“Well well, look at the slut we have here. The boys are going to love you.” The person speaking was a truly hideous Orsimer woman who must have been the official greeter.
“Can I have something to clean myself with?” asked Nora, her voice weak. She was still in shock. Flashbacks of being raped by the Raiders after leaving Vault One Eleven were playing through her mind. She had promised herself it would never happen again, and it hadn't, until she had been captured by Supermutants and almost torn apart by their large penises, filled with radioactive semen. That had been the last time, until now, and the fact that she lived in a world of cruel men had been driven home once again. She was stronger than almost any woman, but in the hands of many men she could be just as helpless as she was that day the Raiders had grabbed her. She had killed all of those Raiders, all of the Supermutants, and she swore on Kynareth's name that she would kill all of these animals as well.
“Don't get your filth on my floor, prisoner. Now put on some clothes and we'll get you into the prison. Not that I expect you to last long. Women never do in the mines, unless they get a protector.”
Meaning I whore myself out to a strong man, she thought, shaking her head while she picked up the ragged prison shift that would serve as her only clothing here. Not going to happen.
As soon as she was through the gate it locked behind her, a sound of finality that almost crushed her spirit. She shook her head again, damned if she was going to give in to despair. Her friends would come looking for her, and they were a formidable bunch. Margret would tell the Oculotus about what was going on here. Maybe even Elisif and Balgruuf would get involved. All she had to do was survive until something happened.
“Well, looky here,” said a large man with almost no teeth, leering at Nora. “I've been looking for a new woman, and one appears before me. Pretty, if a little bit used.”
“Get away from me,” shouted Nora.
The man laughed and reached for her, to get a hard fist in the face. He shook his head and came back at her. “You bitch. I was going to treat you nice, but..”
Nora leaned back and sent a side kick into his face, knocking the man back. She stepped into him and sent a flurry of punches into his midsection, her adrenaline-fueled muscles putting maximum force into his abdomen. She worked the punches up to his chest, landing one final blow on his throat. The man fell to his knees, spitting up blood, then continued on to his face, unconscious or dead. Nora really didn't care which, only that the man wasn't bothering her.
“Think you can do that to me,” growled an orc, walking toward her with a shiv in his hand.
“No,” she said in a hoarse voice, fire playing across one hand, cold across the other. “I have something better planned for assholes with knives.” She was missing all of her magic enhancing jewelry, but her magicka stores and internal regeneration capabilities were intact. And she had enough power to kill everyone in this prison if need be. If the guards didn't like that, fuck it. But she wasn't about to let anyone else lay a hand on her without her permission.
“Now now, little girl,” said the orc, backing away. “Don't do anything hasty.”
Someone grabbed her from behind, strong arms wrapping around hers. She threw her head back into the man's face, feeling the crunch of teeth as they broke. The man cried out, but maintained his hold, until Nora twisted out of it and slammed an elbow into his face, then hit him on both sides of his neck with knife hands. The man went down, and the other two coming at her stopped in their tracks.
“I've never seen anyone fight like that,” said one of the Reachmen. “I don't want anything to do with her.”
“She's pussy, man.”
“And you can have all of that pussy, Asher. If she doesn't kill you.”
“Where do I get some food?” she asked the orc, walking toward him with fire in both hands. “Tell me now, or I'll cook your ass and eat it.”
“They serve breakfast and dinner, and you've missed both.”
“Here,” said one of the prisoners sitting against the wall, tossing her some bread, then a wedge of cheese. “I just want to die, and feeding myself is counterproductive to that goal.”
Nora thanked the man, then looked over at the orc again. “And where can I sleep. Someplace where I don't have to worry about company.”
“There are some vacant furs down that tunnel,” said the wide-eyed orc.
“Good enough.” Nora cast healing on herself several times, feeling the pain in her groin, anus and muscles recede. She kept fire in one hand while casting healing over and over, letting the prisoners take in her command of magic. Down the tunnel she found several alcoves with furs. She selected one that she had to crawl into, then cast a couple of shock runes outside the alcove. Maybe those men might think they could attack her in her sleep. If so, they were in for a big surprise.
* * *
“Where the hell did she go?” asked Eldawyn, frantic. Nora hadn't come back to the inn that night. It was morning and she was still missing. That wasn't like her.
“I found something out,” said a serious faced Elesia, running into the common room. “Some people I talked with said a woman matching Nora's appearance, black hair and blue eyes, was led by the guard to Cidhna Mine. They had a particularly good description, down to her thin but muscular body.”
“And how did they get such a good description?” asked Lydia, her eyes narrowing.
“Because the guards were leading her on a rope, naked. She was soaking wet, as if they had poured water on her to clean her up.”
“By the Gods, no,” said Sofia. “Those bastards raped her, then threw her into prison. She poked her nose into something she shouldn't have, and they got her.”
“Damn,” said Jordis, getting up from her seat and running to her room to get her armor. She came back out partially armored, quickly getting into the rest. “We need to do something.”
“But what?” asked J'Zargo. “This cat does not want to take on a whole city.”
“If that's what we have to do, we do it,” growled Eldawyn.
“What's going on?” asked Margret, walking into the room.
“Nora's been taken by the guard,” said Eldawyn, hoping this woman who had set Nora on the task of poking her nose into the affairs of others might be able to do something. “We believe she was raped by the guards and thrown into Cidhna Mines.”
“Damn. Well, the Oculotus is just about ready to move on the Silver-Bloods. I think it's time to pull the trigger and get this done.”
“By this evening. You think she can hold up that long.”
“With anyone else I would have my doubts,” said Eldawyn. “But not with Nora.”
* * *
“The King of Rags wants to talk to you, woman?” said the voice of the orc, waking Nora from her slumber.
She started awake, ready to fight, until she saw that the orc was beyond the pair of shock runes she had laid down before sleeping. The man had been smart enough to not touch the runes, something that had saved his life.
“Madanach?” she asked, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes. She still felt filthy, the dried emissions on her legs, on her whole body since the cold water hadn't fully cleaned her. She wanted to crawl out of her skin and burn it. That wouldn't help, even if it were possible. The feeling of being filthy went down to her very soul. But a meeting with the man himself? Now that could be interesting.
“Stand back,” she told the orc. “I need to trigger the runes to clear them. And don't think about doing anything when they're gone. Not if you don't want me to fry you.”
“Not a problem,” said the Orc, moving back. “I'd rather tangle with a dragon.”
Nora set off the runes, catching a tiny bit of shock from the closer one that was cleared up by a healing spell.
“You walk in front of me. And if we're ambushed, its crispy critters.”
“We won't try anything. Madanach wants to talk with you, and none of us are about to cross him.”
Nora was still on her guard as she walked to and through the locked gate behind which the King of Rags sheltered. They walked a long tunnel, very dark in places, and Nora cast mage-light along the way to make sure nothing was waiting for her. Finally they reached a cell carved into the rock, an old man with gray hair sitting behind a desk, his eyes studying her.
“Welcome, my mage friend. And from what I've heard, quite an accomplished one at that. Formally trained, or did you pick it up on your own.”
“College of Winterhold,” she said, taking the offered seat after making sure there was nothing there to trap her.
“And I could use your help,” said the King of Rags, pushing a small bottle her way.
“Skooma. Do you partake?”
“I've heard too many bad things about the stuff. But I could do with some food.”
“Bring our guest a tray of food, if you would,” he told the orc, reaching for a larger bottle. “You do drink wine?”
“Yes, in moderation.”
“Someone who prefers a clear head,” said Madanach approvingly. “And I understand that the boys tried to take advantage of you when you arrived. Not very neighborly of you to turn down men who haven't seen a woman in quite some time. And such an attractive one at that.”
“I tend to not desire sex right after I've been raped by twenty guards for several hours. Then marched naked through Markarth.”
“Oh,” said the man, his eyes widening. “I understand. And how did the guards make you go along with that. You proved to my men that you are not to be trifled with.”
“And how did they capture a mage of your caliber?”
“Well, they had so many bows on me that to make a sudden move was to be made a pin cushion.”
“And there you have it. Then they tied my hands and had their way with me, the bastards.”
“And would you like to get back at them?”
“I plan to kill every one of them. When I get out of here.”
“Haven't you heard that no one escapes from Cidhna Mine?”
“I don't believe in the escape proof prison. Especially when one of the prisoners still controls his people from within.”
“Well, I am about to leave this place. It was comfortable, and it allowed me to exert control right under the noses of the Nords. But after last night..”
“What happened last night?”
“Thongvar Silver-Blood sent an assassin in to kill me. Just before you arrived. It seems he tired of our deal. So, this evening, right after dark, I plan to take all of my people and leave. And then the Reach will run red with blood. And the Forsworn will weave mighty blood magic. I'm guessing that's something they don't teach in the College.”
“No, they don't,” said Nora, deciding that this dangerous man needed to die, before he could unleash a bloodletting on the people of the Reach. But she would wait until the path out was revealed, so she could mark it and make sure no one else followed.
“Then become my queen, stand by my side, and I will teach you mighty new magics to crush your enemies.”
“You don't mind if we wait on the consummation. I'm still kind of sore from having cocks shoved into every orifice against my will.”
“Of course. Though I have to say, despite what you went through, you are still the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, and I have been long without. But I can wait. We can even have a Reachman’s wedding beforehand.”
The food came, a large plate of some indeterminate meat, potatoes and vegetables. Madanach stared as she swiftly shoveled the food down. “By the Gods, I will have to make sure I keep you in food. I've never seen someone your size eat like that.”
Nora nodded as she took a swig of wine. She ate until she was full, then ate some more, not knowing when she would get another chance to fill up. Then she spent the day talking with the King of Rags, learning more about his operations. She determined that he had been screwed over, and had every right to be angry with the Nords. However, he represented burned out farms, slaughtered people, and consorting with things like hagravens and Briarhearts. When her implant told her it was just about sundown she made her move.
“Could you show me your escape tunnel,” she said in her most seductive voice. “I would feel so much better knowing this was real.” She had decided that teleporting out might be a bad move. She would appear in a clear space, but anything within fifteen miles of Markarth could be dangerous to her right now. It took over a minute to cast again, and the last thing she wanted was to find herself the center of a group of angry bowman without armor or companions.
She really wasn't sure if it would work, but the blessing of Dibella worked wonders, and the man was eating out of her hand. Madanach led her further into the tunnel, stopping at another locked gate. Fishing a key on a chain from underneath his clothing, he opened the gate.
“Our way to freedom, my love.”
“And that deserves a kiss,” said Nora, putting her hands to the side of the man’s head, leaning in, and touching her lips to his. Madanach's hands touched her body, and Nora fought hard not to shudder. Suddenly she clamped her hands on the sides of his head and twisted.
The old man was stronger that he looked, and he resisted mightily. Nora twisted her body around, using her leverage while he beat his hands on her, trying to cry out. With a snap his neck broke, life left his body, and the King in Rags was gone. Nora took the homemade dagger from his body, walked through the gate, and closed it behind her, locking it. She didn't want any of the other Forsworn getting out, and really didn't want any of them coming after her.
Nora made her way through the tunnel, killing several spiders with fire, then destroying a Dwemer automaton with lightning. She saw a ladder ahead and started climbing, not sure what was above. But it had to be better than here. As soon as she was above ground and getting her bearings a number of guards stepped out of the shadows, Thongvar Silver-Blood among them, Dawnbreaker belted to his side.
“Where's Madanach?” asked Thongvar as several guards covered Nora with their bows.
“He's dead. And I would ask you to return my sword.”
“This fine blade? It will do a dead woman no good. Though I would like to thank you for taking the King of Rags down for me. Kill her.”
Not this time, thought Nora, as she shouted Marked For Death, getting all of the guards and the Silver-Blood in the cone. All staggered back, several fell to their knees, vomiting. Nora cast Telekinesis, jerking one bow out of the hands of an archer, then another. A third got off a shot, putting an arrow into Nora's shoulder. It staggered her, bled copiously, and hurt like hell, but her rage kept her on her feet. These people were going to die. If she died in the process, so be it. But they would die first.
The mage sent an ice spike toward her, to be fended off with Greater Ward, only a tiny percent of the cold getting through.
“Fus Ro Dah,” she shouted, sending the mage and the remaining archer flying. Thongvar had drawn Dawnbreaker and was walking forward, still staggered from Mark For Death.
“Kill her, you idiots. She's only one woman.”
Nora pulled the sword out of his hand with Telekinesis, drawing it to her and settling it in her own hand. The other dozen odd guardsmen were running at her with weapons drawn when she hit them with another Marked For Death shout, weakening them further. Half fell to their knees, including Thongvar. Nora walked quickly around them, striking off head after head with her sword.
“How's it feel to get fucked,” she shouted as she took each head off. Those on their feet dead, she started striking off the heads of those on their knees. Until only Thongvar was left, the mage having been killed by her shout earlier.
“No, you can't do this. I'll give you whatever you want.”
“What I would like is a black soul gem,” she yelled. “So I could send your rotten soul to the Soul Cairn.”
She thought of all the suffering this man had caused. Innocent people thrown into his mine to work to make him richer. Families thrown off their property, mines, farms, stores. The shakedowns of people just trying to get by. With a scream she brought the blade down on his neck, decapitating the head of the Silver-Blood family. She looked down at the staring head as the body, blood spurting from the neck, collapsed. With another yell she kicked the head into the nearby water run.
“In the name of the Jarl, drop the weapon,” yelled out a woman, and another dozen guards came running into sight, half with bows.
Nora readied a fireball spell, determined that she would not be taken prisoner in this Hold again.
“In the name of the Emperor, I order you to lower your weapons,” called out a familiar voice. Margret came into sight, wearing full Penitus Oculotis armor, another dozen similarly clad men and women with her.
Nora saw all of her friends appear behind the Imperials. Eldawyn saw Nora and ran toward her, casting a healing spell as soon as she was within range. Nora felt her head spin, her knees weaken, and she started to fall to the stone paving. Elda and an Oculotis mage caught her, sending healing magic into her while the Imperial gently removed the arrow.
“You seemed to have handled yourself well,” said Margret, looking down on Nora.
“And I thought you said you weren't a fighter.”
“Well, not one of your caliber,” said the agent. “I've never heard of anyone taking on so many and making it seem so easy.”
“Oh, our Nora is a saber cat,” said Eldawyn, crying as she held her friend.
“What happens now?” asked Nora, suddenly feeling weak and hungry again. She looked over to see the Imperials putting restraints on all the guards. “And what happens to them?”
“We conduct an investigation, and any we find guilty of corruption will spend some time mining silver in the Imperial owned Cidhna mine. The rest will be returned to duty. Oh, and we will be having a meeting with the Jarl in the morning. I would like you to attend. After you have a bath and a good night's sleep.”
“A bath would be most welcome. I think a couple three hours soaking might remove most of the filth, if that's even possible.”
“I'm so sorry,” said Margret, kneeling beside Nora and putting a hand on her shoulder. “No woman should have to go through that.”
“Not the first time,” she said, trying to smile and failing.
“It still shouldn't have happened in Imperial territory,” said Margret, shaking her head. “We are responsible for your trial, and we must make reparations.”
Nora followed her people back to the inn. She tucked into a large meal, then soaked for several hours in the bath, her women keeping her company. Valdimar was strangely silent, and Nora sat next to him in the common room after she had scrubbed herself about a dozen times.
“I am so sorry for what those pigs did to you, my Thane. I wouldn't blame you if you never wanted to have anything to do with men ever again.”
“Oh, come here you big lug,” said Nora, reaching over and giving the man a quick hug. “I don't blame all men. I know you wouldn't do anything like that. I still like men, though I may have to take some time before I have sex with one.”
“Understandable,” said the big Housecarl. “I wish I could have killed those bastards for you.”
“And deprived me of the pleasure. I thoroughly enjoyed taking their heads.”
Nora spent a night full of nightmares. Raiders, Supermutants, joined by Markarth guards, all gang raping her. Eldawyn tried to comfort her but Nora pushed her away without waking. She remembered doing that when she woke, and profusely apologized to her friend.
“Darling. No need to apologize. Not after what you went through.”
“I need to put it behind me,” said Nora, smiling at her friend. “Perhaps tonight.”
The party went to the palace, a building they had yet to visit. To find Jarl Igmund, seated on his throne, his steward occupying a lower seat, facing Margret, some other Oculotis officers, and General Tullius. Nora was surprised to see the general here, and the man gave her a troubled look before turning back to the Jarl.
“Jarl Igmund. As a ruling noble in Imperial territory, it is your duty to protect your citizens from the depredations of criminals, even when those evil doers are your own men. And you are mandated to sit in judgment of all people accused of crimes in your Hold. And yet this visiting noblewoman was arrested without your knowledge, sexually assaulted in the most heinous manner, then thrown into Cidhna mine without a hearing. If not for her heroic efforts she would have died, and the corruption of your city would have remained in the shadows. What say you?”
“I, apologize, General Tullius. I have no excuse. We will, of course, cooperate fully with your investigation. And I will do everything in my power to make it right with you, my dear,” he said, looking at Nora. “I'm not sure if anything can repair the damage done to you. You have but to ask, and I will make it so.”
“Jarl Igmund,” said Nora in a hoarse voice. “As the general said, you have not kept a close watch on your city. Because of that, many people have suffered from the greed of the Silver-Blood family. If you would make things right with me, make things right with them. Find out who they are, and make reparations for lost property and livelihoods.”
“It will be done,” said Igmund. “And if you ever wish a home in this city, it is yours.”
Nora bowed her head politely, not sure what to say. She wasn't sure she would want to establish a residence in this city, though she might need a base of operations in this region, and Markarth was the logical place for that base.
“I would like to speak with Thane Nora,” said Tullius as they were leaving the Jarl's presence.
Nora wasn't sure she wanted to talk with the general, who had basically been a pain in the ass as far as she was concerned.
“I just wanted to tell you, Thane Nora, that I was wrong about you,” said the general when they were closeted in a small room. “You are a genuine hero. You have done a great service for the Empire here.”
“I know. You don't want to declare for the Empire. Let me say that the Empire must survive. If we ever hope to defeat the Thalmor, we must be powerful enough to stand a chance.”
“You thought we were going to forever put up with them. That we would forever turn our backs on the God, Talos. No. We have to play the game while we build up and get ready for our strike. But back to you. As long as you don't declare for our enemy I am fine with you operating in Imperial territory. In fact, I will give you a letter before I leave here giving you free reign to operate in our Holds, with no restrictions on your movements. You have done us a great service here, and paid a terrible price. And for that, in the name of the Emperor, I thank you.”
* * *
Nora slept through the rest of the day, woke, ate a large meal and took another long bath. She scrubbed and scrubbed, wondering if she would ever feel clean again. She swallowed an abortion potion. Just in case, since according to her estimates she had been fertile at the time of the rape. She slept through the night, tossing and turning from nightmares for half the night, then accepting Eldawyn's touch and going back to a dreamless sleep. Her people took turns watching over her that night, making sure that no one disturbed her. She awoke feeling refreshed of body, if not spirit, and thought that she would talk with the Dibellan priestesses once more before leaving Markarth behind.
“Oh, you poor dear,” said Jolene, when Nora told her story of the last couple of days. Mother Hamal was still working with the new Sybil, and so wasn't available, but another priestess came out of the inner sanctum to see to Nora's needs. “Dibella can help, I think, though time will have to pass before you are fully healed.”
Nora knelt at the altar, recalling how the blessing of the Goddess, the permanent boost to her powers of persuasion, had aided her in seducing Madanach, then murdering him. She still felt some guilt at using her sex appeal to lead a man to his death. That was not what it was for. But the man needed to die before he escaped and led the Forsworn on a path of blood and fire.
Nora prayed for forgiveness for using her feminine wiles to basically kill a man, then asked for a cleansing of her spirit from the horrors of her night at the tender mercies of the guards. She felt a calming presence from the Goddess, and the healing magic from the two priestesses, and when she rose the night was a distant memory. Still there, but on the edge of her awareness, and she felt at peace for the first time since that night.
“Did the Goddess aid you, sister?” asked Jolene, smiling.
“She did, Jolene. And thank you.”
“You are our sister in Dibella now,” said the Priestess. “Whenever you need the touch of the Goddess, you have but to ask.”
The party rode a little way out of the city that morning, then started the series of teleports that took them to the turnoff into the wilderness and the ruin that was their target. Valthume.