It was dark when they began the long journey, and the darkness made the already perilous trek more dangerous than it had been before. Even as she shouted the pathway clear, it was often difficult to tell where the night ended and the mists began. More than once, they lost their footing, a hand always reaching out to grab and pull before one of them tumbled down the craggy mountainside to their death. As the sun began to rise over the Throat of the World, she found herself stopping to watch it, its gold and silver glow splintering into a rainbow of light so bright it nearly blinded her as it glinted off the frozen peaks. It was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen, a sunrise that would have taken Vilkas’s breath away.
“Wow,” Farkas marveled at its glory, shielding his eyes and squinting. “I… just wow.”
Turning back to look at him, he lowered his hand and smiled at her. She could see it in his eyes. He was completely at peace with what they were about to do; so was she. Reaching down between them, she clasped his fingers in hers and they climbed the final stretch together as Paarthurnax made his way down to perch on the peak before them.
Great voice booming that seemed to tremble the mountain, he called out, “You have it. The Kel… the Elder Scroll. Tiid kreh qalos. Time shudders at its touch.” She unslung her pack from her shoulder and drew out the Elder Scroll, holding it up to show him. He almost shivered when he saw it, a flash of terror in his ancient eyes. “There is no question, you are doom driven. Kogaan Akatosh. The very bones of the earth are at your disposal.”
“What do I do?”
“Go then,” he gestured with a wing toward a wavering space just near the wall. “Fulfill your destiny. Take the Kel to the Time Wound. Do not delay. Alduin will be coming. He cannot miss the signs.”
“I’ll watch your back,” Farkas promised with a nod when she turned back to look at him. “Go.”
She carried the Elder Scroll to the strange place, and though she could never describe how it felt to stand there, the only words she could call to mind were timeless. As if she stood on the very edges of a crack in the fabric of time. One step too far, and time would swallow her whole. Lifting the scroll, she drew it open and the world around her began to fade. No… fade wasn’t quite right. It merged. She was still standing in the same place, but just beyond the scroll’s view she could see the mountain. The world burned, great plumes of black smoke billowing all around as the shadow of a great dragon swarmed through them, headed straight at her, but she couldn’t move out of the way.
A warrior ran up the hillside crying out, “Gormlaith, we’re running out of time. The battle…”
The dragon landed at his back, its voice echoing across the stone. “Daar sul thur se Alduin vokrii. Today Alduin’s lordship will be restored. But I honor your courage. Krif voth ahkriin. Die now in vain.”
“For Skryim,” the warrior charged in, battle axe swinging as the dragon’s fire breath bled out to meet him. But the warrior didn’t back down. He kept hacking, turning in a dance of death that would take both him and the dragon if the gods were good.
The dragon’s jaws snapped and snarled, another warrior running in to meet him, swinging herself up onto the back of his neck and driving her blade down through his skull. “Know that Gormlaith sent you down to death!” She twisted triumphantly, the beast falling to the ground with a shuddering roar before its eyes went slack and she jumped down, wrenching her blade from his skull. “Hakon,” she spun around. “A glorious day, is it not?”
She threw back her head and laughed. “What else is there?”
Hakon began walking, and she followed. “The battle below goes ill. If Alduin does not rise to our challenge, I fear all may be lost.”
“You worry too much, brother. Victory will be ours.”
“Why does Alduin hang back? We’ve staked everything on this plan of yours, old man.” Luthien turned her gaze toward the figure Hakon spoke to, a robed wizard with an Elder Scroll clutched in his hands.
“He will come,” the wizard assured them. “He cannot ignore our defiance. And why should he fear us, even now?”
Dragons spiraled and danced through the black haze of smoke, snapping at one another, breathing ice and fire as they fought. “We bloodied him well,” Gormlaith said. “Four of his kin have fallen to my blade alone this day.”
“They did not have Dragonrend. Once we bring him down, I promise I will have his head,” Gormlaith crossed her arms. Luthien couldn’t help thinking of Aela in that moment. The woman’s confidence reminded her of her shield-sister, who’d never backed down from anything in her life. Perhaps they should have brought Aela with them to the Throat of the World.
“You do not understand. Alduin cannot be slain like lesser dragons. He is beyond our strength. Which is why I’ve brought the Elder Scroll.”
Hakon shook his head. “Felldir, we agreed not to use it.”
“I never agreed,” Felldir said. “But if you’re right, I won’t need to use it.”
“We will deal with Alduin ourselves, here and now!” Hakon said.
“We shall see soon enough,” Gormlaith cried. “Alduin approaches!”
“So be it.” Hakon drew his axe again, readying himself for the fight.
He dropped down like a storm, the entire mountainside trembling as he perched on the word wall where Paarthurnax had taught her how to use her fire breath. “Meyye! Tahrodiis aanne! Him hinde pah liiv! Zu’u hiin daan!” the Eater of the World cried out.
“Let those who watch from Sovngarde envy us this day!” Gormlaith lifted her sword. “Joor Zah Frul!” She shouted, a swirling blue energy writhing up to wrap itself around The World Eater’s body as he lifted from the stone to fly away. He was barely off the ground before it drew him crashing down before them, shouting to the skies.
“Nivahriin joorell! What have you done? What twisted Words have you created? Tahrodiis, Paarthurnax! My teeth to his neck! But first, dir ko maar. You will die in terror, knowing your final fate! To feed my power when I come for you in Sovngarde.”
Gormlaith charged in with her sword swinging, bellowing, “If I die today, it will not be in terror! You feel fear for the first time, worm. I can see it in your eyes!”
Alduin shouted fire, but all three warriors battled fiercely to fight him back. Gormlaith screaming to the winds, “Skyrim will be free!” But no sooner had the words left her mouth, than did Alduin drop his jaws down to claim her, shaking her back and forth, a rain of blood splashing down on her shield-brothers below before he loosed her flying through the air.
“No! Damn you!” Hakon hacked and bludgeoned, but Alduin was too strong. He called over his shoulder to Felldir. “It’s no use. Use the Scroll, Felldir! Now!”
Felldir stepped back, Alduin overwhelming Hakon and driving him to the ground as Felldir unraveled the Scroll and began to call out, “Hold Alduin, on the Wing. Sister Hawk, grant us your sacred breath to make this contract heard! Be gone, World-Eater! By words with bones older than your own we break your perch on this age and send you out! You are banished, Alduin, we shout you out from all our endings unto the last!”
Alduin stalked forward, fire breath blazing. “Faal Kel? Nikriinne…”
The Time Wound opened and swallowed him whole, his body disappearing as Felldir repeated, “You are banished!”
Crawling across the snow, Hakon lifted his weary head and said, “It worked. You did it.”
Felldir made his way toward his companion, reaching down to help him to his feet. “Yes, the World-Eater is gone. May the spirits have mercy on our souls.”
The past began to fade, swallowed up by the mighty cry of a dragon overhead, and as Luthien stumbled back to try and reacquaint herself with her own time, she heard Farkas behind her already drawing his bow, calling out, “Die dragon!”
Alduin hovered just over where she stood, wings flapping to hold him as he laughed at her and said, “Bahloki nohkiip sillesjoor! My belly is full of the souls of your fellow mortals, Dovahkiin!”
Luthien stepped back, gathering her power and then she shouted, “Joor Zah Frul!” Blue spirals of light, just like the ones she’d seen in the past, writhed up to wrap around him and draw him to the earth.
“Die now and await your fate in Sovngarde!” he bellowed.
“Lost funt! You are too late, Alduin!” Paarthurnax rose up from where he’d perched, following his brother to where he’d landed on the Throat of the World. Fire met with defiant fire, and heavy chunks began to rain down from the sky as the world trembled beneath Alduin’s fury.
Luthien and Farkas charged in and flanked him from both sides, driving their weapons into the scale of his belly as he lifted his head and screamed outrage at their defiance.
“Suleyki mulaag, Paarthurnax! My power has waxed, while yours has waned!” He reared back his head and swiped his tail left, sending Farkas flying, but Luthien rushed in to punish him for his crime, dropping Wuuthrad deep into the meat of his thigh and making him scream and roar. “Aav uv dir. Join me, brother, or perish with your mortal friends as I devour their world!”
“Do not let him fly, Dovahkiin! He is too strong on the wing,” Paarthurnax called out to her, before sweeping his heavy head into his brother’s neck, horns staggering him back.
“I will feast on your souls in Sovngarde!” he hissed, turning his head toward her and opening his mighty maw to unleash fire. She ducked back, and Paarthurnax shot out his wing to protect her, but she could still feel its flames lapping at her armor like hungry tongues. “Unslaad hokoron. Never again!”
He began to gather his wings, the power of Dragonrend releasing its grip, but Luthien pulled back and shouted at him again, holding him fast to the earth so he couldn’t escape.
“You may have picked up the weapons of my ancient foes, but you are not their equal!” Alduin laughed at her.
“She is better than their equal!” Farkas roared, as he gathered his wits about him and dove back in from the left, stabbing his sword so deep into the dragon’s haunch Alduin screamed out in pain. It gave her just enough time to grab a potion from her bag and toss it to him so he could replenish his health and stamina before it was too late.
“The Dov are weak to fall to the likes of you, mal joor!” He sneered at Farkas’s armor, his full attention focused away from her just long enough for her to pull Wuuthrad back and drive it down with all her might into his spine. It staggered him enough for her to race around and stand in front of Farkas so he could restore his health. “Meyz mul, Dovahkiin,” Alduin stomped back three steps, drawing his wings up and lifting away from the ground. The power of her voice was weak and she was unable to shout him back to the ground. “You have grown strong, but I am Alduin. Firstborn of Akatosh! Mulagi zok lot! I cannot be slain here by you or anyone else. You cannot prevail against me. I will outlast you, mortal.”
He vanished into the mist and snow, only their ragged breath and pain and the echo of his mighty roar a reminder that he’d been there at all.
“What just happened?” Luthien looked to Paarthurnax, who was still standing on the ground just feet away from her. “Where is he? This isn’t over!” She shouted toward the sky. “This isn’t over, Alduin!”
“You truly have the voice of a Dovah. Alduin’s allies will think twice before attacking you after your victory here today.”
“Victory? But it isn’t over,” she cried out, her lungs burning with every breath she drew. “How can I call it a victory if Alduin escaped?”
“True, this is not the final victory, but not even the heroes of old were able to defeat Alduin in open battle. Alduin always was pahlok, arrogant in his power. He took domination as his birthright. This should shake the loyalty of the Dov who serve him.
“Where did he go?” Farkas hobbled up to stand beside her?
“Back to Sovngarde I’d imagine, to nurse his wounds and rebuild his strength. The question is, how do I find him there?”
“Krosis. This I do not know,” Paarthurnax told them. “But perhaps one of Alduin’s allies could tell us, but it will not be so easy to convince one of them to betray him. Perhaps the palace in Whiterun, Dragonsreach. It was originally built to house a captive Dovah. A fine place to trap one of Alduin’s allies, hmm?”
“I really don’t see Vignar Gray-Mane letting me trap a dragon in his castle,” she sighed.
“Say we can actually convince Vignar to let us do this,” Farkas shrugged up his shoulders. “What then? How does one go about luring a dragon into a trap?”
“Dragons are proud creatures by nature,” Paarthurnax explained. “Were you to call upon one of Alduin’s allies by name, especially after your victory here, his curiosity and pride would be his downfall, and he would answer that challenge with a vengeance.”
“Okay,” she stepped back, crossing her arms. “And where do I find the names of Alduin’s allies? I don’t suppose you have a list of them tucked up under your wing?”
He laughed then, a heart-warming sound that despite her frustration, made her feel lighter. “Aaz! No, but there is one who could be persuaded, should you capture him. Alduin’s right hand, The Winged Snow Hunter,” he said. “Odahviing, he is called.” Paarthurnax scratched out his name in the snow with a careful claw, and as she read the Words, she learned them the way she had been learning Shouts since the very beginning.
The dragon souls inside her made it become a part of her, but before she could spout it into the air, Paarthurnax advised her not to call upon Odahviing until she was ready to trap him in the castle.
“Odahviing is strong, and you are weary from your fight with Alduin. Call him to the palace in Whiterun, Dovahkiin. Trap him there and he will have no choice but to yield to you.”