I’ve felt the urge to write some fic based on my Skyrim adventures before, and I’ve done some cursory dabbling at it. But even though I have mixed feelings about the Project AHO mod, as I wrote in the review post I put up a little while ago, the core idea of the story is powerful enough that my writer brain kept playing with it and trying to come up with a way to make it make narrative sense that my Dragonborn agreed to actually help the people in the plot rather than destroying them.
So here you go, y’all, the first scene I’ve written in prose in quite some time. This is 2,903 words, and is based directly upon how events played out in recent Kendeshel sessions, which I’ll be covering in a few forthcoming playthrough posts.
It’s spoilery for the end of the Project AHO plotline, so a bit of an intro, and the actual prose, behind the fold.
In particular, this scene plays off of how I’d decided to steal everything in Sadrith Kegran that I could, how that activated Skyrim’s mechanics for the risk of hired thugs coming after you if you steal from citizens in the game, and how Consul Marisa Verendas prevented Shanath Selthri from killing me in rage. She asked me to come to the town council house to talk to her.
But as it happened, the game’s Hired Thugs scenario kicked in at the same time. And when I killed the thugs, I saw they of course had a contract on them from Marisa. Which made the situation a lot more awkward than I think the mod actually originally intended. ;D
This scene also reflects that Kendeshel came into the Project AHO plotline only at level 20, and she hasn’t even returned the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller to the Greybeards yet. So she’s still a very inexperienced Dovahkiin.
But not inexperienced enough that she can’t scare the hell out of the town that made the dire mistake of kidnapping her.
“You. N’wah. Come find me in the council chamber when you have a moment. We need to talk.”
When I had a moment, she said. As if I had a choice in the matter. Marisa Verendas may not have been the one who bought me at her town’s vile little auction, but she was the person in charge. And the amulet at my neck throbbed uncomfortably, eating at my will and my strength, until I followed her.
I went past the empty shelves just inside the door without betraying any acknowledgment of their missing contents. So did Marisa–but as soon as we were within sight of the consul thrones, where Erver Milo sat waiting, I realized immediately that my appropriation of the goods by the door must have been noticed. That, or the missing alchemy stock from the shelves across the room. Somebody had noticed something, because there were three armed Nords by Marisa’s chair. And as soon as they saw me, they lunged in my direction.
“This’ll teach you to take things that don’t belong to you!” one of them roared.
“Skyrim belongs to the Nords!” bellowed another.
For a split second, I feared I wouldn’t be able to fight them–that the ancient Dwarven sword I’d claimed for myself in Bkhalzarf would drag at my hand, that my arm would refuse to lift it. Or that the fire enchantment I’d furtively placed upon it wouldn’t work, or worse yet, somehow burn me.
That fear, and the fact that there were three enemies charging at me, made me sprint across the room. I needed tighter fighting quarters and I needed them fast.
Bizarrely, not a single Morag Tong came at me as I retreated. And neither Marisa Verendas nor Erver Milo seemed surprised–Marisa in particular.
The bitch had set me up. She knew I’d been stealing from them, my enslavers. And now she clearly wanted me to be punished before a room full of witnesses.
My fury at this entire town and at the consul in particular welled up out of my core. Though I’d only called it so far a few times since I’d learned I was Dragonborn, the Thu’um erupted from me with vengeful strength.
The thugs staggered. And to my exultation, as if the sheer act of Shouting had shattered something of the amulet’s chokehold upon my thoughts, my sword swung when I willed it. Its edge bit through steel armor and straight into flesh–flesh which burst into flame as the enchantment took hold.
In moments, the fight was over.
I can see the battle-lust in your eyes. Doom will surely come to any who cross your path.
Jenassa’s voice echoed for a moment across my memory, and I let a grin that was more of a snarl curl my lips. The mercenary had known me better than I’d realized, when we’d fought that dragon at the western watchtower. If I ever made it back to Whiterun, I’d have to buy her a drink in the Bannered Mare just on the strength of her being right.
Right then and there, though, I had other business.
Sword still ready in my right hand, the Time Break spell kindling into place around my left, I turned and advanced on the consuls still sitting stiffly in their chairs. Erver had paled. And as for Marisa, skittish fright lurked behind her eyes, yet she sat ramrod straight and met my eyes as I approached.
“So,” I said blithely, “was that what you wanted to talk to me about?”
Erver grew paler. But Marisa didn’t hesitate to answer me, and only a slight rasp in her first few syllables gave the lie to her veneer of poise. “Not precisely. But as long as you mention it, my hirelings were correct. You should not have taken things that don’t belong to you.”
“Funny you should mention that. I was about to say the exact same thing to you.”
“We’ve been kind to you,” Marisa snapped, poise cracking, venom showing through. “We allowed you to keep your tongue and gave you free run of our town. Erver even taught you magic. And you repay us with thievery.”
She wasn’t the only one who could hurl her words like daggers–but mine grew deeper, the Thu’um rumbling just beneath them, itching to be unleashed again. “I’m sorry, are you expecting me to apologize for acting against the people who enslaved me? I’d say that’s hilarious, except for how I’m not laughing. Where’d you get the thugs, Marisa?”
Her mouth tightened. “You will address me as Consul, n’wah.”
“I’ll address you however I damn well please,” I said, waving my sword towards the dead men behind me. “These guys look like they were from Windhelm. What’s wrong, couldn’t find anybody in the town willing to beat me up for you? Not even your pet assassins? You had to send out for some Nords?”
Now I waggled my blade at the nearest of the Morag Tong guards. I couldn’t see their face, not with the chitin helmet they were wearing. But unlike the thugs I’d just slain, that guard and all of their compatriots in the room held stances that suggested I’d be in a world of hurt if they came at me.
Not that I was going to let on for an instant that that crossed my mind.
“Consul Verendas did not wish you dead,” the guard offered. A woman’s voice, a little deeper than my own, but in a neutral tone that concealed any opinion she held, just as her helmet concealed her face. “The Morag Tong does Writs of Execution. We do not… chastise.”
“Noted,” I said towards the guard, while my gaze stayed locked on Marisa Verendas. “Question stands. Nobody in town wanted to do your dirty work?”
“You were a helpful and apt assistant,” Erver said, finally joining the conversation. “I honestly didn’t want to fight you–“
Unimpressed, I smirked at him. “By which you mean, you realized you taught me a powerful spell and that I would, in fact, use it against you at my earliest opportunity.”
“That… was an unwise tactical error on my part, yes.”
He looked away, clearly not as comfortable meeting my angry gaze as his co-consul–and just as clearly, Marisa was irritated by his agitation. She gave him a sidelong, narrow-eyed glare, before turning her attention back to me. “My hirelings,” she said stiffly, “are some of the ones that have helped Shaglak in his forays to capture new n’wahs for us. I had to use them, because you’ved turned enough of our citizens to your favor that they protested when I sought volunteers to…” For the first time, then, even if only for a moment, she paused over her words. “Chastise you. Not even Shaglak would agree to do it.”
I took a step closer to their thrones, sword and spell still ready. A muscle in Erver’s cheek flinched as I approached, and I reveled in it. It was a base and unworthy pride. Arngeir and the Greybeards wouldn’t have approved of it for an instant. But in that moment, I didn’t care.
I wanted them terrified of me.
“Oh damn,” I drawled, “some of them discovered a conscience? And not even your precious adopted son would obey your orders this time? He cried in his beer about capturing me, by the way. He apologized.”
“I do not appreciate you turning my heart-son against me, either,” Marisa said.
“That sounds like a you problem. And if Shaglak’s growing a spine, more power to him. But you still had other options. Why didn’t you just let Shanath kill me? He was the one who bought me, and he’s killed half a dozen n’wahs before me. Why do you care if he kills another one?”
Erver began, “About that…”
Right over the top of his words, Marisa said, “We realized that Shanath Selthri is a larger threat to this town than, ah, you.”
“Marisa dear, sweetheart, you are about three seconds away from discovering exactly how big a threat I am to this town in general, and you in particular. This amulet you horker lovers forced onto me didn’t stop me from killing your thugs. How much are you willing to bet that it won’t keep me from killing you?”
“Please,” Erver burst out, “please, Dovahkiin, there’s no need for further violence!”
I froze. Dovahkiin. The first time I’d heard that word, the voices of the Greybeards had thundered down from High Hrothgar, rattling every window in Whiterun. The second time I’d heard it was a dragon’s final scream, while his life force and knowledge filled my blood with a surge of fire.
Even now, I wasn’t used to the word meaning me.
Even now, the word had the power to stop me cold.
“So,” I said shortly, swinging my gaze to Erver, “you know who I am.”
“We had our suspicions you were…” Again, Marisa paused to choose her words. “Unusual as soon as we acquired you. So I sent out discreet inquiries through our agents, once Shaglak brought you in. We soon realized you matched the description of the one that even Windhelm’s guards were saying had killed the dragon at Whiterun. I suggest you consider it a mercy that we kept this information from Shanath, since it spared you the indignity of his commanding you to use the Thu’um to heat his tea.”
I didn’t know if it was possible for me to breathe fire through the Voice. So far I’d learned but two Shouts, and a handful of other Words of Power I had yet to understand enough to utter them.
But my enslavers didn’t need to know that.
“Then you know I’m capable of killing dragons, and that I have the Voice,” I said. “Get to the part where you give me a reason to not Shout this place into rubble, and take all your slaves out with me when I go. Talk fast, because figuring out how Ulfric Stormcloak Shouted the high king into pieces sounds highly entertaining to me right now. What do you have to top that?”
“We have a proposition for you,” Marisa said.
This time, Erver talked over her, his voice taking on a strained brightness. “We, ah, we decided you would be far more valuable as a free citizen of the town. And a member of House Telvanni!”
I blinked. “Excuse me?”
“We are offering you your freedom,” Marisa said, with a visible eye roll, and impatience she didn’t bother to conceal. “And a place in our town and in our House.”
It took me several seconds to process this, seconds in which the Thu’um rumbled in my lungs and in my blood, and I had to fight it back. What I let escape instead came out as bitter laughter. “Oh, that’s rich. That’s absolutely hysterical. Why in the name of the Nine and Tall Papa would you think I’d want a place in a town and with a House that steals free citizens of Skyrim, tortures them, mutilates them, and forces them into slavery?”
“We would appreciate it, Dovahkiin, if you refrained from insulting our traditions and our culture. To take slaves is our ancestral—”
Ah, so I was Dovahkiin even to Marisa now, not n’wah. Well, two could play at pretending to be polite–except wait, no, I had no interest in even pretending to be civil. “Stuff your tradition straight into Oblivion, Consul. Your tradition is horrendous and needs to die a smoking, fiery death.”
“Slavery is legal in Morrowind!” Marisa shouted.
Ha, so I could rattle her. Good.
“You’re not in Morrowind. You’re in Skyrim. Or to be more specific, under Skyrim. I’ve heard you talking big talk about restoring the greatness of House Telvanni, but you’re doing it by hiding underground in a land that isn’t yours, and stealing innocent citizens. You take their freedom, their voices, and their right to live according to their cultures. If one of them doesn’t happen to appeal to any of you enough to make you bother to spend the coin to own them, you take their lives without a second thought–because oh yes, I saw what you did to that old Argonian. There is no greatness here. There is only evil, greed, and cruelty.”
I advanced towards Marisa, letting the Thu’um build again along with my rage.
“You’ve taken the voices of almost all of your n’wahs. But you’ve left me with mine, so I am going to Shout for them. I will Shout until Tel And disintegrates and every building in this wretched place is dust. You are going to learn exactly what the Voice of an angry Dragonborn can do.”
Unrelenting Force. The words the Greybeards had given me reverberated through my blood and bones. FUS. RO. There was a third one, I didn’t know it yet, but two would be enough for what I required. I inhaled, ready to let the first word fly–
And Erver shot to his feet. “Dragonborn, please! Please, no! We need your help!”
Weapons whipped out of their sheaths all around me, as this had gotten the Morag Tong’s attention. I ignored them, my gaze locked on Marisa, watching her as she waved her hand frantically at her guards to keep them from lunging at me. “We beg you. I beg you. Please. We need your help to keep Shanath Selthri from destroying us.”
Once more, I paused. My mouth still curled in its snarl, and I was fleetingly unsure if I could relax it–or if I wanted to. What I wanted was to shove in Marisa and Erver’s faces how it felt to have to beg for your life from someone with power over you, and do to whatever it took until they acknowledged the evil they’d inflicted upon each and every slave they’d taken. I wanted, with every fiber of my being, to do what Ulfric Stormcloak had done, and never mind that he’d thrust all of Skyrim into brutal war. I wanted to Shout Marisa Verendas and Erver Milo into bloody, unrecognizable pulp.
But something held me back.
“Give me one good reason why I should care whether that son of a rabid skeever kills you all,” I hissed.
Plaintive now, Erver said, “Because that is your nature, Dragonborn.”
“I’m sorry, are you mistaking me for someone that gives a fat flying damn about helping the people who enslaved me?”
“They say in Whiterun, Falkreath, and Solitude that you’ve helped many people,” Erver went on. “You even did it here, even though, yes, we enslaved you. You helped me.”
I’d told myself I was doing it to spy on the town that had captured me, to seek any holes in their defenses, and get my hands on anything that wasn’t nailed down and which I could use to secure my freedom. Better still if I could free Ra’zhirra and every other slave in the town, as I’d done for the creature called Slyboots. All of which was true…
And yet. More than once, I’d seen citizens in this town that were in many ways no different than the farmers and smiths and innkeepers I’d seen all over Skyrim. A few of them had even begun to question their own ongoing cruelty–and those ones, yes, I almost hadn’t minded helping. Even if I wanted to shriek at all of them about their willful blindness, because how could the lives they’d claimed for themselves be worth assisting if they’d been built upon the shattered lives of slaves?
“Ah,” I said finally, keeping my snarl in place, “you can actually use your words. Or some of them, anyway. But it’s a load of horse shit. So far Shaglak’s been the only one here to show any remorse whatsoever. You’re offering to let me go, but that’s only because I’m the Dragonborn and you want my help. That’s not good enough. You apologize to me and to every single other n’wah in this place. You let them all go, with enough money to start their lives over somewhere else. Or, you start paying them for their labor here, and give them full rights as citizens if they choose to stay here. I don’t care which, as long every single n’wah gets the right to choose. Or else no deal.”
“We will give you your freedom if you agree to help us. The rest… we will consider. But you must help us first,” Marisa said. Her voice held almost as much steel as mine.
“Then I will consider letting you live. Though I’m still waiting for the part where I should care whether my so-called ‘master’ kills you all before I can.”
Marisa gave me a measuring look, her eyes glittering. Other than being Dunmer, she didn’t look like Jenassa; she was more delicate of build, more refined, more elegant. But damned if she didn’t have something of Jenassa’s insight, because her next words were surprisingly on target.
“Because you could kill him if you help us.”
Yet again I stopped in surprise. But this time, reluctantly, I lowered my sword and extinguished my spell.
“That,” I said gruffly, “is the first sensible thing you’ve said this entire conversation. You have my attention. This amulet comes off, now. After that, you can tell me what else you want me to do.”