"So how was it, boy?"
"How was what?"
"Oh you know what, don't act like no one's ever asked ya."
"I have no idea what you're talking about, elf, and you're breaking my-,"
"How was the Bathory woman, boy. Even I know about Magdela Bathory, and the way Baldy tells it, you got yourself a pret-ty big sip of that blonde ale."
The way Daric kept his eyes in his book, Maori could tell he had no plans on sharing the details. Sighing, he said, "You know, for an apprentice of Baldur, you're rather stiff. Nothing like 'em at all, come to think of it."
"Well, I wouldn't know, haven't seen him lately, since he'd rather just order me around with elven man servants than speak to me directly."
"Elven man servant? If you plan on keeping your mug on your neck I'd suggest you stow that talk, boy. Now that I think of it, that doesn't even make sense. Wouldn't I be a mer servant? Though saying elven mer servant would be redundant I suppose, but-,"
"DO YOU EVER SHUT UP."
"Not when I'm bored, lad, no," said Maori. "I hate traveling in these parts, barely any trees around. Forced to walk on the ground."
"Well if you're so bored, elf, tell me this," said Daric, closing the book his father gave him and looking at the elf directly for the first time. "You're so close to the Jarl of Windhelm, tell me why I gave him information of this attack long before it actually happened, and his Necro-Nords were nowhere to be found? Tell me why he went to the city alone, and why Ulfric and so many innocent people ended up dead? Why he sent an elf to babysit me on a job I've been doing for months now without his meddling, to keep me from seeing him face to face?"
Maori just stood there, eyes downcast.
"Silence, finally," said Daric. "I don't know exactly what's going on, but I think I'm starting to understand. I dare not, but gods help me, I think I see. What's more is he thinks me not trustworthy enough to know what he's up to. And there must be a reason for it. He let Ulfric die, didn't he?"
Maori looked up at him finally, which would have amused Daric any other time, as he wasn't used to having anyone look up to him, especially adults. But there was no amusement to be had now.
"Kid, you'd best keep your voice down when you talk such nonsense."
Daric's eyes almost bulged out of his sockets at the audacity of the elf, hands moving to draw his blade. He found Maori's arrow notched and pointing at his eyesocket before he could draw.
"Calm down, brat. You only just got your wounds healed from Solitude and you’re itching to go back into another sick bed. Now listen. I'm sorry he chose to keep you out of the loop, but this isn't exactly something light, understand? He has his reasons. You know more than me how much he loved that Ulfric fellow. Please for now, just trust me when I say it'll become clear later why Ulfric had to die. I'm sure he'd rather tell you face to face, but he sent me to find you and head to the Reach because time is of the essence."
Daric's face was full of hatred for the elf, even after his sword was sheathed.
"I don't want to hear the excuses. How am I supposed to look another Stormcloak in the eye, knowing what I know? How can I still even wear this blue sash? But fine, I'll get my answers, you're damn right about that. For now, just tell me what business we have in the Reach."
Maori placed his arrow back in his quiver, breathing deep to let his nerves settle. "We're spying on the one they call Brund 'The Mountain' Hammer-Fang."
Daric stopped walking, knocking Maori on his ass as he walked directly into Daric's back. Before he could moan about it, the boy turned to him and said, "Please tell me you're joking."
"No jest," said the elf. "Why, he tough?"
"Is he tough?" said Daric. "He's downright terrifying."
"Well," said Maori, "I guess we'd better not let him see us."
This time Maori took the lead as Daric watched him walk by. "No ******* kidding."
"Tell me who she is, Priest."
"It's not really important, what is important is-,"
"I'll tell you what's important, now if you don't want to end up like the rest of the Reachmen, you'll tell me right now what it is you know."
Smiling, the Priest said, "Of course, of course. I don't know much, all I know is what me pa told me. It goes like this, the Reachmen weren't always as mixed up as they are now. They were once just like Bretons more or less, and every now and then, the Nords would come into their territory to raid and take wives for pleasure. Their blood being half theirs already, made some of the children look more like their Nordic kin. And some of those kin were raised in Nordic society, learned Nordic things. Like the thu'um. Your hagraven is one of those offspring."
"I take it you are as well," said Brund.
Smiling again, the priest said, "Aye. But my kin hailed from Roscrea, not mainland Skyrim. Our ways were never diluted by the Imperials like yours. We used to often sail to mainland Skyrim in search for adventure and something more beyond that accursed Island."
"And your ways, they told you to serve willingly huh.."
"Aye, a ritual of fortune telling, hawk bone and hawk blood. It showed me the face of one of her children, and I saw your ugly mug. I knew when you found me, I was to help you become strong! See, the Reachmen? They are not the only ones that know what the Briarhearts are. They are seeds, gifts from mother nature, lady Kyne. In ordinary men, they give immortality and minor strength. But in a Nord, and one chosen by her?"
The Priest's hands wrapped around Brund's cheeks. "Well, you already know. The hagraven saw what I saw. She had the knowledge, but with your spirit, and this seed in your chest, you could draw from the bones of the earth and the trees, the water and air magics that most men have long forgotten. There is magic all around us, and it is this power that the hagravens tap into, much like the taproots that give Lady Kyne's trees life. This is old magic, nature magic born of Kyne, Brund. Don't fear it, but don't let yourself be lost in it either."
Brund pushed the man from him and yelled, "Not so close, fucker." Other than that, Brund was mostly silent for a time until he finally said, "Why is she tied to me?"
"I do not know truly, Brund. Perhaps upon death, she anchored herself to the seed. Like a soulgem. It draws power from all life around it, and yes, there is life in Earth. Earth is made of the bones of spirits, and our dead flesh. It would not be hard for someone with the knowledge of these seeds to trap themselves in one, I imagine. And its power flows into your spirit to keep you alive."
"Well, ****," said Brund. "But fine. At least now I can somewhat better understand what the hell is going on with my body. I don't understand it all, and I don't know what to make of your ramblings about Kyne. The idea that Kyne has any sort of connection to these savages is insulting."
"There's no connection to them directly," said the Priest. "Kye isn't the only one with a connection to Nature. Hircine manipulates it as well, Hircine hunts below our lord's bone spheres. And the Reachmen worship him, and other daedra as well."
Standing, he said, "Whatever. Anyway, that old bastard may have weakened me, but it may be a blessing in disguise. I can't afford to lose control at the moot. I have work to do. As do you, Priest. It's time I speak with the Silver-Bloods again. Summon Thonar Silver-Blood to my palace."
Brund was seated in the Mournful Throne when his guest finally arrived. Thonar Silver-Blood was not a handsome man. His black hair had receded near to the point of baldness, and his thick, clean-shaven face was weathered and pockmarked. Even so, no argument could be made that he did not radiate power. The guards in the hall ducked their heads as he and his steel-clad mercenaries strode past, and even Brund's steward hurried to step aside to allow the two of them to have their privacy. Of all his court, only the Priest seemed unfazed in the presence of the wealthiest and most feared man in the Reach. Thonar's eyes glared up at his Jarl with none of the fear or anxiety that so many others did. Brund respected that, just as he did the man's methods in keeping down his enemies.
"Thonar... It's been some time since we've spoken," said Brund, his voice uncharacteristically low, as though he were expecting eavesdroppers. It's true that one's voice did carry, and in Markarth, who knows where the underlying paths could take a man's voice. "We have a lot to discuss and little time to discuss it."
"I had wondered when you would call for me." Thonar answered, his voice lowered in kind. "Go on, then. I would know where you stand in light of all that has happened."
Approaching Thonar, Brund towered over his fellow Nord kin, the dim light of the throne room making his brutish features more pronounced, more exaggerated. Smiling with a grin that did not suit him, Brund said, "There has never been a better time than now for your family to seize power. My stance is a simple one, you need me and I need you. I have a vision, you see. One that was revealed to me very recently. I see a Skyrim overflowing in silver, a Skyrim with a strong king, one powerful enough to rival Ysgramor, or better yet, Talos himself! I see Skyrim, not just restored to its previous glory, but a Skyrim at the head of its second Empire... With an Emperor that carries the name of Silver-Blood... You following me so far?"
"I follow ramblings." Thonar said, his tone flat, though a look of amusement did cross his pockmarked face. "You seek to become High King instead of Red-Snow, that I understand. But what is this talk of an Empire?"
"High King is just the first step. Don't you see?" said Brund, his eyes animated with the enthusiasm of a child. "Being raised in the Empire, as regrettable as that is, I grew up with stories of Talos' greatness, even moreso than Nords here. That would be blasphemy on any other day, but it's the truth. The Empire loved that man, once upon a time. I grew up not loving Tiber Septim, but being jealous of him. Seeing how revered a Nord could be in the eyes of even an Imperial, all the while they looked down on me as though I was a dog."
Brund put up a hand and said, "But I'm getting beside the point. Basically, I've always been a fighter, hungry for more. Of a purpose. Like a warrior in peacetime. But now I know my purpose, and it's a purpose given to me by the gods. You think I'm mad. But I will show you. What does this have to do with you, you're asking? Look at you, your family. You have all this wealth, but it was built on silver, like your namesake. But your flow of silver has been slowed, like a clot in the veins halting the blood in a fat noble. Why? Because of my rival, Baldur Red-Snow. Baldur Red-Snow stands in your way, and mine, with his Grim Ones monitoring your men's every move here, giving care to these dogs that I've put down, these savages. Wouldn't you like to see that changed?"
"Of course I would." Thonar replied. "That is why we gave you my niece to marry like we're damned Bretons. But now half the kingdom wants Red-Snow on the throne and the other half doesn't exactly favor you. If you can change that, great. I'll help. But first you'll need to explain to me how you expect to win the moot, let alone outshine the greatest of Emperors?"
"One thing at a time, my new Uncle-In-Law," said Brund, sucking his teeth at the mention of the girl. "That niece of yours, she's a fiery Nord girl, and I'll make a woman of her yet. It will pay off, I promise. Let's see... first, Baldur. What does one need to be king? He needs power, yes, but there's many forms of power. There's power in the most literal sense, there's power in the form of money, which you're most familiar with, and there's power in the form of military might, and influence. Money brings influence. Baldur has military might, as do I. But something he does not have, is the coin that I now possess, and that you now possess. We are at war, we'll need more money than we have at our disposal. Stand back, say... All the way by that door," said Brund, as he began stripping off his breast plate and gauntlets.
Thonar moved back as he commanded. He still wore a scowl, but Brund could see a hint of curiosity in there as well. The man had brought his family to a new level of greatness thanks by exploiting opportunity when it reared its head his way. He may have harbored his doubts as any wise Nord would, but Brund could see in his new ally an ambition only matched by his own. Unlikely as it may seem, he would not refuse to hear out something this big.
Smiling, Brund's hands clasped together giving off an echo that reverberated throughout the room, as though a large stone had fallen within. With a thundering shout, Brund cried almost as if angered, his veins protruding in his neck and arms, sweat pouring from his pores in streams, and his ruddy face growing redder by the second. It sounded as though the man were dying.
This went on for a time, before the bandages around his briarheart began to bleed. Only then did he echo the ancient words of the thu'um, followed by his boot meeting the stone floors with a solid thump.
“FUS. GOL. STRUNMAH!!!!”
At first, nothing happened... but then a small but visible crack snaked its way from the throne to the center of the room, growing, and growing until it seemed that it would reach Thonar even at the distance that he stood.
It halted, just at his feet, and then the floor began to give way to a small hole between the two men. Before Thonar could speak, an explosion of rubble and silver silenced him, and in its wake... bodies... decaying bodies began to crawl forth, heads adorned in deer hides... The room was now sprinkled in silver ores and flakes, and clinks and clanks from beneath the hole began to drown out the moans of the vile things that crawled from that pit.
"Shor have mercy." Thonar gasped. He took another step back and lowered a hand to he hilt of his sword. The decrepit Forsworn ignored him, of course. Brund had already commanded them to. "They're... these heathens are alive. What did you just..."
This may have been the first time in his life that Thonar Silverblood had been rendered speechless. The noble watched Brund's slaves climb one after another from his secret pit and display themselves like the whipped mongrels they were. When the initial shock of what had transpired left the man, he finally dared to approach the pit and look down. Brund could tell from his expression that Silver-Blood was impressed. Finally, after some time, he looked back up at his Jarl with new eyes. "So you've built a new mine... And your thu'um has gotten stronger." He gestured at the motionless abominations that could barely be called men, many of whom ignored various wounds across their ravaged bodies. "How many of them are down there?"
"Hundreds," said Brund between labored breaths. In truth, his thu'um had grown weaker, and already he could feel the influence of the Hag clawing at his mind. He bit his lip to calm himself before he lost it; it was like constantly having to keep his head above water without proper footing. "I plan to wrestle control of this hold from the high throne, until that throne is mine. The Reach will continue its pursuit of silver, unhindered by outside threats from this lot, or Baldur. With the upcoming war, no one will argue with the silver we produce, or our methods, not with the likes of these savages. And while other lands falter under the weight of expense, we will prosper."
Brund sat back down, taking a swig of mead as the undead forsworn sluggishly crawled back into their pit to command his slaves. Signaling Thonar over, he said, "And when the time comes, when the Thalmor are defeated, I will make the elves our slaves as well, and on the sweat of their backs, I will begin to build the foundation of another Empire. I've never much given a **** about what the gods thought, they could be dead for all I care. But they've finally done something right. I won't give you too much detail, you don't need to know everything, but Talos had a secret weapon to defeat the elves, and now, so do I. I AM THAT WEAPON! BRUND! I'LL GRIND THEM INTO DUST AND BECOME A LIVING GOD! Will you help me, Uncle?"
Thonar looked down at the pit, and then back at Brund. There were very few things any man could say in response to what he had just witnessed. "Aye," the noble finally said. "If Skyrim continues to back the strong as we always have, your ascension is a certainty. I will back you, my King."
Brund stood from his throne to embrace Thonar, grinning from ear to ear. "Good. Then lets discuss our pl-,"
The sound of a pot shattering from behind them brought their attention to the corner of a room suddenly.
Brund's eyes focused on the shadows beneath a table. Without saying a word, his Nordic Pendulum swung downwards, crushing the table and whatever might be under it. But there was nothing, at least not anymore.
The sounds of scuffling and a closing door turned their attention away once more. Chuckling, Brund said, "Well well, looks like we've got a game of cat and mouse on our hands. Thonar, we'll discuss the moot further in a moment. But now, I need your help trapping the intruders before they can escape. Force them into the bowels of Markarth, I'll be waiting for them on the other side."
"Gladly." Thonar turned to the soldiers of Markarth who flanked the entrance. "Follow me. We'll show them Markarth's tolerance for spies."
With that, the Nordic nobleman led the soldiers in pursuit of whoever it was that had dared to attempt sneaking up on Brund Hammer-Fang.
Few hours prior
"Why are we scaling the walls? You do know the city has gates," said Maori.
"You saw the way those soldiers were looking at us. Isn't it obvious? They were told to look out for us."
Maori scratched his head with his free hand as they dangled from individual ropes. "They were looking out for you, must be. That Brund fella don't even know what I look like, don't know nothin about me!"
"Perhaps," said Daric through struggling breaths as he neared the top. Ducking his head again as a soldier passed, he whispered downwards, "Either way, it's better to be safe than sorry."
"You call this safe," said the elf. "I like climbing and all but I like climbing trees. This stone is slippery for my feet."
"Then use your arms and climb the rope, stop complaining already," said Daric, finally climbing to the top when the Nord sentry passed. Maori swung from left to right on his rope until he was able to hop up the rest of the distance, landing next to the Breton boy with slightly labored breaths.
"Getting old, enjoy your youth while it lasts, kid. Now, you know this city better than I do. Where we going?"
Daric looked around a while until he eyed one of the brass sewer grates that poked out of the mountainside. "See that over there? That sewer leads straight into Markarth's palace. We've gotta make our way into it from here, the walls are the only way to reach it. See, you'd have been climbing anyway. Maybe you should try eating less. Or drinking less of that weird beef beer shit you brought from Valenwood, smells like you're drinking beef stew."
Maori took a swig from a bottle he had fastened to his belt, burping in Daric's face to spite him. "Don't knock it till you try it. Don't even tell me you like that swill these Nords call mead, you forgot you're a Breton, lad?"
"A Breton born in Skyrim, elf. Now lets go, and be quick about it!"
The duo quickly scaled the mountainside, as quickly as one could before another sentry caught them running atop Markarth's walls. They were surprisingly light considering how populated they were before, but the war in the Reach was over, Forsworn hadn't been spotted near the city or in it, for some time.
Hooking the grated doorway as water fell below, Daric signaled with his fingers to watch him. Before he attempted to go inside, Daric pulled on his hook until the metal grate popped open. Quickly, Daric told Maori to climb up with him, until Maori was atop the boy's back.
"Now, jump up! There's a lever inside that will pull up a dam, hook it and pull!"
Maori seemed unsure but listened to what he was told, jumping up the grate and atop the Dwemer pipe, being careful not to touch the water lest his feet get slippery. Dangling upside down above the cascading water, Maori swung his hook counter clock wise and tossed it inside before jumping down, dangling under the Breton again. His weight wasn't enough to pull the stiff and rusting lever apparently, however.
"Blast it, maybe you should keep eating after all! Wait, I got an idea!" said the Breton, yelling to be heard above the rushing water.
"Wait, don't do that!" said Maori. Too late. Daric jumped on the elf's back to make the lever give, and give it did. The water finally stopped falling, but Daric and Maori didn't. Daric didn't see but Maori noticed the rust on the lever, which is why he threw another hook with a second rope at the grated door in case it broke on him. He hadn't planned on that happening with twice the weight however.
As Daric and Maori fell, the rope finally caught them, but its tautness was at the very limit. The grate swang back and forth, slamming shut and reopening as they dangled underneath. "Hurry up and climb!" said Maori. Daric didn't need him to say it twice.
Carefully, the Breton Boy waited for his chance to climb up towards the middle of the grate before it slammed shut again, jumping back and just barely landing inside. An arrow flew past his cheek, hitting the metal surface of the pipe inside behind him before he just barely managed to grab it, noticing the rope at the other end. The rope Maori was on had snapped, and the one in Daric's hand now held him almost literally by a thread, before he was close enough that Daric could drag him inside.
"Who the hell made this ******* rope?" said Daric. "We should've gotten some from Rebec, this shit is pathetic!"
"...Sorry," said Maori while he tried calming down. "It's just meant to support my weight, didn't think I'd be scaling for two!"
"Who the hell makes rope only just barely strong enough to support a load? Whatever, just follow me, and be careful," said Daric. "Lest you want to meet your kin."
"What kin? In here?" said Maori, walking closely behind the boy now after drinking a night eye potion he gave him.
"Aye, those things we saw in Solitude, those freaky elven monsters are in these Dwemer places beneath the city. We're not under obviously, but take a wrong step and fall down a pipe, you might end up there. So be. Careful."
"I get it I get it," said the elf, rolling his eyes. Elven monsters, indeed, he thought. "What a bunch of nonsense. Those things couldn’t have been elves.”
It took them another hour, or perhaps more, before they both finally realized that Daric was lost. Already on their last night eye potion, Maori was starting to get frustrated. "Listen, kid, I don't want to get on your case, but if you don't find the way soon, we're gonna end up living down here!"
"Keep your damn voice down, you idiot! We could stumble into the palace at any minute!"
"Stumble into the palace, you couldn't stumble your way into a maiden's pants if she were laying on her back with her legs over her head right in front o-," before Maori could finish, the elf slipped and fell down a hole, and grabbed Daric's tunic, trying to save himself. He dragged them both down a tunnel, until they hit another much smaller grate, which now popped open, sending them flying out into an open room.
"****," said Maori, rubbing his head. Daric did the same, rolling from over the elf onto the stone floor. After he realized where he was, he heard loud footsteps coming from a hallway nearby.
"**** is right! Hurry, elf!"
Daric dragged the elf by his leg, throwing him under a table leaving him to crawl behind a large pot beneath it. There wasn't anywhere for Daric to hide however. Looking around, he realized finally that they'd stumbled directly into the palace throneroom... not only that, but Brund's unmistakable figure was sitting right on the very throne the room was home to, along with who he knew for sure was Thonar Silver-Blood.
Quickly, Daric scrambled over to Maori, shoving the elf aside to make room for himself as well. "What are you doing, go somewhere else, we both can't hide here!"
"Just shut it, we don't have a choice! Be quiet and listen..."
And listen they did.
"Boy, this Brund guy is something else. He really is full of himself eh?"
"You got that right," said Daric. "I can't believe this, he really thinks this is the time to make a power grab for the throne? No one will support him, I can't believe Thonar's even considering it."
"Well, you fought in the war against the Reachmen yourself, a lot of people may be grateful to him for ridding them of those lot."
"Yea but... wait..."
Daric and Maori stopped whispering when Brund started screaming. When the ground literally began to crack however, both of them were so shocked that they forgot where they even were.
The things that crawled from within started walking around the throneroom until one was almost close enough to the table to spot one of them behind the pot. Daric was so terrified by the display that he didn't even grip a blade. He just sat there, shivering.
Once Brund had them crawl back into Markarth's new asshole, Maori said, "There's no way in hell he can get away with that. Undead? If word gets out about that, he's done for as far as the moot goes. The Nords wouldn't support such a thing."
"I don't know, Maori. He's using the Thu'um. They might not see it as dark magic like you're thinking... This is insane, this is insane!" said Daric. "This explains everything! This.. we gotta get back to Baldur. He has to know..."
"I'm up for getting out of here whenever you are Daric. We've seen enough. We..." They didn't realize it, but all the shaking and rumbling on the floor moved the pot just enough that it was no longer perfectly seated on its wooden circle to protect it from the floor. So when Daric pushed it aside just a bit to study their surroundings to make a move for an exit, the pot tipped over completely...
That's when the Breton and Elf made a dash for any door they could find, leaving nothing but a smashed pot in their place.
"Have every exit sealed off," Thonar commanded the guards around him. "All but those leading to the ruins. I want the sealed ones to be opened up. We'll hound them inside."
"The ruins?" The soldiers looked visibly chilled. "But sir, that place ain't safe."
"Which might be why our Jarl wants to force the spies down there, don't you think? Now go! You are wasting time."
Thonar did not have to tell them again. The guards in Markarth were used to obeying his commands. He and his remaining four men continued down the great passages of Understone Keep, moving in the direction the spies had taken off. The Dwemer castle was massive. Even without considering the city below it, most people believed it to be the largest seat of any Jarl. While that did mean lots of places to hide, it also meant lots of guards. Even now the Nordic soldiers were running too-and-fro, room-to-room, working their way towards the ruins of the Great Dwarven City: Nchuand-Zel.
The city's excavation was massive. Even after two eras, it's stone roads were held securely aloft by great stone pillars. Thonar had been here on a few occasions, and he knew the Markarth's underground better than most Nords, but once those roads were taken into the Dwarven city proper, his -and most everyone else's- knowledge of what awaited beyond ended.
Of course, it was not Thonar's intention to funnel their enemies into the main excavation site. There were other ways into the ruins from Understone Keep. Some of them secret. Some of them as obvious as large brass doors that had been sealed off, and it was through one of these that Daric and Maori had already been forced to retreat into, and it was at this door that three more guardmen now stood when Thonar arrived.
"I opened the door as you ordered, Sir." He pointed to his companions. "And Tuslaf and Vor chased them through."
"And you didn't follow them?"
"Well, we did for a bit, but... it's dark in there." The guard pointed into the abandoned Dwarven hall as if to prove his point.
"Well, it's too bad no one ever thought to create some kind of portable light source then," Thonar growled. "You know, something easy to carry, like a stick with fire on the end. That would solve all of our problems."
"I'll get some torches, Sir."
"You do that."
As the guard disappeared, another one spoke his mind. "Are you sure about this, Sir? I mean, we've already got them trapped underground. And they say the Dwemer machines are still alive down here. And worse, Falmer."
"I am well aware of the machines," the noble answered. And he was. His own Cidhna Mine was huge and complex, and in some of its dark corners, the earth actually broke into the vast, interconnecting Dwemer ruins that ran through these mountains. But they posed no threat, for the Dwarves had been kind enough to leave their automatons behind to defend those breaches. "As for Falmer, I would suggest you stop believing the tales your mother read to you as a child. You think we wouldn't know if we lived atop an entire city filled with ancient elves? We're going to push down just a little further. Make sure they get as far as our Jarl wants them."
The first guard returned carrying a bundle of torches. They each took one, lit them, and proceeded into the city beneath the city.
To the first guard's credit, it was dark down here. The halls reached a point where they became so wide that their torchlight could not reach both sides, which forced their group to spread out.
"What's that smell?" one guard asked.
"Probably chaurus shit," another answered. "I'll bet those things have infested this place. Another thing to worry about."
"Quiet," Thonar commanded. Looking ahead, the noble could see only darkness. And as far as hearing, well, there was no mechanical movement or hissing of steam. That meant that whatever marvels the Dwemer had built here were long past their days of functioning.
"Hey, the walls are gone," said the guard on their right. Sure enough, a portion of the Dwarves' smooth stone walls had crumbled, giving way dirt and earth, and a single black hole. Something had tunneled there. "I'll bet this is where the Falmer come out."
"He said to shut up with that nonsense," a different guard said. "It's probably just the chaurus. They won't bother a group as big as ours. Now come on."
They proceeded deeper and deeper beneath Understone Keep, until finally the sound of machinery started to pick up somewhere above them. "Sounds like we're beneath the city beneath the city," a guard joked. But nobody laughed, because that very moment, his torch fell to the ground, and they all turned to see him clutching an arrow wound in his neck.
"Archer!" Thonar barked, "Form a circle!"
The Nords tossed their torches out in front of them and drew their shields, forming a defensive circle that faced fire and darkness in all directions. Thonar was in the middle, his own silver longsword drawn.
"Did anyone see where it came fro-" one man said, just before another arrow immediately thudded into his shield.
Thonar and his men went quiet. And then another arrow whistled, hitting the man's shield again. And then things went bad, fast. A slumped, white-skinned figure emerged from the darkness like a beast summoned from Oblivion. In its hand was a gray axe that looked like it had been fashioned out of some larger creature's bones. The creature leapt up and slammed against their shield wall, and then suddenly, five or six more of the things came from each direction. Thonar drove his sword into one's belly, and watched as another went down from a guard's axe. Unfortunately, for every creature they slew, two more took its place.
A bone axe cracked against a guardsman's helmet and knocked him to the ground. Thonar tried to cut at the beast who'd felled him, but he wasn't fast enough to reach it before his ally had been dragged off into the darkness.
"Tsun protect us!" another guard shouted, just before he and the man beside him went down as well.
Thonar picked up his shield and joined the remaining four in a tightened circle. They hacked and slashed at the red-eyed creatures, until finally it seemed that this random spy hunt was going to be the death of them.
And then something heavy crashed into the ground deeper in the hall. The Falmer (as Thonar now had to assume they were) started to back away, sniffing the musty air in sudden alarm.
Next came footsteps, slow and heavy. That was apparently enough for the creatures. They broke away from Thonar's group and scampered back off into the darkness, leaving the Nords alone with the footsteps.
There was a long pause, though only to their perceptions. Amongst the sight of dead monster elves and their fallen comrades amongst the encompassing dark, a second seemed like an age. The stench of the creatures was noticably faint, and it was clear that they were truly alone with whatever beast was approaching them now.
One of the guards could make it out, a lumbering hulk of shadow visible before the barely visible blue illuminiscent growth on the stone walls before them. It had a spiked head, that much was clear, or at least it was before it seemed to have removed it entirely.
"What are you idiots doing, where's the rest of the men?" said Brund. Stepping into the light, revealing himself covered in what was clearly a crude assemblage of chaurus exoskeleton. Looking around, he finally seemed to notice the dead bodies half visible from the torches in their hands, the others stomped out by the Falmer themselves. "Put those out, and drink some of this. And try not to die, tracking two people in this place alone will be difficult."
The Nords stared at their Jarl in stunned silence. Even Thonar, who had only witnessed Brund's powers less than an hour earlier, was surprised to see him now. But he was also the first to recover. "You heard him," the noble barked. He then stepped up and took the bag Brund was offering. Inside was a large bottle that contained some sweet-smelling liquid. He took the first drink, shivered against the tingles the potion sent to his brain, and passed the bottle. It was a night-eye elixir, and it instantly drove the darkness from their visions, turning the blackness of the caverns into a dim gray.
Silver-Blood looked at Brund and nodded. They would all feel safer going forward, with a man like this leading them. "We're right behind you."
"No, you go down in that direction. I'll be watching. Close by."
"Alright." Thonar nodded. Knowing that Brund was watching was still enough to make the Nords feel more secure than before. The nobleman jerked his head toward the pathway and started off, and the remaining guardsmen quickly formed up around him.
"Boy. Boy. Please, stop your incessant breathing. They're going to hear us."
"Did you see?"
"I saw. Gods help me, I saw."
"He's a monster. Even amongst monsters."
"He's mortal, is what he is. But you're right. He's... we need to go."
Maori hopped down from his recently captured chaurus, grabbing Daric's hand, beckoning him to come along. He was shaking like a leaf. They both were.
"It was a good plan," he said. "You're a smart lad. Leading them to the Nords, it almost worked. But we couldn't have known..."
"You're right, we should just stop talking," said Daric. "Focus on finding a breeze. Even if it's the tiniest opening to the surface, this thing can help us dig our way out."
Maori closed his mouth and nodded. But he couldn’t help but think of how deep the shit they were in.
They had an advantage in this place that the Nords hadn’t. Maori had picked up the talent long ago of sneaking around in dark places. They found the Falmer long before they found them. And the Nords with their big voices, footsteps and bright torches… It couldn’t have been more simple to send the Falmer their way.
The first arrow that killed a guard, that was his. The rest after that, was the Falmer’s way of sensing. After that, it should have been nothing to just watch them all die.
They heard the footsteps of Brund only after the Falmer almost trampled them in their hiding place. Seeing whatever it was, so close to them, then realizing their hunter himself was an arms reach away from them in the dark…
They had no idea of knowing what time it was, how long they'd spent there underground. Had the foreigners come already? Was Baldur King? The only good thing that came of their predicament was, Brund needed them dead, so that they couldn't give Baldur their intel before the moot commenced. There's no way in hell the Jarls would elect such an evil, crazy individual, no matter how scared they were of him, or the elves.
Every now and then, the pair would hear scurrying, especially when their path took them to a great open chasm so large, and so bright with more luminescent mushrooms that for a time, after being in complete darkness, and lead by a man sized stinky bug, the two were more blind than they were without it. The scurrying never lead to anything more than the occasional jump scare, but that was worrying in it of itself. They knew eyes were on them. Fearful eyes. Eyes that knew they were prey to something worse than themselves.
After the sting of their eyes readjusting left them, the two finally had time to be struck with awe at what they saw.
Ruins, buildings of stone and intricate bronze metalwork, further than their eyes could see, and then some, likely. Towers, spires, hanging giant chandeliers holding spheres of light, exposing dust and dirt hovering over the work of the Dwemer as though to protect it.
"It's... a city. A city beneath a city?" said Maori.
"No... I think Markarth and this place, it may all just be one great big city. I've... never...."
"Not even the Imperial City could match such wonder. Who knows just how far this place stretches underground!"
"It could go on for leagues. Scores of leagues...." said Daric. He didn't sound so enthusiastic anymore.
"No matter, we'll just keep following the bug."
"And how do you know the bug knows we want to get to the surface?"
"I know. Trust me, pup. I know what I'm doing."
"It's not you, I'm worried about, but that damn skeever shit with legs. One thing's for certain, we're not as likely to be found down here. In fact, I'd say Brund doesn't stand a chance. It's like a needle in a haystack."
"Aye, which is why we should make camp. Get some rest."
Daric eyed the elf with suspicion. "You're nuts. We've wasted enough time as it is! We've got to..."
"We will die of exhaustion before we find the way out. We're gonna be here a while kid, unless we have some sort of divine intervention, we're as good as fucked, unless we sit tight, collect ourselves, rest and be ready for anything. I want out of here as bad as you do, but this Brund fella has given us the break we needed. These things... elves. They're not coming out while he's down here."
"Four hours, that's it," said Daric. Maori nodded, and commanded the bug to turn into a nearby stone quarters that was small enough to have only one compartment to it. Daric's eyes gazed upwards at the overpassing mushrooms, their hanging tendril growths reaching out to him, intent to take him away, swaying in the air, a jellyfish deep at sea.
Fitting then, as sinking deeper and deeper beneath a dark sea was exactly how he felt things were going. Sitting at the entrance, Daric marveled at how quickly the elf fell into a trance, cuddled up with the thing that wanted to eat him not too long ago. Relatively speaking.
The walls, and the complexity of the layout gave him some peace of mind. And as the adrenaline settled, so did his mind, making the scared child with the burden of men finally succumb to his weariness in the dark.
"Drem, Yol, Lok!" cried Paarthurnax, with a mighty roar beset in flame. Flame so strong, it knocked Baldur on his ass, leaving him sitting in a puddle of melted snow. Paarthurnax did it on purpose, he was sure. Somehow the old dovah took great pleasure in randomly setting him on fire, knocking him over. And this was the leader of the pacifist tongues?
Bellowing something that resembled laughter, Paarthurnax said, "Your thu'um is strong, your fire burns bright! Oh how it pleases me to be able to share Tiinvaak with someone new again! Yes, it brings life to these old bones!"
Baldur slowly sat up, brushing the snow out of his wool robes and beard. This was a daily occurrence but every time, Paarthurnax flew in from somewhere different as he walked up the pathway to the throat of the world. The air here was thinner, much thinner than what he was used to. Shouting, even normal speaking would be difficult here.
Even so, Baldur echoed a question to his elderly tormentor in his ancient tongue, before collapsing to the ground to catch his breath.
"Ahhh, a fine question, my Ashen companion. Jurgen Windcaller, I remember him well. Come, come closer so that you can hear me clearly. I sense suspicion in your thu'um, and as always, man is wise to distrust a Dovah, just as Dovah are wise to distrust the Joor. Mortals."
Baldur sat up after recovering his breath, sitting criss-crossed in the snow. The question he echoed roughly translated to "Jurgen. Elderly Dragon. Your doing?" With all the effort it took to echo a simple question and series of words up here, Baldur came to understand just how powerful Paarthurnax truly was, especially in comparison to himself. It was humbling, but more than that it was maddening. He was a flake of snow in the wind, wind created by a gust from his wings. The thought angered Baldur to no end. He planned to stay atop this mountain for the remainder of his stay, day and night until his strength grew. Even if it meant suffering the Tinvaak of this old dragon the entire time....
"It was a long time from now, in your eyes. A time where the Joor still spoke with the power of the voice, the Thu'um. All around the mountain, I could feel their voices. Bellowing out, sending color of emotions through the sky. Usually red. In the distance, to the east, I felt a new color arise, heard the Joor speak a new shade, this one grey. A color of defeat in a time of much strife in this land. Two wars had begun to consume your people. None of this concerned an old Dovah such as myself, I was alone and reflected only on what had concerned me, my past."
Baldur's expression lightened suddenly and Paarthurnax nudged him with a wing. "You look as though you wished to speak. But your voice is burdened with too much effort. This thu'um you wish to learn. You do not understand how it works, do you?"
Baldur looked frustrated, then shook his head.
"It relies on intrinsic understanding. It is a shout of my own creation, the one I used to teach the Joor long ago. Language, to communicate, relies on the relation of feeling, memories. And to associate them in new patterns, groupings, labels. This shout speaks to the mind, pulls thought that already is within, and brings them to the surface, forcing the one at the receiving end to think of what the speaker does, with their own associations. Tinvaak, manipulates those around you the same way the voice does the world. Every time we speak, we are bringing thought forward."
Baldur didn't seem to understand what the Dragon was saying. He got the concept, but he didn't see how it helped him.
"Arngeir has been using this shout on you, and you've been using this shout enough that words from my tongue should be within your mind already. A cipher. Think, Joor. And pull them out."
Baldur still seemed puzzled, but he tried what he was told anyway, closing his eyes to concentrate. Nothing came to mind however despite what Paarthurnax suggested. Frustrated, Baldur wrote in the snow what he was trying to say. It read "The wars of which you are speaking of, they remind me of today."
Paarthurnax's throat let out noises that resembled laughter once again. Confused and agitated, Baldur bellowed out an angry battlecry that made the snowfall leave them for a second. Not being able to speak was so unbelievably frustrating. For him, a bard, it was like having an itch he couldn’t scratch.
"You have eyes to see, but still you don't. Bex Hi Hahdrim."
Baldur wanted to say he was trying, and then suddenly realized that he understood what Paarthurnax had said. He didn't know what the individual words meant, but he understood its meaning. He looked down then at what he wrote in the snow, just before the snowfall returned and made it fade away.
It was in draconic.
"Now you see. This is the shout that brought power to your kin. Those that did not worship the Dov, and those that did. This is how your kind discovered kin of our own in their form. Dovahkiin. They quickly learned our tongue with the help of this shout."
Baldur eyed him curiously and tried to speak in the tongue, but again nothing came to mind. More time was needed, evidently.
"Meditate further and it will come. You Nords are Venkiin. Believe yourselves born of wind. That makes it easier to teach you. This was the same for Jurgen, who already knew much of the Thu'um when he finally made it atop High Hrothgar. I was surprised, as was he."
Baldur sighed, glad that the Dragon knew to get back on topic all on his own.
"Jurgen began debating with me furiously, and it wasn't until the next day as he was still initiating Tinvaak that I realized he was trying to kill me rather than talk. I unleashed my thu'um then and left him humbled. Curiously, he then spoke of the gods and said they must've brought him here to learn. And so he stayed, listening to me and learning of my way of the voice."
Baldur stood then and pointed a finger at him. His face warped with anger, he continued pointing his finger at the dragon as he said Yol in his direction.
"Pruzah," said Paarthurnax as Baldur began coughing after saying merely one word. "This is a perfect example of why Jurgen spread my way of the voice. Why the Dovah became lost, and why your people soon followed. You overuse your voice, wastefully, even moreso than we. You Joor, you do not know restraint as we do. If the Dovah used the voice as wastefully as you Bron, Nords, the world would have flooded over eras ago. You were right to suspect me of helping Jurgen subdue his people. I gave your ancestors, those that fought the dragon cult the voice. It was mine to take back once more."
"KAAN OFAN BRON THU'UM!" Cried Baldur.
"Perhaps, perhaps not. But your Kyne also did not prevent your defeat. She did not prevent the Dov's either. Our doom, our own doing. As will yours be, if you continue your path. Curious, you do not seem to realize why Arngeir has decided to help. You do not sense the rising power in the west. It is an old power, one I recognize. It is your duty to study our way of the voice. To teach your people restraint. If you do not, the other power will consume them just as it did in the past. Keizaal is giving rise to power of old, and being lead like a snake with two heads. One must be cut, the one that is blinded by rage. But I cannot see which that is at the moment..."
Baldur knew what he spoke of. Brund.
"Despite what you might think, I did not force Jurgen Windcaller into my way of the voice. I only made him hear it. It was his decision to agree with it once heard. And it will be your decision as well, but if you are going to stay here, you WILL hear it, just as my kin will. The voice is spreading across the land once more by forces unknown. It is up to you and this other, how it will color Keizaal's skies."
"Interesting conversation, the parts I could understand, at least.”
"Who is that?" said Paarthurnax. “Another guest come to seek Tinvaak?"
Baldur bolted up in surprise. He didn't see anyone at first, but then an old robed man came forward, walking out of the snowy mist. His hair was short, dark grey. His eyes bright icy blue, and his face covered in a deep poorly healed scar of what certainly was a mortal wound. His beard was short and neat, and beneath his robe was a red armored kilt with the drake insignia of the Empire.
"It's been a long, long time, my son. Too long."
Daric's eyes cracked open ever so slightly, before bolting open as he rushed towards the elf. "Maori...Maori!" he said, whispering low and daring not to make a noise louder than that. Maori's snores threatened to give away their position already.
"Huh? I'm up, I'm..."
"Yoooohoooo....." called Brund again, though they couldn't tell from where the voice was coming from. The underground chasm seemed to be making his voice echo from all directions. But this hardly sounded natural.
The strange Nord known as the priest was channeling a spell through Brund, surrounding him in a green aura as he kept speaking. "I know you're here, boys... our guide here took us straight to you..." Brund pulled on a chain in his hand attached to one of the monstrosities that passed as a snow elf nowadays. "Come to me, or we'll come to you. Now! No? Fine then."
At that moment, Brund released a cry from his throat that both Maori and Daric would have sworn was a thu'um, but this was an ordinary cry. And yet, it was enough to make the hiding Falmer scatter like cockroaches. They had no idea what was going on, no time to prepare. Before they knew it, the elves were crowding into every Dwemer dwelling, crowding the streets. They panicked, slashing at the first creature they saw, forced then to run amidst the chaos.
Brund grew tired of waiting, and began shooting boulders at the stone houses, gathering gravel into his mouth like a hamster, or a frog with a large fresh kill. “FUS, GOL STRUNMAH!”
As buildings collapsed, one after another, Maori pulled on the boy again, pointing upwards to a case of stairs. There was an elven mage atop the staircase blocking their way, along with a dozen other falmer trying to rush past the creature. It blasted them back with fire again and again, angered with their cowardice perhaps? It didn't matter. One arrow to its head and the crowd overcame her, Daric and Maori amongst them.
Before they could reach the top however, a large boulder fell before them, trapping them off from the rest of the way. They turned around slowly...
"Here, kitty kitty," said Brund with a grin on his face, twisted and showing off his crooked yellowed teeth.
Daric drew his blade. "Jarl Hammer-Fang."
Brund pushed the priest aside and said, "You know what they say, boys. It’s better to burn out… hahahahaha! The two rats are mine. Priest, go get the Thonar and the others.."
"Hello there," said someone from the dark of Black Reach. Brund's head turned sharply, eyes searching for the owner. Frowning, he said, "Bardok."
Bardok came forward, with a necklace of elven ears, and a blade freshly bloodied. His wild long mohawk hang over his shoulders, which he brushed aside, pushing it behind the fur collar of his Nordic Carved armor.
"The one and only. You two are hard to find. Hows it going?"
"How in the hell did you find us?" said Maori.
"It wasn't too hard, all I had to do was follow the bodies. I was already looking for a way in the city through here, I've been following you two for a time. Stopped by Solitude, they said you snuck off after getting yourselves almost killed by Falmer. Figured some of them may have had your scent still. I was worried you might have gotten into some trouble if you’d been stupid enough to come through these parts."
“That’s not why we’re down here, and the Falmer were the least of our troubles." Maori pointed a finger at the grinning Brund.
Daric interrupted and said, "Brund's got Forsworn slaves under the palace floor attached to the mines, he's using them as leverage to get the Silver-Bloods to stand against Baldur! They're gonna try and kill him!”
“He’s got Forsworn slaves under the palace floor? What? I don’t understand what you’re talking about but we’ll get to it later.. Don't worry, you'll be able to tell this to Baldur in person. I'm your backup."
"Priest, handle it."
"Hahahahaha, with pleasure!"
"Run!" said Bardok. "I'll kill this freak, and then I'll kill Brund, but you gotta run for now!"
Brund turned his head to Bardok, cocked sideways. "You'll do what now? For that, after I kill the brats, I'll kill you slow. In fact, I won't kill you at all. You'll be my slave!"
Bardok lifted his greatsword to his shoulders and said, "Try it."
When he did, the ground around him shook and gave away as shifting undead arose to the surface, all wearing blue sashes of the Stormcloaks. The priest grinned with glee as he watched the look on Bardok's face. "Go Brund, get them! I'll kill this one."
"You... what have you done to our brothers?"
The Priest rubbed his hands with delight as his fingers began channeling various spells over his minions.
"Their souls are in Sovngarde. But their bodies belong to me. These are all that remain of my berserkers who have died in battle. They served me well in life... but they'll serve me more in death. Observe."
Bardok prepared himself as the first skeletal thing, blonde beard still in tact charged him with a roar, while three more came from behind. Something grabbed his feet from below before the head of a man missing an eye popped out, laughing as Brund watched, satisfied the situation was handled.
"Now, where was I."
Daric and Maori were gone, but Brund could hear their footsteps. Brund smiled, knowing all they were doing was exhausting themselves.
Daric knew it too, as did Maori, but what they also knew was they couldn't win against the Jarl of Markarth. Running was their only option. They ran down another flight of stairs, turning sharply to climb to another level of the area near a waterfall and a cluster of red noisy plants that resembled what Daric thought might be Nirnroot.
They used these to get the grip they needed as they scrambled up. They heard thuds against the stone walls below, as if Brund was trying to make the whole thing drop. But when they got to the top, a large Dwemer watchtower with a massive Dwemer construct at its center suddenly collapsed on itself before them, the top of the tower pointing directly at them both.
Brund marched over its remains, his helmet containing a chaurus maw that made him resemble a dremora in the shadows, and Alfrvega in hand as he brushed the dust of recently devoured earth from his chin.
After clearing his throat, Brund said, "Now, who's first?"
Bardok jabbed his blade in the direction of the three approaching undead behind him, impaling two of them as the third slashed at his armored back. With his hands free, he grasped the man's head by the eyeless socket, crushing his skull with an explosion of dust and bone bits.
The thing behind him gave him a boot in the ass, sending him to the ground in push up position before jabbing downwards towards the back of his exposed neck while more undead closed in. He tilted his head to the side, spun to his back, and kicked its head clean off before jumping back to his feet.
As he evaded, he crushed the exposed necks of any shamblers that got close, but he couldn't evade all, letting his armor take up most of the abuse. As the priest expected. He was using old magic on Bardok, weakening the integrity of his Nordic carved armor, rusting it slowly as the Nord fought. Before he knew it, his plated mail was chipping away, and the undead Stormcloaks he impaled, the great sword stuck in their tough rigor mortis ridden hides were standing behind the crowd that pushed harder and harder to reach their singular target.
Meanwhile the priest continued to channel his magic as he cut and slashed amongst his slaves, diving away to avoid Bardok's powerful hands. Every time Bardok turned, he saw the Priest’s wild eyes peering through him, waiting for an opening. It was unnatural… crazy… was the Priest in his head?
Finally Bardok's armor clasps gave away and the entire thing fell to the ground, snapping a dazed Bardok out of whatever trance or train of thought he was stuck in. Seeing his chance, the priest had the creatures try and tackle the Grim One, the first of the lot being knocked away by his large fists, and then grasping at his legs.
"Haha, die! Then serve me!" cried the Priest as he took a sword from one of the dead Stormcloaks. Charging with his blade pointing at Bardok's heart, the Priest's was crying with glee as blood splattered across his face.
But it was not Bardok's blood.
The Priest was still laughing even as the Daedric greatsword continued to solidify through his ribs. He inched closer, and closer still, reaching in a pouch on his waist before drinking a mixture containing skooma.
"What in the **** are you?" said Bardok, disgusted by the display. "What do you even gain from helping Brund?"
"A god," said the Priest. "My clan was born in the bowels of the Reach. A mix of Roscrean and Nord, and enslaved Reachmen wenches! We know of things the rest of Skyrim doesn't. Brund? Baldur? They are like Masser and Secunda. Body and mind, split. Space and Time. Two halves of a whole. You think it coincidence that they rose to power at the same time? Think it coincidence Brund stumbled upon these abilities of his?"
Bardok shook his head, not sure what the man was going on about. Humoring him anyway for more information he said, "And just how did Brund stumble across his power? Who trained him in the Thu'um?"
"I do not yet fully understand the how, the who. I only know that she is old, and that Brund was drawn to her, destined to seek power because of what he is. Just as your Jarl and mine are destined to fight, and become one in the process. They always have been! I've seen it in the Sithis Shaped Hole! Padomay, Anu! Lorkhan, Auri-el! Sheogorath, Jyggalag! Wulfharth, Zurin! Talos, Emperor Zero! Even the First and Last Dragonborn! This fight will happen, and Brund is destined to be the victor! I made sure of it! He-..."
"He what? What did you do?" Bardok wouldn't get an answer however. The Priest's ramblings fell dead in his mouth, his defiled Stormcloak draugr gone, and the Priest fell to his knees.
Bardok placed his boot on the corpse of the two he stabbed earlier, yanking his blade free as he listened for fighting, or running. He heard footsteps but there were too many to be Daric and the elf.
He heard yelling. "Over there! Someone's fighting!"
"Reinforcements," said Bardok frowning. He ran in the opposite direction, hoping that he'd get to Daric and Maori in time to help them with Brund. But more footsteps came in that direction as well. He saw no torches, but he knew that there were men, actual men running around in Blackreach. If he was going to save the elf and Daric, he’d have to draw Nordic blood.
The sound of men searching grew to the sound of men charging. Bardok looked up at the chandelier holding a magical orb of light above them, summoned a spear to his hands and chucked it high. As the Markarth guards grew closer, the lights suddenly went out, and all that was left in the immediate area was the glow of mushroom.
Chaos ensued immediately, as the sounds of rending flesh and men trampling over one another filled the dank thick air. Some of them killed their own by accident, thinking they must’ve been Falmer, or the Nord they saw. It didn’t matter. Many would die, but not one of the bodies that littered the ground belonged to Bardok, not even the blood.
Maori had faced many enemies in his day. Mages, monsters, Thalmor, even bizarre nightmarish creatures in the bowels of Valenwood, birthed from the Wild Hunt itself. None could claim to match the brutish nature of Brund, or the level of lethal that he could. He used no thu'um as they fought, and to Daric's credit, he distracted the man enough that Maori placed three well placed shots between the thick insect plate armor Brund was wearing, and if anything it seemed to make him fight more fiercely.
Daric didn't dare try deflecting any of Brund's blows. The pendulum swings of the weapon he called Alfrvega were slow, it was pointless to do so. And yet every time Daric attempted to close in with his twin swords, there it was again, threatening to split him in two. This time Daric fell to his back, ducking under Alfrvega, only to receive Brund's large boot crashing into his gut. The wind flew out of him so hard, Brund could smell his breath and feel his spittle.
"You know what this name means? Elf Killer. When I cut you in two, I'll separate the elven part of you, and maybe, just maybe it'll be enough for Shor to receive you in Sovngarde. If so, I'll be able to tell you all about how I killed Baldur. When I claim that throne too!”
"You talk too much, oaf!" said Maori. Before Brund could react, a giant Chaurus broke through the Earth from under his feet, freeing the Breton boy and leaving Brund to fend for himself.
It was very short lived. Brund severed a leg from the thing's body, making it fall forward in the perfect position for Brund to split its head open with Alfrvega. It started to shake and spasm out of control, and suddenly the air was alive with a sound that resembled rain. The chaurus as it died, even with its head split open must've called out to its kind for help, because Brund was soon surrounded by a mass of smaller chaurus in all directions, popping out of the ground around him, and sounding like running water beneath his boots.
Brund dropped Alfrvega to the ground, stomped repeatedly while screaming. His thu'um was strong, as strong as when the Thalmor reached Windhelm, and though blood fell from his nose, and oozed out from under his wounded briarheart, he seemed otherwise unhindered as he caused the very earthbones of Blackreach to tremble beneath the weight of his power. The insects, confused and unable to move properly ran around in chaos until the shaking finally ceased, and they ran away. Daric managed to climb the tendrils of a hanging mushroom, which he used to swing towards Brund and slash at his head.
Brund's head tilted, dodging the blow before yelling in Daric's direction. No thu'um came, but it was enough to paralyze him. A Nord’s battlecry was intimidating as it was already. Brund’s pierced every inch of his senses. "Heh, what's wrong boy? You afraid? I can't blame you. You feel my power, and it is too much for you to bear."
"Snap out of it, Daric!" said Maori. He shot three more arrows in Brund's direction, but they only made contact with stone as Brund sent a boulder his way. He almost avoided it, but the top of his head brushed with it, knocking him out cold, possibly killing him. Daric still stood, shaking again.
"Pathetic. I'll tell Baldur of your cowardice just before I kill him too!"
Daric's mind was in another place as the words went through his head. The last time he was so afraid, was when he and Baldur were alone. Fighting.
Daric had argued, begged to Baldur to let him undergo the Grim Trials. Naturally, Baldur refused, for the longest time. It was certain death, he told him, for any boy to undergo them. Men with the strength of three Nords, with far more battle experience had died during the trials.
Daric wouldn't hear it. So he disguised himself. He was short, even if tall for a Breton boy, there was no hiding that. But he did find a few powerful illusion scrolls in his campaigns against the forsworn, enough that he could make himself look like a grown man. And so he did.
He regretted it almost immediately. The cold of the water was bad enough. He'd lost two of his toes to frostbite on the second week. His body was riddled in fresh scars from the blows of Nord adventurers and soldiers in the fights, one of which Baldur decided to jump in. Said he saw something in him, and wanted to see what he was made of.
Daric thought he knew who he was, but it wasn't the case. It was only on that day that he knew just what it meant to be on the opposite end of Baldur's axes when he was serious. Baldur truly did not treat these duels they had as sparring matches. Baldur was trying to kill him. And he would have too, as Daric froze up just like he had now, and almost lost his head. If the illusion spell from the scroll didn't fade away at that very moment, Baldur would have killed his own apprentice.
He was beyond furious. He wanted to kill Daric anyway, as he once again laid on the infirmary bed of Kyne's Watch. But, Daric survived longer than he'd have ever expected him to. In fact, Baldur wondered if he wouldn't have gotten to the end, if not for his interference. He wouldn't know, not then. When Daric woke up from his coma after all the trauma, Baldur taught him something that just might save his life.
And as the blood dripped out of his hand, a self inflicted wound, he repeated his words. “If a man is stricken with so much fear that his body betrays him, pain can help him overcome it.”
"Not bad, boy," said Brund. Touching his cheek to see how deep the cut was, he realized he could almost stick his finger through it. Daric managed to sidestep Alfrvega, and almost took Brund's head clean off, if not for Brund's instincts. Smiling, Brund said, "You're full of surprises. Something in you changed."
Daric felt that way too. He didn't know what it was, but he could feel it. His skin tingled, his vision blurred red, his hearing dulled. All he could see was Brund, and the image of him dead in his head. He charged Brund with both blades in his hand. Brund swung Alfrvega in his direction once more, and Daric fell to his back. This time however when Brund tried to stomp him into the dirt, Daric's boot made contact with his groin, then his hands, causing Brund to drop his weapon.
Brund punched Daric in his stomach so hard, he dropped his blades, but Daric gave the Nord two punches of his own, sending one of his teeth flying out of his mouth. Daric grabbed Brund by the throat, and gave a roar that pierced Brund's ears so fiercely that he mistook it for the cry of a Nord. Daric's forehead hit Brund in the bridge if his nose again, and again, and again until his blood stung the boy's eyes and blinded him. He wiped his eyes, left Brund bloodied a moment and grabbed his dropped sword, bringing it high above his head before savagely hacking away at him. Brund put up his arms, blocking the blows as best he could. Tears flowed from his eyes as Daric continued his mad onslaught.
"ENOUGH!!!!" said Brund, as his armored arm collided with Daric's sword, knocking it away into the dark of Blackreach. Daric lost his sword, but Brund lost a finger, his pinky. Seeing it lie in the blue light of the large cave's mushrooms made Brund laugh with delight. He charged Daric, ignoring the blade he swung at him, grabbing the boy's head as he tried to crush it like a grape.
Daric couldn't even yell, the force of it overwhelming every sense he had with complete agony.
"Put him down!"
Brund turned his head. It was Bardok. "Come on you freak. Face a real Nord, and put the boy down. Though between you and me, I think that boy's got more Nord in him than you do."
"More Nord than... than me?" said Brund. He dropped Daric like a rock, and from where Bardok stood, he looked dead already. Biting his lip, he looked around for the elf. Maori was out too.
"More Nord... than ME? Me? Do you not see what the **** I see? I make these things, these twisted elves, that Nords tell stories about to their children to scare them from adventuring in the woods, run like freshly fucked tavern wenches. I make the ground tremble when I roar. Motherfucker, I am the, most Nordic thing you've EVER seen."
"Oh I see it. I see a milkdrinker that borrows power from someone, something else and calls it his own."
"Borrows? You think what these elves fear is my thu'um? Ha! I come down here to exercise. I hunt, I kill with my own two hands. My hands and Alfrvega here. And this thu'um? I took it. I not only took it, I've harnessed it, made it my own. It's now better in my hands. I'll prove it to you in the end. Show you what I mean."
Brund turned to Daric then, reaching for his blue sash.
"Leave him be!" said Bardok.
"Be quiet, I'm proving a point. To show you just how wrong you are, I'm going to gag myself. I won't use my thu'um when I take you apart. But after I'm done, and you're on the ground, broken. Then, I'll show you something I haven't shown anyone yet. Not even the Priest."
Bardok smiled, not bothering to hide it. "The Priest won't ever see it then, because I killed him already."
"Hmph, is that what you think? Cute. You see, the Priest, when I first met him? He was already dead. My thu'um, and my thu'um alone is the reason he lives. Or at least, walks among us anyway. I found his lifeless body in a Forsworn crypt, remarkably preserved, thanks to one of these...."
Brund removed his breastplate, revealing the metal infused with his skin. Normally you couldn't see past it, but now it was glowing. As it did, the blue light of the mushrooms around them grew dim, and dark.
"All it took was energy to revitalize him. That's all it'll take again. He's my servant, for eternity. As you'll be, once I'm done making you my bitch."
"If that's the case, then shut the **** up and gag yourself already. Or I will. I'll kill you and make sure neither of you come back."
Brund opened his mouth to speak, but thought better of it. Instead, he did what he said he would. He tied his mouth closed, he even dropped Alfrvega at his feet, and walked forward to face Bardok, the man that almost bested Baldur at the Grim Trials.
"You're gonna face me without a weapon? Heh, fine then." Bardok summoned a spear from Oblivion to his hands, chucking them both at the same time in Brund's direction. Brund caught the first, but it dissipated when he claimed ownership of it. The second cut his shoulder, which he ignored, and two more spears came flying towards his eyesockets, one actually cutting the gag and making the cloth fall from his face.
Seeing his trick, Brund was ready, charging Bardok and evading the other spear throws well enough to close the distance. Bardok's greatsword was in his hands before he could blink, already between him and his enemy, reaching for his exposed ribs.
Brund sidestepped it, his hands reaching for Bardok's throat. Bardok knocked Brund in the chin with his sword hilt before slicing downwards. Brund knocked the blade aside with his gauntlet covered fists, then sent two quick punches deep into Bardok's ribs. Bardok countered with two of his own with one fist, and a one handed strike that was surprisingly quick, quick enough to put a cut on Brund's forehead. This continued for another ten seconds, both landing hits hard enough to crack bone, and possibly having already done so. But every wound Brund sustained seemed to make him fight harder, and stranger, he seemed to like it...
Brund left his left side open, and Bardok capitalized, jabbing his blade towards Brund's shoulder blade. Brund sidestepped again, punching downwards and knocking the blade down before sending a skull cracking shot into Bardok's left eye. Staggered, Bardok danced away on his feet, fists at the ready. Brund was laughing hysterically at the man's pain.
"All that talk, all that talk, show me!"
"As you wish!" As Brund charged Bardok again, Bardok placed a foot over his sword's hilt while his other foot went under the blade, kicking the sword up in the air, before catching it in his hands and swinging it all in one fluid motion that would have cut Brund almost in half. Brund didn't evade this time. In fact, he was waiting for a moment like this.
Brund ducked down to one knee, in the perfect position for Bardok to take his head off. Instead, Brund's armored fist met directly with his sword, cracking the blade in two. Before Bardok knew what happened, Brund's boot was at Bardok's chest, sending him crashing into the dirt.
Brund lifted his boot to stomp Bardok's ribs in, but Bardok's hand caught it every time. This time Brund leapt in the air and sent two boots crashing down into them both. Bardok took the broken blade and jabbed it in Brund's leg, making the mighty Brund collapse to the ground. Bardok painfully crawled over him, holding his throat as he attempted to pound Brund's face into gravel. He was three punches in before Brund's hands went around his skull, trying to gouge his eyes out.
Bardok struggled for a time, then bit one of his thumbs before he began devastating Brund's face some more. Brund may have been strong, but he wasn’t smiling or amused after those hits. One of them made him think Bardok busted his left eye. He heard a sick crack and could no longer see out of it.
Brund was dazed, and could only see red in his good and bad eye as he let out a cry so loud it made Bardok hesitate for half a second. That's all it took. Brund's hand grabbed Bardok's throat, crushing it as he pulled Bardok down to the side and did some pummeling of his own. His knees rested over Bardok's arms, and he could do nothing but take the full brunt of it.
Until a tiny ball of elf came tackling him out of nowhere. Maori finally woke up, and he was apparently hungry because he started taking actual chunks out of Brund as the two tussled. "Go! Take the kid and go! Gah!"
"******* elves! **** OFF!" said Brund as he tossed Maori into a stalagmite so hard that it crumbled away to nothing, leaving but a pile of rubble and one Maori beneath it.
"Grrr.... that's IIIIITTTT!!!! EVERYONE DIES!"
"No elf, you go! Take this scroll, and leave! My orders were to make sure you two make it out of here, and that's what I'm going to do."
Bardok tossed the parchment in the air as Maori struggled to get from under it...
"No one is making it anywhere!" said Brund, who moved to intercept it. An arrow pierced it, shooting it out of his grasp. As he spoke, the earth began to shake. Brund charged Bardok, slamming a rock in his face that put him on his back. Maori ran for Daric's still form, and pulled open the scroll.
Brund, eyes wild and enraged turned back to Bardok who was still moving even after everything. Brund gripped his arms, lifting Bardok up to his feet, though he was too weak to do anything but laugh.
"I win," he said.
"No, I win. You think this changes anything? It changes nothing. They don't know half of what I can do, but you will know it first hand. Watch closely, elf. This is what awaits your Jarl, and you.”
Bardok was still laughing, until his very skin radiated with an indescribable pain. It was as if Brund found a way to physically tear apart each and every cell in Bardok’s body.. Brund opened his mouth and cried, “Fus Gol Strunmah, Fus Gol Strunmah, Fus Gol Strunmah, Dinok Wuth Zah, Zaami! Fus Gol Strunmah, Fus Gol Strunmah, Dinok Wuth Zah, Zaami!” His strength left his arms, as his body turned frail. As Bardok began to age, Brund's body began to heal, glowing in a faint green.
Bardok watched as black smoke from Brund's mouth continued to pour over him like volcanic ash. And then, it stopped. "What... have you done to me... you...******* khajiiti ***** licker.”
Cracking his neck and fingers, including his newly formed pinky, Brund said, "I did what I said I would. Made you my bitch."
The Priest's laughter filled Bardok's head as he came walking out of the shadows, his chest glowing like Brund's, his heart exposed for him to see. "He did to you what Lord Lorkhan did to the gods, made you close to the bones of the Earth. Marvelous! So, that, is Brund's thu'um huh… his true thu’um. He controls earth bones, harnesses natural energy. He can even absorb your natural energy, and revert you to earthbones, make you crumble into dust if he wanted. Lucky for you he stopped. Death may have been preferable, however.”
“A perfect thu'um for a Briarheart. This is why I cannot lose. I am a walking god. And you, are Brund’s slave." Bardok and Maori both noticed the use of his own name as though he were talking about someone else.
"The time of demon cheiftains has returned! Power resonates in the blood of mine ancestors! I feel them talking to me! And the voices of the dead gods of the earth! You will serve me! But don't worry, you'll be able to see your Jarl. I'll make sure you're there to watch him die."
Bardok could do nothing but scream in fury and anger as the earth swallowed him whole. When he next woke, he was somewhere dark, surrounded by the pained voices of Brund's other victims. Bardok was now amongst Brund's slave army of Markarth, in Cidhna Mine.
Maori had seen enough. When Brund’s eyes set on them, Daric said, “We’re dead. Kill me, kill me now before he does that to me too. I won’t be a slave.”
“No one’s enslaving anyone yet, kid. Just hold on.”
“Only because I’d rather you both die, actually,” said Brund. “Fus Gol STRUNMAH!!!”
And as he spoke, the earth began to shake. Maori pulled open the scroll. Earth began to come at him in multiple directions as he read the scroll, and before Brund turned them into a red paste, the two disappeared in a flash of purple. They were gone.
"That's about the greeting that I expected," said Ulrin, gritting his teeth. A fireball the size of a cabin consumed the icy ground it traveled over as it grew closer and closer. Ulrin drew his blade, a splendid one sided wonder the color of Septim gold.
Ulrin struck the mound of flame with this sword, causing it to dissipate instantly, revealing his son amongst it, eyes full of so much hatred that they were bloodshot. His axe, hidden in his cloak appeared, and the two clashed once again for the first time in years. Ulrin fought defensively in the legion style, letting Baldur's fury reveal his movements, then capitalized, striking at his blindspot after working his way behind him.
Baldur was no longer in striking range, knowing his father's tricks, and now having the skill to evade them. Ulrin smiled in surprise as his son matched his wit, and the two continued like that for a time, not striking anything, unable to gain any quarter.
"You nearly killed me once, I'm not going to allow it again, my boy."
Baldur said nothing as the two stared at one another.
"My how you've grown. You know, I was under the impression that this would be the one place I could talk to you, given how the Greybeards are about peace and so on. You beat me once. Why can't you now? Why don't you speak?"
Baldur seemed as though he was reflecting on his words, but clearly he soon dismissed them.
Sighing, Ulrin took a look around the mountain, leaving his back exposed...
Baldur saw his moment to strike, but heard the echoes of the Greybeards in his mind...
"Ahh, I see it! The tear."
"Drem Yol Lok, stranger, greetings. You stand before the Time Wound. Tread carefully."
“Of course, of course. I just wanted to see it for myself, while I’m here. How incredible… Baldur, what do you think about… Son?”
Baldur kept staring at him with the same hateful eyes as before, but no words came, none that Ulrin could understand.
“I don’t understand… I’d heard communication might be difficult. My Lord mentioned as much. But this is… Dragon? Paarthysnacks was it?”
“Paarthurnax. Drem Yol Lok, traveller. The Ashen One is under training. He won’t speak to you unless it is through the thu’um, voice.”
“Pfft. I can see now that we’re going to need to have this conversation…. Elsewhere. But on such short notice… hmm, I don’t know if I can pull that off… Hmm…”
“The Ashen One says…”
“Wait… I understood that… I don’t know how, but I did,” said Ulrin. “How did I get past the wind gates, he said. Simple, boy. I climbed.” Baldur was visibly impressed but immediately hid it. He tried the shout once more, again with laboured breath.
“Don’t stress yourself about it, you’ll see soon. Sit down, relax, stop trying to kill me, and… that… that ring, is it… where did you get this?” asked Ulrin, walking up to Baldur and snatching the ring from his finger.
Baldur reached for his collar as his father paced away. “You even know what this is? Ring of Malacath on my boy’s finger? Bah! But this, this is a good thing. Maybe it was even meant to be this way… lets see…”
Ulrin got on his knees, as though praying, chanting daedric while drawing a circle and diagrams in the snow around Baldur’s ring he obtained from the old Orc in the woods. Paarthurnax to Baldur’s amusement lost interest and dosed off. He thought Dragons didn’t even sleep before he stepped on this mountain, but Paarthurnax slept more than newborn babes when talking was no longer the activity of the hour.
He eventually snapped out of his nap when Baldur’s ring literally exploded before them.
“My lady speaks!” said Ulrin. “Prepare yourself.”
What happened next, Baldur was unsure of. He remembered his head landing face first in the snow, then everything growing black… Then he was in a forest, surrounded by monstrosities he was sure he’d seen before. Then, he was falling in the sky, before a giant Hawk grabbed him by the talons. A snake with its mouth agape remained below.
“I’m dreaming. I must be dreaming. I remember this dream! In… Hammerfell? I was falling, and Kyne saved me… She-”
As he spoke, the Hawk suddenly was struck by lightning, releasing Baldur, where he was forced to watch as he fell towards the maw of the snake, licking its non existent lips, eyes cold as Baldur screamed the entire way down….
What in the... **** is going on??
Baldur was sleeping... for... gods, who knew how long. What woke him was the tickle of ash falling on his cheek. When his eyes opened, the smell of sulfur and smoke, and... burning flesh filled his nostrils.
"Stand. Speak. The Greybeard's hold on you won't work in this place."
"What hold?" said Baldur, holding his aching head.
"What, did you not notice that you could speak?" asked Ulrin.
"I already could speak," said Baldur. "But thanks for dragging me to hell anyway, it's a fitting location for your new grave. Where in Oblivion are we, and how do I get back!?"
Ulrin said, "Heh, you broke their hold on your own. So you not talking..."
"I don't want them to know, and this method of theirs for growing in the thu'um, I want to learn it. I will learn as much as I can from them, and take it with me. It did make talking difficult though, but they’re slowly losing their hold over me. Now, why have you dragged me here? How are you alive?"
"This is, Bo-Eth-Ia. I am his...her.... Servant. This has been my home for years since the day I… died.. You... all that I've put you through, every hardship you endured as a child, every cruelty, I did it to make you strong, in the ways of Boethiah. This sword... it's for you. Great betrayer. I know you killed your King. She knows, and she is pleased."
Baldur spat in his face. "You... you know nothing! Know nothing about me or what I've done!"
"But son, I do! I've been turning you towards this path ever since you were born. This sword, I've been holding it since after the days of the Great War. It played a role then, and aches to play a role in the next. Your mother, did she ever tell you what she saw? Her dream of a snake crawling over you as a baby? You were chosen, to be one of her champions! You have any idea what an honor that is? What warrior also holds such prestige?”
"**** your prestige," said Baldur. "You... milkdrinking, treacherous cur. You let a Daedra have her hands in my upbringing. Do you know what that might mean? I could’ve… what if I did what I did at the whim of a Daedra Lord? Is that what happened? TELL ME!"
Ulrin stepped closer, holding out the sheathed sword in front of him. "I did. But Boethiah would not make you take any course. That would not interest her. You are like this already. It is your nature. You are always at odds with your fatherly figures in one way or another. Perhaps that's common for some but few can claim to have tried to kill two of them. Why do you think that is, boy? You’re special. You, are Shezzarine. This blade, it was forged in dragonfire. It suits you, and the task before you."
"My task..." said Baldur. “Shezzarine.”
"Yes," said Ulrin. "And I know about that too. And it delights Boethiah to no end. The treachery, the betrayal. To everyone. Even your own men... It mirrors Lorkhan perfectly. The Empire, the Bretons, they'll all come fighting willingly at your side. But none will know what is in store for them in the bowels of Valenwood. Many will die, including you, unless you have an advantage. This sword, is your advantage. Do this task in her name, and she will grant you knowledge of Shor. You will be a Priest of Lorkhan!"
"You mean a Priest of Boethiah. Her servant. Her slave, in death. I will not do it, I don't need your crutch."
"Don't be stupid! Listen to me, this is your destiny!"
"No! My destiny is my own to unfurl. I will decide how things go. Take that sword and shove it up your ass."
"If not for yourself, then do it for my grandchild."
Baldur's eyes looked up sharply. "Your grandchild, is none of your concern."
"But she is. You want her to grow up without a father? Or with another man raising her in your stead? That woman, Rebec, she is strong. She's not the eternal mourning type. She'll remarry more than likely, whether she wants to or not, or shack up with some other man, or men. She's just like your mother..."
Now Baldur did take the sword. It was at Ulrin's neck before he could utter another word. Laughing Ulrin said, "See? You're drawn to it. You want it, it belongs to you."
Baldur shook his head, then after some time and great effort, chucked the blade in a flowing lava channel below them. "Like I said, take that sword and shove it up your ass. Crawl back into Boethiah's bowels, and let me go home."
"Brund... you know I knew him back in the day. I met him recently too. His power is immense, and still growing. You, you both are special. I should've killed him years ago when I had the chance, but I couldn't have known this would happen. Forces are making their way into this world like we've never seen in eras. The Bretons, the Empire, Redguards, they'll find power too. As will the elves. The Nords need to match them. We need more power. If you don't take that sword, Brund will end you. And for the sake of Skyrim, perhaps he should. If you aren't willing to do anything that must be done to win this arm's race."
"You... you and the Greybeards, my enemies, you're always constantly underestimating me. Boethiah... if she has such interest in me, then watch me. See what I can do. I may not be an all powerful ancient mage king, or an elite werewolf assassin. I may not have the strongest thu'um, or be a destruction master with the tact and knowledge of a Legate. I'm not a lot of things, but what I am, is cunning. And with my intellect, with the way that I see things, I will bring this world to its knees, and then cut the Thalmor from it. Watch, and learn."
As he spoke, another portal opened before them, and the ground rumbled beneath them.
"Heh, it seems Boethiah believes you," said Ulrin, smiling.
"Good. I'm going to claim what is mine now. Oh and, about what I'm planning. IF we cannot defeat the Thalmor conventionally, and I truly must unleash the Wild Hunt, there's one thing you haven't considered, father."
"The Grim Ones," said Ulrin.
"Yes. This is their purpose."
"You'll sacrifice them? Your men? Your friends?"
"That is our role. They were always going to die. We. If need be. That's our purpose. That's why they have that name. And each and every last one knows this. Goodbye, again, Ulrin."
"Goodbye son. If you change your mind, pray to Boethiah, give her an offering. Maybe she'll speak to you, and give you another chance to accept her gift."
".... we'll see," said Baldur.
With that, he was gone. When his eyes awoke once more, Paarthurnax was still asleep, and his father was gone. Whether any of it happened or not, he was unsure. He would ask Paarthurnax when the elderly dragon awoke. Sitting in the snow, Baldur’s memories went back to his wife, remembering his words:
As for Ulfric, no one watches him more closely. He would have stood in my way. Contrary to popular belief, his heart is soft. The harsh decisions made in the civil war, Galmar was behind that. Then it was me. This war is bigger than any of that, and it requires more sacrifice than what he was able to give. He’d risk everything we’ve fought for, everything we’ve built. I couldn’t let him.
So go ahead, let it out. Tell me what I did was wrong, that I’m evil. Go ahead! But know I’d do it again. Because I REFUSE to let anything else tear my family apart! And when I am king, there will be nothing that I cannot do.
Baldur couldn’t hold back his own disgust.
Great betrayer. Shezzarine my ass.
The battle of Windhelm came next:
"Your King just died, and now you're pissing off the top of his palace."
I'm nothing if not consistent.
"You were close to Ulfric, yet you don't seem terribly broken up over his death, Red-Snow.”
Careful what you suggest. I honor my friend and king with blood, not tears. It will be the same for all Nords in the coming year. Now, I suggest we do as you said and get back to killing elves.
GREAT BETRAYER. AE HERMA MORA CE ALTADOON. AE BO-ET-IA CE ALTADOON.
A voice repeating that phrase filled his mind, along with the image of a woman lying in a lake of fire behind his father, beckoning him to join her, where he’d thrown her sword. A mark appeared on his hand, a small brown wavy thing, almost like a birthmark, resembling a flowing river maybe, or...
Baldur immediately pulled out his axe, heating it with his thu'um before attempting to burn it off. When the metal touched his skin, and nothing happened, he began to laugh as if crazed, tears in his eyes as he dropped the axe in the snow. Scratching madly, his wife's words popped in his head, thinking about the woman again in the lake of fire.
I don’t understand it. But I wish he’d taught papa, too. I watched him burn alive with my own eyes. Fire took my ship, and now my father. You don’t go thinking it can’t take you, too.
I won’t, you won’t take me. I won’t. ****!
Standing up abruptly, Baldur let his tears fall from his face, as he screamed in agony of the pain he felt, a sick feeling in his gut. Even with his justifications, he’d attracted the attention of the great betrayer herself. A Daedra Lord. Even as he’d rebelled against his father’s plans, it seemed he was still following them. Forever a slave to someone, something’s intentions.
“TINVAAK ONLKAAN UTH! TINVAAK ONLKAAN UTH! TINVAAK ONLKAAN UTH!”
NO! NO ONE’S INTENTIONS BUT MY OWN I GO FORWARD, AND NO ONE WILL CLAIM OWNERSHIP OF MY DEEDS BUT I! NOT EVEN YOU, BOETHIAH! I HAVE MY WIFE'S CONFIDENCE. I HAVE MY DAUGHTER'S LOVE. I'LL NOT FAIL, I WON'T!
After rasping out this decree in draconic, he let loose a burst of flame that threatened to claim the very sky. Then, he repeated the shout, Tinvaak Onlkaan Uth... until he began turning blue in the face, then until he could no longer stand. Then, he shouted some more. Tinvaak. Onlkaan. Uth. Until his throat was hoarse, and his energy drained. As he collapsed, Paarthurnax watched him. Occasionally melting the snow away from his limp body until he awoke, and repeated the same process, day and night. And so he would remain, until the Jarls of Skyrim came. The moot was finally about to commence.
As for Daric and Maori, the duo had appeared back in Windhelm, directly in front of what would be Baldur’s throne. Or Brunds….
First they were running for their lives. Now they would soon be running to beat Brund up the mountain, to warn Baldur of the might that is Brund Hammer-Fang. Demon Chieftain of Markarth.