The trip from Sky Haven Temple, with only a day’s stop in Whiterun to give Vilkas the katana, was long and arduous. Selene and Brynjolf fought Forsworn, bandits, bears, a sabre cat, and two dragons, as well as freezing rain on the tundra and snow in the mountains . They nursed a lot of injuries, and they got very little sleep. By the time they arrived at the Vilemyr Inn in Ivarstead late on the evening of their eleventh day of travel, Selene had become quite adept at healing spells and they were in foul humor. Then again, Brynjolf had been in a bad mood ever since they had left the temple. He was happy most of the time, or at least good tempered; they rarely even argued. But during this trip, he was prone to snapping at Selene for little or no reason. Something was bothering him, but whenever she asked him what it was, he just said he was tired.
“Why don’t we take the day off tomorrow?” Selene suggested as she laid her head on his chest in the quiet of their room. “Just sit around and do nothing but drink mead and relax? Or maybe stay in bed all day?”
“I don’t know. We’ve come this far; I think I’d just as soon get this trip over with.”
The comment stung, but Selene understood. The last couple of days had been the worst, slogging through the snow with the stress of the trip and the desire to be done with it weighing them down with every step. Perhaps it was better to just get to High Hrothgar. She couldn’t think of a more peaceful place in all of Skyrim; they could rest when they got there.
At least they had sunshine the next morning. Before starting up the mountain, Selene stopped in at Klimmek’s to see if he had any supplies she could deliver to the Graybeards, and he gave her a satchel with his thanks and a couple hundred gold pieces. Unfortunately, Brynjolf’s mood hadn’t improved even after a night’s sleep in a comfortable bed. He complained about the icy path, about the cold wind that blew constantly, and about the fact that Selene stopped to meditate at each of the carved monoliths telling the history of the Way of the Voice. For Selene’s part, the trip was almost over and the meditation soothed her, so she was patient with him for the most part.
They were making their way through a partially covered section of the path when a troll dropped down from the cliff above and snarled at them. Selene dropped her bow and drew Dragonbane, and Brynjolf pulled Chillrend from its sheath; she moved to the left while he flanked the beast on the right. She swung at its midsection and made a devastating slice at the same moment Brynjolf did the same on the other side, all but cutting it in half. The troll’s insides fell out and it dropped dead, but the shock from Dragonbane radiated through its body, up Brynjolf’s sword, and into his hands. It was a freak accident, nothing intentional and practically unheard of, and he wasn’t badly hurt. But it made him angry.
“Godsdamnit, Selene, watch where you’re pointing that thing!” He dropped his sword and flexed his fingers, which were smarting from the shock.
“I’m sorry,” she replied defensively. She reached for his hands. “Let me see.”
He jerked them back. “They’re fine. Let’s just get moving.” He barely spoke the rest of the way up the mountain.
After the altercation with the troll, the calm of the trail and meditation at the stones no longer soothed Selene. Her bad mood matched Brynjolf’s, and by the time they arrived at the monastery, they were grousing at each other about every little thing. As if her day weren’t bad enough, Master Arngeir was less than enthusiastic about her request to learn the Shout that would take Alduin down.
“Where did you hear of that?” he demanded, peering up at her from his chair in the dormitory. “Who have you been talking to?”
“Does it matter?”
“Yes, it matters. We need to know where you stand. Or who you stand with.”
Selene narrowed her eyes. “I’m sorry. I thought it was us against the dragons. Are there other warring factions I don’t know about?”
“Who told you about this Shout?” he asked again without answering the question.
“It was the Blades.”
“Of course, it was. They specialize in meddling in matters they barely understand, and they have always sought to turn the Dragonborn from the path of wisdom. Would you simply be a tool in the hands of the Blades to be used for their own purposes?”
“Their purpose is the same as mine: to defeat Alduin.”
“The Shout you speak of, it was used once before, no? And yet here we are again. Who is to say the Shout will defeat him, or if he is even meant to be defeated?”
“What?” Brynjolf interrupted. “You’re not serious.”
“If the world is meant to end, so be it. Let it die and be reborn.”
Selene shook her head vehemently. “I’ve heard this before, and I refuse to let my world die just because some prophecy foretold the end. I’m here for a reason, and I don’t think I’m supposed to just sit by and let it happen.”
“Those who overthrew Alduin in ancient times only postponed the day of reckoning. They did not stop it.”
“Maybe they weren’t meant to, but that doesn’t mean I’m not. But if I come to the same end, at least I’ll know I tried. Please, Master, help me in this.”
“No. Not now. Not until you return to the path of wisdom.”
“You mean the path of sitting up here and ignoring the world, don’t you? That’s easy for you to say; you don’t have to live in it. I do, and my people are getting slaughtered. How is it wise to let people die?”
He stood and loomed over her, raising his voice. “Have you learned nothing from us?”
“I learned that I need to find my own destiny, and I believe this is it. I also learned I can commune with Kynareth, and even she tells me I need to stop Alduin.”
Master Arngeir’s eyes widened, and he faltered briefly, but after a moment the stern look returned to his face. “Wind guide you, Dragonborn.” He sat back down and picked up a book, studiously perusing its contents and ignoring her.
Selene turned and glared at Brynjolf, who scowled back. “Guess we’d better get started back down the mountain,” he muttered.
“Goodbye, Master Arngeir.” She turned and followed her husband out of the dormitory and toward the door.
Before they could make it outside, Master Einarth spoke. Brynjolf fell to his knees and covered his ears as the entire monastery shook. Although he spoke in the dragon language, Selene had been learning from some of the souls inside her who refused to keep quiet, and she understood what he said. “ARNGEIR, SHE IS DOVAHKIIN–STORM CROWN. SHE WILL SPEAK WITH PAARTHURNAX!”
Selene helped Brynjolf up from the floor. “Come on. Let’s go.”
“What did he say?”
“Dragonborn, wait,” Master Arngeir called as he chased them down the hall. “Forgive me. I was intemperate. Master Einarth has reminded me that the decision of whether to help you is not mine to make. I’m afraid I cannot teach you the Shout, however. It is called Dragonrend, but the Words of Power are not known to me. It was created by those who had lived under the cruelty of Aduin’s Dragon Cult and has no place within the Way of the Voice. These people were consumed with hatred for dragons, and they poured all their animosity into the Shout. When you learn a Shout, you take it into your very being. If you learn this Shout, you will be taking its evil into yourself.”
“I don’t see that as evil, Master. Angry and cruel, maybe, but it was used to thwart evil, not create more.”
“Good men and women have been known to do evil things, have they not? Often in the name of good.”
“Then we’re back to where we started,” Brynjolf groaned.
“No one else knows the Shout?”
“Only Paarthurnax, the master of our order, can answer that question.”
“I think it’s time I met him, then.”
“You’re not ready,” he protested. “You weren’t ready before, and you’re not now. But thanks to the Blades, you have questions only he can answer. The way is treacherous, and only those whose Voice is strong can find the path. I will teach you a Shout to open the way. But that is for tomorrow. Tonight, get some rest. It will be dark soon, and you shouldn’t traverse the path by night.”
Master Borri made supper, and they all sat silently around the table while they ate. Afterward, the Graybeards went to meditate, and Selene gave Brynjolf a tour of the monastery. The night sky was clear, and they lay on the ground, looking up at the Northern Lights.
“They were all so quiet at dinner,” Brynjolf commented.
“Every word they say comes out as a Thu’um. Only Master Arngeir is able to speak in a normal voice. The rest of them don’t talk much.”
“Good. I think I’m deaf in one ear now.” He sat up and nodded toward a flight of stone stairs that led to a gate bearing the image of a dragon. “Where does that go?” he asked, pointing to the gate.
“That’s the gate to Paarthurnax, the leader of the Graybeards. He lives in seclusion at the top of the mountain. He rarely speaks to the Graybeards and never to outsiders. Being allowed to go see him is a great privilege.”
“I’m surprised they’re letting me go.”
“Master Arngeir probably figures it’s no use trying to forbid me to take you.”
Brynjolf stood up and walked over toward the steps, then went up to the gate. Selene got up and followed. “Love, I don’t think it’s such a good idea to stand so close to that.” When she arrived at the top, the whistling of the wind and the swirling mists just outside the gate affirmed her statement. She could feel the chill from here, the temperature dozens of degrees colder and the wind so strong that it almost sounded like the howl of a dragon. Brynjolf’s scent hinted at fear and frustration, and he paced back and forth in front of the gate.
“Brynjolf, come back downstairs.” She took his arm, but he jerked away from her grasp. He did descend, however, with her hot on his heels. “Why are you so angry with me? You’ve been like this for days, and I don’t know what I did.”
He wheeled around and glared at her. “Do you ever get tired of it? Do you ever get sick of people saying you’re the only one who can do this? Wouldn’t you like for once just to tell them all, ‘Go fuck yourself’?”
“On a regular basis, but I can’t afford to actually do it. Brynjolf, I thought you understood.”
“And then me, I’ve followed you all the way across Skyrim so many times I’ve lost count. Everywhere you go, I’m right there, doing what I can to help but feeling like I’m more of a burden than anything else.”
“Never! Why would you even think that?”
“Selene, I’m so far out of my element here that I don’t know how to handle it anymore. And it doesn’t get any better; it just gets crazier and crazier, the farther we go.”
“Well, what am I supposed to do, just abandon the world when it’s counting on me?”
“I’m counting on you too, in case you forgot.”
“Don’t tell me you’re feeling jealous over this.”
“No, that’s not it. I’m just…we practically killed ourselves getting up here, and first they say they won’t help at all, and now they want us to go farther, saying the way to Paarthurnax is treacherous. After seeing what’s beyond that gate, I’m betting they’re not just talking about slippery rocks.”
“If that’s what you’re worried about, you can stay here tomorrow.”
“That’s not the point!” he snarled.
“Then what is the point?” she snapped back.
“I don’t know if I can keep up with you any longer.”
Selene’s heart felt as if it had been yanked from her chest. A terrible weight settled over her, and she found herself dropping to her knees. She couldn’t speak, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. This was definitely one of those times she was tempted to tell the world to go fuck itself. Being Dragonborn shouldn’t mean losing the people she loved. If he was going to leave her over this, perhaps it would be better if the world did end.
He knelt next to her and took her hands. “That didn’t come out right. I’m not leaving,” he said as if he had read her mind. “I’m simply overwhelmed. I know what you’re going through is worse, but Selene, I’m not as strong as you are.”
“But you are strong. You’re the strongest person I’ve ever met. You’ve been thrust into a situation that’s far beyond anything you’ve ever known, and you’re holding your own.”
“I’m not holding my own, love. Every time something new comes up, it’s all I can do not to run screaming. I have to admit, when it looked like the Graybeards weren’t going to help us, I was relieved. It might ultimately mean the end of the world, but it would at least be a break for us.”
“A break for you, you mean.”
“Don’t make it sound like I haven’t considered you in all this. Do you not think it’s hard for me to watch you suffer? And don’t tell me you’re not suffering. You don’t sleep, you don’t eat as much as you should, and you don’t smile. I can’t remember the last time we had a really good laugh together. This is weighing on you just as much as it is me, probably more, and it breaks my heart. I can’t help you, not really. I can’t protect you—not that you need protecting, but still.” He reached up to his braid and untied the string, then combed his fingers through. “And I don’t deserve this.”
She didn’t say anything, just reached up and started braiding the lock again, but he pushed her hand away. “You’re not listening to me!”
“I am listening to you, love. You said once that I made you want to be more. Do you remember what I told you?”
“You said I was more.”
“Aye, I did. Brynjolf, I don’t know if I could do this if you weren’t by my side. I wouldn’t even know where to start. You’re right: I don’t need protecting. But I do need somebody watching my back. A shield-brother—or a partner in crime, take your pick. That being said, if you still think you can’t handle it, go back to Riften and take care of the Guild. It’s what you’re best at, and I’d rather have you waiting for me at home than staying with me and resenting it.”
“I don’t resent it, love, and I’m not going back to Riften to wait while you’re off trying to save the world. How could I manage the Guild when all I could think about was if you were ever coming back? No, I’ll stay with you as long as I can. I just…I keep thinking this can’t end well. I couldn’t lose you, either, you know. I think of that last image on Alduin’s Wall with the Dragonborn standing against Alduin, and he’s breathing fire at him—you.”
“I’ve been burned before.”
“Aye, and you’ve been lucky. But luck runs out, even for a Nightingale.”
“I never believed in luck before I met Nocturnal; I can get by without it now. I’ll survive this, Brynjolf. We’ll both survive. And when Alduin is dead, we’ll go back home and forget any of this ever happened.”
“Sometimes bravado is a good thing.”
* * *
After breakfast the next morning, Selene and Brynjolf geared up and followed the Graybeards to the courtyard. Master Arngeir led them to the bottom of the stairs. He whispered at the ground, and three Words of Power sank into the stones at his feet. Selene read the words—lok, vah, and koor—and Arngeir gifted her with his understanding. Sky, spring, summer. The Clear Skies Shout.
“You will always be welcome at High Hrothgar, and its doors will ever be open to you. However, this is our final gift to you, Dragonborn. Use it well. Clear Skies will blow away the mist but only for a time. The path will be perilous, so keep moving and stay focused on your goal.”
“Thank you, Master.”
The Graybeard nodded, and Selene and Brynjolf walked up the stairs. Ice crystals swirled before her, and the wind howled. She couldn’t see more than a few yards through the mist. It was time to try the Shout.
A loud BANG much like that of the Unrelenting Force Shout rang through the air, and the force of the Shout pushed back the mist and swirling ice. She could see much farther now, and the path waited. She stepped through the gate with Brynjolf following.
Master Arngeir had been right; the path was indeed dangerous, with sharp rocks and chunks of ice jutting up from the ground and wicked-looking icicles hanging from crags above. The trail was narrow, the drop off was precipitous, and the harsh, blistering wind was a constant threat. The trip took several hours, and she had to use the Clear Skies Shout every five minutes or so. It was exhausting, but there was no time to rest. If they stayed in one place more than a couple of minutes, the mists intruded even more quickly.
They finally reached a place where the winds and mists stopped altogether. It was almost as if they had breached a wall. The air was crisp but calm, the sun shone brightly on the snow, and a mountain goat ran along the path. They had reached the summit. Walking around a large outcropping of rock, Selene saw a Word Wall, but she didn’t see anything remotely resembling a dwelling. She even looked behind the wall, which was oddly silent, but there was nothing and nobody.
“Maybe he’s farther up?” Brynjolf wondered.
“But the path ends here. The rest of the way up is just rocks.”
Suddenly a shadow fell over them, and she heard the telltale whoosh of dragon wings. She drew her bow and Brynjolf drew Chillrend, but the dragon didn’t attack. Instead, he landed a few yards away and laid his head on the ground. Selene took it to mean he didn’t want to fight and lowered her bow, but she didn’t put it away. She was curious, but she wasn’t stupid.
This dragon didn’t look the same as the others she had met. For one thing, he was white. He also had the look of astonishing age. Wear and tear was visible on his body—a broken horn, scales missing here and there, torn wings—and there was the look in his eye. Selene hadn’t paid much attention to dragons’ facial expressions, but this one had very wise, expressive eyes. Intelligence gleamed in them, as did gentleness.
Paarthurnax, one of the dragon souls whispered. The overlord. Once cruel, but is known that he became one of peace.
It is known, said another.
“Drem yol lok. Greetings, traveler. I am Paarthurnax. Who are you? What brings you to my mountain?”
“I think you already know who I am.”
“You speak true, Dovahkiin. Forgive me. It has been long since I spoke with a stranger. I gave into the temptation to prolong our speech.”
Selene realized Paarthurnax was lonely, and her heart went out to him. It wasn’t like he could live at the monastery, and she wagered that the Graybeards didn’t get up here very often, especially with their advanced age. “There’s nothing to forgive, Master Paarthurnax.”
“There are many hungers it is better to deny than feed. Discipline against the lesser aids in denial of the greater. Now, tell me why you intrude on my meditation.”
“I need your help. There’s a Shout I must learn, and the Graybeards don’t know it.”
“Patience. There are formalities which must be observed at the first meeting of two of the dov. Hear my Thu’um, feel it in your bones, and match it if you are Dovahkiin.” He turned, ambled awkwardly toward the Word Wall, and spoke. Yol…toor shul!” Fire erupted from his lungs and burned into the wall.
“The word calls you. Go to it.”
Selene went to the wall and studied the markings. All three Words of Power were burned into the wall, but only the third, the one she did not know, glowed brightly as the word shul clarified in her mind.
“This completes your mastery of Fire Breath, I see.” Selene turned to him and nodded. “A gift, Dovahkiin. Use fire as the dov do.”
Selene felt a warm rush of wind and comprehended the word shul—sun. Paarthurnax nodded, and she turned to the side so as not to blast him or Brynjolf and gathered her breath.
“Ahh, yes!” Paarthurnax exclaimed approvingly. “The dragon blood runs strong within you! I thank you for indulging me, Dovahkiin.” He turned and looked over at Brynjolf. “So. You have made your way here to me. No easy task for a joor, a mortal.” He turned back to Selene. “Even for one of dragon blood. What would you ask of me? You would not come all this way for tinvaak with an old dovah. No, you seek a weapon against Alduin.”
“Aye. I need to learn the Dragonrend Shout. I’m afraid the Graybeards didn’t approve. Master Arngeir didn’t even want me to come.”
“They are good friends, very protective of me. But I do not know the Thu’um you seek. Krosis. It was created as a weapon against the dov, and our minds cannot even comprehend its concepts.”
Selene looked over at Brynjolf, who stood well away from all the fire breathing. He shrugged sympathetically. “It seems we’ve come all this way for nothing.”
Parthurnaax swung his great head in Brynjolf’s direction. “Drem. Patience. There may still be a way.” Looking back at Selene, he said, “But first I have a question for you. Why do you want to learn this Thu’um?”
“I need it to stop Alduin.”
“But why must you stop him?”
“The prophecy says only the Dragonborn can stop him.”
“Prophecy tells what may be, not what should be. Just because you can do a thing does not always mean you should. Have you no better reason for acting than destiny? Are you nothing but a plaything of fate?”
Selene was starting to get annoyed with people who kept trying to talk her out of defeating Alduin. She had to chuckle, though. Here she was, talking to a dragon and thinking of him as a person. When she thought about it, she realized he wasn’t trying to talk her out of it. He was simply asking what her reasons were. “I like this world,” she told him finally. “I don’t want it to end.”
Paarthurnax nodded. “As good a reason as any. There are many who do not feel as you do.”
“I know. Master Arngeir believes we should just let the world end so the next can begin.”
“Would you stop the next world from being born?”
“The next world isn’t my concern. It will have to take care of itself.”
“Perhaps you were sent to balance the forces that work to quicken the end of this world. Even those of us who ride the currents of time cannot see past its end. But you have indulged my desire for speech long enough, Dovahkiin. Krosis. Do you know why I live here at the peak of the Monahven—what you call Throat of the World?”
“This was the very spot where Alduin was defeated by the ancient Tongues. Perhaps none but me now remember how he was defeated.”
“It was the Dragonrend Shout, wasn’t it?”
“Yes. And No. Dragonrend was used to cripple him, but it was not enough to defeat him. It was the Kel—the Elder Scroll—that was used to send him from the world.”
“Sweet mother of Akatosh,” Brynjolf muttered.
“I don’t know much about Elder Scrolls,” Selene said. “I know they’re supposed to be very powerful.”
“Their power is without measure,” Paarthurnax told her. “The ancient Tongues used the scroll to cast Alduin adrift on the currents of time. I warned them against such a rash action—even I could not foresee its consequences—but they did not listen. Time was shattered here because of what they did to him.”
“You’re saying they sent him forward in time?”
“Not intentionally. They hoped he would be lost forever, but I knew better. Time flows ever onward, and one day he would surface. This is why I have lived here. I did not know when he would emerge, but I knew where. But when he finally came, I was unable to defeat him.”
“How does that work? How did they send him through time?”
“I do not know. Perhaps in the very doing, they erased the knowing of it from time itself. However, I believe if you brought that kel here to the Tiid-Ahraan—the Time Wound—you may be able to cast yourself back to the other end of the break. You could learn Dragonrend from those who created it. You will see my friends—Hakon, Gormlaith, and Felldir—the first Tongues, the first mortals I taught the Thu’um. I believe the scroll’s bond with the Tiid-Ahraan will allow you a vision of the moment of its creation. You will see the power of Dragonrend in its first expression.”
“Or she could be lost in the currents of time herself,” Brynjolf threw in, stepping closer to the dragon for the first time.
“Reading the kel is not without risk.”
“What does the Shout actually do?” Selene asked.
“I cannot tell you in detail; I’ve never heard it used. But it is said to force a dragon to experience the concept of mortality, a truly incomprehensible idea to the immortal dov.”
“But the Elder Scrolls aren’t just lying around,” said Brynjolf.
“Where would I find it?” asked Selene.
“Krosis. I know little of what has passed below in the long years I have lived here. You are likely better informed than I. Trust your instincts, Dovahkiin. Your blood will show you the way.”
“Thank you, Master.”
“Lok Thu’um. Sky above, voice within.” He took flight and soared for a moment before coming to rest on the World Wall with an earth-shaking crash.
* * *
The way down the mountain seemed worse than the way up, and they spent the last couple of hours navigating in darkness. They lit torches to make the trip easier, but they didn’t help much, so it was slow going. They had picked the exact wrong time in the lunar cycle—the new moon, when both Masser and Secunda were dark—to make this trip; otherwise, they would have had plenty of light. At least the tension between the two of them had eased so their attitudes weren’t making it worse. The Graybeards had already retired for the night when they arrived at High Hrothgar, and Selene and Brynjolf decided to do the same. Too tired to even bother getting undressed, they crashed to the bed and drifted off to sleep in mere minutes.
Selene awoke before Brynjolf, and rather than risk waking him with her tossing and turning, she got up and went to find Master Arngeir. He was in the dormitory, reading.
“Did Paarthurnax tell you what you wanted to know?” he asked.
“He didn’t know the Shout, but he thinks he knows a way to find out. I need the Elder Scroll the ancients used to banish Alduin. You wouldn’t happen to know where to find it, would you?”
“We have never concerned ourselves with the Elder Scrolls. The gods themselves would rightly fear to tamper with such things. You might try the mages at the College of Winterhold. Such blasphemies have always been their stock in trade.”
“Master Arngeir, thank you for your help. I know you’re against this.”
“I am not all seeing, all knowing, Dragonborn. If Paarthurnax believes this is what you should do, we will bow to his wisdom. Will you leave today?”
“I would like to stick around a couple of days. It’s been a long trip, and we’re worn out. This has all been so hard on Brynjolf; maybe if we stay awhile, he can find some peace, if only for a moment.”
The Graybeard smiled. “Perhaps you can find some as well, Dragonborn.”