little further on was the spider that had entrapped him, its spindly legs curled up under its charred body.

    Fighting against sorrow and weariness, Tanniel began running up the stairs in a momentary burst of energy, skipping over the corpses of bandits and skeevers that littered the way. There was the door ahead, iron and merciless in its design. She flung her full weight at it and its rusted hinges screeched as they yielded.

    Snow was falling on the barrow now, in the frozen night. The flakes stung her face like icy pinpricks. It hurt and it was wonderful to feel and it started her crying again down the snowy path to Riverwood. She stumbled down to the river, falling on her knees beside the bridge under which she’d hid from the dragon. She washed her face in the chilly water, scrubbing off the tears and soot, the greasy remains of that ridiculous warpaint. Then she breathed in deep, rose to her feet and crossed the bridge to face the rest of the world laid before her.
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  3. Nigth Assassin Nightingale

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    You must love to write stories, and you have got a great imagination.
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  4. Spellsword_Kale Article Writer

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    Brilliant! I love how it opens from the Draugr perspective. Looking forward to more.
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  5. conchvegas Aravis, deadly archer

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    Very good, you had me enthralled.
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  6. Gemini Sierra Pre-emptive Salvage Specialist

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    Nicely done! I look forward to more adventures of Tanniel
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  7. BIGwooly Well-Known Member

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    Very well-written my friend.
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  8. Suicide Puppy New Member

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  9. Thomas Liu tyl089

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    WOW, all I can say.
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  10. Neriad13 Premium Member

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    First off, I would like to thank everyone for their kind words and encouragement. It made me so happy to read all the positive comments about my work and gave me such a strong drive to carry on.

    Secondly, I have just finished the rough draft of chapter two and will begin the editing process shortly. Stayed tuned for Skyrim, Chapter II: Dovakiin, the tragic tale of a mad mage spurned by his lady love (kind of).
    Spellsword_Kale likes this.
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  11. Smacka Sleepless in Pennsylvania

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    Well done...it keeps the reader engaged and entertained. I read this while sipping my Sunday morning Irish Coffee...time well spent ;)
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  12. Shew Account closed (at sincere request).

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    I would have left a few preposted editable threads holding space for the following chapters. This is a extremely engaging story I am happy to be reading such quality.
  13. dragonkilla Member

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    This is the best story I ever read so far, very descriptive, and i could almost say u take class in writing or something, becuase noone who plays Skyrim for 7 hours a day is that good.
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  14. Neriad13 Premium Member

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    Yeah, I'm thinking that I should've reserved the whole front page for that. Ah well. At least it's pretty hard to miss my walls of text.

    Thanks for the praise! ^.^
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  15. Neriad13 Premium Member

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    Actually, I've never taken a class in creative writing - storytelling is a skill that I've been honing just about my entire life. I especially love to make up stories while I'm gaming. I think it's a lot like playing out scenarios with dolls like I used to do as a kid, except now it's with pixels. And a world so huge and complex as Skyrim really inspires me.
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  16. dragonkilla Member

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    All i can say is keep doing what ur doing, ur very good. Also, do u post weekly, or when u feel like it?
  17. Neriad13 Premium Member

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    I post whenever I've got something finished. I write something just about every day, but how much I write depends entirely on how much schoolwork I have to do and how many hours I've got scheduled for work. I'm estimating that maybe I'll be posting a new chapter once every one-to-two weeks, conservatively, if all my plans work out.
  18. Neriad13 Premium Member

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    Chapter II: Dovahkiin

    A certain creature had taken roost inside Tanniel’s ribcage. It was made of matted fur and spider webs and fraying feathers, all pressed into an amorphous clump. The thing shared space with her heart and lungs, making its nest on top of her diaphragm and pressed down on her stomach with all of its substantial weight, considering its minute size. The monster couldn’t be any larger than a clenched fist. But it had the density of a boulder and the grip of a sabertooth cat. Its claws were like hooks and there was no end to the number of them that it possessed – they stuck in her heart and pierced her lungs, robbing her of breath. And every so often, the beast stirred and reached from its chosen resting place straight up her throat, driving a hook into the fleshy underside of her vocal cords.

    It had a mouth too, a massive, formless one that was always open and yowling. The yowling never stopped. It was an ever-present whine from the inside of her ears, a quiver in her step, an aching echo in her chest. Sometimes Tanniel howled along with it, stopping in a quiet stand of trees by the side of the road to Whiterun to do it. When she did give into the yowling and wept alone with her face buried in the rough bark of a tree, it never seemed to do a thing for her, to shift the monster’s weight from her gut. The beast still sat in its roost, perched in its throne of flesh and bone, knocking on her ribs with its cruel claws. She didn’t know if there would ever be any way to dislodge it.

    And the morning was so devastatingly pleasant. The sun beamed in the clear blue sky, glittering on the dewy herbage by the side of the road. Creatures came boldly out of their hiding places to nab a bit of breakfast before skittering away from the approaching traveler. There were butterflies sunning their wings on stumps, birds in the air, crickets hiding in the grass. Tanniel thought that it would be so much easier if all people just decided to up and die in the dead of winter. That way the ground itself wouldn’t be mocking the bereaved and the state of the land would just about be a perfect mimic of the inside of her own trashed mind.

    The hard sound of approaching footsteps startled her out of her thoughts momentarily. She hastily wiped her nose with the back of her bandaged hand and tried to hide her tears with her wild, hopelessly tangled, tufts of hair. A trio of Imperial soldiers approached, their boots clacking loudly on the cobbles as they walked. And between them – a fourth figure. Tanniel’s heart leapt in her chest and plunged into its darkest recess simultaneously. It was Ralof, dressed in rags and bound in chains, a prisoner of the Empire once more. She dashed up to see him, eliciting a cry of warning from one of the soldiers transporting him. Their eyes met and her spirits sank as she realized her mistake. The man stared at her, longing and despair in his bloodshot eyes.

    She lowered her face to the ground and kept walking.

    ***

    The wizard Farengar Secret-Fire was enjoying his breakfast in his study, trying not to spill bread crumbs on the book he was reading. But his nose was deep in it and his mind wasn’t entirely on the task at hand. A thin stream of crumbs dribbled from his mouth and caught in the open bindings of the book, no matter how often he endeavored to brush them away. The sound of a knock on the doorframe broke the spell and he looked up with a start.

    “Ah!” he said, grinning at the visitor, “Divines smile on you, friend. What can I do for you? Have you brought more dragon research?” He closed the book, quickly stood up and continued on. “You know, I have some news for you as well. I sent someone after the Dragonstone you told me about. She should be getting back with it any day now, if it was where you thought it would be.”

    “Can you trust her?” the lady asked, raising her eyebrows and bristling at the thought of a complete stranger sticking her nose into her business.

    Farengar took a swig of the mead on the desk, made a face at its taste and set the bottle back down.

    “Ugh, that one’s gone bad. But yes…” he trailed off, a faraway look drifting onto his face. “Yes, she’s an unaffiliated stranger to these lands, a desperate woman with nothing to lose. Very much like yourself.”

    “Excuse me?”

    Farengar edged closer to her, slinging his arm over her armored shoulder.

    “Know what I think of dragons, Miss Research Associate? I think they’re powerful and graceful, frigid like Skyrim winters, but burning with passion. There’s a cruel beauty in their construction, in the curves of their vicious claws, in the beats of their wings. They’re mysterious too. I can never learn enough about them.”

    He leaned in close, until his lips, stinking of the sickly-sweet spoiled mead, brushed her ear.

    “I have a great fondness for mysterious beasts and women.”

    The lady’s leather-clad hand was on her sword involuntarily. Forcibly, she removed it and stepped gingerly out of the wizard’s grasp.

    “I came to show you this.” she said coldly, pulling a book from a satchel on her hip. “It’s my notes so far on dragon burial sites. Read it at your leisure.” She held it out to him, at arm’s length. It was then that she heard the sound of shuffling footsteps drawing closer to the mage’s study. Turning toward the open door, she saw a young girl step in.

    She was filthy from head to toe. Her boots were caked with dried-on grime. There were cobwebs tangled in her hair and wrapped around her shoulders. And then there was the soot. Every exposed piece of flesh she owned bore a trace of it, from her scabby knees to her greasy face. Her hands were swathed in rough bandages, made of what appeared to have been some article of clothing that had ended it days being ripped to violent shreds. She was clad in an old, dented suit of Imperial armor that looked like it had seen much better days and the worn scabbard of a dull dagger hung at her hip. Her eyes were swollen and red, with deep, dark bags under them. Weariness dragged at every bone of her shuffling frame.

    Upon sighting the lady, he eyes widened and she seemed to wake up, as if from sleepwalking.

    “You!” she said, her voice scratchy and rough, “You’re Delphine, the innkeeper. The Sleeping Giant was closed last night because you weren’t in! Your partner made me sleep on a table!”

    She swung a large package off her back and banged it on Farengar’s desk for emphasis.

    “Well.” Delphine responded frostily, “I hope very much that that table was wiped down after you were done with it.”

    “Delphine!” Farengar whispered excitedly behind her, wrapping his hands around her shoulders, “A name as glorious as your immaculate frame. A bite as strong and deadly as a sabertooth’s! Won’t you ever be mine?”

    Baring her teeth, she drew her elbow forward and drove it back into the wizard’s fleshy stomach. He squeaked pathetically in pain, releasing his grip on her and falling backwards to the study floor. And then she heard the laughter. It was coming from the girl who’d brought the Dragonstone. It was a painful, hoarse, throaty laugh and it just kept going on and on, in its mocking tone. She laughed and laughed, louder and louder, until she couldn’t breathe, until tears were rolling down her face in sooty trails.

    “O-Oh g-g-gods!” she stuttered, trying to catch her breath and suppress the laughter at last, “I-I-I’m s-s-so s-sorry hee hee hee! T-That w-w-was en-entirely m-my f-f-f-fault.” A huge snort erupted from her nose as a fresh crop of giggles took hold of her.

    “What?” Delphine demanded, her eyes narrowing, her hand on her sword again, “Spit it out.”

    The girl obeyed, spraying spit as she tried to suppress her chuckles. “T-The bottle!” she finally answered, pointing to the remains of Farengar’s breakfast on the desk, “I-It w-was f-filled with love potion! H-He didn’t drink t-too much of it, did he? See, it’s already wearing off.”

    He stirred from the floor, rubbing his stomach and frowning in confusion.

    “Oh gods…” the girl mumbled under her breath, appearing to believe that no one else could hear it, “I needed that.”

    Delphine sighed exasperatedly, blowing a strand of hair away from her face with the wind of her breath. “Well, let’s get a look at this thing then.” She drew a dagger and cut the leather bindings of the bundle on the desk.

    Farengar stood up, groaning. “I must apologize for my unbecoming behavior.”

    “It’s fine.” Delphine snapped tonelessly. “You weren’t in your right mind.” She peeled back the last layer of the stone’s wrappings. The three of them leaned over the desk conspiratorially. Farengar wiped the dust from it with the hem of his sleeve.

    “Well.” he intoned, “There it is. You’ve delivered as promised. The Jarl will see to your reward. Shoo-shoo, now.” He waved his hands dismissively in the direction of the girl, his nose almost touching the stone as he squinted at its weathered markings. The girl nodded her head; the bags under her eyes apparent again on her still face, whirled on her heels and stepped out.

    Delphine snatched up a roll of paper, a piece of charcoal and gently nudged Farengar out of the way. He jumped at her touch, as though her fingers had shocked him with lightening.

    “I…” he mumbled, his words failing him for the first time in a very long time, “I just cannot believe that I did that to you. You must think me a horrible brute now.”
    “Farengar.” Delphine answered, annoyed, “I already told you. It’s fine. I think no less of you for your actions in an altered state.”

    She finished her charcoal rubbing of one side of the stone and gently turned it over to make one of the opposite side. When she had finished, she rolled up the two pieces of paper, tucked them in her satchel and turned to leave.

    Farengar followed her to the door. “Will I ever see you again?”

    Delphine stopped and turned towards him, smiling beneath her hood. “Perhaps.” she answered curtly, “Or perhaps not, as the times permit.” She patted her satchel. “But I can tell you that this will keep me busy for a long while. You may not see me for many moons. Better yet, forget that I was ever here.”

    Farengar’s face fell, though he tried to conceal it in the shadows of his hood. “You’ve been a great boon to my research. I shall miss your insight and company. Gods speed your progress, friend.”

    She would have seen him waving weakly at her, had she not already been down the hall.

    ***

    Tanniel stepped out, immensely glad to leave the two of them be. She hoped to never have to deal with that arrogant man and his research associate again. There would never be any call to from now on, unless she should pass them by while delivering firewood to Dragonsreach. As she walked to the Jarl’s throne, her steps dragging with weariness, she felt a certain lightness steal over her body despite everything that had happened. This was it – the true beginning of her life in Skyrim. Every dream she ever held was coming to fruition now and she shivered with the delicious desire in knowing how close she was to meeting the end that had cost so much to achieve.

    When she noticed that the Jarl already had a petitioner, she stopped in her tracks. It was a Whiterun guard, his surcoat singed and a layer of soot covering his body. There was a great bloody gash on one of his arms, dripping to form a small red puddle on the Jarl’s floor. Her heart skipped a beat at the sight. It was a scene so familiar to her. The man was wounded and so afraid that he could barely get a sensible word out. A dragon was attacking the watchtower he was assigned to; was the tale that he finally managed to relate. His comrades were dying in the attack and he’d left them behind to get help.

    Calmly, the Jarl dismissed the man and turned to his housecarl, the female Dunmer who never left his side. The two of them exchanged words and then parted ways. Moments later, she returned with a tide of soldiers at her back, fresh from the training grounds on the Great Porch.

    There was a sudden breath of wind at Tanniel’s side and she jumped out of the way to see Delphine scurrying past her, one hand on her hood, pulling it tightly around her face. She melted into the shadows, vanishing down the great hall as if she had never existed at all.

    When she next turned her head, Farengar had run out of his study in a fluster, his robes pulled up to his knees.

    “A dragon in Whiterun!” he screamed excitedly, “My Jarl, I have to see this! It would be a valuable – ”

    No, Farengar.” Jarl Balgruuf answered exasperatedly, like a father reprimanding a child for committing the same sin over and over, “I’ve told you before and I’ll tell you again. It’s too dangerous. I need you here to prepare a plan should a dragon attack the city.”

    The mage’s bottom lip started to quiver, almost imperceptibly. He hung his head and turned around, slinking back to his office. And then he ran into Tanniel on the way back, still patiently waiting not far from the Jarl’s throne. His eyes locked onto her, cold, detached longing and flaming desire alike present in his expression. He snapped to attention in an instant.

    “You!” he hissed under his breath, “I need your eyes! You’ve seen dragons, you know how to survive their attacks! Watch this one for me, report back and I will be in your debt!”

    She was so tired. The monster in her chest was crushing her lungs. Every joint ached from her night on the inn table, every bruise the draugr had given her the day before was resonating in its full spectrum of pain now.

    “No…” she murmured, her heavy eyes closing where she stood, “I can’t…I have to…”

    Wrath rose in Farengar’s countenance. He sneered in uncontrolled fury, saying nothing. Intense, choking fear clogged Tanniel’s throat. She turned to run, to flee the raging mage, consequences be damned. Tomorrow was another day! The Jarl would still be there tomorrow and probably in a much better mood too!

    A hand grabbed her wrist and squeezed. She squeaked a pathetic cry of terror and opened her mouth to let loose a good, loud scream for assistance, but the sound died in her vocal cords when a flash of colored light caught the corner of her eye. Perfect serenity washed over her. It was as though she was a child in Cyrodiil again, totally and completely safe between her parents as they slept in their warm bed, arms wrapped around one another. Suddenly, her bones didn’t ache so much and the burden of guilt seemed tiny and far away.

    She scarcely noticed the wizard dragging her down the great hall of Dragonsreach by the wrist, through the crowd of guards nervously trading the grim news among themselves.

    “Irileth!” he cried out, stopping the housecarl in her tracks.

    She sighed, holding a hand to the side of her face and counting to three under her breath. “Farengar, I do not have time for this. The honor of the hold and the lives of its men are at stake. I will not lose time to cater to your whims.”

    “Ah, but you don’t have to cater to anything. This – “ he pushed Tanniel towards her and the girl dumbly stumbled to a standstill, “ – is my research assistant. I am sending her to observe the dragon and nothing more.”

    Irileth eyed the two of them suspiciously, pursing her lips.

    “Very well.” she said curtly, “But know that I do not guarantee her safe return.”

    Farengar smiled slyly. “It is entirely out of your hands.”

    Irileth sighed, a shadow of worry crossing her features as she studied Tanniel. She held out her hand and a nearby soldier placed a sheathed sword into it. She shoved it at Tanniel and the girl obediently caught it against her chest, cradling it like a child.

    “There.” she intoned sternly, “Your fate belongs to yourself now.”

    There was a push from behind and suddenly she was stumbling down the steps of Dragonsreach, the cold wind blowing straight through her armor. The guards from the castle swarmed around her, their frantic movements driving her ever downward, the force of their energy locking her in the midst of their group. In the streets below, packs of soldiers were gathering at the front gate. And then she was among them, numbly listening to a rousing speech about Nord pride, about the special honor they’d been given in the chance to slay a dragon. Deep down, beneath the overwhelming peace, beneath the warmth, beneath the perfect love she was remembering, a little Tanniel screamed in fear. Before she could do much more, they had crossed a field and its long, sharp grass had cut her bare knees. The tower was in front of them, dark and broken against the pristine sky, its rubble flaming in scattered heaps, a dark shape blocking the sun above it. By then, the disparate tendrils of sweet memories were steadily losing their grip on her mind. In their absence a waking nightmare filled her vision and thoughts until there was nothing else that that black shadow didn’t block out in its crushing dread. By then, it was too late to go back.

    ***

    Everything was chaos. The air was the color of coal and thick with smoke. Soldiers ran about frantically, diving behind anything they thought might hide them. Irileth held together a group of archers, commanding them to fire on her order. They loosed volley after volley of arrows into the monster’s hide, but still it whirled around through the sky, snatching up anyone caught in the open, flying to a great height and dropping them with a sickening crunch of bones as they hit the ground. A man broke his back on the top edge of the tower and then came falling down the rest of the way to land at Tanniel’s feet. For a moment, he was alive and shaking pathetically, reaching for her ankles, before the stone that had broken him fell from the tower to finish the job.

    Tanniel squeezed farther back into the recess she had found of cracked stone and tower wall, squeezing her eyes shut and pressing her hands over her ears. That was all she knew of surviving dragon attacks – stay hidden, stay still, slip away when it isn’t looking. She couldn’t think through the thick smoke, the dying screams of Whiterun’s finest – and the laughter. It was murderous and bitter. The sound was rumbling in her gut and churning her breakfast. She was sure it was the dragon. Every so often she caught a glimpse of him through the screen of smoke, doing pirouettes in the air or ripping the heads from mens’ shoulders and batting them around like playthings. He was making a hideous sport of the slaughter and having a marvelous time.

    As she waited, the battlefield began to grow quiet. She heard a few shouts from the surviving soldiers as the smoke began to clear. The laughter had finally stopped. Gingerly, she uncovered her ears, her muscles refusing to relax. And then she saw Irileth from her vantage point, kicking her way free from a mound of rubble that had buried her and rallying the remaining troops. Slowly, Tanniel began to rise to her feet. The forgotten sword fell from her lap and clattered on the tower stone that had crushed the soldier in front of her. She started to breathe again. It was over. He must have taken enough damage for one day and flown back to his perch. If she moved fast, she could make it Whiterun, back to the Bannered Mare, to bed, to safety. She took a wobbly step forward, straining to get over the large rock that had walled her in.

    The sound of wingbeats and a rush of wind knocked her backwards against the tower wall. There he was, his leering face inches away, his rancid breath washing over her senses. His snout was smeared with blood and scraps of flesh and fabric hung from his toothy jaw. She was lost in his eyes, those dark, searching orbs the size of her hand. Ridiculously, it occurred to her to count the amount of scales on his snout, as she was finally in a position to do so. She even started counting, in fear and skipping numbers in her shattered mind. One, five, eight, seventeen! No, that wasn’t right! Farengar would be displeased!

    The sound of his voice startled her back into reality. “A child…” he purred, “A sweet meat for my supper, a tender piece of flesh…”

    His lizard tongue slid from his lips and slowly licked the side of her face. She shrieked, lurching away from him and lighting her hands on fire for defense. A searing pain surged through the palms of her bandaged hands and gasped in surprise, falling to the ground. That was right. Uthgard’s blade had burned her hands yesterday. The fire magic was causing further damage to her wounds.

    The dragon chuckled, his vulgar tongue waving in the wind as he laughed. “Mages’ blood has an excellent spice to it. I think…that I shall save you for tonight.”

    Before she could react his teeth were clamped around her torso, every bloody dagger driving through armor and flesh, squeezing the breath from her lungs and crushing bone in its deadly grip. In a strange way, beneath her panic and fear, she was relieved. The journey was ending now, before there could be any more heartache. She had been caught and her crime, punished. There was nothing left to do but give in.

    The beast in her chest rustled its feathers and yowled in pain. It crawled up her throat, choking her, its sinewy muscles straining, its hooks burning hot in her lungs. It stirred and grumbled and groaned and stomped hard on her stomach. Death exists, it said. But you are alive.

    Out of the corner of her tearing eye, she saw the sword on the ground beside her. Scrambling, straining against the dragon’s jaw, she snatched its hilt with sweaty fingers just as the dragon took to the air, knocking her backwards in the air with the force of the takeoff, his massive wings stirring the smoke and dust as he rose from the ground. Tanniel stared into his eye, seeing her own thin face dimly reflected in it. The sword hung from her fingers in the empty air. She held it with white knuckles. It was slipping from her sweaty hand, the hilt slowly sliding down her palm. It had to be now – before she dropped it, before he got much higher. Shaking, she raised her arm against the force of the wind and plunged it into his left eye.

    He opened his mouth to scream and Tanniel went plunging toward the ground. A sharp pain seared through her shoulder as she hit the dirt and went rolling down a small hill, her progress stopped just as abruptly by the presence of a fallen block of stone. She watched the dragon flying above her, writhing in the air, twisting in impossible loops, shaking his head from side to side. He roared in agony, spewing flames in every which way and pawing at his face with his massive front claw. In his rage, he flew straight into the ground, sending up a cloud of dust as he hit it and a rumble that vibrated in Tanniel’s teeth. Her ear to the cold soil, she heard the sound of footsteps pounding inside her head. “Fire!” Irileth’s commanding voice bellowed in the midst of the tumult.

    A hail of arrows flew overhead, making their mark in the hide of the dragon’s bloodied throat. He spewed one last spurt of flame, roaring in agony at the sky above him. And then, to the surprise of everyone in attendance, he burst into flames himself. He writhed on the ground as they consumed his body, as he tried frantically to put them out. In his last moment of life, as his flesh melted from his white-hot bones, his eyes met Tanniel’s once more and a low moan escaped his seared throat.

    “Dovahkiin…no…”

    It was then with a start that she noticed that her own body was cloaked in white flames. She jumped to her feet, gasping for air, trying to slap them out with the one hand that would obey her and then trying a different tactic of falling again to roll around in the dirt. But slowly, regardless of her movements, the flames died down, leaving no mark where they had been.

    When she opened her eyes again, a group of soot-cloaked soldiers were staring down at her, fear and awe in their faces.

    “You’re Dragonborn! I saw it!” a man gasped, extending a hand and pulling her back to her feet. Tanniel wobbled as she stood, clinging to his hand for support.

    “What is this?” Irileth demanded, trotting toward the rest of the group with quick, delicate steps, her dark visage stormy. “Dragonborn? All I see is a dead dragon.”

    “It’s a Nord legend.” the guard protested, “You wouldn’t understand. A hero who steals the power of dragons! I saw it all happen with my own eyes!”

    “You are a hero.” Irileth said smoothly, turning to Tanniel, “I’ll give you that. You were the one who brought that monster to the ground. I’ll make certain that you get recompense for that.”

    She frowned when no response was forthcoming. “Come on, what say you, research assistant?” she demanded, slapping the girl’s back.

    “Huhhhhhhhh!” Tanniel wheezed, toppling at the touch, getting quite red in the face.

    “Her armor’s crushing her lungs!”

    “Gods, get it off!”

    “Hey now, careful!”

    Someone’s knife sliced through its leather bindings and an influx of fresh air suddenly rushed into her lungs. It was immediately followed by an overpowering wave of nausea. She broke free from the group of soldiers and fell to her knees behind a flaming pile of rubble to empty her stomach in privacy. Then she wiped her mouth and shakily stood again, her nerves gradually returning to her. The guards stood in their huddled group, watching her as though she was some strange sort of creature.

    “Can…can you shout?” one of them finally ventured to ask.

    “Shout?” she croaked, her voice hoarse and rough.

    “It’s what the Dragonborn does in the stories!” one of them protested, his voice growing sharp. They were all gathering around her now, inching closer, touching her with outstretched hands, as if an awe of a goddess come to Nirn. A memory was coming back to Tanniel now, as her head cleared. Her mother was singing a story as she folded her mound of laundry, her voice high and soft as she repeated a rhyme she’d carried from her homeland to Cyrodiil. “…I tell you, I tell you, the Dragonborn comes, with a voice wielding power of the ancient Nord art. Believe, believe…”

    She squeezed her eyes shut and dug deeper in her mind, thinking about what was said. With a start she found that here were memories there, foggy ones that were not her own, recalling impossible events that could not have happened to her. She saw herself, far away and misty in them, raising a sword to stab her own eye. Farther still, there was knowledge, deep and unfathomable, filled with letters that she couldn’t quite make out. One word of them glowed in her mind, as it had shone on a cold stone wall at the end of a claustrophobic cave. She pursed her lips, carefully sounding it out.

    “Fus.” she said quietly, unsure of herself. There was a roar and a rush of wind and a few of the soldiers were bowled over by it. They cheered loudly, clapping their hands in glee and slapping her on the back jovially. Tanniel gasped in pain as they touched her, shifting her broken ribs with the force of their joy.

    “Enough! Enough of this!” Irileth roared over the hubbub, “We’re searching for survivors and carrying our wounded back to Whiterun! Fieran, shift those stones! Hroggi, scout the keep! The rest of you, spread out!”

    “And you…” she continued, turning to Tanniel, “I don’t know what your game is, but the Jarl will hear of this. I’ve got my eye on you.” She made her point with the sharp nail of her finger and then turned to join in the labor.

    ***

    The Temple of Kynareth was packed to its rafters with injured. The priestess and her subordinates ran around the building, closing wounds, setting bones and doing as much as they could with their Restoration magic for the many, many burn victims that had poured in so abruptly. With a touch, Danica, the temple priestess, had set Tanniel’s broken ribs right, repaired the damage to her shattered arm and even sped up the healing of the burns on her hands, though that was all she could do for the burns. She had said, breathlessly and rushed in the turmoil of the temple, that Restoration has the power to close wounds, seal the walls of torn blood vessels and put wayward pieces in their proper place, but that it cannot restore something that was totally destroyed, say, burned away in fire or cut from the body entirely.

    As they chatted, Tanniel was beginning to calm down and secretly rejoice in the fact that she had survived. In here, among friends and light and color, the events of the watchtower seemed so far away and absurd. If she opened her mouth and shouted, in all likelihood nothing remarkable would happen. Yes, after this day things would surely return to normal and everything that had happened would fade away into dim memories.

    In the midst of her thoughts, a massive tremor suddenly shook the building, grasping its foundations and shaking them until there was nothing left on the walls. Books leaped from their shelves. Pots and vials of potion smashed in puddles of bright color as they hit the ground. Tanniel clung to the healing altar she was sitting on for dear life, for fear that it would fling her off, to land face-first on the stone tiles below. The water in the pool at the center of the temple burbled over its boundaries before loudly splashing back into them. Behind the panicked screams of the injured, the crash of things hitting the ground and the groaning of the wooden walls as they shifted, she heard the rumbling of deep voices, all roaring the same thing in tandem. With the final syllable, the earthquake ended. Tanniel’s knuckles were white as her quaking hands clung to the edge of the stone altar. Her teeth began to chatter as a profound chill set into her bones. Somehow, she couldn’t shake the feeling that this was all her fault.

    Her robes soaked, Danica slowly rose from the pool into which she’d fallen, gingerly testing her joints before running to the aid of a man who’d lost his leg and now his balance.

    A door slammed open, barely turning the heads of anyone in the noisy temple and Irileth stood in it, her face grim, her lips set in a thin line.

    “Girl!” she shouted sternly over the din, her eyes burning red with fury, “Jarl Balgruuf summons you now.”

    ***

    The great hall of Dragonsreach grew cold and drafty as evening drew near. Gerda stroked the firepit in the center of the room, but that did nothing to alleviate the Jarl’s chill. It was more than a draft, he knew that. It was excitement, it was awe, it was wonder at the event his soldiers had related to him. Decision weighed heavy on his weathered mind. His hopes rose in childlike joy as the wooden doors at the front of the hall were opened for the Dragonborn.

    She was being escorted by a trio of guards. They were half-carrying her, he noticed. She limped along ever closer to the throne, a look of great pain coming over her face with every step she took. She finally arrived and knelt before him, unable to stand for much longer. His eyes ran over her. She was so unassuming for a Dragonborn. Her hair was strawlike and frizzy, parts of its charred from the dragon’s attack. Her face was ruddy, with a few freckles sprinkled over her rough cheeks. She was clothed in a simple monk’s robe for the time being, no doubt borrowed from the Priestess of Kynareth and a horribly busted and twisted suit of sooty Imperial armor was slung over her shoulder. She might have been just like any other farm girl in the hold, but her eyes betrayed her. When she opened them and looked up at the Jarl, he was struck by their pale intensity, their ancient, knowing appearance despite their young setting.

    “Dragon-girl.” he addressed her jovially, the corners of his mouth turning up, “So, then, you’ve made it through yet another attack. I remember when you came to me in that same position for Riverwood. But, I have been told that you are not what you seem. Mightn’t you show me your talent?”

    “Yes, my Jarl.” she answered, her thin voice just barely above a whisper. Her jaw was quivering, giving away her fear. She made a motion to the soldiers assisting her and they moved to help her up. She whirled around unsteadily to face one of the Jarl’s tables, set for dinner. She readied herself, tensing her shoulders and then let loose.

    “Fus!”

    The plates and cutlery flew from the end of the table as if pushed by a stiff wind. Bread and mead and fruit spilled onto the floor. The Jarl applauded, smiling at the display.

    “Astonishing!” gasped Avenicci, the Jarl’s steward, from his perch beside the throne. Irileth folded her arms and said nothing.

    “Very good!” the Jarl said, chuckling in joy despite himself, “What name may I call the Dragonborn by?”

    “Tanniel, sir.”

    “Tanniel of…?”

    She cast her face downward and whispered, “Cyrodiil, sir.”

    “Ho!” he said loudly, “A recent immigrant, am I correct? I trust your journey didn’t cause you too much trouble.”

    “No, sir.”

    “Have you any family? Any connections?’

    She raised her face and looked the Jarl straight in the eyes. Again, he was taken aback by the pale intensity of her stare, though he couldn’t show it in front of the entire court.

    “I can only assume that they died under Thalmor torture.”

    Balgruuf sighed and tapped the arm of his throne. “Whom the Thalmor imprison is none of my concern. I will offer you what asylum I can here, though my influence in Thalmor matters is limited.”

    “Now,” he went on, changing his tone and rising from the throne, “you are a person of importance to Whiterun and to Skyrim. As such, I shall grant you the highest honor that is mine to give.”

    “Balgruuf, sir!” Irileth bellowed, aghast.

    “Not now, Irileth. I name you Thane of Whiterun. May you prosper in my hold.”

    He saw that he shoulders were shaking beneath her armor and the priestess’s robe.

    “Lydia, come!” he bellowed, motioning to a young woman in armor standing guard at the front door. She jumped at the sound and ran to the Jarl, her steel boots hitting the floor loudly as she ran. She arrived and knelt at his feet, her cheeks flushed. “Lydia, I name you the Dragonborn’s housecarl. Will you promise to be her sword and her shield, to carry her burdens, both physical and mental, to guard her life against all enemies?”

    “I swear it, my Jarl.” she said frostily, not looking up.

    “So it is sworn. I send you off with what gifts I can give, Dragonborn. Use them well.”

    ***

    Farengar was standing in his alcove, a cruel smirk on his face as he watched the proceedings. Eventually, he caught the Dragonborn’s eye. She glared at him, hot hatred and - gleefully, he thought - not a little fear in her expression. She stumbled towards him excruciatingly slow, painfully, grabbing the railing, her housecarl and finally the study doorframe for support.

    “You!” she hissed under her breath, pointing a finger at him, “You cast a spell on me this morning to make me do your bidding!”

    “Hah. And that spell served you awfully well, didn’t it? Besides, you fed me love potion for breakfast. That’s high treason, you know.” he said coldly, leaning in close, his visage stormy, “Poisoning a member of the Jarl’s court.”

    The girl gulped loudly and backed away from him. He watched the hope of everything she had been working towards abruptly leave her face

    “But!” Farengar continued merrily, a smile cracking on his face, “I won’t say a word if you don’t. Come along now and show me those teeth marks on your armor. I’d like to measure them if I could…”

    The walls of the stuffy office closed in around them as evening consumed Dragonsreach.
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    The_Deadliest_Troll: 5 Points (Brilliant writing!) Apr 2, 2012
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  19. Spellsword_Kale Article Writer

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    Brilliant, quite brilliant. Love the way you cast the events of the main plotline.
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  20. Thomas Liu tyl089

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    Better and better.
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