Darkwater Crossing was a two-day ride from Ivarstead along some good roads, or as good as they got in Skyrim. Most of the stretches were stone, with some small lengths of mud. They saw frequent patrols of guards and Nora remarked on their presence.
“Probably protecting the pilgrims on the way to Ivarstead,” said Toccara, watching as a family walked along with packs on their backs. “Hoping to hear news of the savior.”
“Well, they can hear the news from someone else,” said Nora, grinning from ear to ear.
“You've had a wide smile on your face since this morning,” said Eldawyn, eyes narrowing. “Come on. Spill it. We want to know.”
Nora wasn't sure what to tell them, then decided that she needed to be honest. “I had a visitation by Kynareth in my dreams,” she said, the smile growing. “It was amazing.”
“From your reaction it looks like it was more than just a talk,” said Sofia with a laugh. “What did she do. Fuck you?”
Nora felt herself flushing, averting her eyes from the others.
“She did? You fucked a Divine?”
Suddenly Nora couldn't keep it in anymore. “It was amazing. So many orgasms, each better than the last. At first she was a woman, then she had the parts of a man. I've never felt so filled, so loved, ever.”
“I'm jealous,” said Eldawyn with a laugh. “I guess us mere mortals will never be able to satisfy you again.”
“That's not all,” continued the still blushing Dragonborn. “She fixed me. Inside. I can have children now.”
“I didn't know you couldn't,” said Recorder, looking like she was filing that information away. “So, will the legends tell that you had the child of a Divine?”
“No. I asked her that. I was concerned that now would not be the right time for a baby and she agreed. But she gave me the ability to have one when I wanted.”
“Better get some prophylactic potions,” said Sofia, now serious. “It might be kind of hard fighting dragons with your belly out to here.” The woman mimicked a girl well into pregnancy with her hands.
“Be nice if they had rubbers here,” said Nora, wistfully. It would make things so much easier, though she truly enjoyed the feeling of a man Cumming in her.
“What is a rubber?” asked Sofia, a look of curiosity on her face.
“A rubber is a sheath that fits over the penis,” Nora explained. “It deadens his sensation some, but it catches his semen before it gets into you.”
“Sounds awful,” said Toccata, frowning. “When I'm with a man I want to give him as much pleasure as I can. And I like to feel him finishing inside me. So no thanks to the rubber sheath. I'll stick with potions.”
Nora thought the same. She really loved unprotected sex, as it were. Especially in environments where there were other ways to protect yourself from pregnancy and disease. The look on a man's face when he came in her pussy, feeling every inch of the lubricated walls, was priceless. In fact, the look on Kynareth's face that night was unforgettable, and how many women could say that they had got a Divine off.
Nora laughed. Men thought they were the dirty minded ones, but most men wouldn't talk about a lover with other men. While women would go into excruciating detail about their lovers and their attributes. Women bragged about the size and shape of their lovers. About how much a man ejaculated. They were incessantly at it with their descriptions.
The sound of a bowstring sounded to her sensitive ears and she moved with her terrific speed to get her shield up. She could only account for good fortune as the shield got in the way of an arrow that had been heading for Toccata. They had been riding without helmets, enjoying the day, and the shaft would have hit the woman in the head, probably killing her instantly.
“Everyone. Ride,” she ordered, putting her spurs to her horse and pulling her blade from it sheath.
The rest of the party didn't hesitate. They knew what was going on, and getting off the ambush was the best way to avoid damage. Arrows flew, all missing the targets that were no longer where they had been when released. One of the horses screamed out as it took an arrow in the haunch, while several shafts bounced from armor.
Eight bandits stepped across the path, weapons at the ready. And the party struck them in a cavalry charge, horses bowling people over while swords swung and blood flew. And then they were through.
“What are you doing?” shouted Lydia as Nora turned her horse, then strapped her helmet into place.
“Taking out the garbage,” yelled Nora, putting spurs to her horse and charging back.
The three bandits that had survived the charge still gathered on the road, joined by five archers. They looked with surprise as one of their proposed victims came back at them, shield up and sword ready. Archers pulled back on bows, but before they could release a ball of fire fell among them and five of the bandits were screaming their lives out in a storm of fire.
Nora pulled on the reigns with her shield hand to turn the horse away from the fire, then struck one of the remaining archers, sword slicing through a shoulder to send the man bleeding to the roadway. A warhammer hit her in the side and she fell off her horse with a grunt of pain. She felt as if some ribs might have snapped. With her healing rate, especially now augmented by enchantments, she knew that she would heal in no time. As the bandit raised the warhammer to strike her while she lay on her back she wasn't sure she had the time.
“Fus Ro,” she shouted, the extreme energy rising out of her and lifting the bandit from his feet. He was propelled a dozen feet into the air to land with the crunching of bones on his head. Neck broken, he rolled to the side with his dead eyes staring at the Dragonborn that had shouted him to his death. And then her friends were there, and the two surviving hale bandits suddenly were no longer among the living.
“Let her live,” ordered Nora as Recorder was about to skewer one of the badly burned bandits who was still screaming at the top of her lungs.
“Why,” asked the alien observer.
“I want to know where they came from,” said Nora, starting a healing spell and sending the energy over the bandit. It took several repetitions of healing before the screaming stopped and the grateful eyes of the bandit looked up.
“You going to let me live?” she asked, hope in her eyes. After all, why would someone heal her just to kill her. Unless they wanted to bring her to the guards and let them do it, legally.
“No promises,” said Nora in a harsh voice. “But if you don't tell me where you have come from I'll surely kill you.”
“Okay, okay. We're using a cave just over that hill to the north. Our boss is in there, along with the rest of the gang.”
“No promises,” said Nora in a hushed voice, then shoved her sword through the throat of the woman, severing her spine. And now I have a new nightmare to deal with, she thought, hanging her head.
“Had to be done,” said Eldawyn, hugging her. “You said it yourself. Let them live and they just go back to what they were doing.”
“Thanks, but it still tugs at my conscience.”
“You need to stop charging off on your own,” growled Lydia, coming up to her scowling, then wrapping Nora in her own hug. “You're going to get yourself killed if you keep doing that. And I can't stand the thought of losing another Dragonborn on my watch.”
“You were with the first one when he died?” asked Nora, looking into the intense green eyes of the other woman. Those eyes softened and Lydia let out a sob.
“Dumb son-of-a-bitch,” said the Housecarl in a cry. “It should have been me lying there a burned corpse.”
“No, no, my dear,” said Toccata, patting Lydia on the back. “That would have been a waste. And we got a new and improved Dragonborn in the bargain.”
Sofia nodded her agreement, then the eyes of Toccata hardened. “If she doesn't pull the same kind of stunt and get herself killed.”
“I'm sorry,” said Nora, sighing. “I'm normally better than this, but all this energy flowing through me is making reckless.”
“I've heard that the Sole Survivor was always reckless,” said Recorder with a frown.
“Guilty,” said Nora, a sheepish smile on her face. “That's just the way I run. And you're just going to have to keep up.”
They found the cave entrance over the hill. It was easy to find with the fire burning in front, a pair of bandits cooking some meat on a spit. Nora crept up on them and ended their lives with two quick thrusts of her knife.
Creeping into the cave Nora took out two more bandits on the way to the main cavern. Until one heard her coming and shouted out a warning, one that died in his throat when she slit it.
“What the hell is going on?” shouted a voice, and Nora ran forward. They were made and she wanted to hit the bandits before they could organize. She ran into a bandit coming to see what happened and cut him down without a thought.
The bandits, almost twenty of them, were swarming around a central cavern that had been set up as a home. There was a large fire burning in the center, tables set up around it. They had a forge and grindstone, shelves full of potions and books, even many chests that had to be full of loot. And a trio of mages in near the fire, calling up spells.
Uh oh, thought Nora, taking in a deep breath. One of the mages looked right at her and started to make the gestures of an offensive spell.
“Fus Ro,” shouted Nora, the power coming from her and hitting the mages, along with a couple of regular bandits standing near them. Everyone went flying. A few still moved, struggling to rise. A couple were lying on the ground with limbs at angles they didn't normal bend, dead or seriously injured.
Nora wasn't sure how long the cool down would be. It was always random, from no time at all to almost a minute. Instead she ran at full speed into the cavern, sword out, swinging through the neck of one unprepared bandit and taking her head off.
Fireballs landed, setting bandits on fire, while arrows hissed in and killed more of the outlaws. Nora took out another, then turned as she heard word of magic shouted out. To see a mage in robes that radiated with power, looking at her and pointing a finger. A lightning bolt arched from that finger and hit Nora, who spasmed slightly, protected by her shield and other enchantments from her jewelry. The mage started into another spell.
“Wuld,” shouted Nora, streaking along the cavern floor and running her blade through the mage.
“That's what I'm talking about,” said Recorder, a saying that Nora hadn't expected to hear on this world. “Let the looting begin.”
The cave was full of loot, more than they could take. More gold and gems, easy enough to pack out. Too many weapons and armor to handle, but a nice glass set on the boss that was worth taking. And some food to supplement their own rations.
“We should tell the first guards we come to about this cave,” said Lydia, holding an enchanted dagger that it seemed she intended to add to her own armaments. “They can use this to help the people the bandits have harmed.”
“More likely they'll just keep it for themselves,” said Sofia.
“We might as well tell them,” said Nora. “It's the right thing to do. And we can't keep eyes on everyone we tell about loot.”
It was still morning when they were back on the road. They passed a couple of abandoned towers that might have been lairs of evil, but Nora had had as much killing as she could stomach for one day. If they left her alone she would leave them be, for now.
Darkwater Crossing was not much to talk about. A couple of dozen buildings, another of the mills that abounded in the forested area, and a tavern. Not even an inn. Most of the people worked in the mines that were the reason for being of the village. And that was where they had found the woman they had come here to find.
“I'll get this packaged up and sent to Adrianne,” said Annekke Crag-Jumper. The woman was approaching middle age, but was still fit and pretty. “And this gold will really come in handy in these times.”
Nora had handed over several thousand coins that she had brought for the purchase, along with a letter of credit from Whiterun's bank.
“Hard times?” asked Nora, noting the wedding ring on the woman's hand, a signal to keep hands off.
“With the civil war, with dragons,” laughed the miner. “You could say that. The mines are productive enough, but getting the ore to market is becoming a problem.”
Nora thought it over a minute before making her offer. “Look, we're heading back to Whiterun. We could escort the pack train there, though it will have to find its way back.”
“It's a deal,” said Annekke with a smile. “I'll come with you if you'll have me. I used to be quite the ranger in my time, and I can teach you some things about camping and woodcraft.”
“What about coming back?”
“That won't be as bad,” said the woman, shrugging her shoulders. “Since we'll be lightly burdened and I'll have seen the route for myself. But it's going to take a couple of days to get the richest ore set aside and pack the mules. In the meantime, you should go see the Eldergleam in its cavern.”
“Yes,” said Toccara with enthusiasm. “I've always wanted to see it.”
“What's the Eldergleam?” asked Nora, curious at the excitement of her friend.
“Just the oldest tree in Skyrim,” said Toccata, holding her hand in front of her. “The mother tree of the Gildergleam in Winterhold.”
“That seemed kind of an eyesore,” said Nora, frowning. “I guess it's seen better days.”
“It has,” said Toccata, frowning, then smiling. “But Danica said that with the sap of the mother tree she might be able to revive the daughter.” Toccata frowned again. “But it's supposed to be impossible to pierce the tree with any normal metal. Only with a special implement from the dawn of time.”
We'll see about that, thought Nora, tapping the hilt of her trusty knife. She had yet to see the object the monomolecular blade couldn't cut, here or at home.
So they rode onto the extensive hot springs a half an hour north of the mining village. It seemed to stretch out forever, only ending at the mountains to the East. There were numerous pools with rising steam, a woolly rhino hanging out in one of the closer ones. All kinds of strange vegetation on the ground, beautiful pines in stands everywhere. Giants at a pool much further in, peacefully tending their mammoths.
Volcanoes, thought the woman, reminded of the Yellowstone Park she had visited before the war. Probably fed by a magma pocket underneath, and Nora had to wonder how stable it was. A number of the closer pools held groups of people, lounging around nude in the steaming water or on furs on the rocks.
There were also a number of hills and small mountains across the plain. And what looked like a Nordic ruin atop one in the distance. Toccata turned her horse and led the way toward the big cavern she had talked about, speaking about the wonders the whole way. The Nordic ruin kept Nora's eye. Those things, in her little bit of experience, meant trouble. They meant...
“Dragon,” shouted Lydia, pointing at the rising form of the great beast moving into the air over the ruins.
Well, thought Nora, as she looked around for cover, finding none. I guess we get to find out if I'm ready for this.
The dragon, a big red, circled the sky, then looked right at them and headed in.
“Get off the horses. Drive them away so that damned beast doesn't kill them.”
“Maybe we can outrun it,” said Eldawyn, looking terrified.
“No. We can't outrun a flying beast on horseback,” yelled Lydia. “So follow the orders of the Dragonborn and get off your horse. And prepare to fight.”
Eldawyn obeyed with the rest of them, and in no time the horses were running away, seeking safety from the thing they realized would eat them. Nora hated to see them run, but if they survived they could round them up. While a dead horse did them no good at all.
The party scattered, putting distance between each other so the dragon wouldn't have easy targets. All were ready to move at a moment's notice, while bows were strung and arrows pulled. Nora held her bow at the ready, still not confident in her archery.
But I can't miss such a big target, can I? she thought, pulling back the bowstring and sighting in. When she thought she had a good shot she released, to see her arrow sailing over the dragon. A moving flying target was more difficult than she had realized, and she would need a lot more practice with the bow. Unfortunately, she didn't have time this day.
The dragon went into a hover, great wings beating the air letting out a blast of flame right at Nora. Who was running and dodging at full speed. She felt the heat at her back but the flame missed. The dragon tried to follow her, but just as she had trouble judging a flying target, so it had major problems trying to track something with her speed.
Bows twanged and the dragon roared as four arrows found it. Two bounced from scales while the other pair buried themselves in the spaces between. Eldawyn threw ice bolts at the beast, the sharp daggers of cold piercing the scales easily. The dragon roared again and four more arrows struck, only one sinking in this time. Nora called ice spike into her mind and sent one flying into the dragon, thrilled that she could add something to the damage.
With the flap of its wings the dragon turned in the air and flew away, and Nora hoped it would just fly off. No such luck, as it came back around and flew at them with great speed, heading straight for Eldawyn. The Altmer cast a couple of quick spells that glowed as they covered her, then started throwing ice spikes as fast as she could. The dragon blasted her with fire, and Nora cried out as she saw her friend enveloped in a torrent of flame. A swirling mass of blue rose from the flames and hit the dragon, which staggered in the air, its breath weapon forgotten.
“Wuld,” yelled Nora, rushing to Eldawyn's side, hoping she was in time. She cast healing on the flaming women. A moment later the flames went out and a singed by otherwise undamaged mage looked back at her.
“I'll have to teach you those spells when we get out of this,” said the breathless elf. “If we get out of here.”
“Sounds good,” said Nora, turning and sending ice spikes into the dragon, which was now circling overhead. She found that throwing aimed spells was just as hard as shooting arrows, though she was getting some hits. Eldawyn was more accurate, though not all of her spells were hitting either. Toccata and Sofia, the spellswords, had also switched to ice spikes since the magical objects were guaranteed to wound if they hit. Lydia and Recorder, the best archers, continued to send arrows into the beast. It was bleeding badly now, staggering in the air.
“Fus Ro,” she shouted at the dragon, hitting it with the power of the Thu’um. It staggered, but not as much as she thought it would, and she filed the information away to not depend on that shout in a dragon fight.
Four ice spikes hit the beast within a second of each other. The dragon staggered and landed heavily in one of the pools. Nora pulled her sword, curious to see if she could hurt it with a blade.
Recalling how the other Dragonborn had died she angled around and approached the dragon from the rear. She leapt onto the back of the beast and ran up its spine, swinging the sword a couple of times, satisfied that it could cut through the scales. She was almost bucked off by the rearing dragon, but dropped down and let her legs secure a hold on the neck. She thrust the blade into that neck, piercing deeply, then sawing it through the side on the way out. Blood spurted and the dragon let out a subdued roar, then the neck and head fell. Nora felt herself flying into the air, tucking herself into a ball to avoid the brunt of hitting the ground. She rolled as she landed, coming to her feet and turning quickly, to see the beast lying still, starting to smoke.
In seconds the dragon was on fire and the energy hit her in a wave. She cried out from the quickening, rising into the air and coming down on her feet. She felt the accomplishment at taking down a dragon without her advanced equipment. Not by herself, of course. Without her companions she was sure she wouldn't have survived this encounter.
“Whew,” said Recorder, unstringing her bow. “That was intense.”
“And you are a bloody mess, my Thane,” said Lydia, coming over.
“Yep. And I mean to get clean in one of these pools once we round up the horses.”
Some of the hunters had come over at a run, not bothering to put on any clothes. They oohed and awed over the body, remarking on the dragon and the people who had taken it down.
Recorder and Lydia called their well-trained horses over and used them to help gather the others. Once all the mounts were in hand they headed for one of the deeper pools. Nora undressed without qualm and jumped into the hot spring, luxuriating in the heat of the water.
“Come on in,” she told the others, splashing the water toward them. “It's not like I haven't seen all of you naked.”
Clothes came off quickly, and five very good-looking bodies were soon splashing in the pool alongside Nora. After having her fill Nora found a smooth flat area to lay out in the sun, letting the air dry her.
Eldawyn sat with her, then reached over and started playing with a breast. Of course the Altmer had no concern about love making in public, and normally nor would Nora. But at the moment she didn't want the touch of another human, her mind still on the Divine.
“Elda. Not now.”
The elf looked hurt, and Nora hastily explained herself. “It's not you. It's me. I still have the image of the Divine in mind, and don't think I can be satisfied with anything else. For the moment.”
“Okay,” said the elf with a sad smile on her face. “I guess it’s more wine for me. How can I compete with a God?”
Nora felt awful turning her lover away, but she didn't think she was ready for purely mortal love just yet. She frowned as she wondered if she would ever, or if the Goddess had ruined her for life.
“You will again love those around you,” said the voice of the Divine in her head. “In fact, if you wish, I can erase those memories.”
“Don't you dare,” said Nora under her breath. “I want to carry the memory of that experience to my grave.”
“Very well, Mortal,” said Kynareth, laughing. “And hopefully that day will be a long time coming.”
“And when will I have you again?”
“It is not good for mortals to spend too much time in the realms of the Gods,” said the Divine. “But someday, perhaps, we can renew our acquaintance.”
Nora felt a deep melancholy over what the goddess had said, but her spirits were so high after killing a dragon that she couldn't stay depressed for long. She looked over at Toccata, wringing out her long hair. Nora started putting on her clothes and armor, then looked over at the redhead.
“So, take me to this marvelous tree you were talking about before we were so rudely interrupted.”
* * *
Nora knew she was in for something special as soon as she entered the cave. It was dark with the exception of some torches on the wall, but she could see the sunlight streaming into the cavern ahead. A clear stream ran tinkling through the cavern, crossed by a number of hanging bridges. Pilgrims hung out in an area down from the great tree, a half dozen humans and a couple of elves. There were flowers and butterflies everywhere, and the air was filled with the scent of blossoms. It was as peaceful as any place she had ever been, and Nora thought she might want to spend some time here when her tasks were done. But first there was business to take care of and sap to gather.
The way to the tree was blocked by massive roots. She had considered taking it from the roots but didn't know if that would work. It was the trunk or nothing. The roots were high, and almost impossible to scramble up, but Nora had some advantages others didn't. She squatted down, prepared herself, and leapt over the roots. She did this a half dozen times, only having problems with one that she smacked into, and then she was at the trunk.
“Well, here goes nothing,” she whispered, pulling her blade, hoping that it would do the job. The bark was tough, very tough, and it took some effort for even the monomolecular knife to cut through. With a little effort she pierced the bark, then pulled out the small bottle she had brought for the purpose. She had just capped the bottle and slipped it back into her pack when she became aware of the buzzing that was coming at her.
It looked like a wooden person, glowing green, bees buzzing around it. It came at her fast, and if not for her reflexes she would have been hit with its hand, glowing with magic. She swung her knife and separated the arm/branch from the creature. She then drove the blade into its chest and it fell. More buzzing sounded and she was near to being surrounded. And none of her people could get to her.
Nora jumped into the stream, shocked from the cold water that must have been coming from snow melt somewhere. She ignored the cold that threatened to seize her muscles and struck out, heading for one of the bridges. Her party was at the bridge, throwing fire and swinging swords at more of the damned tree creatures.
“Should have known there would be Spriggans,” shouted Sofia. “Why didn't you warn us there were Spriggans?”
“Because I didn't know,” said Toccata, sending a stream of flame into one of the creatures.
“What did you do to set them off?” screamed one of the pilgrims, scrambling to get out of the way of the Spriggans.
“Nothing,” shouted Eldawyn, sending her own stream of fire into a shriveling Spriggan. “Really.”
Nothing except attack the tree they were guarding, thought Nora. She still didn't know what they were. Not really. But she knew they were dangerous, and that they guarded sacred places. Something good to know in the future.
“We need to get out of here,” hissed Eldawyn, grabbing Nora's arm.
“Fuck the Spriggans,” said Elda, flinging a firebolt at another monster. “Unless you want to find yourself fighting the pilgrims we need to get away from them.”
Nora could see several of the pilgrims drawing blades, another quickly stringing a bow. She didn't want to have to slaughter some innocent people, even to protect herself, when they could get out and away. The party made it out and into the open, sunlight streaming down through the trees. Toccata started laughing, and it spread in an infectious manner. Nora wasn't sure why they were laughing, but she soon found herself joining in.
“Warn me next time when I'm going to face some kind of tree monster,” she said, still laughing.
“You look like you made it,” said Sofia, stifling a laugh.
“It scared the shit out of me,” said Nora, remembering the first sight she had gotten of the strange thing. If not for her reflexes it would have hit her. But it hadn't, and she had learned something in the process.
“Well, should we set up camp, or go back to Darkwater Crossing?” asked Lydia.
“Neither, yet,” said Nora, almost laughing again at the questioning looks. “We have a ruin to explore that might have a Word Wall, and its guardian is dead. So what say we go up there and get that Word for me?”