Straag Rod: Book 1, Part 2, Chapter X: High Stakes

  • 27th of Morning Star, 4E 202

     

    Naked and insignificant, he stood upon the wastes, the chill of the biting winds cutting through his very bones, cutting through his soul. Passing through him, under him, and above him. No gentle breeze, no calming zephyr, only a steady wild wind, like a maelstrom rotating along its path.

     

    “Seek me…”

     

    She whispered in the winds and his eyes strained to see beyond the flat grey horizon. He was in a place of  void. No sun, no moon, no stars to get his bearings. The sky, only a churning vortex of storm clouds, with more shades of grey than he could count.  It was as if he was in the middle of the right of a hurricane, only no debris followed it. His hair, unrestrained, unbound, blew wildly with the winds, dancing joyfully in its unaccustomed freedom, attempting to further obscure his vision; a veil of white enshrouding the void-view.  He felt the wetness of Sorrow’s shed tears upon his cheek, but his bare feet only felt the pain of sharp rock edges slicing into tender flesh. Bright blood married to white skin. Small stones, like cut flint, coated the ground as far as his eyes could see. A sea of cutting stone. Flat and emotionless.

     

    “How?” His voice was but a dry croak swallowed by the deafening roar of the winds.  Thirsty, so thirsty, but not a drop to drink…

     

    “I am the storm.” She replied. “Seek the storm.”

     

    “But it is all around me—“There was a loud crash of lightning far to the horizon. A pale lavender streak of illumination that plummeted from the swirling shades of grey that was the sky directly to the ground below. As if it was marking a spot. And he jumped at both sight and sound, his heart beating rapidly with fear.

     

    “Seek the storm.” She repeated, the voice becoming more firm. 

     

    “No!” He looked away, trembling, wanting to run, wanting to hide, but there was nowhere to turn in this wasteland of stone and storm and his feet hurt so much, he dare not move them.

     

    Another crash of lightning in the same place and he screamed into the howling winds, like a hawk crying into Oblivion.

     

    “My Skar…” She whispered. “Fly to me…”

     

     

    The hawk’s cry echoed again and Äelberon felt his eyes snap open violently, though only the blur that was perhaps the night sky greeted them. Was it not day before? He was confused.  Then the pain came, roaring in like a shrieking banshee, making him moan. Unlike the night sky, that was sharp, as sharp as the stones that he could swear he still felt against his feet. He remained a drooling heap of flesh, metal, and leather for some time, twitching uncontrollably while the body’s functionality slowly returned.

     

    I did not die.

     

    The breathing was unsteady.  At first, a raspy endeavor that seemed to sap all of his strength, making him feel like he could possibly breathe no more, only for another breath to come. This is normal, he reassured himself.

     

    How do you know?

     

    He did not. This was so new to him. This process. Smell, sounds, taste, hearing, vision. The sensation of blood coursing through towards the veins of his extremities, like great, intertwining roots feeding a tree on the brink of death. Giving it the gift of renewed life. Laas. Life. The sensation of sweat pouring through the pores of his skin. The cold wetness of tears in his eyes and upon his cheeks, drying crystals in the icy wind.

     

    Those feelings would return first, followed soon by more articulate thoughts. At least in theory. You have not actually tried this before, old Mer, so you do not really know, but intelligent conjecture... This renewal of the body. Not in such a way. This was not the normal Restoration magicks that were practiced in the Fourth Era.

     

    You did not want to die. Not yet.  The ancient tree with its many branches, wanted to live to fulfill his duty, to follow his path through to the end.  

     

    Äelberon focused on his breathing for a spell, feeling the rhythm as his lungs expanded and contracted with air. What was the damage? Where was the pain? Though his entire body ached, like he had spent too much time lying in one position, the pain seemed concentrated in his back and ribs, but they were no longer broken. That thought came to him. Not broken. Had they been? Gods, mind, work faster, please.

     

    Where am I? How did I get like this?

     

    You do not remember now. Give it some more time.

     

    Äelberon let his brow furrow for a moment, at least those were working fine, trying to answer his own questions when a plaintive whine was heard to his right, breaking his chain of thought.  Then the cold slimy wet of a snout pressed against his still spasming hand.

     

    “Ah boy, I am so sorry…” A confused snort from his animal and the nose pulled away. No, daddy does not sound much like himself, does he?  It came out more like a slurred, garbled mess of syllables very much arranged in the wrong order. “boy ry ah so am sor.” Or something like that. Äelberon did not know. He swallowed, feeling the mix of saliva and blood pass through to his stomach. Blood, he tasted blood. Blood meant internal injuries. Bad ones. Or, he got smacked in the face.  But at the same time, his tongue seemed stuck to the roof of his mouth.

     

    How long was he like this?

     

    The cold of Koor’s snout was replaced by the liquid warmth of the animal’s tongue passing slowly over his hand, like a wolf tending to a cub’s messy coat. He wanted to rub the dog’s ears, but his fingers would not yet move the way he wanted them too. He wanted to give his boy some sign that it was going to be alright. Or, at least it would be, eventually.  Was it going to be alright?

     

    Yes, it was. Because if it had not been alright, you, old Mer, would be lying here dead instead of lying here wondering if it was going to be alright. Somehow, he believed that. That he was actually in a better situation than he was in before, only his mind was still so incredibly foggy.  Almost like he had smoked some very bad skooma, but worse, and what he could only imagine was a groan escaped his lips. The images of the plain of rocks amidst the churning clouds phasing in and out with the images of his reality. Who was she that spoke? Ebonnayne? Äelberon felt his brow crease and his head felt like it was splitting in two. No, this was new. Ebonnayne came with showers of blossoms and her touch was soothing, like a balm. No voice accompanied his dreams of her. The voice he had heard was not unkind, but there was a starkness to it. An elemental power. Was this a side effect to what he had done? What had he done? Gods, it was like bad skooma, he groaned again. He almost passed out from the hammering pain in his head, floating in and out of consciousness for several more minutes, hours, days. Who knew?  He could only ride through the pain, finally coasting over it. He felt something very large stir nearby and his ears could make out a rumbling sound, like the murmur of an angry wind, but soft and rhythmic in the near distance.

     

    When the pain in his head calmed, Äelberon blinked a few more times and the blur of his surroundings gradually became more focused.  The stars again became diamond dust upon black velvet rather than the mess of shining silver-white blobs they had been earlier, though it looked like he was viewing the sky from a strange cage, thick bars obscuring his view. He did not like that. I want to see the stars, because their fire is in Ebonnayne’s eyes, and yet there are these awful bars. Who put bars here? The pale red of Masser and Secunda’s creamy glow were on display tonight. Full and bright, but gah, bars!

     

    “Away go bars! Bo! Bo!” He growled suddenly, angrily dashing his hand to shove them out of the way. It made a strange hollow sound when his gauntlet clumsily collided with one.

     

    Those were not bars, but bones. He narrowed his eyes.  Bones?

     

    A loud, rattling shudder shook the ground to his left and Äelberon felt his muscles tighten. He took as deep a breath as his body would allow and his nose was assaulted by the smells of fresh dirt, the oozing sap of shattered pine trees, and… His eyes widened as he gazed upon the heavens.

     

    Sulfur. It permeated the air, ebbing and flowing in regular intervals. Like something was breathing it in and out. His body froze, his own breath catching in his throat.

     

    He now remembered where he was.

     

    “Send the dragons a message they won’t soon forget.”

     

    “Skjor.” He croaked weakly, stifling another intense wave of pain. “Kodlak is going to kill me for my stupidity.”

     

    Koor snorted in joy that his words made more sense, and he felt a wagging tail persistently strike his armored thigh. “We are in a lick of trouble, boy. Do not be so happy.” He managed to get out, glanced furtively to his left. “It is not over yet.”

     

    Another shudder, followed by a feeble roar and there it was; a looming silhouette against the now brilliantly starry sky. The brown of its scales almost black under night’s veil. 

     

    And he now remembered what had happened, the effects of the mind skooma disappearing like the buzz of a too weak smoke.

     

    Äelberon had left early on the 23rd for Lost Tongue Overlook after a day’s rest at Jorrvaskr. ‘Twas a good day, a quiet day; rounds with Captain Caius and the Jarl to speak with the families of the fallen, followed by a pleasant, lazy sun-kissed afternoon fishing with Dorthe and her father.  

     

    He had only intended to finish what he had started at Lost Tongue. What started with one dragon, however, turned into three, and a bandit bounty. The coin made from dragon-slaying, it seems, was lucrative. My life is worth exactly three thousand septims, and he grinned through his sore jaw.  Well, actually far more, he had been “on a roll” or a “winning streak” as they liked to say in the gambling houses of Cyrrod.

     

    You do enjoy gambling, Old Mer.

     

    It did not hurt that dragon fire now escaped from his maw too and he could have sworn that he smelled fear from the Beast of Lost Tongue when it saw his dovah’s breath. Fire then melted ice. For that dragon, he received his life’s worth from the steward of Riften, the glory of victory, and whatever spoils of the lair, which put the final earnings at over four thousand septims. Though none of that was worth more than his restored pride, Auri-El forgive him, but he never claimed to be the perfect priest. He had his vices and dark demons too. The reward, though, was a blessing! He had more than enough coin now to replenish his supplies of arrows once he returned to Jorrvaskr. And he had his self-respect. He could come home and look his Shield-Siblings and his Harbinger in the eye.

     

    Good, Old Mer, this is good, thinking ahead. The dead do not think thusly. The dead do not think on going home.

     

    Only he did not.

     

    Äelberon took another deep breath, wincing at the pain and continued his recollection of events while his body slowly relinquished control back to him. He was ever conscious of the Beast’s breathing so close to him. Why was it not moving? Why was it not finishing him off? He felt warm fur against his right hand and Äelberon smiled when his fingers finally moved in response, now able to give his boy the comfort he deserved. He hoped Allie was alright, but she was a tough animal and he had made sure she was safe before he left with Koor. A breeze blew through the night and Äelberon realized how cold he really was when he shivered. “Come closer to me, boy.” The dog shifted until they lay side by side, their bodies pressed tight against each other, the position they assumed at night when their travels took them through bitter weather. They were high up and the air was thin and brutal.

     

    What did he do then instead of go home, he thought as he calmly stroked Koor’s head? Ah, collected another bounty. That took him to a bandit camp at the Rift Watchtower. The bounty and the spoils had earned him an additional five hundred septims. A small job, but work was work and three bandits were now in the Riften jail, no longer a problem to the citizens of the Rift.

     

    Another bounty, another dragon, and his laugh lines creased at his folly. What was another three thousand septim bet against your life?  It was not greed that drove him. He wanted enough coin to not have to worry about maintaining a supply of elemental salts. He wanted to make the molds for his and Teineeva’s arrows. He wanted to fix the Jorrvaskr’s leaking roof. He wanted to buy Lucia new clothes. He wanted Danica and Arcadia to have the supplies they needed to treat the wounded soldiers. He wanted, when Olfina and Jon married, to purchase that silly Breezehome that Avenicci was constantly pushing upon him. Not for him, but for them. Sorry, Lydia, you will have to remain in Dragonsreach, he chuckled quietly to himself. That is not a home for a vagabond Knight to share with a young maiden guard. Not that she was not safe, she was, but he could picture in his mind Maiden-Loom wagging her tongue and Lydia did not deserve such dishonor. Breezehome was a home for good and proper married couple, a fine dowry for Olfina Gray-Mane. Well, unless Eorlund objected. Hmm, he probably would. Nords and their stubborn pride, and his laugh lines wrinkled. Who was he to talk? He would have to work on the smith.  

     

    You want a lot of things, old Mer. And you may not get any of them now!  Dumbarse. Oh, if Whitemane could see you now! Lying down on the job! Ah, home… Jorrvaskr. He understood why Henantier the Outsider loved it so.

     

    He was happy at Jorrvaskr. He needed not the luxuries of life. Just his tea and the occasional honey nut treat. Smokes would be that blanket of powdered sugar on the moist orange cake—the sudden pang of hunger at the thought of orange cake was very encouraging—but he did not know if smoking in the old Mead Hall was allowed. 

     

    A strange cough-roar from the Beast made Äelberon and Koor start, their bodies frozen in a heat-conserving huddle. He was feeling the cold now too. Throw some of that hot breath our way, dragon, but not too close…  Good all good, just hurry up a wee bit, body. It tried to move, pushing up with its wings. There was something wrong with the shape of them, as if they were broken, but pushing up was bloody pushing up.  Äelberon tried to move in a feeble attempt to shield Koor, his body jerking to pull himself up, but then a hard slam told him that the Dragon was unsuccessful. Good, because he was not getting up yet either. His back throbbed with pain and he focused on recalling the events of the past few days to get his mind off it.

     

    The next bounty took him to Autumnwatch Tower, on the opposite end of the Rift from Lost Tongue. That dragon fell too, to the combined efforts of his Arrows of Storm and the Staff of Hasedoki. And the wards. A gift from Auri-El certainly, and his mind traveled back to that battle, remembering the smug smile forming on his lips when the beast raged as its fire struck the rippling shield of magicka instead of him. “I am not such a helpless lir, now” he had remembered crying out to the beast as it flew over him in frustration while Hasedoki streamed magicka from his spectral hands. The only mistake he made during that second dragon was again falling for that damn disarming shout and having to scurry about for his bow. Scamp’s Blood, how he hated that shout... Hmph! Unfair fighting, in his eyes. That is what that shout was.

     

    He had learned two new words. Faas… Fear… And Krii… Kill. A word he hoped he would never have to use. And dragons knew such things! How the Nords managed to emerge victorious in a war with them was beyond him, even with a dragon’s help. Another trip to Riften to collect his life’s worth and an enchanted gold amulet that glowed all green that he found among the bones of the dragon. A much more vibrant glow than the green from his ring from Bleak Falls Barrow. No clue what it was, but green on an enchantment is never a bad thing. Unless it was a Paralyze. Paralyze, he believed that was green, but why would anybody want wear an amulet of paralysis?  That would just be silly.  How would you take it off? You are paralyzed! Oh, unless somebody else gave it to you. That could work. Can you even put that in an amulet? Äelberon rolled his eyes. Stop thinking about enchanting, old Mer.

     

    After some thought at the Beast’s bones, Äelberon came to the logical conclusion that it must have eaten someone. Dragons eat, but at the same time, he did not see any dragon shit near the lair, just a lot of bones and the smell of scaly chicken feet mixed with the rot of old flesh, blood and either sulfur or old ice, depending on the dragon’s preferred elemental attack. The ice was a strange smell, like a stale icebox. Do they shit? A question to ponder over a good smoke later.  

     

    The winning streak had continued. Kodlak was right, new magicks for a new enemy. Adapt or die.

     

    And he adapted, sending the dragons a message.

     

    “Zu’u los Dovahkiin!”

     

    It scared him deep into the fiber of his being to scream those words at the dying beast of the Autumnwatch Tower and yet, he felt an intense thrill as he dominated over its disintegrating form. Their eyes meeting. Their memories merging. Their souls joining in a flurry of surging lights, like autumn leaves scattering in sunset’s golden glow. One living and one dying.

     

    The dreams he had that night under the stars of Autumnwatch Tower were beyond his comprehension, fueled by the mania of his victory. Like the powerfully real hallucinations brought by bad skooma was the only thing he could really think of that was similar.  Hircine’s persisting nightmare was mixed with images of the Aetherial cosmos and the chaos of creation, images of his beloved Ebonnayne, of shards splitting from single unit into many shapes, growing wings, becoming children. Jagged peaks, Skyforge’s hot fires, the steady strike of a hammer upon an anvil, the lyrics of the dragon’s song… the drum of life.

     

    When did he do this? ‘Twas all such a blur now. The twenty-fifth? Twenty-sixth?

     

    Three dragons in three days, you are such a fool, Old Mer. He closed his eyes. You should have gone home after the first one.

     

    In retrospect, he should have then rested and headed back to Jorrvaskr.  He had more than enough coin, but he felt fine. You do not feel so fine now. Äelberon chuckled as he lay on the ground, which triggered another coughing fit, his lungs rattling with blood. Old blood probably.  Something was off, the sulfur smell became stronger.

     

    “Fos los ful moorus, fahliil?” Suddenly asked the dragon weakly and Äelberon did not move a muscle, his coughing silenced.

     

    “Laas…” Was his reply after he allowed himself to relax. Dragon was not moving yet either.

     

    The dragon sighed. “Til los pogaas vahzen wah hin fahral.”

     

    He laughed at the dragon’s words, which made him cough until his eyes watered and his nose ran.

     

    It stirred nearby, when it heard him cough, letting out a feeble roar as it started crawling slowly towards him. Ha! It was in just as bad a state as he was and even then, it was still trying to kill him. He looked up at his bars and realized what they were. He was encased behind mammoth bones, unreachable from his position. More dumb luck. When it realized it could not get to him, it lay heavily upon the ground again. They were both broken. He turned slightly to the dragon. He could see it just beyond his haven of bone, its brown scales dull in the moonlight, sulfur smoke coming in short spurts from its bloodied nostrils.

     

    “Gahvon…” Wheezed Äelberon.

     

    The dragon’s laughter, even with it as weak as it was, was like a boom upon the cliff face. After more coughing and muffled curses it addressed him in a mixture of tongues.  “Gahvon? Yield? Wah hi? To you? The only way I die is if you live, Dovahkiin, and you will not. Hi fen ni lahney.”

     

    “Gahvon…” Äelberon whispered again to the dragon, his voice deeper, and why the image of the pounding hammer flashed through his mind then, he knew not. “Zu'u los dovahkiin, hi fen dir. You will die, for I am Dovahkiin.” He added for extra emphasis.

     

    “Neh…” Replied the dragon. Never, he translated, smiling. Dragons were as stubborn as Altmer were. Äelberon closed his eyes again and gave in to his memories. What had led him to this point. They were speaking, but neither of them were getting up. A temporary stalemate.

     

    He had ignored that his armor was covered in both frost residue and soot, and he took yet another bounty, remembering the look on the face of the steward in Mistveil Keep. She had shrunk from him. And as he walked away, bounty in hand, he had caught her troubled murmurs to the Jarl.

     

    “He has a crazed look in his eye, my Lady.”

     

    “The dragons are dying, leave him to it…” Came the Jarl’s response.

     

    Perhaps it was the rush from learning the new words? The rush from absorbing their souls? Their knowledge passing on to him? It was, he admitted to himself. It is as close to ecstasy you will ever get to experience now, the sad memories of his conversation with Skjor playing in his mind. Religious fervor, the euphoria of his divine faith. It replaced the temptations of the flesh he had struggled with before Elenwen ended everything for him. She had done him a favor, for he was like Auri-El’s machine now, no other distractions. A pure vessel for the upholding of the sacred Tenets of his Holy Order.

     

    The bounty took him here, to Northwind Summit, by way of another blessing. A hidden ebony mine guarded by foul animated skeletons. They were nothing for his holy sunfire and his silver katana and the discovery of ebony was welcome, for he knew he would work the material at Skyforge eventually. Aye he would, for he had faith in Auri-El that his prayer would be answered. Oh, that was what he had done, he recalled. He had prayed to be allowed to continue on his path towards Alduin and his body then used magicks in a way that only the grand mages old enough for many lifetimes of study could. No shimmering golden light, no flicking of the wrists, or other such showy nonsense. This was a different kind of healing, the streams of magicka penetrating deep into his body, seeing the broken bones, the torn tissue.  Over two hundred years of healing others made him attuned to the body’s processes in a way few could understand. He had never tried it before though because to fail meant death. Bah! You were going to die anyway, there was nothing to lose. An easy gamble to take. He then shut down all but what was needed to stay alive as his body rapidly healed itself.  The concentration that it took to do this had made him faint. He understood now. And it made him wake like he was coming down from bad skooma.  

     

    Where were his thoughts? So many tangents. His mind was not focused.  Where was he? Ah, ebony… Eorlund had told him of an Orc stronghold far in the Eastmarch, Narzulbur, which knew how to work it, but Orcs did not yield their secrets so easily. He had wanted to go see them in this trip to the Rift.  Äelberon sighed. Another time? He hoped. No, no hoping. Yes, he would go. His faith needed to remain strong.

     

    The dragon was at the summit, just beyond the end of the mine. High in the mountains that divided Eastmarch and the Rift, overlooking the village of Shor’s Stone. That was why it was so bloody cold, he sniffed again.  It was not a particularly strong dragon either. A little brown one. Still bloody big, but smaller than the others by a good measure. Äelberon had dealt with far stronger ones; the one at Autumnwatch being as difficult as the two at Whiterun, for they were of the same make. No, the one he fought here, the one who laid fading along with him, was far weaker. It talked more than the others did, and not only taunts. Tinvaak, the dragon’s word for conversation. It was even muttering to itself as he walked up the steps approaching the lair, something about a troll, bringing one as an offering to his lord.

     

    Alduin. 

     

    When he cleared the steps, he used the staff as the dragon took flight. The spectre immediately went to work while Äelberon quickly found cover behind a ruined stone archway to shoot at the beast. The way an experienced hunter stalks any prey. Use the terrain to your advantage. He nodded as he lay there, feeling the cold seep into his body. If he did not get up soon, he would die another way.

     

    The battle had gone extremely well. An easy kill, for this dragon did not know the shouts of its stronger brothers, only “Yol”.  It even fell under the influence of his Faas, which ended up being a stupid experiment, for the beast flew off in a fright as did Koor, who sought refuge inside an abandoned mining shack.  They both left him cursing alone at the mountainside, shaking his bow for both to come back. You are not going to collect the bounty if the dragon flies away, dumbarse!  Several moments passed before both creatures decided to rejoin him in battle.

     

    Äelberon replayed what he thought was the final shot in his mind as he lay upon the ground. ‘Twas an elegant one. Very much like the one at Whiterun. Right in the eye.  Two hundred and forty-three years, old Mer and you still have the eyes an eagle. The spectre was walking down the steps and Äelberon followed to get a clearer shot of the dragon. The dragon was preoccupied with the spectre and Äelberon descended the steps, Okriim ready to draw. He aimed and fired. It was a fine shot. Perfect.

     

    Äelberon had watched the dragon stagger mid-air from the impact of his arrow. Then it climbed high into the sky, as if it was going to begin another pass. Only it did not pass, it dove, and it did not pull up, but fell hard upon the summit, scattering debris in its wake. Tree, stone, dirt flew everywhere, destroying its small mountain lair.  Hasedoki disappeared in a wisp of crackling blue smoke.  He cried out, managing just to grab Koor by the scruff of the neck with all his strength—he could not lose his boy—and toss the dog out of the way of the dragon’s path.  It crashed into him, throwing him with great force into a large stone boulder before it slammed into the word wall. At the Western Watchtower, he struck the column the right way, but as in gambling, sometimes you win, and sometimes… you lose. Äelberon heard a terrible snap and felt pain as he fell behind the mammoth bones, time slowing just as it did the first night he learned he was Dovahkiin.

     

    His last coherent thought was asking for help, though now that he thought on it, he actually said it aloud, and not Auri-El, but the word ‘Bormah’ escaped his lips.   

     

    The dragon did not fare much better.  Now he could vaguely make it out in the clear night. Both wings were broken and one of its horns was torn clear off, leaving a grisly wound on its head nearly exposed to the brain.  One eye swolllen shut, the stub of an arrow shaft poking from it. The rattling cough also suggested that both had suffered similar internal injuries.  He closed his eyes and moved closer to Koor, the cold was making him dangerously sleepy. Damn it.

     

    “Dovahkiin?” It spoke to him again. It was the first to call him by that name since the one of the Western Watchtower. All the others had said he was not.

     

    Äelberon’s bruised, leaden eyes opened and he turned his head slightly towards the dragon. “Los hi nuk wah gahvon nu?”

     

    The dragon’s weak laugh rang again. “Nid Dovahkiin, til los nunon gein ven Zu'u fen krentar wah hi, ahrk fah tol Zu'u kent dir.” It paused before speaking again. “Dovahkiin?"

     

    “Geh, yes?” Answered Äelberon, feeling the lull of sleep.

     

    “Dreh hi mindok fos hi los?”

     

    A loaded question. He had often wondered what they had thought of his coming. In the star-cast darkness they faced each other and Äelberon could faintly see the glow of the dragon’s one good eye. Brighter than before.

     

    “Nid.” He replied. “Fos los Zu’u wah Dovah?”

     

    You need to think on getting up, and he began to push Koor away.  The dog grunted, not wanting to leave his side. His hand found an ear, giving it a reassuring squeeze and they locked eyes. “Battle, Koor. We have a task to finish…” He whispered into the animal’s ear, so softly that it was beyond the dragon’s senses for it still lay nearby, as if pondering his answer. “Collect my life’s worth.” Äelberon added with a smile against the fur of his boy’s head. Or die. It was another gamble he was taking. He had not been “cleaned out” as they say yet.

     

    “Faal prakem tol rovaan lok.” The dragon began, making Äelberon pause to listen in the night, as quiet and still as the grave that almost came for him today. “Faal fax ilit tol gahrot ahrk mindol. Ahrk, faal grohiik ko vokun do faal Okriim. Hi los grutiik do hin joriin, nunon ol hi grut dovah lingrah vod.”

     

    Äelberon closed his eyes upon hearing the words and felt the hot streak of a tear flow from the corner of one. “Nii fund fon ful…” He answered sadly. The Lord of First Seed had been a half-truth.  The Mage of Rain’s Hand had been what it was supposed to be until the Wheel of Fate shifted to turn in a different direction.  A chance slip upon the kitchen floor while she was cooking the evening meal turned into what his Ata told him had been the worst and best day of his life. He did not learn what wandered the sky on the day of his birth until much later. Blessed and Cursed. But the dragon knew.

     

    “Fustiroz!” The dragon then hissed, its tone mocking, delving even deeper into Äelberon’s psyche.

     

    Exile, and instead of giving into the sadness it was trying to churn up, he suddenly caught himself smirking. It just had to add that, didn’t it? As if it was thinking of anything nasty to say, just to say it.  Rubbing salt upon an open wound. Like a bully in the school yard who has no other cards to play. The Dovah was certainly attuned to his thoughts, his fears. How to wound him with words. Just like all the other dragons had been. Well, the thu’um is comprised of words, old Mer.  It only stands to reason that they can use all words as weapons, not just those empowered through their use of the thu’um. Incredibly intelligent creatures. He heard the rumble of its breath growing stronger. He felt it begin to move near him, blowing strong gusts of sulfur-infused air from its nostrils from its efforts.

     

    Äelberon, gingerly, and with his own great struggle, started bending one leg at the knee, hearing the bones crack at their stiffness. The healing had worked, he could feel and use his legs, but he was not fully recovered. Not by a long shot. You are stingy god, Auri-El. Only enough for the death blow, eh? And then I am on my own?

     

    Silence.

     

    Aye, I thought so. So be it. He smiled. It is more than enough, my Lord.  Thank you for you show of mercy despite the follies of an old Mer.  Dealing the death blow is better than receiving a death blow and he could see the build of living brilliance upon the scales of the Dragon. Seems the beast was channeling its own final reserves of strength, readying its thu’um.    

     

    “Y0—“

     

    Xarxes’ Arse! Äelberon’s eyes widened and he extended his hand, crying out in pain from the too quick reflexive movement. No shimmering blue from his hands this time, and his heart stopped, bracing for the impact of the dragon’s fire. But nothing came from the dragon’s maw and Äelberon released a gasp of relief, his stomach turning from the stress. There was no magicka to stop anything this time. Healing his broken back that way had stripped him of everything he had. The sacrifice of speed.  Where was Okriim? He glanced left, finding fast the sheen of his golden bow in the moonlight.  He slowly shifted position to reach his bow, clenching his jaw and letting out another throaty cry when the pain struck his back like a thunderbolt. Not broken anymore, but it was in worse shape than it was at the Western Watchtower.  And then a thought occurred to him. Another gamble? Still lying down, he turned rapidly, ignoring the pain and faced the dragon.

     

    “Yo—“

     

    Both Dovah and Dovahkiin laughed when Äelberon’s own thu’um sputtered, like how a candlelight is squashed by two fingers.

     

    “Ha! Niney gein do mii vis krif med prudaav dovah nu.” The beast chortled.

     

    “Nii fund fon ful.” He repeated, though gone was the sadness of the first utterance of those words.

     

    Koor looked up and began to wag his tail when he saw his master finally move. His left hand closed over Okriim. He only needed one more shot. One more shot. With great effort, his body crying ‘bloody murder’ the entire time, he sat up and propped his back against the rock face behind the mammoth remains. He sat there for a few moments to catch his breath. Just that little movement had taken so much effort and cold air passed over sweat-dampened skin, threatening to freeze under his armor. The dragon was watching his every move, it eye becoming even brighter. This one had eyes like the tips of a campfire’s burn. A mixture of yellows and oranges, flickering amid the void black that was the beast’s pupil and for a second he watched that eye, transfixed, admiring the life in it still, despite everything.

     

    The dragon managed a true Dovah’s roar and opened its mouth slightly to snap its jaws. Testing the strength of its bite. He jumped when they slammed shut with a loud crash and the dragon shook its head, biting at the air again, now satisfied that its maw was in working order.  It was not over yet.  Nii lost ni avok tul!  The Beast was ready for the challenge and it spoke again, its tone going bitter, its tail slamming down hard upon the ground in protest. Ha! They were such sore losers, thought Äelberon. You may still lose this gamble, old Mer.

     

    “Coward! Nikriin!” The dragon bellowed, switching between tongues in its anger, “Do not hide behind those bones to deal the death blow! Dinok sun!”

     

    “Zu’u los nid nikriin!” Äelberon growled back, his eyes blazing.  He was stiff and slow, and in great pain, but he was moving, hobbling. “Come on, you overgrown barnyard chicken!  Show me what you’ve got!  You want me where you can get to me. Well, here I am!” The Dovah turned and watched him until he stopped. Äelberon was now directly in the path of the maw if the beast could move faster than him. He clenched Okriim and stooped to pick up the one arrow that was not destroyed from the dragon’s collision. Golden like his bow in the night. So lucky, because the rest were gone, his quiver empty. He hoped the Staff had fared better, but he vaguely remembered storing that near the archway, and that was still intact. His eyes locked with the dragon’s. No fear. Nid faas.

     

    He saw the Magna Ge when he tried to draw Okriim the first time, and had to stop a few times to catch his breath. The dragon laughed and after the third failed attempt, Äelberon was laughing too, putting his hands on his knees to prevent from fainting.  They were both still so broken. The dragon blew a gust of air like an angry bull and began a slow crawl towards him, the heat of battle flushing his scales again.  Still trying to kill.  The sole mission from his leader. Äelberon knew they sought him out. He really needed to draw that bow and Äelberon renewed his efforts, now leaning heavily against the rocks. His head throbbing, his vision blurring.

     

    “Bormahl lost genun zey aaz ahk, fah hi los tul sahlo. Nu mu fen koraav wo los neliik.” The dragon spoke again, taunting.

     

    “Til los nid Lass vothni Bruleyk, Dovah.” Was Äelberon’s response as the dragon inched closer.

     

    “Hi fen dir, Dovahkiin, fah Alduin fen nii. Rok los Diistkiin ahrk faal Drog do mii pah. Hi fen kos bonaar.”

     

    Äelberon knew bonaar. Humbled. The very word Alduin had said to him at Helgen.

     

    He was covered in a sheen of sweat from his efforts and he shivered from the cold, his hands trembling as he held Okriim. The dragon was gaining momentum, inching closer and closer and Äelberon could feel and hear both their hearts pounding. He had strength for one more attempt and then the dragon would take him. That was it, all bets would then be off. They were so close to each other now. Äelberon could smell the sulfur of the Dovah’s breath, feel the heat of its great scaled body, and they could see the fire in each other’s eyes. Each bent on their purpose to the very end and he admired the beast for its drive. No great foe other than Vingalmo had ever existed in his long life. And yet, he felt himself longing to speak with the beast more.  Äelberon almost opened his mouth, almost stopped everything for more tinvaak, but the dragon started raising its head and he saw his death in the glint of its eye. There was no going back. The cards were on the table. A damp tendril of his hair stuck to his mouth, he felt the drying blood pull at the hairs of his thickening beard.  So close. Ful strin. The dragon released a mighty roar that thundered in his ears, opening its jaws to bite.   With a loud cry of pain, Äelberon drew Okriim and fired as the dragon brought his head down to crush him in its jaws.

     

     

     

    He was enclosed within a circle of flame and just beyond the circle, he saw his five Shield-Siblings being devoured one by one by a great demon wolf. While he watched, five giant ravens attacked him, black as night; their shrieks deafening. The pain of their beaks tearing at his flesh was agonizing and he was powerless against them as he tried to battle his way to save his Shield-Siblings with spell, bow, sword, and shield, his body glowing with its divine light.  He called out to his siblings, frantically urging them to flee the demon that now came for them. But they did not flee, they did not even move. They were locked in place by the demon’s hypnotic stare and he was helpless as he watched, knowing, feeling the pounding of his heart in his chest. A warning.

     

    Hircine…

     

    First, the demon wolf flayed Skjor alive and ate his heart, spilling his blood, washing the ground with it. Äelberon cried out in anguish for his fallen brother while the ravens continued to pick at his own flesh, beating him to the ground with heavy blows from their great black wings. Like the void, so black, so dark, surrounding him, smothering him. He could not breathe!

     

    There is no light in this darkness, he despaired, striking at the creatures with his arms. Always missing! The circle of flame only a false and cruel light that deceived him, giving no warmth, evil, like the fires of Oblivion. The sun, the sun, where was the sun? Where was his light?

     

    Auri-El? The soul of Anui-El, who is the soul of Anu, the everything! Where?

     

    The ravens beat him to his knees, and then flat upon his stomach, pressing him down, making him taste the dirt. He did not give up, though, and with a roar of fury, he started crawling towards his Shield-Siblings, inching towards them, dragging his body with all of his strength, the divine fire again growing in him. But for every bit of distance he gained, the ravens dragged him back with their talons, further into the circle, over and over again, for what seemed like an eternity.

     

    Until he could crawl no more.

     

    He was beaten. The Eagle of Auri-El was vanquished.

     

    He then lay spent within the burning circle, unable to move, the ravens now perched victoriously upon his body as if he were naught but the carrion that rots upon the roadside. His eyes were glazed from exhaustion, and he, nothing more than a heap of silver metal and broken flesh. He then watched the demon wolf from beyond the flames, looming dark and large; its eyes yellow and bright with the thrill of the hunt, its sharp fangs exposed in a snarl.

     

    “No…” he could hear himself repeat feebly while the beast approached Kodlak Whitemane and his bloodied hand extended towards his Shield-Brother.

     

    Auri-El… help, he begged silently. 

     

    “Run, brother.” He mouthed, but Kodlak did not hear him nor did he move as the beast took the Old Man’s head in its maw, ripping it from his body in one gruesome motion.

     

    “It cannot be…” He gasped, watching the Harbinger’s blood drip from the beast’s foul jaws. Bright crimson upon his white hair.

     

    “It does not have to be…” came a whisper and Äelberon’s eyes widened in horror, his body going cold as the flame extinguished leaving him in total darkness. Only the eyes, the yellow eyes of the beast were visible. Mocking, cruel eyes.  Staring right at his. “There is a way…” the voice again. The eyes!

     

    “No…” He croaked mournfully, turning away from the beast’s leering eyes. It was so cold, no light… no light. He turned away in fear… he needed light. Auri-El… help?

     

    Silence. Darkness.

     

    “What will you give in exchange for them?”'

     

    The whisper echoed in his ears. And Äelberon screamed, turning in the direction of the voice, expecting to see Hircine. His old eyes widened when instead he beheld the familiar tall, elegantly robed form, wearing His moonstone crown, Magnus suspended above Him, bathed in the light of golden dawn. Just as he was in the Temple at Alinor when he first gazed upon his face. Five days of finding the right path through that maze.

     

    It was never Hircine who had asked the question.

     

    Äelberon tried to get up, but the ravens were so heavy. He looked ahead and suddenly a great, silver wolf appeared before him. With his scars; his eyes. The Ravens then took flight and attacked the silver wolf. The wolf, bristling with rage, leapt in the air and caught one of the ravens in the air, savagely biting off its head. It did this until all five lay headless upon the floor and he could only stare like a dumb fool.

     

    When finished, the great scarred wolf first looked at him, its mouth red with blood, and then it looked upon the Demon wolf that was devouring his Shield-Siblings from beyond the flaming circle. It let out a long, low howl and stepped into the circle. Challenging. Defiant. The demon wolf flashed its wild eyes at the silver wolf, and ventured into the Circle, answering the Challenge. Both animals bristled and snarled, gnashing their teeth in fury, sizing each other up. The demon wolf then lunged at the silver wolf, its eyes glowing with the Aspect of Hircine. It was a terrible fight, brutal, and much blood was shed.  The silver one, eventually triumphed, sending the demon wolf running, tail between its legs. 

     

    “To truly walk the path of light, you must first walk in darkness.” The Adonai then spoke.

     

    “Those that walk the darkness shall then see the great light.” He whispered unable to face the glory before him.

     

    “To cleanse. First, you must become soiled.” The great being continued.

     

    “And I shall cleanse, as the fresh snow falls upon the ground at Dawn’s bidding.” He replied.

     

    “So I ask again, my Priest. What will you give in exchange for them?” His God-King asked.

     

    Äelberon stared into the silver wolf’s eyes, seeing deep into his own soul. The wolf’s eyes then changed, turning from his own shade to the cruel yellow of the mark of Hircine.   He glanced at his Shield-Siblings. They were safe though they were now weeping in a tomb of cold stone surrounded by snow and sea. Aela, unmoving. And in the distance, obscured by mists, he could make out Kodlak walking towards a massive bone bridge made of a entire whale carcass, his back straight and proud. Not looking back.     

     

    He then wept tears of purest ebony in profound sorrow, feeling them strike with sparks upon the storming ground and he cried unto his lord, like an eagle screaming to the heavens.  “Ey, ey, Ali Adonai! Such loss! Such heavy loss! No, there must be another way!” 

     

    “What did you expect?” The Aedric projection thundered, making him cower. He then turned his born orb of light away, his grand form growing dimmer.  “They are the Huntsman’s creatures, not mine. And he is angry.”

     

    “The Huntsman?”

     

    “No. He… is merely intrigued.” The Adonai answered. “That whom they betrayed in their hasty bargain with the Huntsman. He is angry.” There was a slight frown upon the perfectly formed lips.  “You prayed for their weak souls and this is the solution given to you, though you did not heed me in the beginning. Weak with fear.  Acting beneath the gifts and curses bestowed upon you. Will you accept this gamble, Hokziiah? What will you give in exchange for them? Will you turn the Hunt inside out?”

     

    “What if I fail?” He asked, regarding the wolf. Its appearance had changed dramatically. No longer strong, but a shade of its former strength, emaciated and covered in many oozing sores and wounds. Dying.

     

    “You would not be the first to fail me.” Came the chilling reply, spoken as if the sacrifice was nothing. “You are beyond my grace now. You must find your own.”

     

    Äelberon gathered the ebony tears in his right hand and felt the betrayed metal burn through the flesh.  He then pressed the solid tears to his breast, where his heart beat, rejoicing in the agony that would be this test. He knew what this was. A test of faith. What every priest of the Order dreaded and yet hoped for.

     

    For I am the vessel of the Tenets of my Holy Order and I shall transcend my burdens.  

     

    “Do you now understand, Hokziiah?”

     

    “I understand the terms, Adonai.” He said softly, bending his head in reverence. “Dii siil. I will give unto my very soul.”

     

    There was no answer from the Aedra, only silence as he walked away, fading from his view. Leaving him alone in the terrible silence of the black void.    

     

     

     

    Äelberon woke with a gasping start, his limbs a flurry of waving metal and leather, his heart thundering loudly in his chest, his breath coming out in steaming gusts. He bolted up right, only to fall back when his back screamed in agony. Koor got up quickly, moving out of the way. Had he been next to him? After a few moments he turned slowly to face the edge of the beast’s lair, towards the sharp drop off that faced volcanic springs of the Eastmarch below. He could faintly see the thin band of orange that heralded the morning on the horizon, though stars still stubbornly clung to the sky. Koor was standing over him, puzzled at first, but then growing bolder, heat-butting his shoulder to get his attention. Äelberon raised a hand to grab one of Koor’s ears, still watching the sun rise.  A lone hawk glided the morning’s thermals.

     

    “I am alright, boy. Just…” He blinked. Was he alright? The images of his dream flashed through his mind and he let breath escape his lips. That was unlike anything he had ever experienced in his over two hundred years as a priest. The symbolism rich. The implications horrid and yet…And for the tirst time, the dream was complete.  His near-death experience with the dragon allowing him to receive the dream.  There was hope for Kodlak. There was hope where before there had been none, the old cures of Jorrvaskr’s affliction gone with the passing of eras. But he needed to piece together the images.  He needed to see Brother Theodard. He needed to go to the Beacon. He could save them?!  He saw Kodlak enter Sovngarde. He defeated the demon wolf in the form of another wolf. He saw his eyes upon the wolf morph from his to the yellow of Hircine’s mark. Which only meant one thing.

     

    The Beast Blood.

     

    “Gods no!” He suddenly cried out, sitting up again in revulsion. His heart would not stop pounding. What was Auri-El asking of him? What was he thinking? He ran through the tenets in his mind, feeling the terror approach. He tore off his hood and reached behind his neck, desperate, his breathing only slowing when his fingers touched the sacred worn leather that bound his hair at the nape in disgrace. Risk eternal damnation?

     

    Become one of them? But it was clearly Auri-El in the dream.  There was no question.  It was clearly His will. He had presented the solution. Was Hircine tricking him perhaps? The rising sun suddenly cast a hard beam of light right in his eye, making him put up his hand to block the glare.

     

    “Gods!  Do not question such visions, old Mer.”  A voice warned in his mind, making him stop in fright. Become the wolf to rout the Prince of the Hunt. His heart would not stop pounding.

     

    This would redeem him for his transgressions. For letting Farkas live and violating the Order’s stance against Daedra and their minion in favor of mercy.  It proved that his actions were justified, that clemency would be granted. This grand endeavor would again grant him favor in the eyes of the god he so dutifully served.

     

    The Ravens, he pondered, still watching the sunrise. What was their significance? He needed to see Brother Theodard. Now. And with a heavy groan, Äelberon slowly stood up.

     

    And promptly fell down again, his knees buckling under his own weight. His back was no longer broken, but he was sore and freezing. Unsteady. Like a newly born foal that has yet to find his legs. He needed heat. Badly. And food. He looked around, there was a damaged campfire and the broken hull of a long abandoned smelter. Probably people used this as a camp when dragons first abandoned the skies. He crawled to the campfire, still unable to steady his legs. He no longer needed a torch.

     

    “YOL!” He cried and the campfire was now lit. Bah! Along with quite a few other things. A torch would have been better, stupid Old Mer. Damn it, he did not even care he thought as he pulled himself to the campfire and sunk again to the ground, feeling the flames warm his tired bones. Let it all burn. Let the fires cleanse. Sleep came again very quickly. He would think on what he was going to do later.

     

     

    Dovahzul translations.

     

    A: “Los hi nuk wah gahvon nu?”

    (Are you ready to yield now?)

     

    D: “Nid Dovahkiin, til los nunon gein ven Zu'u fen krentar wah hi, ahrk fah tol Zu'u kent dir."

    (No Dragonborn, there is only one way I will surrender to you, and for that I must die.)

     

    D: “Dreh hi mindok fos hi los?”

    (Do you know what you are?)

     

    A: “Nid.” He replied. “Fos los Zu’u wah Dovah?”

    (No, what am I to the dragons?)

     

    D: “Faal prakem tol rovaan lok. Faal fax ilit tol gahrot ahrk mindol. Ahrk, faal grohiik ko vokun do faal Okriim. Hi los grutiik do hin joriin, nunon ol hi grut dovah lingrah vod.”

     

    (The snake that wanders the sky. The sly fox that steals and tricks. And, the wolf in the shadow of the Eagle. You are a betrayer of your people, just as you betrayed the dovah long ago.)

     

    A: “Nii fund fon ful…”

    It would seem so.

     

    D: “Ha! Niney gein do mii vis krif med prudaav dovah nu.”

    “Neither one of us can fight like proper dovah now.)

     

    D: “Auri-El lost genun zey aaz ahk, fah hi los tul sahlo. Nu mu fen koraav wo los neliik.”

    (Auri-El has showed me mercy too, for you are still weak. Now we will see who is faster)

     

    A: “Til los nid Lass vothni Bruleyk, Dovah.” Was Äelberon’s response as the dragon inched closer.

    (There is no Life without Struggle, Dragon.)

     

    D: “Hi fen dir, Dovahkiin, fah Alduin fen nii. Rok los Diistkiin ahrk faal Drog do mii pah. Hi fen kos bonaar.”

    (You will die, Dragonborn, for Alduin wills it. He is firstborn and the Lord of us all. You will be humbled.)

     

    Adonai is the Hafnir’s languages (from the Imperial Library) Aldmeris word for “divine.”

     

    Straag Rod Book 1 ToC

    Part 2, Chapter IXPart 2, Chapter XI

Comments

7 Comments   |   KaiserSoSay and 9 others like this.
  • Sotek
    Sotek   ·  May 7
    Gods can be so cruel. They place us on a path they knew we cannot follow and yet follow we must.
    This doesn't bode well for Albee.
  • The Lorc of Flowers
    The Lorc of Flowers   ·  April 19
    And this is how gods, in their cruelty, make their knights stumble and eventually fall. Beware the god's attention, because that my friend is never a good thing.
    • Lissette Long-Chapper
      Lissette Long-Chapper
      The Lorc of Flowers
      The Lorc of Flowers
      The Lorc of Flowers
      And this is how gods, in their cruelty, make their knights stumble and eventually fall. Beware the god's attention, because that my friend is never a good thing.
        ·  April 19
      Hehe, yep, gotta love those gods.  And all eyes are on this old, weary Knight that battles through the Arena now. 
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  April 18
    This chapter was fascinating, and a very clever way of telling the tale of the dragon fights without making each one an epic event, or rather the epicness is subtle but no less epic for that. You know what I mean. The imagery was great, especially the ope...  more
    • Lissette Long-Chapper
      Lissette Long-Chapper
      Paws
      Paws
      Paws
      This chapter was fascinating, and a very clever way of telling the tale of the dragon fights without making each one an epic event, or rather the epicness is subtle but no less epic for that. You know what I mean. The imagery was great, especially the ope...  more
        ·  April 19
      It always intrigued me the concept of the Ancient Falmer's worship of Auri-El and their description of the Chantry versus how I portrayed the Chantry of Alinor in Straag. I deliberately made them different. One more focused on physical struggle, while the...  more
  • Harrow
    Harrow   ·  April 18
    That's some skill with Restoration there, healing a broken back.
    • Lissette Long-Chapper
      Lissette Long-Chapper
      Harrow
      Harrow
      Harrow
      That's some skill with Restoration there, healing a broken back.
        ·  April 18
      It is similar to what he did in CA, only this is the first time he's done it, so lol, poor him. Makes me really wonder about those bad skooma experiences. He mentioned that a few times. The way I see a master healer in Straag is almost like a physical si ...  more