The city of Helgen was fairly typical for a minor hold in Skyrim. Originally built as a fortified town to fend off Giant attacks the only major fortifications were the city wall and the keep. Well built stone structures that had stood for hundreds of years, even if the lack of maintenance was starting to show. They still provided enough security that people couldn’t sneak in or out without either being a master thief or knowing a tunnel under the walls.
“What do you mean the city is in lockdown?!”
Which was a problem when you wanted to be literally anywhere else in Tamriel.
“I’m sorry miss, orders are that no one leaves the city for any reason until the execution is over. Until then you will need to remain in Helgen.” The guard sounded utterly disinterested as he parroted the same drivel for probably the hundredth time today.
I just silently fumed since if the merchant a few yards over was failing to bribe his way out, there was little chance I would be able to convince the guards to open the gates.
What’s worse, I couldn’t even risk just throwing caution to the wind and fighting my way out because if she got word I was in Skyrim looking for her, the past five years hunting her down would be for nothing.
My hands tightened around the straps of my traveling pack at the thought of my prey.
With a final glare at the city guard, I headed back towards the inn I had been staying at, letting the person behind me step forward to try convincing both the Guard and the Legion to let them through.
Stepping through the wooden door of the Boarshead Inn I was greeted by the barmaid, a tiny Imperial girl just barely past her sixteenth year, or winter as they called it up north.
“Thalin, you’re back! I thought you were leaving the city today?”
I set my pack down on the floor as I grabbed a stool and sat at the bar.
“I was, but the Guard has the city on lockdown until some execution is over. So now I’m stuck here until some poor soul gets his head cut off because the Legion is paranoid that someone is going to jailbreak a random rebel to make a point.” I grumbled, still upset that I was going to be stuck in this city for another day. Even if there was very little chance I would get caught up in things if I managed to remember them right after living as an elf for four hundred years, I had zero desire to remain in this doomed city.
“That's not surprising, given what I heard from one of the guards.” the barmaid, gah what was her name? Something with a C, whispered as she leaned in. Thankfully she also passed me a tankard of ale as a bribe to keep listening. “I heard that a border patrol managed to ambush a high ranking Stormcloak party trying to sneak past them. Rumor has it that they managed to capture Ulfric Stormcloak himself!”
I had been mid sip as Civ...ara? Civia! as Civia divulged this bit of information. So I had the wonderful experience of somehow managing to freeze in shock and simultaneously try to inhale my drink.
Civia awkwardly patted my back as I was reduced to a coughing mess.
“Sorry, I probably should have waited till you weren’t drinking.” She sheepishly apologized.
I glared up at her.
“Ahem, anyways according to Rolf, the Legion managed to capture most of the Stormcloaks sneaking around the border. Makes sense they would have the city locked up tight since they can’t afford to let anything happening and Ulfric slipping away.”
I slowly sank onto the bar as I cursed every God I could think of, Aedra and Deadra both.
There was no way it was a coincidence I got my first solid lead about her in months that ensured I was in Helgen at the same time Ulfric was captured. The only blessing so far is that I could tentatively confirm I was not the Dragonborn since I wasn’t tied up in the back of the same cart as him.
Of course it had been four hundred years since I was reborn into this world, four hundred twenty nine, but who’s counting? and memory spells only went so far especially since it wasn’t until I was thirty that I was considered good enough to cast them on myself without melting my brain, so I might be excused for getting minor details wrong. Of course there was always the chance that I was screwing with destiny by actually knowing about the future. Kinda. I had the short notes version.
“Are you alright?” Civia asked my crumpled form as I tried to rediscover the lost art of teleportation by sheer power of will.
“No, no I am not.” I sat up and leaned close to the young girl. “Look Civia, this isn’t something I throw around a lot. But I am something like a Seer. Not a very good one mind you, but enough to get some glimpses every once and awhile. Pack a bag with whatever necessities and valuables you can, and be ready to either hide or flee the city. The day Ulfric Stormcloak enters Helgen is the same day the city falls.” I said gravely.
Civia looks at me uncomfortably. “And I guess the only way to stop it is either a small donation to the church or a roll in the hay?”
I chuckled grimly at the overused joke found in taverns everywhere. “I wish it were so, but no. Look, even if you don’t believe me just take some precautions. If I am wrong then it's a harmless scare and you can go about your day. If I’m right then it could save your life.”
She looks off into nothing for a bit before speaking again. “I...I don’t think you are the type to just make trouble Thalin. But it’s hard to just take a passing stranger’s word. Even if you were here for a couple weeks, I don’t know you well enough to just trust you immediately.” She fidgets behind the bar, absently cleaning a mug. “Is there anything more specific you can tell me about this supposed doom?”
I let out a huff and ran a hand through my hair.
There is no way she would seriously believe me if I told her a dragon was about to destroy the city. Hmm, what to say that would convince her I’m serious.
Ah I know.
“I saw the entire city ablaze. I can’t tell you the source-” Because you wouldn’t believe that part, “-but I can say for certain Helgen will burn by the end of the day.”
Civia set the mug down with trembling fingers.
“O-okay, if you're sure?”
She looks at me with an expression that if this was a joke, now was the time to call it off. Instead we hear an imperial soldier calling out from the street, telling everyone to clear the road.
I turn back to the girl.
“You won’t have much time. Grab only what you can easily carry.”
She nods and rushes into the back room. I grab my pack off the floor and head back out into the street.
I made my way towards the execution area since the safest way out of the city will unfortunately be through the underground tunnels. I don’t want to take the risk of being blasted by dragon fire. This will also likely put me in close proximity to whatever poor sap is going to eventually be revealed as the Dragonborn. Needless to say I do not want to be tied up with that mess. I simply needed to get out of Helgen, hunt down my target, and maybe if I’m feeling generous I can go out of my way to stop some of the less attention grabbing issues popping up in this frozen little corner of Nirn.
“All citizens stay back. Dangerous criminals coming through.”
The guards were doing an admirable job of keeping the citizens of Helgen from getting too close. Probably since the Legion had no desire for a last minute rescue attempt by the Stormcloaks to prolong the civil war.
It was still easy enough to move through the throngs of people bordering the road to the execution stand. The Legion soldiers prevented me from getting directly next to the execution block but that was fine. I just needed to be close enough to the keep to take cover when the giant flying lizard showed up.
The prisoner carts made their way down the street with no interruption. One of the prisoners tried to run but was unable to get far when several Imperial archers shot him down. Poor bastard. From what I remembered his crime wouldn’t normally warrant an execution but the Thalmor wanted a spectacle after catching the ‘true high king’ and bringing an end to the civil war. Fucking assholes, the lot of them.
I barely paid attention at the proceedings until the last prisoner stepped off. The young Nord drew my attention for one reason.
He was the only one of the prisoners that seemed excited to be executed.
Either the poor boy was addled and had no idea what was about to happen to him, or he was similar to me and had memories of a past life. Normally I wouldn’t jump to conclusions of past lives, but I figured I wasn’t special enough to be the only one. And odd behavior at an execution when I knew the Dragonborn would be in the carts tipped the odds quite a bit that there might be someone like me.
The kid looked young for a Nord. Early forties at most, with shoulder length blonde hair, blue eyes and a medium muscular build. Wait. Humans aged faster than Mer did. Right, maybe early twenties then. I couldn’t hear the conversation between him and the Captain, but considering she sent him to the block with a scowl on her face I doubt it was anything unexpected.
I spent the rest of the execution glaring hatefully at a Thalmore agent who was staring at me condescendingly while I waited for the dragon. The execution proceeded smoothly with several people losing their heads until it was time for the kid I suspected was the Dragonborn’s turn. The excited smile was long gone and he looked like he was shaking in his foot wraps. I couldn’t help but snort at his expression. Guess the shine of being in a different world from your memories wore off fast when several people lost their head in front of you.
The first roars of Alduin were audible a few seconds before the kid was placed on the block. By the time the axe was raised the crowd was shifting uneasily. People had long stopped paying attention to the headsman and were looking around for the source of the noise.
Just before Blondie lost his head, a huge shadow passed over me and crashed into one of the wall’s watchtowers. Midnight black scales, covered in spikes, wings, and breathing fire? Yep, Alduin certainly matched expectations for a huge terrifying dragon.
For a few seconds I was paralyzed in the face of the World Eater.
I had faced a lot of scary creatures over the course of my unnaturally long lifespan. Even lived through the Oblivion Crisis and all it’s horrors. None of that was comparable to the sheer presence I felt facing down this Dragon. Blasts of fire erupting from its maw leveled buildings and incinerated anyone unfortunate to stand in the way. Balls of rock and flame falling from the heavens fell all over the village. I couldn’t move even as the house next to me was destroyed by another torrent of flame.
Then a fleeing civilian bumped past me, knocking me to the ground and snapping me out of my dazed state.
The next few minutes were a frenzied scramble as I ducked around burning buildings as I made my way to the keep. When I finally passed through the doors and took a moment to catch my breath I found myself facing three Imperial soldiers and the Thalmor agent from earlier.
“What do you think you are doing in here treehugger?” The agent snarled at me.
I made a sweeping motion back the way I came. “In case you didn’t notice, dumbass. There is a creature of legend burning the place to the ground right outside!”
“Then why aren’t you out there doing something about it, mercenary? Unless that equipment is just for show?”
“While you cower in here like the skeever-spawn you are? Aren’t the Thalmor supposed to be the elite destined to rule over all of the rest of us unworthy beings? You go take care of it.”
“Enough, peace!!” one of the imperial soldiers shouted at the two of us.
I blinked at the interruption and realised I had stalked over to the high elf with a hand going under my traveling cloak for a dagger. The agent had a hand raised in preparation to cast a spell.
“Like the lass said, there is a DRAGON outside. We need to find a way out of Helgen that hopefully keeps us alive. Guriig, Skunar, the both of you grab whatever you think is useful. There might be a way through the old catacombs the Keep was built over.”
The two other soldiers gave affirmative and went to check the crates in the room. The Thalmor drew himself up before marching over to the soldier.
“And when were you planning on getting my permission for giving out these orders?” he snarled.
“Never.” the nord replied. “You may be an emissary for the Aldmeri Dominion but you have no say in how the Legion operates.”
Damn, I liked this guy’s nerve even if he was a little naive to think the Thalmor didn’t at least influence how the Legion did things.
“You insect! I will-”
“You will sit down and shut up before I throw you outside myself.” I cut in.
The agent looked ready to burst a blood vessel but when he noticed that the three humans didn’t seem too upset at my proposal, calmed himself slightly. “Very well, we can follow your suggestions for now. But I warn you, this will have consequences.”
With that the jackass stormed off to a corner and sulked.
“Fucking elitist bastard.” I muttered.
Apparently I wasn’t quiet enough since the Nord in front of me chuckled a bit.
“I see there is no love for the Thalmor even among the elves. My name is Hadvar. I was the aide for Captain Resta before this madness happened.” he introduced himself.
“Thalin Fernbrook. I’d give you my profession, but I dabbled in too many things to fit neatly into a single box.” I replied.
“So long as you can take care of yourself I won’t judge. Now come on, Guriig and Skunar will have gathered anything useful by now and I want to get as far away from that dragon as possible.”
I furrowed my eyebrows. “Shouldn’t you wait for your captain? I was sure you would insist on at least waiting a bit to see if she arrived.”
Hadvar simply shook his head. “Captain Resta is dead. One of those rocks from the sky landed right on her. Never had a chance.”
I winced at the thought but considering it couldn’t have happened to a nicer person I wasn’t going to pretend to be upset.
The five of us gathered by the door going deeper into the keep and slowly advanced. The walls around us shook every once in a while as the black dragon rampaged around the town. Dust was knocked loose from the ceiling and everyone was giving the ageing ceiling cautious looks.
Very shortly we came to a wooden portcullis gate and heard voices on the other side.
“We need to get moving! That dragon is tearing up the whole keep!” A male voice said, trying to urge whoever he was with onward.
“Just give me a minute… I’m out of breath…” a female voice replied.
“Yeah… sorry Ralof but I just ran through town with a dragon trying to blast me to oblivion… I need a sec to recover.” another male voice spoke up.
Hadvar snuck up to the door lever and prepared to open the door.
“Hear that? Stormcloaks. Maybe we can reason with them.” he whispered.
“Better let me go out first then.” I whispered back. “Less chance of them jumping on us if they don't immediately see imperial armour. Just try to keep the high idiot back?”
He nodded and lowered the gate. The Stormcloaks on the other side all cried out in alarm and I stepped into the room. At a glance I saw one of them was the kid I guessed was the Dragonborn and two Nords.
The kid looked scared out of his mind and the second he saw me charged with an iron axe. The kid clearly had no combat experience since he made no move to react as I grabbed his wrist and disarmed him. Twisting to a side I threw him face first to the floor and put a foot on his back.
“Peace! I just want to talk!” I cried, throwing up my hands at the other two who were still in the process of raising their weapons to show I was unarmed.
“What do you want wood elf, this is no time to be sneaking around.” the Nord I figured was Ralof demanded.
“A truce. I have imperial soldiers behind me. We just want to pass through the keep without bloodshed. You and the Imperials can go back to killing each other once we escape. Deal?”
“Why are you negotiating then if you aren’t with them? And why should we trust you.” The female nord growled.
“Because all of you see the other uniform and attack first and ask questions never.” I shot back. “Do we have a deal?”
Ralof looked at the female and then to the boy struggling under my boot. “Let the boy up and arm himself. We won’t attack but I don’t trust you elf.”
I huffed at the implication my word of honor meant nothing, but stepped off the kid.
He scrambled to his feet with a red face, either from shame or exertion from trying to throw me off, and ran off to get his axe. When he had moved back to the others Ralof nodded at me. “Call them in.”
Tensions were already going to be high with the two factions meeting in such a hostile environment. It probably didn’t help that the three of them had also just escaped a death sentence. The Thalmor idiot certainly didn’t make it easier.
The first thing the moron did when he saw the three escaped prisoners was demand that the rest of us kill them.
I argued that we agreed to meet under truce to help each other survive until we could get away from Helgen.
The Imperials and Stormcloaks kept a nervous eye on the other group while the two of us screamed at each other.
The Thalmor was the first to lose patience. “Either follow orders or I will have the soldiers kill you as well!” he threatened. An upturned hand started sparking with arcane lightning.
“Is that how you want to play it?” I growled back.
He gave me another one of those condescending sneers. “Kill them or join them in death. You have till the count of three. One… two…”
With each count the tension grew. I glared at the idiot for daring to pull this while the town around us burned to the ground. He wanted me to make a decision? Fine.
The Altmer stared uncomprehendingly at the dagger hilt that sprouted out of his chest. It was like the thought I would kill him never even crossed his mind. With one final gasp, he collapsed to the floor in a heap. With a few quick motions I cleaned my dagger on his cloak and returned it to its sheath.
“Now then shall we move on?” I asked both groups. They actually seemed stunned by my actions.
“You killed him.” One of the Imperial soldiers breathed, Guriig I think.
“Do you have a problem with that?” I cocked an eyebrow at him. “Or are you upset we don’t have a pointless fight on our hands?”
Guriig looked a little sheepish.
“Just jealous it wasn’t me, miss.” he replied, which got nervous laughter from nearly everyone else. I noticed the kid was pale and muttering to himself under his breath. Heh, not so fun when it isn’t a game huh kid? Better shape up quickly if you want to keep living.
I turned back to Ralof and the still unnamed Nord. “Is this all of your people? I don’t want another situation like this if we can help it.”
“We sent a few further down into the keep.” The female said. “I can go let them know we have an agreement not to start anything.”
“No, I’ll go Ingrid.” Ralof cut in. “You’re still dead on your feet. I can run ahead and let them know. Keep an eye on the kid okay?” Huh, I wasn’t the only one that called him that.
“You sure? You’d be better than me if a fight broke out.” Ingrid said not even bothering to hide her discomfort at being left with a bunch of Imperials. To be fair, they did want to execute her just a little while ago.
Ralof nodded. “You can trust Hadvar to keep his word. I… knew him growing up.”
“Fine. Then let's get out of here.”
The whole group moved further into the keep. Ralof ran ahead to warn the rest of the Stormcloaks while we took the chance to raid more supplies from a store room.
I saw the kid stumbling around the entire room trying to pack away as many things as possible. He picked up every potion bottle without even trying to determine the type, every ingredient he came across, and any weapons he got his hands on. The result was him trying not to drop the whole mess while cursing that he couldn’t access his ‘inventory’. While everyone else laughed figuring he had some experience as a merchant, I just laughed at how poorly he was adjusting to a world where it wasn’t a game.
Grabbing everything not nailed down didn’t work so well if you didn’t have an enchanted space to store it all.
I pointedly did not shift the long boxlike object hanging around my hips.
Ralof returned with another two Stormcloaks. The Imperials all stiffened up when they realised the newcomers had bloodstains on their clothes. I saw everyone except Hadvar start reaching for a weapon.
“Are we going to have a problem, Ralof?”
I’ll give him credit. Hadvar was good at keeping himself under control standing in between a bunch of soldiers preparing to hack each other to pieces. I on the other hand moved towards the edges of the room, ready to stay out of the way if they attacked each other.
Ralof shifted his hand higher on the axe at his side ready to draw it at a moment. “We came across a torturer and his assistant.” He said in response, letting Hadvar make the decision if they would fight.
The Imperials had a nonverbal conversation as they shared a few looks between them. The Stormcloaks started to spread out across the room. The kid started to hyperventilate before placing himself in between the two groups.
“H-hold on g-guys. W-w-we a-aren’t s-seriousl-ly g-going t-t-to fight over-r tourterers? R-right?”
Give the kid credit. Despite shaking like a leaf he managed to stare everyone down, I saw the rest of the group relaxing as well. For some reason no one particularly likes torturers. The mere mention they would be the reason they fought lowered the hostility in the room.
“Good job kid.” I murmured as I walked by him to continue further into the keep.
He gave me an uncertain look and followed after me.
After that, there was little issue moving through the tunnels when we discovered the path through the catacombs. The crumbling architecture was nice to look at, but the shaking ceiling from the Dragon still thrashing around on the surface convinced us to move through it quickly until we reached a section of natural caves.
Aside from some frostbite spiders that were quickly dispatched between the Stormcloaks and Imperials the only other living thing we came across was a cave bear, which I dispatched with an arrow through its eye.
So now that we had been stumbling through caverns for a couple hours we were probably pretty close to the exit.
“So where did your bow go?” The kid eventually asked. He had calmed down significantly once he realised we weren’t going to be fighting for our lives the whole way out.
“What are you talking about?” I asked in return.
“Well you had an elven bow earlier but you don’t have a quiver or a bow on your back now. I wanted to know what happened to them.”
I let out a small laugh. “Kid, your back is just about the worst place to keep a weapon if you plan on actually using it in a fight. I keep my stuff more accessible for a reason.” I said pulling back my cloak to let him see the two daggers on my hips and my bow secured on the special clamps to a bronzed box-like object with the fletching of one arrow poking through a hole on one of the ends.
“Easier and faster than trying to make sure it doesn’t catch on your back.” I explained seeing him look over my weapons (and other things) with interest. I quickly covered myself back up with the cloak and the kid flushed realizing he was caught.
“S-so, uh, are you new to Skyrim?” he asked.
“Really kid? You’re trying to flirt in the middle of a dragon attack?”
“Wha-? No! I was just trying to smalltalk. You know, take my mind off waking up in a ga-, er, in a wagon and being sent to an execution for no reason.”
“So uh, how did you end up working for the Legion? Bosmer tend to stay in Valenwood right?”
I gave the kid a sideways glance. “I don’t work for the Legion. And humans aren’t the only races to travel around the provinces.”
“But you were with them when the attack started?” He seemed confused.
I huffed. “No, I just wound up taking cover in the keep with them. If it wasn’t for the Legion closing the gates for the execution I would have been halfway to Whiterun by now.”
He quieted down, presumably lost in his own thoughts as we came around the final bend in the cave.
Everyone gave out a cry of joy at the sight of sunlight and open sky.
We finally made it out of Helgen.