Dragon War Encore: Chapter Two

  • Warning! Proceed with caution, for this chapter contains the following:


    • coarse language

    Cludder-clack cludder-clack went wheel and hoof over cobblestone. Polyxena sauntered along the droll road, shivering and glum. Felanyl and Ethdal were singing old working songs about sour crops and tired serfs tilling the fields of their lord. Weariness pounded Ruunen’s weather-battered body. Dead with boredom, he stared lifelessly at the pointed trees as they climbed the faces of the mountains, almost like travellers themselves, but silent and unmoving.


    Then Ruunen felt a shift in the universe. The air turned all at once thick, moist and hot like a furnace. The mountains formed a glistening sheen as the snow melted off their cragged black frames. Rivers of ooze slithered down their backs and toward their toes and swelled around the pines, and their dark trunks began to dissolve like pencils dipped in acid. The world blackened and pulsated, the sky darkling, dripping with long fingers of liquid stalactites. Below the waggon, the road became a mass of writhing black flesh like a tongue.

    Ruunen stared ahead, mouth agape. He could see the lower land splayed ahead sinking deeper, deeper, as though sagging over a hollow space. Soon it was so low that the ground split through the middle, and the edges tore away from a vast, empty hole.


    Felanyl and Ethdal were still singing their old working songs as the waggon crept down an enormous throat.


    The tongue beneath them wobbled horrifyingly; the waggon bobbed upon it like a ship at sea. Ruunen’s stomach stirred. Polyxena seemed not to notice the undulation of the earth, her legs dragging onward, barely resisting stumbles.


    There was a low, terrible rumble. It shuddered through the massive muscles, rising along the walls of the throat. Fear rattled in Ruunen’s heart. Then the rumble exploded. Uprooting the waggon from the tongue was a roar so wild it sent spittle flying in great globs, and heat glowed like embers in the depths of the glottis.


    Ruunen’s ears went dim and his eyes went dark as he soared through the air.

    He woke with the roar still echoing in a distant delusion. Dull pain drummed at his vertebrae. Straw and skins were his bed, a hard pine log his pillow. The air was heavy with the scent of perspiration. From his supine position he blinked around blearily, and he found that eyes were flying open all over the room, and travellers were sitting up with frowns of alarm.


    ‘Why are we all pothered?’ he asked loudly.


    There were scattered mutters of confusion.


    ‘A strange groan woke me up,’ said the Imperial man from the night before, propped upon one elbow on the far side of the room. He turned to the Nords. Vad valvi?


    The replies he received were not very definitive, which Ruunen guessed from the bewildered glance the Imperial shot at him.


    ‘Ah, tell them to calm it,’ snorted Ruunen, lifting himself upright. Felanyl and Ethdal mumbled softly in protest. ‘I will see what made the noise.’


    Suddenly he felt a stirring on his leg. A little Nord boy was draped over his shin, groggily looking up at him, blue eyes glazed with sleep.


    Ke alf, ya? he mumbled. Ek ejar frykta alfar.


    ‘No,’ said Ruunen firmly. Whatever the boy said could probably be answered with ‘no’; a plea for sweets, perhaps, or something nasty about elves. ‘And get your massive head off my leg.’


    Flapping his hand indicatively, Ruunen managed to convey his meaning. The boy huffed, disgruntled, and moved to nestle his forehead against a young woman’s bosom instead. Quietly, the elf rose and weaved through the maze of body postures. Slumbering travellers snuffled as he stepped over them, but he placed his feet with care and disturbed no one.


    The inn was hushed and dark beyond the travellers’ room. In the fireplace cinders glowed with the colours of dawn’s fire. The innkeeper was seated behind the counter, drinking a mug of tea to dispel his drowsiness. He nodded at Ruunen. A flicker of caution leapt into his eyes. He evidently remembered the previous night’s conversation and Ruunen’s open criticism of the Empire.


    Ruunen knew he had crossed a line that night even by his own standards, but his stubbornness was strong, and he chose to cultivate the dislike that he had planted between himself and the innkeeper.


    ‘What was that noise?’ he asked, the question exiting his mouth blunt and ugly.


    ‘A tree fell over,’ said the innkeeper, miming his bluntness. ‘There’s a breeze blowing. Happens often.’


    ‘A tree fell over!’ shouted Ruunen over his shoulder.


    ‘Oh!’ returned the Imperial man’s voice, followed by a chuckle and amused muttering in Nordic.


    Ruunen turned to the innkeeper again. ‘I’m going to see that my mare hasn’t been spooked. If my father wakes and asks for me, let him know.’


    The innkeeper grunted in reply.


    Wiping his nose on his sleeve, Ruunen made for the door and put his hand on the latch. He had barely lifted it when the door was thrown open by a battering ram of wind, frosty air assaulting him full in the face, lashing him until he sputtered. All sleep fog was stricken from his mind. His eyes began to water. The wind whipped so sharply through his clothing it was as if he was wearing nothing at all, and gooseflesh started crawling over his skin. Through the blear, he saw sunrays filtering through the white-dusted pines, casting dapples upon the road.


    ‘This is a breeze? he moaned.


    The innkeeper chortled over the howling wind. ‘Close the door before it takes off the roof!’


    Ruunen steeled himself. This country was out for blood. He slammed the door behind him and stepped off the porch, where on the ground a thick crust of snow and frozen pine needles lay, crunching beneath his feet as he walked. Near the inn the stable stood. Its wooden frame quivered under nature’s blows. Ruunen found the stablemistress wandering listlessly nearby, staring above the pine caps.


    ‘The innkeeper said it was a tree,’ said Ruunen, stopping beside her.


    She snorted. ‘He is muttonhead.’


    ‘Then what was it?’ asked Ruunen in a tone of steely impatience.


    ‘Do not knows,’ she replied with a shrug that was probably meant to be nonchalant, but her darting eyes betrayed unease. Then she hesitated for a moment and tilted her head at him, a sneer on her lips. ‘Heard you was loud, Master. The night time you talked bad about the Empire. Not good, uh? Not here in the Skyrim.’


    ‘Please don’t,’ said Ruunen darkly. ‘I realise I was vocal, but I didn’t know about these Stormclouts of yours. I couldn’t care less why you Nords might oppose the Empire, and I’ve certainly not come to this desolate snow heap to fight your wars for you.’


    The stablemistress averted her eyes from Ruunen’s face and examined her nails. ‘You is so elf,’ she said. ‘You does not care for worlds you does not know.’


    ‘I beg your…’ Ruunen clenched a fist, gritting his teeth. ‘Just show me the horse.’


    Rolling her eyes, the stablemistress jabbed her thumb at the stable – an obvious indication that he could bloody well find the horse himself. He gave her a rude grimace for her help.


    Just as he started toward the stalls, a long, distant moan heaved over the mountains, silencing the wail of the wind and chasing birdsong back into frightened throats. Snow drops were shaken from the pines. Ruunen’s blood turned to ice. Frozen with dread, he gawked at the sky as the moan trailed off. The stablemistress whispered under her breath, and suddenly she was gone, her footsteps crunching for the inn.


    Then Ruunen saw something.


    Like a wisp of black smoke it drifted above the tips of the Jeralls. Great dark sheets fanned out on either side of its form as it curled in the air. Racing altostratus in the high winds, swept deftly by the sky under its wings, the thing was flying toward Pyrrhus’ Rest.


    People began to rush out of the inn only to falter and stand still, horror upon their faces. Ruunen could hardly hear their screams, dulled as they were in his entranced mind, nor could he contemplate the wisdom behind their terror. All he saw was the thing becoming less smoke-like and more liquid-like, flowing swiftly through a suspended ocean, catching the currents with all the elegance of a water-born serpent. Sunlight rippled over the sleek surface of its body.


    In no time at all, it was so close he could see the spines jutting savagely from black armour, the skeletal quality of its gaunt, rictal face, the sheer length of its jaw. He could see blood vessels and dark scars branching across leathery wings. Its tail streamed behind it in a long, spiked ribbon.


    The creature turned its head and found Ruunen’s tiny figure, a dot of dust upon the pine cloak. Red eyes met red eyes. The world came to a standstill. Hypnosis overtook Ruunen as his bladder drained into his trousers. The beauty of this monster was worthy of worship.


    Adrenaline flowed through his every vessel, but somewhere within his soul, he wanted to kneel.


    Mara Hert! yelled the innkeeper, his voice so small and far. Drake! Dragon!’


    And a deep purr rumbled three gentle syllables. These syllables became magick springing from its mouth, translucent and softly quaking like a barrier of water. Then the magick swallowed the inn and crushed it flat. Splinters flew. The roof groaned and collapsed. A few men caught in the blast were thrust back, snapping their bones and peeling their skin against the rubble. This brought everyone back to Nirn. Fear erupted in a chaos of movement.


    It speaks. It speaks words. Ruunen screamed, and screamed, and could not stop.


    A hand caught his arm and he found himself being dragged to the stable. It was Felanyl. In his other hand was the scruff of Ethdal’s gown. The poor child’s eyes as were as wide as chickens’ eggs. In the stable several travellers were trying to bridle their steeds, but the creatures were maddened, flailing their heads and rolling their white-shot eyes. Polyxena was the most savage of them all. Desperately, unyieldingly, shrieking like a banshee, she shoved herself at the gate.


    Felanyl snatched a bridle off a hook and did as the other travellers were doing, struggling to hold her head. Ruunen grabbed a fistful of her mane and yanked her down. One by one, travellers bolted out of the stable on the backs of their beasts until tenacious Polyxena was the only one left.


    Above, the dragon was spinning, one wing tilted toward the ground, the other touching the belly of the clouds. It turned to face the people fleeing. A clap of thunder rolled out of its maw. The sound was sharp and blunt all at once, crashing like a boulder upon every skull within hearing range.


    Ruunen released Polyxena to shove his fist on his ear. In the corner of his eye he saw Ethdal do the same, but Felanyl valiantly held onto the bridle, his hands floundering to get the bit between the mare’s teeth.


    Having only one hand, Ruunen could not save his right ear. The unprotected eardrum fluttered nervously. Then, in a quick explosion, a bubble of pure agony enveloped him. Pain was singing through his head as he crumbled to the ground. Half of him was deaf. His mind befogged, he gazed at the scene of destruction outside. The dragon’s voice had summoned a black, scowling storm which swirled in the heavens and spat clods of fire-cloaked rock upon the land.


    Suddenly the bridle was on, and Felanyl had opened the stall gate, and he was boosting Ruunen onto the horse’s naked back. Ethdal was thrown on behind him.


    ‘Papa!’ cried Ethdal.


    ‘Keep your legs long and grip with the thighs. Lean forward or you’ll fall. Hold onto your brother, Ethdal. Look straight ahead! Go to Helgen! Go!’


    ‘Papa, Papa, no—’


    Ruunen barely had the reins in hand when Polyxena lurched forward at a wild, unrestrained gallop. The elf stretched his legs below her belly, his knees digging into her sides. He leaned forward until he was almost kissing her billowing mane. Ethdal looked back and let out a sob. Felanyl was now so small and alone, standing in the shade of the empty stable.


    ‘Where’s the monster, where’s the monster?’ screeched Ruunen.


    ‘Circling high!’ shrieked Ethdal.


    The road was exposed to the dragon’s wrath, laying them bare for its watchful eye, but Polyxena was uncontrollable. Her strides were phrenetic enough to send jolts of pain through her passengers’ hips and up their spines. She quickly overtook the travellers running on foot, and was fast amongst the rest of the riders, skittering in synchronised flight as flame hailed upon them. The boiling skies seemed to follow.


    Thick, vulgar speech fell upon the riders as the dragon spoke. Another ring of magick hurtled down. The riders scattered to avoid it. A huge stallion shot off the road like an arrow loosed. With a gut-wrenching lunge, Polyxena tailed him. Instinctually, Ruunen’s leg began to fold up to counteract the change in balance, but he forced it to straighten once more. Nausea swelled in his throat. The pine forest hurtled toward him at a speed almost more frightening than the dragon.


    Polyxena plunged in, her limbs flouncing like ribbons. Pines reached out and ripped at Ruunen’s skin with clawed, icy arms. Horses were surging through the trees alongside him, their riders hollering as they wielded reins as whips.


    Fral ridar! Ridar! Hoy, hoy, hoy!


    Beneath them the ground was slushy with snow, sloping and spattered with stones. Cliffs and hills loomed. The dragon’s wings turned the forest into a dance of swaying trees, snow specks billowing off their briary dresses.


    They were heading into the unpaved wilderness. Ruunen grabbed the left rein and pulled Polyxena desperately, but the mare shook her head with vehemence, forcing his hand to release.


    ‘Above us!’ screamed Ethdal.


    The dragon snarled. Each word cracked like a whip.


    Slowly, as if time wanted Ruunen to take in every detail, a fall of fire poured from the beast’s mouth. Pines caught the flames, juggling with their boughs and tossing the tongues of heat to their neighbours. Soon every tree within sight was wearing red and yellow and coughing up ash. Smoke burned in Ruunen’s throat, clouding his lungs.


    Somewhere ahead, a trunk split like a breaking bone. A horse spooked, darted for a space between two pines, and missed. With a violent thwack, a fire-sleeved branch tore a gash in the beast’s neck before striking its rider in the face. The horse swung around, dodging Polyxena by mere inches, trying to shake the fire out of its mane. Both horse and rider screamed.


    From another direction a riderless steed came charging toward Polyxena and she whirled out of the way with a strangled cry. Horses were everywhere, rearing and bucking, riders flying and writhing. All burned like living torches.


    Ethdal let out a squeal that could shatter glass. Fire on me! Fire on me!


    ‘Shit!’ Ruunen twisted his body to see. Fire was crawling up Ethdal’s scarf. ‘Throw it, throw the thing away!’


    A sliver of flame leapt into her hair as she tossed the blackening scarf on the ground. Ruunen opened his mouth to scream at her. ‘Your—’


    Without warning, Polyxena sprinted forward, bellowing like a charger with her head lowered, and burst out of the forest. They were upon the road again, entrapped in a frenzied race against the three remaining riders. Smoke swallowed the rearward sky. The dragon still followed, sailing high amongst the clouds, its head angled down to watch them.


    As swift as a fish in the sea, Polyxena rode the waves of wind and the sinuous path, her motion more fluid than before. She was growing accustomed to this dance. It was as if she could sense the monster’s next move, or taste its roar upon the air before it was uttered. For each string of words that snapped into vocal magick, the mare responded with instant movement, dipping into the treeline while keeping the road in sight. Blast after blast, fire upon force upon fire, she endured. Ruunen came to trust her judgement. He left the reins alone.


    That was a mistake.


    Polyxena swerved as a slap of magick ripped up soil and stone. Ruunen saw a pale-skinned horse tumble in the corner of his eye. A heartbeat later, the pale horse struck Polyxena in the flank, forcing her legs out from under her. She teetered. She toppled. In a knot of tangled legs and heavy barrel bellies, the two horses fell. Ruunen slammed down onto the stump of his arm as Polyxena crushed his leg. His elbow dug into Ethdal’s ribs.


    And when his head hit the ground, it hit hard.

    Once again, the credit for all dialogue in Nordic goes to Hrafnir II of the Imperial Library.






  • The Wing
    The Wing   ·  January 17, 2016
    Oh, thank goodness Exuro. Thank you for telling me. Dreams are tricky in any universe, to be honest! They are often so strange it's difficult to explain them, especially the prophetic kinds.
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  January 17, 2016
    1st par, I thought it was real, 2nd I figured out it was a dream. Dreams are always tricky in the TES universe, they may actually be tiny planes forming according to one video I saw. It seemed like either a warning or just the craziness a brain will conco...  more
  • The Wing
    The Wing   ·  January 17, 2016
    It makes me suitably glad that you guys found Alduin frightening. He is epic and I tried really hard to do him justice.
    Damn it, I wish I could move ahead like that! I am obsessive about doing things chronologically - if I started working on the nex...  more
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  January 17, 2016
    No! Polyxena, get back up! Intense chapter, your rendition of Alduin is terrifying. Also nice touch with blowing out the ear drums, the damage noise can cause is often forgotten.
    Some chapters are just harder to write, Ch.11 was the hardest one for ...  more
  • The Wing
    The Wing   ·  January 6, 2016
    Oo yes, I see what you mean. I'll get right on that.
    Ah, no worries. I can sympathise. I hope you can get back into it, but I'd understand if you decided to discontinue it.
  • Idesto
    Idesto   ·  January 6, 2016
    Yes, and yes! Long story.
  • Idesto
    Idesto   ·  January 6, 2016
    I think it was the specificity of the time in the opening sentence: "They were travelling the next morning".
    Also - ironically - I wrote that at stupid o'clock due to insomnia! 
  • The Wing
    The Wing   ·  January 6, 2016
    It was a bad dream. I'm sorry you were confused! What was it that confused you? Was it that I didn't mention it was a dream, or that Ruunen didn't remember it? Those were both intentional, but if it will be to my detriment, I'd like to fix things up if yo...  more
  • Idesto
    Idesto   ·  January 5, 2016
    Great action chapter!
    I'm confused about the beginning though: was it a bad dream, or some sort of premonition, or a representation of Ruunen's state ofmind, or something else again?
  • The Wing
    The Wing   ·  October 9, 2015
    Thank you Fawna! I wrote that dream to shake some inspiration back into my arms because nothing would come out, and I always need to write something seriously exaggeratedly horrifying when that happens. XD This will sound evil and/or conceited, but I feel...  more