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Chapter Six – The First Word


BrotherofCats

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Two weeks had gone by quickly. Nora had been busy, between the magic, bow and sword lessons. She fell into bed every night from exhaustion, taking just enough time to feed her metabolism.

 

Two more dragons had fallen to her suit and weapons, and the Gatling laser was almost out of ammo. Which would leave her with her pistol, rifle and seven rockets for her launcher. She had seen the big black bastard of a dragon as it raised another, and had watched in disbelief as it had shrugged off the laser and flown away. She would have to take that one on eventually, and she wanted everything she had to fight it. So the suit and weapons were put aside, for now. While not sure if she could take on a dragon with the local weaponry, she knew that the locals had downed them. Only they hadn't stayed dead. Only she could make sure of that.

 

Nora watched as the magic flowed out of her hands. The red of flames from the right, the blue of cold from the left, converging on the target, setting the straw afire even as she froze it. She could keep up the dual casting for over a minute, and Farengar seemed pleased at her progress.

 

“Now heal it,” said the mage.

 

Nora had laughed the first time she had been asked to heal a wood and straw target. She didn't think she was getting the whole experience, but Farengar had explained it was still letting her learn to set her mind into the new spell. The golden glow flowed from her hands into the target and the mage nodded his approval.

 

Nora had learned novice spells from four of the schools of magic. She could cast fire, firebolt, frost and lightning from Destruction. Add to that heal self, heal other and lesser ward from Restoration, along with sooth and clairvoyance from Alteration, and several from Illusion. They had avoided Conjuration for the moment, Farengar telling her that the school was too dangerous for the uninitiated, and he preferred for her to master the other schools first.

 

“Firebolt and lightning,” he called out.

 

She brought the spells to mind in an instant, sending bolts of fire and a stream of electricity out of her hands.

 

“You're under attack. Get the lesser ward in place.”

 

Nora struggled to change over, taking five seconds to exchange the ward spell with the cold in her left hand.

 

“And you're dead,” said Farengar, shaking his head. “You have to be faster on the change over.”

 

“Give me a break,” she hissed at the wizard, who she had found was not most patient of teachers.

 

“The bandit mage won't give you a break,” he yelled back. “Now get that ward up, again. And faster this time.”

 

Nora shook her head and walked over to take a seat. “I've had enough for today, thank you.”

 

Farengar stared at her for a moment, then shook his head and let out a sigh of exasperation. “I know I'm not the best teacher,” he said, taking the chair next to hers. “One reason I didn't get a position at the College of Winterhold. I think in time you will need to seek them out for advanced instruction.”

 

“Does that mean you're giving up?”

 

“No, it does not,” growled the mage. “There are still things I can teach you. Tomorrow we will start with some of the apprentice level spells. You must learn them before the college will accept you.”

 

Nora felt a shiver of delight at his words. She was becoming a mage. Maybe the lowliest of mages, though her store of magicka was still great and growing. If she needed to kill dragons with the local weapons, being able to throw magic would surely help.

 

“I would like to speak with you about something,” said Kodlak as she entered the living quarters of Jorrvaskr, looking for Aela and Vilkas.

 

“Is something wrong?” she asked, wondering if she had broken some rule without realizing it.

 

“No, nothing wrong. You have exceeded our expectations, Nora. But training will only take you so far. You need the seasoning of actual combat.”

 

I know I do, thought Nora, feeling the anxiety start to overwhelm her. It was all well and good sparring with weapons that would at most leave bruises. It was something very different to face an enemy with a weapon that could take your life.

 

“I propose that you join the Companions. Then we can send you on missions with others of our company. You get the seasoning while being in the company of a formidable warrior that might be able to get you out of a tight situation.”

 

“I don't know what to say,” she said, feeling overwhelmed in a different way. She knew what the man offered was a great honor, but would the Jarl agree to her joining a company of what were essentially mercenaries. “What about the Jarl?”

 

“The Jarl has commissioned us to escort you into and through Bleak Falls Barrow,” said Kodlak, nodding. “And he thought it a great idea that you join. So, Shield Sister. What will it be?”

 

“I would be proud to join your company,” said Nora, the words catching in her throat from the emotion.

 

“Now don't get all weepy eyes on me,” said Kodlak, putting a hand on her shoulder. “You still have to pass your trial. Which will be the mission after the one tomorrow. So, we will see you here bright and early, and then you will hit the road on the way to the barrow.”

 

Nora had heard of the barrows. Ancient ruins of a past culture, haunted by undead creatures that had taken the lives of many adventurers. She also knew she would have to go into some to get the words that would make her truly Dragonborn. The idea had terrified her. The thought of going in with warriors like the Companions at her side took away some of the terror.

 

The woman had stayed clear of sex since the night with the bard, and she was not only anxious about the next day's events, but was horny as hell. She decided to give the Bannered Mare a try, one of the local inns and a favorite with many of the people she had met in Whiterun.

 

The inn was crowded with merry makers, the bard playing a favorite song while men and women danced to the music, waving mugs in the air. Many people stopped what they were doing and turned to stare at the Dragonborn as she walked through the door, and Nora started to wonder if this had been a good idea. She just wanted a night out, not to have everyone stare at the prophesized hero. A lovely Altmer saved her.

 

“Nora,” called out Eldawyn, waving a wine glass at her. “Over here.”

 

The elf was a table in a corner, sharing it with a pair of mages. She had several empty bottles of wine in front of her and chugged her glass as Nora approached.

 

“Have a seat. Have a glass of wine.”

 

Nora accepted both, grateful for the taste of wine after a hard day. The other mages looked at her like she was an intruder, but Eldawyn's glare kept them in their place.

 

“So, how goes the magic lessons. Is Farengar as impatient as I've heard.”

 

“He's not that bad. And we're going into apprentice level spells our next session.”

 

That got the attention of the other mages. “How long have you been practicing?” asked the Dunmer mage.

 

“Two weeks, I think. Farengar thinks I'm a natural.”

 

“I'd say,” said the human woman, a Redguard from her coloration. “I didn't get to apprentice level until I had been casting for four months.”

 

“Good job, my friend,” said Eldawyn, putting an arm around Nora's shoulders. “And has he started you on conjuration yet?”

 

Nora knew that Eldawyn, though a destruction mage, actually specialized in enchanting. Enchanting left Nora uneasy. Taking the soul energy of living beings and using it to enchant or recharge weapons.

 

“I'm, not sure about using enchanting. It just seems, wrong, somehow.”

 

“Oh no,” said Eldawyn in mock derision, slurring her words slightly. “They're just animals. Without an afterlife to speak of. As long as you don't use the souls of people you really have no need to feel bad about it. Tell you what, come over to the palace tomorrow and I'll give you a lesson with some guaranteed not people soul gems.”

 

“Not tomorrow,” said Nora, shaking her head. “I have a date with a barrow.”

 

“Watch yourself,” cautioned the Altmer, picking up a bottle and shaking it, frowning at the empty sound it made. “I've almost lost my life in some of those places. Damned Draugr.”

 

“I still don't understand why you go into those places, Elda,” said the Dunmer. “You wouldn't catch me dead in one of those places.”

 

“The wealth, silly,” said Eldawyn, frowning and motioning for the serving wench to bring her another bottle.

 

“How much have you had to drink, Eldawyn?” asked Nora, eyeing the group of empties on the table.

 

“Oh, don't you start in as well. I like wine. I like the taste, but most of all I like the way it makes me feel. What I don't like are smart mouthed mages who won't mind their own business.”

 

“Some people think she's got a demon to feed,” said the human mage, eyes narrowing.

 

Eldawyn stared at the other mage and a decidedly anxious expression invaded that one's face. Nora wondered at the dynamic that had changed at the mention of demons.

 

“Well, if we're not wanted?” asked the Dunmer.

 

“You're not, so leave.”

 

The other two mages got up in a huff and stormed out of the inn.

 

“What I don't like are mages who won't mind their own business. None of them worth their salt. I respect the smiths who make the tools, the farmers who grow the grapes, and the vintners who make the wine more than all the wizards in Winterhold.”

 

“Some would say that mages are more intelligent,” said Nora, looking for a reaction.

 

“And what of it. Does the size of one’s skull actually contribute to their worth? Nay, I say. And what do you say, my warrior queen.”

 

Nora felt herself flushing at that praise. True, she had been a warrior and leader of the Commonwealth, but not here. “I found farmers to be the backbone of my nation,” she answered slowly. “Without them nothing else would have worked.”

 

“Ah, a wise woman then. And what brings you to the Mare tonight?”

 

Nora found herself looking into the lovely green eyes of the golden skinned elf. How old are you? thought the woman. She knew that all the elves lived for centuries if nothing in the world took them. She, herself, didn't know how long she would live, but Lorenzo, the man who had contributed his blood to the serum, had already lived for over four hundred, so her future might be long indeed.

 

“I have an itch I need to scratch.”

 

“So, are you following up on your offer from the palace,” said Eldawyn, leaning over until her lips were only inches from Nora's

 

“Yes,” whispered Nora, leaning forward and accepting the kiss. It went on and on, Nora relishing the sweet, wine-soaked lips of the elf, who finally broke away.

 

“We need to go somewhere a little more private,” said a smiling Eldawyn. “The Nords are a prudish bunch, and I don't think they would appreciate a pair of rutting bitches going at it in public. Though, come to think of it, we could charge some of the men for a viewing.”

 

“I want you, now,” said Nora, leaning in for another kiss. When they broke this time Eldawyn got to her feet and took Nora by the hand, leading her up some stairs to a small room.

 

“I paid Hulda for a month's rent,” said Eldawyn, opening the door and looking in. “Oh, wonderful. Last time I came up here there were a pair of rutting Nords in here. I let them finish, of course, while I watched, then shooed them away.”

 

“You're an evil woman, Eldawyn.”

 

That brought a deep frown to the face of the elf and Nora was quick to apologize.

 

“I didn't mean anything by it. I've done some things I'm not proud of as well. Of course, I wasn't really ashamed of them either.”

 

The elf laughed, reaching for another bottle of wine. Nora wondered if Eldawyn was going to pass out before they made love, but the elf handed the bottle over.

 

“You have some catching up to do, human. Now get outside of that bottle and get rid of those inhibitions.”

 

Nora drank deeply, her head spinning slightly. Next thing she knew she was on the bed, the elf undressing them both. They fell into each other's arms, lips drinking in kisses as if they were wine.

The human preferred men on the whole. She liked the rough hardness of a man, the feeling of vulnerability at being taken. However, the gentle touch of a woman was also welcome, and she thought this might be a most delightful dalliance. She was not disappointed, as Eldawyn used hands and tongue to bring her quickly to orgasm.

 

They made love for hours, each bringing the other to greater heights with each orgasm. The elf knew how to love a woman, and Nora had enough experience to do a reasonable job for her part. After three hours both were exhausted, laying in each other's arms, sweat slicked bodies pressed together.

 

“That was the best sex I've had since leaving Cyrodil,” said Eldawyn, kissing Nora lightly on the forehead.

 

“Your people are really into sex?”

 

“Of course. One has to have something to lift the depression of long life. And you are not inexperienced, no.”

 

“No. Like I said. I've done some things.”

 

“Such as. Tell me, love. I really want to know.”

 

Nora had a feeling that this woman really wanted to know, and wouldn't judge her. So she opened up and told all.

 

“I was very poor in college and wanted to go to law school. Not to get rich. Oh no. I wanted to become a crusader for the poor and downtrodden, but I needed to pay my bills, and getting into law school was expensive. So I danced in clubs. Took off my clothes in front of the men so they would shove bills into my panties while they were still on. The more you took off, the better the money, so most nights I was totally nude, contorting my body to give them the best view of everything they had come to see.”

 

"And I sense it went further than that?”

 

“Oh, yes. There were places called VIP rooms, where you could take customers for special dances. And, well, to get fucked, for money.”

 

“Many women do that in Tamriel,” said Eldawyn gently. “Even Altmer. I was lucky enough to come from a wealthy family and found magic at an early age. But it's considered a profession here, and nothing to be ashamed of.”

 

“Well, it wasn't treated that way where I came from. At least not the first place. My husband never learned of my past and I was faithful to him. Though there were some tense situations when I met friends of his who had been with me before I met him.”

 

“You talked of the first place. What about when you woke up after the war of the God weapons?”

 

“Well, things had changed. A lot of people sold their bodies to survive. I found enough loot adventuring to get by, but I wanted the best. I was still the crusader, and there were people there that needed saving. So I found myself dancing in a club in Diamond City. One thing led to another, and soon I was prostituting myself. There was a lot of competition, but I was soon in high demand.”

 

“With your beauty I am not surprised,” said the elf, smiling. “You could demand a top price here as well, though I suspect your circumstances are much better in this place. Though, being a Thane, I suspect you will always be a woman of means.”

 

“I got addicted to sex,” said Nora, looking into the elf's eyes and seeing understanding there. “Not just because of the hooking. Because of the killing. I killed on a daily basis. The dregs who preyed on society. They deserved to die, but still, the memory of the shocked or terrified expressions on their faces as I ended their lives. Their screams. They were too much. I tried drugs and alcohol, but they didn't work that well, and the aftereffects caused problems when I was on the hunt. Sex worked, the affirmation of life. It still works. And every once in a while I get to hook up with an exceptional partner, like tonight.”

 

“You flatter me,” said Eldawyn, actually blushing. “And what did you do with the prisoners?”

 

“Oh, there weren't any of those,” said Nora, closing her eyes. “There were no prisons, and no way society could support them. Letting them go wasn't an option either, since they would just go back to their old ways. So I put them down like rabid dogs.”

 

Nora could feel a tear rolling down her cheek as she talked. She had been a crusading lawyer who took the cases of the kind of people that the Raiders were. Only in the post-apocalyptic world they were no longer misunderstood victims of society. They were the perpetrators of rape and murder, stealing the means to survive from the mouths of hard-working farmers and traders. In some cases they hadn't chosen their life, it had chosen them. Still, they needed to be put down, and Nora had become judge, jury and executioner.

 

Eldawyn held her while she cried, whispering that it would be all right, until Nora cried herself out and fell into a deep sleep. She woke to Eldawyn looking at her, as if she had sat up the night to watch over her.

 

“I must have made quite an impression,” she told the elf. “The hero who can't even keep it together.”

 

“No, the impression I got was of a person who would do what it takes to make things happen for the better. And acknowledged her own shortcomings and guilt. So unlike these damned Nord heroes who are sure they are right no matter what. It was comforting.”

 

“So, what about your dark side, my lovely Altmer?”

 

“Maybe later. Believe me, while your dark side might have been shades of gray, mine is as black as blackest night.”

 

“But...”

 

“Later.”

*     *     *

After seven hours of riding they were in Riverwood asking about the barrow. While still not the best rider ever, Nora now felt comfortable on horseback, though her own backside felt less than comfortable. Aela had insisted stopping in the village near Nora's arrival point to ask the people closest to the barrow for information.

 

“Yeah,” said one of the town's traders, looking over at his sister. “Someone stole a golden claw I had. I'd be willing to pay well for its return.”

 

“You should have let me go after it,” said the sister.

 

Nora thought the woman would have lasted maybe five minutes out in the bandit haunted woods. She was glad that the protective brother had prevented her from adding to the toll the bandits had taken in the area. With the information in hand they were back on their horses and heading up the mountain path to the barrow.

 

“The damned fool milk drinker that proceeded you didn't go into barrows,” said Farkas in disgust. “He took words from walls out in the open, after he and his followers killed the guardian dragons.”

 

“Well, he killed the dragons at least,” said Nora, thinking that anyone who took on one of those with bows and swords was definitely not a coward.

 

“Oh, he was brave enough,” said Vilkas. “No doubt about that. Stupid as a stone, but brave. He told Kodlak that we had nothing to teach him. Fresh off the Gods Damned farm, holding a sword for less than a month, and he knew it all. We consider it our good fortune to have met up with a Dragonborn who doesn't presume to know it all.”

 

“I consider myself brave enough.” said Nora, thinking of the times she had gone up against Supermutant lairs eighty stories above the ground, the cold wind whistling around her. “But I have to be honest with all of you. I'm scared to death.” She held up a shaking hand.

 

“That means that you aren't an idiot,” said Farkas with a laugh. “It gets better with practice, but this is the first time you’re going into battle with unfamiliar weapons. Believe me, it's normal.”

 

“It is, Little Sister,” said Aela, smiling. “And don't worry. We'll let you get blooded, but no harm will come to you.”

 

Nora patted the pistol on her right hip. She had decided to bring backup, just in case, but ammo was about to become a real problem. Farengar had borrowed a couple of dozens rounds from rifle and pistol, as well as all the empty brass she had. He was hoping that the mages of Winterhold, or some of the more adept alchemists, might be able to find a way to reload them. The bullets themselves were no problem. Any skilled blacksmith could make the molds to pour molten lead into. Steel jacketed rounds might be more difficult, but even there she had hope.

 

Time to concentrate on the here and now, she thought, glancing at her companions riding beside her. Farkas and Vilkus, the twins, were both arrayed in dark plate armor. No helms, but they were wearing fur hoods this day, as well as bear skin cloaks. Aela was in her traditional leather garb, leaving her legs bare from mid-calf to mid-thigh, and making Nora wonder how the woman wasn't freezing to death. It was cold, colder than she had ever been, and the Commonwealth was known for harsh winters.

 

At least I don't have to worry about radiation, she thought as she shivered. Dust rose in the air on the glowing sea in great storms. If there happened to be a lot of that dust in the air during a snow it was picked up in the flakes, and then cold was the least of your worries. Radiation was not a problem in this pristine world, but it had its own dangers.

 

Nora was dressed in a fur jacket and trousers, pants tucked into leather boots. Over the warm clothing she had on a chain-mail hauberk that covered her from shoulder to mid-thigh, sleeves rolling down to her elbows. Leather pants went over the fur leggings, while a fur hood covered her helmeted head. She had gone with a Nord spectacle helmet, liking the idea of eye protection. A round shield was strapped to her left arm, a bow and quiver of arrows across her back, along with a cloak. She had insisted on a backpack. A looter from way back, she was determined to gather everything that wasn't nailed down in the crypt.

 

“First obstacle,” said Aela, sliding off of her horse and pulling her already strung bow from her back.

 

Ahead was an old watch tower, long abandoned by the authorities of the region and taken over by bandits. A half dozen of those were pouring from the gate, weapons at the ready, while a pair of archers took up positions in the heights.

 

“I've got the ones on the left, you get the right,” said Vilkas, glancing at her for a moment.

 

“And I've got your back,” said Farkas, huge greatsword in hand.

 

She didn't need to know what Aela would be doing. Providing fire support, of course.

 

Nora screamed a war cry that sounded like that of a frightened cow as she ran at the bandits as fast as her feet would carry her. One went down to an arrow, then another arrow flashed by her, missing her face by inches. She caught the next on a hastily raised shield, then heard the archer cry out, cut short as Aela found his throat.

 

She ran into the first bandit, a human with a mace, knocking him back and off his feet. The other two closed in on her. The one to her left was another human with a sword and shield, the one on the right a big orc with a warhammer. Both were clothed in a motley of mismatched armor pieces.

 

Warhammer swung a blow that would have crushed her skull had Nora not taken a couple of quick steps to the side. The hammer hit the ground and the orc was off balance. Nora stepped back and thrust her sword into the throat of the orc, a perfect strike that sent him gurgling out his life on the ground. She caught the sword of the other bandit on her shield and returned the blow, her own blade blurring with speed. Not enough, as the bandit was able to get his shield in the way, though the blow staggered him.

 

Nora was feeling the fight now. The anxiety was gone and the joy of battle had come over her. She went after the bandit with the mace, swinging a strike underneath his and slicing a shallow cut into his stomach through his leathers. Mace man stumbled back, free hand going to his stomach to check for damage. Nora was taking a step forward when she felt the blade strike on her sword arm, the flash of pain as it cut through her forearm. It was a deep cut and her sword fell from her hand. The triumphant swordsman stepped forward, thrusting for her side.

The woman moved with inhuman speed, bringing her shield around and bouncing the sword away so hard that it flew from the bandit's hand. She bashed the shield into him, right in the chest, then followed up with a bash to the face. Mace man came in with an overhand swing and she bashed him in the face as well. A second bash smashed his face and he fell to the ground in a fetal position, groaning in pain.

 

“You're hurt,” said Farkas, running up to her. She had lost track of the big man during the fight, and now wondered why he hadn't been there to back her up.

 

“It will heal,” she said looking at the wound that was already closing up, her enhanced healing taking charge. She pulled up a healing spell and sent the energy into her arm, the soothing embrace of magic banishing all pain.

 

“You were healing before you cast the spell,” said an astonished Farkas, taking hold of her arm and getting a look. “And you hadn't had time to take a potion.”

 

“I heal really fast,” she admitted. “Part of my augmentation. And where were you? I could have used your help, you know.”

 

“Next time,” said Aela, walking up and looking down on the two injured bandits, “don't outrun your backup. Poor Farkas was struggling to catch you, but you took off like the wind and ran right into the bandits. If not for your speed and agility we would be telling a heartbroken Jarl that you had died in your first battle.”

 

“Sorry,” said Nora, looking down at the ground as her shame came over her. She had been too eager to close with the enemy and should have known better. She had chastised so many subordinates in the past, and now she had made the same mistake.”

 

“Do you want us to kill these two,” said Vilkas, coming up with a dripping blade.

 

“No,” said Nora, shaking her head and seeing all the eyes widen as they wondered if she meant to let them go. “A warrior should make her own kills.”

With that Nora swung her sword through the neck of the swordsman, then ignored the pleas for mercy of the mace wielder as she thrust through his throat and out the other side of his spine.

 

“Good job, Little Sister,” said Aela in approval, and the twins both nodded their acceptance. “They were scum, and letting them go would just burden some more innocents down the road. And a warrior should make her own kills, just as a leader should swing the blade of execution. Something these milk drinker Jarls have long forgotten.”

 

“There will be more of them in the ruins,” said Farkas, patting her on the shoulder. “This time move in more deliberately. While I think your speed will help in some situations, remember, I'm here to help. And I can't do that if I'm trying to haul my bulk after a woman who runs like the wind.”

 

Nora nodded, her face flushing in embarrassment. She could think of many situations where her speed would be an advantage. But not now.

 

There were a dozen bandits outside the ruins, four archers, the rest melee fighters. Aela took care of the archers, quickly launching deadly strikes at them, never missing her target. Nora and the two Companions moved forward at a jog, the twins on her flanks. They both took out bandits, but let her make the majority of the kills. Five bandits fell to her blade, and she dismissed them from her mind as she felt the pride of accomplishment. Later she would feel the guilt and deal with it.

 

“Is that all?” she asked.

 

“No,” answered Vilkas. “Probably be more inside. It would be great if they had cleared out all the Draugr for us, but I don't expect that.”

 

Draugr. The very word sent shivers up Nora's spine. Undead warriors, many with magical weapons or shouts of force. Well, she needed to learn how to deal with those as well, didn't she? And best to do it with experienced warriors at her side.

*     *      *

The bandits within the vestibule of the ruins had been no trouble. Four of them, one for each warrior, and quickly dispatched.

 

“You seem to know what you're doing with looting,” said Farkas as he pulled the coin and other valuables from the corpse of his kill.

 

“Different place, same process,” said Nora, counting the septims into her hand. Over a hundred, along with a couple of gemstones. She knew she would need money to get the good equipment, and every bit counted.

 

“So, there were places where loot could be found?” asked Aela, raising an eyebrow.

 

“More than you could imagine. The remains of an entire civilization that had burned itself to the ground. And then there were the places that tugged at your heart. The houses where families had died, leaving behind all of their belongings. Those were hell.”

 

“Well, no tales of lost families in these places,” said Vilkas, counting his own coins before shoving them in a bag. “Only the remains of lost souls who worshiped the wrong gods.”

 

There was plenty more loot as they continued. Jewelry, rings and pendants, loose gemstones, more coins, those these were strange.

 

“Those are the ancient coins. Not good for much more than melting them into silver.”

 

But that's worth something, right?

 

The weapons and armor were a little more of a problem. There were some fine pieces, but they could only carry so much. Nora took the advice of the experts and took the best. She could always drop them later if something better came along.

 

The skeevers were a surprise, leaping out of the darkness. Nora received a bite before she cut down the rest. She cast a healing spell on the wound to stave off infection. They kept moving in, as silent as they could be, no one talking above a whisper. Those whispers rebounded from the walls of the crypt and Nora was sure that anyone with ears could hear them coming.

 

The first creature they came across was a giant spider, lowering itself from the ceiling as a man shouted for help in the background. Nora engaged so she wouldn’t freeze up in fright from proximity to the awful creature. Aela and the twins killed it, though Nora was sure she had gotten in a couple of strikes. Then the man, who had to be the one who had taken the claw from the trader, asked to be cut down.

 

“And you're not going to run away as soon as we cut your down?” asked Nora, glancing over at the smiling twins.

 

“No, I promise.”

 

Nora was sure he would bolt as soon as he had the chance. She carefully cut the webbing to get to the claw, then enough for them to make their way through. They left the cussing, yelling man hanging in the web, promising to come back for him when they were through.

 

The first Draugr came as a shock. It walked out of the darkness with a rasping roar that sounded like nothing else she had ever heard. Nora had deep blue eyes, the kind that drew comments from men and woman as to their beauty. Blue eyes looked at her, but they were the harsh glowing blue of hot stars in the deepest blackness of space. Those eyes only had room for rage and hunger. The hunger for the lives their owners would never again live. She felt like the marrow in her bones were freezing solid. And then it shouted, a loud blast that pushed her back, staggering her.

 

“Don't just stand there,” yelled Fargas, running forward with his sword raised. An arrow thudded in the creature, then another, and then Farkus crushed it with his blade. And suddenly it didn't look so fierce.

 

“See, they die like any other undead. Just like vampires and skeletons.”

 

“You have vampires here?” gasped Nora. She had been scared to death of the tales of the bloodsuckers when she had been a child, and had been relieved when they proved to be nothing but stories.

 

“Yeah,” said Vilkas. “And they'll suck the life right out of you, making you one of them. But they die just as easily as that Draugr, especially if you have good enchanted weapons.”

 

“And Werewolves,” stammered Nora. “Do they go down as well.”

 

“Hopefully you won't run into any of those,” said Aela, and the way she said it made Nora think that she had hit a nerve. She couldn't for the life of her figure out what was wrong with what she said.

 

“Next one is yours,” said Farkas, patting her on the back. “Just think of it as a bandit. A large smelly bandit.”

 

The next one was in the next room, this one a little larger than the last, with a huge sword in its hands. Nora yelled and ran at it, until it shouted fire at her.

 

“Shit,” she screamed, putting her shield up to protect her face, forging on and swinging blindly. She felt her sword crunch home and the creature groaned out as it fell.

 

“Are you okay, Little Sister?” asked Aela, looking at Nora's face.

 

“You didn't tell me they could breathe fire,” yelled Nora, closing her eyes, then opening them, relieved she still had her sight.”

 

“Not many of them can,” said Farkas, looking down at the Draugr. “But you handled it, and that one isn't shouting ever again.”

 

“Do you want me to lead?” asked Vilkas in a gentle voice.

 

“No, dammit. I want to go home.” Nora started to cry and fell to her knees, an embarrassment. But she couldn't help herself. “I'm tired of this fairy tale horror story shit. I want to fight Supermutants, feral ghouls, even Deathclaws. At least I know they're alive.”

 

“Look, Little Sister,” said Aela, getting on her knees and hugging Nora. “You might not be able to go home, but you can give up this quest and go shelter with the others in the city. That's your choice, but I've come to know you. You have the heart and soul of a fighter, and the one you will hurt the most by turning your back on your fate is yourself.”

 

Nora blinked the tears from her eyes and looked into the blue orbs of Aela. Normally fierce and uncompromising, now they radiated the caring of one who truly understood her.

 

“You're right, dammit,” said Nora, getting to her feet. “I'm going to do this, and it's either me or them. And I'm damn sure it’s going to be them.”

 

“Then let's go,” said Farkas, smiling. “I want to get myself around some good mead at the Sleeping Giant Inn before it gets too late.”

 

They continued fighting their way through the barrow, one room, one corridor at a time. There was a moment when Nora crawled under the swinging blades, only to find herself alone in a large room. Until a dozen Draugr came out of hiding and she was forced to fight them off while her companions were screaming at her to find the switch. Aela finally crawled through, but the twins were too large to make themselves small enough to fit. The warrior woman helped her finish off the last two, and they finally found the pull chain that stopped the swinging blades.

 

More rooms, more Draugr, more fighting, until they reached the door that the claw was meant to open. Nora had always been good with puzzles, and the ones behind had fallen to her mind in no time. She matched the symbols on the claw with the rings, then inserted the claw. The rings turned and the door slid down, revealing the opening. Another hall, a large wooden door and they were in what had to be the last chamber. And something in the room was singing to her. She could tell by the way the others were looking at her that they were not hearing anything. But it was calling to her, and she felt herself stumbling forward without a thought for stopping.

 

The wall was curved stone with a number of carved, words? They had to be, though in no language she had heard of. And one was glowing, particles of light rising off of it into the air above. Suddenly she saw the word, glowing in her mind, telling her what it was. Unrelenting Force, a word that would send people and objects flying. She felt one of the dragon souls she held unlock and the word was a part of her.

 

That was when the most frightening Draugr yet came bursting out of a coffin, its voice sending the twins flying. Nora didn't feel afraid this time. Whatever had unlocked in her mind had given her power, and she shouted at the creature, sending it staggering back. It teetered on the lip of the platform before righting itself. Only meet the flying body of the warrior woman, leading with her shield and knocking it from the platform. She followed, not having a choice, and twisted to land on her feet. Spinning to face the monster she struck out with her sword. Over and over again, a strike a second, until the monster collapsed, a surprised expression on its face.

 

“Well done,” shouted Farkas, jumping down to join her, looking down on the boss Draugr. “That was beautiful. I think she has it, Vilkas.”

 

“Die, motherfucker,” shouted Nora, looking down on the dead Draugr.

 

“Haven't heard that one before,” said a smiling Aela. “Mind if I use it.”

 

“I don't own the damned word,” said Nora, laughing. “So, motherfuckers for everyone.”

*     *     *

Nora had let loose shouts all the way down the mountain, much to the amusement of her companions. She learned that she could not continuously shout, that there was a cool down period, varying in length. So, though it was a useful power, it had it limits, and wasn't all that reliable.

 

“You might want to lay off the shouting in town,” said Vilkas, getting a nod from his brother. “Working people are trying to rest before they have to go back to their jobs.”

 

“Oh, let her have her fun,” chided Aela, her arm over Nora's shoulder. “You remember how it was when you found out that...”

 

Glares from the twins shut her up, and Nora again wondered what they were hiding. Well, it was theirs to hide or reveal. They were true friends, combat buddies, and she was not about to push. A loud shout echoed across the mountains, surprising Nora, who thought herself the only one with the power. Well, there were the Draugrs, and the thought of one of those outside of a tomb was chilling.

 

“What was that?” she asked.

 

“The Greybeards,” said Vilkas, awe in his voice. “They hadn't been heard of for over a hundred years, and now, twice in the last couple of months.”

 

“So why are they trying to wake the world when I'm not allowed to?”

 

“They're summoning someone to High Hrothgar,” said Aela, a serious look on her face. “And if I had to guess, they're calling you. I suggest you talk with the Jarl and his advisors when we get back.”

 

It was late in the evening when they reached Riverwood. There were still people up and about and the inn was packed. The Riverwood Trader was dark, and Nora thought the return of the golden claw could wait until morning. Every eye was on them as they walked into the inn. At first there was silence, and then the questions started. After that the hero worship. Nora was used to it, having gone through the same as she freed settlement after settlement in the Commonwealth from their burden of Raiders or Supermutants. She had grown used to it, but had never really liked it. As far as she was concerned she had a talent, and a responsibility to use it for the betterment of the people around her. Nothing deserving of praise. Others saw it differently, and the people of Riverwood thought of her as the slayer of bandits above anything.

 

Nora noticed that Delphine was keeping an eye on her and it made her uncomfortable. She couldn't tell the inn keeper to go away, so she just had to put up with it. The middle aged Breton, who moved with the grace of a warrior, proved her worth when she ushered the party into a small private room that had been set for supper, and Nora was able to get away from the hero worship for a while.

 

“I'm afraid this will have to do for sleeping quarters,” apologized the inn keeper. “Sorry, but we're full up, and I can't very well tell people who've paid that they have to relinquish their rooms.”

 

“As long as it's okay with our hero,” said Aela with a sardonic smile.

 

“I've roughed it more times than I care to remember,” said Nora, not a boast, simply fact. “I'll consider some furs on the floor a luxury.”

 

But first there was eating, and drinking, and soon the Companions were laid out on their furs. The twins snored away, while Aela quietly breathed in and out. Just as she expected from them. Feeling restless, she went back out into the common room to find it had emptied out. It was a mess, bottles and empty mugs everywhere, and Delphine and the barkeep working hard to get everything straightened out.

 

Nora had worked restaurants before, and on the settlements everyone picked up after themselves. So without a thought she started busing tables, gathering up plates and mugs and hauling them back to the kitchen.

 

“You don't have to do that,” said a surprised Delphine, looking uncomfortable.

 

“I know. But I'm too wound up to sleep right now, and this gives me something to do.”

 

“I appreciate it,” said the Breton, frowning. “But you are a Thane, and the Dragonborn. It's not right that you clean up the messes of others.”

 

“And I was President of the Commonwealth back on my world, but I still cleaned up after myself.”

 

“There are better ways to use your time,” said the inn keeper, looking over at the one customer still in the hall. “Maybe you could talk with that young lady. She's been asking questions about you. Too many.”

 

Nora looked over to see the dark-haired young woman in question, who seemed to be studying her intently. She again thought the slightly Asian features were out of place here, and resolved  that she needed to find out about all of the peoples of Tamriel.

 

“Recorder, isn't it?” asked Nora as she approached the young lady. “Unusual name. Or is it a description.”

 

The woman reminded Nora of some specialized synths the Institute had used prior to the reformation. She looked into the unusual eyes, thinking that while mostly organic they definitely had some machine in them.

 

“Correct, Dragonborn,” said the enthusiastic young lady. “I was interested in the last Dragonborn, but he got himself killed, despite my yelling at him to not approach the dragon from the front. I was warned that he wouldn’t be the one, but I was still hoping that he might make it.”

 

Nora gestured to the bench and Recorder nodded her invitation. The Dragonborn sat down, shifting a bit to get comfortable on the hard wood seat, then looked over.

 

“So, what's your story? I have a feeling that you aren't from these parts.”

 

“I'm, really not supposed to say. I can't tell these people what I really am. But I think with you I can make an exception, even if it goes against protocol.”

 

“You're a synth aren't you? A synthetic human?”

 

Recorder laughed, though her expression showed that she understood the term. “No, I was born, as my mother can attest to. The Academy did, uh, augment me though, making me more efficient in my function.”

 

“Which is? And what is this academy?”

 

“I'll tell you enough to assuage your concerns, but more will have to wait. The Academy is where I was trained. And no, it isn't on this world, or yours. Or even in this time. Suffice it to say, they send out agents to record the events in the Multiverse that might interest historians.”

 

“And you were sent here to follow me?”

 

Recorder laughed. She had a high musical laugh more suited to adolescence than a grown woman. Her eyes twinkled as she laughed, and the lines on her face showed that she enjoyed herself.

 

“No, I was initially sent to follow that big Nord bore that preceded you. The one that was always getting into dick measuring contests with all and sundry. And kept trying to get into my pants. But it was hinted that there would be another after him.”

 

And what's to say I won't make a try at your pants myself, thought Nora. The woman was undoubtedly attractive. And she had an infectious personality. “I think I would come up short in the dick measuring,” said Nora with a smile. “Since I don't happen to have one.”

 

“And you've got a sense of humor, and can make fun of yourself. That big pig was like most of these big barbarians. All serious, with a fragile pride that they defended to the last. And they have no way of understanding anything I might talk about. You, though, are different. I really shouldn't be telling you anything, but you're going to be suspicious of me if I don't.”

 

“So you follow the journey of heroes and record them. I assume you have some devices to let you do this.”

 

“Yes, we do. And in fact you were being followed on your own world. I won't tell you by who. If you ever get back it will be up to them to reveal themselves, or not.”

 

Deacon? thought Nora. That would be her guess, since the Railroad operative always seemed to know too much about everything.

 

“Again,” she asked, getting back to the subject at hand. “Why reveal yourself to me?”

 

“Because you are from a high-tech society. Your Institute is on par with my own Academy in some respects, though we are far ahead of you in others. You've used nuclear weapons, teleported all over the place, even traveled in time. I'm going to let slip terms that the people around here just ignore, but which will tickle your imagination. Alert your senses. So I thought I might as well come clean.”

 

“I appreciate that,” said Nora, frowning. “I guess I can let you follow, if you don't get in my way.”

 

Recorder laughed again. “I have a proposition for you.”

 

“We just met, and already you are propositioning me.”

 

The woman laughed, though the twinkle in her eye indicated that she might not be averse to a little propositioning. “Not that. I can help you. I can fight. In fact, I have been well trained in the use of these twin blades. And I'm even better with a bow. I can even use that pistol of yours if it proves necessary.”

 

“Have you been in combat? I mean in real fights?”

 

“Oh yes,” answered the woman with a laugh. “I saved that dumb ass several times before he did something even I couldn't rescue him from. I'll tell you, and don't think I'm crazy please. I don't just like to kill. I love to kill.”

 

So, I have a psychopath from a high-tech society who wants to help me. Why not?

 

“Welcome aboard. But remember. I'm in charge. You do what I say when I say it. And for my part I will not order you to commit suicide for me.”

 

“Sounds good,” said Recorder, putting out her hand. “Proud to be on board, Sole Survivor.”

 

Nora felt a chill run down her spine. This girl knew her designation in the Commonwealth. If anything proved her tale, that did.

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