The Dragonborn’s Tale 13 – Zu’u Unslaad

Chapter 13 - Selene, Gormlaith and Alduin

“This is amazing!” Selene whooped as she soared through the sky on Odahviing’s back.

“Your dovah blood makes you suited for flight. Would that you had wings, no?”

“I probably wouldn’t appreciate it as much if I could do it myself.”

They passed the Throat of the World, and Selene noticed that several dragons were flying around the peak. “That’s disturbing,” she murmured.

“They gather to wait for the outcome. Who will come back, the Dovahkiin or the World-Eater? Even the dov have a vested interest in your quest.”

The sky grew dark, and Selene’s eyelids began to droop. She couldn’t imagine how she could get sleepy riding on a dragon’s back, but she did.

“Rest,” said the dragon, as if he were reading her thoughts. “We will reach Skuldafn by sunrise and you must be ready.

“Don’t drop me.”

“You are safe with me,” he assured her again.

She closed her eyes and managed to drift off to sleep, but her dreams were vivid and strange. She dreamt that she had her own wings, and she flew over Nirn with Brynjolf riding on her back, fighting some dragons and greeting others as friends. Occasionally the sky turned dark and Alduin loomed over her, but she drifted out of his path. She also dreamt of approaching a draugr deathlord who had no interest in fighting her because he was busy reading a copy of The Lusty Argonian Maid and he just couldn’t put the book down.

When she awoke, the sun was just rising in the east, blinding her as she looked toward the horizon. She shielded her eyes with her hand and looked below to see that they were just passing out of The Rift and over the mountains. She reached into her pack and pulled out some cheese and an apple, which she ate quickly and washed down with a bottle of mead. By the time Odahviing drifted down toward an isolated ruin, she was awake, energized, and ready for the battle ahead.

“Skuldafn,” he noted as he circled the fane.

“What is that?” Selene asked, pointing to a column of white flame rising from one of the buildings.

“That is the portal to Sovngarde.” He landed on a large, flat rock outside the ruin. “This is as far as I can take you. To go closer to the portal is a risk I am not yet willing to take. I will wait nearby for your return—or Alduin’s.”

“Thank you, Odahviing.” Selene climbed down from the dragon’s neck, adjusted her armor and her pack, and took her bow in hand. She walked across a short bridge toward the ruin as Odahviing took to the sky and disappeared over the mountains. Just as she reached the other side, two dragons attacked her. Fighting two of them at once was a challenge, but with the help of Dragonrend she was able to take them down without too much trouble. Oddly, she didn’t absorb their souls.

She fought a few draugr deathlords as she explored the exterior of the ruin, and they seemed tougher than normal. Their Unrelenting Force Shouts were devastating, and she was sent flying across the rocks more than once. She sustained a painful bump on the head, some scrapes and bruises, and a shoulder wound she had to stitch herself before she finally opened the doors of Skuldafn Temple and stepped inside.

The interior of the temple was a comfort. It was just your standard, everyday Nordic ruin, complete with traps, draugr, puzzle locks, and treasure. She even found a dragon claw door, and a nearby draugr deathlord held the claw—a fine piece made of gold and diamonds. Brynjolf was particularly fond of the jeweled dragon claws, and she looked forward to taking this one home to him.

Selene sighed sadly. It hadn’t yet been twenty-four hours since she had seen her husband, but it seemed so much longer. Having spent every waking moment together for months, they had become part of each other, and being here without him felt as though she were missing an arm. If she closed her eyes, she could almost pretend he was there with her. His scent, his body when he was fighting or lying with his arms and legs entangled with hers, his voice with that crazy made-up accent, the taste of his lips on hers, the gleam in his eye when he was contemplating mischief—all were just out of arms’ reach. She looked down at her hand caressed the Bond of Matrimony on her finger, and realized that even now, she didn’t feel alone. Some part of Brynjolf was here with her and would always be when they couldn’t be together. She’d had such a solitary existence before she met him, and it gave her great joy here in this ruin, surrounded by death and monsters, to know that she would never really be alone again.

Heartened, she worked the puzzle on the big door and inserted the claw key. When the panels dropped into the recess, she stuffed the claw into her knapsack and continued to the next room, where she found a Word Wall. This particular Word of Power allowed her to call lightning. She filed the shout away for future use.

Selene ascended a spiral staircase into a tower where at least one draugr awaited. She could hear its breathing. It always disturbed her how the draugr breathed. They were dead. How could they even draw breath? Then again, if they were dead, they shouldn’t be walking either, so she guessed breathing wasn’t that much of a stretch.

It had been hours since she had stopped to rest, so after she dispatched the draugr, she sat down next to some heavy, iron doors and pulled some meat, cheese, and mead from her pack. She ate her meal, then checked her shoulder wound, which was oozing slightly, so she drank a healing potion. She downed a stamina potion while she was at it to give her the energy to complete the rest of her journey. When she felt she was ready, she opened the iron doors and stepped outside.

She emerged from the temple on one of the upper levels of the ruin. A storm had come in, and night had fallen early in the mountains. Selene had excellent night vision, so seeing wasn’t a problem, but the biting wind and snowflakes stung her cheeks. She tried to ignore the weather as she aimed at a draugr that stood guard just at the edge of the structure. Holding her breath, she released the arrow and shot the creature over the side.

As shot a second draugr, she became aware of a whirr that was not the winter wind. She looked up to see that the column of white flames was on top of the building she had emerged from. But the flames were not all that awaited her. A dragon lounged on a high pillar. He didn’t see her; he seemed to be asleep. Selene nocked an arrow, aimed and shot; the dragon wailed and dropped straight to the ground. He hadn’t been alone, however, and another dragon leapt into the air with a howl. He circled her, spitting ice and frost at her, which she just shook off. It wasn’t any worse than what nature was already hurling at her. When he came around for another pass, the sent him her own Shout.

“Joor…zah frul!”

The dragon screeched, dropped nearby, and started to lumber toward her. “You will die at Skuldafn, pathetic mortal.”

Without answering, she aimed her bow at his head. The arrow hit, and he howled, but he didn’t die. He couldn’t manage to rise, but he did spit more frost at her, stinging her eyes and leaving dozens of tiny cuts on her cheeks from the specks of ice.

“You’ll have to do better than that,” she said as she aimed another arrow. With this one, the dragon fell over and perished.

After fighting a couple more draugr, Selene found a wide staircase leading to the roof. More steps led to a small platform next to the white flames. A dragon priest occupied the platform, busy casting some sort of spell with a staff. The cacophony from the source of the white flames complemented Selene’s exceptional stealth skills, and even the movement of the dragons hadn’t alerted him to her presence. She nocked an arrow, aimed, and shot him in the back. He turned and croaked something in the old dragon language, then threw a fireball at her. She dodged it, but was a near miss; she felt the heat as it flew past her head. Thanking the gods for fire protection jewelry, she sent another arrow at him, and though he swiftly moved to the side, it still managed to lodge in his arm. He snarled and moved to pull the arrow out, and Selene took the opportunity to shoot again, this time hitting him in the head. He groaned and disintegrated into a pile of ash. The only thing left of him was a creepy mask that glowed with magic. It disturbed her, so she didn’t study it too closely. She just stuffed it in her pack and ascended the stairs to the platform.

A round seal was set into the floor of the stand, and the priest’s staff had been inserted into the center. Whether the staff caused the phenomenon before her was uncertain, but the tableau that lay beyond the platform was like nothing she had ever seen. The white flames emitted from a swirling abyss. Clouds of pink and blue churned and spun around the eddy along with bits of stone, tumbling, crushing together. The wind howled like a cyclone, but through it, Selene could hear the sound of distant singing.

There was no question what this was. It was Alduin’s portal to Sovngarde.

She didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. There was only one thing to do, and it wouldn’t do to stand around fretting over it. Thus, she did what she had to do. She jumped into the vortex.

Selene wasn’t sure when she blacked out, but when she came to, she was lying on her back. There was no pain, just a bit of dizziness. Even her shoulder wound and the little cuts on her face had stopped hurting. She didn’t sit up but looked around carefully. She was on a dais at the top of a long flight of stairs. Enormous statues of robed figures flanked the dais and stood at various places by the staircase. Although she could see the bottom, she couldn’t see any farther because a heavy mist hung in the air, obscuring all view. The sky was pink, swirling, and round, like she was lying at the bottom of a huge cylinder. A warm breeze blew across the dais, soughing softly, an accompaniment to the victorious song belted out by an unseen heavenly choir. As she sat up, she recognized some of the words of the song.

Dovakhiin, Dovakhiin, naal ok zin los vahriin!

Did they know she was here? Were they expecting her and singing to welcome her? Or was it just coincidence? As she stood up and dusted herself off, she decided to go with coincidence. It weighed less on the mind.

Distant thunder rumbled as Selene started down the stairs. When she reached the bottom, she used the Clear Skies shout to dissipate the mist, and she saw a glorious castle in the distance. But the fog didn’t stay clear for long. After only a few moments, it drifted back in along with the howl of a dragon and human screams.

“Crap,” she muttered before Shouting again. When the air was clear, she marched on.

A Stormcloak soldier rushed toward her. “Turn back, Stormblade! Terror awaits you in the mist. Vain is all courage against the peril that guards the way.”

“What is the mist? Is it normal?”

“It is not of Sovngarde. I cannot find my way to the Hall of Valor. Can you lead me?”

“Aye, just stay close to me.”

“Beware, Stormblade. Alduin hunts the lost souls snared in this shadowed valley.”

“Don’t worry, soldier. I’m here to defeat Alduin. Let’s go.”

Selene led the soldier down the path, and when the mist appeared again, she took a breath for a Shout; but before she could utter the Words of Power, the black dragon appeared and snapped the soldier up. The soul’s scream was cut short as Alduin devoured it. Selene unslung her bow and drew an arrow, but he was too fast. He flew away before she could get off a good shot. After that, she kept her bow in her hand.

At the bottom of another dais like the one she had landed on, Selene saw a familiar face. “Kodlak? Is that you?”

“Greetings, Companion.”

“Are you lost?”

“Aye. When I woke from cold death, my doom was lifted. There was Shor’s Hall, my heart’s desire. But now I wander, weary and lost, and the hunter becomes the hunted. Once such a brave warrior, I now cower in fear as the World-Eater seeks to devour my soul.”

“Follow me. I’ll get you to the Hall of Valor.”

Kodlak shook his head. “I will wait here. The mist seems to shy away from the steps.”

Selene nodded her understanding. “I’ll fix it, Kodlak. You will reach the Hall of Valor this day.”

“Gods be with you, girl.”

As Selene navigated the path, she cleared more mist and encountered more souls, all lost and terrified. Alduin flew over occasionally, taunting her. The path finally came to an end at the foot of a wide bridge made of the skeleton of some immense creature. She could see the castle clearly now, Shor’s Hall, waiting across the bridge with vaulted roofs, high, narrow windows, and massive doors. An imposing man stood at the entrance to the bridge. Farkas and Vilkas towered over her by a foot, but this man made them look small. He walked out to meet her.

“What brings you, wayfarer grim, to wander here in Sovngarde?”

“I pursue Alduin, the World-Eater.”

“A fateful errand. No few have chafed to face the Worm since he first set his soul snare, but Shor restrained our wrathful onslaught. Perhaps it was for you he waited.”

“Who are you?”

“I am Tsun, Shield-Thane to Shor. I guard the Whalebone Bridge and determine if a soul is worthy to enter Shor’s lofty hall.”

“May I enter?”

Tsun observed her critically. “No shade are you. By what right do you request entry?”

“By right of birth. I am Dragonborn.”

Tsun smiled. “Ah! It has been long since I faced a doom-driven hero of the Dragon Blood.”

“So can I enter?”

“Living or dead, by decree of Shor, none may pass ’til I judge them worthy by the warrior’s test.” With that, he attacked her.

Tsun’s axe was bigger than she was, and though she managed to get by without being sliced in two, the axe knocked her several yards back. She stood and Shouted Fire Breath at him, nocking and firing an arrow at the same time. The huge warrior barely noticed when the missile hit him in the chest. He came at her, swinging his axe, and Selene backed away and shot another arrow at him. He laughed and continued his pursuit. She spit fire at him again, and his hair and armor burst into flames. The fire only lasted a moment before dying away, and it apparently had done no damage. She expected another attack, but he simply smiled and put the axe away.

“You fought well, Dovahkiin. You are worthy. May Shor’s favor follow you and your errand.”

He stood aside, and Selene walked across the bridge, which was less precarious than she would have thought. Whalebone. She had never actually seen a whale. Who knew they were so big? Shor’s Hall stood on an island that floated high above the ocean below. The front doors were maybe fifty feet tall but opened easily, and she stepped into a cavernous dining hall. It was warm, brightly lit, and festive, and the ubiquitous singing was louder here, although she still didn’t see the choir. Two cows were roasting on a spit in the center of the long hall, and many tables were piled with food and wine. Huge casks of ale and mead stood at one end, and at the other, a group of warriors stood in a loose circle around a pair engaged in a brutal sword fight. The scene reminded her of the first time she had walked into Jorrvaskr, but she doubted Skjor would be here to greet her. He was hunting with Hircine.

A group stood nearby, drinking and reveling, and Selene recognized the weapon slung across the back of one of the men. It was Wuuthrad. As if just thinking of him got his attention, Ysgramor looked up and smiled, then walked over to the steps where she stood. He was blond, rugged, and muscular, with the presence of someone who was used to being the center of attention.

“Welcome, Dragonborn!” he boomed. “We have waited for you. By Shor’s command, we ventured not into the vale’s dark mist to battle the World-Eater. Three now await your word to loose their fury on the perilous foe: Gormlaith, the fearless, glad-hearted in battle; Hakon, the valiant, heavy-handed warrior; and Felldir, the old, far-seeing and grim. Seek their counsel and meet your destiny.” He clapped a friendly hand on her shoulder and turned away.

Selene walked through the hall, trying to figure out how she would know the three warriors who waited for her. She had seen them before, of course, when she had read the Elder Scroll, but their faces had been obscured. Perhaps they would know her when they saw her. As she wandered past one of the tables, someone tapped her on the shoulder. She turned, and her heart all but burst from her chest.

The young man who stood before her was about fifteen years old, unremarkable but not unattractive, with sandy hair and gray eyes that held a wicked glint. She had seen that crooked smile a million times.

“Ben!” she cried, reaching for her adopted brother and embracing him warmly.

He pulled back and looked her over. “Ysmir’s beard, you’re all grown up. And is that a Bond of Matrimony on your hand?”

“Did you think I would stay seventeen forever?”

“No, but who would marry you? And now I hear you’re the Dragonborn. I bet you think you’re pretty special, eh?”

Selene stood back and crossed her arms. “Uh-huh. And just how did you end up on Sovngarde? I would say the gods who decide where we spend the afterlife really slipped up.”

“I died saving your life, big sister. The blade that went through me was meant for you.”

The grin dropped from Selene’s face. “Oh, Ben. I didn’t know.”

Ben waved a dismissive hand. “Hey, it’s nothing. They like me here, and I’m not the only thief. Turns out there are quite a few of us with some honor. Besides, if I wasn’t here, I’d have to follow you all over Skyrim, and I was not cut out for fighting dragons. So who did marry you?”

“A thief, of course. He picked my pocket, I turned around and picked his pocket, and wackiness ensued.”

“Are you happy?”

“With Brynjolf? Gloriously. Hey, remember the Thieves Guild in Riften?” She leaned in and whispered, “I’m sort of leading them now. Oh, and do you remember Vipir from the orphanage? He’s in the Guild, too.”

“Well, it’s a comfort to know you haven’t grown too respectable.” He placed his hands on her shoulders. “I’m so proud of you, sister.”

“Why, because I’m Dragonborn? I didn’t choose it, you know. It chose me.”

“Aye, but that doesn’t mean you’re strong enough to handle it. But you are. You were always the strong one.”

“Ben, I need to find Gormlaith, Hakon, and Felldir. Do you know who they are?”

“Of course. Everybody knows who they are. I’ll take you to meet them.”

He led her to the other end of the hall where three warriors stood arguing, and Selene realized she would have recognized them without Ben’s help. Gormlaith was tall, blonde and pretty behind fearsome warpaint. Felldir was gray and wise, although not as old as she had expected, his silvery eyes as piercing as Farkas’s and Vilkas’s. Hakon was barrel-chested and grim with warrior’s braids hanging from shaggy, red hair. When Selene and Ben approached, Gormlaith drew her sword eagerly.

“At long last! Alduin’s doom is now ours to seal! Just speak the word, Dovahkiin!”

“Hold, comrades,” warned Felldir. “Let us counsel take before battle is blindly joined.”

Ben patted Selene on the shoulder and started to walk away, but she turned from the ancient Nords and grabbed him up in another hug. “It was so good to see you, little brother,” she whispered tenderly.

“And you. I hope to see you again when your days on Nirn come to an end.” He kissed her on the cheek, then pulled away and left Selene with the three heroes.

“Your brother,” Felldir observed.

“One who sacrificed his life for me, and I never even knew it.”

“He has much honor. Now. Stand you ready to face the World-Eater?”

“Aye.”

“Good. Alduin’s mist is more than a soul snare. It is his shield and cloak.”

“The coward fears you, Dovahkiin,” said Hakon.

“Then we drive away the mists so he can’t hide,” she declared. “Do you know the Clear Skies Shout?”

“Indeed,” Felldir confirmed. “We shall bring our Voices together and blast the mist.”

“To battle!” Gormlaith cried as she turned and ran toward the towering doors. The others drew their weapons, and Selene took her bow in hand and followed them out.

They ran from the Hall of Valor across the Whalebone Bridge, pulling up short where the mists encroached.

“Divines be with us,” Selene whispered.

“Clear Skies!” Gormlaith instructed. “Let us combine our Shouts!”

“Lok vah koor!” the three of them cried together. With a thundering BANG, the mists dissipated. They waited in silence for Alduin to answer their call. He responded with a Shout of his own.

“Ven mul riik!”

The mists once again filled in the air, roiling out of nothingness to obscure their vision.

“Again!” Selene cried.

“Lok…vah koor!” Selene’s ears ached with the great explosion of sound. Again the mists dispersed, and again, Alduin answered with a Shout that brought them back.

“Does his strength have no end?” Hakon lamented. “Is our struggle in vain?”

“Stand fast,” Gormlaith encouraged him. “His strength is failing. Once more, and his might will be broken.”

Selene wondered how the warrior could possibly know that, but she Shouted with them again anyway. Alduin did not respond this time and the valley stayed clear, but he didn’t come. Rage boiled up inside her. “That coward went back to Nirn,” she grumbled through gritted teeth.

“No, he will appear,” Felldir insisted. “Great is his pride, and he will not be intimidated by men. He will come.”

As if to prove his point, Alduin howled and the ground shook. After a moment, the black figure flew from behind a nearby peak. Selene’s heart hammered, but she felt no fear. Perhaps Gormlaith’s enthusiasm was contagious, because she was suddenly bursting with energy, lust for battle flowing through her veins. She had never wanted to be Dragonborn, never wanted to fight Alduin. It was just something she had to do. But now, the desire to meet him was practically an ache. She was Dragonborn, and she and her companions would see Alduin’s end this day.

“Stand together, friends!” she cried. “Alduin, come to meet your death!”

“For Skyrim!” Gormlaith whooped. “For Shor! For Sovngarde’s freedom!”

As Alduin flew over, Gormlaith and Hakon threw Unrelenting Force Shouts at him, and Selene Shouted Dragonrend. Alduin screamed and faltered, but he didn’t fall. He just spat fire at them and flew away as Selene and Gormlaith pelted with him with arrows. They fought for hours, taunting each other, yelling insults, Alduin swooping in to spit fire and the warriors hurling Shouts, spells and arrows at him; but Alduin had grown strong on the souls he had devoured, and he wore down slowly. But so did the warriors. Selene didn’t know what powered the souls she stood with, but she ran on pure adrenaline as she Shouted time and again, ducked fire blasts, and dodged the storm of flaming rocks Alduin directed at them.

“You are persistent, Dovahkiin,” Alduin said as he stopped before her. “A fine slave you would have—”

“Joor zah frul!”

The Shout hit him full-on, and he collapsed with a painful groan, evidently weaker than they had thought. Selene and Gormlaith propelled a barrage of arrows at him while Hakon and Felldir hacked at him with their axe and sword. Alduin snapped half-heartedly at them, but what little strength he had left finally failed him. He threw back his head and wailed.

“Zu’u unslaad! I am eternal! I shall not die!” He keened and shook his head in desperate denial as veins of red light feathered throughout his body. He stood to full height, his wings splayed out to his sides, baying with his last defiant breath as his body exploded into a million pieces. Flame and ash swirled around them, the ear-piercing wind whistling, until everything that Alduin was abruptly blinked out of existence.

For a moment, silence filled Sovngarde. The choir stopped singing, and the wind stopped blowing. It was just as it had been when they had sent him forward in time. Finally the choir began to sing again, the breeze picked up, and the dead began to filter in from throughout the valley.

Selene turned to look at her companions, who still stared at the space where the World Eater had once stood, and they turned to regard her with triumphant grins.

“All hail the Dragonborn!” Gormlaith shouted, and the others chimed in with her. “All hail the Dragonborn! Hail her with great praise!”

Tsun came down the steps from the Whalebone Bridge and stood before her. “A mighty deed, Dragonborn. They will sing of this battle in Shor’s Hall forever. But you live, and you cannot abide in Sovngarde for long. When you have completed your count of days, I may welcome you again with glad friendship.”

“Thank you, Tsun.” Selene turned to the warriors. “This was not my victory. It was ours. Thank you all.”

Hakon grasped her hand. “We will meet again, my friend.”

Gormlaith threw her arms around her. “Aye! I look forward to sharing stories of our valiant deeds!”

“As do I, but I don’t know if this is where I belong. I have obligations to others.”

“Concessions must be made for the Dragonborn,” Tsun reminded her.

Felldir placed a hand on her shoulder. “When the time comes, you will make the choice that is best for you.”

“When you are ready to rejoin the living,” said Tsun, “just bid me so and I will send you back. I send you with a gift from my lord Shor, a Shout that will bring one of these heroes to you in your time of need.”

“I’m ready.”

“Hun kaal zoor!” Tsun Shouted.

With that, darkness filled Selene’s vision.

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