by A. L. Zuniga
available on Amazon
Part Three: The Lost Mane
Deep in the mountains of Skyrim, a rickety, horse-drawn carriage flew along the bumpy road alongside one of the land’s many lakes. The rocky terrain was blanketed with scattered fir trees, pockets of snow, and the occasional river winding through the countryside. The white transport—driven by Captain Tobias—raced toward its destination, fleeing quickly.
Miles behind him, over row upon row of the jagged points of the Jerrall Mountains, Žaneta came into view as she sprinted along the winding paths. She continued at a blistering speed but had lost sight of the horse cart she’d been chasing for some time.
Sprinting at a pace that would exhaust many, the horse’s endurance still outmatched her on foot. Regardless, she pressed on through the Pale Pass. After running for what felt like hours, she finally came to a stop. She caught her breath as her eyes landed on the Throat of the World in the distance, the largest mountain in Skyrim. All the other mountains Žaneta had seen paled in comparison.
Looking ahead, she saw a crossroads. The feeling she hadn’t been able to escape crashed over her again—now what? Which way should she go?
Short of breath, her heart was pounding, both from the run and her growing concern. On her map, Falkreath lay to the west. East held many options—including Riften, Windhelm, and all of the eastern provinces—then straight to the north was Helgen. Surveying the land, Žaneta could see that to head west or north, she’d have to go through Helgen. For a horse-drawn carriage, there was no way around it, and the path east was left unchecked to travelers. There were simply too many directions to cover. Tired of guessing, she reached into her satchel and pulled out the letter from the emperor, still bearing his wax seal, which had been broken. Clutching it in hand, she proceeded into Helgen, which flew an Imperial-style banner.
She was going to need help.
Backtracking nearly six hours earlier, Žaneta had just returned to the present time—which placed her in the mountains east of Bruma—before she’d begun pursuing the carts full of children. Before that, her story had left off after touching the Mantella stone in Cloud Ruler Temple. Thrown thousands of years into the past, she had sat in a large animal-hide tent as she talked with the stranger she’d met upon arrival, Felldir. The weather outside had grown harsh, and he’d made a small fire to cook on and keep them warm.
“I’ve never seen anyone like you! From where do you hail?” He lifted a curious brow while he stirred a small pot of stew as it heated over the flames. Snowflakes still peppered both of them but were quickly melting away.
Žaneta sat draped in a fur blanket by the fire with her sword on her lap—her own fur wasn’t warm enough for these frigid temperatures. “I was born in Elsweyr… far to the south,” she replied, then she paused for a moment. “You said we were in the mountains… east of where?”
“Bromjunaar.” He handed her a wooden bowl full of stew.
“I’m not familiar with it. What day is it?” She squinted in question, but he appeared to have no answer for her. “Who’s in charge? Is there a king?” she probed. She knew time had been distorted and hoped to find out when she was, if not where.
“Gunther. He is not king, but still leads many. His bloodline traces back to Ysgramor.”
Žaneta listened carefully, trying to fully understand what was happening. “Why are you out here alone?” she asked.
His eyes drifted from hers and stared at the fire. “A friend…” He paused. “We had sought help from others, but were offered none. The Dragon Cult and their deities are tearing Skyrim apart. I’ve had visions—more frequent of late—that led me here!”
Žaneta thought on this a second. The name Ysgramor was familiar, but she couldn’t place it. And she was completely unfamiliar with the Dragon Cult—the name meant nothing to her. But any group labeled as a “cult” made her uneasy. “What did this Ysgramor do to make himself known?” She sipped from her bowl.
“What didn’t he do?” Felldir bolstered. “He saved many from the civil war in Atmora, bringing them here along with his Companions. The damn Snow Elves gave him hell and killed many of his people. But he and his five hundred fierce warriors took back the land,” he explained, eagerly watching her reaction for a spark of recognition. But she didn’t know anything about this Ysgramor, and her face said it all. His eyes grew large, and he sat back, looking at her curiously. “He chose where to establish ports, started cities, and taught many to write. His use of runes has helped us document… well… everything!” He stared at her, wide-eyed.
Suddenly, Žaneta remembered something—the First Man. History said one man had been credited with the settlement of Skyrim and taught the use of words—in written form—to his people. But that was thousands of years prior to Žaneta’s own time. Four thousand years, to be exact, a period in history that was shrouded in mystery. But there wasn’t time to share the whole world’s future as she knew it with Felldir. She and her children didn’t exist yet, but here she was in front of this man who obviously had significant concerns of his own. Something urgent was happening here, and she wanted to know what. Somehow, she had faith it would lead her to her children.
“What exactly did you see in these visions that brought you here?” she asked, taking another sip of the stew.
“A few of us have waged war against the Dragon Cult. Not all dragons are hell-bent on destroying the world or enslaving it. Rather, a number have sided with us; but we have been losing, nonetheless. One of them who is great amongst their ranks has been teaching us their language! Words that have power… but they haven’t been enough.” He furrowed his brow, growing frustrated, then took a drink from his bowl.
“I’m sorry… dragons?” Žaneta clarified. She stared, transfixed, at Felldir. She was sure she must be missing something. Dragons… It seemed unreal. A cold chill ran down her spine at the thought, the same feeling she’d experienced in her dream. Dragons, fire—her dream was slowly becoming reality.
“Yes. They’re not everywhere, then?” he replied, a hint of relief in his voice.
“Uh… no,” she said simply. She wanted to keep focused on the matter at hand.
“So, I prayed to the gods,” he explained. “Nothing we’d done seemed to gain us any ground. I felt as empty as our attacks on the dragons; they’d simply scatter us and kill any who dared threaten them. But the cult is another story. Our use of the dragon language has given us the ability to kill the bastards! Before, we’d get in some strikes but lost too many in return. That’s when the dreams started. I saw the mountains from afar, outside of Jorrvaskr… beyond the plains. I saw a green light in the distance to the northwest. But when I awoke in that very mead hall, I’d venture outside to nothing. Two more times, I had similar visions. I could hear the Dragon Priests spouting their mind-numbing delusions, but the light was growing, and every time, I could feel its pulse calling me. I had to go to it, and even though I couldn’t see it out of the dreams… I had a direction!”
Žaneta raised an eyebrow and nodded. “I understand that all too well. It seems as though our meeting wasn’t an accident.” She finished off the last bit of stew at the bottom of her bowl then set it down. “You said a dragon taught you their language?” she asked, leaning on her crossed legs.
“Yes. He was once a nightmare, having killed many; but this is a war, and perhaps I’d do the same to them if I could. The words used… He calls it their ‘Thu’um,’ or ‘storm voice.’” He stared into his bowl before downing the rest.
Žaneta immediately realized where she fit in here. The word she’d used that exploded across the bridge in the Imperial City… Ashlyn had said it “thundered” out. The term “storm voice” struck her, giving her words a significance she had never before realized. She remembered her mother had stressed their importance to her as a child, as she did with all the magic she taught her. But recalling the wall they were inscribed on, Žaneta did find it strange how, of all the other magic she’d learned, these words had to be studied with help from her mom and one of the shamans.
The words did seem similar to the language Felldir spoke of. She considered the old ruins where her mother had shared those words with her and the one she’d used just days ago… But she’d only said one of the three she remembered. Thinking of the first—Joor—jogged her memory, and she suddenly recalled the second: Zah. But she was so young, and it was so long ago, she couldn’t remember the last—she’d have to come back to it.
“The language he’s taught you… you can attack with it?” she asked. She thought back to her fight with Trelina—she’d been able to use Joor to debilitate her. But was the language capable of killing?
Felldir smiled. “Oh yes… incredible attacks. You see, for a long time we thought dragons were breathing fire or sending lightning and frost from their mouths—until Paarthurnax landed before a handful of us and shared his wisdom. They were words in their Thu’um, and when pronounced properly, we could use them too.”
She narrowed her eyes. “But why the bad blood? What turned some dragons against others in all this?”
“We asked him the same thing. He said that though the dragons are mighty, their practice of giving their words to priests—who’d use them for self-gain—while being worshipped as self-righteous gods destroys their traditions and cheapens dragons to lazy beasts. If the words were going to be shared, then honor had to be at the foundation,” he finished with a hint of pride.
“Felldir, was it? I, too, learned some of these words, but from another time and place. I’m sure this has a bearing on why we’re here, but what specifically is happening that made you come after the light?” she asked. “For me, it was my children. In their pursuit, I began having visions of the green light, then when I touched the stone, well… You know the rest. Except you touched it and stayed in the same place; I was somewhere far away.”
Žaneta knew that whatever happened here, if she stayed the course, she’d be sent back to Cyrodiil and her time. She had been seen a week prior near Bruma—proving she survived this and made it back. But that didn’t mean it was going to be easy. She’d heard tales of how the Brass God was used to change things in different places, and—by some accounts—it was seen in different lands at nearly the same time. Now, she understood how.
“Alduin, the World Eater… he’s the strongest and oldest of them, and we can’t touch him. Countless have died from his onslaught, and we who would use the Thu’um against him are dwindling in number, as are the dragons who oppose him. I’ve lost my family, as have others! It has driven many of us to rage and despair. Žaneta… we are dying!” he explained, becoming desperate.
“Who are your allies, the ones who also know this… ‘Thu’um’?” she asked.
“Hakon and Gormlaith… and a handful of others. But Hakon has not returned from Bromjunaar. Gormlaith left to seek aid from Gunther and his men, so I set out after Hakon on my own,” he said with a hint of urgency.
“So, this Bromjunaar lies to the west? What’s the significance? Why would Hakon go there?” She held his gaze.
“It’s their capital. Hakon heard rumors of Dragon Priests offering sacrifices to a Blood Dragon. This type of thing is what’s been happening all over, but Hakon’s village lies to the southwest of Bromjunaar, and it was mostly destroyed when he’d last visited. He said everything was in disarray and the village was empty. Homes had been broken into or ruined entirely… We were at Jorrvaskr several days ago when he learned of what the Dragon Priests were doing in their city, and he left in a blind rage in the middle of the night, convinced his people were there. His actions were suicidal at best. But perhaps dying with them—in an effort to save them—would rest better with his soul than abandonment. But the outcome would be the same.
“Gormlaith was due to return from Windhelm, but I couldn’t wait… He’s like a brother to me. That’s when I came after him and saw it—the light I’d never seen outside of the dreams began to actually appear.” He spoke with trepidation as his eyes stared fixedly at the fire, lost in thought.
“Where is Jorrvaskr?” Žaneta asked firmly, bringing him back to the conversation.
“South of here, in the lowlands. About two hours away,” he answered.
“Then I’ll go to Bromjunaar. You head back to your friends, who, I pray, have brought fighters with them. And Felldir, I can’t stress this enough… speed will determine our outcome!” She gave him a serious stare.
“But… Hakon went there alone. We don’t know if he’s still alive, and it’s their damn capital city! We need to wait for more help! What are you going to do?” he said quickly, steadily growing more concerned.
“You were waiting for help—I’m all that came! I’m going to find your man and probably stir up a hornets’ nest.” Not wasting any time, she pulled out her map of Skyrim. “Here… show me on the map where I’m headed.” Moving around the fire, she laid out the map before him.
Felldir glanced over the map and was astonished. “What are these places?! The land looks accurate… but there are so many cities!”
“I know it’s different, but let’s just focus on where I need to go. You said we were east of Bromjunaar… Where is it? And where are we?”
He looked it over, unable to read the modern script and ignoring many of the landmarks, then pointed to Labyrinthian. “Here… that’s Bromjunaar, and we are right in this area,” he said, sliding his finger over to a place called Stonehill Bluff.
“Okay, can you describe Hakon?” Žaneta asked, folding the map and stuffing it back into her satchel.
“He’s a strong Nord but blind in his right eye from an injury. Red hair and beard, but that just describes most of my fellow countrymen. I’ll hurry to Gormlaith and hopefully find the aid we need there. But from Jorrvaskr—if we’re traveling in numbers—it’ll be several hours before we reach the city, and we can’t just storm up through the canyon. Scouts keep watch on the pass to the north and south, and the mountains on either side make you choose one. What’s your plan to get in? You don’t exactly blend in with anything here!” he stated, gesturing to all of her.
“I’ll have the cover of night, and since you mentioned it… I’m going to need to borrow your blanket,” she said, reaching into her satchel for her cloak pin.
Žaneta fastened it in front of her neck and over her shoulders then stooped low toward the entry flap of the tent. Before exiting, she turned to Felldir. “Thank you for the food. I’ll try to reach the city this evening and look for the best way in unnoticed. If I can, I won’t start anything until you’ve arrived with the rest of your party. But if I find Hakon and others who need help… I won’t wait!” She watched his reaction, making sure he understood. He nodded and narrowed his eyes, his expression growing deadly serious.
“If fighting breaks out, I’ll send a bolt of fire into the sky as a signal. And I’ll take care of the scouts guarding the southern pass. You and your friends should have a way in,” she reassured him. With that, she opened the flap, stepped outside, and was on her way.
Žaneta jumped and scaled the rock wall to the west of the tent then looked back down. She could see the benefits of the location of Felldir’s camp; it was hidden from all directions until you were right upon it, and the only way in or out was by way of a narrow pass to the south. But from where she stood, it was also an obvious kill box if they were discovered. Ignoring this thought, she started navigating through the scattered pine trees of the mountain range.
action & adventure