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  1. Solitude was as advertised. Not as large as the pre-war cities of Earth, of course. The farms started twenty miles out, on both sides of the road, interspersed with tracks of virgin forest. The stables were the largest so far, with room for a hundred horses. Nora stabled the horses, hired some guards, and took a full backpack with her, just like her friends. Their Khajiit friends were set up near the stables, doing a brisk business, and Nora went to talk with them before entering the city. “That is an interesting proposition, friend Nora,” said Ri'Jaro, his cat face creased in a smile. “This cat would like that, if Dra'zira agrees.” “It will take some planning,” said the female Khajiit, thinking. “And getting with some contacts to insure the shipment of the spices. And of course we will need a building, outside of the city, but close enough to draw customers. You really think our food will be popular?” “It was some of the best I've ever had the pleasure of putting into my mouth,” said Nora with a smile. “Look for some land you can build on, and I will contact you in a couple of days. But start out with these.” Nora handed them several hundred septims and a handful of gems. “This too much, friend Nora,” said Ri'jaro. “What do you think you can get for the gems?” asked Nora, sure that several hundred septims was not the too much they were protesting about. “Twenty thousand septims. Maybe thirty,” said the sharp eyed trade master. “Take some back.” “Nope. Get what you can for them and arrange for the property, then some building supplies. Any left over can go to operating expenses.” “And then?” “And then we're partners. I can't let you take all the risk for my idea, after all.” That taken care of they walked through the gate to the outer works of the city. The guards gave them suspicious looks but didn't try to stop them. Nora was captivated by the city as soon as she was within. Flowers everywhere, tinkling fountains, stone buildings of superior construction reaching two or three stories into the air. People everywhere. Some soldiers, Imperials, Hold guards and mercenaries. But mostly townspeople. Men in everything from noble clothes to the tunics of workers. The women in cheap dresses and expensive gowns. Jewelry everywhere, some looking as if they cost a worker’s wage for a year, based on what the Khajiit had told her about the gems she had given them. A few beggars, mostly men who appeared to have war injuries. Nora reached into her belt purse and made sure that every one she came across got a couple septims. She knew she couldn't drag all of them from poverty, but if they could get a good meal. “You know that most of them are just going to buy a drink, right?” asked Sofia, walking close to Nora. “Maybe. I can't make them do what I want. But I can at least give them a little help. After that it’s up to them.” The sights and sounds of the city were captivating. Hawkers calling out their wares. People talking excitedly about something or other. And as far as she could see, no Thalmor. She was sure they were there, somewhere, but as long as they were out of sight she could forget about them. “How many people?” she asked Sofia. The woman thought for a moment, then looked at her. “A hundred thousand. Maybe more. The largest city in Skyrim, and one of the larger habitations on Tamriel. The Imperial City and maybe the capital of the Isles are the only cities larger.” Nora whistled. That was over twice as many people as lived in the Commonwealth, all crammed into this large tract of land. She didn't see how they fed them all, unless there many more farms than she had seen on the way in. After a couple of miles they came to another gate, this closed and manned by Hold guards. Nora looked them over, wondering if they would stop them from entering the city, or ask for a toll. The guards merely nodded at them, and one spoke. “You're just in time. They're about to take the bastards head off.” That news didn't excite Nora, who really didn't enjoy watching executions. But it seemed to excite some of her companions who pulled her through the gate in their eagerness to watch some poor fool die. The man to be executed stood in restraints on a platform at the end of the large square, a hulking figure in executioner's garb standing near, holding a large ax that had been made for one purpose. A young girl at the back of the crowd was yelling something to an adult. “They can't hurt uncle Roggvir. Tell them he didn't do it.” “Svari,” said the adult, “you need to go home. Go home and stay there until your mother comes.” Valdimar pushed forward, making space for the women to get closer. Nora wasn't sure she wanted to get closer, but she accompanied her friend, getting to the front rank of the observers behind the big Nord warrior. An Imperial warrior in fancy armor started speaking. “Roggvir. You helped Ulfric Stormcloak escape this city after he murdered High King Torygg. By opening that gate for Ulfric you betrayed the people of Solitude.” A man who had helped the murderer of a king escape. Nora didn't wonder that they were having a public execution after such a deed. “Traitor,” yelled people from the crowd. “He doesn't deserve to speak,” yelled someone behind Nora. “There was no murder!” shouted the condemned man. “Ulfric challenged Torygg. He beat the High King in fair combat.” “Liar,” shouted a pretty Altmer woman in fine clothing near the front. “Such is our way! Such is the ancient custom of Skyrim, and all Nords!” The crowd booed, really getting into the spirit of the thing, and Nora felt her stomach turning. She had executed people in the past by her own hand, and had ordered such, but she had never drawn it out like this. It seemed to height of cruelty. “Guard,” said the Imperial officer. “Prepare the prisoner.” “I don't need your help,” said the man called Roggvir. He knelt before the block. “Very well, Roggvir” said the Imperial. “Bow your head.” The man complied, something Nora wasn't sure she would have been able to do. She thought she would be crying, screaming, fighting with her last breath. But this man had accepted his fate. “On this day, I go to Sovngarde.” With a nod from the officer the ax came down in a strong swing, the headsman putting everything into the blow. The head fell to the ground, the neck spurted blood, and the body spasmed. The captain put a foot on Roggvir's body and pushed it to the ground. The Altmer woman looked over at Nora with a savage expression on her face. “His death was too slow. They should have dragged it out, after what he had done.” “Didn't he say Ulfric had killed the king in fair combat?” asked Sofia, frowning. “Ulfric shouted Torygg to death with the voice,” said the Altmer, eyes blazing with anger. “Tore him apart without a chance to defend himself.” Nora used the voice, often, but to attack a man in his own home did seem beyond the pale. And Ulfric was a powerful practitioner of the voice. Maybe more powerful than her? “And if you’re thinking of attending to the Jarl in the palace, you might want to rethink that outfit.” “What's wrong with my outfit?” asked Nora, her pride bowing her up. She was dressed for travel and battle. Of course she didn't look like a common mercenary, with her magical jewelry and the artifact hanging at her side. “Nothing, if you're intending on fighting a battle through the halls of the Blue Palace. If you're expecting to make an impression with the Jarl, you need to dress the part” The Altmer stopped talking for a moment, thinking. “Tell you what. If you do go to the Blue Palace, stop by Radiant Raiment. I'll give you a fine set of clothes to wear before the Jarl, as long as you tell her where you got it. I'll pay you for the advertisement, and let you keep the clothing. I think we have something that will enhance your great beauty, and really bring out those eyes.” “First you insult me, then you compliment me on my beauty. Do you always talk to people you meet on the street like this?” “Just telling the truth on both counts,” said the elf, giving Nora another look over. “You obviously are a great beauty when you clean up. And you carry yourself like a noble, so the Blue Palace seemed like a destination. Now, the day's fun is over, and I need to get back to my shop.” The elf turned and walked off, fading into the crowd. She had been pretty, but Nora wasn't sure she wanted to shop at her place of business. “What say we visit that inn over there,” said Eldawyn, pointing toward a large stone building with a hanging sign in front. “The Winking Skeever,” said Sofia in a quiet voice. “Surely they're forgotten about me by now.” “Then let's go,” said Nora, leading the way. She was anxious to see what kind of trouble her friend had gotten into. It couldn't be that bad, could it, and Nora was willing to pay if she had an unpaid bill or damages to remunerate. The tavern was large, a room that could hold a hundred, with at least thirty tables. There were some private rooms off the side that could hold more. An innkeep tended the bar, and some children were playing through the common room. A bard was playing a lute and singing, her fine voice carrying through the room despite the off-key people trying to carry the tune with her. “We need four rooms for the next couple of days,” she told the inn keep. “As well as meals and drink.” “I have three common rooms, two beds each,” said the inn keeper. “I'm afraid if you want more, you will have to rent the Thane's suite.” “How much?” “Thirty a day for the common rooms. A hundred for the Thane's room.” That was ten more for the common rooms than she had paid in any other city, and the Thane's room was way more expensive than what she was used to. She was tempted to pull out her Thane's necklace from Whiterun and see if that would give her a discount. Nora dismissed that idea, since the news had to be spreading that there was a Dragonborn Thane from Whiterun, and these people were probably suspicious of people shouting. “I'll take them,” she said. “And I want some bathes. After we clean up we will be sitting in the common room. You can serve us meals and drinks at that time.” “Yes, my Lady,” said the innkeep, obviously guessing that Nora was a person of means. After her bath and changing into a casual dress, Nora got a good seat in front of the bard. The bard was a lovely woman, Nora thought a Breton, and she played her lute with nimble fingers while regaling the room with a song. Nora had heard the songs before, favorites of Skyrim played in every tavern. She had memorized the words with her almost perfect memory, and after a couple of drinks in her she started singing along. She sang Ragnar the Red in her fine soprano, switching to contralto for When the Dragonborn Comes. She was proud of her range, and had sung many times with Magnolia at the Third Rail in Goodneighbor. The food was delivered, beef and potatoes with a side of vegetables. Nora had ordered two meals for herself, starving and ready to feed her metabolism. The waitress looked at her funny, a thin woman who couldn't possibly eat so much food. Nora smiled at her and tucked in, shoveling food into her mouth until she felt full, then eating some desert of tasty cake. She noticed a shadow as someone approached her table and looked up. To see the smiling face of the bard. The musician was quite fetching, with golden eyes and long wheat colored hair, and a whimsical smile that could melt any heart. “Can I help you?” “Can I have a seat?” “Of course. And you're beautiful. I have to tell you that.” “Thanks,” said the bard. “But not to lead you on, I'm not really into women.” “Fair enough. And do you have a name?” “Lisette,” said the blond, holding out a hand. Nora took it and gave it a gentle shake. She thought about kissing the back of the delicate hand, but the woman had told her outright that she wasn't into women, so Nora wasn't going to push her. “You have a beautiful voice,” said Lisette, her smile broadening. “So fine. And I've never heard such range. Have you ever thought of becoming a bard?” “Not really, though I have sung in clubs.” “Clubs? Like the Dark Elf corner clubs.” “Venues a long way from here,” said Nora, shaking her head. “And no, I've never thought of becoming a bard.” “You should consider it. I'm sure the college here would accept you. You would make a wonderful performer, with your beauty. And those eyes.” “I'll consider it. So, you are a student at the college.” “A graduate. Though I still have a patron.” The way the woman said that let Nora think that a patron was something she really didn't want. She thought that patrons were a good thing, allowing artists to work on their craft without starving. Maybe there was more to it than that, and she thought it was another thing she might look into when she had the time. “You're an adventurer, then?” “You might say that.” “Then maybe someday I will be singing songs about you.” With that the bard left, picking up a drum and starting a rhythm that she sung to. “You’ve mistaken me for someone else,” shouted a familiar voice, and Nora turned to see Sofia being accosted by a trio of men, standing over her table in a menacing manner. Recorder looked like she wanted to hide under the table, and Sofia was looking quite uncomfortable. “You owe us, whore,” shouted one of the men. Nora was on her feet in an instant, reaching over and grabbing one of the men by a shoulder and spinning him around. “My friend says that she owes you nothing, so leave her alone.” “Are you another whore?” asked one of the other men. Nora glared at him with ice blue eyes, the color of anger, her hand on the hilt of Dawnbreaker. “I beg your pardon.” “Your friend owes us, and we expect payment.” “What did you do?” she asked Sofia, sure that she would not like the answer. “I let them buy me drinks,” she said in a quiet voice. “And took some money for, favors promised. But I'm not a whore, so I left.” No, thought Nora, frowning at her friend. You're not a whore. Just a tease and a thief. “Look, I'll pay you what she owes you, if you'll just go away.” “But she owes us more than money. And we expect payment.” “Here, take this,” said Nora, holding out a gem that could probably buy some houses in the city. “I think we should take it, Eric,” said one of the men. “No. It's a matter of pride. This bitch promised us pussy, and I mean to have it.” “You gentlemen need to leave,” growled the innkeep, approaching with a large cudgel in hand. Valdimar was also there, hands free but balled into fists. “We won't forget this,” said the man called Eric, snatching the gem off the table and storming out. “Any more indiscretions I need to worry about?” asked Nora, turning an angry look on her friend. “Maybe a couple,” admitted Sofia, looking down. “I don't think there were any more in this city, though.” Nora huffed. Hell, she had sold her body in the past, though not since she had become successful in the Commonwealth. Right now she doubted she would ever be forced to again. It was good money, but oh so degrading. She had noticed women in tavern clothes chatting up men through the evening, going off with them for some time then coming back to chat up some more. She couldn't blame Sofia, or anyone, prostituting herself to survive. They had to eat. But taking the money and sneaking off. That was no more than theft. “I've got you out of this now, but don't expect me to always be there to bail you out.” Sofia nodded, still looking down and refusing the meet Nora's eyes. Nora huffed again and went back to her table, raising a hand to attract the attention of a serving wench, getting another bottle of wine sent to her table. She looked over to see Eldawyn talking with a distinguished and handsome Altmer man in fine clothes. She said something and the man laughed, and Nora thought she was doing well with the man. Then her friend said something and looked her way, and the man turned to give Nora a good look over. Nora felt herself tingling under the gaze of the gorgeous Altmer man, his intense green eyes locking with hers. She smiled and nodded. The two elves got up and walked her way. Both got into the seats on either side, and Nora found the man even better looking close up. “This is Auryen Morellus,” said Eldawyn. “The proprietor of the Dragonborn Museum here in Solitude.” “Welcome, Auryen,” said Nora, reaching out a hand to shake. “And I am..” “Nora Jane Adams,” said the man, taking her hand, raising it and brushing his lips across its back. “Eldawyn here has told me so much about you. You are such a beauty. And those eyes. Captivating.” Nora could feel her juices already flowing. She had yet to try an Altmer man, and this appeared to be a romantic. There was only one thing to clear up. “Are you and Elda friends?” she asked the man. “Oh yes. going way back. We, have enjoyed many delicious moments together. And we share views on the politics of the Isles.” Which answered Nora's question. This man was anti Thalmor like her friend. He will do, she thought with a chuckle. Considering what Elda had told her about Altmer sex practices, and the fact that Edlawyn kept going back for return engagements, she thought he would more than do. “What is your Museum about?” she asked, fascinated by everything this man could say. He had an intoxicating scent, and his green eyes shone with humor. “The Dragonborn, my dear. You know there have been seven of them in the history of Tamriel. One of them was the Emperor, Tiber Septim.” “Fascinating,” said Nora, this time taking the man's hand and stroking her thumb across it. Auryen took in a quick breath, and Nora knew they would soon be in bed. “And what has Elda said about me?” “Only that you are a most special person, though she didn't go into detail.” His voice fell to a whisper. “And that you are a most accomplished lover.” “Then why don't we retire to my room so we can establish my bonafides,” she said. “So forward. How refreshing.” “Life is short, and we need to pursue pleasure when its available. Don't you agree?” They went up the two flights of stairs, the Altmer holding Nora's arm in the crook of his. They hurried into the room and the clothes came off. Nora stared at the man under the candlelight. His body was thin but muscular, hairless as all Altmer, just a small patch of pubic hair. And hanging between his legs was a long cock that was starting to twitch to erection. Nora felt herself getting wetter, and she knew that she was ready. But Auryen had other ideas, and starting kissing her passionately, working his way down her body, stopping some minutes on her breasts, then continuing down. Nora fell back on the bed, pulling Auryen down with her. The man hissed in surprise. “So strong. And so lovely.” The man adjusted his position until they were laying in a sixty-nine position, Auryen lapping at her labia with a long and nimble tongue while she took the elf's cock in her mouth. He tasted so good, and his erection firmed up immediately. She didn't think he was the largest she had ever had, but he was close enough. “What about me?” complained Eldawyn after the two had been going at it for some minutes. Nora shifted again, and joined Elda in licking and kissing the body of the elf, working their way down until they had reached his pleasure center. Nora again took him into her mouth, quite the task considering his size. Eldawyn addressed his testicles, and the male Altmer groaned in pleasure. They switched places, Nora licking the balls while Eldawyn hummed around his cock. “Let me get him ready for you,” said Eldawyn, smiling at her friend. “He's not ready?” asked Nora in shock. “Almost,” said Elda, climbing onto the man and mounting him, sliding down until Auryen's cock was buried in her pussy. “Why don't you take the other end.” “Can I?” she asked the man who was groaning in pleasure. “Be my guest,” he said. “I've been wanting to taste more of you.” Nora climbed onto his face, lowering her pussy to his waiting lips, moaning in pleasure as he started licking and biting her sex. It didn't take her long to cum, and the man moaned his appreciation. “You're turn,” said Elda, a rapturous smile on her face. “Has he cum yet?” asked Nora, who hadn't noted that kind of response. “No. Be my guest.” So Nora mounted him in place of her friend, placing the cock at her entrance and sliding down, slowly. She gasped at the size, but continued to let herself down, slowly, so slowly. “You are so tight,” gasped the man, just before Elda mounted his face. “She gets that a lot,” said Eldawyn with a laugh that transitioned into a moan. “Don't worry,” she said through her gasps. “She can take it.” Nora started moving up and down, savoring the cock, feeling her pleasure rise. Soon she was moving up and down in a frenzy and an orgasm soon took over. She shook, spasmed, and fell limp onto the man, who continued thrusting into her. She felt him swell, and clamped her vagina onto him, increasing the friction. The man screamed his orgasm into Eldawyn's vagina, setting her off, then erupted into Nora's pussy. It was an amazing amount of cum, and Nora found herself climaxing again. The next couple of hours went by in an ecstatic haze. They switched positions, both of them taking the man's cock, then pleasured by his mouth., Nora tried rear entry with him, missionary, then rode him into another couple of orgasms. She couldn't remember how many orgasms she had, they stretched into an endless wave of pleasure. The cries of Eldawyn set her off several times. And Auryen seemed to be enjoying himself. Finally they collapsed on the bed, a heap of intertwined arms and legs. Nora couldn't remember when she had felt so much pleasure. In fact, she wasn't sure she ever had, and resolved, just before she passed out, to book a return engagement with these two. She woke up some hours later, a short sharp cry on the edge of her awareness. Her sensitive ears told her it had been a woman's cry, and not one of pleasure. More like someone in distress. Sofia was her first thought, and despite the fatigue and soreness of lovemaking she vaulted out of bed, grabbed the sheathed Dawnbreaker, and went through her door, naked. Auryen had not been in the bed, and Eldawyn was struggling awake, so Nora ran down the stairs on her own. People had come out of rooms, taken one look at a naked woman with sheathed sword in hand, and retreated back to their chambers. She stopped at the door and listened, not wanting to make a mistake, and heard a muffled cry. She tried the door, found it locked, and sent a hard foot sole into the barrier, shattering the lock and flinging it open. There were three men in the room, the trio that had accosted Sofia earlier. Recorder was laying on the bed, hands and feet tied, a gag in her mouth. The three men were working on Sofia, two holding her legs open, one thrusting into her while calling her names. The two holding her legs turned in a panic, letting go of Sofia's limbs, while the man currently raping her was too caught up in the act to notice. “You bastards,” yelled Nora, stepping forward and drawing the glowing sword. Nora loved sex but drew the line at rape. It was not the giving and receiving of pleasure. No, it was an attack, meant to disgrace the victim more than to gain pleasure in the assault. Her mind flashed back to her being raped by Raiders when she had first exited the vault. The men stepped back, the rapist finally noticing that things had changed and a getting up from between Sofia's legs. Nora decide to kill him first, her anger overriding her reason. “Nora, don't,” yelled Eldawyn, grabbing onto her sword arm. Nora started to shrug her off, but the elf hung on tight. “If you kill them there will be a bounty. Possibly jail time in the Hold prison.” That last penetrated, and Nora shoved the sword back into its sheath and tossed it aside. “The guards won't gainsay me a good beating, will they?” Nora didn't care if they did or not. She needed to punish these less than men. She stepped forward, fists up. The man who had been raping her friend drew a short blade and moved at her. It was obvious these men, who had surprised and overpowered two women, didn't think these would cause any more of a problem. Nora jumped into the air, the sole of her right foot striking the face of the man in the center. He flew back over the bed and into a wall, his nose gushing blood. She landed on the bed and spun, her right foot coming around to hit another man in the head, knocking him aside. The third tried to bolt for the door and overrun Eldawyn. The elf sent a stream of fire into him, not enough to kill, but enough to turn his back. Nora grabbed that man and spun him around, planting a fist into his stomach and bending him over, then punching an uppercut into his chin. She could feel the jaw shatter, and she clubbed him on the side of the head to send him down. Marching over to the man who had been raping Sofia she jerked him up, then started repeatedly punching him in the face. “Mercy,” he mumbled through shattered teeth. “Like the mercy you were giving my friend. I'll show you mercy.” Nora didn't need a sword to kill this beast. In fact, it would be more satisfying if she killed him with her hands. “Stop,” yelled out a male voice, and a hand grabbed her arm before she could strike, starting to spin her around. Nora went with the spin and put her hands on the chest of the armored man, shoving him hard, through the door and into the hall. “Stop, woman,” yelled out another man, keeping his shield between himself and Nora. “We know what happened here, and you will be in no trouble if you stop now. So please, stop, so we won't have to haul you into jail as well.” Nora let out a breath and said a calming mantra, diffusing her killing rage. She stared over at the rapists, then her friends. Elda was untying Recorder, then clasping her in a hug. Sofia was crying on the bed, unwilling or unable to move. And the guards were crowding into the room, grabbing the rapists and applying restraints. “Jarl Elisif does not stand for rape,” said the guard captain, spitting into the face of one of the criminals. “You will be spending a good long time in jail.” “Just get us away from that demon,” hissed one of the men through broken teeth. “If you can keep her away from me I will thank you.” “I should let her work you over,” said the captain. “But I like my position.” The captain turned on Nora, his eyes looking over her nakedness. “Perhaps you should get dressed, my Lady. We will take care of these animals, and let you take care of your friends. And I have to say, I have never seen a woman beat a man so hard, much less three of them.” The innkeep showed up, apologizing profusely. Nora thought about asking him for a discount, but decided that wasn't called for at the time. “Would you like for me to bring you some clothes?” asked the innkeeper. “No. I'll take my friends up to my room and get dressed there. Come on, Sofia,” she said gently, helping the woman up and to a sitting position. “Come with me to my room.” Sofia nodded and put her feet on the floor, then got unsteadily to her feet. Nora could see that Sofia had been hit, and she sent some healing magic into her face. Then got the spellsword's arm around her shoulders and helped her to walk out of the room. “Bring Elesia,” said Nora, nodding toward Recorder. “I'm fine, Dragonborn. I mean Nora. They weren't after me, and as soon as I was trussed up they left me alone.” “Come up to my room anyway,” said Nora with a smile. “I don't want you to be alone.” She turned and helped Sofia into the hall, watching as the innkeep moved his lips in a silent word. Dragonborn, she saw, and while she couldn't get mad at the shocked Elesia, she thought that too much information had been shared this night. Nora cuddled with Sofia when she had her in bed. Sofia tried to push her off, but Nora pulled her in tight, holding on and letting her friend cry in her arms. I don't know what you did to deserve such treatment, Sofia, thought Nora, feeling the bed move as Eldawyn and Elesia crawled on. Deserved or not, and rape is never deserved, I will be here for your healing. Nora had healed the woman's physical injuries. But there was no magic to heal the mental. She would have to depend on the skills she had developed as a lawyer and a leader, and help Sofia to become her old self. And if Sofia learned to not manipulate people in the bargain, so much the better.
  2. The party approached the temple with the dawn, appropriate when Nora thought about it. There were steps leading up and a roaring fire that radiated heat, but no one around to tend to it. Nora could hear the faint singing of a Word Wall and headed in that direction. She found the curved wall out in the open, and on approach the word burned into her mind. Su was the word, meaning air, and she understood that this was shout that would speed her arms in combat. While that seemed like a useful power for most people to have, she wasn't sure what it would do for her. Since she only had one dragon soul, and enjoyed the energy boost they gave her, she let the shout remain unlocked for now. And then it was time to go up the steps to the huge statue. Nora wasn't sure what to make of the statue. It was of a robed woman, but the sides of the robe resembled wings. She didn't think it was evil. She felt evil in the area, but it wasn't coming from the figure. “What am I supposed to do?” she asked Eldawyn, confused. “I think you need to put the beacon in that holder at the base, between the two smaller statues.” Nora thought her friend correct, then she knew it as voice rang out, the same she had heard when she had picked up the beacon. “Look at my temple, lying in ruins. So much for the constancy of mortals, their crafts and their hearts. If they love me not, how can my love reach them? Restore to me my beacon, that I might guide you toward your destiny.” She placed the beacon on the platform between the two robed figures facing each other. It glowed brightly, like the sun, and rose into the air. Oh shit, she thought as her feet left the ground and she quickly rose into the air, until the statue was small below her, and the entire kingdom of Skyrim stretched before her view. The air was cold and thin, and she realized that this wasn't a vision, while hoping the Prince didn't drop her to her death. “It is time for my splendor to return to Skyrim. But the token of my truth lies buried in the ruins of my once great temple, now tainted by a profane darkness skittering within. The Necromancer Malkoran defiles my shrine with vile corruptions, trapping lost souls left in the wake of this war to do his bidding. Worse still, he uses the power stored within my own token to fuel his foul deeds. I have brought you here, mortal, to be my champion. You will enter my temple, retrieve my artifact, and destroy the defiler. Guide my light through the temple to open the inner sanctum and destroy the defiler.” Nora felt herself falling, but a controlled fall that would not see her splattered on the stone dais below. And the Goddess, for that was how Nora was now thinking of her, spoke again. “Malkoran has forced the doors shut. But this is my temple, and it responds to my decree. I will send down a ray of light. Guide this light through my temple and its doors will open.” A bright light had sprung from the beacon, hitting another orb and being projected on “We have to get inside,” said Nora, feeling a compulsion to guide the light through the temple. “We were worried about you, my Thane,” said Lydia. “I thought the demon was pulling you up into the sky to your death.” “Not a demon, Housecarl. This Daedric Prince is a force for good, and we must free her temple of evil. Now everyone, find that entrance.” “Over here,” yelled Recorder from around the corner of the large platform the statue sat on. Nora hurried over to find the observer standing in front of a door. And the feeling of evil seemed to radiate from it. Nora wasn't sure where these senses, the ability to discern good and evil, and magic, had come from, but she welcomed them. Anything to help her in this strange world. She remarked on it to Eldawyn. The elf had been drinking through the morning, banishing her own demon, but her speech was clear enough. “That is quite the gift,” said the elf, smiling widely. “I can do much the same with spells, but I have to remember to cast them. I'm jealous, though that gift could be a double-edged sword.” Nora had thought the same. While it might be interesting to have such senses, it might also be a distraction. She would have to find a way to control it, like everything else. But now the temple awaited. The first room of the temple oozed with black fog, and the feeling of evil intensified. A burned and desiccated corpse knelt along one wall. Sofia started going through the pockets of the corpse and removing coins. “Think that's a good idea?” asked Nora. “He's not going to need it anymore,” answered the woman with a nervous laugh. “And as Annekke said, we need to keep you in food.” Nora nodded. While robbing the dead still seemed to rub her the wrong way, they had been doing it with Draugrs, so why not more contemporary corpses. And she had looted plenty of dead in the wasteland of home. Of course there she didn't have to worry about avenging spirits coming after her. Nora cast Clairvoyance, watching as the trail of smoke showed the way. Leading, along with Annekke, she walked a corridor and into a large room with a pedestal sitting above. A light glowed on one wall, while a similar gem sat on the opposite wall. The glowing gem projected a beam of light to the pedestal, and Nora knew immediately what she needed to do. She cast the spell again and saw the fog marking a side tunnel. And then the resident guardians of the necromancer struck. They looked like nothing that Nora had ever seen. Dark bodies without legs, floating forward, red eyes glaring their hate as they attacked. There were several with axes, and a pair of archers behind them. The archers caught Nora's attention, and she brought her shield up to bounce a pair of arrows away. Annekke and Recorder hit the shades with arrows. The ranger had a powerfully enchanted bow that sent electricity out with the arrows. Recorder's bow had no enchantment that Nora could see, but there was something about it, some technology maybe, that made the arrows effective against creatures of all kinds. The shade archers fell apart, their dark residue falling to the floor. Nora swung her Daedric sword through one of the shades. The blade flared with fire and the shade died, if dying was an accurate term for such a creature's demise. Eldawyn sent a bolt of electricity into the last shade and it broke apart. Sofia immediately started looking for loot. Nora knew she was on a mission, but her overall mission on this planet needed financing. A looter from way back, Nora joined in, finding coins, gems and potions, as well as a couple of spell tomes that she would explore later. Then it was through the tunnel, taking down more shades and onto the platform. A quick search of the device showed how it worked, and she soon had a beam of light linking the platform to the other gem. “Okay. I don't know how many more of these we have ahead, but we know what to do.” “You seem to be really good with puzzles, Nora,” said Annekke. “There were a lot of them in the wasteland. Not magical, but the concept is the same.” More corridors, more shades, more chests full of loot. The party sustained some injuries, and healing magic was called up by all the mages, but the arrows of the shades caused only minor damage. They weren't the solid shafts of material arrows, and though they hurt like hell they didn't kill. Eldawyn had expended all of her magicka on Recorder when the elf was hit by a brace of arrows. Annekke took out those two shades with a quick pair of shots, while Nora ran to the side of the gasping elf. “Hurts so much,” said Eldawyn, gasping. Nora could tell that she was grievously hurt. The Dragonborn pulled the strange arrows from the elf in two quick motions, then started pouring healing energy into her friend, staunching the bleeding, then closing up the wounds with a thought. Eldawyn looked up at her with grateful eyes as Nora poured the last of her magicka into her friend, then gasped herself as the magicka regenerated in less than a minute. “You're getting pretty good at Restoration,” said Eldawyn with a smile. “Perhaps you should become a priest.” Nora laughed. While she knew that priests here didn't have the same standards as the ones from before the war on her world, she still couldn't see herself as a woman of the cloth. More rooms, more corridors, the beam of light channeled from device to device, moving Meridia's holy light further into the temple. Meridia may have been considered a Daedric Prince, but the more Nora saw of the bright light, the holy feel of it, the more she thought of the deity as a Goddess. Maybe not one of the Divines, but a Goddess nonetheless. They went through another door and Nora was surprised to find that they were outside. They moved around the walkway and saw steps leading up. There were multiple pedestals out here, all taking and projecting the light, moving it along to its final destination. A man in Imperial Legion armor appeared ahead, yelling and charging at them, screaming about how it was his. Nora took the man's blade on her shield and returned the cut, her Daedric blade smashing through the armor and into the shoulder of the man. He croaked as his lungs filled with blood and fell, and Sofia took a knee to loot the body. “We're making a fortune from this place,” said the Nord woman, pulling coin and gems from the man's pockets. Nora felt bad about killing the man, who seemed to be driven by some kind of compulsion in attacking. But it had been him or her, and she would always pick herself to survive. They went through another set of doors, up some stairs, and emerged in a truly colossal room with many pedestals and devices. A beam of light linked a gem in the wall with one of them, and Nora knew where she needed to start. The room was fed by a maze of corridors, and hordes of the shades. After many false paths and backtracks Nora had the beam working its way through all the pedestals. They had found much loot, including some books that radiated magic that she stowed away for future study. And one corridor had the awful swinging blades. “Wait here,” she told her party as she looked at the blades, calling up a shout. “Don't take too long,” said Eldawyn, clearly knowing what Nora intended. “Feim,” she shouted, and felt the real-world fade away. She knew it wouldn't last long with only the one word at her command, and hurried through the swinging blades, cringing a little but unharmed as they swept through her without a touch. Reaching the other side she looked for a switch, finding one quickly and stopping the blades. Her team came over, Recorder gushing. “That was amazing,” said the observer. “It was like you had become a ghost, walking through those murder blades like they weren't there.” “Might come in handy against archers as well,” said Annekke. “Or mages.” Nora found another switch that lowered a bridge and a raised pathway beyond. They moved along, and there were some jumps that only Nora, with her heightened strength, could make. She felt exposed going forward without her party, but she moved quickly and got the last pedestals activated, using Ethereal Form several times to get close to archer shades, then took them down when the shout faded. She made her way back to her party, cast Clairvoyance, and headed up some stairs that led to the last pedestal. “When in the hells is this going to end?” asked Recorder. Nora smiled. Recorder seemed to be coming out of her shell after last night. The woman was no longer mumbling about her files, trying to cover up her insecurities, but was actually starting to engage with the others. And Nora was glad. That pedestal activated she cast Clairvoyance again, and groaned as she saw it led back the way they had come. They went through another door on the ground level of large room, down a short corridor, and through one more door. Sofia and Annekke made sure they missed nothing on the way, and the party was soon almost at their limit, loaded down but still able to move fast enough. There was one final pedestal that she activated, sending the beam of light into the heart of the catacombs. She cast Clairvoyance and led the party to a door that radiated evil. “This is it,” she said with conviction. “I don't know how strong this motherfucker is, but we need to take him down fast. So I'll move forward and take his spells while the rest of you kill him.” “My Thane,” cried Lydia. “Don't. You might get killed.” “Not with my magical shout I won't,” said Nora, grinning. “But it doesn't last, not with only one word, so finish the bastard, quickly. Nora entered first, seeing the necromancer turning toward her, a swarm of shades and some raised bodies alerting and moving forward. “Feim.” Nora ran forward, the cold magic of Malkoran raining down on her. She could tell that they were quite powerful spells, any one of which might send her to her knees, if not kill her outright. And they passed through her as if she wasn't there, while she ran at the man as full speed with her sword in hand. Knowing that the effect would wear off soon. Eldawyn and Sofia were casting fire at the mage, who, though he had a ward up was still taking damage. Then she was in front of him, swinging her sword and cursing as she realized that she was still immaterial. She became solid again just before the blade struck, and she had the satisfaction of feeling the Daedric sword split the man's skull and drive all the way down to the breastbone. The necromancer had no time for a cry as he instantly departed his body and went to whatever Plane of Oblivion awaited him. The remaining shades faded away, the reanimated bodies fell into ash, and the feeling of evil dissipated. And there, on a pedestal, was the prize. “It is done,” said the harsh voice of Meridia in Nora's head. “The defiler is defeated. Take Dawnbreaker from its pedestal.” “You people continue looting while I check out my new blade,” said Nora, smiling and reaching for the sword. She pulled the blade, glowing like the sun, from its sheath. Oh shit, she thought as a blinding light enveloped her and she found herself hanging high in the air again. Facing a fierce ball of light that she knew was the Goddess. “Malkoran is vanquished,” said the voice of the Goddess. “Skyrim's dead shall remain at rest. This is as it should be. This is because of you. A new day is dawning. And you shall be its herald. Take the mighty Dawnbreaker and with it purge corruption from the dark corners of the world. Wield it in my name, that my influence may grow.” Nora could see nothing wrong with driving back darkness and purging corruption. “I will do it, my Goddess. I will be your light and your strong arm in Skyrim.” She wasn't sure how Kynareth would feel about this, but she felt an approval at the back of her mind and thought it would be fine with the other Goddess. “May the light of certitude guide your efforts,” said Meridia, and Nora found herself alone on the platform with the huge statue, the wonderful blade in her hand. Nora examined the blade while she waited for her party to come out of the temple. The sword was larger than most long swords, though not quite a bastard sword. The blade itself shined with an inner light that was anathema against all that was dark. The glowing gem in the cross guard reminded her of the holy light she had shepherded through the temple. She sensed that this blade would cut deep, slicing through most armor like it was cloth. And it would burn her opponents. While doing even more harm to the undead. Its light might actually drive some of the weaker specimens of that abominable breed away in fear and confusion. It was her paladin blade, one she expected would see her through her adventures. She swung the blade. It was perfectly balanced, and lighter than she expected. It swished through the air leaving a slight trail of light, swift in its movement. I'm so happy I came here, she thought. While not sure how this sword would do against dragons, she had been fighting more undead recently than the scaly beasts. Her party arrived, several of them staggering under the weight of packs. They had looted well, and Nora was looking forward to selling this stuff off and getting more and better equipment. She didn't know how much it would set her back, but frankly she really didn't care much for gold coins. They were useful for food and lodging, but they wouldn't turn a blade or strike a blow. “Can I?” asked Eldawyn, holding out a hand. At first Nora didn't want to let the blade go, but she trusted her people, and reluctantly put the hilt in Elda's hand. “This is a prize. I doubt you will find a more powerful blade in your journeys. And it will only grow stronger as you do.” “What do you mean?” asked Nora, not sure how the blade would get stronger. “This kind of blade attunes itself to the wielder. As you become a better swordsman, a better mage, the sword's abilities will grow with you.” Eldawyn handed the blade over, reluctantly as well. The sword had that effect on people. Everyone wanted it, and Nora hoped that didn't become a problem in the future. Nora noted that another sheath had appeared on her belt, materialized by the Goddess? A jeweled sheath that fit the sword perfectly, it had materialized next to the scabbard for the Daedric blade, which was no longer needed by the Dragonborn. It was kind of crowded now, and her right side as well, with her knife sheath and holster. She realized that she had forgotten about the pistol, a good thing mostly, as she thought she would need it in the times ahead, and without ammunition it was nothing. “So, who wants this Daedric sword?” “Not me, my Thane,” said Lydia, stepping back. “That blade has a taint to it.” While that was true, Nora had found that sometimes evil was needed to fight evil. And an evil blade in the hands of a righteous warrior could still accomplish much good. “Elda?” The elf had a blade, though she rarely used it, depending on her magic. And elf blade with a fire enchantment, it served as a capable sidearm. “Not me, Nora. That needs to go to someone who can put it to good use.” She didn't think Recorder would use it. Those twin ebony blades served the observer well. And Annekke was an archer, only relying on her sword when necessary. Valdimar was a hammer wielder, which left.. “I guess I got it by process of elimination,” said the scowling Sofia, reaching for the sheathed sword. “I'll take it. Even if I was the last choice.” “You're as good with magic as with a blade, Sofia, and I had to think of someone who relied primarily on the sword first.” “No problem,” said the good natured spellsword, belting on the blade. “I appreciate the gift.” “Now what?” asked Valdimar, coming over from where he had been watching the horses. “We have about four hours of daylight left, so I think we should start on our way to Solitude. Maybe get there by late tomorrow.” That brought cheers. They had been through much since leaving Whiterun, and Nora thought they all needed some time in the fleshpots of a large city. She looked over at Valdimar, since she had encountered much this day that would bring forth nightmares. However, she was not up in the rotation, so she thought maybe another kind of three way. Recorder needed to get comfortable with other lovers, and she and Eldawyn should be able to handle that nicely. She then looked at Lydia, always disapproving of any of the liaisons that the party made. That was a long-term project, and one she would have to be patient about. When they stopped to camp, while the party set up tents and made a cook fire, Nora was taken aside by both Annekke and Eldawyn. Nora knew that more training was in the works, but had no idea what the two intended. "I've been thinking about your bare-handed technique," said the ranger, stringing her bow and reaching for a fowling arrow. "It might give you good protection, as well as the ability to cast spells. So the elf and myself agreed that it might prove useful." Nora readied herself. She had a small buckler strapped to her left arm, one that left her hand free. It carried enchantments against fire and frost, and so would give her some magical protection. Annekke sent an arrow her way, and Nora's practiced eye interposed the buckler, bouncing the shaft away. "Now your free hand," shouted Annekke, sending another arrow her way. Nora reached out her free hand and swatted at the arrow. It was clumsy with the buckler attached, but she managed to get close to hitting it. "Might need some work, but I can see it happening," said Annekke. "Now get up a ward," yelled Eldawyn, sending a small burst of electricity Nora's way. Nora tried to get the ward up, failing and taking a bad shock. She could tell that Elda was holding back, not meaning to hurt her, but putting enough teeth into the spell to make it interesting. "Hit that rock over there with an ice spike," yelled the elf, no kindness in her voice this time. Nora pulled up the spell, too slowly, and sent the spike in to shatter on the rock. "Ward." Nora got the spell up, still not in time, and felt the pain of the electricity shock her. "Arrow," yelled Annekke, sending another shaft Nora's way. The Dragonborn swatted at the arrow, the ward dropping at the cessation of concentration. She managed to hit the tail end and the arrow smacked into her armor sideways. "Ward," yelled Eldawyn, sending in another bolt, and again Nora caught the tail end of the attack with her ward. "Now, hit the target." Nora transitioned fairly quickly into the attack, and the ice spike hit the same place on the rock as the last. "Arrow." This time Nora knocked the shaft out of the air. "Get ready," yelled Eldawyn, stepping forward with her sword and swinging an overhand strike at Nora. Who raised her buckler to catch that blade and bounce it away. "Arrow," yelled Annekke, and Nora was caught off-guard, the arrow striking her armor. It went on for an hour, sweat pouring off Nora as she struggled to keep up. Though at the end of the hour she seemed to be smoother on her transitions. Annekke looked over at Eldawyn and they both nodded. "You have the potential to be quite the battlemage," said Eldawyn. "But it will take much practice. And that open hand technique will give you an edge that no other battlemage possesses." Dinner was ready when they reached the fire. Nora was starving from her exertions, and tucked into the meal of pheasant, leeks and potatoes. And looked over to catch Eldawyn smiling at her and glancing at Recorder. Nora was tired, but not so much so that she couldn't spare some energy for the project they had talked about earlier.
  3. It was three long days to Dragonsbridge. They should have got there halfway through the third day, but another fort was in the way, with more Necromancers. The locals must have ways around, thought Nora, who had seen many paths leading off the road to this point. Problem was, there was a bridge over a river less than half a mile from the fort. And she didn't know the fords or bridges, if any, either up or down the river. She didn't want to explore the wilderness in this area, so it was the fort. The fort, with three towers joined by a wall, loomed ahead as they approached. There were figures milling about outside, and it only took a couple of seconds for Nora's sharp eyes to discern that they were skeletons, about a dozen of them, most archers. She really hated the archers. The skeletal swordsmen were easy enough to handle, not really a match for any of her people, and an attack en mass normally took them down quickly. The archers were another thing, especially when they were on towers or battlements. Arrows could come in at any angle, and were capable of penetrating most light armors.. “Get the archers on that tower,” she ordered Annekke, then pointed over to Recorder. “And you take care of those on the battlement between those two towers. “Eldawyn. Hit everything with fire.” Her designated archers started sending shafts into skeletons, while Eldawyn looped a fireball into the mass of skeletons at the entrance, blasting many of them apart. The four melee fighters charged in, each heading for a skeleton and taking it down. Nora advanced under her shield, moving fast, but not as fast as she could without a shield. Arrows bounced from the protection she held up in front of her, and she was soon swinging her blade through the archer, shattering it. Hearing a war cry Nora turned to see Valdimar crushing a skeleton with an overhand strike of his hammer. The skeleton shattered in a most satisfactory way, and Valdimar ran toward the entrance of the castle. Nora saw that an arrow was sticking from a shoulder, but the man ignored it in his battle lust. The mages were inside the courtyard, and the party was barraged by spells as soon as they entered. Eldawyn moved forward, a ward in one hand while she threw cold magic with another. Nora quickly sheathed her sword and did the same, her shield hand projecting her ward while she threw ice spikes with the other. Some of their magic was getting through the ward, enough to hurt but not enough to take her down. The last mage went down and Nora was about to declare it a victory, when she felt the sharp pain of something punching through one of her lungs. She forced herself to turn, knowing that if she didn't get her shield up in time she would take another arrow. The one protruding from her chest had missed her heart, and despite her body's ability to heal that would have been fatal. She got the shield up just in time and tried to shout at the skeletal archer across the courtyard. The shout rattled in her throat, and she realized she couldn't take a breath to project her voice. “That's the last of them,” said Sofia, walking over, then running. “Nora,” she yelled out. Nora noted the blackness at the edge of her vision, which suddenly swept in to obscure her sight. Her knees weakened and she felt herself falling. Then, nothing. * * * Nora opened her eyes to the sight of a beautiful Altmer face looking down on her, a concerned expression that creased into a smile. “Welcome back to the land of the living,” said Eldawyn, taking Nora's hand. “You healed me?” “Well, we poured magic into you. But if not for your natural healing you would have bled out before we could knit that artery. As it was, you've been out all day and into the night.” “What happened?” “One of those archers had a very powerful bow,” said Annekke, coming up and smiling down on Nora. “It drove an arrow through your mail. A couple of inches to the right and we wouldn't be having this conversation, as it would have skewered your heart.” “We're in the fort?” “Yep,” said Sofia, coming into sight. “It was a nest of necromancers. But we put paid to the bastards.” “You had us worried, my Thane,” said Lydia, a tight smile on her face. “It looks like I was in good hands,” said Nora, smiling up at her people. “Thank you.” “Hell, Thane,” said Valdimar in a rough voice, his hand holding a bandage to his shoulder. “We can't lose a treasure like you.” “How do you feel?” asked Eldawyn. “Weak. And hungry.” “It's that remarkable metabolism of yours,” said the elf. “You heal fast, but you use up your body's reserves, quickly. If you think you can sit up we'll get some food in you.” Nora nodded, then attempted to swing her legs off the bed. Her head started to spin and she fell back on the bed. “Some of you people help me get her up,” said Eldawyn, putting her hands on Nora's shoulders. “Do you think that's wise?” asked Lydia. “My Thane is so weak.” “And she needs some food in her or she will continue to weaken.” “How about some sugared snowberry juice?” asked Annekke, coming close to the bed with a large bottle in her hands. “It will give her energy until she can get some solid food in her.” “And I can make some stew,” said Lydia, walking away, heading toward a cooking spit. “Drink this,' Eldawyn said, holding the bottle of juice to Nora's lips. Nora sucked down the sweet juice, much of it spilling down her chin and onto her naked breasts. She didn't care. She was already feeling the rush of the sugar enter her. Not enough, but it gave some energy. Finishing the bottle she decided to try sitting up again. Still weak, she was able to get her feet off the bed and sit up. The Dragonborn looked down at her chest, noting the puckered wound just below her left breast. The arrow had pushed all the way through, only stopped by her mail from being visible from the front. “We used all of our magicka, Elda and me,” said Sofia. “By the time we generated more it was obvious that your body was healing itself. Remarkable.” “By tomorrow there will only be a small scar,” said Nora, accepting a platter of cheese and bread and taking some bites. “By the end of the week,” she said with a full mouth, “even the scar will be a memory.” “I wondered how a warrior of your caliber had such smooth and unmarked skin,” said Valdimar, bringing over a bottle of wine. “So your scars heal?” “Scars, broken bones. Hell, I've even regrown fingers, and one time a hand.” “You must have some powerful magic,” said Annekke, raising an eyebrow. “I've heard of masters of Restoration that could help patients regrow limbs, but they are rare.” “No magic. It was the Supersoldier serum,” said Nora, accepting the open bottle of wine and taking a large swig. “The same thing that lets me move so fast, and be so strong.” “And I thought it was your beauty that was making me weak,” laughed the big Nord warrior. “The way you pulled me into you was fierce.” The women laughed. Some Nords could be prudish and proper, but not these. They were down to Earth and comfortable with their sexuality. Well, most of them were. Lydia had a deep blush on her face as she came over, carrying a bowl of steaming stew. “That brings up a point I have been thinking about after you went down,” said Annekke, her face now serious. She pulled up a chair and had a seat, looking over at her charge while Nora hastily spooned stew into her mouth. “Another?” asked Nora, holding out the empty bowl to Lydia, who took it with a smile and headed back to the cook pot. “So, what do you have in mind?” she asked the ranger after taking another swig of wine. “I want to go over a list of your assets, then see what we can do to strengthen your weaknesses,” said the ranger. “First off, you’re stronger than you have any right to be, and the fastest thing outside of a vampire I have ever seen. You’re agile and flexible, and you heal at an unreal rate, though as we saw today, you are not invulnerable.” Though I have a shout that makes me so, thought Nora. But she hadn't remembered to do it, if there had even been time to deploy the shout. “You are as good at stealth as anyone I have ever seen. It's obvious you have been sneaking around for a long time. Watching you move in for a silent kill is like watching a master, a thing of beauty. You are a pretty good swordsman, though your speed and accuracy covers for many inadequacies. You’re becoming proficient with the bow. Anything else, everyone?” “Well, your store of magicka is outstanding,” said Eldawyn, nodding toward Nora. “You have as much as some archmages already, and you regenerate it faster than anyone I have ever seen, even without that ring you wear. But you still hesitate too long when calling up a spell, or switching over. You need to smooth your transitions. And I recommend talking with every court mage in every city we visit. I'm good at what I do, but I'm limited, and you have the ability to go beyond my limitations.” “And you need to learn how to set your feet,” said Valdimar, frowning. “You are very effective, and with your speed and strength you will often be called on to hit while moving. But footwork is still important. Even if you don't strike from a perfect stance, it's still good to be able to rebalance yourself. That is what I can teach.” “And we need for you to figure out how to deal with arrows,” said Annekke. “You're so fast you should have no trouble avoiding them, if you know they're coming at you. Perhaps something from that unusual hand to hand style you employ.” Nora thought about that. There had been people prewar who were able to knock arrows out of the air, even catching them at times. They were fast and fluid, though she had to think she was faster than any master of martial arts that ever lived. “And what about magic?” asked Nora. “What can I do about that?” “We need to get you some more magical protection. Enchantments,” said Eldawyn. “I'll get you some more of those, but we'll never make you totally invulnerable.” “Okay, sounds good. Anything else I'm totally awful at?” “We're not going over this to hurt your feelings, Nora,” said Annekke. “You are already highly effective, a true hero. One everyone can look up to. I can see that you were exceptionally good where you came from. This is a different place. And being effective is not enough. We want you to be excellent, and so we will try to work on something every day.” “What about the rest of you?” asked Nora, uncomfortable at all the attention they were paying to her development. “I want all of you to survive, so what can we do to insure that?” “The thing is, my dear,” said Annekke, looking into Nora's eyes. “You are vital to this world. We are not. Sure, I want to survive, but in the scheme of things, if I die and go to Sovngarde, I will be happy. If you die the world is doomed. And you are the reason for us being here. You are the one who will kill the really powerful creatures that threaten civilization. We are just the supporting cast. So if there is anything left over after getting you prepared we'll take it. But not at the cost of leaving you vulnerable.” Now Nora was getting really uncomfortable with all the talk of how important she was. She wanted to scream at them, to make them see that they were important to her, and she would do whatever it took to see all of them through this thing alive. But deep down she knew they were right. She had exceptional abilities, both from her home and given to her here. If she died, it was over. Conversely, she needed to help people. If she hid out, training and waiting for Alduin, she might as well be dead. “Can you eat more, my Thane?” asked Lydia as Nora finished off her third bowl, on top of a loaf of bread and almost a whole wheel of cheese. “I'm stuffed.” “Then you need to sleep,” said Eldawyn, helping Nora to lay back. Nora was about to protest, wanting to stay up and talk. But fatigue overcame her, and soon she was falling into a deep sleep. With the nightmares starting with the first dream cycle. * * * “You have me this morning,” said Annekke, holding a bow and a blunt headed arrow at the ready. Nora had woken rested and strong, though the echoes of the nightmares had haunted her through the morning. She had stuffed herself again at breakfast, her body crying out for sustenance. The sun was still on its way over the horizon, but it was light enough to see. “Where did you get those arrows?” asked Nora, looking at the strange shafts. “Last night,” answered the woman, holding the arrow up. “I took some arrows from the skeletons, removed the heads, and substituted a head of resin and wood. They're actually pretty good for taking down birds and small game without ruining the meat. But they have another purpose this morning.” And without another word the ranger quickly notched the arrow and sent it zipping at Nora. Nora attempted to get her shield the way, cursing as the arrow struck her in the breast and bounced away. “And you are dead. So let's try it again.” Nora caught the next two arrows on her shield, then Annekke started running back and forth, sending arrows in at all angles. The Dragonborn caught some, missed others, but was starting to get the hang of is when she decided to try what she had been thinking about. The woman dropped her shield and stood there in a fighting stance, concentrating on her breathing. Getting ready. “Shoot me,” she said. Annekke nodded, then sent a shaft Nora's way. The arrow zipped past the block and bounced off the armored breast. The next did the same. And then Nora focused, slowing down the arrow in her perception, and knocked the arrow away with a palm. She did the same with the next two, then caught the next, holding it up and tossing it to the ground. “We're ready to move out, my Thane,” called out Lydia. “That was amazing,” said Annekke, gathering up her fowling shafts. “That could really come in handy.” “I haven't tried that before, though I've seen the technique used on TV before the war.” “Tee vee?” “I'll explain on the road,” said Nora with a laugh. She had to remember that these people hadn't seen any of the things she took for granted on Earth. Only what she had brought with her. That thought brought on some melancholy at being away from home. Which soon lifted when she was horseback and moving on to the next way point. Then it was just a matter of enjoying the beautiful day, up until the afternoon when the clouds closed overhead and the rains came. * * * They pitched camp in the rain, all retiring to tents to dry off. Eldawyn shared Nora's this night, but the elf insisted that the Dragonborn needed rest this night, not sex. Still, she spent some hours with the elf studying one of the tomes they had found in Ustengrav. She learned Magelight that evening, giving her the ability to cast a ball of hovering light that stuck to the place she sent it and provided a great deal of illumination. Eldawyn rode her like a drill sergeant, having Nora cast it over and over. It used little magicka to cast, and Nora felt she could never run out of magical power with this spell. “Next session I will teach you a spell that will give you additional armor,” said Eldawyn as she worked on inscribing a new tome. “Are you decent?” called out Lydia at the entrance of the tent, then barged it. “If you ask the question you need to wait for the answer,” said Eldawyn in mock anger. “And no, I'm not corrupting your Thane tonight. She may heal fast, but the wound she took was grievous.” Nora thought she was perfectly fine, but she wasn't about to argue with her friend. Not because she thought Elda was correct, but because she was kind of liking being catered to by her friends. “I brought you something to eat, my Thane,” said Lydia, holding out a platter with steaming meat and cooked potatoes, a heap of vegetables on the side. “And how are you doing tonight, Lydia?” asked Nora, her mouth watering as she took the platter. “And how in the hell did you prepare such a feast with it raining out?” “Oh, Valdimar brought a small cook stove with him,” said Lydia, smiling. “We found some dry wood at a cave entrance, and there you go.” “So you're getting along well with the new Housecarl?” “Not like that, my Lady Eldawyn,” said the now frowning Housecarl. “I have no desire for sex before I am married.” “Can't understand that,” said the elf. “My people believe in making all the love possible before tying oneself down with marriage. But to each his own.” Lydia mumbled something under her breath, and Nora made out the word Barbarians. Eldawyn opened her mouth for a retort, then thought better off it and just shook her head. “Thank you, Lydia. And thank Valdimar as well.” “Valdimar is in a tent with Sofia and Annekke both,” said Lydia, rolling her eyes. “I really don't understand it.” Lydia watched as her Thane ate, making sure the plate was cleaned, then left to wash it. “That metabolism of yours,” said Eldawyn in exasperation. “If I ate that much my horse wouldn't be able to carry me.” “There are some advantages,” agreed Nora, smiling. “But some disadvantages as well. Try being stranded someplace with little food. I can actually starve to death in half the time it takes someone with a normal metabolism to expire.” “Then we'll have to keep you in food.” “Are you going to try Valdimar?” asked Nora, curious. “Already have. Last night while you were sleeping. A little heavy handed for my tastes, but he did make me cum, several times, and that's all I can ask.” “Funny. He was extremely gentle with me,” said Nora, closing her eyes and visualizing their liaison. “I had to force him to pound me like I wanted.” “Of course,” said Elda with a smirk. “You're his precious God Thane. And people tend to underestimate your strength until you show it. And it also might have something to do with my being an Altmer.” Nora looked into the face of the elf, raising an eyebrow and wondering what she was talking about. Eldawyn had some light tattoos on her face as well, just slightly darker than her skin and in a symmetrical pattern that actually enhanced her beauty. Nora found the Altmer people on the whole beautiful, much more so than the other species of elves. “Oh, it goes back to the great war,” said Eldawyn, shrugging her shoulders. “The motherfucking Thalmor were instrumental in engendering bad feelings between the humans and the Altmer. I am not them, and I hate having to pay for their actions.” Nora thought about the Brotherhood of Steel, as it was before she placed Sarah Lyons in charge. They weren't exactly racist, since they had people of all ethnicities in their organization. But they did go out of their way to torment civilized ghouls because they resembled the feral kind. Again, the Nazis of the Second Global War seemed to fit the Thalmor to a tee, and she told Elda as much. “That's sounds awful,” said Eldawyn, holding a hand over her mouth. “To kill a people just because they were different. But the rest of your world wasn't having it, huh?” “Nope. The alliance defeated the Nazis and their servants. You see, not all of the Germans were Nazis, but their military had taken oaths to their leader and were forced to support the policies.” Nora knew there was more to it than that, but she thought simplified was better in this situation. “That sounds like many of my people,” admitted Eldawyn, shaking her head. “They don't like the Thalmor, but feel obligated to support the current regime that supports them. Now, I want you to practice more magic before you turn in, and I'll watch and correct you.” “Slave driver,” growled Nora. “And what should I practice?” “Well, throwing destruction spells in the tent might not be a good idea. Wards, light, maybe even that Clairvoyance spell. Just imagine Meridia's shrine and cast away.” Nora liked the adept level spell. It would really come in handy if they were lost in a ruin. The spell raised a stream of smoke that pointed the way to where she wanted to be. Most useful. Nora woke up that night to Eldawyn kissing her while the elf's fingers probed her sex. “I thought you were determined there would be no fooling around tonight.” “Sorry,” said the elf, moving a thumb that had been lubricated in Nora's vagina across the Dragonborn's clit. Nora shook with pleasure and gasped. “Better,” said Elda with a short laugh. “As I was saying, I'm sorry. But you were crying out in your sleep. Something about Supermutants attacking a settlement and bodies everywhere. You were obviously in distress, so I decided that you needed something to drive the nightmares away.” “Thank you.” They made love for an hour, both of them getting off and falling asleep in each other's arms. Nora awoke with a smile and no memory of the nightmares, for which she was grateful to her friend. The day dawned clear, almost no clouds in the sky. Nora practiced shield and sword with Lydia while the others broke camp, Valdimar watching and commenting on Nora's footwork. There were plenty of bad habits to break. It was so different moving with firearms compared to swinging a blade, but she was determined to become as good as possible, and the two Housecarls together could teach her much. They came upon Dragonsbridge by midafternoon. They started seeing outlying farms by mid-morning, then a couple of craftsmen's houses, their inhabitants working on pottery or baskets, one man making leather on a tanning rack. And then the town came into view, a hundred or so houses, a mill, a couple of inns, a temple to one of the Divines, all surrounded by a stone wall. And the famous bridge with the head of a dragon in the center at the south end of town, thrust over a river that came flowing from a steep gorge to the west. The roads were packed with travelers, on horse and afoot. “This is the main road from the southern holds to the capital,” said Sofia, nodding toward the stone path. “We may have a hard time getting rooms.” Actually it proved of no difficulty at all. The first inn had a score of rooms, five of them free, and they only needed three of them. Nora went ahead and got four, giving the party more flexibility with their sleeping arrangements. She took a room with Eldawyn and let the others sort themselves out. She was surprised when she was about to retire that a knock came at her door. “Valdimar,” she said, surprised to find the Housecarl waiting on the other side of the door. “Eldawyn said it would be okay if I slept in your room tonight,” said the big Nord. “Oh, she did,” said Nora in mock anger, turning to see a smiling Eldawyn sitting on one of the beds and acting like she didn't know what was going on. She looked back at the Housecarl, noting that his facial markings were starting to fade. So warpaint then, she thought, smiling. When it wore off he might actually be presentable, and she reminded herself to have a talk with him about going clean faced. “I thought we might need some variety,” said Eldawyn. “I haven't had a threesome in quite some time, and I've never heard you say anything to lead me to believe you disapproved.” “No,” said Nora, smiling at both of her friends. “Come in, Valdimar, and we'll try to make the evening, entertaining.” It was more than entertaining, and the big Nord proved to be as good with oral as he was with pounding a pussy. Nora was surprised at that, since most Nord men seemed to think that all they needed to do was stick it in and move it in and out, and their partners would be grateful. She asked him about it as they all lay exhausted in one of the beds, Elda's breasts pressed deliciously against her back while she continued to rub her hand over the taut muscles of the man. “I was trained as a Housecarl,” said the man in a soft voice. “A part of that, at least in our Hold, was knowing how to please women, and men.” “The way you say that seems to indicate you didn't like that last part?” “No, ma'am. See, I have nothing against those who like the same sex, but it isn't for me. I like women. The feel of them, the scent of them, how they cry out if I am doing a good job of it. But mostly it was women I was asked to have sex with. Particularly the Jarl.” Nora sat up, surprised. She knew that Idgrod had forbid her daughter love, but she was screwing all of the staff herself? “Why the Jarl?” “Because she had visions. And sex seems to blunt them some. So she tries to have someone in her bed every night.” “But not the daughter, who must suffer with her own visions,” said Nora, quietly. “People have tried to tell her that it was killing her daughter, but the old woman won't listen.” Nora filed that away for future reference, resolving that she would eventually go back to Morthal and help them sort the situation out, whether they wanted to hear it or not. The next day they were on the road north, passing by an Imperial outpost which had men and women coming and going. They wore what looked to Nora like ancient Roman armor, something that looked so out of place among the medieval Nord society. “The Penitus Oculatis, the Imperial Protection Service, has an outpost here,” said Sofia as they were riding out of the north side of the town. “And it looks like they have a strong Thalmor presence as well,” growled Nora, watching a dozen of the armored elves walking into the town. The was another problem she would have to address, someday. “The motherfuckers have an embassy to the west of Solitude,” said Eldawyn. “Be too bad if it caught on fire.” Nora could only hope that the elf didn't do that. She wasn't ready to take on the Thalmor, or the Imperials for that matter. They saw several more Thalmor patrols through the day, a couple leading Nords in restraints north. If there had been fewer people on the road Nora would have been tempted to attack the bastards and free their captives. But not with so many witnesses. One thing Nora noticed was the lack of bandits. When she remarked on this Sofia laughed. “Oh, there are bandits, but they have to hide far off the road. There are too many patrols, Imperial and Haafingar Hold guard, on this road. There are some bandit holds on the coast, but here it's just too dangerous.” A couple of hours further on, at a place where the road was almost empty, they ran into bandits. A merchant's wagon was on the side of the road, a couple of Khajiit sitting cowering on the grass while a large bandit with a sword menaced them. A half dozen bandits were going through the wagon while three or four more stood in the middle of the road, watching the party approach. There were a couple of archers which bows already bent tracking in on them. “The bastard scum,” growled Nora, glaring at the men and women ahead. “Hold up,” shouted one of the bandits, walking toward them, a couple of others trailing after him. “You're on a toll road, and need to pay.” “And what's the toll?” yelled Sofia, her left hand clenched into a casting configuration. “Why, everything you own,” said the smiling bandit, smirking. “And if you don't have enough gold, we will take your bodies in trade.” Nora called up a spell of her own and looked over at her people. All were ready, and she knew with a word she could unleash them on the bandits. “What if we turn around?” she asked, having no intention of doing so. “Too late. You're on our road, so you have to pay. So get off those damned horses and pay up.” Nora looked over at Annekke, who already had her bow strung and ready, as did Recorder. “Take out their archers first, while the rest of us give these bastards a payment to remember.” “What are you talking about. Get off the damned horses before we fill you with arrows.” “Now,” shouted Nora, calling up an ice spike spell and sending the bolt of cold into the spokesman. Bows twanged, Recorder and Annekke firing first. The two archers released as they were being hit, their arrows flying wide. Nora spurred her mount forward into a gallop, throwing more ice spikes and pulling her sword. She hit one bandit with the horse, spinning the man away and to the ground, then swung her sword into a woman, slicing through her leather armor and deep into her body. Nora let the sword fall back and trail, pulled from the body by her forward motion. An arrow zipped by, and Nora turned the horse to send an ice spice into that archer. The woman croaked out her last breath as the spike hit her in the chest and penetrated into her lungs. Valdimar was not one to fight on horseback, and early on he had jumped from his horse. He was running at a pair of swordsmen who stood at the ready. His hammer came down, hitting the upraised sword of one bandit and smashing through, breaking the man's skull and snapping his spine. The Housecarl pivoted on one foot, faster than seemed possible for one of his bulk, dodging the second sword and bringing his hammer around in a sideswipe that crumpled the bandit. And then it was over. A couple of bandits were still alive, barely, laying groaning on the ground. “You want us to tie those up and leave them for the authorities.” “Why bother,” said Nora. “No prisoners.” She left that to her people and walked over to the pair of Khajiit, noting that another lay in his own blood on the ground. “Please. Do not hurt us,” said the surviving male, holding on tight to a female. “We're not bandits,” said Nora gently, crouching down to get on their level. “But you are free to go.” She looked over at the wagon. “We'll even fix your wagon.” “May the Gods bless you,” said the female. “This is a cruel land, and so many of your people have nothing but insults for us.” Nora nodded. Yes, Skyrim was a hard land, even more so for outsiders. But Nora felt good saving these cat people, and decided that she would let them share a camp this night so she could speak with them. Thirty minutes later they were back on the road, the Khajiit wagon rolling along behind their horses. Nora rode her horse even with the front of the wagon, talking with the Khajiit, wanting to know everything she could learn about the handsome creatures. They were well spoken, with some interesting turns of phrase, and she found herself liking them immediately. “We told our guard, Do'tron, to lower his weapons,” said the trade leader, one Ri'Jaro. “But he insisted that he would lose face if he allowed bandits to take that which he had signed on to guard. So the fool attacked over a dozen bandits. He got one, but the others cut him down. And I was afraid myself and Dra'Zira were doomed. And then you and your people came along like a gift from the Gods and saved us. You were amazing to see. So much skill.” “And you are going to set up your trade in Solitude? In what part of the city?” “In the stables, friend Nora,” answered the wife of the married team. “Why there?” “Because you Nords do not want us in your cities,” answered Ri'Jaro, hissing. “They think we are all thieves and smugglers. And while I'll admit there are some of that number among us in this land, we are not all such.” “I'm not a Nord, Ri'Jaro,” said Nora, seeing a look of surprise come over the Khajiit's face. “Then you are an Imperial? Or a Breton? Because you have the eyes of a Nord, though more beautiful than most.” “I am actually not from Nirn,” said Nora, delighting in their surprised expressions. “Is that true?” asked Dra'Zira. “You are not from this world? Then where are you from?” So Nora told them about her world, and listened to their tales of their homeland. To her it sounded wonderful. Warm, without the freezing cold of Skyrim. She thought she might want to visit that land someday. There was an hour's daylight left when they made camp. Annekke took Sofia out for a hunt, and they returned shortly with a large buck, which they dressed and butchered. The rest set up their tents, the Khajiit pitching theirs near. Lydia looked at the cat creatures suspiciously, but Nora wasn't about to drive them away without proof that they were smugglers. From what she had seen on their wagon they were legitimate traders, and she let it go at that. The Khajiit woman, Dra'Zira, offered to cook, and she spent an hour rubbing spices on the deer meat before putting it on a spit over the fire the humans had built. The meal was delicious, as fine of venison as the Dragonborn had ever tasted, and she wondered that the cat people hadn't opened restaurants in Skyrim. She thought they would be a success, and decided she would look into investing in one for the couple if they were amicable to the idea. Guard shifts set, Nora fell into her bed, exhausted. To be awakened by someone screaming their head off. She wasn't sure who it was, but it sounded like they were in severe distress. She exited her tent to see all of her people gathered. With the exception of Recorder and Valdimar. And then, from one of the tents, she could make out the voice of Recorder yelling at the man. “Faster. Go faster. Pound me into the furs. I'm almost there, you bastard.” “That as fast as I can go,” groaned the voice of the man. “Faster,” yelled Recorder again. He must have been moving fast enough, because her cry of orgasm soon screeched into the night. “It seems like we thought the wrong person was being murdered,” said Sofia, bringing laughs to all the humans. The Khajiit stared, their mouths open. “And I thought we made a lot of noise when mating,” said Dra'Zira, to the laughter of the party. The next morning Recorder had a wide smile on her face that wouldn't leave. “So,” asked Nora. “What happened?” “Well, Dragonborn, I just couldn't take it anymore. You all seemed to be having so much fun, and it had been so long since I had been laid, that I decided I needed some. So I talked with Valdimar and he said yes.” She broke out in a giggle, like a little girl, though she had proven during the night that she was a woman. Of course he said yes, thought Nora with a smile, putting her arm around Recorder and leading her to the fire for some breakfast. You're cuter than hell, with a voluptuous body. The man would have to be an idiot to turn you down. Now, we just need to adjust the rotation a bit. “So now you're one of the girls,” said Nora with a laugh. “I don't want to be one of the girls,” said Recorder, turning an angry glare on Nora, then smiling sheepishly. “I'm sorry, but every female lover I have ever had has stabbed me in the back. They are too catty, especially the ones at the Academy. I like men. At least I can trust them. I can't trust women, at all.” Nora thought that a bad attitude to have among a company of mostly women when your life might depend on them. “Do you trust me?” “Oh yes, Dragonborn. You are the most caring and compassionate woman I have ever met. You wouldn't think of saying anything behind my back, unlike those bitches at the Academy. I trust you with my life.” That gave Nora an idea, one that she thought she might be able to implement the next night. They moved up the road through the day, seeing more patrols of Imperials, mostly on foot. She had to wonder why they weren't using horses on these long stretches. The same with the Thalmor, who were also out in force. They reached the cutoff to Solitude by late afternoon and said goodbye to their Khajiit friends, who headed off to the city while her people headed north. Nora decided to pitch camp before they reached the shrine, about a mile away. She wanted to approach the temple during the morning so she would have the entire day if need be. “Let me see what you have, girl,” said Nora after inviting Recorder into her tent. She had made her plans clear to Elda, who had decided to try her luck with Sofia. “Dragonborn,” said the woman in her little girl's voice. “I don't know about this.” “You've said this morning that you were bisexual, that you've had affairs with women. So after having man, why not a woman?” “But, you're not just any woman. You're the Dragonborn. A hero.” “Whose heart beats just like any other. Who gives and receives pleasure just like any other. Who would like to get to know you better this night.” Recorder still looked like she was unsure, so Nora took her by the hand and pulled her onto the furs. “Now all you have to do is say no and get up. But remember. If I don't get some pleasure I will have nightmares, and that's up to you.” Recorder lay there, trembling and not saying a word. Nora took that as a yes, and started making out with the woman. Recorder was slow to warm, but once she did she became a demon in bed, much to the delight of Nora. Nora licked the woman's sweet pussy while finger fucking her. Recorder had an interesting sweet smell and taste, and she responded to Nora's touch with heavy breathing and cries. Recorder returned the favor, lapping away at Nora's pussy and driving the Dragonborn into a series of orgasms. Nora knew that she was very responsive, and the other woman was obviously an expert at manipulating a woman's genitals, despite her profession of not really liking to bed women. She thought that none of her girls would want to miss a session with Recorder, and as part of her long term strategy she resolved to make sure her young friend made the circuit. As they lay beside each other Recorder looked over and played with a strand of Nora's hair. “I have a question for you, Dragonborn.” “Nora. I want you to call me Nora.” “Very well. Nora,” said Recorder, as if tasting the name. “And I might as well give you my real name. It's Elesia.” “That's a beautiful name, my dear,” said Nora, gently running her right hand over the other woman's shoulder. “And what do you want to ask?” “I've never seen someone so into sex,” said Recorder, again letting out her infectious giggle. “I know part of it has to be dealing with the nightmares. But I sense there is more to it than that. So what makes you such a nympho?” Nora laughed. She had been called that in the Commonwealth, but never here. She didn't think the Nords even had a term for an oversexed woman. For male Nords there was no such thing as a woman who wanted too much sex. “I have always been into sex,” she answered honestly. “You've heard about how I worked the clubs and the VIP rooms, for money. But not just the money. I loved the attention. And then I married, and was never unfaithful to my husband. I loved Nate, but he was not the best of lovers. I raged over his death, and put a bullet in the head of the son-of-a-bitch that killed him, and moved on. I started killing what needed killing in the Commonwealth, and the nightmares came. The faces of those I killed. Sometimes snarling, sometimes raging, sometimes pleading for life. And good sex banished them for a night or two.” “There's more to this, isn't there?” “And this is going to go into your report to your Academy?” asked Nora with a smile. “Not if you don't want it to. I owe you that much.” “Then I blame in on the Supersoldier serum. The stuff we made from the oil extracted from Lorenzo's blood. If I was horny before, I was more so then. It doubled my strength, doubled my speed, and doubled my libido. A small price to pay for such abilities.” “I would say,” said Recorder/Elesia, reaching over to tweak Nora's breast. “And how about now? Is your libido still going strong?” “I'm horny as hell my dear Elesia. Still. And I want you again, now.”
  4. BrotherofCats Create FORUMS DOWNLOADS BLOGS CLUBS BROWSE ACTIVITY Unread Content Home Blogs The Coming of the Second Dragonborn Chapter Eighteen - Ustengrav Photo The Coming of the Second Dragonborn A blog by BrotherofCats Follow4 ENTRIES 22 COMMENTS 4 VIEWS 312 Chapter Eighteen - Ustengrav Follow0 Entry by BrotherofCats publishes on · August 10, 2020 1 view Add Tag By late afternoon they had arrived at the circular Nordic pit that contained the entrance of Ustengrav. Four bandits and a mage were camped outside, and weren't receptive to receiving visitors. The visitors were insistent, and moments after arriving the party owned the site. With bodies dumped in the swamp they had the area to themselves. They pitched their now three tents and settled in for the night, cooking at the already prepared spit and talking around the fire. Nora shared her bed with Eldawyn. She still wanted a man, but she wanted pleasure, and Elda was good at providing it. She woke in the early hours to hear Annekke crying out in passion. It seemed that her new Housecarl had found himself in the perfect position, the only male among a bunch of oversexed women, even if Lydia and Recorder choose not to participate. She woke up the next morning to an argument between Annekke and Lydia. “You're a married woman, my Lady. How can you sleep with another behind your husband's back?” “My husband is not here, and I have my needs, Lydia,” said the exasperated ranger. “And it's my business, not yours, who I sleep with. It's not like I'm in love with the man and will leave my husband for him.” Valdimar sat at the fire eating a bowl of porridge taken from the large pot, oblivious to the argument concerning him. “Mara would not approve, my Lady.” “Lydia,” said Nora, approaching the pair and trying not to sound angry. “Annekke is a grown woman, and who she decides to sleep with is up to her. You are not her mother. In fact, we are all adults, and if you don't want to engage in any liaisons, don't expect the rest of us to follow suit. Understand?” “But, my Thane. Mara...” “Is not my God. I don't know about the others but...” “I follow Dibella,” said Annekke with a smile. Lydia looked at the ranger with a disapproving expression. “And I follow Kynareth,” said Nora, also smiling. “And since the Goddess fucked me, I don't think she has a negative opinion of sex out of wedlock.” That got Valdimar's attention, and the man sat up and looked at Nora with wide eyes. “You fucked a Goddess. How can anyone ever satisfy you again?” “It's tough,” said Nora, stifling a laugh. “I just have to lower my expectations with you poor mortals.” “You are not married, my Thane. The ranger is.” “And it's still not your business, Lydia. So you will drop your questioning of Annekke and live your own life. That's an order.” “Yes, my Thane,” said Lydia, eyes looking down. Nora felt bad telling the Housecarl what she could and couldn't talk about. Being the leader of the freedom loving Commonwealth she had allowed people to speak their minds, as long as it didn't involve operational security. But she could see things getting out of hand here, and if two of her people were mad as hell at each other, bad things could happen. And bad things happening could lead to dead people. Not that she thought either would attack the other, but a moment’s hesitation because of anger could kill someone just as dead. “You understand what you are to do?” she asked Valdimar as her and the rest of the party prepared to enter Ustengrav. “I wish I was coming with you, Thane. But I understand the importance of the horses.” “Perhaps you can accompany me into other ruins in the future, once I've got to know you better.” From the smile on the man's face she thought he might have taken that the wrong way. Well, let him take it any way he wanted. If he tried to force Nora or any of her girls he would live life with a higher pitched voice. “So, how was he?” Nora whispered to Annekke was they walked down the step of the pit to the entrance. The night before she wouldn't have considered the Housecarl as a lover, but hearing the ranger crying out in passion in the morning hours was causing a change of heart. She hadn't had a man in almost two weeks. Eldawyn was good, and had introduced her to the dildos the Altmer people made. While Nora had tried out her new strap-on, made in Whiterun, with the elf, both giving and receiving. But nothing beat the real thing, as far as the Dragonborn was concerned. “One of the best I have ever had,” said the smiling ranger, turning as she reached the bottom of the steps. “And most definitely not the worse. He isn't much to look at, at least in the face. But he was well endowed, and it scratched the itch. Why? You feeling an itch?” Nora laughed at the turn of expression that seemed to be very popular here in Skyrim, then answered the ranger's question. “Most definitely,” said Nora with a sigh, feeling stirrings in her nether regions. “And I want some scratching.” “Then I think he will do,” said the ranger. Her face then turned serious. “Now get your dirty little mind off those thoughts, because we are about to enter a tomb of legendary danger, and not having your mind on what's around you could get a lot of us killed, including yourself.” Nora nodded, taking the sage advice. If she made it through the tomb she would have time enough for itching and scratching. If she didn't, nothing would really matter. So they went through the entrance at the ready, Nora's mind totally on the mission. They found a dead bandit as soon as they entered the ruin, from his condition newly killed. Nora waved a hand down and all crouched, ready for stealth. She and Annekke led, followed by Sofia and Eldawyn, their magical support. Lydia and Recorder brought up the rear, bows strung and arrows notched and ready. They heard voices in the large room ahead before they got there, and the moaning they associated with the raised dead. Nora gestured, pointed to Annekke and indicated that she should go to the right, before pointing to herself then left. The ranger nodded and moved. Nora was so glad she had decided to take the woman with her. She reminded her of Heather back in the Commonwealth. Ms. Casdin had been a strange one. So nerdy and educated about the wildlife of the region, yet so blood thirsty when it came to the Institute. And now she was working with them. As she crept along the wall of the chamber, sticking to the shadows, she could distinguish three voices, a man and two women. There was a fire near the center of the room, and the shadows of the trio danced along the walls, along with two shadows that stood and didn't move. The zombies, Nora supposed. Those were not the targets. They would fall when the necromancers did. Nora threw a stone across the room, hitting the far wall. That was not just the distraction to get the mages to look the other way, it was also the signal to fire. Sure enough, the mages got to their feet, the zombies started to move toward the sound, and two bows twanged. The mages to the left and right both took arrows to their backs, penetrating through the robes and into the vital organs within their thoracic cavities. They dropped to the ground, if not dead, then dying. Along with them fell one of the zombies. The remaining mage turned quickly, the blue glow of a cold spell in her hand. That glow died along with the mage as a pair of arrows struck her in her breast. With a sigh she folded in on herself, the zombie falling into ash as she died. “We make a good team,” whispered Annekke as they scouted out the rest of the room, making sure there were no hidden surprises. That done, Nora motioned for Lydia and Recorder to come over and guard the tunnel that led further in, then went in search of loot. They gathered jewels and jewelry, as well as all the potions they could find. They left coin and books, resolving to pick those up on the way out. They pulled their arrows forth and cleaned them, knowing that they might be needed ahead. “What do you think is ahead?” Nora asked the ranger. “Maybe more mages, since they seemed to have cleaned out the bandits here. And definitely Draugr.” Nora nodded. She didn't like the Draugr, but they were a fact of life here, and she had no way of avoiding them if she wanted to get what she had come for. “Well, let's go,” she ordered, looking around at her people. “Same formation. But if we run into a bunch of Draugrs I want you up with us, fast,” she told their elf. Eldawyn smiled, knowing that she was their artillery. Nora still fretted over Eldawyn's lack of protection, though Annekke didn't have much more with her leather armor, but the ranger knew how to move and fight, and had a shield as backup. They moved into next tunnel, and soon heard the voices of a pair of people talking, heading toward them. Nora and Annekke set themselves, and two arrows found their marks, dropping the pair of mages. I almost feel sorry for them, thought Nora as she pulled her arrow from the dead mage. Almost, but these were mages involved in necromancy, and so deserving of none of her pity. The rest of the corridor and a room beyond contained Draugr, all killed by magic. She would be happy if that theme continued. The sound of a still moving one ahead disabused her of that notion, and let her know where the mages had stopped. They ran into more Draugrs further on. Most were slow in their feet and easy to take down, but one shouted flame at them, and Nora had to duck behind her shield to keep her eyes. She looked over the shield as the fire stopped, pretty sure that the Draugr had a cool down period. “Fus Ro,” she shouted, sending that Draugr and one behind it flying into the air to strike a wall and fall to the floor. She was on them in an instant, first striking down the one with the fire breath, then the other. They found other rooms, some in secret passages that needed a switch to open. Annekke showed her how to find them, the most likely places and the signs. She found one on her own, using Annekke's lessons, and was rewarded with a chest full of gems, some glowing with power. It was when she was picking up one of these gems, a large one that shone like the sun, that she realized she had made a mistake. “A new hand has touched the beacon,” said a harsh female voice in her head. “Listen, hear and obey.” What the hell, she thought, attempting to drop the gem back into the chest and finding that she could not. “What's wrong?” asked Eldawyn, stepping over to her obviously distressed friend. “This,” gasped Nora, holding out the gem. “A foul darkness has seeped into my temple. A darkness that you will destroy. Return my beacon to Mount Kilkreath. And I will make you the instrument of my cleansing light.” “Some kind of voice is in my head,” said Nora in an almost panic. “It's telling me to cleanse some darkness at Mount Kilkreath.” “Isn't that Meridia's temple?” asked Sofia. “Yes,” said Eldawyn, looking at the gem. “Can you drop it now?” “I think so,” said Nora, plopping the gem back into the chest. And immediately feeling it arrive in her belt pouch. “It doesn't seem to want me to let it go.” “Mount Kilkreath? Isn't that Meridia's temple?” asked Sofia again. “Yes,” said Eldawyn, looking over at Sofia. “It is. And that must be her beacon, the stone at the top of the temple that went missing some years ago.” “Who is Meridia?” asked Nora, about to panic again. “And what does she want with me?” “Meridia is a Daedric Prince,” said Eldawyn, looking like she was on the verge of panic as well. “Shit. I don't want to get involved with them. Aren't they evil?” “What did she say?” asked Eldawyn, her eyes now filled with curiosity. Nora told them what the Daedric Prince had told her, her eidetic memory reproducing the verse word for word. “Meridia,” continued Sofia, “is better than most. She actually cares for the souls of the dead. She can't stand necromancers or the undead. If she wants you to cleanse her temple and become the instrument of her cleansing light, it probably means there is a pretty sweet artifact at the end. I would do it. After all, it will get Meridia off your back, and probably help the people of Nirn in the bargain.” “Do I have a choice?” Nora asked, hoping there was a way out of it. “Sure,” said Eldawyn, snorting. “If you want to be tormented by the voice of an angry Daedra for the rest of your life. As Sofia said, the best thing to do is accept the quest. And get a good weapon or set of armor out of the deal.” Nora wasn't sure about the whole deal, but she had time to think about it. And the horn of Jurgen Windcaller was waiting. They entered another room, this one of two levels. A Draugr let out their leather lung call from the upper level and a sarcophagus burst open to reveal another. The mage heavy party made short work of them, and two now fully dead Draugr burned on the floor. They proceeded down some curving stairs and caught sight of a huge open cavern, with trees, waterfalls and brooks. They went down, then over, until they reached a long corridor. Nora was about to step forward when Annekke halted her with her arm. “See those spouts on the floor?” Nora looked and spotted what the woman was talking about. There were holes in some of the stones, and what looked like pressure plates. Annekke picked up a heavy two-handed sword and tossed it onto one of the plates, and flame immediately erupted from the right hand spouts, while the left stayed dormant. “Those would burn you to a crisp in a second,” said the ranger, pointing to the ones over on the left. “Those no longer work. At least I hope they don't.” With that Annekke stepped forward and to the left, and Nora strangled a cry as she realized what her friend was doing. “It's safe, but follow in my footsteps.” The party traversed the corridor of fire without mishap, and soon they were looking over a feasting hall patrolled by several Draugr. Fireballs took care of them and the party forged on. After going through a veritable maze of rooms and corridors they came out in a huge cavern, the one they had seen before. There were steps to the north and several skeletons sitting in thrones. Nora was sure they would come to life it they went up those steps. A bow twanged and recorder cried out, and arrow piercing her hand. Nora quickly pulled her shield off her back and sheltered behind it while she moved to the observer's side and examined the hand. Recorder had pulled the arrow through and was staring at a badly bleeding hand. Nora called up a healing spell in her right hand and closed the wound, all the while fending off arrows with her shield. “Motherfucker,” shouted Eldawyn, sending a ball of fire at the skeleton and blasting it apart. And attracting the attention of more archers, who started pelting her with arrows. The elf went down with one through her left shoulder, then Sofia took one through her armor and into the stomach. I've had enough of this, thought Nora, pulling her sword and Whirlwind Sprinting down the incline, right into one of the archers which fell immediately to her sword. She turned and batted an arrow away, then shouted Unrelenting Force at another archer, watching in satisfaction as it flew into pieces. Looking around and spotting no more archers, she ran up the incline to see to the injured. Sofia was lying on ground groaning, blood soaking the shirt she wore under her armor. Eldawyn was taking care of the wound, pouring in the golden magic of healing, and the puncture had almost closed. We need better armor, thought Nora, wishing she had worn her nanoarmor down here, despite its wear. Nora looked over at Eldawyn, an arrow still sticking from her shoulder, and started sending healing magic into it. She pulled out the arrow as she continued to heal, and Eldawyn turned a grateful smile her way. “Thanks. I stabilized it, but our friend here needed more immediate attention.” “Thank you,” said Sofia, taking a deep breath and sighing as the pain was gone. They explored the cavern, and Nora heard the musical sounds that denoted a word wall. After they went up some steps and around several paths they found it, near the river that flowed from a large Falls. Nora approached and the word burned into her mind, unlocked by a dragon soul. The word was Feim, and her mind told her that it would allow her to become ethereal, immune to damage, but conversely unable to inflict any. Still, she could see the uses of becoming invulnerable for some seconds. Finally they reached the final locked gate. She walked toward it, by a lit pillar, and the first of three gates rose. She reached the second pillar and the second gate lifted, while at the same time the first slammed shut. By the third pillar and the last gate opened while the second shut. It seemed like no one could get through all gates, but she remembered that the Greybeards had taught her Whirlwind Sprint, and seemingly just for this reason. She lined herself up and shouted the word, Wuld, sprinting faster than the eye could follow and through the three temporarily open gates. Once one the other side she pulled the chain that locked the gates open and let her friends in. Nora was normally very courageous, but she wasn't sure if she would have continued through this place without her friends, so she was more than happy that she could let them follow her. More tunnels, more rooms, and something that threatened to have several of the party run screaming into the night, spiders. Huge spiders, the famous, venomous Frostbite Spiders of that made their homes in so many tombs. Nora didn't like spiders, but having fought Deathclaws and feral ghouls, as well as the giant ants and cave crickets around Nuka World, the spiders didn't tug at any particular triggers. And they died easy enough to arrow, blade and fire. The truly giant one that came down from the ceiling in one chamber was harder than most, but her, Eldawyn and Sofia roasted it before it got its feet on the ground. One truly horrific room was covered in floor stones with the holes of fire spouts in them. Nora wasn't sure how they were going to get around, until Annekke taught her another lesson about traps, pointing out the pressure plates that were in good shape, as well as those that weren't. They walked careful over the floor, avoiding all the pressure plates but traversing the areas that had damaged triggers and made it safely across. Finally they entered the chamber of Windcaller's tomb, and four large statues emerged from the water as they entered. Nora moved cautiously ahead, looking for traps, but it was clear. And there, on a raised dais, was a sarcophagus, a large horn held in a stone hand atop it. Nora looked for traps but found none, and then triumphantly raised the horn from the hand, tensely waiting for something to happen. But nothing did, and the quest ended in an anticlimactic manner that she would wish for in the future, when so many ended in mighty enemies trying to stop her. They found another path that led back to the entrance to the tomb, bypassing the majority of the rooms they had traversed. Upon exiting the ruins Nora called up the time in her implant, surprised to see that almost the entire day had passed. It was still light when they reached the outside, and all of the women wanted a bath, especially Sofia and Eldawyn, who had their own blood on their bodies. “You found the horn,” said a smiling Valdimar. “Yes,” said Nora, pulling the glowing stone from her belt pouch. “And another quest.” * * * That night they stayed in the camp outside the ruins. Nora had said that it was because she didn't think it wise to ride off through the marsh at night. Actually she had something else in mind. The itch was still there, and she thought it well past time to scratch. The other women had gone to their tents, leaving her alone in hers. “Valdimar,” she called from the tent. “Please come here.” Nora had stripped from her clothes and waited for the Housecarl to enter her tent in anticipation. The man crawled through the opening, then stopped with wide eyes. “You have a task for me, my Thane?” he asked, a slight smile on his face. “Yes, Valdimar. I want you to fuck me.” “As you command, my Thane,” he said, pulling off his shirt and starting to crawl onto the furs. “No,” said Nora, putting a hand on his shoulder to stop him, almost laughing at the confusion on his face. “If you want to. I am not ordering you to do this. That would be wrong. But if you want to.” She let her voice trail off at that last, barely speaking. “Any man would love to bed you, my Thane,” said the Housecarl, stopping to pull off his trousers and boots. “Not Thane,” said Nora reaching over and taking his hand, pulling him to her. “While we are in bed together you are to call me Nora.” “Is that proper?” “I am not a proper woman, Valdimar. I am a horny slut who hasn't been fucked in weeks. And tonight I want to make up for that.” The man nodded and reached down to gently feel Nora's sex. He let out a gasp as he felt how wet she was, and then started to gently move two of his fingers in and out. “You are so tight. I'm afraid I might hurt you.” She had seen his penis, and while it was large, it was definitely not the biggest she had ever taken. “I want you inside me, now,” she said, reaching over and stroking his cock. The man moaned and moved himself into position, the head of his penis at her entrance. He pushed the tip in, then stopped, his breath exhaled. “You are so tight.” “Push it into me, slowly. Let me adjust.” The man did as told, pushing in an inch, then waiting several moments before pushing in more. Nora gasped as he penetrated her, smiling up at him to let the man know it was okay. Finally he was all the way in and Nora felt the flush of excitement at being filled, completely. “Now fuck me, Valdimar. Let me feel your manhood taking me.” Valdimar did as she wanted, pulling almost all the way out before pushing back in, slowly, tenderly. He was obviously taking his time, not wanting to hurt her, but Nora had other ideas. “Fuck me, Valdimar,” she cried out, grabbing him with both hands on his buttocks and pulling him in with surprising strength. “Fuck me hard.” The man did as he was told, thrusting in hard and pulling out fast, over and over. Nora loved the pleasure he was giving her, and she could feel the first tinglings of an orgasm. “You are so tight. So wet.” “That's a good combination, right?” gasped a breathless Nora. “It is,” he gasped. “The best.” Nora was almost at an orgasm when she felt the man's cock swell, then shoot his seed in her. “Shit,” she said in disappointment, her itch not scratched. “I'm sorry, Nora,” said Valdimar regretfully. “You were just too tight. But give me a minute and I will be ready again.” “So fast?” she asked, not sure if he would be able to match actions to words. “The elf had me drink a potion earlier on,” he said with a laugh. “I think she wanted you to be serviced well.” As he said, he was hard again in less than a minute, and he slid his cock into her well lubricated pussy and started moving. This time he kept at it until Nora was screaming in passion, her orgasm causing her body to thrash on the bed under her lover. She thought he would cum soon after that, but he kept thrusting, varying his motions, grinding his groin into her clitoris, driving her into another orgasm, better than the last. She decided that he was actually a very competent lover. Not as good as Mikael, but better than most she had had. She was through another orgasm before he finished inside her. Only it wasn't a finish, and after another minute his cock hardened inside her and he was at it again. More orgasms for her, then one more for him, and he pulled out, letting a flood of semen flow from her cunt. “By the Gods, but you worked me over well,” she said, reaching a hand over to play on the hair on his chest while he lay beside her. “Now I need to sleep.” “Do you want me to leave?” he asked, looking down on her. “No. Please stay.” He nodded and enfolded her in his strong arms. Soon both were snoring away, and Nora had a sleep that was filled with dreams of pleasure, and not of death. While she realized that this wasn't a man she would ever be able to fall in love with, he was definitely pleasurable company for the road. Nora woke just before sunrise, her internal clock waking her. The man was still snoring beside her, and she reached over and started playing with his cock. When it was almost hard she moved over to take him in her mouth. She enjoyed sucking cock. She also enjoyed the taste of his seed and her juices on it, and inhaled the member until it was lodged in the back of her throat. Valdimar woke and stroked her hair. She stopped and looked up at him, then moved to straddle him. “Sorry,” she whispered, “but I'm selfish this morning.” She sank down on the cock, letting herself adjust again. She let it stretch her for a moment then started moving. Slowly at first, enjoying the feel of being filled then empty, and letting him enjoy the way her vaginal walls gripped him. He groaned and she sped up the motion, until she was bouncing on him like a madwoman, riding a pair of orgasms before he came in her again. She let him stay there for some minutes before she lifted off, feeling more seed dripping out of her pussy. She rolled over on her back and he reached over to put a hand on a breast. “Thank you,” she said, reaching up and wiping the sweat from her face. “Thank you, Nora. That was an amazing experience. The best I have ever had. And anytime you need me to perform again, just ask.” Nora dressed and crawled from the tent, to see that her party was already sitting around the fire and having breakfast. The smell of bacon and eggs hit her, and she could feel her stomach grumbling. “Is there any more?” she asked, walking to the fire. She was sore all over, but satisfied, and her face broke out in an involuntary smile that she couldn't get rid of. “Scratched the itch?” asked Annekke, holding out a plate full of food. “Well and truly,” she said. “I feel wonderful.” “Well, you kept the rest of us up half the night,” said Sofia in an angry tone that was belayed by the gleam in her eyes. “By the Gods, woman. If you had come any more, or any louder, we would have thought you were being killed. I may have to give our big Nord another try.” “Same here,” said Eldawyn, smirking. “Think you can order him to see to me some night?” “I didn't order him to fuck me,” said Nora around a bite of bread and eggs. “I told him it was up to him, and it will be up to him if he wants to be with any of you. He's not our slave, after all.” “A man would have to be crazy to turn you down,” said Annekke with a laugh. “You're so tight,” she said, mimicking a man's voice. “Someday you'll have to tell me your secret.” Valdimar came crawling out of the tent, a triumphant smile on his face. “I will see to any of you ladies that want my attentions, though Nora always has first call.” “He's died and gone to Sovngarde,” said Sofia, elbowing Nora in the side. Valdimar didn't deny it, sitting there with a shit eating grin as he shoveled eggs and bacon into his mouth. And Nora decided that if the man never accompanied them into a crypt or tomb, he was fulfilling a vital task for the party. * * * “So, have you decided where we are going next?” asked Lydia, still giving Nora a strange look. The prim and proper Housecarl obviously didn't approve of her Thane carrying on with another Housecarl, and Nora, though she wanted the regard of the woman, didn't care in this case. If Lydia didn't think highly of Nora due to the Dragonborn's prowess in battle, then Nora would eventually ask Balgruud to reassign her. Not immediately, of course, since such an action would severely hurt Lydia's pride. “I think I need to do Meridia's quest first,” said Nora, letting out a sigh. “Longer time before I get back to High Hrothgar, but I see no way around it. I feel a compulsion to clear out her temple, and think it better to get it done.” “Good call,” said Eldawyn. “It's not good to have Daedric Princes mad at you. Though Meridia is better than most, since she has a thing about undead and necromancers. She will probably reward you with a mighty weapon for your troubles.” “Okay. Sofia, Lydia. What's our best route?” The women looked at the map, both tracing it with their fingers, then nodding to each other. “We go from Morthal to Dragonsbridge, three days,” said Sofia. “There's a good inn in that town where we can rest up and get clean. Then three days up the road to Solitude to Meridea's shrine. I recommend we take a side trip over to Solitude. It's a sight you don't want to pass up, so another two days there and two back. Back down this road to Rorikstead, then over to Whiterun, twelve days on good roads with no snowdrifts. Maybe not warm, but not freezing cold either, and there are inns along the way. From Whiterun we can go back to High Hrothgar, and you know how long that will take. A fucking month, thought Nora, shaking her head for a moment, maybe longer. But she had time, didn't she? She wanted to get on with taking care of the world eater, but didn't feel anywhere near ready. She had spent over a year preparing herself for the Institute, before she felt ready to take them on, and compared to this mythical world eater they were easy. Facing Alduin before she was prepared was asking for failure. “Okay. Let's do it. And I am looking forward to Solitude, so let's plan on three days there.” Lydia and Sofia both cheered, and Nora thought that was a ringing endorsement of that city. She wasn't sure what it would be like, but it was said to be the largest city in the kingdom, and the capital. She just hoped it lived up to the hype. So few things in either world did, after all. Entry Actions Report Entry PREVIOUS ENTRYChapter Sixteen – Morthal, and Vampires. 0 Comments There are no comments to display. Comments are disabled for future blog entries. 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  5. Jarl Idgrod the Elder sat back in her throne, reading the journal that Nora had delivered to her. “This is grave news indeed,” said the Jarl, closing the journal and looking at the woman who had become her champion. “Movarth Piquine is an evil that my predecessors thought they had taken care of for good. If he has returned we are all in grave danger.” “We need to deal with him, now, my Jarl,” said the steward. But not you, thought Nora, looking at the well-dressed steward. No, he was the kind of man who sent others to fight his battles. “I promised you a reward, and you have earned it. However. I have greater need of you. Steward,” she said, turning her attention to the man. “Call out the militia.” She turned back to Nora. “I will have some people gathered who can fight. Not all are warriors, but all can swing a weapon.” Nora felt her heart drop. All can swing a weapon, she thought, staring at the Jarl. Some poor fools who would most likely die if they went up against a master vampire. “What about the guards?” “They must stay here and protect the city, lest we be invaded by vampires while you are away. Now, I need you to lead my people. Will you do this?” What else can I do, thought Nora, nodding her head. If she didn't then the innocent town folk would go to their deaths, some maybe turned to vampires. “I will go. And then I need to continue on my own quest.” “Good enough. And know that we will be eternally grateful to you.” Nora didn't care about the gratitude, though it would be nice to have a friendly town to assist her while she was in the area. She nodded toward the Jarl, then went outside to wait. It was almost an hour before enough had gathered for her to call it a force. There were thirty or so townspeople, most without armor, all with at least one weapon. There were warhammers and battle axes, but mostly swords. Some appeared skilled in the handling of their weapons, others seem ill at ease with a blade in hand. Almost half of them were women. Nora realized that Nord women fought, some very well, including three of her followers. She had her doubts about Nord town folk women though. The men might get through with pure strength, while women with no skill were just casualties waiting to happen. “We're ready to go,” yelled Thonnir, the husband of the vampire the party had killed earlier. “Let's go kill the vampire.” “We will scout ahead,” said Nora, who knew the general direction of the lair. She mounted the horse that Lydia had brought from the stables, joining her companions. She thought it best to have the horses to give them the height advantage, and the option of retreating, if they ran into vampires in the swamp. It was twenty miles to the lair, almost two hours through the swamp, navigating along the tracks of high ground. The lair was noticeable from a slight distance, skulls on stakes out front, bloody bones scattered around. Nora guessed the vampires had the same housekeepers as the bandits, and neither had the sense to clean up so that their cave habitations were hidden. “The townspeople won't be here for an hour or so,” said Sofia, looking askance at the cave entrance. “Are we going to wait?” “I...” “Vampires,” shouted Annekke, her bow twanging. Nora turned to see three red eyed creatures in armor, along with two more people that had to be thralls, coming at them. Eldawyn dropped a fireball on an archer and a vampire who was calling up magic. The vampire went up like a torch, while the thrall rolled on the ground screaming. Nora met one of the vampires with her shield, slicing down on its shoulder and cutting deep. The vampire backhanded her shield with the arm hanging from the injured shoulder and drove her back. The woman was happy that the monster had chosen to hit her with the injured member lest she be launched back and into the air. She stepped forward with speed, her sword going through the neck of the vampire and cutting head from shoulders. The last vampire was burned down by Sofia, the woman staring at it with terrified eyes as she pumped fire into it. And then the fight was over. All of her people had made it through and the enemy was down. “We are not going to wait for the townspeople,” she announced, looking over her people. “They wouldn't stand a chance, and I'm not about to lead sacrificial lambs to their deaths.” Four of her companions nodded, but Sofia looked like she wasn't sure. “Anyone who doesn't want to come can stay out here and talk with the townspeople,” said Nora, looking straight at Sofia. “I'm coming,” said the obviously terrified women, bowing up. “Just promise me that you will make sure I'm truly dead if they take me.” “Promise,” said Nora, nodding. “That goes for everyone. Anyone does not make it and we make sure they're not coming back, So let's go.” As usual she and Annekke led. The others were quiet enough, even Lydia in her ebony armor, though she made more noise than the others. The hunter of the Commonwealth and the ranger were truly silent, though, moving like shadows down the poorly lit tunnel. They came to a well-lit room, a man sitting at a table to their front. Nora nodded at Annekke, who took the shot and killed the thrall. Another room beyond that, piled up with dead bodies and body parts, the smell horrible. Nora gagged quietly, then crept forward, letting Annekke cover her. There was a pit in the center of the room, a well-dressed thrall down among the bodies pulling off jewelry and checking them for coin. Nora landed on soft feet behind him and thrust her sword into the back of his neck and up into his brain. The body fell without a sound, and Nora smiled to herself at her silent kill. Another corridor, and then a ramp that led up to an elevated walk. The sound of voices ahead, and Nora thought they were about to encounter the vampires. An Argonian woman came walking down the path, warhammer slung across her back. Annekke took her out with an arrow that pierced the side of her head, laying her low in an instant. “I know you are there,” said a vampire dressed in the robes of a noble mage, getting up from his seat. “I have need of someone like you. As a vampire assassin.” Nora sent an arrow his way and he simply stepped aside, laughing. The other vampires, she thought three of them, and a handful of thralls, were also on their feet and pulling weapons. “Take them out,” yelled Nora, sending an arrow into a thrall, dropping her bow and leaping from the platform to the floor while drawing her blade. One of the vampires rushed at her, and with perfect timing she got her blade thrust straight out so it impaled itself through the sword. Its heart pierced, the vampire collapsed with a groan and fell, coming apart as it hit the floor. In seconds it was a pile of ash. All of the thralls were down, and two of the vampires, when the vampire lord performed the next act of his repertoire, and two of the dead thralls rose back to their feet, shambling forward. Not good, thought Nora. If the bastard could keep raising his people from death would they ever be able to take out all of his servants? The master and the remaining vampire in the chamber cast spells, and two more thralls rose. “Kill the vampires and the thralls will fall,” yelled Eldawyn, raising a hand to throw a fireball. And stopping in her tracks as the master turned his eyes on her. Shit. He can hypnotize people. Nora ran forward at speed, hoping to hit him before he knew what was happening. And stopped in her tracks as he turned those bewitching eyes her way. “Interesting. You have power, though I sense no magic boosting you. Something natural. You will make a formidable vampire, combining our abilities with your own.” Nora broke the hypnotic spell with a thought. She had asked the psychologists of the Institute, when she became the director, to condition her against any kind of hypnotic or drug induced compulsion. The vampire's hypnosis was different, but her mind was the same, and she was free. “How?” gasped the Morvath, starting to call up a spell. The vampire was faster than her, but Nora had a way to move even faster. A way the vampire knew nothing about. “Wuld,” she shouted, moving in a blur and into Morvath, knocking him back. She threw a fire spell into him, setting his robes aflame. But he didn't go up in a torch like the others, and Nora moved in, hitting him with blow after blow. Such was his vitality that no one hit did much damage, but as long as she swung with speed she was keeping him too off balance to do much more than back up. The vampire was on his last leg, barely able to get his bleeding arm up. With a war cry Nora spun around, her blade slicing through neck and taking the head of the master. The vampire folded up, his body smoking, then turning to ash before he hit the ground. Nora turned to take in the room, panting as her overheated body started pouring sweat through every pore. The room was empty save for her people, and all of them were accounted for. “Look out,” yelled Annekke, pulling an arrow back that seemed to be pointed at Nora, then releasing. The arrow zipped by and something grunted. Nora turned in that direction to see another vampire, the arrow through the heart, starting its fall into death. This one hadn't been very old, since a well decomposed body was at the end of the fall. They found one more vampire and a couple of more thralls in the cavern complex, killing them with overwhelming numbers. She attended to the master vampire, gathering the majority of the ash into an urn to take to the priest of Arkay. They looted the cavern, finding lots of gold and gems and some artifact armor and weapons. Nora equipped herself with an ebony blade that glowed with power, while letting Annekke have an ancient bow that had been heavily enchanted. On the way out of the cavern they ran into the ghost of Helgi, standing at the top of the ramp to the entrance. “I'm so tired,” said the child. “So tired. I think I'm going to sleep now.” And with that the spirit faded, finally at peace and released to her afterlife. Nora felt her eyes tearing up again. She was sad that the child had died before her time, but happy that she was no longer trapped in the twilight world between life and death. Another task accomplished. It had taken her off her quest for the Greybeards, but she had done good, and that was what was truly important. “We're ready to go in,” called out Thonnir, backed up by the other townspeople, when Nora and the party came out of the cavern. It was obvious that they had been waiting for her to come out as they worked up the courage to face the vampires. “No need. Morvath and his minions are dead, and will trouble you no more.” A look of relief appeared on every face. They had been given a reprieve and would not die this day. Nora wondered at the peer pressure that had driven them to the lair, not wanting to appear as cowards to their neighbors. Now they could go back to their lives and not worry about undead waiting to claim them in the night. “I knew you could do it,” said Jarl Idgrod when Nora came before her. “The dragon blood flows strongly through you veins.” She knew, thought Nora in slight shock. Of course she knew. She knows everything. “You promised an additional reward.” “Of course,” said the woman with a sly look on her face. “I have a position for a new Thane in my hold. It's mostly an honorary position, but it has some perks you might find of use. And it allows you to purchase land in my hold.” Nora wasn't sure she wanted a house in Hjaalmarch, but having a seer on her side might be a good thing. “I would be honored, my Jarl,” she said, bowing. “And may I ask what will happen to Hroggar?” “We have him in the jail for now,” said Idgrod. “He has seemed to come out of the compulsion the vampire Alva had him under. But we will be watching him before we release him back to the community. People who have done awful things under compulsion often try to end their lives, and that must not be allowed with this poor man.” Nora thought again that, no matter how crazy this woman seemed, she had a certain wisdom about her. About everything except her own family. “I have also assigned you a Housecarl for your service. You may use him as you wish. Take him with you, leave him here, it is up to you.” Nora met her new follower at the entrance to the hall. Valdimar was one of the Ugliest Nords she had ever laid eyes on. A big hulking warrior with a warhammer on his back, the man's face was covered in warpaint, or were they tattoos. Whichever they were they didn't look attractive at all. And he seemed to be the kind of man that was all power and no grace, not ideal for dungeon delving. “We could use him to watch the horses,” said Eldawyn, making a face that indicated that she found the big Nord less than desirable herself. Yes, we could, thought Nora, looking over the man again, who just stood there as if he didn't care if these strange women were discussing his fate. They had been talking about leaving a watch on the horses while they went into ruins. There was always the chance they would come out and find themselves afoot, the mounts dead on the ground or run off. Nora had thought that it might be useful to leave two of her team outside on watch, but that would take a third of her combat power from her. This guy might be the solution to that. “So, Valdimar what do you think about traveling with six women?” The way the man smiled when she mentioned that the rest of her party were women told her a lot of what she needed. “I will lay down the law with you right now,” she said, looking straight into his eyes. “If any of my girls want to get with you, that is up to them. But you will not force yourself on any of them. Harass them and you will be back in Morthal with a report of your behavior to the Jarl. Force yourself on them and I will have your balls. And you better believe that big as you are, I will take you.” She could see the fear in the man's eyes, and was sure he knew she would do as she said. Well good. “I will cause you no problems, my Lady,” he said, bowing his head. “Then we understand each other.” They spent the night in the inn, and Nora awoke to the sounds of one of the girls crying out in rapture. And Valdimar missing from the common room where they had left him. She followed the noise to Sofia's room, and satisfied herself that her companion was a willing participant. That was fine. She was repulsed by the man, but if any of her girls found him acceptable, that was up to them. As long as they monitored their cycles and took a potion if they were at risk of pregnancy. Sofia had a smile on her face the next morning, and Nora let her curiosity get the better of her. “How was he?” “Not the best I have ever had,” said the smiling woman. “But definitely not the worst. What he lacked in technique he made up for in size. Not large enough to hurt, but definitely of a size to make himself felt. And now that I think of it, his technique was actually pretty good.” Nora thought about that. She might have to try him out in the future herself, making sure that he didn't lie with her just because she was his Thane. That would be little more than rape, something she would not countenance. He still didn't attract her, but she had lain with men she thought ugly in the past, and when the lights were out only the pleasure mattered after all. After a quick breakfast they loaded the pack animals, put saddle bags on the horses, and were on their way, taking a path north through the marsh to Ustengrav. The marsh was actually quite beautiful, full of trees and flowers, and of course, mud crabs. The damned things were too damned aggressive, and they constantly found themselves killing them. They had a delicious meat, but it was difficult to harvest, and they didn't have the time for that.
  6. Morthal proved to be a sleepy town of about a hundred buildings, probably less than a thousand people. Tiny for a Hold capital. There was a gate, and a partial wall, but much of the town's defenses revolved around the stretches of water resulting from the huge marsh to the north. Many of the houses sat on stilts, and boardwalks connected strings of them. Numerous boats were tied to the many docks, and men and women carried fish and crustaceans into the town. A mill sat just outside the town, and there were a number of farms scattered about, some with an abandoned look to them. When asked about funeral arrangements they were directed to a hill behind a burned-out house, near the wooden hall that was the seat of the Jarl of Hjaarlmarch. They found the Priest of Arkay, the man responsible for taking care of burials, in the cemetery. The robed man was working along with some grave diggers wrestling a small coffin out of the ground. “Poor Helgi,” said the priest, nodding toward the child's casket. “Something keeps digging her up.” “How did the child die?” asked Nora, feeling her heart going out to the parents. She knew how it was to lose a child, the cruelest of events. “She died in a house fire, along with her mother,” said the priest, nodding toward the burned-out house down the hill. “Her father, Hroggar, claimed that his wife started the fire in the kitchen with bear fat, but many people in the town find that suspicious. Especially since Hroggar took up with Alva the day after his family died.” Of course it was a small town, and so rife with gossip. But something about this story sent a chill up Nora's spine. She had worked with Nick Valentine, the detective, on cases in the Commonwealth, and found that she had a nose for that kind of work. Be nice if I had Nick to talk with, she thought. “I want a traditional Nord burial for my friend here,” said Nora, gesturing toward the body Lydia and Sofia were laying on the ground. The priest walked over and looked down on the face of Toccata, still fresh and beautiful as she had been transported in the frigid conditions and decay had yet to set in. “She was beautiful. And it looks like she died by violence. What happened?” “She died in battle,” said Nora, holding back the tears that threatened to spill from her eyes. “She was courageous and steadfast, and is now in Sovngarde.” “I hope so,” said the priest. “No, I know so. The Goddess Kynareth showed her to me.” The priest gave her a strange look, like he thought she might be mad. Nora didn't care. She knew. “Do you want to take her armor and weapons.” “I want those buried with her. And a good coffin, with a headstone.” “That will cost you,” said the priest, who had obviously been thinking of a pauper's ceremony. “A donation of a thousand gold?” “That will be more than enough. And thank you.” “Anything else going on in this area?” asked Nora, suspecting that there was something dark under the quiet of the town. “Lots of people have been disappearing in the marsh,” said the priest, looking out over the swamp that surrounded the town. “Not just strangers, but marsh-men, those who know how to navigate the fens. And no one knows what happened to them.” “Sounds like some evil is out there,” said Eldawyn, her eyes looking out over the swamp with an intense expression. “Why don't we pay a call on the Jarl,” said Nora, looking at the longhouse. Jarl Idgrod Ravencrone sat her throne in the small hall. Small in comparison to Dragonsreach at least. She was an old woman, with eyes that seemed to look into the soul. A couple of guards and a steward were in attendance, and a young boy ran around yelling and screaming, while a pretty young lady with a passing resemblance to the old Jarl chased after him. “I come to pay my respects, Jarl,” said Nora, bowing. “Such courtesy. But I see that you are no usual traveler. There is a power about you. And a destiny.” “How do you know that?” asked Nora, giving the woman a curious look. “I see visions, my dear. Sent to me by the Gods? I have no idea, but sent to me by something.” Another chill up her spine, though Nora could see that knowing this creepy old woman could be to her advantage. “I wanted to talk to you about the burned-out house to the south of this hall,” said Nora, looking back at the children who were disrupting the hall. “Your grandchildren?” “My children, dear. For some reason the Gods gifted me with them at an age where most women can't have children.” Nora felt that there was something dark there as well, but not her business. “Hroggar's family died in that house. Hroggar claims it was a cooking fire out of control. Many of my people think that Hroggar started the fire himself.” “For what reason? Why would a man kill his own family?” Unless he was crazy, thought Nora. Seems to be something in the water here. “Lust will make a man do much evil. Hroggar moved in with Alva the day after the fire. My people believe he was cursed.” “Why not have him arrested?” “On hearsay and rumors? No, I have a mission for you, my dear. You can find out what my people cannot. I can see that you have the abilities to get to the bottom of this. I will reward you for your efforts.” Nora nodded in agreement. This crazy old woman seemed to be wiser than most rulers. She wanted proof before she punished a man, no matter what her people were saying. “I have business to the north, in Ustengrav. But I can take some time to look into this.” “Must be important business to see such a beautiful young thing to such an evil place. But I see that you will get what you seek, and gain the power you need.” Just how much does this Jarl know about me, thought Nora as she made her way to the town's Thaumatergist's Hut, the home of the region's one alchemist. The alchemist, one Lami, seemed scatterbrained, like many scientists Nora had known. She had a wide variety of potions, but very few ingredients. “I keep experimenting,” said Lami, looking into Nora's eyes. “That uses up my stock, and most of the experiments amount to nothing.” “I need a number of healing potions, and some cure disease as well,” said Nora. “Oh, and a dozen contraceptive potions.” “Planning some hanky panky, eh?” asked Lami with a smile. “Not that I'm judging, and better to have protection than an unwanted child I say. But maybe you should get a potion of pregnancy termination, just in case.” “A what?” asked Nora, intrigued. Not that she liked the option of abortion, but there were times it was necessary, especially if one didn't want to embrace celibacy, and couldn't afford a baby to get in the way of the mission. She knew mistakes happened, even with potions or pills. Even with rubbers. And she wasn't about to become celibate. “Give me a couple of those as well,” said Nora, counting out gold coins on the counter. It set her back quite a bit, but it would be worth it if it kept her people happy, and healed. “You've just given me more business than I could have gotten in a month otherwise,” said Lami, counting the coins as well. “What do you know about the burned-out house?” “Hroggar's house? Terrible story. The man murdered them; I say. But if you want more information, go talk with Falion, the mage, at his home, if you're not afraid of such people. Or his sister, who runs the inn.” Nora walked over to Falion's house. There were only a couple of hours of daylight left, and she wanted to get things done and get on with her quest. Only the girl she had seen in the Jarl's hall accosted her on one of the boardwalks. “Did I hear right,” asked Idgrod the Younger, stopping Nora. “You are going to Ustengrav?” “Why yes. Why do you ask? Is there something there you want? Perhaps to come along with me?” Nora didn't think the pretty young woman would be much good in the ruins, but maybe she had some hidden talents, like her mother. “Oh no. I'm no adventurer. But I have a problem. I have been having visions, like my mother. Some great evil is watching us, preparing to strike. A monster.” “Do you know where this monster is?” “No. But Falion may have a clue. If you ask him.” Nora knocked on the door of the mage, entering as a voice asked what she wanted. “I've come to see the mage,” said Nora, walking into the house and finding a Redguard man in the robes of a wizard. “If you come to accuse me of raising the dead and sacrificing children, you can turn around and walk out,” roared the man, standing up from his seat. “I have not, and have never done that.” Nora looked around at the one room house, occupied by the mage and a young girl who seemed in no distress whatsoever. There was an enchanting station and an alchemy setup, as well as books here and there. “I'm not here to accuse you of anything, Master Falion. I am an aspiring mage myself, and have several in my party.” Falion cast a spell and Nora felt the energy wash over her. Nothing harmful. In fact, she had felt the spell before. “Interesting,” said Falion, walking up to her and looking at Nora with curious eyes. “You have much power in you. Perhaps you should seek out the College of Winterhold so you can go from aspiring to master.” “I'm thinking of it, after I take care of my current business. But right now I have a question.” “And?” “I talked with Idgrod the Younger, and she told me of her visions.” “Yes, yes. Poor child. She has the gift of her mother. More like a curse. And she has more on her mind than she can handle.” “Well,” said Nora, filing that information away for the future. “She said something of visions about a monster. Any idea what she might be talking about?” “Yes,” said Falion, taking his seat. “Talk with Lami, and she will tell you about a bandit haunted tomb she saw while she was looking for alchemical ingredients. A day to the East, past Stonehills. Probably full of Draugr, zombies, maybe even vampires.” Shit, thought Nora. Another day, maybe two, out of her way. But she had committed to this mission, and the people of this town were counting on her, whether they knew it or not. “Are vampires a big problem in this region?” Falion laughed, a sound that carried no mirth. “Not until recently, though it has a long history of hiding the blood suckers. Movath, a master vampire, used to lair out in the marsh. That place is still cursed, and you would do well to stay away from it. Now, if there's nothing else.” Nora walked to the inn, looking for more information. It was looking like they would on the road tomorrow, heading back the way they came. She missed the teleporters of home, and wondered if there was a magical equivalent she might use. * * * Nora had gotten the party rooms in the inn since it was too late to hit the road that day. They would move tomorrow on the Frostmere Crypt, riding from before dawn on lightly burdened, fresh horses. She thought they might get there by early evening and assault the Crypt. While she had been hoping to meet up with a man for the night, there were none to be found in the inn with the exception of the awful Orc bard that assaulted their ears. If his lovemaking was as good as his singing, she was just as happy to avoid his embrace. Jonna, a Redguard like her brother, Falion, had been delighted to get some customers in, since very few people stopped in Morthal these days. The price of the rooms and the bath gave her, according to what she said, enough to keep the inn open for another month. The Redguard fascinated Nora. On Earth they would be called Black, or African American, though they looked different. Lighter skinned on the whole, with fine features and light-colored eyes, they really fit no Earth ethnicity. She thought them beautiful, and Jonna was a prime example of the people. The bath, in an annex of the inn, was well decorated and had an immediate calming effect. The smoke of incense rose from holders, while the soft light of wall sconces made everything look good. The water steamed, and was at the perfect temperature for relaxation. All six of the women gathered there since the water wouldn't remain hot for long. So all disrobed and got in. Nora had been surprised when Lydia joined them, since the Housecarl was a beauty, and there were at least three bisexual women in the party. No one was crass enough to hit on her, though, so everything went smoothly. Nora had always been a people watcher, and now she checked out her companions. All were pretty, some more than others. Except for her and Eldawyn, all had breasts in the C to D range. Nord women were hairy, armpits, legs and groins, just like Europeans had been before the war, and most people of the Commonwealth to this day. Nora shaved her legs and armpits when she could, and kept her bush well-trimmed. Eldawyn, like all elves, had no body hair, and a small bush that appeared to be her natural length. There was a mirror in the room, one of the few Nora had seen on the planet, and she looked at her body in it, comparing herself to the Nords. The most noticeable aspect was her breast size, B cups. She had inflated to C when she had Shawn, but they had returned to normal size soon after waking from cryo. There had been stretch marks, but they had disappeared under the effects of Lorenzo's oil, then the Supersoldier Serum. Her body was fit, also as a result of the serum, but what little fat she had still carried to this world was just about gone. Not to say she didn't have curves, just not as pronounced as her companions. Nora looked like an athlete, a female sprinter who had done some body building without hitting the extremes. Broad shouldered and narrow hipped, a muscular build with pronounced abdominals, muscular legs and well-defined arms. She still looked too thin for her considerable strength, but the serum had restructured her muscles so they were mostly fast twitch fiber, and several times stronger than they looked, with much greater concentrations of mitochondria than those of normal humans. In fact, she had won strength contests against some very fit men in the Commonwealth. She massed almost twice as much as she should have, given the dense muscles and the hardened bones that were almost break proof. McCready, her one-time lover, had once said that she looked like a superhero. She wouldn't take it that far, but she was satisfied that she had a body that would do what she wanted it to do, most of the time. She had large nipples on her breasts, something that drove men to distraction, and the muscles on her arms and legs weren't the only things that were tight. The skin was pale, with a scattering of light freckles, though her face was tanned from the sun. She had been growing her raven hair since arriving in Skyrim, and could now put it into a ponytail reaching halfway down her back, getting it out of her way during combat. And her eyes? Some men, and women, had told her that she had the most beautiful eyes they had ever seen, a deep blue that could shift into ice when she was angry. “You have a beautiful body, my Thane,” said Lydia, blushing as soon as she said the words. “I didn't know you were into women, Lydia,” said Eldawyn in a teasing manner, moving closer to the Housecarl. “I am not into women, my Lady,” answered Lydia, always so proper. “I but speak the truth. My Thane has a warrior's body, though still feminine. It is beautiful, just as a fine sword is a delight to the eye.” Nora laughed at that. She was glad that her body functioned as it did. It made it so much easier to kill that which needed killing. She also wanted to be attractive to either sex, and she did seem to have that effect. She had always loved sex. Nate had been her love, but not her best lover. She had remained faithful to him, but the realization that he was gone had set her free to enjoy what the world had to offer. And people seemed to find her attractive enough that she was seldom turned down. So she was happy overall. After they dried and dressed they tucked into a meal. Nora ate more than any two of the other women, her metabolism demanding everything, protein, fats and carbohydrates. She needed fuel, and would weaken much sooner than a normal person if denied sustenance. A weakness, and one that had hurt her in the past, but one she was willing to bear, since she could eat... “Sweet-rolls,” she said, rolling the word off her tongue like it was the most wonderful thing in the world. And she then proceeded to devour a half dozen of the rich pastries. “Share your bed tonight?” asked Eldawyn when the others had retired. “Of course. I think both of our demons need the stimulation.” That night she had no dreams, and believed that the sex had driven them away. * * * They started before dawn and rode fast, pushing the horses. They passed Stonehills just after noon, and the sun was beginning to set when they reach the crypt. The long row of steps leading from it showed it to be another Nord ruin. People were fighting at the bottom of the steps, and woman against a trio of men. She was holding her own, but when Nora charged in the fight was over. “Get out of my way,” screamed the woman, waving her blade. “I've had it with these assholes. I want out.” The woman threw a missive her way and ran into the dusk. Nora was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. There promised to be many more bandits for her to take care of inside. The crypt was no problem at first, and the party moved stealthily through the corridors and rooms. Nora and Annekke, the best at stealth, led the way, taking down bandits with arrows. At one point a couple of bandits charged them after the pair had killed another two. The bandits were taken down by arrows before they got within sword range. “Not bad,” said Annekke, looking over with a smile. “Thanks,” replied Nora, proud of how she was improving with the bow. While nowhere near the proficiency of the ranger, she had seen great improvement over her archery from when she had first tested with Aela. There was a puzzle, no problem for Nora's mind, and then they were into the cavern at the center of the crypt. The dying bandit leader was there, complaining that one of his people had stolen his sword and was going to place it on an altar somewhere. The man died after having his say, and the party moved on with no regrets for the orc. A blue light shone ahead, a Khajiit struggling to put a sword on the altar while a glowing azure figure attacked him. “Wisp Mother,” said Eldawyn, pulling up fire in her hand. Nora didn't know what a Wisp Mother was, but Edla seemed to think it was trouble, and it was glowing blue, the color of cold. Nora pulled up her own fire spell, and along with Sofia they bombarded the creature with flame. It raised illusions around it, which did nothing to divert the triple balls of fire. “What should I do?” she asked Eldawyn when they got to the altar and she had picked up the sword, obviously some kind of artifact. “I think you need to place it in the cradle,” said the elf. “This was a summoned creature, and I bet the blade prevents it from coming back.” “Sounds good,” said Nora, placing the blade carefully in the stand. Something glowed, and she had a feeling that a barrier had been dropped and the monster known as the Pale Lady wouldn't be coming back. Then another sound came to her, and looking to see that her people weren't reacting she knew what it was. “This way,” she said, leading them over a stream and toward another set of stairs. She could see the curved wall when halfway up, and ran the rest of the way, the singing of the wall growing louder with each step. Iil, it said, and the word unlocked in her mind with a dragon soul, letting her know she now had the first word of Ice Form, the ability to freeze enemies. “Seems useful,” she said, leading the others out into the night. They started off for Stonehills, reaching there before ten and staying the night. * * * The exhausted horses walked into Morthal about two in the afternoon. Nora had pushed them hard, probably harder than necessary, but she had wanted to get back to town and see how Idgrod the Younger was doing. Her heart had gone out to the young woman. Nora didn't have visions, but she knew how her nightmares affected her. She could only imagine that it was worse seeing future events that might or might not occur. And not knowing which it was. They put up the horses in the stable and paid for their feed, then headed for Falion's house. “Idgrod,” said Nora by way of greeting as she saw her on the boardwalk. “I killed the monster in Frostmere Crypt. Have the visions gotten better?” “No,” groaned Idgrod, her young face stricken and showing her deep distress. “I'm still having them. A dark monster who will come for us all.” Must not have been the right one, thought Nora. She needed to get to Ustengrav, but she was invested in this young lady's problem and couldn't just leave her to suffer. “Falion,” she called out as she knocked on his door. “Come in. Come in.” “Falion,” she said as she entered the hut, flashing a smile at the man's adopted daughter, then looking at the mage. “We cleared out Frostmere Crypt. Put the Pale Lady to her rest. But Idgrod is still having horrible visions. I think I didn't kill the right monster.” “I think you are right. I wonder if it has anything to do with the vampire problem we've been having.” “Vampires? You knew about vampires and sent us after a damned Wisp Mother.” “She needed putting down, Adventurer. So you still did a service to the hold. But now we need to address them.” “What about the burned house? Your sister seemed to think it was a curse.” “You could check into it.” Nora left the house pissed at the mage, almost ready to knock him on his ass. Not a good move. There seemed to be too many evil mages in this land, and it needed as many good mages as it could get. So she swallowed her anger and led her people to the burned-out house. The feeling hit her as soon as she walked into the ruined structure. Something was here. Not really evil, or harmful, but not right. And then she saw her, the glowing figure of a little girl. “A spirit,” yelled Lydia, drawing her sword. “Housecarl, stop,” yelled Nora, putting out a hand to keep Lydia from moving forward. “It's just a little girl. And what's your name, sweety?” she asked the spirit, crouching down as if she were talking to a live child. “Helgi,” said the ghost. “And my daddy said I was not supposed to talk to strangers.” “I'm a friend, honey. What happened to you?” “It was hot and I was afraid. Then it got cool and everything was okay. Would you like to play a game with me?” Nora could imagine the terror the little girl must have felt while the fire moved closer. If Nora found that her father had been responsible she wouldn't need the Jarl's justice. She would take his head by herself. “Can you tell me what else you know?” “The other one doesn't want me to talk. But if we play and you can find me, I can tell you. It has to be after dark, though, so the other one can play.” “Okay. I'll come after dark.” The spirit of the girl faded away, and Nora resolved to find out what happened. First she visited Idgrod the Elder to tell her what she had learned. And to discuss her daughter. “My daughter is none of your business. I appreciate what you are doing, but there are some things here that don't welcome your attention." Nora left the hall feeling uncomfortable. She didn't have time to dig too deeply here, and the Greybeards were waiting. So, settle the question of the burnt house and the little girl who couldn't find peace, then go after the vampires, wherever they could be found, and then head out. * * * Nora and her team napped through the afternoon, eating a meal at the inn and walking outside as the night was falling. They hurried to the house, where the spirit of Helgi awaited them. “Are you ready to play?” asked the little girl. “If you can find me, I can talk to you.” And with that the spirit faded away. “The cemetery,” said Eldawyn with conviction. “Her body is there, so that is where she will go.” The party ran out of the house and up the hill to the graveyard, to find that the coffin that the men had been placing back in the ground was again exposed. The little girl stood over the coffin, waiting. “The other one is here,” said the girl, and suddenly the temperature seemed to drop around them. “A vampire,” yelled Lydia as the red eyed woman came running out of the night, fangs bared. She headed straight for Nora, ignoring the others, moving with incredible speed. The woman grabbed Nora with arms of frightening strength, starting to bend her back. Nora went with it, pivoted on a foot and pulled the vampire over a hip into a Judo throw. The vampire landed on her back with a scream, started to scramble to her feet, and fell back with a pair of swords thrust through her body. Eldawyn sent flame into the creature, which went up like she was made of oily rags. “A fucking vampire,” said Sofia, staring down at the burning woman. “We've got fucking vampires. I don't want to become a fucking vampire.” “Then don't let them bite you,” said Annekke, stringing her bow. “Simple.” Maybe not so simple, thought Nora. That creature had been stronger than she was, and if not for her martial arts experience it probably would have sunk its fangs into her neck. From what she understood, vampires turned mortal through the transmission of a disease. The cure disease potion would save anyone bitten, but she only had two of them. Should have bought a bunch, she thought, but she hadn't known what she would be dealing with while shopping. “Laelette,” screamed a man, running out of the night with torch in hand. “What did you do to my Laelette?” The man looked like he wanted to attack, but thought better of it seeing the six women with weapons out. “She was a vampire,” said Nora. “She attacked us.” “No. It can't be. She went off to join the Stormcloaks.” “Who are you?” asked Nora, feeling sorry for the man who had just discovered that his woman had become one of the undead. “Thonnir. I work at the mill. And Laelette was supposed to meet Alva in the marsh before leaving.” “The other one tried to make me like her,” said the spirit of Helgi, reappearing. “But it got so hot.” The vampire tried to turn the child, but Helgi got caught up in the fire and burned to death, thought Nora, shuddering. “Who is Alva?” asked Recorder. “Isn't that the woman that Hroggar took up with,” said Lydia, staring at the child's spirit. “Maybe we should look over her house.” The house was in the shadows, and the party crouched nearby waiting for the patrol to pass. The guards off, they moved to the door and found it locked. “Anyone have any bobby pins?” asked Nora, getting blank looks. “Lock picking tools?” “I have some lock picks,” said Annekke, pulling a couple of the iron hooks from her belt pouch. “I used to be able to pick with the best of them, but it's been a long time.” “Give them here,” said Nora, taking the picks and a regular knife and going to work. She had picked hundreds of locks in the Commonwealth, and had become something of an expert in the craft. These were different locks, different tools, but after breaking one pick she figured it out. The mechanism was much simpler than those of Earth, and soon she heard the lock click open. The house was fully lit by wall sconces and a fireplace, and a man was getting up from his seat as they crept in. “You cannot have her,” screamed the man who Nora assumed was Hroggar, waving a cudgel in the air and coming at them. Nora stepped forward, left forearm rising in a block that caught Hroggar's descending arm, right palm striking his face and rocking his head back. The club dropped from his hand and he fell back, unconscious. “Someone tie him up,” ordered Nora. “You have to teach me that way of fighting,” said Annekke, looking down at the unconscious man. “Sure. When we have some time.” The Nords basically fought by swinging fists into each other until one when down. No defense, no finesse. She thought some of the martial forms of Earth would catch on here, especially with smaller people like the women. Something to think about another time. They took a key off of Hroggar and searched the one room house. Nothing incriminating, but there were some stairs leading down to a door. The key they had taken opened the lock, and the evidence they needed was there. A coffin, with a journal sitting inside. Nora read the journal with a sense of horror. There was a master vampire in the area, who was turning selected townspeople into his own kind. Others were just food, and Nora thought of the abandoned farms she had seen in the hinterlands. And the master was planning to take over the entire area, turn it into his private vampire kingdom. “We need to talk with the Jarl,” said Nora, looking at her people. “And then we have a master vampire to take down.” She really didn't like the idea of facing something that powerful. Laelette had been bad enough. A vampire infinitely more powerful and his minions? She might be risking all of their lives going after him, but she couldn't just walk away and let all of these people die. Or be doomed to an unlife that would sentence their spirits to Oblivion.
  7. Damn, it's cold, thought Nora as she sat her horse along the road north. This was the sixth day on the road, moving in the direction of Dawnstar. Nora thought she would visit that hold capital eventually, but not now. They had stopped at an inn in a small town the day before, so everyone was clean and well rested, though tonight would be another camp in the woods. Annekke had come with them, requesting some adventure while she could get it. Nora had been impressed with the ranger and had taken her on, and now the party was seven. All women, she thought with a smile. She had had all female teams before in the Commonwealth, but never more than five. They were getting some strange looks along the way, seven beautiful women riding in a group. Nora had no doubt that they could handle anything along the way. The road had been full of wolves, and even worse, sabre cats. The cats were exact duplicates of the saber tooth cats Nora had seen in museums prewar. Large, lion size, with oversized teeth and sharp claws. They had been hard to kill, but fortunately for the party they tended to go after the horses first. Hard on the mounts, and they had lost two already, having to shift equipment and saddle a pack beast in one case. Even worse in the long run there was no graze along this section, and they had to use the oats they had packed to feed the horses. That could get to be a problem in the next couple of days. “Fort Dunstad should be around this next bend,” said Toccata with certainty. “Have you decided what you want to do?” Nora had been grappling with that question the entire morning. Dunstad was an old Imperial fort that had been abandoned when the Hold had gone over to the Stormcloaks. Unfortunately, those soldiers hadn't garrisoned it and bandits had moved in. Even more unfortunately for the people of the region the bandits were aggressive in their acquisitions, and the people in the village they had just left had suffered severely. “What did they say. A score of bandits. One mage?” “Their best guess, my Thane,” said Lydia, frowning. “It should be easy enough,” said Sofia, smiling. “We have four that can throw magic, and three expert bows. If we can get close before they spot us we should be able to take them out quickly.” “Toccata,” said Nora, looking over at their expert on geography. “How about you? You look like you’re having some doubts.” “I, don't know,” said the woman, shaking her head. “I feel like my doom is approaching and I am driven to meet it.” “Then we go around,” said Nora, looking at the others. “No,” said Toccata forcefully. “You are right to be concerned about the villagers. They don't deserve what these bandits are doing to them. We need to right this situation. Besides, we can’t act on some silly feelings that might not be real.” “Okay. We go in and take them out.” They left the horses, seven riding beasts and five pack animals, tethered to some trees off the road. Nora was concerned about sabre cats, but she couldn't let that stop her from putting paid to the bandits. The crept in, moving silently, three bows strung and ready, four left hands ready to fling magic. There was a bandit on the wooden watch tower to the right of the gate, another on the top of the tower to the left. The fort looked formidable, and Nora was sure that if it had a full garrison it would be a hard nut to crack. It was missing its gates, the last gift of the retreating Legionaries. There were spiked barriers to prevent people from riding through quickly, easy enough for people on foot to traverse. The bandit in the wooden tower called out, then pulled back on her bow. Three bows twanged and the archer went down with a trio of arrows piercing her breast. Eldawyn threw a fireball and the lookout on the stone tower fell to his knees, burning and screaming. Nora winced as she ran forward. Fire magic was very useful, but she preferred killing her opponents quickly with steel or arrow. Only it wasn't always possible. A trio of bandits met them at the gate. One had on armor, the other two soft clothing, not having time to put on their protection. Eldawyn sent a stream of cold into the one on the left, Toccata the one on the right, while Nora shield bashed the one in the center, knocking the man back and onto his haunches. A quick thrust on the way by and he was taken care of. Arrows took out the one bandit mage before she could come fully awake and blast the intruders. The party spread out as they ran into the first courtyard, determined to take down the bandits before any of them could get set. Toccata ran at one of the bandits, cold flying from her hand as she raised her sword to finish him off. Two more bandits suddenly came out of the bushes, one with a hammer, the other with a short sword. Toccata yelled a Nord battle cry and brought her sword around to block the short blade, and took a hammer blow to the other side that folded her over and knocked her to her knees. The sword man thrust through her chest, then knocked her back with a knee. The injured woman screamed as she struggled to get up. Her struggles ended when the short sword was thrust through her throat, severing her spine. “No,” screamed Nora, running toward the bandits. The bandit with the hammer brought it up, then down in what would have been a killing blow. Nora stopped in her tracks and the hammer dug into the ground. “Fus Ro,” she shouted, just wanting the bandits out of there so she could see to her friend. She fell to her knees, looking into eyes that were already glazing in death. She called up a healing spell and started sending energy into her friend, crying out in pain as Toccata refused to heal. “You’re dead, bitch,” yelled the hammer man, back on his feet and coming at her. “I don't have time for you,” yelled Nora, changing over the spell and sending flame directly into the man's head, blinding him instantly. He dropped his hammer, put his hands over his eyes, and stumbled away. Nora turned her attention back to her friend and continued to send healing energy into her. “Nora,” said Eldawyn, dropping to her knees beside the leader and enfolding the Dragonborn in her slender arms. “Stop. She's gone. I'm sorry, but she's gone.” Nora stared at the Altmer with wide eyes, tears flowing. “Then what fucking good is healing magic if I can't use it to save her.” “It doesn't work that way, Nora. Once the spark of life is gone it takes a master level spell to reunite spirit and body, and only then if you do it in time.” “We can't bring her back?” asked a tearful Nora in a quiet voice. “As a zombie, yes,” said Eldawyn, shaking her head as her own tears flowed. “You wouldn't want that. She wouldn't want that.” “No, she wouldn't,” said Sofia, looking down on her rival with tears flowing. “She's in Sovngarde now. Paradise for a Nord. She died bravely in battle, so there's no other place she can go.” “I didn't even get to know her that well,” cried Nora. “She was always so quiet, so steady, so ready to let me know what was going on. But never talking about herself.” “She was in mourning,” said Sofia, kneeling down and taking one of Toccata's hands. “Not that she would have ever let you know. Her husband was a Stormcloak soldier, killed in the war, and all she talked about with me was how someday she would be with him again.” “My Thane,” said Lydia, walking toward Nora with Recorder, a burly half naked man between them. “We found the boss sleeping off a drunk in his bed.” Nora was on her feet in an instant, walking over to look at the man. “You motherfucker. If not for your gang my friend would still be alive. You..” Nora ran out of words, bringing up a hand and sending flames into the bandit. She wanted this man to suffer, to pay for the death of Toccata. Slow roasting, the slower the better. “Nora, no,” shouted Eldawyn, sending a wave of cold into the bandit that snuffed out his life in an instant. “Why,” shouted Nora, turning toward her friend, fire still playing in her hand. “That was too easy. Too easy.” “Because I didn't want to see you beating yourself up over his death. Because I didn't want you having more nightmares than you're already going to have.” Eldawyn stepped up and enfolded Nora in her arms, and the two women stood there for a moment letting the sobs come out. We need to get moving, thought Nora, unwilling to let the depression carry her away. “Get the horses. We will bring her with us so she can have a traditional Nord burial. We can do that much for her.” * * * Five hours later they were almost to the turnoff to Morthal. They stopped and made camp, building a roaring fire and pitching their tents. Nora stood outside away from the fire by the body of Toccata for some time after night fell. “You need to come by the fire, my Thane,” said Lydia, approaching as if afraid of disturbing her. “It's cold out.” “Not as cold as the grave,” said Annekke, coming over with bowed head. “She was a warrior, and died a warrior's death. She is surely in Sovngarde this day.” “If you believe in such places,” Nora said in a sarcastic tone. “But, you believe in the Goddess,” said Lydia, shocked at the way the conversation was turning. “You saw her.” “Yes, I saw her, The Goddess is real, or else I wouldn't be standing here. Unless I've gone mad and none of this is real. But souls that ascend to an afterlife? I find that more difficult to countenance. We're mortal. We die. And that is the end.” “You are wrong, my Thane,” cried Lydia. “One day you will be there. Do not doubt.” Nora shook her head and went back to the fire. She would take the first shift alongside Annekke. She couldn't sleep, and she wanted to make sure the body of her friend was undisturbed through the night. So she sat there with a bottle of wine, drinking the liquid down as she thought about the day. She had lost many companions in the past. Dozens of them, gone down in battle, or felled by disease. But this was a first for this world of wonder that was not feeling very wonderful about now. I never even got to know her that well, thought Nora, visualizing the radiant smile and twinkling blue eyes of the Nord woman. She lit up a room when she entered, so beautiful and fresh. And I never even knew she had lost a husband because I was too focused on what I wanted. She took a last swallow from the bottle and threw it angrily out into the night, then sat quietly. Annekke let her stay that way until their shift was over, and Nora was grateful to the woman for understanding her need. “Get some sleep, my Thane,” said Lydia as she moved to the fire to relieve the first shift. “I'll check on you later,” said Eldawyn in a caring voice. Nora climbed out of her armor and fell onto her furs, pulling her bearskin cloak over her body and settling in. Her mind was still swirling and she didn't think she could sleep. But something dragged her down into the darkness and she was back in Kynareth's realm, clouds underfoot. The Goddess came to her, wearing only the swirling piece of gossamer, and Nora looked down to see that she was naked as well. “I'm not really in the mood,” she told the Goddess, wondering if the being would rage at her. Not that she really cared at the moment. “It would not be appropriate in your time of mourning,” said the Goddess, her voice gentle. “You enter my realm as you are, without the things you hang on your body. I just wanted to put your mind at ease as to the fate of your friend.” Suddenly Nora was no longer in the Goddess' realm. She was standing in a vast hall, her body clothed and glowing. As were the other people in the hall. Many of them, thousands, more, in a hall that seemed to stretch forever. She looked down one end to see it disappear in glowing mist many miles away. Looking the other way she saw the same. People were singing songs, dancing, hefting foaming mugs as platters groaning with meat sat on the table. A pair, a woman with two swords and a man with a greatsword, sparred, swinging, dodging and laughing. And there, in front of her, facing her across the table, was Toccata, dressed in a flowery dress, her arm around the shoulders of a handsome Nord man. They kissed and gazed into each other's eyes lovingly. Nora felt herself tearing up yet again, tears of sorrow that her friend was gone, tears of joy that she had found what she was looking for. Toccata looked away from her husband, her eyes locked onto those of Nora. She raised her mug and smiled, and the room faded away. Wait, thought Nora. I wanted to talk to her. To apologize. “So you see, she is in Sovngarde, in the Hall of Shor. Safe from Alduin. And there she will sit with those she loves, and wait for more loved ones to join her. For you to join her, when the time comes, many long years from now.” “As long as I die with a sword in my hand,” said Nora, thinking of so many ways she could die without a weapon. “Where did you hear that? The Nord saying of may you die with a sword in hand. Many heroes have traveled to Sovngarde from their death beds without grasping a hilt. No, you prove yourself in life, and it matters not your condition when you die.” “I wanted to talk with her. To tell her I was sorry.” “Mortals are not meant for the Halls of Shor prior to their deaths. And what is there to be sorry about? She followed you of her own will, knowing the risks, and died bravely in service to a cause she loved. What more can be asked.” “Thank you, Kynareth,” said Nora in a choked voice. “This is such a comfort. To know that this is real.” “Of course, child. You are not from this world. You were not raised with the stories, the sagas of heroes. Of course you need proof.” “I am just so happy for Toccata,” said Nora, starting to cry. “I have led many people to their deaths, and they all hurt. She hurt more than most.” “You are a most unusual hero, Nora Jane Adams. So brave and fierce and heartless toward your enemies. And so caring and compassionate toward the helpless. And loving towards those you are close to. So unusual in a warrior queen, and that will make you my favorite when all is over. Now, back to the land of the living, and remember what you have seen this night.” Nora woke as the sun was rising, her heart lifted. There was still a pang of sorrow for Toccata, but she knew the Nord was going to be okay for the rest of time. And the people with her would go to that hall when they died. As long as Nora took care of Alduin, the elephant in the room. “My Thane,” said Lydia, sitting down next to Nora while she ate a hasty breakfast. “We have Toccata on her horse, ready to travel.” “That's not her,” said Nora, seeing the looks of confusion on the faces of everyone around the fire. “It's a shell, a husk. She sits in Shor's Hall this day, celebrating a reunion with her husband.” “You believe,” said Sofia in a hushed voice. “I saw. The Goddess revealed Shor's Hall to me. And it was wonderful.” Her face then turned serious. “Toccata made it safely to the Hall. She is in no danger. But that bastard Alduin will eat other souls, deny other heroes of their reward. Which is why we must prepare ourselves for the battle which will rip his own soul from his body.” * * * The next couple of days passed without major incident. Wolves, a single sabre snow cat, a little different than those to the south, a trio of bandits who ran on seeing the strength of the party. A few arrows were sent after them but Nora forbade a chase. She thought on her meeting with the goddess. Nora was not a woman of faith. She had been disappointed too many times in the past. She believed in what she could see and feel, and with her exposure to the technologies of the Commonwealth not even always those. But she had met with the Goddess twice now. The first time there had been physical evidence of her meeting. The Divine's semen was on and in her. And Danica had verified that she had working ovaries, a miracle that not even the science of the Institute could pull off. She decided that she needed to learn more about the Divines, and the Daedric Princes as well. And might as well read up on the Gods of the elves since all were real and had tangible power in the world. And she thought about her party. She needed to learn more about them. Their hopes and dreams, their motivations for helping her. She knew they were making good coin on their adventures, but also realized that was not enough. They all had a reason for being here and she needed to know what that was. To know them, deep down. Lydia had been assigned by her Jarl, but the woman was so devoted it went beyond a mere assignment. Eldawyn loved the adventure and also liked Nora's touch. She had seen the elf going off with men before, so she was not a committed monogamist and could have all the sex she wanted without putting her life on the line. Sofia? She really didn't know why the funny raven-haired woman was with her, but she had also accompanied the first Dragonborn. Was she on a crusade, or just following to deal with the boredom of life in Whiterun? And what about Annekke? The woman was still young enough for one last adventure, and attractive enough to get someone more adventurous in her life than her sad husband. But why wasn't she tracking her neighborhood bandits with the guard, surely a safer pursuit than following a hero on her journey of discovery? Recorder was an enigma as well. Nora understood that she had been assigned to follow a Dragonborn, it didn't matter which one, by the mysterious Academy. She disappeared for long stretches when they were in the cities, always to reappear before they hit the road. The woman loved to fight and was a madwoman in combat, and Nora wondered if that was her motivation. No, she needed to talk to them more, to find out more about this culture that literally worshiped heroes and the death of heroes. Not all of them would make it to the end of the journey and people would come along to replace them. It would be easier to just let them remain faces that went into battle beside her. But that was unfair to them, and unfair to her. She needed to be able to mourn them when they fell and not just walk away from a pawn that had been sacrificed. “You seem to have been lost in thought through the day,” said Lydia as they made camp. “Not exactly sad, but not in the moment either. That can be dangerous, my Thane.” “Why are you with me, Lydia? I know the Jarl assigned you to me, but it has to go beyond that.” “I...” “Tell me honestly. I will think no less of you.” “The Jarl assigned me to the first Dragonborn. You know that, right? And I failed to keep him alive. I need to prove myself, and you are the charge I need to protect.” “And you always wanted to be a Housecarl? To sit in a palace and guard the rich and famous?” “No, my Thane. I wanted to follow a hero. The Jarl knew this. He had heard me talking about this all of my life, from the time he bounced me on his knee until I had been certified by Iraleth as a warrior.” So, she is related to the Jarl,” thought Nora, staring into the fire. And he had no qualms about sending her into danger. But that's their culture. “Why me?” “I want to be here, my Thane, with you. You are the most heroic person I have ever met. You are an accomplished warrior who admits she doesn't know everything and asks the advice of others. You are stronger than any woman I have ever seen, and move like no one on this world. But you're humble as well, not beating your chest and telling everyone how formidable you are.” “And you want me to survive?” “Of course,” said Lydia, a thoughtful expression on her face. “You are the hope of the world, of defeating that which would deny us Sovngarde. And, well, you are an amazing person, one I would willingly sacrifice myself for.” To expunge your guilt over losing your first charge. “I don't want you to die to save me, Lydia.” The Housecarl started to protest, but Nora held up a hand to silence her. “Do what you must to support me in battle, Lydia. If that involves putting yourself at risk, so be it. But don't jump into a hopeless situation just so you can die beside me. Understand?” “I, will try, my Thane. But if I never get to Sovngarde, I will at least have this.” Nora thought there was no way Lydia wouldn't get into Sovngarde. Not with her courage and skill. She was also beautiful, and could have a life far away from war and adventure, but this seemed to be what she wanted. Lydia went to her bed while Annekke was up to pull second shift, Nora's. The Sole Survivor had been able to go without sleep for days while out tracking Raiders. There was no reason to believe that she couldn't do so here. “So, Annekke. One last adventure, huh.” “I want in to Sovngarde,” said the woman with a smile. “You are a hero, and what better position to secure my place there.” It's almost like a death cult, thought Nora. Though not really, since these Nords seemed to love life. They ate, drank and made love with the best of them. Most had a good sense of humor and would go out of their way to help. No, they didn't want to die, but they realized that there was something beyond this life and they wanted it. The night passed and Nora stayed up until the dawn. She talked with Recorder, and Sofia, learning all she could about them. Sofia was in it for the glamour of following the Dragonborn, something she could trade for the attention of others. For all her talk of using people the blue-eyed brunette wanted acceptance. That was a motivation Nora could understand. Many people were like that, and she was sure Sofia for one had a strong sense of self preservation. Recorder was more of an enigma, and Nora decided to get right to the point with her. “I notice that you eat, drink and dance,” said Nora, looking into the strange eyes of the unusual woman. If fact, Recorder had a problem keeping her clothes on when dancing on a table, something the Nord men seemed to appreciate. “But I never see you with a man. Or a woman for that matter. Is there a reason beyond the regulations of your Academy?” Recorder sat silent for a moment, digesting the question, then turned sad eyes on Nora. “I, don't feel that comfortable with the people here. Not to open myself up to sex, much less love. Oh no,” she said quickly, cutting Nora off. “I'm no virgin. The academy disapproves of long-term liaisons, but we are allowed lovers and I have had many. But I could connect with those people since they were from my culture, while these people see me as strange, and if I let myself go with them they will find out just how weird I really am.” Nora could see a project here. One that might take time, but if Recorder was going to put her life on the line the Dragonborn wanted her to get the most out of the good things in life. Eldawyn was last. She thought she knew the elf better than anyone else in the party. But she still didn't know her true motivations. “Oh, I'm only here for the loot,” said the elf with a laugh. “I need to live in luxury while I'm researching my craft. No poverty for this girl. Oh, and the sex. Definitely the sex.” “And so you follow the most clueless warrior on the planet on a quest that promises hardship and danger. There's something else, isn't there?” “Yes,” said Eldawyn, staring into the fire. “You know my story. I am possessed, though as possessions go this one is not so bad. But I fear that I am on the way to Oblivion when I die, and I don't want to go there.” Nora nodded. She had heard tales of Oblivion, the realm of the Daedric Princes, thought to be hell by the worshipers of the Divines and the elf gods. She could see someone not wanting to go there, though there were large groups on the world that aspired to nothing else. “So, you think that by serving me you can gain forgiveness for you sins?” “I don't think there is any forgiveness for some of the things I've done,” admitted Eldawyn, shaking her head. “But there is still hope. You will come across many things in your journey. Tales, artifacts, even new ways to contact the gods. I'm hoping I find some way to banish my demon and make myself suitable for the afterlife of my people.” “I can work with that,” said Nora. At least Elda didn't have a wish to die so she could go to paradise, though that wasn't really a fair assessment of her other followers either. Eldawyn wanted out of the bad deal she had made, and was hoping the Dragonborn could lead her to something that would allow her to get out from under the thumb of a mad demon spirit. Fair enough. Two days later they were in sight of Morthal, after ten days on the road from Whiterun. A hard ten days filled with fighting and sorrow. But Nora had come to know her people better, and had a better handle on how they would react when things went south. Which, in her experience, they always did.
  8. The journey from Darkwater Crossing went well, at first. They made a much larger footprint on the road with the addition of three people, their horses and a dozen pack mules loaded with fine corundum ore. Which led to the problem of trying to move quickly and stealthily over the road, and failing miserably. Annekke Crag-Jumper and two of the guards from the mining community came with them. Annekke wore a good set of leather armor and handled her sword and bow with expertise. Nora had no idea as to the proficiency of the guards and decided to treat them as if they were novice warriors. That way she wouldn't be surprised if they let her down in battle. Nora was now equipped with the first word of the Frost Breath shout. She had tried it out, satisfied that it had been effective. Still, it was only the first word, and so of limited power. Any word added to her repertoire was good, though, giving her more flexibility in battle. “Well, there it is,” said Eldawyn, looking at the fortress looming in the darkness ahead. It had been raining all day now and it was really coming down at this point. Everyone was drenched and Nora was thinking they needed a place to dry off before bedding down. But where? The pack train was a mile back, stopped and waiting for a decision. Go down the road, or try to bypass it? There were lights on the battlements so sentries were out, and since the fortress contained many mages, there was a high probability that there was a magic user up there. “We could just go down the road,” said Sofia, grimacing as the rain rolled down her face. “They probably won't see us and we're home free.” “And if that mage up there has night eye,” said Eldawyn, referring to the spell that allowed the caster to see in darkness, “they will see us and we will be attacked.” “Your call, my Thane,” said Lydia, standing close to her charge. Yes, it is, thought Nora, not really liking the situation at all. She was in charge, just as she had been all those years back in the Commonwealth, and people would live or die on her decision. She didn't like the pressure, but also recognized that she was the best war leader in the party. While it would be nice to have a warm shelter there were too many unknowns for her to risk their entire party, as well as the ore for Adrienne. “Here's what we'll do,” she finally said, outlining her plan. Nora stood in the woods on the other side of the road, a subdued magelight in her hand. Eldawyn stood a little further on using the same spell. Two of her people were on the road a half a mile ahead, while two more brought up the rear. The horses were already across, and Annekke and her two men were leading the mules in three sticks along the path. So far so good, as nothing had stirred from the fortress. They were almost through, the last group, a guard and four mules, moving along. Suddenly everything changed as one of the mules decided to act up. It bucked and cried, and a light rose up on the battlements, illuminating the area. The recalcitrant mule broke away from his line and ran into the open, the guard, Bjorn, running after it. Just let the damned thing go, thought Nora, cringing inside. Too late, and a fireball arched out from the battlements to hit man and mule, turning them both into torches. Toccata and Recorder came running up from the rear and the group hurried on. Nothing they could do for the guard or the mule, and the fortress was now aroused. They gathered everything up a half mile down the road, mounted, and rode on into the night. “Poor Bjorn,” cried Annekke as they came to a halt and made sure they were all accounted for. “He has a pregnant wife back at Darkwater Crossing.” And he died under my command, thought Nora bitterly. She was angry. At herself. At the mages. She thought of revenge and was soon stripping off her armor and clothing, pulling her nanoarmor and helmet off her pack horse. “What are you doing, my Thane?” asked a concerned Lydia. “Going back for some payback,” said Nora in a low, dangerous growl. “There are mages back there,” said Eldawyn, clearly frightened that her friend was about to do something truly stupid. “They will be able to see you in the dark.” “Not in this armor,” said Nora, hastily donning the suit, then making sure her weapons were attached. “So, you're going to attack that fortress while the mages are alert?” asked Lydia, disapproval in her tone. “They will kill you.” “No,” said Nora forcefully. “They will not. Look, I'm not going to try and take the fort. But I will take whoever they have outside of it looking for us.” “I'm going with you,” said Annekke, a determined look on her face. “You...” “Can move as well in the dark as anyone here. This isn't up for debate. I am accompanying you.” “Very well,” said Nora, putting a hand on the woman's shoulder. “But stick close and let me lead.” Nora engaged the invisibility field and Annekke gasped. “Where did you go?” “I'm still here. The rest of your stay here and watch out for mages. I'll be back within the hour.” Nora moved out, running quickly over the road, Annekke cursing once then following silently. A mile from the fortress they ran into their first mage. The woman was stumbling about in the dark despite having a mage light overhead. A figure with her moaned, and Nora felt a chill run up her spine when she realized the thing was a zombie, raised from the dead by the mage. If she understood it right, killing the mage would get rid of any risen revenants. The mage had no way of seeing Nora. The rain might outline her invisible form, but unless she was in strong light it wouldn't matter. She soft footed it right up to the mage and swung her knife, slicing completely through the neck. The body folded up on itself and down to the ground, while the zombie fell flat on its back, glowing for a moment as it reduced to ash. “That wasn't enough for your man?” whispered Nora to her companion. “No. It wasn't,” said Annekke, shaking her head. “And I would like the privilege of the next kill.” “It's yours,” replied Nora, turning and walking toward the fortress. A hundred yards further were a trio of figures looking through the woods. Nora shook her head at their ineptitude. They had no skill at stealth and would probably accomplish nothing even if their quarry were still in the area. Nora disengaged her stealth field, tapped Annekke on the arm, then pointed at one of the mages. She then tapped her own chest and pointed at the other. The zombie shambling along behind the mages they could ignore, since killing the summoner would take care of it. Nora decided to make this kill without invisibility, wanting to match herself against the Ranger. She had to admit that Annekke, despite her lack of practice, was very good, blending into the shadows and moving on cat’s feet toward her victim. Nora felt she was just as good, gliding along without a sound. She looped around and came up behind her victim, avoiding the zombie by a couple of feet. She glanced over at Annekke, seeing the woman was also behind her target. A nod from Nora and they both moved, grabbing hair, pulling back heads and exposing throats, then sliding blades across flesh. Both mages died, Nora's a little faster than the Ranger's, though to be fair Annekke only had a normal dagger. The zombie moaned and fell, dissolving to ash. “Helga. Gertrude. Are you okay?” yelled out a male voice, and a torch approached out of the darkness. Nora waved for Annekke to stay in place, then engaged her stealth field. She moved silently toward the man and the glow of a flame atronach. That last concerned her, since it was a summoned creature, and she didn't know how its senses worked. Not that well, obviously, and she gutted the mage and let him fall to the ground, gasping in pain. The atronach turned toward her and Nora realized she had made a mistake. Dropping to her knees she rammed her knife through the skull of the man and the summoned creature exploded in a blast of fire. “Shit,” growled Nora as she felt the pain of burns on her face. The armor had protected the rest of her, the faceplate her eyes, but her mouth and jaw had been badly burned. “Let's get the hell out of here,” she hissed at Annekke. The burns were already starting to heal and she was tempted to cast a spell, but not here. Voices were yelling from the keep and torches were at the gate. Nora smiled despite the pain. The mages would find their victims, if not tonight then when the sun rose. She hoped they appreciated the present the pair had left them. “Let's get the hell out of here,” growled Nora when she reached the others. She cast a quick healing spell on herself, then mounted her horse and spurred the mare down the road, the rest of the party on her heels. Five miles down the road they went into the woods and pitched their tents, tethering the beasts. Eldawyn cast an alarm spell, guard shifts were chosen, and the rest headed to their bedrolls and an uneasy sleep soaking wet. “How many?” asked Eldawyn as she crawled into their furs. “Four. And Annekke was as good as advertised.” “Was that enough to pay for Bjorn?” “No,” said Nora, shaking her head. “It was a down payment. Eventually I want to clean out that nest of snakes.” Eldawyn nodded, then turned over to go to sleep. “I'm in the mood, Elda,” said Nora in a little girl's voice. “If you want to.” “You ready for a mere mortal?” asked the elf, turning back to look at the human. “I'll never forget Kynareth,” said Nora, sighing. “But as wonderful as it was, it's over, and I've got to go back to living in this world.” “I'll try to fill in the gap,” said Eldawyn with a smile, reaching for her friend. The next day dawned with overcast and the threat of more rain. The party hit the road, moving around the base of the great mountain on the road to Whiterun. By mid-morning the sun had come out and steam rose from the wet roadbed. By afternoon everyone was dry and the spirits of the party lifted. They reached the stables around midnight, waking the horse master and arranging for the board of all the animals. The party walked through the gates to a sleeping city, very few people up and about. Nora said her goodbyes as her party went to their beds. Annekke woke Adrienne to seek accommodations for herself and the remaining guard in War-maidens, while the rest sought rooms in one of the inns. Whiterun had a much lower population now that people had returned to their farms and their harvests. The disaster had been averted, for now, and Nora felt pride that she had helped get the region back in order. She herself went to her room in the palace, bringing Eldawyn with her. Both were too exhausted for love making, but it was comforting having someone she cared about sleeping in her bed. They both woke as the sun rose and went about their business. Eldawyn was going to talk with Farengar, while Nora thought it might be a good idea to talk with the Jarl, then deliver her gift to Danica. “You met with the Greybeards?” asked Balgruuf, sitting his throne. “I did. I learned one of the other words of the force shout, as well as another. And I killed a dragon on the road. Without my advanced weapons.” “I knew you could do it, Dragonborn.” “It wasn't just me,” admitted Nora, smiling. “My group is working well, and we killed it as a team, though I did strike the last blow.” “And did you remember to avoid the front?” asked Balgruuf. “I did. I jumped on it from the rear and ran up its back to the head.” “By the Divines,” said the wide-eyed Jarl. “I'm not sure that was a better tactic. But you survived, and the dragon didn't, so it seems you did the right thing. So, what next?” “The Greybeards gave me a mission to retrieve an artifact up in Morthal hold. At some ruin called Ustengrav.” Balgruuf went pale at the mention of the ruin. “That is a much-cursed place. Are you sure you want to carry out that quest?” “I pretty much have to, Jarl. The Greybeards insisted that I retrieve the horn of Jurgen Windcaller if I wanted to be recognized as Dragonborn.” “Then you must do it,” agreed the Jarl, still looking troubled. “Tread carefully in that place and make sure your weapons are ready.” Nora went to the Temple of Kynareth after meeting with the Jarl. Danica was there, as usual, casting healing magic on some poor soul who had been injured in the war. Toccata and Lydia were there as well, praying at the shrine. Nora was moved to join them, and knelt beside Lydia at the altar, giving thanks to the goddess for seeing them all safely to Whiterun. “Did someone discover something about herself on the road,” said Danica, walking to stand over the trio. “I had an experience,” said Nora, smiling. “Kynareth contacted me, and I learn more about her.” “And are you resolved to your role here?” “I still want to go home, but I'm willing to be her champion until the dragon crisis is over.” “That's quite a change,” said Danica, looking surprised. “She much have touched you.” “Oh, she touched Nora, alright,” said Toccata with a smile. “Most intimately.” “My word,” said Danica, a smile creasing her wrinkled face. “The Goddess made love to you?” “Uh, yes,” said an embarrassed Nora. “Does that happen often?” “Not at all, and only with someone the Goddess considers dear. It was quite an honor.” “It was amazing,” said Nora, her face beaming. “And she healed me, making me capable of having children again.” She had told Danica about her damaged ovaries when the woman had examined her early on. And Danica had made it clear that there was no healing magic available to regrow her eggs. She hadn't mentioned direct intervention by a Divine, though. Probably because it was so rare. “You have been blessed, my friend,” said the priestess, getting to her knees beside Nora. “All praise to the Goddess. And to her champion.” Nora blushed. Even after all she had accomplished she still got embarrassed at having the labels hero or champion applied to her. “Tell her about the sap,” said an excited Toccata. “What sap?” asked Danica, brows furrowing. “From the Eldergleam,” continued the enthusiastic redhead. “I told her what I had heard. Is it true that the sap from the mother might revive the daughter?” “Yes,” said Danica, a thoughtful expression on her face. “But I didn't think it was something our Dragonborn should attempt, since she would need to take Nettlebane from the Hagravens. Did you get that blade?” “Didn't need to,” said Nora, tapping the butt of her knife. “My trusty blade did the job.” “But, that's impossible,” stammered the priestess. “No ordinary metal can cut into the tree.” “It seems that the knife I brought with me from another world could do the job.” Nora reached into her backpack and withdrew the small bottle filled with the glowing sap and handed it reverently over to the priestess. “I hope this helps.” “With the blessing of the Goddess I am sure it will. Thank you.” Nora could feel the energy flow through her, the blessing of the Goddess she now called her own. She had the impression that her shouts would be stronger, slightly, the cool down time lowered. Adrienne was happy to see her and stopped cataloging the ore she was going to smelt for a little down time. “I am so grateful to you, my friend,” said the smith. “You have saved my business.” “You're welcome, neighbor.” “Neighbor?” asked the woman, raising an eyebrow. “I bought Breezehome. Just up the road,” said Nora, smiling. “I wondered who was moving in,” said Adrienne, returning the smile. “There were women going in and out with cleaning equipment, and men bringing in furniture. But are you sure it will be sufficient for you?” Nora wasn't sure, but there weren't any other houses available in Whiterun. The house had a smallish living room/kitchen on the bottom floor, and two bedrooms above. Not enough for her entire crew, but it would do until she found something better. There was a castle on the outskirts of the city, Valkyrja she thought it was called, that was vacant, though still staffed. There was no way she could afford it now, but with some more looting and saving it might be possible. Until then she had a house to call her own, a place she could do with as she wanted. “I'm going to have a housewarming party in a couple of days. I hope you and your husband will come.” “A what kind of party?” asked the confused smith. “A tradition on my world. At least from the time I came from. A way to show off a new house to friends while celebrating the possession.” “That sounds like a wonderful tradition,” said Adrienne. “Might be it will catch on here. We'll be there if I have to drag Ulfberth by his ear.” Nora laughed, imagining the pretty smith dragging the massive warrior by his ear. It was a funny image, but she didn't doubt that Adrienne could do it. Three more days, she thought. Three more days to rest and relax, and then they would be on the road to Ustengrav. And whatever terrors awaited them in the quest for the artifact.
  9. 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. “The Spriggans?” “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?”
  10. Four old men in grey robes approached as soon as Nora stumbled through the door, stopping, her followers backing up behind her. “Sorry,” she said, moving in so they could get into the warmth. “So, another Dragonborn comes to High Hrothgar,” said one of the men, his beard truly grey. “I hope this one will show more wisdom than the last.” “I am here to learn how to use the voice,” said Nora, bowing in the fashion of a karate student. “And I was told that you are the masters of it.” “First, let us hear your Thu'um,” said the one, the others maintaining their silence. “My, what?” “Your shout. It is called the Thu'um in the Dragon tongue. And we would taste of it before we go further.” Nora turned away and drew in a breath, not wanting to hurt any of these old men. “No, toward us,” said the old man. “We would feel the strength of your Thu'um, that we might taste your power.” “You're sure. It tends to knock people back, sometimes over.” The old man smiled and gestured to himself, and Nora decided that they wanted her to shout at them. “Fus,” she yelled, the blast of air knocking them back. “You have the gift,” said the spokesman. “And you are?” “I am Master Arngeir,” said the Spokesman, again bowing. “With me are Master Borri, Master Einarth and Master Wulfgar. We are the Greybeards.” “Do the others speak?” she asked. “Perhaps you can ask your companions later,” said Arngeir, motioning toward Sofia, Toccata and Lydia. “They accompanied the last Dragonborn, he who knew everything and only wanted to learn the words as fast as he could. And where did it get him?” “Dead. And no help to anyone. And I want to avoid that, so I am here to get your help.” “Good,” said Arngeir, smiling slightly. “Then you are welcome. But first we have another test.” Of course, thought Nora, frowning. There was always another test that she was expected to pass. She was sure that one day she would fail one, and what then? “Master Einarth will teach you the second word of Unrelenting Force,” said Arngeir. About time, thought Nora. She knew that there was more to that shout, and that she could make it more powerful. And here it was. Einarth stepped forward and his voice rumbled. The same kind of symbols as appeared on the Word Walls materialized on the stone floor, glowing with power. Nora walked to it and looked down, and suddenly she knew. Einarth stepped back and radiated energy, looking much like what Nora had taken from the dragons. It flowed into her and the second word unlocked. “Now, let us again taste of your voice,” said Master Arngeir.” You asked for it, thought Nora, setting her feet and taking a breath. “Fus Ro,” she shouted, feeling the power in her voice. The Greybeards staggered back, pottery fell, and Nora almost panicked at the force she had released. “Yes,” said Arngeir with enthusiasm. “You truly are Dragonborn. Only the Dragonborn can learn the words so easily, without long study.” “I think your shout is more powerful than that of the last one,” said Toccata from behind her. “And now we will go into the courtyard for your last lesson, for now,” said Arngeir, turning away. He and the other Greybeards led Nora to a set of doors at the back of the monastery. Cold air blasted in as the Greybeards filed through. Crap. We're going outside, thought Nora, who really had no desire to face the temperatures on the mountain again, especially with darkness falling. She only hoped that they didn't stay out there long. It was not completely dark out in the courtyard. The red of a sunset made the western sky alive. Nora looked over at the arch that started the path that led up the mountain. A wind howled just beyond, and she had to wonder what kind of barrier was preventing it from sweeping the courtyard. “And now Master Borri will teach you the first word of Whirlwind Sprint.” Borri spoke, another low rumbling that hinted of the danger of his voice. Again a word glowed on the stone floor of the section he stood near. Nora walked over, looked down on it, and knew another word. Borri glowed, energy flew from his body and converged on Nora, who again felt the thrill of a force almost exactly like absorbing a dragon soul, leaving the woman wondering just what kind of powers these people had. “Now we will test your knowledge of Whirlwind Sprint.” Another damned test, thought Nora. Still she followed the Greybeards with enthusiasm, anxious to find out what the shout did. Einarth walked to a gate and it opened on its own. The Greybeard stood beside it, while Borri took a position next to Arngeir. “Wuld,” shouted Borri, and he flew across the ground at an incredible speed, stopping beyond the gate. Nora stared in disbelief. At first she thought the man had teleported, but replaying the image in her mind she realized that he had actually traveled over the ground. “Now, show us your mastery of Whirlwind Sprint,” said Arngeir. Here goes nothing, thought Nora as she set herself beside Arngeir, hoping that she didn't go too far since there was a cliff over there. “Wuld,” she shouted, the ground blurred before her, and she was standing beside Borri. “Your ability to learn the voice is incredible,” said Arngeir. “More words?” asked Nora. She had a feeling there was a lot more. She had already learned four now, including two of Unrelenting Force. She guessed that all of the shouts consisted of three words, and she was anxious to learn them. “In time,” said Arngeir, bowing. “It tells us much about you that you wish to master your gift. But growing your voice too fast can be dangerous.” Come on. We've got dragons, bandits, and a civil war out there. I need the power to make change. But obviously they weren't going to give her more right now, so she would have to concentrate on magic while she waited for more revelations about the voice. “Wuld,” she shouted, and she was on the other side of the courtyard. She looked back and waited a moment for the shout to cool down, the sprinted again. She thought she could do this all night, reveling in this new ability. “Enthusiasm is good,” said Arngeir, looking right at her and motioning for her to follow. “But I sense that these temperatures are not to your liking.” “It doesn't get quite this cold where I am from. I'm...” “From another world,” said Arngeir, nodding as he led the way back to the doors. “We have heard the tales, but didn't quite know what to make of them. You are truly from another world? One of wonders we can't even imagine.” “Yep. And you have wonders here that I never imagined.” “So it seems that all worlds have their wonders, and their terrors. You will of course stay the night and head down in the morning.” “You won't be training me more.” “Again,” said Arngeir, shaking his head, “you must advance slowly. And we have one more test for you. You must retrieve the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller from his tomb. It is your final test before we can formally acknowledge you as Dragonborn.” The rest of the party hit their beds as soon as they had arranged their furs on the floor of the room they had been given. The monastery wasn't the warmest place she had ever been, but at least it wasn't freezing. Nora stripped down to her small clothes and put on a tunic from her backpack, then took a seat at a table in a conference room where she could sit and contemplate the day. “Dragonborn,” said Arngeir, walking into the room. “I sense that you have more questions.” “Only a million of them,” said Nora with a smile. “I'm not sure any of us have that much time,” said Arngeir with a returning smile. “But I can give you some hours to satisfy your curiosity.” Arngeir sat there for a moment, silent, as Nora tried to prioritize her questions. Before she could ask the first one he spoke. “You have a lot of curiosity. Unlike most warriors of this world.” “I was more than a warrior on my world,” said Nora, looking into the calm eyes of the monk. “I was a leader, a politician, and I needed to understand the concerns of everyone from farmers to scientists.” “I have never heard that last word.” “A scientist is a seeker of knowledge,” she explained. “They try to discover the secrets of nature, and use technology to make the impossible possible.” “They sound like the blasphemers at the College of Winterhold,” said Arngeir in a derisive tone. “Trying to do the unnatural.” “Sometimes, yes. Other times they come up with some discoveries that help the society in which they live.” “And sometimes the mages do that as well. Just not often enough. But, as I was saying, you seem to be above the basic warriors of this world. Not out for glory, not boasting about your prowess to all and sundry.” “I had an instructor in another life,” she said, amending that as soon as she saw the confusion on the Greybeard's face. “Before I woke up from my long sleep. He was a practitioner of an ancient fighting art, one that taught that violence was the last resort. He always said not to boast about your prowess, so that any who attacked you would not know what you were capable of, and would be surprised when you acted.” “Sage advice,” said Arngeir, nodding. “Would that others lived by that philosophy, and the nonviolence until it is necessary.” “So you aren't completely against violence?” “Oh, we don't believe in violence, but we would be naive to preach that violence is never necessary. The world below is populated by violent people, and sometimes it must be returned in kind. But, as I was saying, you aren't one who believes in the glory of battle.” “Nothing glorious about combat,” she said, shaking her head. “It's dirty, painful and degrading. Too many innocents get killed no matter what you do. But if you don't fight the evil people can do whatever they want. So no, I don't like fighting and killing, but someone has to do it. And since I feel that I have better judgment than most, that means me.” “Yes, you are a good choice,” said Arngeir, nodding. “I was suspicious of the last Dragonborn, but he was the first that had been seen in hundreds of years, so we felt we had no choice but to try and teach him. He was too full of his own pride in accomplishment and wouldn't listen. You, on the other hand, are a very good listener, worthy of your gift.” “I'm not sure about that,” said Nora, shaking her head. “Which makes us even more sure that Kynareth has chosen well this time. So, what would you know?” “So, there are only the four of you? No wives or lovers? No housekeepers?” “We are pledged to celibacy,” said Arngeir, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. “We have no need of intimacy. And since our needs are few, it is easy to pick up after ourselves.” While Nora really couldn't understand the philosophy of Celibacy, she wasn't about to question it in these men. “And there are five of us,” continued Arngeir, looking up. “Our leader, Paarthurnax, lives at the top of the Throat of the World, in seclusion.” “Paarthurnax,” repeated Nora, tasting the name. “That's an unusual name. When will I get to meet him?” “When your voice allows you passage to the top of the mountain. Eventually you will learn those words, and then you will be able to ascend to the top.” So another trial, she thought, frowning. “What else can I do to increase my power?” “You can take the time to advance,” said Arngeir. “I realize you are impatient, but there is no other way. Finding Word Walls will increase your range, and we can help you locate those. But there are other things you can do. Meditation to Kyne, hunting her spirit animals, and reading the plaques on the way stations on the path up the seven thousand steps. Shouting to the sky daily will please the goddess. Jumping off the mountain and falling for four seconds will also garner her blessing.” “Fall off the mountain? Won't that kill me?” “If not done properly, yes. It is a true leap of faith, but you must ensure that you can fall the four seconds without landing. I would not recommend it until you are ready. You will know when the time comes.” That seemed to be the standard answer. You will know. But how would she know? What if she thought she knew and she was wrong? Nora thought jumping off the mountain was a bad idea all around, and wasn't sure if she would ever be able to assemble the courage to do that. Unless she did it in her power armor. If she realized she hadn't fallen far enough she could always engage her jet pack and fly back up. Unless the goddess considered that cheating. “Who was Jurgen Windcaller?” “He was a warrior of the Nords. At one point he invaded Morrowind, and the Dunmer ambushed him at Red Mountain with a mighty army of warriors and mages. The Nord army was obliterated, and though Jurgen Windcaller escaped, he lost his love of battle. He decided that the gods had punished him for using the voice for something other than to glorify them. He founded the way of the voice that we practice to this day.” Well, I'm not sure any of the things you call gods are worthy of worship, thought Nora. “You don't revere our Gods, do you?” asked Arngeir, raising an eyebrow. “I don't know your Gods, and the only one I have met kidnapped me from my world and my people.” “For good cause,” said the Greybeard, nodding. “And I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. But I'm still not sure of her judgment.” “She is sure of you, or she wouldn't have brought you here. I am sure, that with time, you will come to accept her will.” Probably not, thought Nora, not willing to argue with the man who was her only link to becoming a master of the voice, something she would need to win the fight on this world. “And how do I find Windcaller's tomb?” she asked, not even sure what part of Skyrim it was in. “Give me your map and I will mark its location for you.” Nora pulled the map she had bought from Farengar from her pack, unfolding the large parchment on the table. She expected Arngeir to point to an area, possibly using some writing implement to indicate it. Instead, he pointed to a spot, and the symbol of a Nordic tomb appeared in the North Central part of the map. “Amazing.” “Such maps are rare, though I have seen them before. You are fortunate to have one.” More fortunate than I knew, thought the woman, mentally thanking the mage. It wasn't as good as her suit GPS, which wouldn't work on this world anyway. But it was definitely something special in this place. “Any other questions tonight?” said Arngeir. “No. Maybe before I leave in the morning.” “Very well,” said the Greybeard, getting to his feet. “And let me tell you. For someone taken from her own world and dropped into one so different, you have landed well. I think you will grow to become what this world needs. So be patient.” The Greybeard walked from the room, leaving Nora alone with her thoughts. One was that this wasn't the first time she had been dropped into a new world, and maybe the second time was easier than the first. But she was sure that she couldn't keep doing this before she ran into a world she couldn't handle. * * * “That's quite a ways,” said Sofia, looking at the map, Lydia and Toccata nodding in agreement. “Two weeks at the very least.” “That long,” said Nora after a whistle. She wasn't sure how much time she had, but if this is what her teachers wanted she would try her best to comply. “I recommend that we ride up from Whiterun toward Dawnstar,” said Toccata, tracing a finger along the road running north connecting the two hold capitals. “Then on this crossroad toward Morthal, turning north to go cross country about here. We'll make better time on the roads.” “And run into more bandits, maybe necromancers,” said Lydia, brow furrowing in thought. That last sent a chill up Nora's spine. She didn't like the undead of this world. The raising of the dead by mages also turned her stomach. She wanted to get rid of all of those bastards, but also realized that they would be a hard opponent to take out, especially in numbers. And for some reason the death mages seemed to flock together like packs of wolves. “If we're careful,” said Eldawyn, staring at the map, “we can go off road before they see us and work around. I think Toccata's suggestion is the best. Though I would add a half week to her estimate.” “Why?” asked Toccata, giving the Altmer a questioning look. “Because we will probably find things to do along the way,” said the smiling elf. “Ruins to clear, quests to undertake. Our Dragonborn needs to learn about this world, so I don't think just rushing up there and finding this horn is in her best interests.” Nora wasn't sure about that, but she did know that Eldawyn did have her best interests at heart. The elf had already been drinking, so Nora was pretty sure the spirit possessing her wasn't doing the talking. She worried that the spirit might take over some time when they least expected it, but Elda was such an asset she was willing to chance it. “I will return as soon as possible,” she told Arngeir just before they left. “Be patient and come back when you can,” said the old monk. “We know that the world is a large place, and that you may be called upon to handle many problems before you come back. Just keep yourself alive and all will work out.” Nora nodded and almost hugged the monk. Something in his demeanor changed her mind. For some reason it didn't seem appropriate. “Fus Ro,” shouted Nora to the sky as soon as she got outside. She felt a burst of energy enter her body and thought it was the approval of Kyne. “Wuld,” she shouted as soon as her voice cooled down, sprinting down the mountain. Her followers ran to catch up, only to have her pass them as she sprinted up again, then down. “You're like a child with a new toy,” shouted Recorder in a laughing voice. “Yes,” said Nora during a cool down. “And if any of you could do it you would.” She shouted again, then again, over and over, until she felt like she had run ten miles. Stopping to catch her breath she realized that the shout, while allowing her to run really fast, didn't absolve her of the fatigue of covering the ground. “Satisfied, my Thane?” asked Lydia, stopping beside her. “I guess I need to pace myself,” said Nora, panting. “I guess you do,” said the Housecarl, putting up a hand to hold up the party until her charge was ready to go on. I'll build up to this, thought Nora with new resolve. She thought of it as a new physical ability, and thus she could train it like any other ability, like running and lifting. Maybe that would be so, maybe not, but if never hurt to try. Ivarstead was still packed with people waiting for news of the Dragonborn. People shouted questions about the Greybeards, and the party, per agreement, told them that the Greybeards hadn't let them in. Nora wanted to get out of here before anyone started thinking she might be the Dragonborn. She had never liked the hero worship she had received in the Commonwealth and would try to remain incognito as long as possible. An hour later they had the horses saddled and loaded and were on their way to Darkwater crossing to deliver Adrianne Avenicci's order for Corundum to the mine there. It would take them another couple of days out of their way, but Nora thought she needed to deliver on her promise, and Lydia's new armor would be worth the time. * * * Nora felt too energized to sleep with so much on her mind. So surprisingly she faded from the land of the awake as soon as she crawled into her furs. To awake in another world. Her feet were treading on clouds while beautiful birds circled around her. She looked down to see that she was naked, her nipples hard and erect, her skin glowing in the soft light surrounding her. She felt a strange arousal, like she was anticipating the arrival of a lover. And then she was there. “Welcome, mortal,” said the being in a musical voice that sounded like the song of angels. “Do you know who I am?” “Kynareth,” answered Nora looking into the angelic face, the perfect body, only covered by a floating scrap of gossamer. “The same. Have you gotten over cursing my name in your mind?” said the goddess with a musical laugh. “I'm still a little cross with you, yes. You took me from my world, my people, my friends.” “Yes, and they are looking for you, But you cannot return until you have accomplished your task here. I must say that you have done well so far, and I have looked upon you with pride.” Nora felt herself flushing, like a child who had been praised by a parent. She wasn't sure what to make of that, but decided that the praise of the Goddess was something to be desired. “Come with me. Make love to me,” said Kynareth. “Then I will answer some of your questions.” Nora found herself in a bed chamber among the stars. She wasn't sure what kind of dream this was but it wasn't normal. She looked at the bed, as soft a surface as she had ever seen, with sheets of the same gossamer the goddess was wearing. Only she wasn't wearing the gossamer. The goddess was before her, as nude as Nora, her nipples, surrounded by large areolas, erect as well. And then Nora was in her arms, the bodies in contact, the goddess drinking kisses from her lips. It was a heady sensation, the taste of fruit on the goddess' mouth, a tingling working its way down Nora's body. The goddess pulled the mortal gently onto the bed. Their hands explored the bodies of their lover's, and the left hand of the goddess found and caressed Nora's sex. A wonderful orgasm started at the tip of her toes and ran up her spine, and Nora cried out from the pleasure. Soon the hand of the goddess was replaced by her tongue, and another orgasm had Nora crying out in rapture. Soon they found themselves in a position of mutual satisfaction, and Nora thought she had never tasted a woman like this before. Light and heady, with a hint of honey, it was the most wonderful vagina she had ever tasted. And then the vagina was gone, a large and shapely penis in its place. “What,” mumbled Nora, looking up. The body of the goddess was still there, the breasts, the beautiful face. But the penis was real as well. “I am not as mortals,” said the goddess in her laughing voice. “I can be as I wish, and I intend to impart a gift upon you.” Nora found herself on her back, legs spread, as the goddess hovered above her. The penetration brought another rush of pleasure, and Nora wondered if she would ever experience anything this wonderful again. Kynareth thrust the large penis within her. It should have hurt; such was its size. Instead it seemed a perfect fit, filling Nora, stretching her with no discomfort. The tingle arose across her body. Her clitoris was singing, and her body was following the song. And then the orgasm, making those that had come before seem like the merest tinglings of passion. She screamed and Unrelenting Force echoed from her mouth. And then she felt the divine cum within her, spurt after spurt of a semen that tingled with life. “And so I impart my gift to you.” “Did you make me pregnant?” asked Nora, almost in a panic. “No. You do not need that in your life at this time. But now you can have children if you want.” A tear came to Nora's eye, and suddenly she was crying, gasping her sorrow and joy. She was a complete woman again. Able to have children if she wanted. She had no intention of having any until she was through with the task ahead, but having that to look forward to. It was a wonderful gift, and she looked into the eyes of the goddess with profound gratitude. The goddess rolled off of her, the penis gone, and reached over to play with Nora's breasts. “You have questions? Ask.” “How long do I have? It seems that Alduin is destined to destroy this world, but everything I have to do will take so long.” The goddess laughed again. “The way of dragons is not the way of mortals. And Alduin is beyond any dragon. To him a month is a day. It will take years for him to move through the opening stages of his plan. Many more for him to eat the souls of the world. Which isn't permission to dawdle, because he will continue to consume the souls of the dead, denying them their reward in Sovngarde. So build your strength and hone your skills. And know that I will always be with you.” Nora awoke with a start, her last orgasm still tingling through her body. She was covered in sweat and the odor of arousal rose from her sex. Just a dream, she thought, rubbing her eyes. She reached down to her groin to find out just how aroused she was. And discovered semen leaking from her vagina. Did one of those old men rape me in my sleep, she though in a flash of anger. Rolling over to get to her feet, to demand an explanation from Arngear, she remembered that she was no longer in High Hrothgar. And she discovered the amulet that was lying beside her. It glowed with power, a symbol of Kynareth, and she knew the dream had been real. She had been with the goddess. She had loved the divine. And had been gifted with working ovaries. And this amulet, which would give her shouts more power and reduce the cool down time. A musical laugh in her head let her know that the goddess was still with her. “I am yours, Kynareth. Now and forever,” she prayed. “And I will be with you, mortal, my favorite child. Now and forever.” And the fatigue overcame Nora and she felt into a deep and dreamless sleep.
  11. Three more days on the road, traveling around the base of the huge mountain. They spotted a fortress on the first day full of mages, the bodies of Stormcloaks hanging from the battlements. “Necromancers,” had whispered Eldawyn. “Best we steer clear.” Nora had wanted to get rid of the evil bastards, but she had to admit that this might be more than they could handle, and she wanted to arrive at High Hrothgar alive. So they had taken a high road up along the slope of the mountain. The main roads were pretty good, stone in most places, but the side roads were as bad as they got. There were times when Nora wasn't sure she was even on a road at all. Too bad there are all these occupied fortresses, she thought. The Imperials and Stormcloaks both would allow neutral factions to pass. The bandits and rogue mages, not so much, and it had to put a real damper on the economy and transport of the kingdom. Another problem to tackle on another day. Ivarstead turned out to be a scenic village at the base of the mountain. Forty or fifty houses, a mill and an inn. A number of farms in the surrounding land, probably many more out of sight. Nora estimated a couple of hundred people, three hundred at most. The town was actually overflowing with people, pilgrims who had flocked to the area when they had heard the shout from the monastery. That created a problem since the party had been looking forward to getting a bath and a bed at the inn. Nora felt filthy and the rest of the party smelled bad. “No, we don't have any rooms,” said the inn keeper. “The people have been coming in droves, hoping to get word of the Dragonborn.” And here I am, thought Nora, not willing to reveal who she was so that she wouldn't have to deal with the questions of the curious. And no accommodations. “Do you have a bath, by chance?” she asked. “I have six people that need to get clean. And maybe some laundered clothes.” “We might be able to do that for you, but the demand is high right now.” Which means the price had gone up. “How much?” “Thirty gold for the bath, ten for one set of clothing cleaned.” The bath was three times what she had seen advertised in the inns of Whiterun. A village like this probably didn't get too many visitors on a regular basis, and would take what they could get when it was available. “I'll give you fifty for each of us, and fifteen for the clothing.” Really all they had that needed cleaning was their small clothes and stockings. The armor they could clean themselves, though if she could get a deal from a blacksmith she would take it. “If you have tents you can pitch them right outside of the town,” said the innkeep, looking over the strange party. “Just don't pitch in a farmer's field. Here to see High Hrothgar?” “Yes. We're planning to head up there in the morning.” “Great view, from what I've heard. But don't expect to see the Greybeards. They're hermits, and they aren't taking visitors. Oh, and by the way, stay clear of the barrow outside of town. It's haunted.” That might be worth looking into, thought Nora, glancing back at her people. They had the whole afternoon ahead of them and she didn't want to try and go up the mountain in the dark. But the barrow might be a chance at more loot. But first to procure some clean clothing. The tailor in town had small clothes in all their sizes, the blacksmith was willing to clean their armor if they left it with him overnight. Those settled, and the arrangements made for drop off and pick up, they headed to the barrow, supposedly haunted. On Earth that would have been a laugh, though sometimes ghost stories grew up around some irradiated monster. Here, haunted could mean any of a number of things. Draugr, spirits, even Falmer. Nora had yet to see any of the dreaded snow elves, or at least what remained of that race. Eldawyn had told her the story, about how the elves had made a deal with the Dwemer and had ended up on the bad side of the bargain. And that they had white souls that could be trapped in greater or grand soul gems. Still, they were sentient beings, and Nora had no intention of letting them get soul trapped on her watch. The barrow was easy to find. Walk out of the north side of town and there it was. Another ancient Nord ruin, like so many scattered around. She thought it might contain a word wall, since they were dated back to the dragon wars, when the cults of the dragon had controlled the land. They didn't always have word walls, but there was always a hope. “I don't like going into these things,” said Recorder in a slightly quavering voice. “No one likes going into these things,” said Toccata, turning to look at the smaller woman. Nora didn't like confronting the undead, but she was determined to clear this one out so the people of Ivarsteaad could rest easy. She looked over at the usually suicidally fearless observer in surprise. “You can sit this one out if you want,” she told Recorder, knowing that she couldn't continue to refuse missions. But a break now and then, sure. “I'll get thrown out of the Academy if I refuse to follow my subject,” said Recorder, shaking her head. “So no, I have to go if you do.” “Then get yourself together, because we are going in.” The tomb smelled of the musky odor of old dead things. And the feeling that something wasn't right. There were puzzles, and dead Draugr, and a voice telling them to turn back. There was something strange about the voice. It sounded creepy, but not in the way of the truly dead. Eventually they found the man who produced the voice, after they had killed him, thinking him a ghost. He had been alive, and reading his journal gave the tale. He was a treasure hunter that had wanted to keep others away from the tomb, and had paid the ultimate price. Another person that probably hadn't needed to die to add to the list that weighed on Nora's conscience. The inn keeper was amazed to read the journal and gave them a claw he had been holding onto that was said the open the final door of the barrow. And then they were back at it, going through several more puzzles, avoiding fire traps, finally opening the last door. There were undead Draugrs in the final portion of the tomb, more practice for Nora and her friends, and then they reached the main chamber. That Draugr was tougher, but not tough enough to face six warriors, four of them mages, who took them down. Nora could hear the wall singing to her, and learned the Kyne's Peace shout. She wasn't sure what use it would be, but still she unlocked it, not willing to pass up a gift that might be useful in ways she couldn't suspect. “You did us a favor clearing out the barrow,” said the innkeep as Nora reported back to him. “I'm just sorry that I had to kill the poor madman,” said Nora, guilt eating at her. “He chose to play a role, and you thought he was the ghost,” said Eldawyn. “So stop beating up on yourself.” Easier said than done. The grateful inn keeper gave up his own room to them, sleeping on furs in the common room. Nora wasn't sure how they were all going to fit in, but she would figure something else out. After their series of baths in the large tub of hot water Nora was surprised to find that the others had left the inn to set up a camp. Leaving her and Eldawyn to use the room. “Think we're safe enough here?” asked the elf, kissing Nora's hand before they went down to the room. “What did you have in mind?” asked Nora, knowing the answer. And so they made love for an hour, all their tired bodies could take, but enough to satisfy them both. Elda had been drinking, heavily, but stayed awake long enough to lay there looking at Nora's face after they had enjoyed their pleasure. “Still feeling guilty about killing the human?” she asked. “Very much so. If I had realized it was just some crazy person I would have tried to catch him,” said Nora, blinking back the tears. “You couldn't know. And you can't go around approaching threats with the intent of giving them a chance. That's a very good way of getting killed.” “I know,” said Nora in a choked voice. “But it doesn't make it any easier.” “No, I guess for someone like you it doesn't. So let me tell you a tale to take you mind off bloodshed and death. Though it has both.” “Does this involve you?” asked Nora, sitting up and looking intently into the face of the Altmer. “It does,” said the elf after taking a large swig of wine. “I will tell you a tale of woe, and in the end you will understand why I drink so much.” “I thought you just liked to drink.” “I do. I do indeed. But I have a better reason. So get comfortable and I will tell you what kind of evil you have wedded yourself to.” Nora leaned back against the wall, looking over at Eldawyn, curious as to what the woman was about to tell her. “We were dungeon raiders,” said Eldawyn, her voice quiet and distant. “A party of four mages. You know that four mages can make a powerful party if they have complimentary talents. We had a healer, an alteration mage, and myself, the fire mage.” “And the fourth?” “Oh, he wasn't much of a mage at all. A scroll caster, a man that wanted so badly to cast, but hadn't a shred of talent. But he had the scrolls, so we welcomed him into our party. And he was the first to die. Fumbling with a scroll while a spider took him and ran off.” “Shit,” hissed Nora. The large spiders sent chills up her spine. It was only because she had faced worse in the Commonwealth that she could face them at all. “The rest of us continued into the tomb. Greed is a wonderful motivator. And found ourselves trapped in a chamber with a mad spirit. Maybe a demon. It threatened to kill us all, and we made a bargain. And you know how those bargains go.” Nora didn't, but she had heard enough stories of deals with the devil to know what it was about. “The spirit was consigned to the tomb, it couldn't leave, not without a person to ride. But it didn't have the power to force a possession. What it had the power to do was keep us trapped. So we struck the deal. The last of us to survive would come back to the tomb and accept possession.” Nora felt herself staring, mouth open. It was a horrible deal. Accept an entity within your body and brain, or die of starvation and thirst in an unknown chamber. “I won the, lottery, is that what you called them?” “Yes,” said Nora, nodding, unable to say anything else. “So I went back to the tomb. I had no choice. Making the bargain subjected me to a compulsion. And the spirit slid into me, ready to see the world. It wasn't able to take control, but it was always there. Looking out, leering, laughing. It didn't have control, but it had appetites for murder and bloodshed. Wine held it back, allowed me to go on without its constant badgering. And so I went from a casual wine drinker to a drunk. It was the only way I could go on and not go mad.” “That day on the road back from Silver Moon Camp? When you hadn't had anything to drink for a couple of days.” “Yeah. Part of that was me. I do hate the Thalmor, but I probably wouldn't have attacked without your order. But the spirit, I still don't even know its damned name, pushed me into it.” Eldawyn was the one crying now, shaking her head. “I wouldn't hold it against you if you decided I was a liability and cut me loose.” Nora moved and took the sobbing elf into her arms. “Oh, honey. It wasn't your fault. You had a terrible choice and made what you thought was the best one. Hell, you were likely to be killed before the others anyway. So no, I don't hold it against you. And doing what was necessary to hold the demon at bay showed that your heart was in the right place.” Eldawyn leaned back, out of Nora's embrace, and the Sole Survivor was confused for a moment, until the elf smiled. “You are always so understanding. I would think you weak, except I have seen you fight and heard your story. And don't go believing I was all sweetness and light before the possession. I had done many evil things. Most mages do. It's something to remember while you journey to master mage.” Nora leaned over and kissed the beautiful elf. One thing led to another and they found the energy for another bout of love making. They woke in the morning, both of their demons at rest, for the moment. “Thank you,” whispered Eldawyn after she kissed Nora. “I will try to not disappoint you.” “And thank you,” said Nora in the same soft tone. “For stopping the nightmares. At least for now.” As they dressed in their new, clean small clothes and stockings, then got into some rough spun clothing to cover themselves, Nora thought about both their stories. They were very different, going through very different lives. And they were both broken. But there for each other. * * * The next morning found them clean and refreshed and walking the seven thousand steps. The horses had been left with the stable in Ivarstead. Sofia, Toccata and Lydia had all been up the mountain with the last Dragonborn, and had insisted that the horses wouldn't do well at those temperatures. Nora didn't like the sound of that. If the horses didn't do well she didn't think she would either. All were dressed in heavy parkas, hoods and gloves, along with their fur cloaks. Even Recorder was bundled. “If you could take these supplies up to the monastery I would appreciate it,” said Klimmek, an older Nord they had met at the bridge over the stream, beside the mill. “I'm getting old, and those seven thousand steps are hard on my legs.” “Be glad to,” said Nora, accepting the heavy pack full of dried fish and vegetables. She handed her own lighter pack over to Lydia, who would carry double up the mountain. After all, the Housecarl was sworn to carry her burdens. “What can you tell me about the Greybeards.” “Not much,” answered the Nord. “I’ve never actually met them. Not sure if I would want to. They're said to be able to kill with their voices. Not that I think they would. They're said to be peaceful.” Nora didn't bother to count the steps, said to be seven thousand. All she knew was there were a fuck ton of them, and not all of them were in the best of shape. There were areas were the steps were gone, covered by snow or worn away. There were wolves to kill. The first third of the trip was cold, but not terribly so. She looked at the flame of Kynareth burning at the base of the path, then stopped at the first couple of way points and read the plaques. There was a hunter to talk to, who cautioned them that there were wolves, and maybe a couple of bears. There was a woman sitting at one of the way points meditating on the plaque. “Not really much to worry about,” she said from her seated position. “There might be some wolves. And I've heard of a snow troll, but never seen it. I would just run if it made an appearance.” A third of the way up the path and sides were covered with snow. The temperature dropped considerably and the wind cut through their clothing. A bear stood in the path, but a trio of arrows took it down. They didn't have time to butcher and dress it, and Nora felt guilty at leaving the furs and meat, but it couldn't be helped. Maybe on the way down. At two thirds of the way up the cold was brutal. The Nord women, Toccata, Sofia and Lydia, seemed to take it in stride. She, Eldawyn and Recorder were suffering, and Nora started to think they might need to find shelter. But the only shelter was ahead, and it was closer than what was behind, so on they trudged. The troll appeared around the next corner, the first that Nora had encountered. An ugly white furred beast with a strange head, four eyes glaring out. It might have normally been a formidable creature, but it had a weakness to fire, and the four mages took in down in an instant. Nora was chilled to the bone when the monastery appeared ahead. It was snowing, the wind was whipping it up, and Nora thought she might collapse. She knew that Skyrim was a cold land, and she needed to build up her cold resistance, but this was too much. The supplies went into the crate at the bottom of the twin stairs and she stumbled up the right set of steps, about at the end of her energy. She wondered if the door might be locked, and if anyone would come if she banged on it. In a near panic she tried the door, afraid that they would all die if it didn't open. But it opened easily and they stumbled in.
  12. Three days later Nora was ready to get on the road to High Hrothgar. Eldawyn had been busy enchanting and offered her craft to the party for free. Nora wouldn't hear it, and insisted on paying now that she had the funds. So every mage in the party had a ring that increased their magicka and made it easier to cast Destruction spells. Everyone also had another ring that increased their healing rate and gave them more health, Nora wasn't sure she needed that, but Eldawyn had insisted that it would help even her. Toccata and Sofia now sported sets of high-quality chain mail, enchanted in ways that would help them in their adventures. Lydia was wearing a set of ebony plate, given to her by one of the smiths in return for sending a message to a miner to send a shipment of corundum ore to Whiterun. Nora was glad the Housecarl was so garbed. Lydia was a good fighter, but sort of an arrow magnet, and ebony would be hard to penetrate. The Dragonborn went with light armor once again. While she had the strength to carry heavy plate she preferred being able to move. Nora had a new shield that was enchanted to repel fire and shock, and a helm that would allow her to see in the dark. Toccata and Sofia, and even Eldawyn, also carried the same type of shield. And all had boots that muffled their sound and helped them better blend into the shadows. Every bow was also enchanted, using a very good base weapon to start. And swords and daggers had been bought from the Skyforge of Jorrvaskr, the best steel in Skyrim, and Eldawyn had given all of them damage enchantments. Recorder had refused any of the new equipment, and when Nora pressed her the woman admitted that she had some items given her by her Academy that performed many of the same actions. She was unclear on whether it was magic or technology, and Nora suspected it was something in between. She still had her rifle and pistol, and decided this time to pack her grenade launcher along with them. She was hoping she wouldn't need to use them, since they might prove vital in the future. She had killed another dragon in her power armor, blasting it out of the sky with two rockets, which left her with five. She didn't want to use up the ammo of the lighter weapons either, but she would rather have them along and not need them, than have a great need for them and realize they were left behind. They also had good winter gear, enchanted cloaks, fur lined tents, even hoods and gloves. Nora hadn't been sure they would need them, until Toccata had pointed her toward the Throat of the World mountain, with its snow-covered slopes. A storm was raging at the top, large enough to be visible from where they stood just outside of Whiterun. “It looks like you are ready, Thane Nora,” had said Jarl Balgruuf, actually giving her a hug before they mounted up. “Have you decided which path your will take.” There were two common ways to get to Ivarstead, the village at the base of the mountain. One involved going through a lot of snow and freezing temps, riding through a high pass. There were also vampires in the pass, and Nora decided she wanted nothing to do with them. The other had bandits, and dangerous wildlife, but no snow. That decided her. “You will run into bandits right after you cross our border with Eastmarch. I would clear them out before you get to them, but that's Ulfric's land, and my troops are not welcome there.” “That's okay. More loot. Yah.” “You did well at Silver Moon Camp, but don't expect those kind of riches in every location. Mostly you'll get some hard knocks and a very little bit of coin.” “That's okay, Jarl,” she said, returning his hug. The man had grown on her, like a favorite uncle, and she thought she would miss him when she was away. Her intention was to come back here, soon, but things might not work out that way. “I'll take out the bandits as my payment to Skyrim for welcoming me.” “Wish more of my people were so civic minded,” laughed the Jarl, releasing her. Every one of the six had a horse, and they also had a pack animal for each of them. “Maybe you'll get a chance to practice fireball,” said Eldawyn, looking over at Nora as she rode beside her. “I hope so,” replied Nora, looking ahead. “I'm still not completely comfortable with it.” Fireball was an adept level spell, one that a new mage wouldn't be expected to cast until a year into training. And she already had it in her repertoire. Of course, sometimes the ball exploded before it had traveled very far, and Nora recalled the pain of the burns she suffered. Healing magic took care of those, and the more advanced spells she had learned from Danica had worked wonders. I'm really becoming a mage, she thought in wonder. While not in the same class as her two spellswords, and nowhere near to Eldawyn's capabilities, she could see a day when she surpassed them all. She already knew almost all the novice and apprentice level destruction spells, as well as quite a few of the ones in restoration. Only one from alteration, a couple from illusion, both schools which held her interest. And none from conjuration. That school still scared the hell out of her, but Elda had assured her it wasn't all calling demons. And she had to admit that flame atronachs were pretty damned cool. * * * It was mid-afternoon of the first day when they reached the Whiterun/Eastmarch border. It was a log palisade across the road, a wooden gate in the center. There were four towers, two with ladders up on the Whiterun side, two without. Nora guessed, from the identities of the guards in the towers, that the other two were entered from the other side. Two guards stood by the gate in the livery of Whiterun, watching them suspiciously as they rode forward. “We need to check your belongings,” said one of the guards. “Make sure you're not smuggling weapons to Ulfric.” Nora looked up at one of the Eastmarch guards, wearing a green livery with different symbols on the caps and surcoats. Nora looked over at Toccata, a local Nord and the woman she was depending on for regional knowledge. “Show them your Thane amulet, quickly, then put it away.” Nora had considered wearing the badge of office to help her along the road, but had thought it better to stay incognito instead. She reached inside her armor and tugged the amulet out, letting the guards see it before slipping it back. “My apologies, Thane,” said the guard. “Here, let me get the gate for you.” The guards pulled the gate open, then pounded on the other set revealed, which slowly opened as well. Nora didn't think this the best arrangement. If it were her she would have had two walls separated by a space. “Your business?” asked the Eastmarch guard. “I have relatives in Ivarstead,” said Toccata, using their agreed upon cover story. “My cousin is about to have a baby. And with the roads like they are, my friends are coming along to keep me safe.” The guard looked them over for a moment, doubt on his face, then shrugged his shoulders. “Bandits ahead. Might be best to take the high road behind them.” Nora looked over the Eastmarch longhouse on the way by, a duplicate of the one on the Whiterun side. There seemed to be a lot more men on this side, not all of them in the livery of their Jarl. Many were wearing blue surcoats over chain mail, the symbol of a bear head on their livery. All had shields with the exception of the few carrying two handed weapons or the archers. And most wore closed face helms. “Are those Stormcloaks?” Nora asked as they rode on. “Got it on the first try,” said Sofia, looking over at her with sad eyes. “They're the whole reason we have so many bandits.” “They are not,” said Toccata, growling. “Ulfric is as much against bandits as any Jarl.” “Yeah. But the civil war is keeping the guards too busy to deal with bandits,” explained Sofia. “And if the Imperials would just leave we would have peace. I don't condone all of the Stormcloak methods, or their hatred of the mer. But Skyrim needs its Freedom.” Nora recognized that she could have a civil war on her hands as well and spoke up to change the subject. “Why in the hell are they letting bandits set up so close to the border. Surely they have enough men there to clean out any bandit nest.” “Even that,” said Recorder, pointing ahead to where multiple towers rose above the trees. One tower was on the edge of the river, and high stone walkway reaching across the water to yet another spire. “Change of plan,” said Nora, thinking of trying to take what was essentially a castle with who knew how many bandits. “Can we get around it?” “There is a high road that bypasses it,” said Toccata, pointing to a winding path going up the mountain. “Sure to be some bandits up there as well.” “But fewer than in the fort,” said Sofia, looking over at the other woman. “And not as much of a fortification.” “Then high road it is,” said Nora, making her decision. “We hit them hard and fast after I send some fire into them, we blast through, and we head on down the path as fast as we can.” They left and tethered their horses to some trees as soon as they got within earshot of the laughing bandits. Nora went a little further up the hill to get a look at the barrier. There were some spiked logs to block the path and a number of tents set up for the comfort of the bandits. Most of those were sitting around a fire, warming themselves. Nora unlimbered her rifle, making sure the suppressor was secure before scanning the road through the scope. She didn't like the suppressor all that much since it degraded the long-range accuracy of the rifle. For these targets, less than a hundred yards away, it would work. She checked to make sure the rest of her people were moving into position, then took up a kneeling stance and picked her first target, a bandit off by himself relieving his bladder in the woods. Nice to make your acquaintance, she thought as she squeezed the trigger, sending a 5.56mm round into his head, a quick and silent kill. She shifted aim to the one of the two at the barrier, tickling her trigger and sending that woman into the afterlife. The man beside her turned to stare for a moment, then looked around quickly and opened his mouth to shout. The round took him right in that open orifice, punching through his spine and dropping him limply to the ground. “What was that?” called out one of the bandits by the fire, standing up. Nora cursed and shifted aim. The rifle wasn't fully silenced. Suppressors didn't work like that, and it still made a short quiet bark. And one of the sharp eared bandits had heard it. Any second now they would realize some of their number were down. You get the next, bastard, she thought, putting a round through that bandit's head. Spoil my plan will you? The man went down and the other seven were on their feet, turning to see five screaming women running at them. A fireball flew from Eldawyn's hand, exploding in their midst, and four of them were set aflame. The other three ran out with smoldering cloaks, and two went down to the arrows of Recorder. Nora took the last through the head, and a second fireball finished the four screaming their pain by the fire. Another bandit came out of a tent, blinking confused eyes at the scene in front of him. Lydia cut him down without mercy and the camp was theirs. “We need to hurry,” said Nora, scrambling down the slope and making for the horses. “They'll probably have people hurry to block both ends of this path.” They had been very quiet, but the sound of fireballs exploding would have had to have reached their fortress. She didn't know if these bandits had any mages, and had thought that Eldawyn should take out the bandits who were bunched up. “Swords out as we ride,” said Nora as she mounted. “Be prepared to cut our way through.” Five swords swished from sheaths, while Recorder retained her bow. The woman had proven to be an excellent horse archer, and Nora was willing to let her ply her bow from her mount. Then a dragon appeared in the sky and everything changed. * * * “Boss,” yelled out a loud, high pitched voice. “Something's happening at the camp up the hill.” “What now,” growled Gro-nush, the orcin chief of the Twin Tower bandits. He would have the head of the bastard who had disturbed his fun. He looked regretfully over at the Bosmer lass he had tied to the bed. He was anticipating hours of pain and pleasure. Her pain, his pleasure. The large orc pulled on his boots and snatched up his war hammer, deciding he wouldn't need his armor for what looked like an internal matter. “Now, what’s this about...” “It sounded like an exploding fireball in the distance. And Harald doesn't know that spell.” So they had mages up there attacking his people. Well, he would have their heads on spikes. “Round up a gang and get up there,” he roared, wondering why he had to do all the thinking. “And make sure to bring a couple of mages.” He only had three magic users in the fortress and that would only leave one with him. Since he anticipated no trouble at the fortress, not with thirty heavily armed bandit warriors, that was not a problem. “Dragon,” shouted a voice from one of the towers. “Fucking big blue bastard, headed right for us.” Now that could be a problem. * * * Nora looked down on the fortress from the hill, and where the bandit leader saw disaster swooping down on him, the woman saw opportunity. If the dragon won it would be weakened. If the bandits won they would be weakened and disorganized. And she was in the perfect position to take advantage of either outcome. The dragon swooped in, releasing a wave of cold that wilted the two archers on the bridge between a pair of towers. More arrows reached for it, some bouncing off, others sinking into the flesh between scales. A couple of mages entered the battle and it started to look like the dragon had made a mistake. It should have flown off and licked its wounds. But dragons weren't anything if they weren't prideful, and this one obviously thought it above the mortals it was attacking. “Change of plan,” said Nora, looking over her party. “Toccata, Sofia and Recorder. Work your way down the path and sneak up on the fort entrance on that side. I'll take Lydia and Elda and sneak up on the other entrance. When a fireball explodes on one of the towers move in on the attack. Try to stay under cover and take them out from a distance.” “Why are we doing this?” asked Sofia, a worried expression on her face. “Let the bandits and the dragon take care of each other while we get on down the road.” “Because I am here to kill dragons,” said Nora, feeling a rush of anger at having her orders questioned and having to explain herself. The Minutemen would have obeyed her without question. These weren't Minutemen, though, but spellswords and an alien observer with their own agendas. Which included keeping themselves alive. “If the bandits kill that dragon it will just come back to life in a day or so and continue to menace this area. If the dragon wins? Well, it's free to ravage the countryside. But if I take its soul, then it's gone, forever.” “I'm with you, my Thane,” said Lydia. The others hesitated for a second, all except Recorder, who seemed excited to get it stuck in. Finally she received head nods, and smiling nodded in return, then turned her horse to ride down the mountain. The dragon was still flying when Nora's party reached the level of the fort. It was looking bad, blood covering its scales, but it was still sending cold into the bandits, taking its toll. As she watched it hit a mage that was sending ice spikes into it. It's a frost dragon, you idiot, she thought, shaking her head. The mage should be sending fire or shock spells into the dragon. But maybe that was all she knew. Eldawyn had told her that some mages concentrated on a single element, to the detriment of others. Elda herself concentrated of fire, but she did know at least two spells from each of the other elements. Nora had had been sneaking up on enemies for years. She had been making silent kills on Raiders long before she ever had any good stealth gear. The armor made it a little more difficult, but she was getting used to moving in it. And all of the bandits' attention was focused on the very large problem. The archer never knew what was going on until a hand grabbed his hair and pulled back. Nora drew her monomolecular knife across the throat, then let the body fall, moving on. The dragon was just about finished, landing in the middle of the courtyard, barely able to keep its head up. It was surrounded by a dozen bandits, while the two remaining archers kept raining arrows down on it. Suddenly its head fell heavily to the ground and it breathed its last. By that time Nora had her rifle in hand and was aiming in on the archers on the high walkway. A squeeze and one had gone to her afterlife, another and a Dunmer went to join his ancestors. A fireball landed in the middle of the bandits and six of them caught on fire. And the dragon started to smoke, while the force of its soul hit the Dragonborn. Not now, she thought as the energy hit and the remaining six bandits came at her. Recorder took out one, Eldawyn another with a lightning bolt, and Nora pulled and held the trigger of her rifle, spitting out ten rounds a second for the remaining few she had before she dropped the rifle and let the quickening take her. She was lifted into the air, the incredible energy of the dragon soul infusing her every cell, while she wondered in a panic if all of the bandits were taken care of. Landing on her feet her body released some of the overflow in a blast that moved out ten feet to either side. And then it was over, and she looked over the dead bandits. Four had obviously been blasted down by her rifle, the rest by the combination of dragon and her people. “I didn't know your weapon could do that?” said Eldawyn, bending down to pick up the rifle, turning it over in her hands. “I can't do that often. Not if I don't want to run out of ammo. But yes, it does come in handy sometimes.” She recalled all of the death claws and behemoths she had gunned down as a last resort, sending most of the hundred round drum into them. She had fired most of what remained in a drum in that burst, and only had two more. After that the gun was nothing more than a curiosity to hang on the wall, unless the alchemists came through. “You could take down an army with this thing,” said Eldawyn in a hushed voice, handing the weapon over. “But it looks like this bandit gang is finished. And you sucked up that dragon soul.” “I have to watch it,” said Nora, letting out a sigh. “I'm helpless when the energy moves into me. If that happens while I'm being attacked that might be the end of me.” “Then we'll have to make sure you're guarded when that happens,” said Lydia, walking up to her Thane. “Of keep you away from the body until the fight is over.” “Thank you, Housecarl. That's good thinking. Now let’s see what we can get out of this place.” There was loot. Potions and gems and piles of gold, really more than they could handle. And weapons and armor, though nothing as good as what they had, with the exception of the set of Glacial plate. “You should think about wearing that, Dragonborn,” said Recorder, picking up the helmet. “It will give you a lot more protection.” “I'm a stealth warrior,” said Nora, shaking her head. “I need to move silently.” “Still, take it,” said Lydia, pulling the boots off a large Orc who hadn't fully armored up before going to battle. “You may change your mind later, and these are hard to come by.” “Very well,” said Nora, taking the helmet from Recorder. It was a very hard armor, and much lighter than she expected. She would have it sized and try it, and if she could move quietly in it she might consider using it. They found the Bosmer woman tied to a bed in one of the upper rooms of a tower. The woman was alive, scared out of her wits, and sporting a number of shallow cuts, along with numerous bruises. Nora sent healing magic into her, taking care of the cuts, but there was nothing they could do for her mental state. They clothed her, gave her some food, and sent her on her way toward the border fort. If her kind weren't welcome in Eastmarch she could probably find shelter in Whiterun. “By the gods,” cursed Eldawyn when they had followed the stench in one tower to the basement. And found scores of bodies, all young women, horrible mutilated, in most cases well into decay. “I'm going to kill every one of the bastards,” growled Nora. “And I don't care if some of them had no other choice. This is an evil I can understand, and I will not stand for it.” They spent the night in the woods a couple of miles down the road. There had been furs in warm rooms in the fortress, but Nora refused to spend the night in the cursed place. The nightmares she endured that night showed that the curse was in her mind, and that there was no way to escape it. * * * The next day they saw their first signs of the civil war that had come to Skyrim. Bodies on the road, men, women and dogs. Most of them were naked and sporting terrible wounds from sword or arrow. Some armor pieces had been left behind, a helmet here, a shield there, Imperial. There was one Stormcloak shield, but nothing else. “The Stormcloaks won this fight,” said Toccata, satisfaction in her voice that earned her a glare from Sofia. Nora recognized that the rivalry was a growing problem, and she might have to ask one or both of them to leave. “How do you know?” asked Recorder, always on the hunt for information. “The bodies are those of Imperials, Bretons and Redguard, with very few Nords,” said Toccata, motioning toward the bodies. “The Stormcloaks would be mostly Nords, though some freedom loving people from other kingdoms also join the fight.” “Which I can't understand,” said Sofia, shaking her head. “The Stormcloaks are racist bastards.” “I'm not...” “Enough,” shouted Nora, a hint of danger in her tone. “We are not in this thing. If you want to go support either side, then leave. We are here to kill bandits and dragons, not to fight a civil war. I know from history that they are never easy, and I'm not about to fight one within my party. I would rather have a smaller party than have to worry about a fight breaking out in my unit.” “You have my loyalty, Dragonborn,” said Toccata, bowing her head. She looked over at Sofia. “I want to travel with you. If it means keeping silent about my loyalties in this war, so be it.” “You had civil wars on your planet?” asked Eldawyn, her eyes lit with curiosity. “Many, though not in recent history. My own nation had one four hundred years ago, and almost seven hundred thousand people were killed. The one in Russia later on killed several million. Never easy, when brother fights brother, families split apart by loyalties to conflicting ideologies.” “Several million,” said Toccata with a whistle. “That's many times more than live in Skyrim.” “So you won't have a million,” said Nora, looking at the woman with a sorrowful expression. “But too many will die. Families will be broken up; starvation will stalk the land. And the bandits will flourish.” Nora knew that she couldn’t do anything about this war right now. She had too many other things to do. But one day she might have to pick a side and help to end it.
  13. It had taken two more days to reach the camp, what would have been a day if they had been riding. Which meant a week of walking back to Whiterun. Nora was finding out just how big this world was. She shouldn't have been surprised. A whole world, and Skyrim was only part of it. A large region of the old United States sized part, approximately the old South, but still only a small piece. Now the horses were tethered in the camp five miles behind, and they were here, at the edge of the woods overlooking the bandit camp. Nora had been worried about the horses. What if something came along that wanted to eat them? There were plenty of predators out there. Large cats, bears, even tribes of goblins. They really had no choice. The horses could give them away and she was determined to take advantage of the element of surprise, her greatest friend in battle. So they had erected a hedge of cut spikes at the entrance to a small hollow and left the horses to graze. The camp was actually another of the old Nordic ruins, some stone buildings, a long row of steps leading up to something at the top, wooden ladders and walkways. And bandits. More than she expected. A least a score in view, some in armor, obvious sentries, while others lounged about or cooked at the big pit at the bottom of the steps. “Should have known there would be a lot of them,” said Lydia, down on one knee beside Nora. “If they sent twenty out on a raid they had to have more than that back home. No wonder the Whiterun guards haven't tried to take them out.” “The guards are just boys and girls playing at soldier,” said Sofia, staring at the bandits. “They take positions of safety, with as little risk as possible.” Nora wasn't sure that was fair. The guards had been fighting dragons, after all. But yeah, they were garrison troops and not front-line soldiers. She knew the type. Useful for some purposes, useless for others. “Okay, there's more than we expected,” said Nora, slipping into command mode. “So we have to use tactics to give us an advantage. Sofia, I want you on the right flank, Toccata on the left. When I give the word send area destruction spells at them. Your choice. Eldawyn, you will do the same in the center, though I expect you will want to use fire spells. Recorder, let me see how many of them you can take down with that bow. I'll use this,” she said, holding up her scoped M16. “When they are weakened we will charge them and finish the job.” “And myself, my Lady?” asked Lydia, a look of concern on her face. Nora hads to think about that a moment. “I want you to taunt them, Housecarl. Get into the open, but close enough to duck back into the woods. Call them whatever you think will get a rise out of them. Shelter behind your shield if they start sending arrows at you, and the rest of us will have healing spells ready.” She really hated doing this to Lydia, making her the target, but the Housecarl was the only one among them with heavy armor, and though she had a bow, she didn't use magic. Are you sure that's a good idea, Nora?" asked Sofia. "That's not your decision, Sofia," said Nora, feeling a little bit miffed at being questioned. “I will make you proud, my Lady,” said Lydia with a strange look in her eye. “This is not a suicide play, Lydia,” she said in a firm tone. “If you get injured, or it looks like you are about to get overwhelmed, duck back into the woods. Back away and keep your shield up. I expect you to make it through this.” She looked around at the others. “I expect all of us to make it through this.” “How good are you with that thing?” asked Eldawyn, eyeing the rifle. “Very good,” said Nora, patting her old favorite. She had the hundred round drum inserted and didn't expect to have to reload. She would only use full auto if things got really out of hand. Maybe I should have brought the grenade launcher as well, she thought, then dismissed her misgivings. This was going to be fine, just the normal prebattle jitters. * * * "People in the woods,” said Farendel, the Bosmer scout, walking down the steps toward the mage leader of the Silver Moon Bandits. “Our scouting party?” asked Enoralyn, the Altmer mage who had ended up leading this motley mass of cutthroats. The Altmer had never wanted to become a bandit, but fortune had led her here, and when given the choice of death or joining, the necromancer had made the easy call. She hadn't wanted to become a bandit, but she also hadn't wanted to become dead, her soul going to Oblivion because of her past deeds. So she had become one of their mages, then their senior mage. When the boss had fallen in battle she had stepped into the leadership role. The loot was good, but the access to fresh bodies, or to the souls she ripped from the bodies of captives, was better. “No,” said the Bosmer, pulling his bow from its holder on his back and swiftly stringing it. He sniffed the air. “A couple of humans, an Altmer, and two like nothing I have ever before smelled.” So, intruders then. And Enoralyn had four black soul gems in her side pouch just waiting for occupants. “Give me a moment before going after them,” she ordered, quickly bringing up the words for a soul cloak. She raised a hand and cast it, and the rest of the bandits perked up, knowing that their boss had located nearby enemies. The soul cloak settled into place, and for almost three minutes anyone killed within hundreds of yards of her would be sucked to the prison within her gems. “There,” shouted Farendel as a human in heavy armor stepped into the open. “Cowards, all of you,” yelled out a human female voice from the fully armored figure. “No match for me. Come at me, you weaklings.” The rest of the bandits roared, many pulling back bows and sending arrows zipping at the woman. A couple of mages raised spells, fire, cold and electricity. More came out of the Moon Forge above, or the quarters below, until there were over thirty bandits screaming for the blood of the woman. Which was when all hell broke loose. * * * “Light them up,” said Nora in her best carrying voice. The three mages, Eldawyn and the two spellswords, sent out fireballs, the slow-moving balls of fire arching out and into the bandits, to explode around three groups of archers. Too late to save Lydia from the first barrage, but the Housecarl had hunkered down behind her shield to take the barrage. Still, one hit the warrior woman in the thigh, the arrow punching through the iron armor and into the flesh underneath. Nora zeroed in on one of the enemy archers who hadn't been hit with magic and centered her cross hairs on the man's head. A squeeze of the trigger and the man's head bucked back, the bow fell out of nerveless fingers and the body fell to the ground. “That mage up the steps,” yelled Eldawyn, throwing another fireball into the archers, then turning her attention on a pair of mages who were throwing cold at Lydia. “She’s cast a soul trap spell.” Oh no you don’t, thought Nora. She didn't intend for her Housecarl to die, but she really wasn't about to let Lydia's soul get trapped and Sovngarde be denied. She centered her cross hairs again, squeezed, and sent the Altmer woman into the afterlife. * * * Enoralyn stared at the warrior who had come out to challenge them, readying her hands to send a blast of cold into the crazy bitch. Her archers massed their fire on her, but almost all of them bounced from the warrior's shield. One struck an exposed thigh and stuck, and the woman cried out. At the same time a trio of fireballs flew from the woods, targeting her archers. “Everyone scatter,” she yelled. “Don't bunch up.” Her people were not soldiers, worse the luck, and they didn't know how to spread out. Because of that thirteen of her archers were burning, most dropping their bows, all screaming in agony. An archer further up the steps fell dead, a loud retort sounding at the same time. She didn't know what that was, but it killed instantly and from a distance. The sound of a soul being sucked from a body came from behind, and Enoralyn knew that the archer had been harvested. Not what she had planned, but no use wasting a soul that couldn't get into the Nord paradise no matter what. She pointed a hand at the warrior that was no longer being barraged by arrows and started sending a blast of cold into her. Block that, she thought, watching the warrior fold. And then that sound again and her vision went black. Her soul cried out as it was sucked from her body, most of it going into one of her gems, where one necromancer elf named Enoralyn would await her turn to be used in an enchantment. * * * Nora kept servicing targets with extreme prejudice, the backs of head after head exploding out as their owners fell. A couple radiated blue energy; soul trapped. Nora felt bad about sending them there, but these people meant the same for her and her people so she didn't feel too guilty. She looked over the camp, seeing that most of the archers were down and burning, dead. She had taken care of any mages in evidence, and all that were left were twelve or so melee fighters. “Toccata. See to Lydia,” shouted Nora, dropping her rifle to the ground and drawing her sword after securing her shield to her left arm. “Make sure she doesn't die.” I never should have sent her out to stir them up, she thought as she sprinted toward the camp. That should have been me. Or we should have come out together. The first bandit she got to, carrying a strange mace, was an easy kill. The man was in shock, and his leather armor proved of no worth against a strongly thrust sword. She actually lifted him from the ground with her thrust, and a twist of the wrist pulled the blade free as she ran past. The next had a sword and shield, and he knew how to use them. What he didn't know how to do was withstand the running bash of one hundred and ninety pounds of compact woman encased in fifty pounds of armor, running into him faster than anyone else on this world was capable of. He flew away, landing stunned on his back, and a quick slash opened his throat. “Fus,” shouted Nora, and the nearest three bandits all staggered back, two going to their knees, the last to her back. Nora knew she needed more power, the other words of the shout, or she would continue to wield a weapon that was too weak. It cooled down quickly, at least, and she felt like she could shout again seconds later. She slammed her blade into the shoulder of the one bandit still struggling to stand, then spun around and took the head off another. The third was still on her back when Nora thrust her sword through an unarmored abdomen. An arrow clanged from her shield, and Nora turned her attention to the one archer they had missed. She sprinted forward, sliding from side to side as she went, and the next arrow was a clean miss. She cut through the bow and sliced the hands from the archer, then cut off his scream with another decapitation. She stopped and looked around, taking in the fight. It seemed like all the bandits were down, and she turned to shout to Toccata, to find out how Lydia was doing, when the wave of cold hit her. Nora forced herself to turn as the strength faded from her body. Her teeth chattered as cold swept over her. The mage stood in clear sight, sending the killing cold into Nora, and the warrior knew she only had one chance. The sword dropped from her hand and she forced it down to pull the pistol from its holster. She tried to aim, but her hand was shaking too badly, so she simply started a rapid fire into the mage. Three clean misses, then a strike to the center of the chest, and the mage crumpled to the ground with a sigh. “Take it easy,” said Eldawyn, coming to her side and putting a hand to her shoulder. Warmth flowed from that hand and into the body of Nora, who felt herself relaxing, on the verge of sleeping. “I need to stay awake,” she said through heavy lips. “Lydia.” “Is fine, my Thane,” said the Housecarl, limping up. “Toccata knew exactly what to do. But next time I would prefer some company if I'm to walk out and draw fire.” Nora felt really guilty about that, and resolved that in the future if someone needed to act as a decoy it would be her. Then guilt and consciousness both fled before the darkness that overcame her. She woke in the Silent Moon structure, laid out on a bed that stank of too many unwashed bodies. Toccata looked down on her, a smile on her face. Nora looked over at the next bed to see an undressed Lydia breathing softly, deeply asleep. “Thank you,” she told the spellsword. “No problem,” said the pretty redhead. “And I must say, I've never seen anyone move like you when you took down the last bandits.” “My weapons?” “Over on that table to your other side. Sword and your magical killing sticks. We only touched them to bring them in.” “What about the camp. Is it clear? And is everyone else okay.” “Everyone is fine. They're still looting, and we may have to bring in more people to strip this fortress. Gold, gems, fine weapons and armor. Their leader was a hoarder, and kept all the best for herself.” “And soul gems,” said Eldawyn, hurrying into the chamber with a bulging sack. “Seems like their leader had a thing for collecting soul gems. Thirty-seven filled black gems, and four of the ones on the body of the leader were still warm. Filled with freshly trapped souls. One probably her own.” “I can live with that,” said Nora, smiling. “Serves the bitch right.” “There were also several hundred other soul gems, grand, greater, and common, not even counting the petty. Half of them filled. Enough that she could have enchanted the equipment of all of her people. She was greedy and wanted them to sell, it seems. Stupid.” “The horses?” “Sofia and Recorder are bringing them in,” said Toccata, also smiling. “We can load up and be ready to leave in a couple of hours, though I would recommend that you rest for another four hours.” “We'll spend the night here, then,” said Nora. “I don't want to push Lydia.” Or myself. “Sounds good,” said Eldawyn, grinning. “It will give me some more time to go through the alchemy reagents. And another thing, boss.” “Yes?” “You were impressive, taking out all those bandits. But Aela warned me that you might outrun your support, and that ice mage could have been the end of you. So wait for the rest of us before you run into a trap like that. Okay?” “You got it,” said Nora, smiling sheepishly. She had wanted to take out the bandits before they could hurt any more of her people, but it did no one any good if she died. She was here to save this world from the dragons, and falling fighting some bandit scum was not the way to do that. * * * It took five days to lead the overburdened horses back to Whiterun, over a hundred miles as the raven flew. Unfortunately, they weren't ravens, and the woods were full of hills and rocky walls that required delays. Still, they made it out and onto the plains in four days, Eldawyn complaining at the lack of wine after day three. Nora wanted to tell her that is she hadn't been such a lush they would still have wine. After seeing the power of the fire mage in the battle she didn't want to hurt her feelings and risk her quitting. On the morning of day five there was an incident. It was early and they had broken camp only an hour before, walking down a deserted road. When they came across a troop of four Thalmor walking the other way, two adult Nords and a child in their midst, shackled. Nora was about to lead them past, not wanting an incident with these people in the middle of Whiterun and thinking of the more important matters she had to address. Eldawyn had other ideas, and she walked quickly toward them, fire in her eyes. “What in all the Hells do you think you motherfuckers are doing?” she yelled, her green eyes flashing red. “We are Justiciars on official Thalmor business,” said the leader, a mage from the look of his clothing. He seemed confused at her word choice, though he was quick to figure it out and his face contorted in rage. “Step aside.” The three Thalmor soldiers stood ready, hands on their sword hilts. “Justiciars,” said Eldawyn with a sneer. “As if you Altmer thugs could even comprehend justice.” “You go too far,” said the Thalmor leader, fire coming to his open right hand. “Even one of our own can't speak to us like that.” “One of your own,” shouted Eldawyn, flame flaring at the ends of her fingers. “If I thought I was one of your own I would fall on a sword.” “That's...” That was the last thing the Thalmor wizard ever said, as Eldawyn unleashed a stream of fire that burned his face off. The other Thalmor pulled out their swords, and Nora wondered at the arrogance of the elves that would take on twice their number. Then it was no longer time for thinking as she shouted toward them and was rewarded by seeing them stagger back off balanced. They were wearing good elf armor, which was very good indeed. Nora's sword bounced from the right shoulder of the first one she struck, but the force of the blow drove the elf to his knees. She moved with speed, bringing her sword around to strike another Thalmor sword right after it was drawn, knocking it from the Altmer woman's hand. The third, still struggling to get up, accepted a side kick to the face and fell back with blood spurting from his nose. The first she had struck was back on his feet, just in time to marry his face to an arrow from Recorder's bow, while Lydia took care of the female with a thrust through the neck. Nora took care of the last, taking his head from his shoulders, then turning to see if Elda needed any help. Eldawyn was still sending fire into the leader, who was lying motionless on the ground. The head was gone, ashed, and their Altmer was working on reducing the rest of the elf to the same state. The robes were already gone. “Elda,” yelled Nora, grabbing her arm. “Stop. He’s dead. Stop.” Eldawyn stopped the flames, turning to Nora with confusion in her eyes. With a shake of her head she came back to the here and now. “Motherfuckers,” growled the Altmer, and Nora had a sinking feeling that she had started a trend in Skyrim. Within a year milk drinker would no longer be the insult of choice in this land. “I'm sorry,” said Elda, covering her face with her hands. “I was enraged, seeing these people taking an innocent family off to torture and execution. All for worship of a God that half of Skyrim still reveres. I, lost control, and let it out.” Nora wondered what it was that the mage had let out. From the inflection of her voice she wasn't talking about her anger. But they had other things to worry about. “Free them,” she told the others, pointing at the Nords, then walking over to one of the horses to grab a sack of clinking coins. “Here,” she told the father, handing him the sack. “Run, hide, seek out friends.” “Thank you,” said the father, bowing, taking the sack, then leading his family into the woods. “You sure it was wise to let them go,” said Sofia, a troubled look on her face. “It might not be, but don't ask me to kill the very people we rescued just because they might identify us.” Sofia looked down, ashamed of what she had said. “Let's get these bodies off the road. Find some ditch or hollow in the woods to toss them in, then cover them in leaves.” “We can take their armor,” said Eldawyn, her face calm once again. “I know some people who would buy it. Other Altmer that oppose the Thalmor, and could use the weapons and armor for subterfuge.” “Very well,” said Nora, clapping a hand on Elda's shoulder. “I don't blame you. I should have ordered them killed myself. And fortunately we were off the beaten path. But next time do nothing until I order it. We have too much to lose to have these bastards on our tails.” * * * There was a feast on their return. Nora kept quiet, not willing to boast, but her team took up the slack for her. The weapons, armor and other equipment they had brought back had taken in over a hundred thousand septims, with some of the equipment retained for their own use. Everyone would get better armor and some enchanted weapons as well. Even Eldawyn would gain the protection of some enchanted leather that would keep her from getting killed by a single strike. She had turned down Eldawyn’s proposition, and the woman had taken it in good grace, noticing where Nora's attention was focused. For her bard lover from Riverwood, Mikael, had come to the capital to play for the Jarl, and much as she liked a woman's touch, after all the death she had witnessed she wanted a man. The party had gone on longer than she expected, and Mikael of course had duties to attend to before he could attend to her. They finally stumbled into her chamber in the wee hours, laughing and singing. Nora was feeling the drink, but the night of anticipation was making her anxious to feel something else. Something hard and thrusting inside her yielding sex. “I missed you,” said Nora, her lips and tongue questing at the bard's mouth. “You're a hero now, dear,” said the smooth-tongued bard, working at unbuttoning her clothing, tossing it aside as he removed each piece. “You have a smooth tongue, my bard,” she said in a hushed voice. “But you need to stop talking and use that tongue for something else.” A naked Nora lay back on the bed, open to his gaze. Mikael wasted no time, crawling between her legs and lapping at her labia, stopping at her clitoris while vibrating his tongue upon the sensitive nub. Nora went into an almost instant orgasm. She was hornier than she had been in a long time and she needed this to get her mind off the death. Mikael licked her to another orgasm. She pushed him away, then pulled him over onto his back, moving up to kiss him on the mouth, tasting herself. “Your turn,” she said, kissing her way down his body, her hands leading the way and caressing his manhood. He quickly rose to a full erection, soft skin over rock hard shaft. “Did you prepare yourself for a long session?” she whispered, before taking his penis in her mouth and sucking it down deep into her throat. “I'm ready to go,” he said after a gasp of pleasure. “Good,” she mumbled around his shaft as she gently played with the bard's testicles. Mikael must have been horny as well, as it took no time at all before his seed was bubbling up and into her mouth. Nora swirled the semen around her mouth for a moment, then swallowed, afterward moving back up his body, leaving kisses on every part until her lips met his. “I want you inside me,” she whispered in his ear, climbing on top of him and placing the tip of his again hard penis at her entrance. She sank down onto him, crying out as he penetrated her deeply. Again she marveled at his girth, filling her while not painfully pushing past her cervix. She started to move, the wonderful feeling of fucking filling her with pleasure. Setting up a good rhythm she fucked him for the long haul. After twenty minutes, the bard doing a marvelous job of holding back, she felt the tingling stirrings of another orgasm approaching. Now she went fully into the sex, pulling almost completely off, only the tip still inside her, then slamming down until his entire length was buried in her. She wanted to hold on until he was coming, letting them both enjoy a simultaneous orgasm. She had found those to be the rarest of events, and this night was no different. She was already starting to come back from the bliss of her Cumming when she felt Mikael’s penis swell, then the spurting of his semen into her womb. They kept at it for hours. She had never met a man who could keep going so long, and she was wondering if it was her or the potion he had taken that had him going so. It didn't matter, and after the end of the second hour neither had the strength to go on. They lay there covered in sweat, in each other's arms, Mikael periodically kissing her forehead. “I noticed that you didn't drink your potion tonight, love,” he said, looking into her eyes. “Oh, I don't need it,” she said slowly. “You see, I can't get pregnant. Too much damage in cryo. My ovaries no longer produce viable eggs.” “I'm, so sorry,” he said in a hushed voice filled with pity. “Don't be. I'm free to do what I want, and not have to worry about having another child. The first was trouble enough.” “More so than most from what you've said.” She had told Mikael her story, hoping it didn't scare him off. So far it hadn't, and she was hoping she would spend more nights with this lover. She doubted she could fall in love with the footloose bard, but she would make use of him while he was here, and give as much pleasure as she could in return. And from his reaction to their love making she thought she was giving a good return on his investment. “Well, I guess we can let the rest of the castle go to sleep,” she said with a yawn. “At least until we wake up and go at it again,” said Mikael with a laugh. I can't wait, thought Nora, forgetting the dead for a while, and falling into a deep dreamless sleep.
  14. Hancock jumped out of the vertibird before it actually touched down, impatient to get in and talk with the people he had come to see. The crew chief of the bird looked at the ghoul askance, reminding the Vice President of the Commonwealth that attitudes didn't change overnight. The Brotherhood of Steel, under Sarah Lyons, was not the same organization as it had been under Elder Maxson. But a generation of hunting ghouls, feral or civilized, had left a mark on the best of them. But now they were an ally, and one that Hancock was willing to take advantage of. The Brotherhood still maintained the majority of the aircraft within the Commonwealth proper. The Minutemen had their own, of course, but with the current expansion most of them were at the fronts. The campaign to expand without conquest that Nora Jane Adams had started, and that Hancock was determined would continue unabated in her absence. It was eating up a lot of resources, but the return was thought to be worth it. More people, more raw materials, more of everything, eventually. Yeah, motherfuckers, thought the young ghoul as he looked back at the lifting vertibird. You better behave. The Brotherhood, now reunited with their outcasts, was still a major player, the second most powerful military in the region, commanding over a thousand well trained and disciplined troops. The Minutemen now had more vertibirds, more suits of power armor, more boots on the ground. And they had artillery, massive long-range mortars that gave the Commonwealth hitting power anywhere in their territory. Or at the fronts. Only none of that does us any good when it comes to finding our President, he thought, heading toward the lift and the two absolutely perfect males that stood beside the entrance. Coursers had originally been created to serve as the covert operational arm of the Institute. Nora had changed all of that, and now the Coursers were nothing more than an internal security force. Some served in the Minutemen. It would be insane to turn down such capable warriors. But Hancock had never really trusted them. We need you back, Nora, he thought as he nodded to the Coursers, who waved him into the lift. There were still too many factions in the Commonwealth, at odds with each other, and she was the only person who had the respect of all of them. Only the Sole Survivor had the status to make everyone listen. She had brought Hancock, the former mayor of Goodneighbor, on board to show the ghouls of the Commonwealth that their concerns were important to her. Hancock was enough of a realist to know that he would never win the vote, not with still simmering prejudices reinforced by the terror of the ferals, but so far there had been no call for an election as specified under the constitution. Everyone was still waiting for their President to return and lead again, but eventually they would grow impatient. The lift dropped swiftly downward, making the passenger feel like he had lost considerable weight. It also slowed swiftly after a couple of minutes, and the door opened to reveal the vestibule of the Institute and another pair of Coursers. “It would have been so much easier to teleport in, sir,” said a female synth, gorgeous like all of them. Hancock still didn't trust the teleporters. Sometimes people went in and didn't emerge. Very very rare, but it had been documented. No one knew what happened to them. Stolen by another teleporter for unknown purposes. Or simply scattered across space. Something had grabbed the President, and Hancock could only hope that she had gone someplace else, and was not simply gone. The Institute was all clean white and light. Everything down here was fresh, clean and radiation free. Many of the thousands of people down here still wore the white uniforms of the Institute, but many were wearing the clothes of the common people of the Commonwealth, mostly business wear and the casual clothes of scientists. There were even some in the uniforms of the Brotherhood, once the Institute’s greatest enemy. “Vice President,” said the Assistant Institute Director Doctor Allie Filmore. “Welcome.” “Good to see your, Dr. Filmore,” said Hancock, reaching out a hand that the Assistant Director looked at for a moment before taking. “I wish it was under better circumstances.” Hancock tried to avoid the Institute when possible. He had too many memories of people disappearing in the night, of synths on the run, of people unable to sleep for fear that they might be kidnapped and replaced. Another faction that had been brought to heel. Nora was responsible for that as well, and her absence was raising concerns within the Commonwealth that the Institute might again become a problem. Hancock was determined that if that happened he would nuke the hell out of them. “Doctor Li has been looking into the problem, and has some results,” said Filmore. “Not all of them good.” The pair walked down seemingly endless corridors, seeing people going about their business. This was one of the few places that mimicked prewar America, although their tech was much more advanced. The only organizations that came close were Fusion City, with its university, and the various working vaults. Light everywhere, maintenance people bustling about, men and women with computer clipboards hurrying about their tasks. Under Nora the Institute was sharing everything with the world above. Building water purifiers, power plants, releasing seed crops that improved the harvests. They were now a force for good, but how long would they remain so with her gone? Hancock was ushered into a conference room in which a number of people were already seated. The only ones he recognized was Doctor Madison Li, the once ex-patriot scientist who had helped the Brotherhood finish the Liberty Prime project. Nora had taken control of that ultimate war machine, which was still standing at Boston International, and would be forever if Hancock had anything to do with it. Next to her was Heather Casdin, once a follower of Nora’s, and one of the foremost experts on the flora of the Commonwealth, now working with the Institute Biosciences Division. “Vice President Hancock,” said Li, getting up and offering her hand. “We think we have located the President.” “That's good, right?” Hancock took a quick look around the room before accepting the offered seat. There were a number of view screens active, the ones catching his attention the images of downtown Boston, several towers under reconstruction, and the map of the Commonwealth, with all the proposed expansions marked in blue. “Well, it gives us a starting point,” said Li, frowning. “But it gets us no closer to getting her back.” “But you can do that, right?” “Understand, Hancock,” said Li, “she's not anywhere on Earth.” “Another planet?” said the disbelieving ghoul. How in the hell could someone kidnap her from another planet? They knew that aliens existed. People had run into enough of them, and Nora had even thwarted some of their attempts to establish a foothold in the region. That might be enough to make them her deadly enemies. If she was in their hands? “Another dimension. You might even say another Universe.” “One with superior tech?” asked the ghoul. “No, not really. Though with something just as powerful. Here, have a look at some of the images we have found.” A holo sprung up over the table, showing a blurred staticky vision of another world. What looked like great pristine forest, snowy mountains in the distance. A view of a stag, one head. Bears that weren't the mutated horrors of the Commonwealth. And, what? A fucking dragon, with armored warriors shooting arrows at it, and balls of fire rising from the hands of robed people to strike it. The dragon leveled many of those fighting it with a blast of white-hot fire from its mouth. “What the hell is this?” asked an incredulous Vice President. “Dragons? And is that magic?” “We're not really sure what it is, but yes, it does appear to be magic,” said Li. “And there's more. We have picked up energy signatures in the temples we have observed. These people have deities, and they are real. Maybe not like the God many of the people of Earth still believe in, but powers in their own right. Able to manifest, heal, and curse.” “How and the hell can we fight against that,” blurted Hancock, staring at Li. All the power at his command. Gigawatt generators, artillery, vertibirds, even nukes. And none of them would do him any good. “With science, and perseverance,” said Li forcefully. “We have teleporters, and knowledge of where this world is. Given time we might be able to bring her back, though I put more faith in the proposition of sending some of our own people through to her.” And why in the hell would anyone go through a portal to another Universe, thought Hancock. “I would go,” said Heather, answering the unasked question. “All of the plants I could bring back to aid our agriculture and biosciences. And I'm pretty damned sure I could get a team together to go with me.” “This is getting ahead of ourselves,” said Li. “First we need to figure out how to do more than observe. These images were all we could gather, and only by using every erg of energy we could generate, and linking in every teleporter in our possession. That's our limit, for now.” “How did you locate her?” “We found energy traces of an unknown type at the spot where Nora and R4-04 disappeared,” said another of the scientists. “We found we could trace this energy through the dimensions, and then we located the Director through her quantum signature. We, of course, had it on file, just like that of everyone who had ever used one of our teleporters.” And you people probably had more interest in that signature than most, thought Hancock, glad that he had these people on his side, but never truly trusting them. “Are you sure she's there?” “Before this morning, I would have said no,” answered Li. “But then we traced her signature and found this.” The view was still filled with static, but it was clear that a group of armored people were moving through the woods, leading horses burdened with armor and other equipment. The people were also in armor, helmets on their head, and Hancock was wondering if Nora had been captured by these warriors. The image shifted, showing faces. First a golden face with pointy ears. An elf? Then a human, then another. All females. And then she was there, also in armor, blue eyes looking out on the world as she shouted an order. “Son-of-a-bitch,” gasped Hancock, feeling his heart skip. “She's not only there, but she's landed on her feet.” He should have expected as much from the Sole Survivor, the woman who had done the impossible in this world. “More than that, Hancock,” said Heather, the one person in the room the ghoul considered a true friend. “I think she was called there for a reason. To save a world. And I wonder if we need to leave her to it until she accomplishes that task.” “That world can take care of itself,” said Hancock, shaking his head. “We need her here. The people we care about need her here. So we will get her back, no matter what it takes.” “Easier said than done,” said Li, shaking her head as well. “As I said, we can pierce the barrier much more easily from this side. So the possibility of sending someone through from here exists.” “Again, I’ll volunteer,” said Heather. “Right now, dear, we’re estimating we will be able to send less than a hundred pounds through in a transmission,” said Li, frowning. “So, unless you want to go through in pieces, it’s a no go from the start.” “A hundred pounds, huh,” said Hancock, running down a list of what he would want if he were in Nora’s place. “Weapons, ammo, maybe some electronics. Anything she can use to survive.” “To kill dragons?” asked one of the other staffers at the table. “I’m thinking rockets and gatling laser power cells.” “That would work,” said Heather, nodding. “But I think she will get use out of small arms ammo as well. Images played over the table, more of the staticky vid they had retrieved through the vale. People in armor fighting with primitive hand weapons, swords, axes, hammers. Arrows flying to take down lightly armored warriors. If he could send a couple of companies of heavily armed infantry they could probably conquer that land. But what about the magic? What would they need to counter that? Artillery? Nukes? Hancock was sure that Nora Jane Adams wouldn’t stand for such a force coming through the dimensional barrier, even if it were possible. The ghoul wasn’t certain he would be all in either. It went against his philosophy of letting people do what they wanted as long as they didn’t step on the rights of others. But from what he recalled from his school days in Diamond City, Medieval societies weren’t much on individual freedom. Everything was run by elites, who demanded that the common people bow and scrape, obeying every whim of their betters. That might be a society that needed to be toppled. If they couldn’t do it with an invasion, maybe Nora could work from within. “Make sure she gets a copy of How Things Work,” he told the people at the table. “Why?” asked a curious Li. “Because Madame President might want to engage in some social engineering in a society like that. And changing the culture from farming to manufacturing should stir things up just fine.” John Hancock felt a little better on the ride up to the surface. He knew his good friend was still alive, and that they might be able to send her help. As far as bringing her home, that was not a given. But the best people they had were on it, and that gave him hope.
  15. The Companions had their reservations about Nora's new partner and she really couldn't blame them. She was small, smaller than Nora, and wore what looked like chic pirate clothing. They eyed the twin ebony blades on Recorder's side and the bow of the same material on her back. “At least she's a rich novice,” said Aela, looking over the woman. “I have reservations about her choice in protective wear though.” Aela lost her reservations when a score of bandits came out of the woods to confront them. The Companions and Nora went on the offensive immediately. And Recorder sprang into action with a maniacal laugh, all flashing black blades as she danced around a trio of bandits, leaving them in pieces on the ground. An arrow struck her in the chest and miraculously the soft clothing prevented it from penetrating. Must be nanoarmor, thought Nora, no longer concerned with the woman's lack of protection. “You know how to handle those blades,” said Vilkas in admiration after they had cleaned out the bandits of everything of value. “I was trained by the best,” replied Recorder, wiping the blades on the clothing of the dead before sheathing them. “Who?” asked Farkus. “I've never seen that style before, and I've seen them all.” “You wouldn't know them,” said Recorder. “I have to tell you, Nora,” said Aela, her tone indicating a topic she really didn't want to broach. “But Kodlak will not let us go with you to High Hrothgar. Too many contracts, not enough Companions. Though we would be proud to welcome you into our ranks, it would mean taking on the jobs he had approved.” Nora really didn't want to lose her friends, but she needed to go talk to the Greybeards and find out what she was capable of. She imagined them a group of old karate masters, meditating, performing katas, doing nothing that didn't further their art. No one could tell her anything about them, except that they lived alone on the slopes of Tamriel's highest mountain, and that they didn't speak. “Well, I need to get to High Hrothgar, though I could see myself joining you in the future.” “There's still the initiation mission,” said Vilkas. “You have to complete that before you can fully join. But I think you'll have no trouble with that.” “You mean that dungeon crawl doesn't count?” she asked, shocked and confused. “It does not,” said Aela, shrugging her shoulders. “Kodlak decides what counts, and he hands out the missions. But not to worry. You'll be up to it when you decide to join us.” “So I need to get some more followers,” said Nora, thinking on how she could go about doing that. “It will be easy,” said Vilkas, patting her on the back. “There are plenty of warriors out there who would sell their souls to follow a hero.” “And how do I pay them?” thought Nora, feeling a sense of panic. “With loot,” said Aela. “The best way to pay.” I can do this, thought Nora. She had formed a good party when she first started out in the Commonwealth. Heather, Barbara, Valkyrie. All had followed her without a promise of compensation. Then there had been Nick, McCready, Piper, others. All onboard to help her, as long as she helped them with their own quests. She could do the same here. Mutual back scratching. “I think the first thing I need to do is buy a horse when we get back,” she announced. The Jarl had lent her one of his, but from what she understood the dragon crisis and the civil war had strained his coffers, and she didn't want to become a parasite. She would pay her own way if she could. She said goodbye to her friends at the stables and went to find the owner. She had several thousand septims to her name, plus the gear she could sell. One set of armor she had picked up in the barrow was better than what she was wearing, so War Maidens could make her an offer on her current set. Nora didn't find the stable master. Not immediately. What she did find was a naked woman sleeping in one of the stalls. She tried to leave before the woman awoke but it was too late. The blue eyes opened, the freckled face frowned, and Nora wondered if it was her fate to meet up with crazy women on this planet. “Who are you?” she asked as the woman stumbled to her feet. “And how did you end up like this?” “Like what?” asked the confused woman. She looked down at herself, eyes widening. “Not again. Why does this keep happening to me?” Why indeed, thought Nora, catching the strong smell of mead from the woman. “Oh, I swear, I'm not always like this. Last thing I remember I was emptying the purses of a couple of men, letting them ply me with alcohol.” “Well, it looks like they plied you well. Did they both...” “Oh,” said the woman, smiling now. “I didn't let them have me. Now, what would be the fun of that when I could simply drink them into poverty.” So this one was a gold digger and a tease. Nora found herself getting angry. She had never liked that kind of woman, and was about to turn away when the plea came. “I want to go with you on adventure, Dragonborn,” she said. “My name is Sofia, and I'm very good with a sword. And with magic. You need someone like me.” Nora wasn't sure about that. As far as she knew this Sofia was a drunk and a tease, with the ability to get into lots of trouble. “You could use her as a meat shield,” whispered Aela, standing behind her. “Put her to some use.” “I heard that,” said Sofia, eyes narrowing while fire sprang to existence in her left hand. “Good ears,” said Aela with a laugh. “And I would put away your spells unless you want to become my practice dummy.” Nora was afraid that she was going to have a fight on her hands if she didn't do something. So she did the only thing she could think of. “I'll take you with me if you promise to obey my every order.” “Well, not every order I hope,” said Sofia. “I'm kidding,” she cried, raising her hands in front of her. “I'll do whatever you say. Now, do you have some clothes for me?” Nora, hoping she wouldn't regret it, pulled a blouse and skirt from her pack, then went on to find the stable master. “Her name's Queen Alfsigr,” said the stable master, showing a beautiful black mount to Nora. “Course, once you buy her you can name her whatever you want.” Nora had fallen for the horse at first sight. Now to see how much it would set her back. “Two thousand septims, and that's firm.” “Two thousand septims. That's an awful lot.” “You aren't going to find a better deal in Whiterun.” “Well, I'm going to have to think about this.” “You think about it, my Lady,” said the stable master. “Queenie here will be waiting for you. But not forever.” Nora thought there was one more she could add to her party. While Sofia said she was good with magic, a College of Winterhold dropout, and she could throw some spells, she really wanted an accomplished mage with her. And she had just the candidate. “You keep me in wine and I'm yours,” said Eldawyn, slurring her words slightly. The beautiful High Elf struck Nora as a functional drunk, able to perform as well when in her cups as most people could sober. At least she hoped so. “I won't be able to provide armor for some time,” admitted Nora, looking at the robes that would not stop anything. “Quite alright. It really is. Mages get used to defending themselves with spells, after all. And I can teach you some fire magic while we're on the road.” “Did I hear you are going adventuring,” said the totally gorgeous redhead that approached their table. “I can fight, and I can heal, and kill your enemies with fire as well.” The young woman looked too damned good to be a warrior. Gorgeous features, long curled red hair, blue eyes. She was just too striking to be good for anything but eye candy. And she had no armor, at least now while out at the tavern. “Toccata, dear,” said Eldawyn. “We're going into dungeons, I am sure. You'll get your clothes dirty.” “I've probably delved more dungeons than you have, Elda,” said the beauty, smirking. “And while I may not be your equal in burning things, I am more than your match in healing. And with a sword.” “Agreed,” said Eldawyn after a moment's thought. “I would take her if I were you.” Five women, thought Nora, who would have preferred to have at least one big strong Nord tank in the mix. Still, she had adventured in the Commonwealth with an all-girl team, so why not? And at least all of these girls seemed to be intelligent, and capable of taking care of themselves. Or so she hoped. “Okay. We'll check everyone out tomorrow in the practice yard of Jorrvaskr. I want to see what everyone has, and what we need.” * * * The next morning found the six gathered in the practice yard of Jorrvaskr, to the amusement of the gathered Companions. “If I walked into an inn and saw this company, I would figure I had died and gone to Sovngarde,” said a laughing Vilkas. “Don't you laugh at the Dragonborn,” screeched Recorder, her hands on her sword hilts. “Keep that little mad woman away from me,” growled Vilkas, raising his hands in front of his face. Nora had to admit that she had a beautiful party. But she wasn't sure if she had a combat party or the finalists for a beauty pageant. Warriors were supposed to be thick, strong and scarred. The women all had some scars, very few, but Nora put that down to the magic healing of this world. Recorder had some scars, and though the woman had told her the Academy could make them go away, she considered them badges of honor. It was impossible for Nora to keep scars. Her metabolism healed them away within days without even a trace. “Well, these people are laughing at you,” said Nora, “so let’s see what you have.” The armor didn't impress, what little they had. Elda had none, only robes, while Recorder was still wearing her pirate's outfit, more suited to a party than a battle. Sofia had on the clothes Nora had given her, while Toccata was still dressed in her finery. Lydia was the only one in full armor, good plate, round shield on her arm. “Okay,” said Sofia, stepping forward. “I'll take on anyone in this yard. So, what are you waiting for?” Nora suspected the woman was still a little drunk. Elda definitely was, but Nora didn't want to test her melee prowess. She was her glass cannon and wasn't expected to get into close action. “I'll take you,” said the young recruit known as Ria. Nora had seen her fighting in the yard and thought she was a competent warrior, if not very flashy. A good test. Ria went on the offensive, not allowing Sofia to set herself. It wouldn't have mattered, as Sofia knocked the questing blade aside, stepped in and shield bashed the woman to the ground, then stood over her with her sword point hovering over Ria's throat. “Do you yield?” “I yield,” said Ria, “though I don't think your actions were honorable.” “Nor were yours, Ria,” admonished Kodlak. “She was not set when you attacked. This is not a battlefield, but a practice yard, and opponents must have a chance to get ready before the attack.” Ria nodded, her face flushed in shame, and Nora hoped the woman didn't hold a grudge. “I guess it's my turn,” said Toccata, stepping forward. She didn't have a shield, and Nora knew that she wanted a free hand for magic. “I'll test you,” said Aela, stepping forward and drawing her blade, a steel longsword with no enchantments. “And no magic.” Toccata looked crestfallen but nodded in agreement. “Very well.” The two women crossed swords, then stepped back and went at each other. Nora sucked in a breath when she realized they were both wielding sharpened blades, their battle weapons, and a miss-strike could result in a serious injury. Then she remembered that this was a land of magic, and Danica was standing by. Only a death blow would be serious, and she had a suspicion that to a priest of Danica's stature even that would not be final. Aela struck, Toccata blocked, then returned the stroke. The blades clanged together for ten minutes, each woman varying her attack and meeting a sword block. They seemed evenly matched, though Aela was definitely the faster. Eventually one had to miss a block, and Aela's blade cut into Toccata's shoulder, blood spurting. The spell-sword fell to her knees, dropping her blade and clamping a hand to her shoulder. Danica was there, pouring healing magic into the shoulder, the wound closing before their eyes. “You are good,” said Aela. “With some practice you will be my match.” She looked over at Nora. “I approve of this one. She will serve you well.” * * * “You I can equip with some fine armor, Thane,” said Balgruuf, looking down on her from his throne. “Lydia already has the armor of a Housecarl. But these others will have to make do with guard armor.” The manner in which the Jarl said others made Nora think that he didn't approve of her party. Well, too bad. It was hers to lead, not his. “While I think the guard armor is very good for guarding,” she said, choosing her words carefully. “I don't think it is the best for the battles we have before us.” “Then do what other adventurers have done,” said the Jarl, smiling. “Take bounties, loot the bandit lairs, and earn the coin you need to equip your followers.” Nora realized she would get nothing else here. She needed a home as well, and had been offered Breezehome for a price she couldn't afford. It was kind of small, but it would do until she found something better. Except for the coin, and it seemed that the people of Skyrim had never heard of the concept of credit. I ought to tell you to just go to hell. What would you do if your savior simply quit? That was a childish response, and Nora thought she was above that. These people were desperate, and they needed her. Just because they didn't cater to her every whim was no reason to abandon them. “I suggest that your people do not use the surcoats of Whiterun,” said the Jarl, looking over at one of his own guards. “And paint your shields.” “Why?” “Because Skyrim is not unified at this time. And while no one is at war with me, officially, there are some who are disappointed that I will not take a side. So, best to wear nothing that announces allegiances. The Legion will not bother you if you don't declare for the Stormcloaks, nor will Ulfric if he doesn't see you as a pawn to the Imperials. So play the political neutral. And remember to go see the Greybeards.” Nora did plan on doing that. She wanted to master the voice, and had been told that the only way to do that was to seek the advice of the masters. As far as the civil war went she didn't have a dog in that fight. Not yet. She would find out more about the opposing viewpoints before making a choice. The Thalmor were a different matter altogether. It had been hate at first sight with them, seeing them arrest an innocent family, husband, wife and children, and lead them away in bindings. All because the damned elves didn't like one of the gods the humans worshiped. They reminded her of the Brotherhood of Steel before Sarah Lyons took over. Or maybe the Nazis of Earth history. But much worse than either. That was one faction she would never agree with, and she had made a promise to herself to thwart them at every turn. But only from the shadows. She couldn't afford the fallout from the Imperials of challenging the Thalmor openly, though she was sure Ulfric would love her actions. “So, Dragonborn, which bounty will you go after first?” “I'm thinking Silver Moon Camp,” she said. Balgruuf whistled. “That might not be the best choice for your first bounty,” he said. “Maybe a smaller one, to blood your party. But it's your call.” And I made it, she thought. After all, she had warriors and mages at her back. What could go wrong? * * * The next day they were on the road, or more accurately through the wilderness. Balgruuf had bought some of the bandit armor she had brought back as her share, plus an ancient sword that turned out to be some kind of long sought-after artifact. It was two handed, so of no use to any of her people. Balgruuf paid her half its worth, and the twins had agreed that it was a good price. Not sure how the economy of this world worked she had been forced to take their word for it. Still, she had gathered eight thousand coins when all was said and done and had immediately purchased three horses, for herself, Sofia and Elda. Toccata, Recorder and Lydia already had mounts, so everyone would ride. She had wished she could buy a pack animal, but Eldawyn had suggested that one or more of them could walk on the way back if need be so they could carry out the loot. “And we need wine,” said Eldawyn. “Lots and lots of wine.” “We have quite enough water skins,” countered Lydia, holding one up. That was the wonder of this land to Nora. There was plenty of water, at least in the places that weren't frozen solid. They could still get water in those places, with some work. They also packed two large tents and enough furs to sleep on. Nora had decided that they would not need arctic clothing since they would be staying in the lowland forests. “We still need wine,” argued the Altmer, shaking her head, green eyes glaring at the Housecarl. “It gets cold at night and wine warms the blood.” “Get her some wine, Lydia,” said Nora, turning back to Eldawyn. “And I will ration it to you and the others. I don't want you going into battle drunk.” Eldawyn looked hurt but she didn't argue. She had shared the story about how she had traded her last healing potion for wine, a decision that had almost cost her dearly, which gave Nora some new reservations about the elfs drinking. The forest was as beautiful as ever. Colorful leaves on the deciduous trees of the lowlands, transitioning to the needle leaf trees of the higher lands. There was snow on the ground in places. Not much, but enough to remind Nora that this land was subarctic through and through. She had to be careful that she didn't succumb to hypothermia. No radiation, though, thought the leader, feasting her eyes on the wildlife. Beautiful stags, fox stalking small prey, bears in the distance. And flowers everywhere. It was distracting. Too distracting, and if not for the others she might have fallen to the bandit party that included some very good archers indeed. “Watch out,” yelled Recorder, raising her shield and intercepting the arrow that was heading straight for Nora's throat. Another arrow came whizzing in, bouncing from Nora’s helm with a clang. She spurred the horse forward, giving them a swiftly moving target. The others pulled their horses up and jumped from their saddles, covering under shields as they ran toward the bandits. Who had abandoned their ambush and were pouring out of the woods, weapons at the ready. Nora jumped from her horse, landing agilely on her feet and taking off at a sprint. She was mindful of the Companions' advice, but she wanted to close, to even the odds as fast as possible. One of the trio she chose had a large war hammer, the others axes, but only one had a shield. Her speed caught them off guard, and the war hammer missed badly as she moved past him and slammed into the shield of the center bandit. The man fell head over heels and Nora leapt up and over his body. She spun as she hit the ground, and her sword took the other swordsman in the left arm, slicing deep. The man with the hammer stepped forward, launching into a powerful swing would have crushed her skull if it hit. “Fus,” she shouted, sending unrelenting force into the bandit, bowling him over to land on the ground. She hadn't expected to do too much damage with the shout with only one word at her command, but he lay still. The man with the shield was trying to get up, but a thrust of her sword through his spine made sure that was the last act he would ever attempt. She spun and swung at the other swordsman, her blow coming in too fast for the bleeding man to deal with. A strike to his shoulder, then a spin that brought her edge around and into the neck of the bandit. His head leapt from his body and the decapitated corpse fell to the ground. Nora turned at the sound behind her, to find the hammer man was struggling to his feet and grabbing up his weapon. She took a quick step forward and thrust her sword through the top of his shoulder and into his chest cavity. The man grunted, blood fountained out, and he fell limp to the forest floor. Nora shook her head and took a deep breath, the sounds of the other combats finally breaking into her concentration. There was the clanging of arms, a few screams, and an explosion. None of the voices were recognizable, which she took as a good sign. She caught sight of Toccata taking down a bandit with her blade, while her open hand sent a stream of flame into another. Sofia was at her side, sending the blue of cold into a bandit who was fading fast. Eldawyn was sending a second fireball into a trio of bandits who were already burning alive. The second ball hit with an explosive sound and the bandits crumpled to the ground. She couldn't see Lydia or Recorder, but the sounds of maniacal laughing let her know where one of that pair was. The sounds of multiple blades slashing and the screams of stricken men told her who was winning. Recorder came walking out of the woods, slinging blood off of her blades with a disgusted look on her face. “I think we should let the skeevers have the rest,” she said. “And Lydia?” “Here, my Thane,” said Lydia, walking slowly behind Recorder. “This madwoman seemed to have a death wish.” “I knew you were at my back, Lydia. And watching you take down that pair coming in from my side showed my confidence wasn't misplaced.” We won our first battle, thought Nora in triumph. She guessed they had taken down three times their number in bandits, with no serious injuries to themselves. Magic and force of arms had been too much for the poor bastards to handle. Of course, these bandits hadn't had any magic users, and that might have made things much more difficult. “Let the looting begin,” said a giggling Recorder. They left the clearing with a couple of thousand gold pieces, some decent armor, and a good number of swords, bows and arrows. If the camp had better stuff they might discard these leavings for something better. But they didn't want to leave stuff they might regret getting rid of and not have the means to find out in the woods. “We need to think about doing some soul trapping.” said Eldawyn, bending down to pull some jewelry off one of the bandits. “These animals aren't going to any afterlife worth anything. Might as well get something out of their souls.” “I thought you only trapped white souls,” said Nora in anger and shock. Farengar had explained the whole process of soul trapping. Most soul gems could only accept white souls, but the black gems would hold those of humans and mer. Not the entire soul. A remnant would survive and be consigned to the Soul Cairn, Tamriel's version of hell as far as she could tell. “Normally, yes. But these are bandits, the scum of Tamriel. They deserve no better, and we can use the soul energy in enchanting.” “No,” said Nora, hands on hips. “Killing them is one thing. Taking souls is going to far.” “And here I thought you didn't believe in souls,” said the Elf, returning the glare. “You told me that first night we shared that you had lost all religious belief.” “And I still don't believe in an afterlife on Earth. But hell, you have magic. And Gods who reveal themselves. So why not an afterlife. So no. If you want to be a part of this, only white souls. Some of them are pretty powerful, right? Grand souls?” “Yes, if you want to attack mammoths and such,” said a frowning Eldawyn. “And you take the souls of dragons, don't you? They are sentient creatures, and pretty much immortal.” “Because that's the only way to make sure the motherfuckers stay dead,” yelled Nora, glaring at the elf. She stormed away and started stowing weapons and armor on her horse. The rest of their trip would be walking, leading the heavily burdened horses behind them. Eldawyn sulked for the rest of the day, and Nora let her own pride control her. At least the Altmer hadn't turned around and headed home. Nora wanted the mage with her as she had already proven her worth. But she wouldn't brook necromancy, which most Nords thought included the trapping of human souls. She was supposed to be on the side of good, wasn't she, and taking a soul, destroying the essence of a sentient being, was the epitome of evil, right? They pitched their large tents in a sheltered area, only approachable from one point, and settled in for the night. Sitting around a banked fire the wine bottles were passed around in celebration of a victory, though Nora had cautioned them to avoid drunkenness. She set the guard shifts, herself included, two up at all times, and crawled into her bedroll. When she was woken for her shift she found Eldawyn up and waiting. The Altmer looked like she wanted to talk, and had arranged to change shifts with Recorder so she could speak, so Nora motioned to the fire and took a seat. “I want to tell you how sorry I am that we had an argument,” said the Altmer, her words without a trace of slur for the first time that Nora could remember. “Soul trapping is a part of my business. It lets me power the enchantments I make at the Skyforge.” Elda had explained earlier that she had come to Whiterun to have access to the forge, the only truly magical source of metal production in Skyrim, and the producer of the best weapons and armor. And she and her original partners had gone out soul trapping. Mostly wolves, bears and giant spiders. Her comrades had fallen in these dangerous hunts, and she had found herself alone and afraid to go out on her own. Until now. “I know soul trapping humans and mer is evil,” said Eldawyn, staring into the fire. “Not that I'm as good as you. I have evil deep inside me. Part of my heritage. And something else I really don't want to talk about.” “You'll tell me when you’re ready,” said Nora gently. “Why do you have to be so damned understanding?” asked Eldawyn in a hiss, tearful eyes looking into Nora's. “I can see why you became a damned politician. You're good at this.” Nora laughed, then sobered as she saw that Eldawyn took it as a slight. “I'm sorry. Yeah, I was a politician. And I lied with the best of them when on covert missions. But I never lied to my own people. Not once. I don't intend to start a trend of dishonesty with you or any of the others. And yes, the whole concept of necromancy makes me uncomfortable deep down.” “I know. And I want to explain the whole process to you so you'll know what you're dealing with.” “Okay, but don't think I will change my mind. But I'll listen.” “Fair enough,” said the lovely Altmer, green eyes looking into Nora's. “Earlier you said something about the destruction of a soul. That is an oversimplification. Only a part of their soul energy goes into the gem. A large part, of course, enough to power the most energetic of enchantments. But some of them still exists and passes on to the afterlife. A horrible afterlife, to be sure. The Soul Cairn, a plane of Oblivion, eternally dark, a horrible place. So yes, the reality is even worse than total destruction, and they linger eternally in, well Hell is the only word for it. No Sovngarde, no Elysium fields, nothing but morose existence.” “And this is what you want to do to the souls of our enemies?” asked a shocked Nora. The whole idea horrified Nora. On Earth she had reconciled herself to nonexistence after death. Or at best upload into a computer, or a synth. Here she had latched onto the idea of an afterlife, a place of calm and joy that she could look forward to. Whether the mead halls of the Nords or the various paradises of the elves. The idea that someone could trap her soul and send her to a version of hell, no matter her actions in life? That seemed totally unfair to someone who had been raised on the idea that you reaped what you sowed. “Some of them deserve it, yes,” said Eldawyn, her eyes now fierce. “For most, no. But others are not so discriminating, and we are going to find filled black soul gems in our travels. We can leave them, discard them, and the souls of their original owners will still suffer in the Soul Cairn. Or we can use them for our own purposes. And use them to power our enchantments.” “It's a lot to think about,” said Nora after a moment's thought. “Let me consider it over the next couple of days.” “Fair enough,” said Eldawyn, a faint smile coming to her face. “Now, enough of this. Now that we've kissed and made up, why don't you tell me about the world you left, and I'll tell you a little about mine.” So through the night they talked, not even bothering to wake up the next shift. Nora told the elf about Earth, a land devoid of magic, but with technology that mimicked it in many ways. The healing arts of the doctors. Vertibirds and power armor. Supermutants and Deathclaws, and the horror of feral ghouls. The thing that interested the elf the most was teleportation. There were actually four known ways to teleport, each with its own advantages and limitations. And she told the elf of her hope that her people might be able to use some of that technology to return her home. “Your world sounds wonderful, and awful,” said Eldawyn, looking into her eyes. “I guess our world must seem the same to you.” “So, tell me about the Isles.” “I've never actually been there,” said Eldawyn, again staring into the fire. “I was raised in Cyrodil, by a family that adhered to the Thalmor philosophy, at first. But my father was a good man, and he soon came to realize the evil of the Thalmor. How they broke up families in order to impose their own will. They considered Talos worship to be a great evil, the elevation of a mortal to a god circumventing the destiny of the elven peoples. He came to believe that Talos was a god, and turned from a persecutor to an adherent. He saw how the shrines of Talos healed people as well as those of any other god. And then his Thalmor masters caught on to his blasphemy and it was time for him to pay.” “What happened?” asked Nora in a whisper, imagining a golden skinned child caught up in a world she didn't understand, only wanting her mommy and daddy to be okay and there with her. “The Thalmor took away my father and mother. Father was an accomplished mage, and had established a conduit to get me away. One second I was there, screaming for them to not send me away. The next I was with some Khajiit who had agreed to see me to safety, half a continent away. They placed me with an Altmer family that didn't subscribe to the racist policies of the Thalmor. And there I grew, never knowing what had become of my mother and father. But I was sure the, what was the word you used, motherfuckers, had done their worst. Torture, then death. Perhaps soul trapping them and sending them to an afterlife in the Soul Cairn. Eternal torture. Motherfuckers.” “I'm so sorry,” said Nora, one hand rubbing the back of her friend. “To not know. But I guess you no longer subscribe to the superiority of the Altmer.” “Oh no,” said the woman in mock horror. “I still think we are superior to you short lived people, but I think you have your uses.” Eldawyn leaned over to kiss Nora on the lips. Nora returned the kiss for a moment, then broke away. Eldawyn gave her a questioning look. “Business before pleasure, my dear. We're on guard, and it only took one time being surprised in the middle of sex to set the lesson in stone.” “You'll have to tell me that story some time,” laughed Eldawyn, looking into Nora's face. “And we'll have to get reacquainted back in Whiterun, yes?” “It's a date. And remember, this short-lived human has already lived longer than you, and I might just outlive any elf that has ever been.” “I forgot about that, though you have even said that you have only had thirty years of consciousness. But the overall time existing may have something to do with your unusual store of magicka.” The sun rose, the night over, and Sofia and Lydia had questions in their eyes as to why they hadn't been woken for their shift.
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