So the reason this entry was so heavily delayed is because I wanted to release all 3 parts of Act Seven at once. In the past, I haven't done this. But I felt it was the right decision in this case. Act Seven is pretty long. It just had to be split up. But in how it is structured, I don't think having two weeks gaps fits the pacing. Of course, feel free to read at your own pace. It really doesn't matter to me; and as a whole, it doesn't really affect the story. I just feel like this is the right call.
Previously on The Frost of Ages:
Erinye: I’ll release you once we encounter Gerruck. The Dragonborn.
Erinye: It’s up to you convince him to stop. You’re his only chance. If you fail, we’ll have to take other measures.
Elyvaea: And what happens after that?
Erinye: We don’t know. A soul has never left Null before. As for Gerruck, we’ll have to see. One touch is all it takes. Time is ticking, Elyvaea.
(From: Chapter Five Act Six: Closure)
Malkor: Cass… Castalia. I love you. So much more than I could ever express. Without you, I-
Castalia: I love you too, Malkor. Forever and always.
(From: Chapter Five Act Six: Closure)
Ambarys: We wanted to thank you. You’re giving us the chance to finally make our mark on this city. In the battle to come, if you’d have us, we wish to follow you.
Talen: I’m honored to have you with me in battle.
(From: Chapter Five Act Six: Closure)
Talen: If that isn’t a testament to our coming victory, I don’t know what is. This is our world!
Talen: Let them try to take it!
The prisons beneath the palace are cold and damp. Water trickles from the cracked ceiling, forming partially frozen puddles in the soggy, dirt floor. The hanging candles do little to stop the chill, or even light the area. The cells themselves are cramped and secluded, veiled in shadows the dim light doesn’t reach. Elisif cannot imagine holding anyone down here, even if they are prisoners. Yet here she is with the citizens of Windhelm, hiding for dear life, knowing that their fates now lie with the soldiers above.
The sounds of the battle are faint. It’s impossible to discern anything happening, though some sounds resound as clearly as they are above. Screams of pain and fear occasionally reach their depths. The crumbling of stone and splintering wood echoes in their ears often. But one sound pierces their ears every time: the roar of a dragon.
Jorleif: Please, everyone, let’s remain calm.
Jorleif raises his hands, swaying them up and down to the crowd in a feeble attempt to exude calm. Though few of them seem to be listening, and even fewer are looking at him. The latter he considers a minor blessing. Though he may be able to keep his voice from cracking, he is unable to control his shaking body.
Jorleif: We’re safe here. We just have to-
Another roar shrieks from above, eliciting a frightened squeal from Jorleif. Immediately, the quiet is consumed by fearful muttering. People clutch their head in their hands or crane it up in frightful curiosity.
Arivanya: Oh gods… We’re doomed!
Viola: We’re not safe. We’re trapped. There’s no hope for us…
Elisif peers across the stricken eyes of the people before her. All of them empty. They haven’t just given up hope, they don’t even want it. Clinging to such a thing will only make their deaths more painful. But if they don’t have hope, then they have nothing.
Elisif: You’re wrong. Hope is all we have now. It’s up to use to believe in the men and women above to prevail. Because if we don’t…
Elisif takes a deep breath.
Elisif: …then who will?
It happened in an instant. The dragons hurled through the air, soaring easily over the city walls. Fire spewed from their maws, engulfing the city. Buildings shattered under the force from gouts of fire. Wooden beams and structures crumbed into timber as the flames licked and spread throughout the city. They tore through the people below, sending the defenses into disarray. Screams and cries followed afterwards as the dragons began to land.
And he just watched.
With eyes that are no longer his own, he is forced to spectate the horror. Every movement is out of his control, every command. And for that he is thankful. As tormenting as it is to have to behold this, to actually carry out the slaughter would be agony.
Gerruck: Just give up. You can’t win this!
Gerruck chokes back a sob as another soldier is devoured by a hurl of fire. As he squeezes shut his eyes, a menacing laugh interrupts his plea.
Alduin: Oh, no no no. I want them to fight back.
Gerruck scowls at Alduin. Why can’t he just be left alone?
Gerruck: Shut up.
Gerruck: Just… Just go away! You’ve already won. Just get this over with so it will end.
The dragon huffs.
Alduin: You do not command me. I own you.
Alduin: Now stay silent and behold our victory.
That look in his eye. It’s as if he cannot see. Or rather, doesn’t want to.
He’s resigned himself to this fate, bringing upon an unmistakable despair. By his hand, humanity’s last hope will be slain. The world will end. And he will endure it all, believing he is doing what must be done.
Because that’s the only choice she gave him.
Castalia draws her sword. The blazing fire around her arcs across its surface in a faint red, foreshadowing the blood that will soon coat it.
She’s been trailing Gerruck since the fight began. He’s kept to the sky, watching from above while his dragons carried out the carnage. Either he enjoys the spectacle or is afraid of coming too close. Either way, he’s made a mistake.
Castalia lurches into a sprint as the dragon arcs around. If her analysis was right, Gerruck hasn’t seen her. He won’t expect an attack at this height.
She barrels through the smoke wafting from the flames around her, forcing her eyes to stay open through the budding tears. The dragon is fast, already multiple feet away from the inn. But as it turns, its tail swings wide.
Castalia slams her foot into the roof, just before nearing the edge, and propels herself through the air. She extends her sword outwards, pointing its end directly at the dragon’s tail.
She doesn’t need to kill it. She only has to bring it down.
Her blade cleanly impales the scaled flesh, piercing fully through and out the other end. Castalia cries out as she lurches forward from the impact. She tightens her grip on the handle, putting all her strength into her fingers as her body swings wildly, attempting to yank her off.
An excruciating wail emanates from the dragon as it suddenly careens to the side. Gerruck whips around, confused ire plaguing his wild eyes.
Gerruck: What the-
The dragon flaps its wings heavily in desperate motions, trying to recover its balance. But Castalia does not relent.
She twists and saws her blade through the tail, swinging her body like a pendulum. Each motions causes the beast to tip, but that won’t be enough. She can’t just bring this dragon down anywhere. She needs to make sure it and Gerruck are separated.
She pitches herself forward with a final momentous swing, eliciting another wail as the dragon begins to topple. As they hurl over one of the walls, she twists around, adjusting her momentum so her body is flung to the side. The dragon, trying to adjust its balance based on her pattern, throws itself over from the sudden change.
A blur of motion leaving the dragon’s head catches her eye, soaring down towards the roof below them. Castalia gives her sword one final twist, yanking it free and sending the dragon plummeting into the building behind her.
It bellows a distraught roar as the roof shingles explode under its impact. It tumbles towards the ground and out of her vision, but that’s not where her focus is directed.
She lands on the rooftop, panting. An inferno blazes in front of her, obscuring the man she sent on this path. A path she now must end.
Gerruck steps out of the fire, brows folded in fury. Through a clenched jaw, he growls at her with an outrage only a dragon could produce.
Alduin: How dare you.
Vigilant: Run! Dragon!
Separated throughout the city, the city’s forces fend for themselves in scattered groups. The dragons, circling overhead, scour through the fire and smoke, seeking out smaller groups left behind. Windhelm’s defenses were broken in an instant, and there was still the daedra to contend with.
But that does not mean they’ve given up.
Taeyva and Torund scramble through the city, locating lost soldiers by their screams or the dragons descending upon them. As they barrel past the fleeing men, Taeyva readies her magic, taking the lead. Her eyes lock onto the dragon’s as it opens a gaping jaw swelling with a growing ball of fire.
Taeyva: Torund! Behind me!
The dragon roars out, spewing the ball of fire into a plume of scorching flame. Taeyva charges towards it and plants her feet into the snow. Just as the heat begins to sear her skin, she extends her hand, projecting a shimmering ward.
The blast slams into the ward, threatening to send her flying backwards. Taeyva grits her teeth, keeping her arm extended as the heat billows around the edges of the ward.
Taeyva: Go! Now!
Torund surges past her, ducking under the flames. The dragon redirects its gaze, eyes flaring and reflecting a flickering red. Too late.
Baum crashes in from the side, slamming the massive branch in his hand into the dragon’s skull. The blow sends the beast reeling. It bellows out a dismayed screech as it topples over.
Talen charges behind Baum, leading the dark elves with him.
The dragon completely collapses on its side, screaming in fury as flames once again begin to gather in it’s open mouth. Taeyva quickly swirls her hands, conjuring a ward directly in front of the dragon’s head.
Taeyva: It can’t breathe! Now’s your chance!
They waste no time piling onto the dragon. It writhes and lashes out in frenzied attacks with its wings and tail, unable to make a serious impact in its position.
Belyn: Die, dragon!
Talen: Take this!
They tear into the beast as it flails desperately to fend them off. Its cries are drowned out by their savage cheers…
…until a final cleave cuts them off.
Arrows screech through the air, whizzing through the narrow slits of the bridge’s outer gate. Clangs and clatters echo into the dark night as they shatter against daedric shields.
Erinye commands her army forward, through the constant volley soaring through the portcullis.
Erinye: Get that gate open! Now!
A few lucky arrows have already slowed them enough. The daedra dead at the gate mean nothing to her. It’s the time their death is costing that is thinning her patience.
Two more drop their shields and rush towards the portcullis. They squat down, gripping the heavy, metal barrier from below, and begin to heave it up , slowly.
Stormcloak: They’re opening the gate!
Near the end of the bridge, a small force of Stormcloaks loose arrow after arrow at the army storming Windhelm.
It wasn’t until the dragons fully invaded the city that they could take this position, giving Erinye and her forces ample time to approach. And as their forces were scattered from the initial attack, few were able to rally at the bridge garrison.
Galmar: Shoot the two at the front! Don’t let them open the gate!
Galmar barks out the order with slim hope. The night makes aiming impossible and even if they could reliably hit the daedra, their armor is impossible to pierce.
At the rear, Ulfric watches their fate unfold. Splintering wood and stricken steel reverberates louder than any cries of anguish or death. And now the groaning shriek of the lifting gate pierces above them all.
Ulfric: Damn it.
Erinye: Move it! To the city!
One of the daedra manages to raise the gate, sanding firm as arrows bounce off her helmet. The rest of the army capitalizes on the opening, raising their shields in front of them and ducking through.
His heart sinks as glowing red armor floods onto the bridge. Not even a thousand arrows could stop them now.
He turns to face his Jarl.
Galmar: Ulfric… It’s time. We don’t have a choice now.
He forces his own composure, though his heart is hammering. Ulfric stiffens, diverting his gaze, deep in thought.
Galmar: Call the retreat, Jarl Ulfric. I won’t ask these men to do this and we need you to lead when this is over. It’s been an honor.
Galmar swallows his rising trepidation, awaiting Ulfric’s response. Ulfric meets his stare, nodding resolutely, though the sorrow in his eyes is unmistakable.
Ulfric: It’s been an honor, Galmar.
With a final nod, they turn away. Ulfric immediately falls back, hollering for his troops to do the same.
Ulfric: Fall back! Back to the city!
Ulfric: We’ve held the bridge long enough! Move!
The stormcloaks begin their retreat, turning and firing blindly as they do. But as they flee back to the city, Galmar marches forward.
Ulfric halts before the gate, watching the approaching daedra with bated breath. He will not run ahead of his troops. He will stand behind them, even now.
For years he has held this city. It is his home, his kingdom. He will do anything to defend it.
If it were up to him, he’d has given his life in that pursuit long ago. But he will never be given the chance. Too many support him, revere him. They’d sooner give their own lives than to let him suffer. Ulfric cannot say he isn’t thankful, but thankful isn’t what he feels when a brother in arms dies.
But the luxury of sorrow is one he cannot afford right now. He will give his tears the chance to stain his cheeks upon the battle’s end.
For it has only just begun.
Galmar: You’ll never take this city.
Galmar: Die, daedra.
An inferno of shrapnel and fire shatters the center of the bridge as an explosion rips through the daedric forces. The inferno engulfs the air in a sweltering heat, melting and burning all caught in the blast.
Erinye watches her slaughtered troops vault through the sky in silence as the daedra behind her recoil in shock.
Ulfric breathes heavily as the last of the stormcloaks scramble past him into the city. He doesn’t know if this will stop them, but it will certainly slow-
Erinye: Ha ha ha!
A jeering laugh echoes beyond the flames. As they begin to vanish, Ulfric’s eyes widen.
Massive stones displaced by the explosion float in the air, shifting with a blue glow. He can barely make out the purple skinned daedra standing on the edge of the broken bridge, moving her hand in slow, navigated motions. As she does, the stones begin to link together, spanning the chasm.
Erinye: Nice try.
Erinye: But you won’t slow me down any more.
Stormcloak: It’s on the ground! Kill it! Quick!
Gerruck’s former mount plunges off the roof and into the mercy of the soldiers below. It roars in retaliation as they descend on it, weapons drawn and swinging.
Anguished wails screech into the sky as the dragon is bludgeoned by their unrelenting attacks. Loud enough to reverberate across the city, but not for Castalia to hear it. Her focus is transfixed on another.
Gerruck stands before her a different man than when she first encountered him. Though she can hardly consider the menace smirking at her a man. He is just a shell, harboring nothing but malice and destruction.
He faces her, casually propping his sword over his shoulder. The fury be wore seconds ago has already been replaced.
Alduin: Heh… He recognizes you. I can feel his wrath festering. Though I can’t say I do.
Castalia reaffirms her grip on her sword, taking slow, methodical breaths to ease her escalating heartbeat. Gerruck still resides within, but that won’t make this any easier. It will only make killing her more tempting.
She can’t blame him for it. It may not be entirely her fault he’s on this path, but her role in delivering him to this twisted fate can’t be ignored. She won’t pretend that the guilt doesn’t gnaw at her. But she does not regret her decisions.
Castalia: I’m sure he does. I’ve wronged the man you stole. It’s time I set him free.
Gerruck chuckles. He brings his sword down, jabbing it’s tip into the rooftop. The bricks crack under the impact.
Alduin: Free? Ha! You mean kill, girl.
Castalia gulps. There’s no chance she’ll be able to stall him for long, or even at all. She can see his grip tighten around the blade as his eyes narrow. He wants a fight; one she won’t be able to contend in for very long. Where is Erinye?
Castalia: Yes. You both have done your job already. I have nothing to gain by keeping you alive now.
She squares off before him, angling her blade in his direction. His sinister smiles stretches further as he adopts a stance of his own, spreading his legs wide and raising his sword above his head, pointed directly at her.
Alduin: So eager for death. Good.
Alduin: Prepare yourself, girl. I’m not a foe to be underestimated.
Castalia holds firm. Engaging on him first is a death wish. Her only chance is to counter whatever he throws at her. The distance separating them should give her enough time to-
Castalia gasps as Gerruck suddenly vanishes in a blur. The flames previously around him lash in her direction, sucked forward by a sudden gust of wind. She quickly angles her sword in front of her as the blur surges in her direction, blindly hoping to parry whatever hit is coming her way.
She has no time to discern where he will strike. But he also doesn’t have time to alter direction.
Their blades clash with a shrill clang as Gerruck materializes before her, swinging with now recognizable speed. His sword scrapes against hers, barely avoiding her head. In the instant, she catches his lips pursing to formulate another shout.
Castalia narrowly ducks to the side as a scalding fire erupts from his mouth. The heat sears her back, but the flames don’t reach her flesh.
Immobilized during the shout, Gerruck is unable to stop her scrambling around him. Castalia ducks under his blade, dashing behind him. She twirls around, throwing her whole weight behind the swing of her blade.
Her blade strikes steel. Holding his sword above his shoulder, Gerruck parries the blow, lurching his body around simultaneously.
Castalia staggers backwards to avoid him, taking a faulty step back. As she tries to regain her balance, Gerruck fully flips around to face her, already mid shout.
Alduin: Fus! Ro! Dah!
The magical force collides into Castalia, launching her backwards into the air. She screams out from the impact, barely louder than the sound of her snapping ribs.
A chimney stops her from tumbling over the edge as she slams into it, her back taking the brunt of the blow. She collapses onto the ledge around it as the world is drowned out by an alarming ringing.
She groans, forcing her eyes open to see the roof tilt and sway in a nauseating blur. The ringing slowly recedes as a blaring war cry forces her to glance up with a gasp.
Pinned between him and the chimney, Castalia frantically tries to crawl to the side. The flash of his sword about to descend spurs her into desperation as her heartbeat escalates, until a purple sheen arcs across its surface.
A massive portal suddenly pulses into existence behind Gerruck. He falters from the surprise, halting the descent of his blade.
Erinye: You’re mine!
Castalia’s heart skips a beat as she watches Erinye plunge her spear towards their adversary. In the instant, she scrambles to her feet just as Gerruck hollers another shout.
Moments before the spear puncture’s him, Gerruck’s body shifts into transparency. Erinye’s eyes widen as her blow passes cleanly through him, unhindered.
She recoils, yanking her spear away as Gerruck hurtles backwards in another sudden burst of speed.
He skids to the opposite edge of the roof. The edge of his blade scrapes against the brick roof with a flurry of sparks. As he returns to physical form, a smirk creeps over his face.
Alduin: Heh… Surely that wasn’t your whole plan?
Castalia and Erinye take positions beside one another. Erinye curls a fist, narrowing her eyes in ire as Castalia pants in exhaustion and shock.
Castalia: Couldn’t have waited any longer, could you?
Erinye: Shut up. You’re the ones who held me back.
Castalia rolls her eyes.
Castalia: Whatever. The soul gem. You have it?
Erinye produces the gem containing Elyvaea's soul, dropping it into Castalia’s open palm without taking her eyes off Gerruck.
Erinye: This better work.
Castalia glances at the soul gem. She can see the soul swirling inside with frantic spurts of light.
Castalia: It better.
Alduin: You done? That gem won’t work on me you know. I’m-
Castalia flicks her wrist, activating the gem. The soul inside shifts into the air, twirling up and out of it’s confines, manifesting into the shape of an elven girl.
Elyvaea appears before them, glowing with a bright, violet hue. She glares silently at Castalia, who fails who utter a response, before facing the man before her.
She steps forward, seemingly unhindered scene unfolding before her.
Elyvaea: Gerruck. I know you’re in there.
She takes another cautious step as Gerruck completely freezes. His arms fall to his side as his jaw hangs open, stricken.
Gerruck: I… How…
As Gerrck begins to return, Erinye slowly skirts towards him, along the roof’s edge. She won’t dare make a sudden movement until close enough to deliver a certain strike. Any wrong move could shatter whatever concentration the Gerruck’s soul is maintaining.
Elyvaea: My love, this is wrong. I know you’re furious, but don’t let this be your legacy.
Elyvaea: Fight this! Take back control!
Elyvaea: I know you can-
His eyes snap to Erinye.
Alduin: I see you.
Erinye gasps at the sudden recognition.
Alduin: Fos! Ro! Dah!
Erinye isn’t given the chance to take another step as the force of the shout crashes into her, hurling her over the side of the building.
Castalia dives into the sprint, charging towards Gerruck while his back is turned. There’s no way he won’t see her coming. She has to close the distance before he can face her.
She leaps into the air, arcing her sword over her head in a desperate attack.
A panicked Elyvaea cries out from behind her, snapping Gerruck’s attention back.
Elyvaea: Gerruck! No!
Alduin: Why you-
Alduin: Fus! Ro! Dah!
Castalia is sent soaring into the air by the blast. She screams out in agony as the soul gem is torn from her grip, pulling Elyvaea back into it as it tumbles somewhere in the city.
Gerruck clutches his head in trembling hands, fury festering between the two souls now battling inside.
?: Fuck! You have no control here!
?: No! No! Gaaaaaaaaaaaaah!
To be continued in part 2…