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Chapter Five - The First Dragon


BrotherofCats

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Nora looked up at the sky, zeroing in on the dot that occupied that area. She zoomed in, and the dragon became clear. She didn't have a sense of scale, but the HUD was indicating that the object was at least a hundred feet from wingtip to wingtip. It was blue in color, not the red that she was expecting. And it was turning in the air, banking onto a course that would bring it right at them.

 

“It's blue,” she said, looking over at the elf. “What can I expect from it?”

 

The elf cursed to herself, looking over at her one mage. The man had readied something glowing blue in his hand. He dismissed that and brought up flames.

 

“Cold,” said the elf. “Killing cold. Can that machine you're in kill it.”

 

“We're about to find out,” said Nora with determination, pulling the Gatling laser and gripping it in both hands. She thought her suit would protect her, but against dragon fire, whether hot or cold?

 

Nora's HUD targeted the flying beast as it grew larger with approach. Nora started having doubts as she realized it was even larger than she thought. The body was too large for those wings to support, but obviously it was flying, and very well. As large as the largest behemoth she had ever fought, and that had been a stone-cold bitch that had almost led to her death. She was going to go for a body shot. Not sure what that would do, she changed her targeting to the left wing, surely a more vulnerable target.

 

The warrior pulled the trigger on the laser, waiting the three seconds for the barrels to spin up, then keeping the weapon on target. Bursts of laser light flew from the barrels, linking the gun with the dragon instantaneously. The wing came apart under the barrage, large pieces converting to vapor and ash, and she started wondering if it would come back from being reduced to almost nothing.

 

The dragon roared, letting loose a blast of blue fire that washed over the party. Nora felt deep cold settle in her bones, while several of the guards and their horses fell over, dead. If not for her armor she was sure she would have been joining them. As it was it had still been a very near thing, and she decided she needed to end this, fast.

 

The dragon hit the ground with a thud that Nora could feel through the soles of her boots. It reared up, spraying its breath at anything within range, including several hairy cows that fell over with short sharp loughs. Nora took off, ramping the armor up to its maximum speed, closing the distance. The dragon turned its head her way and pulled in a breath. Nora knew what was coming and rocketed into the air before the breath could get to her.

 

Go for the head, she thought as the laser spun up once again, sending flashes of powerful light amplified energy into the beast. The skin fragmented, the skull fractured, and the creature fell limply to the ground. Not one to take chances, Nora kept the fire going into the head until it was all but gone.

 

I've got to get a closer look at this thing, she thought, landing a couple of yards from the dragon. Strangely, the body of the beast seemed to be smoking, and she didn't think her laser would have that kind of effect on the bulk of the creature. Glowing flakes started to rise into the air, and it seemed like the entire beast was on fire.

 

Why is it so hot in here? thought Nora. She could feel the sweat running down her face despite the air conditioning of the suit. I've got to get out of this thing, she thought, not sure where that was coming from. To leave the suit was to leave herself vulnerable, but it was a compulsion she could not fight.

 

“Eject,” she ordered.

 

“Ejecting Pilot,” it answered, and the suit unfolded, giving her the escape she desired.

 

Once outside she felt a little better, though still hot. A brilliant energy was rising from the dragon and suddenly she was surrounded by the same force, wondering if she had made a mistake in getting out of her armor. Then it hit her, like a blow to the head, followed by the strongest orgasm she had ever felt, a combination of pain and pleasure. Her body rose into the air, her back arched, and the flood of delightful energy consumed her. A second later she fell to her feet and a blast of energy left her body.

 

“Wow”, she said in a hushed voice. Was that a dragon soul? Had she consumed the vital energy of the dragon. She wasn't sure, but she had never felt so strong, so full of vital energy.

 

“She is Dragonborn,” said one of the guards with reverence in her voice.

 

“Can you shout?” asked another.

 

Of course I can shout, she thought. I can scream my ass of if you like. But she was sure the guard had meant something else with that question. Something, a piece of the puzzle, was still missing. The image of a curved wall, strange symbols carved across it, came to mind, and she knew what she needed to do. Only she had no idea where to find it.

 

*     *     *

 

“She ate the soul of the dragon,” said the dark elf, standing in front of the middle-aged man sitting the chair at the top of the steps.

 

Nora stood at the first step, looking up at the man who had been introduced as the Jarl. While no longer young he maintained the body of a warrior. He looked down on her with a questioning but not unkind expression.

 

“A stranger to our land,” said the Jarl, an eyebrow rising. “And I'm sure you have many questions for us. As we do for you.”

 

I bet, thought Nora. She had come to the conclusion that these people didn't have the technology to help her get home. Possibly magic? Or maybe the so-called goddess who had brought her here. Surely that one could take her home. However, they needed her help to kill the dragons that were plaguing them. The crusader in Nora couldn't turn away from that plea. And she had learned that they were in the midst of a civil war. The Empire against the Stormcloaks. The central authority against those who wanted independent rule for Skyrim. As a crusader she thought she might embrace the Stormcloak position, though as an empire builder herself she knew it might not be that simple. So she had decided to wait and see before committing to either side.

 

From what she had gathered, the Jarl of Whiterun had also not committed to either side, though he was leaning toward the Empire. There were no Imperial troops in Whiterun, though she had heard that they sent constant requests to station them there.

 

“I want to know more about this world without magic,” asked the man in the robes of a mage.

 

“Let us deal with the here and now first,” said the Jarl. “The dragons.”

 

“And I want to know what kind of people I'm dealing with,” said Nora, shrugging her shoulders at the looks sent her way. “While I'm sure you are all perfectly wonderful people, I would like to know all the ins and outs, so I don't find myself offending someone important through my actions.”

 

The Jarl laughed. “You are truly a political creature. And we will be happy to fill you in on all the major players here. Over dinner. But first, there are some formalities to get out of the way to make your life easier.”

 

Balgruuf looked out over the people assembled in his throne room. “I hereby name this Nora.. What is your full name, my dear?”

“Nora Jane Adams,” she replied. Her husband’s family liked to say they traced their ancestry back to John and John Quincy Adams. She hadn't known about that, but it made a good conversation starter in Boston society.

 

“I hereby name Nora Jane Adams as Thane of Whiterun, with all the privileges and responsibilities that come with the title. I grant her a Housecarl and a room in the palace, as well as an income befitting one of her station. And now that that's out of the way, what say we tuck ourselves into the feast we have prepared for the Dragonborn and answer some of her questions.”

 

*     *     *

 

It was a feast indeed. Platters of beef, chicken and goat, bowls full of cooked vegetables and soups. Mugs of mead, glasses of wine. Nora had to keep reminding herself to go easy on the drink. Alcohol loosened tongues, and while it might be to her advantage to observe her hosts inebriated, it would help nothing if she said the wrong thing.

 

She found out that Skyrim was a kingdom, organized into nine holds, each governed by a Jarl. There was supposed to be a High King they all swore allegiance to, but one of the Jarls had taken it upon himself to challenge and kill the young man, leaving his widow Jarl but not High Queen. The land was in turmoil, not just because of the dragons, but with a simmering civil war taking much of the attention.

 

Skyrim was part of an Empire in decline. It had once encompassed the entire continent of Tamriel but had lost more than half its territory to war and revolt. The primary enemy of the Empire were the Altmer elves of the Aldmeri Dominion, who maintained a presence in the Empire due to the treaty that had stopped the war.

 

“The damned elves,” had been a common refrain at the table. Even those who were against the Stormcloaks agreed that the elves had no place in Skyrim. There were elves at the table, including the very pretty Eldawyn, a mage sitting down the side of the great table, so the whole people obviously weren't the enemy. And there had been nine divines, the gods, until the Aldmeri had forced the provision into the peace treaty banning the worship of Talos, the man who had become God. It seemed that the majority of Nords still believed in Talos, but the elves were in the habit of rounding up suspected worshipers and imprisoning them. That last outraged Nora, and she said as much.

 

“Be careful what you say to the elves,” cautioned the Jarl, waving a chicken leg her way. “If they get it in mind that you are a threat there is nothing we can do.”

 

“Do not worry, my Lady,” said Lydia, her attractive new Housecarl. “I am pledged to protect you.”

 

Nora wasn't sure how she felt about that. R4 had been pledged to protect her and had died because of that pledge. So many companions had died in her arms, and she didn't want to add the green-eyed brunette to the list, especially since she seemed so sincere and eager to please.

 

She told those at her end of the table about the Commonwealth. The various settlements built up around the ruins of the once great city of Boston. The Raiders, Supermutans and feral ghouls, and the effort they had gone to in controlling them. The Institute, the Brotherhood, the Railroad and Minutemen. All of the factions she had welded into an alliance.

 

She found the Nords pleasant enough. Clean of body and clothes, friendly, but boisterous. Not all the men were warriors, but they garnered the most respect, as did the women who were in the ranks of the fighters. Most of the Nords distrusted magic, but they loved their enchanted weapons and armor.

 

“We didn't know what to expect when we asked Kynerath for you,” said a middle-aged woman in the robes of a priestess, one Danica Pure-spring. “And here you are.”

 

Nora glared at the woman. She had been trying to watch her consumption of alcohol, but still her inhibitions had been suppressed and she let her feelings at being kidnapped be known.

 

“You and your damned Goddess kidnapped me. A dear friend tried to save me, ended up on this world, and died. I have been taken away from my own people, who have a very fragile alliance keeping the peace.” She looked around, seeing the shocked expressions down the table. “I'm sorry. It's just that being ripped from your home without warning is enough to make anyone mad.”

 

“You will still help us, I hope?” said the Jarl in a gentle voice.

 

“Of course,” said Nora, looking him in the eye. “I can never turn down a good cause, and this war seems as black and white as any I have ever seen.”

 

The Jarl nodded, a slight smile on his face. Of course he was feeling guilty for abducting her, but he had his own people to save, and a reluctant hero was not what he needed.

 

“You mentioned a war that wrecked your world,” said the Court Wizard, Farengar, a man with the look of a nerd about him. “How long did it last, and how did it wreck a world?”

 

“Come over here,” she shouted out, and the suit of power armor, parked at the inner entrance to the hall, started walking their way. People looked anxious, there were many whispered comments, and Nora thought she had terrified them. Well, too bad. They had it coming.

 

“Suit. Project images from before the war,” she ordered. A lens on its chest glowed, and a holographic image formed in the air to its front.

 

“What kind of sorcery is this?” asked one of the old Nord warriors.

 

“Not sorcery at all,” replied Nora, watching as the image cleared up to show a scene of Boston prior to the war. “Technology.”

 

The image cleared, showing the massive skyscrapers of a twenty-first century city. All steel and glass. Cars gliding along the elevated roadways, aircraft in the sky.

 

“This was the world I lived in. Then came the war.”

 

The scene switched, showing the take from an aircraft that had crashed soon after the view of the massive explosion. A bright point appeared in the distance, growing into a rising ball of fire.

 

“That was a city killer. Launched at us by the Chinese.”

 

The next scene was Boston as it looked in her present time. Fallen and smashed buildings, rubble everywhere. Then scenes of the settlements, buildings being restored, the regrowth of civilization.

 

“How long did this war last?” asked the shocked Jarl.

 

“Fifteen minutes,” said Nora with a shrug. “I was put into frozen sleep and didn't wake up until the Institute killed my husband and stole my child. Then it was back to frozen sleep for another sixty years. I awoke to this new world, the mission to find my son paramount.”

 

“And did you find him?” asked Danica.

 

“Oh yes. People kept telling me to give up, and sometimes I wished I had listened. It's hard to find your baby and discovered that he is much older than yourself.”

 

“And these Chinese. Did they win the war?”

 

“No,” said Nora, shaking her head. “They were smashed just as completely as we were. There were no winners in that war. And we inherited a poisoned world, filled with radiation.”

 

“Radiation?” asked the court mage. “You keep using that term, but the word matches nothing I know.”

 

“Invisible particles, fast moving, that break down the cells of the body. Unless you have the proper detectors you don't even know it’s there, until you start growing sick and die.”

 

“Sounds horrible,” said the elf woman, Eldawyn, her words slightly slurred.

 

“More than you can imagine,” said Nora.

 

“I am sorry that you were taken from your home, but our need was great,” said the Jarl, letting out a sigh. “Our need is great, and I think you are just what we needed.”

 

“She still hasn't shown that she can shout,” replied one of the other nobles at the table, a dark-skinned man called Nazeem, a Redguard.

 

“No, and until she sees a word wal, she won't be able to,” said Delphine, up from Riverwood for the feast.

 

Nora still wasn't sure in what capacity the woman had attended, but she was beginning to suspect that Delphine wasn't a mere innkeep.

 

“We'll take care of that shortly,” answered the Jarl. “But most importantly we can let her use her ability to make sure the dragons we kill stay dead.” He looked at Nora. “And what can we do for you, Dragonborn?”

 

“I need training,” she admitted. “I know how to kill silently, and I know how to handle a stand-up fight. On my world. But I need to learn how to fight like you people do. And I want to learn magic.”

 

“But, your suit, your weapons?”

 

“I hate to tell you, Jarl Balgruuf. My suit needs energy cells, and my weapons consume ammo. I don't think you'll be able to give me what I need, and soon they will become useless curiosities. So yes, I need to learn the sword, the bow, and the spell.”

 

Balgruuf looked over at his wizard and nodded, then did the same with the scarred warriors and the pretty red headed woman sitting slightly down the table.

 

“I think that can be taken care of. Not overnight, but if you work hard, we can make you an acceptable sword maiden and mage.”

 

Nora laughed. She didn't think the term maiden could be applied to her. But if that is what they called women warriors; she would go with it.

 

She hadn't wanted to get drunk, but the Colovian brandy had been harder than she had assumed, and she had staggered to her room, helped by Lydia. There had been many invitations to share a bed, the purview of men everywhere to try and take advantage of a dis-inhibited woman. Some had been cultured, others had been louts, but she had given the same reply to all. The Altmer, Eldawyn, had interested her, and she had turned down that one’s invitation with a hint that she might be open to persuasion in the future. The cultured elf had taken it with good grace and a promise to take her up on it in the future. After that she had passed out on the soft bed.

 

Morning brought a hangover that had her head pounding. The priestess, Danica, had cast a healing spell on her and the headache was gone, along with the flip-flopping stomach. Breakfast had been eggs, ham and potatoes. She decided that these people ate well, and later she determined that this kind of muscle powered lifestyle burned up the calories. Not that she need worry about it, since her heightened metabolism required that she eat massive quantities of calories each and every day. In her past adventuring across the food scarce Commonwealth that had not always been a good thing.

*      *      *

 

Farengar nodded in approval as Nora cast the healing spell on herself. She didn't have an injury to heal, but practice was practice.

 

“Again,” said the mage.

 

The man had admitted to her that he wasn't the best teacher available, but he was willing to teach her what he could. He had suggested that eventually she might want to attend the Mage's College in Winterhold if magic proved attractive enough. It seemed that learning spells meant nothing more than reading the spell tomes. Simple, right. Not quite, as they were hard to read and she could only comprehend one a day. After that the magic filled her mind and she was incapable of learning any more for that day. Also, Farengar had told her she would have to become proficient in the lower level spells in order to understand the higher. The master levels took quite some time to get to, but she hoped she would be patient enough to get there.

 

“And again,” demanded the mage.

 

Nora looked at the man with a questioning look, not sure why he was pushing her so hard. She was the merest of novices, and she was finding that casting spells took energy.

 

“Just humor me, Dragonborn,” said the mage. “I need to evaluate you, and the only way I can do that is if you cast. Cast the healing spell continuously until I tell you to stop.”

 

“If you say so,” said Nora, scrunching her face in concentration, visualizing the words of the spell in her mind and raising her hand. Her left hand glowed golden, and the soothing feeling came over her even without injuries to heal. She counted the seconds, to forty-one, before the magic stopped flowing on its own.

 

“What happened? I can't get anything more out of it.”

 

“You ran out of magicka,” said the mage, a smile on his face. “Don't worry, everyone has their limit, though yours are much higher than most. In fact, higher than any novice I have ever seen.”

 

“And what is magicka?” she asked, guessing something of the answer but not sure of herself.

 

“Magicka is the energy of the body that powers spells. Everyone has some, even the untrained who have never learned a spell. It is the vital energy of a mage, and can be developed with time and practice. But most can only cast that spell for ten seconds or less, while you went to over forty. You have talent, novice, and I think you have quite the career ahead of you.”

 

Nora smiled. Just a few days ago she had never thought that magic existed. Now she found out that she had the energy to become very good indeed.

 

“How far can I go?”

 

“I can't say. Everyone has their limit, but there are ways to forge past it. Magical artifacts, robes and rings, that add to your magicka store.”

 

“Expensive?”

 

“More than you can imagine. But the Jarl had ordered that I supply you with what you need, so have this ring with my compliments.”

 

Nora took the ring, wondering if it would even fit her. She could feel something radiating from it, something that soothed her nerves.

 

“So, what's the next spell?”

 

“No more for today. Tomorrow we will work on something to hurt an enemy and see how you do with that. I would suggest you practice with the heal spell when you have free time. And now, if I read the schedule right, you need to get over to Jorrvaskr and deal with those barbarians.”

 

“I take it you don't approve of the martial aspects of my training?”

 

“Oh, it's okay for some, but not myself. Battlemages excel at both magic and weapons. I think you might fit into that category.”

 

Nora liked the sound of that, and she ran out of the palace and over to the hall of the companions as fast as she could, reveling in the energy that was coursing through her body. The dragon soul she had absorbed was energizing her, and she wondered what would happen if she killed more dragons.

 

“Is that as fast as you can run?” asked the red-haired woman as Nora ran around the side of the hall, where she had been instructed to go.

 

“I think I can go a little bit faster,” said Nora, knowing that she hadn't run flat out.

 

The woman, Aela Nora thought her name was, whistled. “You could run down a stag with speed like that. And I understand that you were a warrior on your world. How many lives have you taken?”

 

Nora winced at that question. She had never taken count, afraid that the number would be more than she could deal with. Still, it had been many.

 

“You don't like killing I suspect.”

 

“I've never enjoyed it, but I can kill when necessary. And in answer to your question, I never kept count, though it had to be in the high hundreds. Maybe over a thousand.”

 

“That many. Whether you liked it or not you seemed to have been good at it.” The woman looked at Nora with her fierce blue eyes. Aela exuded a wildness that Nora hadn't seen in many men or women. Like she was a creature of the wild. She wore leather armor and carried a short sword and a dagger at her side. But her primary weapon had to be the longbow she held in her left hand, along with the quiver of arrows poking over her shoulder.

 

“I was good at it, and most of those I killed needed to be dealt with.”

 

“We will get along just fine, little sister,” said the archer. “You do the job when it is in front of you, not delegating it to others like so many of these milk drinkers.”

 

Nora laughed at the expression, which she had first heard the night before. The Nords respected drinking prowess, and didn't respect those which Nora thought of as lightweights.

 

“And I guess most of your kills were with those weapons of yours. Long range?”

 

“I've made kills up close, with a blade,” she answered, tapping the hilt of her knife. “They never knew I was there before I took their lives.”

 

“Very good. Perhaps someday we could hunt together.”

 

Seeing the look on the woman's face, the interest, Nora thought the expression could be interpreted in several ways. Aela was pretty, very much so. Nora wasn't sure she liked the war paint, but the features underneath were fine, and the skin that was exposed was tan and healthy.

 

“Ever used a bow, little sister?”

 

“When I was a child. But that was over two hundred years ago.”

 

“Two hundred years? By the nine, how old are you?”

 

“I think somewhere around two hundred and thirty, though most of that was passed in cold sleep.”

 

“Cold sleep?”

 

“I'll tell you about it over drinks some night.”

 

“I look forward to it. But you're saying you don't have much experience with a bow.”

 

“I've made kills with a crossbow, but that's just like firing a rifle.”

Aela looked confused at that term, and Nora could see something else she would be able to talk with the woman about. Female warriors were rare in the Commonwealth, outside of the Raiders. It seemed the same here, though she had seen a good half dozen young women in the practice yard.

 

“A crossbow can be an effective weapon, but slow. Watch.”

 

Aela turned her body toward a target sitting about fifty feet away. Her hands moved in a blur as she launched an arrow a second until ten of them were embedded in the target, all within the bullseye. In fact, all within the very center of the bullseye.

 

“My word,” said Nora, a thrill rising up her spine. “I want to be able to do that.”

 

“And it will take time. But I want to see what you are already capable of. Here, take this bow. It has a lighter draw weight so you shouldn't have any trouble with it.”

 

Nora accepted the bow, squelching her comment about how draw strength wasn't an issue. No use coming off as someone arrogant in front of people trying to help her. She notched an arrow, trying to remember how she had done it as a child.

 

“Wait,” said Aela, moving close until her body was touching Nora's. “This is a great experience, teaching a true novice. You don't have the bad habits yet, and if I have my way you never will.”

 

Aela's chest pressed into Nora's back as her hands adjusted the arms, then the spread of the feet with her own. “That's a good stance. Try to practice going into it, though in combat you won't always be able to get perfect footing. But knowing how to do it is half the battle. Now, take a shot.”

 

Nora felt the thrill of the other warrior’s body against hers. Hard and soft at the same time, she knew that this woman was unique. She drew back the bow, aimed at the target, and released. The bow string slapped into her forearm with a sting while the arrow sailed wide of the target.

 

“You have an arm guard?” she asked as she turned to look at the laughing warrior.

 

“You have to toughen your forearm. That, or wear armor that protects the area. But for now we need to work on getting you used to the pain, since you can never count on that kind of protection.

 

Nora fired nine more arrows, gritting her teeth against the sting. Three of the arrows hit the target, though nowhere near a bullseye. Six had missed completely, and Aela had helped her adjust her stance again, holding her close to keep her in the proper form. The next six shots were better, five actually hitting. This went on for an hour, until Nora was sure her left forearm was about to bleed.

 

“That's enough for today. We will meet again tomorrow, and I suggest you don't practice any more today. We will build up your stamina and pain endurance. Don't worry, little sister. You will develop into a competent archer, given time.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

“My pleasure,” said Aela with a laugh. “And now I see Vilkas over there, impatiently waiting to pound on you.”

 

Nora looked over at the huge warrior, a mass of muscle that moved with the fluid grace of a trained sword master. He had been watching her archery lessons and crooked a come-hither finger at her when he realized Aela had finished.

 

“Ready to take some lumps?” he asked as she walked over slowly. “Don't worry. I won't hurt you too bad.”

 

Nora was tempted to make him eat those words. While she knew very little about the sword and shield technique the Shield Brother was said to be the master of, she had some knowledge of weapons. Probably more than the man guessed. One of the Commonwealth ghouls, a Master Kenji, had earned several high-ranking black belts before the war, and now was teaching again. Nora, always one to learn new ways to defend herself, had studied with him for the last three years, earning her first degree black in Shodokan, and a brown in Kendo, the way of the sword. So she would have speed, accuracy and power with the blade, but that wouldn't be enough, would it?

 

Here she would be facing multiple opponents, coming at her in pairs, trios and more, with bowmen also trying to take her down from range. She would need to know how to use a shield to fend them off, while at the same time striking with her blade. That would take some practice, and learning from someone who was a master of the art was always good.

 

“Put on that padded gambeson and we'll get to it,” said the man, smiling over at his brother, Farkas, who returned the grin.

 

Farkas was a twin of Vilkas, though he favored the larger weapons. And though Nora thought she had the strength for those weapons, she lacked the mass to counterbalance their strikes. She picked up the gambeson, a hauberk of padded armor covered in leather. Almost rejecting the protection, since Vilkas would also be fighting with a dulled blade, she decided that she needed to learn how to move in the armor that was so unlike what she was used to. There was also a helmet that someone had carefully picked to fit her, and she donned that as well. Then the shield on her arm. That addition felt strange, and she reminded herself to not try any fancy moves with the shield strapped to her. That could come later.

 

“Take a swing at my shield and let me measure the strength of your sword arm.”

 

Nora smiled. Now this was something she could do, and well. Vilkas raised his shield and tapped it with his sword, letting her know that he was ready.

 

Nora moved, and heard the gasps of the assembled spectators as she struck Vilkas' shield with strength and speed, actually knocking the large man back.

 

Nora had saved mad Lorenzo from the asylum his son was keeping him prisoner in, realizing that the son was the one that was truly mad. Lorenzo promised her a ready supply of the oil made from his blood. Oil that granted increased strength, speed and endurance, as well as accelerated healing and augmented senses. The effects were marvelous, but they always wore off after a week or so. The reformed Institute of which she was director had turned it into a super soldier serum, one which made the effect permanent, in exchange for the steady supply that Lorenzo had given her so they could experiment further.

 

Her strike had moved faster than the eye could follow. Nora was more than twice as strong as someone her mass had any right to be. And twice as fast. She felt like the dragon soul had given her a boost, so there was no telling where she measured now. One thing Nora had learned was that speed was more important in generating force than pure muscle power.

Vilkas stumbled back with a shout of shock, actually shaking his shield as if his arm had become injured underneath. He cursed, regained his feet, and stared at her.

 

“Did you see that?” asked one of the Companions. “She knocked Vilkas back. How in the hell did someone her size do that?”

 

“Perhaps she's a vampire,” cried another. “Or something else.”

 

Nora looked around, and from the stares she was getting she realized that they were serious. And that she might be in serious trouble.

 

“She can't be a vampire,” said Aela, coming to her rescue. “She's out in the afternoon sun, and showing no ill effects. As for something else, she doesn't smell like one.”

 

Nora had to wonder what the something else was that these people didn't want to mention. Some other kind of beast, a demon perhaps. And it was interesting that Aela could smell whatever that something was.

 

“Let me explain,” she said, holding up a hand to get their full attention. “You know I am from another world.”

 

“We have heard that rumor, yes,” said Kodlak, the Harbringer of the Companions. “Not sure what it meant, and I thought it was a fanciful tale made up to elevate your stature.”

 

“No. I am definitely from another world.” And I'm not in Kansas anymore, she thought, the grief at her friend's passing hitting her once again. She choked out the next words. “My friend and I were brought here by, something. What you call a Goddess. Ask Aela about the images my suit showed at the feast. Like nothing she had ever seen.”

 

“It is true,” said Aela, nodding. “That suit of armor is beyond even the Dwemer, and the images of her world were both beautiful and frightening.”

 

“And what does this have to do with you having so much strength and speed?” asked Farkas, his brow furrowed in thought.

 

Bless your tiny little mind, thought Nora as she looked over the big man. Vilkas had definitely inherited all of the brains of this pair. “We have certain, technologies, on my world. One is the augmentation of humans. Through the use of implanted machines. Or through serums, what you would call potions. I was the recipient of one of those potions, and became better than I had been. It's not magic, and nothing you have will show its presence. It's me, how I am now. And it's an advantage I would not give up, if that were even possible.”

 

“And no one would ask you to,” said Kodlak, smiling. “You were a warrior in your world, yes? And these abilities aided you in taking down your enemies.”

 

“I took down a hell of a lot of them before I even took the potion. But yes, I became much better at it when I, improved.”

 

“I think you improving yourself was honorable enough,” said Kodlak, looking around at the companions to make sure they were hearing his words. “We may ask questions out of curiosity, but no one will question your honor.”

 

“You ready to give it another go,” said Vilkas, taking up the practice sword and tapping it on his shield. “I'll teach you what I know, but don't break me.”

 

The rest of the Companions laughed, diffusing the tension, and things were suddenly back to normal.

 

Nora sweated through a couple of hours of practice. Her strength and speed served her well, but using the shield was more complicated. She kept missing opportunities to get it in the way of Vilkas' sword, and the Companion showed her that the shield could also be a weapon in and of itself.

 

Vilkas kept bashing her with the shield, driving back her sword and staggering her backwards. Nora had a lot of rapidly healing bruises at the end of the session, and Vilkas offered his hand at the end.

 

“You improved much over these few hours. Give me a month and I will make you a sword and shield fighter that the legends will sing of.”

 

“Thank you.” Nora wasn't sure about legends. She would settle for being able to handle overwhelming numbers and come out alive.

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