Monday, March 26, 2012

Level 1

(Part II of II)
Sundas, 11:39 AM, 17th of Last Seed, 4E 201

“We'll meet again in Sovengarde, brother.”

I watched the blonde man, Ralof, pray over the corpse of another man in blue-draped armor. Screams and roars still echoed outside the stone tower, but we stand there in silence for what seems like a long minute before he speaks again. Trapped in the tower, with little idea of how to escape the village or the beast Dragon, I am at the mercy of my companion’s whim.   

He tells me to take what I can from the fallen. I find food, and take the blue cloth and mail. The armor hugs much tighter than the rags I woke up in. I cannot move as swiftly as I did before. But they are warm in the dampness of the stone tower. The fruit restores my energy. I tug at the tight mail as I watch the blonde man arm himself with a blade. I wonder what gifts he might store on his person as well. But we are off before I am able to explore the impulse further.

I hide in the shadows when the shouts come. Rattling chains haul up the gate, and two soldiers wander in. Crouched in the dark, I watch as the blonde man lunges for the two, hollering with a bloodlust that makes me cower further into the darkness. The attack from Dragon has left these people savage. Can they not see that there is a greater threat circling above them in the storm clouds?

A lantern crashes behind me as I back into the corner. One of the red soldiers turns quickly at the sound, and catches a glimpse of my face in the lamplight. She bounds at me, leaving her companion to Ralof’s blade. I scramble down the wall to flee, but she reaches me in moments, lifting her sword high above her head. Once, more, death is upon me. I panic. I want to live. I hide behind my hands, desperate to halt the blow. Every ounce of my being focused on the act of stopping my murder.

A shadow in the back of my mind distills my panic and fear into something else; a pure energy of unadulterated willpower. I shall live. I will not succumb. The voices have use for me yet. The room ignites with a blinding blue light, as that energy pounces from my outstretched hands, growing in the blink of an eye into a massive four legged beast. I shield my eyes from the unearthly light of the spectral form just as it smashes right into my attacker, knocking her backwards onto the cold stone. An audible series of cracks fill the air as the beast snarls down at its prey. There is a scream, and a moment later, the stone is coated by a hot stream of blood, and my savior raises its eyes to mine.

A wolf.

Ralof sends the tip of his blade into his foe’s skull as my spirit howls hungrily at the ceiling. At some point in the tumult I seem to have risen to my feet. I stand frozen, transfixed by the creature summoned from my fear. It is my protector, a message from the voices, their power reflected through me.

The blonde man takes only a moment to express awe at the wolf, before he reaches out to tug me by the shoulder. “We have to go. Hurry, this way.”  I watch Ralof hustle down the stairwell, and a whimper cries out in the darkness. I turn in a panic, only to see my protector collapse to the ground in a blinding light of agony, and disappear. Some light leaves my world at his passing, but I am not afforded the time to mourn as the tower shakes and a roar bellows from above. I chase after Ralof down the dim, damp hallway.

Dragon is hunting us, even with the stone of the tower between us. The walls shake and collapse with his rage as we delve deeper into the keep. Ralof urges me to continue collecting supplies, bottles filled with effervescent blue liquid and red elixirs warm to the touch. The growling in my stomach leads me to a firepit. I snatch a chunk of meat from a pot, and burn my hands. I flinch at the memory of Dragon’s heat. I fill my fists with a slice of cheese and some bread.

The tunnel goes on for hours. 

Ralof leads us through the winding stone hallways and stairs, felling any red soldiers that cross our path. The lower passages of the castle lead us to a labyrinth of caves and sewer grates. We follow paths downward into the earth, into massive caves marked by thick forests of webbing. The monstrosities that call these caves home do not take kindly to our presence. Ralof dispatches the giant spiders as I stay to the shadows, crouched out of sight, the memories of my wolf still fresh and painful in my mind. My body aches with exhaustion from the effort. I am unsure I will ever muster the strength to summon him again.

Amidst the ruined keep and the skirmishes, we stumble upon the middle of a fight down in a dimly lit chamber. Ralof seeks out his brethren in blue cloaked armor, but from the shadows I stare out at the cages lining the walls, and still bodies trapped within. Suddenly, I’m back on the altar, carnage and death surrounding me. This is a place of torture. My blood boils at the sight of the well armed, well fed soldiers. The torturers were paid well for their services.

My blood may be boiling, but every other inch of me sparks with a new found fury. It is akin to the energy I felt from fear, but somehow it seems stronger, more solid. That familiar blue glow fills the darkness, and the soldiers look to me in shock. From my hands burst forth another wave of brilliant bright energy, and once more, the wolf spirit dives into the fray. I watch its jaws clamp down on a red soldier’s arm with a mix of relief and terror.

With the dust settled, and the wolf spirit retreated once more, Ralof and I are now allied with three more Stormcloaks, as they call themselves. Just more men with swords. They curse the Imperials, the red mailed soldiers who took us from the woods. I find myself unfeeling to their plight beyond our own survival.

“Grab anything useful and let’s go,” Ralof orders, fitting himself with weapons from the well armed Imperials now dead on the floor of the torture chamber.

I glance down at the robed body at the bottom of one of the cages. As the Stormcloaks rummage through the room for equipments and weapons, one of their band shows me how to access the cage by wriggling a pair of thin metal sticks through the lock. It is difficult and time consuming, though my next few tries are not quite as hard.

Something draws me to the dead man’s robes, an energy surrounds them. I quickly remove the thick, clunky armor from my body, and slip into the hooded robe. It is freeing, no more restrictive than my rags, but most importantly, it is warm. The hood shields my face. I revel in the protective shadow it affords me. With my arms more free, I can lift my hands easily to once more summon forth my wolf. One of the Stormcloak soldiers jumps at the sound of my companion’s howl echo through the room. For the first moment I can recall, I smile. Energy surges through me, seemingly from the very robes I wear. Though I still tread quietly, my footsteps are calmer, more confident. For a glimmer of a moment, I am not afraid.

I sling a discarded knapsack over my arm, and begin to fill the bag with the potions and food stuffing my pockets. One of the Stormcloaks hands me a dagger of cold iron. He must insist for a long moment before I finally take the blade. I glance back to a table, and study the book resting there. On an ebony field is imprinted an all too familiar image: a beast, long and terrible, with a pair of dreadful wings sprawled out. Dragon. I want no more to do with our tormentor. Mere thoughts of the creature make the burns on my skin ache. I leave the book on table without a second thought.

As our now larger group marches room to room in search of an escape, I stick silently to the back of the band of Stormcloaks. They abide my presence with them under Ralof’s insistence. He feels a sort of  kinship with me from our joined fates at the headsman’s block. I share little affinity for anything but the thought of my canine protector. I squeeze my fingers tight as I hear my wolf’s heartbreaking cry from around a corner. I hesitate summoning him again, for fear of causing him more pain.

A final stretch of cave systems bring us to blows with a band of imperial soldiers, no doubt seeking their own refuge from Dragon’s flames in the dark recesses of the keep. The Stormcloaks, with sword raised.

On the body of the last Imperial, I find a bow and weak arrows. At the sounds of battle echoing from several yards ahead of me, I gently tug the bow’s towards my cheek. My hand pulls back with ease. Have I known this before?

The swiftness with which I thread an arrow and send it flying into the shoulder blades of an Imperial soldier seems to answer my question.

Sundas, 01:58 PM, 17th of Last Seed, 4E 201
Soon, we emerge from the cave out onto the cliffside of a huge mountain. The sun scorches my eyes, it has been hours since I last have seen such light. The world stretches out before me, overwhelming. Overhead, a massive roar sends chills through my body. We hurry behind a line of boulders to watch the dreaded wings of Dragon fly past us. The creature disappears into the distance, behind a mountain.

As the Stormcloaks disband in search of refuge, Ralof offers me sanctuary in his village. The town Riverwood is less than a days walk, and his family will provide me food and shelter. I am almost tempted to take the offer, were it not for the town being in the path last flown by Dragon. My true companion soon howls at the western sky. I follow his gaze to the treetops. It is to the woods we must go. I take my first step into this new realm, Skyrim.

In the back of my mind, I can hear the voices call to me.

Sundas, 04:45 PM, 17th of Last Seed, 4E 201
First few hours of my trek through the wood are silent, peaceful. I am warm in my robes, and underneath the last hours of sunlight. I continue to summon my companion from his realm to mine, and he watches me silently, leaping ahead every few minutes to lead me further west. Whenever I hear that whimper of agony, and he is gone, I am struck with the most profound sadness. I cannot go long without the sounds of his paws padding behind me, and I quickly call him forth from the void once more.  His howl is the sound of safety. Of true companionship.

A rustling in the brush gives way to a massic horned animal, grazing on the lichen and grasses clinging to the rocky soil. My wolf take little account of the elk, but hunger soon takes hold of me, almost as great as my weakness to the cold had once been. The food I’d gathered from the keep did not last long as I had started this journey. I carry fewer arrows than I’d like, but if I am to eat, I suppose I must hunt. I crouch in the shadows of a bush, studying what I hope to soon be a meal. Lifting my bow to my cheek, I loose an arrow. Several yards away, it strikes a tree. The beast lifts its head at the sound, and after a moment, bolts away from me.

I leap from my hiding place and sprint to the tree, tugging out my arrow. My wolf is close on my heels, less interested by the quarry than my own run. I chase after the elk for several moments, before it slows in exhaustion. I keep my distance, yards away, and slowly prepare another arrow. It strikes the animal’s hide, but the pain merely sets it running once more. I get a second strike into the beast, but it only flees faster, taking with it two of my precious few iron arrows.

We wander in the direction of the elk’s path, my stomach churning with hunger pains. I walk silently along the side of the mountain, keeping one solid barrier between me and the burning village where I was to perish. The mountain begins to cast a long shadow as dusk nears. My wolf sniffs at something in the distance, and his steps slow. I look ahead past a line of pine trees and see a glowing light under an outcropping of stone from the base of the mountain.

Nearing the fire, I see three figures moving together in the shadows of the trees. A women and two men garbed in leather and furs, dance around what appears to be my wounded elk. My companion’s ears perk up as I near the camp, enraptured by the dance of the hunters after my former prey. They are graceful in their coordinated effort, the woman loosing an arrow straight under the jaw of the creature as a man with dark skin inches towards the wounded animal with a long knife. The elk hits the ground, and the hunter strikes a killing blow into its throat.

From behind me, my wolf howls plaintively as I stand in the open, watching the scene. At the sound, the three hunter’s spin around to face me. I study their faces, scarred and rough. They study me back, with angry eyes. One of the men stands from the elk, brandishing his blade at me with an unsettling smile. "Well ain't this a surprise…"

I back slowly from the trio, but they are soon upon me, weapons drawn. My true companion leaps to my defense, snarling at two of the men as I dart behind a tree to escape the bow of the woman. A slice from one of the men’s swords sends me reeling back, bleeding from my arm. A snap of the wolf’s jaws silences his steel.

The woman dashes towards me, a dagger drawn from her hip. I dodge away, eyes darting back to my wolf. The remaining attacker has my companion backed up to the wall of the mountain. I cannot watch for long, as a punch sends me onto the ground. She throws her knife at me, but I am able to roll away. Tugging my own blade from my boot, I attack with fury at the woman. The point drives deep into her chest, and I throw her to the ground, bleeding and moaning.

All three soon lie bleeding and still at our feet. Silence.

From the corpse of the woman,  I am able to scrounge off a bow of much higher quality than my own. All three carry arrows. I restock my leather quiver, and spend the sunset searching the bodies of my fallen foes.

I wander back to the fire, surrounded by smoking racks of fish, and a wooden chest. After feasting on the remains of another bloodied carcass on the fire. I settle onto a fur lined bed roll, and lie my head back, sated. My mind is not as easily calmed. These bandits were just like the soldiers. Cruel, quick to see me bleed. From the moment I awoke on the stone slab, I have witnessed nothing but death, hatred, and battle. I am tired of fighting, but I know little else. Sleep comes swiftly, but does not yield any sweet dreams.

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