The Daedric Prince Sanguine, whose sphere was hedonistic revelry, debauchery, and passionate indulgences of darker natures, was currently suffering from the worst hangover in his entire existence. Normally, he never had to face the consequences of his numerous misadventures - one of the advantages to being a resident of Oblivion. He knew of them, naturally, but had yet, until he’d awoken that bright, sunny morning, to have ever experienced the common after effect of a night of heavy drinking. And after having existed in a wretched state of pure, unnatural decadence for who knows how many millenia, his headache was of truly magnificent and epic proportions.
After vomiting for almost ten minutes straight, much to the disgust of the passersbys, Sanguine sat on the muddy ground by a small wooden home, trying to remember how he’d ended up in such a sorry state. The events of the last several weeks, however, currently escaped him. All he knew was that he was currently in his human guise, his head felt ready to explode, he smelled like an open cesspool, and, most alarmingly, he seemed unable to use his Daedric powers to simply teleport away from his unwanted condition.
As he sat with his head leaning against the somewhat cool surface of the wooden frame house, he watched without really seeing what was in front of him. He could almost feel the tension in the air (or maybe that was just his head throbbing like the inside of a drum; at this point he didn’t know or care), and watched as the villagers gathered on their respective porches, talking in hushed, concerned tones. Here and there, a few red and steel encased Imperials ran around, the only ones excited and apparently pleased. He overheard one mention ‘prisoners’. That would explain the area they were clearing just in front of a small tower. And the headsman’s block. So someone was getting executed. Sanguine snorted, then groaned as the action caused his head to ache even more.
At least it wasn’t going to be a boring morning, he mused.
Slowly, the sound of carriages approaching managed to find its way past his aching headache. The people nearby began to buzz as the tension grew. Some were excited, others decidedly less so. Sanguine was more interested in musing about his current predicament.
As one of the carts carrying the prisoner’s rolled past him, he felt a familiar tug inside his mind. He quickly looked over those inside the wagon passing in front of him. Though her head was down, he saw the white-blonde hair, pulled back into a messy braid. It was hauntingly familiar, demanding his attention, escalating the tugging sensation to a hard pull as vague memories brought back feelings of longing and warmth. Somehow, she was involved in his current predicament.
And she was currently with a group being herded towards the headsman’s block.
Sanguine tried to scramble to his feet, only for the world to suddenly tilt and knock him back on his ass. One of the Imperial guards looked down at him in disgust, and Sanguine managed a somewhat graceful middle finger for the man’s efforts. His second attempt to get to his feet was somewhat more successful, though his legs trembled at having to uphold his weight. Everything was wrong, and Sanguine didn’t like wrong. He liked pranks. He liked drinking. He liked sex and drugs and revelry. And more than anything, he liked it when somehow he managed to combine all of the above into one giant fun instance of pure chaos. Those were the best times. Now, however, more than anything, he needed answers.
Once again, he attempted to teleport back to Oblivion. After all, if he could simply leave and go back to normal, answers weren’t important. He’d had his share of drunken adventures that he couldn’t rightly recall in the morning; it usually made for grand stories later. However, he couldn’t teleport. He could still feel some of his Daedric powers, but for whatever reason he was unable to simply wave his hand and make his headache go away. Sanguine swore lightly. Hitting his clenched fist against the pillar he leaned against, he was surprised, and a little alarmed, to feel pain. Unless it was for pleasureful conquest, Sanguine was usually incapable of feeling pain. Glancing around with a worried expression, Sanguine rubbed at the injured spot, suddenly feeling very vulnerable and very much not liking it.
As the prisoners were called one by one, he leaned forward, trying to get a better view of the young woman who still sat inside the carriage. Not that she wasn’t a sight, Sanguine grinned lecherously as he eyed her rather lovely figure in those thin rags she wore. Left so little to the imagination, but hid enough to keep a Daedric Prince leering…
He heard a sound of disgust, and saw the same guard looking at him. Apparently he’d been leering a bit too hard. However, that girl was somehow a part of what had happened to him, so he did his best to smile charmingly at the guard.
“S’cus me.” Sanguine slurred terribly. “That girl over thar ish a friend of mine-”
“Shut up, wretch.” The guard snarled. Sanguine pouted. Apparently even his Daedric ability to charm was gone. That meant he’d have to rely on his natural abilities.
In other words, he was completely screwed.
Sanguine wasn’t one to take being looked down on lightly, however. No matter his current state, he was a Daedric Prince, one of the Lords who ruled over his own vast realm in Oblivion! If he wanted, he could destroy all those before him without any effort! Determined, he stepped forward to shove this worthless soldier out of his way and stride over to the girl-
And then he immediately stepped back into place as the soldiers casually riddled a certain prisoner with arrows. That looked rather painful.
“Wait, you there. Step forward.”
Sanguine turned his attention back to the line-up. Apparently it was the girl’s turn. Sanguine’s worry began to mount. If she died, who knew how long he’d be stuck like this. The idea of that inconvenience made him fidget uncomfortably. Or maybe that was just his bladder letting him know it really needed relieving.
“Who are you?” The guard asked the girl. Sanguine was wondering the same thing, though he had many other questions, such as ‘were you born with those curves or did Dibella herself bless you?’ and ‘did we have sex? Please tell me we had lots of sex.’
“Merida.” The girl answered, her voice quiet but clear. There was no sign of fear in her voice, though her bound hands were clenched tightly against her stomach. Sanguine wracked his mind, but other than his unhelpful imagination comparing her to Meridia and then picturing Meridia in that sparse clothing with that kind of ass, he had nothing.
“You’ve picked a bad time to come home, kinsman.” The guard sounded genuinely sad, then turned to the hard-faced woman standing beside him. “Captain? What should we do? She’s not on the list.”
For a half second, Sanguine harbored the hope that the girl would be allowed to go free. If so, it’d be easy enough to catch up with her later, maybe charm her into giving him some answers as well as -
“Forget the list! She goes to the block.”
Sanguine watched her slowly join the other armored soldiers waiting to be executed, feeling his stomach drop into his boots. He couldn’t get answers from a dead woman. As he watched, his mind sluggishly unable to come up with anything through his post-drunken haze, he saw the very first soldier lose their head. Then the Captain turned and sneered at the girl.
“Next, the Nord in the rags!”
“Oh c’mon!” Sanguine burst out. “That Ulfruk guy ish right there! Take him nesht!”
Unfortunately, nobody seemed interested in listening to the perfectly sound advice coming from the random drunk guy leaning at a forty-five degree angle against the side of a porch.
Overhead, however, off in the distance, Sanguine clearly heard something else. His mouth snapped shut and sweat beaded on his forehead. As the rest of the crowd glanced around in mild, but ultimately, unconcerned interest, Sanguine felt his fear triple. Only one creature made that sound. And it had the nasty habit of not liking Daedra. A lot. To the point of eating them sometimes. Even if he couldn’t die (or at least, Sanguine’s anxiety not-so-helpfully supplied, normally Daedra didn’t die), he had no desire to face down such a creature. Desperately, he began looking for a way to escape.
As the girl Merida walked bravely forward, her chin held high despite the slowness of her steps, Sanguine felt torn between wanting answers and wanting to flee. However, almost all the homes and walls were made of wood. Beautiful, flammable wood. Only a few spaces were stone, and all of them were currently closed up and blocked by Imperial soldiers who would most definitely take objection with a drunk trying to get into them. The girl sank to her knees, and Sanguine found himself almost frantic.
Just what, in the name of Oblivion, was going on?
A little less than ten seconds later, Sanguine was thrown back several feet and landed heavily on his side as Alduin, World-Eater and firstborn of Akatosh, began his attack. If nothing else, Sanguine no longer had to worry about his overfull bladder anymore; it was most definitely empty now.
As people fled and ran screaming for cover, a certain white-gold flash caught Sanguine’s eye. The girl lived, her head still very much attached to her shoulders! Now he just had to catch up to her and get answers. By running across a village that was currently on fire while flaming hot rocks rained down and a dragon was destroying everything and everyone in sight.
Nothing was ever easy, Sanguine mused.
* * *
Merida was shaking in every limb, eyes wide and staring unseeing up at the form that towered over her. A dragon, black and terrifying but somehow still horribly beautiful and awe inspiring, loomed across her field of vision. As it roared, meteorites painted an apocalyptic background to the beast's terrifying form. Nirn shook beneath her palms as the rocks cascaded to the ground. Through the chaos, Merida was only barely able to hear a voice calling to her.
Without thinking, she rolled to her side, her terrified legs finding strength as she scrambled to follow the Stormcloak soldier she had met only minutes prior. Her mind was blank, unable to formulate any thoughts beyond one.
She was still alive.
Loud blasts could be heard outside the stone tower she and the stormcloaks had sought temporary refuge in. Their leader, Jarl Ulfric, seemed oddly calm amongst the chaos, speaking almost casually to Ralof and planning their escape as Merida leaned against a wall.
The ground shook almost constantly. Vaguely, she could hear one of the soldiers telling her to follow, and despite her numbness, she obeyed. Anything to get away. Away from the civil war. Away from the Imperials. Away from the execution. Away from the absolute disaster outside! The sight of the dragon bursting through the walls brought a terrified shriek out of her, dragging her back into the present. This was not a time to stumble blindly.
“Go! We’ll follow when we can!” The Stormcloak named Ralof told her. The dragon had flown off, and Merida could see an inn, part of its roof collapsed, just across the opening. It wasn’t the safest looking jump, but they couldn’t stay in the tower. Bracing herself, Merida leapt across the gap, her legs getting singed by embers as she rolled to safety. Not pausing to think about the pain from the abrupt landing, she bolted down wobbly stairs and out into the open air again.
Much to her continued surprise, she saw the Imperial soldier who had spoken kindly to her earlier, calling out to her. She couldn’t hear his exact words, but as the dragon landed not far away, she ran towards the apparent safety of someone carrying weaponry. No sooner had she braced herself against the stony remains of someone’s burning house, she saw the blast of fire. Several villagers, also pressed against the building, screamed and cried out. A little boy, no older than ten years, threw his arms around her waist, shaking with fear. Even with her wrists bound, Merida instinctively wrapped her arms around him, pulling him close and putting herself between the child and the fire. Within moments, the torrent of flames stopped and a gust of wind signaled the dragon's leave. The soldier approached, looking at the boy, who quickly stepped away from Merida, and one of the other survivors.
“Gunnar, take care of the boy! I have to find general Tullius-”
Whatever else the soldier was saying was lost as Merida moved away, watching as the dragon soared overhead. The way the wind seemed to sway, holding it aloft on its massive wings, was mesmerizing.
However, it was hardly a time to stand and watch. Breaking into a run, Merida trailed behind Hadvar, keeping close to a broken stone wall as the dragon stood atop it, breathing flame. No sooner had it taken wing again, the air seeming to leave with it, than both Hadvar and Merida began running again. They passed Imperial soldiers desperately shooting arrows into the dragon’s unyielding hide. Merida gave them credit for bravery, even as she heard General Tullius announce that they were leaving. Typical Imperials; who cares about protecting the citizens? The soldiers were clearly better than those who commanded them. Rounding a corner, Merida saw Ralof again, looking none-the-worse than when he was inside the cart awaiting execution. While Hadvar and Ralof barked at each other like fighting dogs, Merida took the opportunity to leave Imperial possession and rejoin the Stormcloak escaping into a tower.
The coolness inside the tower calmed Merida’s fevered skin as she leaned against the cold stone walls for support. Her adrenaline was still high, but her weariness was beginning to manifest itself. Too much had happened in too short a time span, and Merida hadn’t had time to process it.
“Looks like we’re the only ones who made it.” Ralof spoke, his voice wavering from grief and exhaustion. His fallen comrade lay in a pool of his own blood on the floor, and Merida sympathized. “That thing was a dragon! No doubt. Just like the children’s stories and the legends. The Harbingers of the End Times!”
Merida could hardly disagree. “It certainly feels that way.”
Ralof chuffed, though whether from amusement or not, she couldn’t tell. “We better get moving. Come here. Let me see if I can get those bindings off.”
The rush of blood to her chaffed hands was sweetly painful as her bindings were finally cut. Rubbing her wrists, she nodded her thanks.
“There you go. You may as well take Gunjar’s gear. He won’t be needing it any more.”
Merida blanched. It felt so disrespectful to take from the dead, but her rags would clearly not hold up in a fight. Already, she felt exposed from the numerous tears and burns, showing the off-yellow of her small clothes that were more than likely also damaged. Saying a silent prayer to the Nine to forgive violating Gunjar’s person, Merida stripped off his cuirass and weapon, armoring herself and trying to ignore the large tear in the side and the sticky, wet feeling that surrounded it. She heft the ax in her right hand, giving it a few swings. It had a good weight and balance to it, though Merida privately felt more comfortable with a sword.
A sound just outside a locked gate sent both her and Ralof against the wall on either side of the entrance. Ralof caught her eye and mimed grabbing someone and killing them. Merida nodded solemnly. They heard several grunts as though there was fighting, as well as the sound of someone clearly drunk yelling slurs. After a few moments, everything fell quiet. Then the sound of fumbling with a key, more slurred swearing, and the click of a lock. As a dark robed figure stepped forward, Merida reached out with her free hand, grabbing the person by the robe and hurling them to the floor. The person shrieked, as both she and Ralof moved in for the kill.
“Don’t hurt me! I’m on yur side!” He slurred, then looked up at Merida and gave her a loose, lopsided grin. “Well hey there, gorgeous.”
Merida sighed heavily in exasperation.