The Song of Deirdre – Chap. 51




I felt myself lifted up as I entered the swirling light. I could see nothing but ever-changing colors and flashes of what looked like stars. This went on for some time, whether long or short, I could not tell. Then my feet touched solid ground once more, and the swirling light gradually cleared. I stood at the top of a set of steps leading down into a mist-filled valley ringed with jagged peaks. Across this valley the rooflines of a great hall loomed above the fog – the destination of the souls of the Nord dead, I guessed. A path began at the foot of the steps, lined with gargantuan statues of hooded figures – the grim-faced kings and heroes of old.

It had been day when I stepped into the portal but here in Sovngarde the stars shone bright. Directly above was some sort of light, bright like the sun, but shimmering white like the light of the moons, ringed with swirling clouds. Perhaps this was the other end of that column of light on which I had traveled.

And now I heard a roaring coming from within the mist, the familiar call of a dragon. Out across the valley a winged shape appeared above the mists for just a moment then plunged back in. It was Alduin, and he was hunting the souls of the dead. I dashed down the steps, eager to challenge him to our final confrontation. Many months I had waited for this moment, and now I would tarry no longer.

Only then did I stop to consider in what form I had arrived in Sovngarde. I held my hands out in front of my face. They looked solid enough. I clapped them together. They felt solid enough. I slapped my cheek. I felt pain, just as I had in the land of the living. I took a deep breath and felt the air going in and out as my heart went on beating as usual. I was no ghost, but had traveled to Sovngarde with my body intact, just as that glimpse of Alduin showed that he was a corporeal being and not some shade of a dragon.

I continued down the steps and into the mist. It was so thick I could barely make out the way, finding myself clambering over rocks instead of following the path. Then I remembered I had a way to clear this fog. “Lok-Vah-Koor!” I shouted. The mists parted ahead of me and I soon found the path, but then the mists closed in again. I continued groping my way forward, waiting for my Thu’um to restore itself.

A figure loomed out of the gloom, so close that I nearly ran into him. He was a Nord, dressed in a Stormcloak uniform.

“Aiieee!” he cried, cringing, when he saw me.

“It’s all right, friend,” I said, and reached out to touch his arm. I was surprised to feel solid flesh. He was as real and alive as I was, save for one thing – he was cold, colder than any mortal could be and still live.

His eyes widened when he felt the warmth of my hand. “You’ve come from the land of the living! How did you come here if not on the death-road?”

“I followed Alduin through his portal from Nirn. I am here to challenge him.”

“You are doom-driven indeed to dare travel here – and to face Alduin! He hunts us here in this mist-covered vale. I have been fortunate to escape him so far. He has already feasted on many of my comrades.”

“How did you come here?”

“In the usual way. My war-band was ambushed by the Imperials. We fought bravely, holding our shield wall steady and felling many of their warriors. But an arrow took me and I never learned how the battle turned out. Still, it was a good death, and it put me on the path to Sovngarde. Yet now I doubt I will reach the Hall of Valor, these mists are so thick.”

“What causes them?”

“They spring from Alduin himself. He shouts and they spew forth, snaring us in this valley. He is cunning. I have heard the dying screams of many of my comrades. They are more awful than the deaths of the living, for it is a death more awful and final than any known to mortal kind. There is no comfort for a soul facing Alduin’s jaws, only the grim knowledge that he will soon become one with the World Eater. I dare not go on.”

“Come, follow me, and I will clear these mists and keep Alduin at bay. I will lead you to the Hall of Valor. What is your name, friend?”

“Stenvar,” he said, and made reluctantly to follow. I used the Clear Skies shout again. When the mists parted, Alduin was there, not twenty paces away. He leapt into the air before I could think to attack, and I could not shout Dragonrend at him until my Thu’um was restored. Next to me, Stenvar trembled.

“Ah, you have followed me, Dovahkiin,” Alduin called down. “You are persistent in pursuit of your doom. But you cannot prevent my feasting on the souls of your countrymen, these mists are so thick.” Then he was gone, disappearing into the fog once more.

“You see, Stenvar, Alduin runs from me. You have nothing to fear.” But a moment later Alduin made my words folly, swooping down silently from behind us and grasping Stenvar in his talons. I shouted Dragonrend at him, to no effect. Either my shout missed him, or something in this mist shielded him from me. It was too awful. I had promised to protect Stenvar, and yet I was helpless. Alduin disappeared into the mists, and Stenvar’s screams were awful to hear. Then, abruptly, they ended.

I walked farther into that valley, cursing my boastful mouth, still groping through the mists and saving my breath for Dragonrend, should Alduin show himself again. When he did, I would be ready and I would not miss him this time. The path wound between crag and tor, with here and there another of the grim statues, ominous guardians of the way. Yet they could offer no help to those of us who walked this vale. I could still hear Alduin’s roaring, farther ahead now.

Time passed and I had yet to arrive at the hall, though it had seemed but a mile distant when I first saw it. Then another figure appeared from out of the mists, this time a woman in Imperial uniform. She told a story much the same as Stenvar’s, having died in battle with the Stormcloaks.

“Careful, my friend,” she said, “for Alduin hunts us in these mists. Make your way to Shor’s Hall, if you can, and tell them of our great peril. Ysgramor and the heroes of old, the great god Tsun, even Shor himself – all are within. Surely they will not deny us once they know of our need.”

I was about to argue with her, to tell her that I was here to face Alduin, not to meet the gods in their hall, when Alduin roared again. Now he was much closer, right behind us. I turned and shouted Dragonrend in the direction of his roaring, the rippling shockwave of my shout hitting him as he emerged from the mists. Again it had no effect. I hit him with a fireball spell as he closed with us, but it too did nothing. He hung his head down on his long neck, jaws open as he swooped past, snatching the Imperial soldier from where she cowered next to me. The buffeting of the World Eater’s wings knocked me from my feet. When I stood up, nothing but fog and silence surrounded me.

I had wanted only to throw myself against Alduin’s might, yet he would not let me near him. “Come out and face me, vile wyrm!” I screamed into the mists. “Why do you fly away?”

There was no answer. It seemed I was at the World Eater’s mercy, since my attacks had no effect. Yet he had taken the Nords and avoided me, twice now. Did the mists make it impossible for us to attack each other? It was a mystery.

I walked on. Again it seemed I should have come to the Hall of Valor twice over by now. I used Clear Skies again, since Dragonrend seemed useless. The mists parted for a short distance, far enough for me to see a set of steps leading up a slope, with paths leading off to left and right around the crag. I began climbing the steps, hoping to rise above the mists.

I had been climbing upwards for some time, thinking the fog would never end, when I heard a voice off to my left. “Who’s there? By Ysmir, tell me Alduin has gone away!”

I walked toward the voice and soon encountered a man crouching beneath an overhang of rock. He was dressed in the plain tunic and rough boots of a farmer. He looked familiar.

“You!” he said when he saw me. “You come from the land of the living!”

“I do,” I said, though I wondered how he could know it.

“Was that you I heard shouting?”

“It was.”

“Who are you?”

“I am Deirdre Morningsong, and some call me the Dragonborn. I am the one who defeated Alduin and sent him here. Now I aim to put an end to him once and for all.”

His eyes grew wide. “You slew Alduin in the world of the living? Then you are a better fighter than I am. It was this very dragon who sent me here. I died protecting my family from the World Eater.”

“I know you! You’re Bjorn Sheep-Shearer!”

“How do you know that?”

I faltered then. I hated to think how I had last seen him. “Your name … it is well known in Whiterun after you fought to protect your family.”

“I fear my efforts did little good.”

“Yet they were not in vain. You bought time for your children to escape.”

“Harry and Huldi? They still live? How do you know that?”

“I … met them in Whiterun, at the Temple of Kynareth. Danica Pure-Spring was caring for them.”

“My wife, Agna, she didn’t…?”

I shook my head. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault,” he said. “Yet I haven’t seen her here…”

“Come,” I said, “we should ponder the vagaries of the afterlife later. I must get to the Hall of Valor, in hopes of finding some way to conquer the World Eater. Maybe Shor himself will come out to help us. Follow me if you can, and I will do my best to protect you. But I warn you, I could do little for the other souls I have encountered on the path.”

We set off up the steps, Bjorn looking around warily. Soon we emerged from the mists and saw that we were on a broad tor that kept rising in the direction we were walking. I turned to look the way I had come. This mist-filled valley stretched to the mountains and the steps where I had entered this place. Alduin was busy over there, swooping and diving into the mist.

“Come, let’s make haste,” I said, “while Alduin is elsewhere.”

We kept climbing up the slope and soon came to the crag’s summit. Beyond it was the Hall of Valor, very close now, its imposing roofline on a level with the peak where we stood. This side of the crag plunged steeply down to a wide terrace, and from there a bridge made from the skeleton of some gargantuan beast spanned a chasm to the hall itself.

“Quickly! Let’s get down there,” I said. We found our way down through the rocks, the mist enveloping us once more. I used the Clear Skies shout to open the way.

Ahead of us, across a clearing, steps led up onto the terrace and from there a path led to the entrance to the skeleton bridge, a narrow passage created by the beast’s upright hip bones. The mists did not reach this far. The way to the hall was clear – save for the brute of a Nord warrior guarding the entrance. He was huge, more than eight feet tall, his muscled torso bare from the waist up, and a broad axe slung across his back. He had shoulder length brown hair and a short beard.

We approached and he addressed me, ignoring Bjorn. “What brings you to Shor’s honored halls, grim wayfarer? Seldom do the living wander here in Sovngarde, soul’s end. And it has been many turnings of Nirn since any have passed through Alduin’s mists.”

“I am the Dragonborn, and my doom is to pursue Alduin to his end, or mine. Yet somehow I cannot come at him in these mists.”

“A fateful errand! No few have chafed to face the wyrm since first he set his soul snare here on Sovngarde’s threshold. But Shor restrained our wrath. Perhaps, deep-counseled, he foresaw your doom.”

“Perhaps Shor will know how I can defeat Alduin in this place. I seek entrance to his hall.” It took me a moment to realize how strange it was – I had just asked for an audience with a god. But what the Nord warrior said next was even more strange.

“You will not find him here, for his mien is so bright that not even the souls of the dead can look on him. I am Tsun, shield thane to Shor.”

Tsun! One of the divines of the Old Nordic pantheon, the god of trials against adversity. Next to me, Bjorn sank to his knees.

“Will you help me defeat Alduin?” I asked. “Or show me how I may do it?” Surely between the two of us we could vanquish the World Eater!

He shook his head. “No, that is not my role. But there are those within who may assist you.”

“Then may I have entrance?”

“Living or dead, worthy errand or no, by decree of Shor none may pass the whalebone bridge until I deem them worthy by the Warrior’s Test.”

In the next instant he was pulling the broad axe from behind his back and shouting at us. “Fus-Ro-Dah!” His shout staggered me and sent Bjorn flying – fortunately for Bjorn, because it got him out of the way. Then Tsun was upon me, his axe raised for a mighty blow. My own Unrelenting Force shout caught him square in the chest, staggering him in return. I hit him with a fireball before he could recover, knocking him back another pace. It cannot be this easy to best a god, I thought.

I was right. I was readying another spell when he shouted again, surprising me with how quickly his Thu’um had restored itself. The shout interrupted my spell-casting, and then he was upon me again. This time I could only dodge to my right. But not quite in time. The axe’s curved blade caught my upper arm as I turned with it, slicing deep and knocking me to the stone terrace.

At least I had the presence of mind to roll with the fall, putting some distance between us as Tsun lumbered after me. Then I was on my feet and running toward the head of the stairs. Reaching them, I turned and blasted him with another fireball. But now I could only single-cast, my left arm dangling limply at my side. He did not stagger but kept coming toward me, his armor and his hair ablaze. I began backing around the terrace, moving slowly over the rock slabs, blasting him as often as I could. Still he kept coming. Blood ran down my arm, yet I dared not take time to heal myself.

Then I backed into a standing whale bone. Tsun raised his axe for a final blow.

So this is how it would end, I thought. I would never reach the Hall of Valor. I would never face Alduin. I would die here at the hands of Shor’s gate-keeper. Then I felt my Thu’um restore itself. “Fus-Ro-Dah!” I shouted, and Tsun staggered as I crumpled to the ground with my back against the standing bone.

Tsun stood upright and sheathed his axe across his back. “You fought well, Dragonborn. Your Thu’um is stronger than any I have felt in many an age. I find you worthy to enter the Hall of Valor.” He reached a hand down to help me up, and I took it.

I cast a close wounds spell on myself, then reached into my robes for a healing potion. That stopped the bleeding and muted the pain. I felt better, but a bit light-headed. Then I looked around for Bjorn. He was watching from some distance away, crouched behind a rock. Now he rose stiffly and made his way over to us. He was bruised and there was a gash over his right eye. He had survived Tsun’s shout, but I knew that he would not survive a battle with the god.

“Great Tsun,” I said, adopting my humblest tones. “I can vouch for the valor of this man, Bjorn Sheep-Shearer. I saw him fight Alduin bravely and die in the World Eater’s maw, all to protect his family.”

“You saw it?” Bjorn asked. “But how…?”

I shook my head at him, then turned back to Tsun. “I ask that you allow him to enter the Hall of Valor along with me.”

Tsun considered for a moment. “It’s true that he survived my shout. Not every soul who comes here can say as much.”

“Wait,” Bjorn said. “Have you seen my wife, Agna? We died on the same day, yet I fear she couldn’t get past you, even if she found herself on the path to Sovngarde.”

“None has come this way since Alduin set the soul snare. And I would remember a farm wife, since never before has such a one walked this way.”

“Yet she showed a kind of valor,” I said. “It’s true she did not confront Alduin, but she shouted at her children to run, even as the dragon bore down upon her.”

Bjorn looked at me quizzically once more. Then he turned back to Tsun. “It is a hard thing that Shor’s gift to the honored dead separates them from their loved ones. Tell me, what happens to those who fail your test?”

“Their souls merge into the All-Soul of Aetherius,” Tsun said, “along with all those deemed unworthy to walk this road.”

“Then I would have you send me there, so I can be with my Agna.”

“Wait,” I said, putting a hand on his arm. “Do you know that you will forget who you were in life, just as Agna will? It will be no happily ever after with your loved one, if that’s what you were imagining.”

“Better an eternity of blissful nothingness than one without Agna. Not all the mead and songs of Shor’s Hall could heal the bitter loss I feel.”

At that moment, I envied him his choice. If only I could choose that nothingness as well, I thought. And I could have, if I had let Tsun defeat me. Yet my doom drove me on – that, and pity for the souls Alduin was devouring even now.

“Very well,” said Tsun. He turned to me. “You may make your way across the Whalebone Bridge.”

“If you live to see Skyrim once more,” Bjorn said to me, “tell my children I love them.”

“I will,” I said, then passed through the passage to the bridge. The whale’s spine formed the bridge itself, with its massive ribs making steps like a ladder laid flat.

I came to the doors of the great hall. Within, it was as grand as without, far larger than any palace in Skyrim. A throng of Nords filled the place, men and women in hide armor toasting and singing war songs. A long table ran the length of the main hall, laden with roast pig, bread, honey, fruits of all sorts, and tankards of mead. Beyond the table, two whole oxen roasted on large spits set over pits of blazing coals. More wings of the hall were to the left and right, one with rows of large barrels, no doubt filled with mead, ale, and wine. For a hall of the dead, the place certainly catered to Nirnly delights.

Before I could take in any more of the place, a grizzled old warrior approached. He was stout and hale, with a full beard that grew down to his chest and long gray hair. I recognized him as Ysgramor from his statue in Jorrvaskr.

“Ah, Dragonborn. Long has our door stood empty, since Alduin first set his soul snare. Many here would meet the foul wyrm in battle, but Shor forbade it until your arrival.”

“Where is the lord of this hall? I see his throne sits empty.” It was on a raised platform beyond the roasting oxen, the pride of place at the high table. “I seek his advice and aid.”

Ysgramor gave the same answer as Tsun. Apparently he was nowhere to be found. “Yet three heroes await you here. From them you will find aid.”

He gestured to a group of Nords standing near the entrance to the barrel hall – two warriors, one male and one female, and a mage. I recognized them as Hakon, Gormlaith, and Felldir, the Tongues who had used the Elder Scroll on Alduin.

I descended the short flight of steps into the hall and began making my way toward them through the crowd of drinking and singing heroes. The revelers must have sensed that I was one of the living, because they became quiet and their eyes grew wide as I passed, as if they had seen a ghost.

The hall was silent by the time I reached the three heroes of the Dragon War. They looked at me with as much surprise as all the rest.

Felldir the Old spoke first. “The lord of this hall told us to expect a doom-bound hero, but we didn’t expect…”

I groaned. “A Breton? I do have some Nord blood as well.”

“It is passing strange,” said Hakon One-Eye. “None but true-blooded Nords have passed these doors since Shor first gave his gift to the people of Skyrim.”

“Never mind that,” said Gormlaith Golden-Hilt. “Give me one of noble heart over pure blood any day. And this day we will be thankful of her dragonblood.”

“Yes, no one can know the mind of Akatosh,” Felldir said.

“Neither do I know why Akatosh chose me as the Dragonborn, yet here I am. I will make Alduin pay the death-price, if only he will let me near him, and for that, it seems I need your aid.”

“It is the mists he has woven in the valley,” Felldir said. “They make him immune to all attacks.”

“Then what can I do?”

“Let us join our Voices together,” said Gormlaith. “This Dragonborn’s Thu’um must be strong if it has brought her here. Together we will shout the skies of Sovngarde clear once more! Then Alduin must face us, as he did long ago.”

“Gladly will I join you in battle, Dragonborn, Breton or no,” Hakon said. “Long has my axe been silent. Now I would let it taste of Alduin’s blood once again!”

A great cheer rose up in the hall. “Down with Alduin!” they cried out. “Let the souls of our dead walk the path to Sovngarde without fear!”

Gormlaith was looking at me. “You look wan, Dragonborn. Are you sure you’re ready to face the World Eater? Would you take some refreshment before we confront him?”

I knew she was right. I was still feeling light-headed and weak after my encounter with Tsun. “Perhaps just a sweetroll,” I said. “And a cup of mead.”

We sat at the great table in the middle of the hall, the three Tongues watching me as I ate, and the rest of the hall silent once more. The mead was the sweetest I had ever tasted.

Finally Hakon One-Eye spoke up “What’s the matter with all of you? Is this any way to send heroes off to battle?” Then a bard broke into “The Dragonborn Comes.”

Our hero, our hero claims a warrior’s heart. Somehow the song didn’t bother me as much as it once had. If ever there was a time to sing it, it was now.

Then Felldir asked me how it happened that I had stalked Alduin to Sovngarde. I told them of retrieving the Elder Scroll, of witnessing them using Dragonrend on Alduin, and then my own battle with the World Eater.

“And you defeated him on your own?” Gormlaith asked, her voice skeptical.

“No, I had the help of Paarthurnax and my … housecarl.”

“Paarthurnax!” Felldir exclaimed. “So he still helps mortalkind?”

“Yes, though some say we cannot trust him, that he must pay for the atrocities he committed before the Dragon War.”

“Then they are fools!” Hakon said, pounding the table with his fist. “Without Paarthurnax, Nords would still feel the dragons’ talons on their necks. We never would have won the Dragon War.” His two companions nodded in agreement.

I drained the last of my mead.

“Come, my friends, it is time, if the Dragonborn is ready,” Gormlaith said. “Let us go out and face the World Eater with gladness in our hearts.”

“I am indeed ready to have this over and done,” I said. “But there is no gladness in my heart, and I doubt there will be ever again. Yet I am content, whether I go to victory or to my end. I will have rest from my long questing – either the rest of Aetherius’ eternal sleep, or the well-earned rest due the victors in battle.”

“Then you are doom-driven indeed,” Gormlaith said. “Come, brothers, let us help the Dragonborn to make such an end that the bards will sing of it for a thousand years!”

With that we rose from the table and left those hallowed halls. Outside, it was still the eternal night of Sovngarde, lit by the light of Aetherius. In the shadowed vale, the mists still stirred and Alduin still roared. We crossed the Whalebone Bridge and met Tsun once more.

“The eyes of Shor are upon you this day,” he said. “Defeat Alduin and destroy his soul snare.”

Shor was watching? Then why didn’t he come down and slay Alduin himself? Or, better still, why didn’t Akatosh? He was the one who had set me on this path. Were we just the gods’ playthings? I felt like a warrior in the Imperial City Arena, whose life or death served only as entertainment for a drunken throng. But I couldn’t bother with that, not now. I must fulfill my destiny, whether I was just a toy of the gods or no.

We descended the steps to the edge of the fog. “Let us try our Voices on this mist,” Felldir said. “Together!”

“Lok-Vah-Koor!” we shouted, and the mists parted. But then we heard an answering shout from farther along the valley, where the crag in front of us blocked our view. “Ven-Mul-Riik!” The mists returned, as thick as ever.

“Again!” Hakon commanded, and again we shouted. But again Alduin answered us and the mists returned.

“Is there no end to his power?” Hakon said.

“No, he is weakening,” said Gormlaith. “Let us shout once more!”

Again we shouted and the mists cleared. This time there was no answering shout, but a roar of frustration and rage. Then we heard the beating of vast wings and Alduin was there on the crag above us. “Pahlok joorre,” he said. “Hin kah fen kos bonaar!” He had said the same thing at Helgen. I hadn’t understood him then, but now I did. “Foolish mortals, your pride will be humbled!” he had taunted us.

“You said that to me once before, World Eater, but still I am not humble!”

“Now for him!” Gormlaith shouted.

Gormlaith and Hakon drew their bows and began shooting while Felldir and I blasted Alduin with spells of frost and lightning. Then Alduin hit us with his fire breath, forcing us back.

“Spread out!” Gormlaith said.

Alduin launched himself from his perch and began swooping on each of us in turn. I tumbled out of his way just as his talons were about to close on me, but Hakon was not so lucky. The World Eater snatched him up and carried him to the top of the crag. Then, in full view of us, he clamped his fangs across Hakon’s neck and torso and the Nord hero was no more. All that was left of him – his soul – swirled up in that familiar whirl of flame and energy and entered Alduin.

The dragon grinned down at us. “Ah, your friend’s soul was powerful indeed. I am nearly strong enough to return to Nirn and finish my task. Perhaps next I will feast on the soul of the Dragonborn!”

Gormlaith stared at the World Eater for a moment, too shocked to speak. Then something seemed to snap inside her. “No!” she roared. “I will have vengeance for my sword-brother.” Then she shouted, just as Alduin again took wing. “Joor-Zah-Frul!” The World Eater came down in the clearing between the terrace and the crag, and Gormlaith was charging at him, sword held high.

Felldir and I hit him with our spells, which now had better effect. Alduin shrank back under their impact and could not parry Gormlaith’s attack. She bashed his snout with her shield, then slashed at him with her sword. He snapped at her again and again, but she dodged his jaws, countering each time with sword and shield. Yet, as effective as her attacks were, we dared not shout and hit her as well. Then the dragon blasted her with his fire breath and for that she had no defense. She went to one knee.

Instead of finishing her, Alduin launched himself into the air. Felldir and I both shouted Dragonrend at him the moment he was clear of Gormlaith, while she tried to crawl away. The World Eater came crashing back to the ground, this time close to Felldir. I hit him with spell after spell, staggering him each time in hopes of keeping him off the mage. Felldir was backing away while casting his own spells. Then our magicka ran out at the same time, and Alduin shouted “Yol-Toor-Shul” at the old mage, enveloping him in fire. Like Gormlaith, Felldir went to one knee and tried to scramble away from that fearsome blast.

Alduin could have finished him then, yet he took flight once again. I shouted Dragonrend, but too late, the World Eater was moving so fast.

“Now, Dovahkiin, see if you can catch me before I reach the portal,” he said as he circled above the terrace, and then he was flying toward the other end of the valley.

“No!” I shouted after him. Gormlaith and Felldir were still on their knees, but I had no time to help them. I had to stop Alduin before he reached the portal. If he escaped to Nirn, then all was lost.

I ran down the path circling the crag, Gormlaith calling after me, “No, Dragonborn, wait!” But I could not wait. I used Whirlwind Sprint to cover the distance more rapidly and then I was out of earshot of the two surviving heroes.

I rounded the crag and saw that Alduin had landed near the head of the valley, at the foot of the steps. He wasn’t making for the portal after all. He had tricked me into meeting him on my own.

“Now we face each other as equals,” he said.

I’ve got my wish at last, I thought as I walked toward him. After so many months of doubt and wandering, I had come to this end. I tried to summon that passion and outrage that had fueled me thus far – my vow to Harry and Huldi and Olaf’s family that I would have revenge on their loved ones’ murderer. But now that all seemed far away, mattering little here in Sovngarde. And preventing the world’s end – it was just too big a task. No, I was likely to lose myself in the fire of Alduin’s Thu’um, and I did not care, as I had cared about nothing since that moment Lydia walked out of my door.

But then a great revulsion swept over me. To let Alduin devour my soul, to become part of him – it was too awful. He had made me see through his eyes once before, and I would not do it again, certainly not for all eternity. Just the thought of it kindled my anger. If I was ready to let my life slip from me, my dragon soul would not give up so easily.

Then I felt something else contending with the anger and the hatred for Alduin. It is said that those about to die see a vision of their lives flash before their eyes. And I saw, not my whole life, nor its most traumatic events, but those sweetest moments I had shared with Lydia in the past weeks. And only then did I realize what a fool I had been. Why did I need to bind her to me forever? Why could I not be content with the joy I felt at each moment in her presence?

Then I vowed to myself that if I came through this trial, and if the gods allowed me to return to the mortal plane, I would go to Lydia and plead her forgiveness, her mercy even. I knew in my heart that she would pardon my youthful foolishness. She would take me back, she had to. And then our future life flashed before my eyes. I saw us living a quiet life together in Breezehome. We could travel Skyrim together, but only in good weather, and I would teach her the names of the flowers, and at night we would lie on our backs on soft grass and look at the stars. Or we would travel to Cyrodiil and she could show me the Imperial City, which I had longed to see since I was a child.

And with that vision, hope was kindled within my breast, and a great gladness. And that gladness mingled with my anger. I entered that contest with Alduin as one whose doom is certain – to defeat the World Eater and return to the love of my life.

Lydia was not here to shout rallying cries, so I did. “For Bjorn and Agna!” I shouted as I approached Alduin. “For Olaf! For Lydia! For all of Mundus!” Now we were just paces apart.

“You have grown arrogant, Dovahkiin,” Alduin said. “Now we will contend as dragonkind do, with our Voices.”

And so our contest began. Some call a battle between dragons a deadly debate between those whose words are fire and ice, death and dismay. And so it was with us. The statues of the ancient heroes looked down on us as if judging the merits of our arguments. Alduin’s were perhaps more glib, with shorter pauses between shouts, for he seemed to have an inexhaustible Thu’um. But mine were the more cogent. His shouts of Fo-Krah-Diin and Yol-Toor-Shul washed over me like summer rain followed by warm sunshine. He could not shake the silence I had taken deep within me. But my Thu’um shook him to the core. He staggered under each shout, and each time a look of fear grew in the baleful orbs of his eyes.

We traded several shouts of Fire and Frost and Unrelenting Force. Then, sensing that he was on losing ground, Alduin sought to intensify the argument. He called fire out of the sky, and great blazing boulders began raining down all around. His other shouts I could treat as mere words, but these flaming rocks were too real – if one hit me it would be my end.

“Lok-Vah-Koor!” I heard from behind me, and the rain of boulders ceased. Gormlaith and Felldir had recovered and come to my aid.

“I thank you, friends,” I said, keeping my eyes on Alduin, “but that is the only assistance I need. This is between Alduin and me.”

“As you say, Dovahkiin,” said Felldir. “It is as prophesied.”

I heard Gormlaith clashing her sword and shield together, and I knew she was not happy with this.

“Your arrogance will be your end, Dragonborn,” said Alduin, hitting me again with Unrelenting Force. I did not stagger.

“Krii-Lun-Aus!” I shouted at him. He did stagger, and the glow in his eyes became less bright.

“Your Thu’um is strong,” he said when he had recovered. “But you cannot match the strength of my jaws or the sharpness of my claws.” He lunged out at me with his fangs, but I jumped back.

“So, you would change the terms of this debate?”

“You think there should be rules of mortal combat? That there can be fair play when the fate of the world is at stake?”

“Well, if there are no rules…” I said, and hit him with a fireball spell. It staggered him for a moment, then he came rushing at me. “Feim!” I shouted, and I laughed as his jaws bit down on my ethereal form. I took the opportunity of his confusion to run behind him, conjuring my flame atronach as I went. He spun around, searching for me, but became distracted by the fire demon, though it was no more than a gnat to one of his power.

I cast invisibility on myself and ran up the slope at the side of the narrow valley. The atronach disappeared in a burst of flames.

“Where are you, nivahriin joor?” he demanded.

“Here!” I called as I sent another fireball down at him. I followed that up by shouting “Kaan!” It was the first word of the Kyne’s Peace shout, meant to calm wild animals.

“What’s this?” Alduin demanded, indignant. “You would treat me as a beast of the wild? You humans are the beasts compared to the dov, firstborn of Akatosh!” Then he gasped as he sought to draw breath for a shout. My calming shout had at least slowed his attack. I thought of him as a beast, and in shouting I had made it so.

He screamed, an utterance unintelligible to mortal or dov, then sought to launch himself into the skies. I had used only one word of the Kyne’s Peace shout, and my Thu’um was ready. The World Eater came crashing back to the ground under the weight of my Dragonrend shout.

I began hitting him with spell after spell, staggering him each time as he tried to come at me. I retreated after each blast, backing carefully over the rough valley floor. I hit him with another Marked for Death shout, and he appeared to grow weaker. Still, it seemed his life force was inexhaustible. I kept hitting him with fireball and ice storm spells, forcing him back and weakening him further. There was desperation in his eyes now, as he faced his true end. Never had I felt so little inclined to mercy.

Then my magicka ran out and he was rushing at me. My Thu’um had not restored itself, and there was no time to reach for a magicka potion. I only had time to draw my sword. I would end this journey as I had begun it, as a mere girl of the woods, fighting for my survival with tooth and nail.

The World Eater kept his head low and his snapping jaws thrust forward as he charged. I timed my movement perfectly, rolling to my right as his jaws clamped down on the space where I had just been. In the next instant he was rearing up to look for me. He spotted me, and this time I rolled directly at him, tumbled past his plunging jaws and coming up with my sword thrust upward into his exposed neck.

There was a hiss of steam, and then fiery black blood poured out of him, covering me. That was the first time in the battle that I was truly hurt, scalded by Alduin’s lifeblood. Perhaps only the cooling effect of my sword of frost saved me.

I let go of the sword and dove out from beneath him as he slumped heavily to the ground. I looked for him to rise again, knowing I couldn’t defend myself from further onslaught. But Alduin was done. He would rise no more.

Gormlaith and Felldir began cheering, “All hail the Dragonborn, hail her with great praise!” I ignored their cheers and waited, expecting to absorb Alduin’s soul, as I had done with every other dragon I had slain. But this time, the dragon writhed as if in agony as the swirl of fire and energy enveloped it. That swirling was not aimed at me but toward the sky. Alduin’s scales began cracking and coming off in great chunks, revealing a smaller dragon form within, not quite a skeleton, but a kind of dovunculus, black as ebony and smelling of death.

Then I heard Alduin’s voice, as if from far away. “No, Dovahkiin, though you have vanquished me, you will not devour my soul. There is no need. I am already within you. For I am nothing but the principle of destruction, the will to annihilation that lives within every being. You cannot defeat me.”

Then his blackened form burst apart, sending a shockwave of energy through Sovngarde, nearly knocking the three of us from our feet. When it was over, nothing of the World Eater remained.

The heroes of old came up to congratulate me with words of praise and adulation that should have stayed with me for an eternity. Yet I could barely heed them, with Alduin’s final words ringing in my ears, words that haunt me to this day.

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