A young mage races to save his wife during a dragon attack. A hero arrives.
It was cold, and Orin's eyes suddenly opened. A flurry of snow against a dirty-white sky filled his vision. Heart beating rapidly and breathing heavily, he did not know what had happened. Then a great shadow passed over him, and he remembered-- wondering if he should be alive.
~** Fifteen Minutes Earlier **~
"Out of the way, mage!" barked a grumpy Nord soldier plowing through the crowded market throng. Orin dodged the waving, shoving hand and smiled. Was it really that obvious now? He glanced down at his new robes, the sign of his status, with pride. It was almost too good to be true.
Orin had spent the greater portion of the past year as an Associate of the College of Winterhold, the provincial mage's guild of Skyrim, engaged in constant quests receiving recommendations for promotion, all the while being sent on numerous other assignments to prove his prowess and potential as a mage. After endless trials, his steadfast determination payed off. Three and a half weeks ago the guild granted him the title of Journeyman of the College of Winterhold.
Orin was, to say the least, more than happy to return to his home in the village of Senford. Each day away brought with it more longing for the little town, and the dear hearts and gentle people who dwelt within its rough-hewn, wooden palisade wall. Most of all Orin missed his wife, to whom he had not gone a day without writing, and had not seen in all that time spent in Winterhold and on his various travels across the rugged province. His return would be a surprise to her, and excitement grew in his heart with every passing moment.
Dear hearts and gentle people, that is, besides the occasional member of the watch, noted Orin as he looked back at the loud-mouthed swordsman bumbling his way on through the crowd. It was good to be back.
He passed the familiar blacksmith shop, listening to the music of the hammer and tongs. Warm, crisp scents from the bakery wafted into his nostrils, and that soothing aroma mixed against the biting chill brought on a flood of memories. Musing on these with delight he passed also his old friend Ornlaf the alchemist's apothecary, and felt a visit was promptly in order following the reunion with his wife. Since it was market day, this part of town was abnormally crowded and with faces he mostly did not recognize. And yet, upon taking in the faces, a looming sense that something was not quite right crept into the back of his mind.
Nords are by nature a gruff people, but they are perhaps more so known for their fondness of strong ale and unmatched jovial revelry. It seemed odd to Orin that on a market day like this (where the weather was really quite fair by most Nords' standards) one could see so many grim countenances. And now that he thought about it, the amount of visitors to the market seemed less than he remembered. In fact, each step through the town was like washing a window, through which he saw with gradual clarity a widespread sensation of unease. It wasn't just the guard; something had the whole village on edge. Orin pondered this, but avoided letting it get in the way of the joy he felt in his return to Senford.
By the grace of the Nine, Orin took the long way home. Little would he see the blessing in disguise it was that he took the time to pass by all the sites he'd missed, for if he had been home five minutes ago, the following may not have ever happened to him. Orin walked between the wall and a long row of houses, smiling to himself, when the unthinkable happened. The town's worst fears, which Orin knew nothing about, became realized. From a distant watchtower a terrible shout rang out over the whole village, which pierced the ears and hearts of all who heard.
The warning came too late. Bewildered, Orin had just turned to the sound of the southern watchman when there was a sudden rush of wind, accompanied by a black shadow, and a shrill, blood-curdling roar enraptured the air above him. Suddenly he heard a great crash right next to him, followed by an explosion of heat. Before Orin could react, a shower of splintered wood clattered on top of him, shredded from the top of the wall by a monster's giant claws. The mage dropped to the ground, petrified. He had been lucky. There were some beside him who had been struck by great logs and other rubble, and lay motionless in the snow.
Chaos immediately overtook the village. People everywhere began screaming and scrambling, out of houses, through the streets, towards the gates--some into homes to find family. The village alarm-bell began clanging frantically. Orin lay on the ground for a moment, dazed, and felt the searing heat of several houses nearby being swallowed by flame. The monster's earth-shattering roar left his ears ringing, and he blinked against the din of the townspeople's screaming. Among the havoc, Orin looked up to see a panicked father charging down the street carrying his child. This snapped Orin back to reality.
Orin leaped out of the pile of shrapnel and found himself running against traffic; a tide of terror. The villagers, each one gripped by the very real possibility of imminent death, barreled its way through the streets and alleys, fleeing to safety. Orin mage risked a fleeting glance backward and saw the market place literally overturned. What was causing this?? he thought, as if he didn't know. And then for the first time, he saw it clearly-- another roar echoed through the air, and Orin looked up. Immediately his Nordic blood ran cold, and for an intense moment, as if the icy hand of death itself momentarily reached into his soul, his heart stopped. A huge, hideous, beast circled high into the sky above the village. An ungodly monstrosity of tattered leathery wings, scaled body, long, sweeping tail, and innumerable jagged horns protruding from a head brandishing countless, dagger-like teeth. Orin could bear to look at it no more, but before he could avert his eyes the dragon reached the crest of its spiral ascent and dropped into a steep dive, sweeping over the village, spewing intensely hot fire.
So the rumors were true. They had returned.
Orin raised his arms protectively over his head while he ran; though not necessarily in the direct path of the dragon, he could be set on fire at any given moment and rubble rained from the sky in the path of destruction the dragon left in its wake. Leaping over bodies fallen or buried in clutter, and small fires sprouting from stray sparks; dodging falling building pieces and animals running loose through the streets, Orin raced as fast as his he could to find home. The pervasive smell of sulfur and smoke filled his nostrils, nearly choking him.
At last he came upon the field: It was a park in the center of the village, used for festivals and other gatherings and often frequented by children. Fortunately he saw none of the latter, but the snow covered grass was covered in fleeing tracks. It was across this field that he saw, for the first time in a year and under the most miserable circumstance possible, his home. And it, along with countless others in that region, was burning.
There was the possibility Eyja had fled with the others, but he had not seen or heard her over the drowning commotion of countless families calling out to each other, and the house was on the verge of collapse. It was more than possible she was trapped inside. Without hesitation, Orin bolted across the field.
The dragon was apparently preoccupied with other areas of town, fortunately for the mage. Orin heard and felt a great THUD shake the earth behind him, but he did not look back to see the greater part of a guard tower and several guards now laying in the field. Huffing desperately, Orin sprinted across the plain in under twenty seconds. No risk was too great for him to find and rescue the one he loved; without hesitation, Orin threw himself over the threshold and into his smoldering home.
Five minutes lapsed, and Orin emerged. Robes charred, face smeared with ash, coughing and choking, a man utterly devastated, he stumbled out of the crumbling building-- a woman limp in his arms.
No sooner had he staggered down the steps the house collapsed in on itself. Smoke ripped at the seams of his lungs. He hadn't felt pain like this in his life. But he couldn't stop-- he couldn't give in! Alas, even for a man of his level of willpower it was too much. His exhausted state forced him on one knee first... then he collapsed. In the last exertion of effort he could muster, he forced himself to turn, landing on his back to protect Eyja. His wife rolled out of his arms. Her face turned away from him, she laid still in the snow. Orin rolled his head to find her, make sure she was there, writhing in the effort to force his fluttering eyelids open. Into the darkest imaginable mire of despair his heart sank, as he saw his wife-- his beautiful, darling Eyja-- not breathing.
All at once, in a flash of light, he was in another place. A memory of a time much like now. Only it was summer then. A blue sky draped over grass, soft and green. And she was there--his childhood sweetheart and best friend. Beautiful blue eyes, blond hair, and fair skin... full of life in the flower of youth. She looked at him; a blissful smile creased her lips. They lay beside each other hand in hand, gazing up at the marvelous clouds. In that moment he knew they would be together forever.
The happy memory was gone as soon as it came, and Orin's dimming gaze was now upon Eyja's frozen, motionless body. Her bare shoulders ghostly pale in the snow. Charcoal singed and stained her sleeveless gown. He urgently tried to cry out to her but only a painful, rasping cough came out. In place of tears, mere vapor stung his blistering eyes. Only one thing matter to him now though: he was losing her. And Orin himself was slipping away. With every fiber of his being he cursed the demon that brought this upon them, even if in this moment the creature seemed so far away.
Orin moved his arm a matter of inches, until his finger touched her cold hand.
He wouldn't let her go.
So far in this tragedy, magic had been of no help to him. He wasn't powerful enough to stop a house from burning, or slay a monster destroying everything he loved. But there was something he could do.
He shut his eyes and gently interlocked his fingers with hers. In the distance the dragon's roars, raging fires, screams of villagers, and clanging bell faded to a muddled drone, pounding in rhythm to his heart-rate. Orin struggled to mouth the spell. Gasping with difficulty, he muttered the words, crying them out in his head:
What life is yet mine
Be it thine
From my soul's essence
Enter thee in convalescence.
A surge of warmth passed from Orin's hand into Eyja's. He opened his eyes. Before his dimming vision went totally dark, she stirred.
It was cold, and Orin's eyes suddenly opened.
How long had he been out? Why was he here? Eyja! In an instant of fear he turned his head. His wife's chest rose and fell softly, and he felt her grip tighten on his hand. Relief swept over him, and finally tears flowed freely. But Orin's distressed mind was racing. They had to leave-- the dragon still ravaged the town. He could hear its shrill cries and wing beats. The mage strained to move but it was no use, and pain shot all along his nerves like a fire inside him. His body was still too weak, and worse after the spell. Fear began to grip him again. He knew if they couldn't escape, the dragon would find them, or they would freeze.
Then a sudden, immense tremor shook the earth near where Orin and Eyja lay. A thick cloud of snow displaced from the crash enveloped them. Orin, dazed, realized only too well what was happening. He rolled his head toward the sound. He didn't need the ability to focus to see what was before him.
Like a mountain rising from beneath the very earth, the most terrible beast man ever laid eyes on rose from the cloud of snow. The dragon loomed over them, its massive wings furled, craning its neck to peer at the prone figures. The strong scent of burning sulfur overcame Orin. He gazed into the giant, gray eyes of the monster. Then he lifted his sights from the maw of the beast and looked first to the sky to pray. Then to his wife, who found strength enough to turn her head to meet the eyes of her husband one last time. Those deep, blue oceans glimmered with sadness, but also peace. She swallowed, and put on a small, strong smile for him. The two best friends shut their eyes and tightened their grip as much as they could, and waited for the end.
A crunch disturbed the snow behind them. Followed by another. Orin opened his eyes a crack, looking for the sound. It was like footsteps. But who would be near here? Then came another crunch and a thick, fur-lined leather boot stepped into view. Orin's eyes grew wide.
The figure walked past Orin and Eyja without so much as a glance. It was a man-- dressed in studded leather, fur-lined armor, his rugged cuirass exposing bare, muscular arms. Beaten pauldrons dressed his shoulders, and tarnished, steal-plated gauntlets his wrists. On his left arm he wore a battle-scarred, banded iron buckler. And on his head a fearsome helm, fixed with ram's horns.
The warrior casually drew a steel longsword from a sheath on his back and strode undauntedly toward the dragon. The beast raised its long neck, sizing up this unexpected challenger. The man looked up, fearless, and strengthened his grip on his sword. Orin watched the knightly hero calmly face the dragon, hardly daring to believe what he saw. The rumors were all true: The Elder Scrolls told of their return. But no one wanted to believe they even existed. And when the truth finally dawned... it dawned in fire.
But there is one they fear. This man-- the savior of Orin and Eyja-- and the world. In their tongue, he is Dovahkiin:
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