Chapter 1: Helgen
Mitchell Xavier was aware of three significant things upon awakening. One, his headache was at Zeus-giving-birth-to-Athena-through-his-skull level pain, everything smelt like horseshit, and his ass hurt like hell. His immediate thoughts were of course, “How fucking drunk was I last night?”
“Ughnnn... ” The woman before him didn’t fare any better, her neck aching with pain from the weight of her heavy camo-patterned Kevlar and the feel of her rifle grip digging into her side between the gaps in her armor. A groan escaped as she tried to sit up straight and winced in pain at the aching that an unknown amount of time on a rickety cart had resulted in, “I feel like someone dropped a bomb on me… wait… amend that. Next to me. Fuck my head. Where- I don’t remember forests… I was- I don’t think I’m in my base anymore… oh fuck! THOSE BASTARDS WERE SHELLING US! I’M GOING TO KICK THEIR TEETH IN AND CRUSH THEIR FOREFINGERS!”
Mitchell bit his tongue at her sudden screaming, feeling his ears pop. “Jesus Christ, keep it down. I feel like someone just kicked my head in with skates. Ya don’t have any Advil on ya, do you?”
“Sorry kid. Warzones don’t allow NSAIDs. I’ve got some acetaminophen, but that’s about likely all you’re gonna get out of me with my medpack reduced to the emergency kit,” she shrugged, reaching down to her belt and unsnapping it to pull out a KABAR, carefully sawing her bindings until she could snap it off herself and reaching into her pocket while she handed the knife to the blond prisoner next to her and reached deep into her pockets in search of the elusive little bottle so kindly labeled ‘Bitch Mints’, “Aha! Got it! Catch Slim!”
Mitchell caught the bottle in between his bound hands, popping off the top and swallowing down a pill dry. As best he could with tied hands, he resealed the cover and passed it back over. “Thanks. What’s your name, soldier?”
“I’m Elaine. My friends call me Russ cause I’m from a clan of red-root Englishmen and I have a wicked temper,“ she chuckled, pocketing the bottle and reaching over to untie him, “Looks like those ISIS Bastards got the best of us for the moment, but once we’re free I’m gonna light this place up like the fourth of July. It’s gonna be a thing of beauty~”
In any other situation, Mitchell might’ve been scared. But today his hangover was keeping him from having actual concerns about potentially insane soldiers. “Yeah, just don’t kill me in the process and we’re cool. Or do. Might wake me up from this dream? It has to be a dream. I was in the attic at the lodge, last I remember. I think I was looking for Narnia. I’m Mitchell, by the way.”
“No worries there. I’m not about to blow you up kid,” she snorted inelegantly as she looked over at the blond man and sighed, guessing that she likely wasn’t going to be getting her knife back after this, “I’m gonna want that back after this is over and we’re outta this place. KABARs are expensive and that’s a really good one. You any good with a pistol, Slim?”
Mitchell shook his head, pushing his hair back from his eyes. “Nope. I’ve only ever used a bow when mum took me hunting, and the biggest thing I’ve ever caught was an injured deer. I can throw pretty far though. Can you make a molotov cocktail from anything we have here?”
Mitchell glanced around taking in the surroundings. It was forests and rolling countryside, like something out of a middle-ages documentary. He took a moment to observe the other people as well. Other than the soldier and the hazmat-suited one, only he was dressed in modern clothing. The men were armoured in what appeared to be boiled leather and chainmail.
“Wait a second, is this like some sort of war cart shit? Why is everyone in armor? ‘Cept me, her, that one, and you.” He added hastily, glancing at the man in sack-cloth clothing.
“I got some Anne Mias. Incendiary grenades hot enough to melt anything to scrap too,” her chuckle was the stuff of nightmares as she stretched and popped two canisters off her MOLLE before tossing them over and unslinging her rifle, “Don’t forget to look away or close your eyes. I’d recommend closing your eyes if you throw at live targets. It gets… messy. So before we get started, who’m I going into battle with? Not you Mitchie. You keep Hazmat safe while the boys and I get shit dead.”
Mitchell nodded, tucking the canisters in his belt and reaching over to steady the hazmat. “Just say when.” He said quickly. “You set up the battle plans. I’ll run.”
“Oh that’s easy. Ruthie here hits home runs like a champ!” she grinned, all teeth as she took aim at the driver of the cart behind them and the crack of a bullet being fired echoed over stone to the accompaniment of screaming horses unused to the sound and a body slumping over in death as she stood up and fired at the archers to make them scatter, as the unlucky second victim’s head blew out the back end, “Boom! Headshot! Ha! GO for the Nads Boys! WE GOT SOME ROMANS TO RUIN!”
At the first crack of the bullet, Mitchell leapt from the cart with the hazmat girl in his arms and hit the ground running. He vaguely heard Elaine yelling at the soldiers over the screams of the horses. Without any other options, Mitchell took off towards the cover of the trees. Despite his heart racing like Seabiscuit, no sound escaped his mouth as more shots fired. He caught snippets of yelling, but his own heartbeat in his ears blocked out most of the noise.
“CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, HOSERS!” She took advantage of the chaos to make a dash for the second cart, leaping up to catch herself on the side and over to the dead ‘Roman’ and steal his sword to give to one of the still-tied Stormcloaks. She grunted when an arrow hit her leg, the limb buckling as she turned to sit and fire at the archer who had managed to get her, “Get yourself free boyos! We got some ISIS BASTARDS TA KILL!”
When Mitchell reached the trees, he quickly ducked behind some shrubbery. Doing the polite thing, he pissed in the bushes before attempting to re-orient himself and wake up the one in the hazmat suit.
Meryl groaned and opened her eyes and immediately wished she hadn’t. There was a suspiciously familiar sound coming from the bushes, and she was immensely grateful for the mask. It wasn’t until a second later that her eyes widened in horror and she tried to get up, despite the protests of her body.
“Hey!” Her shout was hoarse and mangled through the mask, “This is a Class 8! What kind of idiot whips out their junk in the middle of a CORROSIVE MATERIALS incident…!”
Mitchell felt himself jump slightly at the yell from behind him, and he quickly shoved his dick back. “This is the middle of the forest and I haven’t pissed in eight hours.” He deadpanned, zipping up and wiping his hands on some leaves.
“Before you ask, no, I don’t know how you got here. I was looking for Narnia when I got here. It’s anyone’s guess how the soldier back there who’s screaming bloody murder got here either. Personal theory is it’s a dream.”
“Shit. I didn’t think things were that bad.” Meryl sighed inwardly. Civilians. Always running into danger zones. Didn’t emergency services evac the area? She continued to stare at the guy. “Know the current status? Have you seen the fire chief?”
Mitchell glanced out of the trees, watching as Elaine fired more and more shots at their ex-captors. “I doubt there’s a fire chief here, considering the Romans are fighting the Vikings and everyone’s holding swords and axes. I think the Vikings are winning though, because Elaine - the soldier we were with- has a gun and she’s siding with them. Gun beats axe, after all.”
Meryl stared. ‘Did he seriously say what I think he said?’
He pushed his hand back through his hair, mussing up the curls and finding a brief reprise from his headache. “It’s like watching some weird crossover between Thor and 300, except no one’s yelled ‘This is Sparta!’ yet. I wish they would. This hangover dream isn’t living up to it’s potential otherwise.”
She pursed her lips, unimpressed. The guy was either a junkie, or this Class 8 needed a reclassification… She turned to the noise, and seriously began to question her sanity. And the condition of her suit.
With the new flux of angry Viking warriors in chainmail, Elaine had the chance to pop a tourniquet out and wrap it around her leg just below the knee. She screamed as she broke the arrow and pushed it through, tightening the tourniquet until the bright blood ceased to flow before turning her attention to the carnage. The Medic’s mind whirled as she charged into action, ripping a dagger from a dead ‘Roman’ and giving it to the closest unarmed ‘Viking’ before continuing to open fire on the ones who had been hauling them on carts to some unknown locale.
“Let’s get these Sons of Bastards crying for mercy!” she cackled, barely able to walk as she remained on the cart to fire at the now-rallied Roman Empire wannabees as a strange noise rang out over the sounds of carnage, “I’m gonna beat you sounder than the Russians did the Teutonic Knights in the Massacre of the Ice!”
“Oooooookay, then. I am officially freaked out, now.” Meryl turned back to the guy; he seemed to be the most together in the current situation. “Mind telling me what the hell is going on?”
Mitchell bit his lip, trying to decide how to word it. “Well… Your mileage may vary on this, but basically it’s pretty simple. I woke up in a cart in the middle of shit fucking nowhere, hungover as hell and confused. Apparently we were being taken somewhere with captured soldiers. The only other person who’s like us is Elaine, the soldier woman over there. I jumped the cart with you when Elaine shot one of the cart drivers, and now we’re here while she’s trying to stop the Romans. I’m still thinking it’s a hangover dream within a dream.”
“I don’t know about that. Last I recall is Leeroy-fucking-Jenkins charging into the lockdown. Stupid lab explosion was completely unnecessary.” She shook her head in a futile attempt to clear it. Nope. Still throbbing. “I don’t think excessive partying is to blame, here…”
“It could be, for me at least. Lab explosion? So you’re a scientist or something? What happened?”
Meryl waved her hand impatiently. “Maybe now isn’t the best time? I mean, we’ve got Asian Rambo going to town on some cosplay convention over there, and I smell blood. You’re with her, right? What’s the plan?”
Mitchell chuckled at the remark. “We wait here until things clear up? The only real plan is pretty much just ‘try not to die horribly.’”
While Mitch and Hazmat were chatting, Elaine was trying not to become a living pincushion. Her gun was steadily running out of bullets and she was half-crippled. Once she heard the sound of her final round being shot off, she swore and ducked away, using her rifle as a crutch, she hobbled for the woods, not sure what else to do as a noise she was fairly certain wasn’t a combat zone sounded even louder. Hopefully Mitch and hazmat would be able to haul her to where they had hidden themselves. Otherwise this would not end pretty. Not for her at least. Maybe once she had the chance to look at her gear and maybe scavenge for materials, she would be able to give the wounded proper care. As it was, she was rather boned for supplies.
“Mitch! Hazmat!” she called hoarsely, “You ‘round here? I can’t walk right!”
Mitchell perked up at the sound of Elaine yelling to them. He stepped out of the cover, quickly offering her his arm as support. He slowly guided her back under the cover of the trees. “Over here. Hazmat’s up. You out of bullets?”
“Oh, fuck.” Her eyes widened at the sight of the wounded soldier. “What do you need? I don’t have any first aid on me save a few band-aids…” Meryl wrung her hands. Well, as well as could be managed in two layers of gloves.
“Na. It’s just an arrow. Hurts like a bitch, but I need to be lucid,” she accepted his help eagerly, sagging against him as she ran through what was needed, “Get me somewhere with cover and concealment. We’re setting up an aid station. Hazmat, you know much about weapons? I got bullets and I need a runner to do bleeding control and dragging. I’m gonna Israeli my leg and hope that stops the bleeding. I am gonna need you go out there and help me save lives. Get some of the blue-suits to help you if you can.”
“Some. I’m no Army brat, but I can at least shoot straight.” Meryl paused. “Who are the blue-suits?”
“Stormcloaks, I think they call themselves.” Replied Mitchell. “At least it’s what I could make out when we were running. They’re the viking looking ones. Elaine, you said you need a runner? I can’t help with wounds, I’m no medic. But if you need me to carry people or supplies I’ll do what I can.”
“Crash course then. Hazmat, you get either an M9 or my M16A1 and keep anything bearing arms away from Mitch’s ass. Mitchie. This here’s your CAT,” she pulled out the same sort of band that was tied to her leg, “Pull it open, wrap it as high as you can and tighten it as much as possible. Then you take this wench and begin to twist. If they ain’t screaming bloody murder, it ain’t tight enough. If there’s a faint pulse, no big. If there’s no pulse, even better. Get their ass to me and I’ll do the important stuff. If you happen to see a pack with camo, nab it and bring it here. Understood?”
Meryl nodded. “Understood. I’ll take the M9. Not sure I can handle more in three layers of crap.”
“So make a tourniquet? Got it. I’ll carry whoever can’t walk.”
The Canadian stripped off his hoodie and tied it about his waist before sprinting forward with the CAT in hand. The nearest Stormcloak soldier was the man who had been sitting across from him on the cart, thankfully not suffering from any major cuts. Mitchell helped him to his feet and half-ran half-carried the blond towards the forest, while Meryl stayed a step behind to make sure no one took too much interest in their activities.
“Ulfric-” The blond had groaned out, voice barely above a whisper.
“What’s he want?” Meryl asked, eyes still on the field.
Mitch wasn’t sure if he was being told the soldier’s name or someone else’s. He chose not to dwell on it as he helped the soldier into the little clearing.
“This is the safest place I could see. Can you work here?” He asked Elaine.
“It’s fine,” she nodded tersely as she shuffled closer and began to examine him head to toe for blood, stripping his chainmail and jerkin as she examined him for wounds, before covering him up and pulling out a grease pen to write TBI on his forehead, “BFT from one of those maces probably. Keep a lookout for my pack. It’s got more medical supplies. I am going to need it for this Masscal.”
Mitchell nodded quickly, before taking off again to the battlefield, Hazmat in tow. There was a sound in the distance that was growing ever louder, but his mind was stuck on locating Elaine’s pack and helping the wounded. Near the wreck of the cart was where he found the pack, after pulling away a Stormcloak soldier and helping them up. He quickly snatched it, eyes darting around for anything else.
“Can you run well enough?” He asked the soldier, receiving a nod of affirmation.
“Good. Take this to the medic under the cover of those trees. It is vital that you do not drop it, understood?”
With that the soldier was off, and Mitchell scrounged the battlefield for more camo packs and more survivors.
Elaine about had a heart attack when the Stormcloak arrived, but instantly ripped the pack away and dragged him over to do a quick evaluation before nodding to herself and pointing to her first patient.
“Congrats. You’ve been promoted to my assistant. Keep an eye on anyone who has this marking and let me know if they show signs of struggling to breathe.“ She informed him before diving into her pack and ripping it open.
Soon she had an antibiotic pill swallowed down and a bit of her alcohol poured into the bleeding injury before she packed it with gauze and began to wrap it tightly. Slowly she loosened the tourniquet and sighed with relief when it held. She didn’t have the resources to waste on two tourniquets. It was bad enough her wound was a crippling injury, “I hope this ends soon. I don’t have the resources or capability to handle a battlefield on my own.”
Mitchell found two camo packs along the way, and had them tucked under his arm while he helped an older soldier limp towards the forest. A foreign hand on his back made him jump slightly, his head whipping around to see a soldier in red and brown Roman armor. Before he could react, the man raised his hands defensively. “Please, I’m a healer. I can help!”
Meryl trained the pistol on the man, “Mitch, your call!”
Unsure of how to react but not wanting to refuse assistance, Mitch nodded and allowed the man to follow him. “Elaine! This lad says he’s a healer!” He called as he helped the Stormcloak sit.
“Great, get him over here!” she looked up, barely registering him before pointing at the Stormcloak she was using as her watchdog, “He’s your assistant. I’m the head. If you don’t have time you have executive decision. He’s there to make sure you don’t fuck up on purpose and vice versa. Anyone who leave this clearing better be doing so because nothing could be done to save them or they’re going to live; otherwise I’m ripping both of your balls off and shoving them down each other’s throat to watch you choke on them. Capische?”
Though the soldiers didn’t understand some of her terms, they both knew threats when they heard them. The Imperial healer quickly set to work, charging up his magicka to cast healing hands. Mitch himself quickly spun and went back out, bringing in more wounded and trying not to hurl at the many mangled corpses he came across.
Time seemed to move quickly while she worked, the sounds of combat dying down as people’s energies waned and the bodies seemed to flow faster as more came to help as they could. It had almost seemed she had a handle on things when the bellow ripped through the clearing and the town nearby. The color drained from several faces and even her own as she looked up, expecting mortar fire and preparing to throw herself over her patient should an explosion happen.
And boy did one ever happen, as a Wyvern dropped from the sky to rain fire and death on the remnants of the combatants. In that moment she made an executive decision she knew would come back to haunt her.
“This is Emergency Evacuation Mode! Mobile Injured, assist in removing any that can’t walk without aid. I need Litter carriers Stat! 4 to 6 per person! Lets move people! Lives are at stake!”
The soldiers, Stormcloak and Roman alike, jumped at the medic’s commands and helped move those who couldn’t. Even without understanding some terminology, they still managed it fairly swiftly.
Mitchell was out on the battlefield again, helping the last straggler when the beast came. While the straggler shot off like a bullet, Mitchell found himself frozen to the spot as he took in the gigantic black wings unfurling. His blood boiled in his veins as he broke from his trance and ran. With Elaine and the med center set up in the clearing, he couldn’t risk running for cover. No plans, little backup, no skills worth a damn. But at the very same time it dawned upon Mitchell that he also had nothing to lose.
Meryl swore. Maybe she SHOULD have grabbed the soldier’s rifle, instead. “What the hell are we supposed to do about that?!”
With a deep breath, the Canadian let out a yell and grabbed the nearest sword from a Roman corpse. Dodging blasts of fire, he ran faster than he ever thought humanly possible. His sword was quickly dropped for a bow and a quiver that had landed haphazardly nearby.
Meryl swore again. What on earth did that lunatic think he was going to do? “Damnit, Mitch! You’re not Legolas! What the ever-loving FUCK!”
“DON’T WORRY!” He called back, a slight manic tone to his voice. “IT’S PROBABLY JUST A DREAM!”
“AND WHAT IF IT ISN’T, YOU FUCKWAD?!” She screamed back.
At which point Mitchell’s sudden burst of courage died completely and sanity kicked back in. “Fuck!” He screamed, turning tail and running directly back to Meryl.
“This isn’t Inception, for fuck’s sake!” Meryl tried to aim behind the crazy man running towards her, at what was apparently a DRAGON. Given that it had a nasty habit of spitting fire and able to fly was only making things worse.
Mitchell dropped into a forward roll, popping up once more besides Meryl. “What in the fuck are we supposed to do? I didn’t sign up for this shit!” He yelled in aggravation.
“We need to get to Elaine!” Meryl spared him a glance, though she tried to focus on the wyvern. “She probably needs help with evac- no way in hell we’re fighting this thing!”
“We can’t lead the dragon to her either!” He pointed out.
A plan was formulating in his head, though it wasn’t one he was eager to follow through with. “What if I run that way and you run towards Elaine and we hope he follows me? I can double back after when I’m unnoticed.”
“Honestly, I’d rather make a break for it.” Meryl blinked. “How well can you use that bow?”
Mitchell let out a stressed laugh. “Probably better than I could use a gun or a sword, but not as well as a rock.”
“Do you think you could hit that thing’s mouth or face?” She asked. “I’ve got a can of fixative we could try to distract him with.” She fumbled with the suit’s closure.
Mitchell nodded eagerly, taking the can from her. "Finally, something I'm good at." He remarked, taking the can. “Do I need to shake it?"
“Nope.” Meryl shook her head. “We just need to hit it hard enough to blow.”
“Good enough then.”
Once Elaine was certain that her patients were well on their way, she ran towards the two left behind. Namely Mitch and Meryl. She didn't know what she needed to watch for beyond the big bad, but she certainly got the scaly beast's attention with an unholy screech and the impact of bullets in his hide.
"Come get me you stupid baby drake!" She shouted, firing a short burst of what was left in her magazine, and darting away just enough to entice him to follow. She just hoped the other two would be sensible enough to follow her lead and get out while she played chicken with the overgrown lizard..
Mitchell stepped backwards a bit, looking up at the dragon above. He hadn’t realized where they were yet, but given time he would. Mitch had one opening provided by Elaine’s sudden outburst and he intended to make the most of it. Lunging into a sprint, Mitchell leapt and pitched the can of fixative at the side of the beast’s head. By some sort of miracle it caught the side of the beast’s head.
Meryl followed the arc of the can, praying that her aim wouldn’t be off. She squeezed the trigger and was rewarded with a loud secondary BANG after the pistol’s. Mitchell let out a victorious laugh, grabbing Meryl’s arm and veering off to the side. “RUN!” He yelled, aiming back towards the trees.
“LOOK OVER HERE YOU Worthless Lizard!” Elaine darted away from the spray zone of whatever it was that had exploded and shouted to draw the dragon’s attention, doing her best to keep the two civilians from being injured. She changed her magazine and took aim again, peppering the enraged dragon with a few more bullets as they ran off. Come on take the bait you bastard...
Under cover, Mitchell finally slowed down, sucking in deep breaths between each spurt of stressed laughter. From where he stood he could just barely see the enraged dragon charging down an equally furious Elaine. Up ahead of him, the patients of the makeshift med center were relocating. Without any way to help Elaine, Mitch turned to run.
“Can I have my arm back?” Meryl tugged insistently. “I think we’re mostly ok for now...”
Mitch gave an awkward laugh when he noticed he was still gripping Meryl’s arm in a death vice. “Yeah, sorry. Not really thinking straight right now.”
“It’s no problem, but please don’t make a habit of this. I’m a little on the short side.” Meryl gestured at the dirt and scrape marks on her suit from being half-dragged to safety. “Not that I don’t appreciate it, but that did hurt a bit.”
It was the first time Mitch realized his 6’4 frame was practically hovering over the tiny woman. “Oh.” Was all he could say. “Uhm. Well. Fuck. Sorry about that.”
“S’ok. But maybe throw me over your shoulder next time, or something.” Meryl stared at the guy, sizing him up. She was only 5’, so he could probably manage it. “Do you know the fireman’s carry?”
“Yeah. Do you want me to carry you up to the safe spot?” He asked quickly, worried he might’ve seriously hurt the woman.
“Only when necessary. I like using my own legs, thanks.” She looked around. “What should we do? Did Elaine tell you what the plan was?”
Mitchell shook his head. “I’m assuming she’s trying to draw the dragon away from the soldiers. We should prolly help move ‘em and make her job a little easier.”
“Well the dragon’s that way, so I’m assuming this way.” Mitch gestured in the general direction away from the dragon. “And out of the trees into a better shelter. I don’t want to be caught in a forest fire.”
“There’s a stone fort-thing over there.” She gestured at the only stone building still standing. “It’s a ways away, but it’s the only fireproof structure in the area.”
“Allons-y, then!” Mitchell said, not quite feeling the eagerness of his tone.
The adrenaline rush had started wearing down, and his stomach was growling at him. He hadn’t eaten anything since the cake at the party, and the last non-alcoholic thing he’d drank was a bottle of gatorade. Nevertheless, he forced himself up to start walking again.
Meryl cocked her head to the side. “You wouldn’t happen to be The Doctor, would you?”
Mitchell laughed at that. “I wish. Then I could get my TARDIS and take us away from wherever the fuck this is and over to somewhere nice. Like Magic Mountain. A waterpark sounds good right ‘bout now.”
“Shaiza. Figures we’d get DRAGONS and nothing else.” The ground rumbled, much to Meryl’s alarm. “What on Earth is Elaine up to?”
“Yohl Ter Shoal to you you too asshole!!” Elaine was running and trying not to get turned into a crispy critter, her kit more than enough to cause some minor hindrance as she dodged and rolled from the jets of flame. When she got ahold of the big black beast’s scaly hide, she would shove an AN-M14 down its throat and see if it likes that sort of fire! Stone looked like a lot of fun to be in, so she decided to run like hell in that direction and hope people saw her and it coming.
“I believe THAT is what she is up to,” Mitch replied, watching Elaine barrel towards the stone stronghold. “We should probably start running again.”
“Race you!” Meryl took off in that direction.
Mitch shot off after her, keeping pace with the shorter one. While most of the mobile soldiers had gotten to the stronghold, a few were still struggling along. Mitch moved to help one of the Stormcloaks with a broken leg.
Meryl threw herself at the door and propped it open, for the survivors. Now was not the time to discriminate, but she didn’t see many Romans. She held the firearm to the ready. Frack, how many rounds do I have left?’
Mitchell half carried the soldier, helping him through the doorway and into the arms of another soldier for assistance. “I think this is it.” He panted out, glancing to Meryl. “How long do you think Elaine’ll be?”
“CLOSE THE DOOR! CLOSE THE DOOR CLOSE THE DOOR!!!” shouted the camouflaged green blur that was elaine running through the door. At this point, she didn’t care if any stragglers remained outside. It was their hide or hers and hers took priority thankyouverymuch! “HE’S RIGHT BEHIND ME!”
Mitchell darted in. “You heard the woman!” He yelled to Meryl.
Meryl slammed the door. “Got a barricade?”
The nearest thing was a book shelf. Mitch found himself hauling it in front of the door and pushing a small dresser in front of it. “Anything else we can spare?”
Meryl turned to the soldier lady. “Elaine? Any ideas?”
“Fuck if I know. Everyone get away from the door and to the center. The further we are from big, bad, and ugly, the better. Anyone know where we can go to get the fuck out of here?” she asked, looking around at the assorted group of Stormcloaks and Romans left over from the battle and the hasty retreat, “Stretch, Hazmat, and I ain’t exactly from around here...”
“There’s a path into the mountains, down by the dungeons. I can take us there.” The same Roman medic who had volunteered to help earlier spoke up. “It should lead out of Helgen and put us out near the Guardian Stones if I remember correctly.”
“Sounds good to me. Elaine?” Meryl turned to the soldier. “Your thoughts?”
“Alright then! Lead on- Er… What’s your name again then?” she asked, rather belatedly. Of course, all things considered, politeness took a back seat to survival. And an angry dragon was definitely a reason to drop politeness for a moment. The Roman simply smiled and nodded, understanding given the circumstances..
“My name is Martin.”
Meryl stared at him in mild amusement. “A healer named for the God of War?”
Mitch gave a half-chuckle at the irony. ”Well, at least the Romans sound sorta Roman. Better Martin than Biggus Dickus. Lead on.”
“You wouldn’t happen to know a lady named ‘Incontinentia,’ would you?” Meryl asked Martin.
Elaine suddenly doubled over, giggling hysterically at the reference. She knew she shouldn’t, but she had just not been killed and right now life was good. Martin the war god was a healer and this was amazing. She straightened up suddenly as she realised something, “War god? You mean Mars? As in the Roman god of War? He was a wimp. Athena all the way baby! Plus she rocks the helmet better.”
Meryl smiled. “There’s a reason Athens was a jewel of the ancient world. But later.” She turned to the Roman. “You said there was a way out, sir?”
Martin nodded at them, turning and walking towards the stairs. “We’ll have to pass the Torture Room and the cells. You should retrieve some healing potions along the way.”
“Hang on. Torture?” Meryl stared hard at him. Hard to do, since she was still wrapped up in full gear.
The medic looked rueful. “It is not my choice to have such practices.”
“I suppose you wouldn’t have heard of the Geneva convention.” Meryl sighed heavily.
“Geneva convention doesn’t allow us to use the really nasty stuff,” Elaine pouted, crossing her arms, “You impale a man on your rifle ONE TIME and it’s ‘You’re not supposed to do that Elaine!’ and ‘that’s not a good moral choice Elaine’ bah!’ They deserve to have an M240 tear em to pieces. You can blow someone’s head off with just the air compression of the bullet going by their head!”
It was at that point that the enraged dragon decided to make his presence heard, stone crumbling as he beat on it with his armored head and tail, the masonry exploding inwards towards the inhabitants. Elaine was too slow to dodge, a large chunk bouncing off her helmet and rattling her enough that she dropped in a senseless heap. Mitch let out a loud yell of “FUCK!” and dodged the sudden burst of stonework.
Meryl scrambled back to her feet. “Time to go! Mitch, grab Elaine! Martin- Lead on!”
Mitchell nodded in response, picking up Elaine’s unconscious form into a fireman carry, following after Martin and Meryl. “We should probably hurry, before the bastard collapses our escape. And someone grab her pack, we may need it.”
“Correction: lose it, and we all DIE.” Meryl ran after the healer, into the Helgen underground.
Chapter 2: Riverwood
When the Medic awoke, it was with a gasp and the sort of horizontal to vertical jolt that would have anyone making a vampire joke. Well, anyone that wasn’t amused by the crack of two skulls meeting and mixed swearing as both medics clutched mirrored injuries. Mitch was wincing in sympathy, and Meryl was about to make a move to help, when they saw their medic and the Roman healer look at each other at the same moment, likely intending to apologize. Unfortunately, with their proximity, it ended up in a liplock. Both blue and brown eyes widened comically as they reared back.
“Sorry! Sorry!” they both gestured emphatically in apology, though Elaine’s were much more lethargic than his, being that she had just had a TBI and was still rather groggy even with the healing.
Meryl started flailing as she suppressed an excited squeal, her Hazmat suit crinkling in the process. “Martin and Elaine are sitting in a tree: K-I-S-S-I-N--!” She didn’t get to finish the muffled sing-song tune, because a poorly thrown boot sailed in her direction courtesy of a rather irate Medic. It still connected however, and she tumbled to the floor, since she was too busy being an idiot to dodge. Not that it dampened her spirits any.
Mitchell found himself giggling at both Meryl and Elaine. He shook his head, the laughter hurting his chest. “Ahh, young love. How it hurts.” Was his witty remark.
“Yeah well, I think that usually refers to the couple in question...” Hazmat struggled to her feet, “... and not the collateral damage!”
“These violent delights have violent ends.” Quoted Mitchell with a grin.
“And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,” The nerd crinkled in response.
“Which, as they kiss, consume.” Mitch’s face shone with glee as he high fived Meryl.
“Or consummate, as the case may be!” She unnecessarily returned. “Professional actor?”
Mitch nodded eagerly. “Student. Landed the role of Mercutio in our last production of R&J.”
“Greek Mythos RIPOFF,” Elaine growled, crossing her arms with a pugnacious scowl before grinning impishly, “I liked the original version better. He thought she got torn apart and eaten by a hungry lion and she came back to find him bleeding to death on his own sword!”
“You’re going to have to tell me that one! But later... unless loverboy can handle it!” Meryl laughed.
Martin coughed into his hand.
“Hush now, we don’t want to taint virgin ears.” Mitch chuckled. “Sorry for that, Martin. Couldn’t resist.”
The Imperial’s lips tugged up in the vaguest hint of a smirk, but he nodded and said nothing.
“So what’d I miss after that overgrown Chernobyl lizard broke everything? I kind of remember everything going dark when the wall and ceiling kinda imploded on us,” Elaine decided to steer the conversation in a not so subtle direction.
“Well, Bashful over there,” Meryl nodded her head at the Imperial, “led us out of that mess through a rather nasty series of caves before bringing us here.”
“There were giant-ass cave spiders too.” Mitch shuddered, the memory of poisoned pinchers and too many legs too fresh in his mind to be comfortable.
“And Martin has very nicely agreed not to report anything on the subject of the Stormcloaks- they’re the blue guys at Helgen. The place where Smaug appeared.” Meryl beamed at the Imperial. “He’s been awfully informative. Now we’ll see if he’s as honorable as he seems.”
“Well, if he’s not, I’ll just hunt him down and shove something large and bulky and very painful through his chest,” she grinned far too cheerfully at the prospect, “Or I could do the whole, rip off a part of the body and choke him on it. That could be fun too. There’s too many interesting ways to kill people out there.”
"Well, let's hope it doesn't come to that, hmm?” The healer laughed a bit uneasily, “We'll get through this together... as friends."
Meryl snickered. “What, no trying to wrangle promises out of him using your wily feminine ways?”
“No taking him out with a bang?” Mitchell shook his head. “I’m disappointed.”
“The closest I come to ‘wily feminine ways’ is deciding someone is hot and deliberating the pros and cons of fucking them,” she raised a brow before smirking and peeling out of her armor and jacket to reveal the tan shirt underneath, “Under all this stuff, I’m a sexy bitch and I know it.”
Meryl hummed in appreciation at the no-nonsense display before she turned to stare at the Imperial. “You’re awfully quiet. You’re either reeeeally laid back, or liking this a biiiiit too much!”
He smiled tentatively. “It's quite alright, my friend. I see no cause for alarm, really.”
“No cause for alarm? In spite of the possibility of your demise?” The girl stared at him critically.
“So you’re that interested, huh?” Mitch laughed.
Meryl’s lips quirked. “You wouldn’t object to... more, would you?”
Martin coughed into his hand again.
She cackled gleefully. “I knew it!”
Mitchell’s following cough sounded suspiciously like “orgy.” The shit-eating grin on his face only supported the evidence.
“He wouldn’t object to what?” Elaine scowled, feeling rather out of the loop, “Am I missing something here?”
“Nothing much, unless you count certain activities…” Meryl giggled. “But let’s not get hasty, I don’t think the innkeepers would appreciate the mess.”
Mitchell wisely chose to keep his mouth shut about the condoms and lube in his pocket. No need to make it any worse than it already was… “The innkeeper- Delphine- said we should probably tell the Lord or Jarl or whatever up in Whiterun about the dragon we saw.” He said instead.
“Right.” Meryl nodded. “We should do that as soon as possible. Any idea when you’ll be able to move, Elaine?”
“I’m up so long as my leg’s looking feasible,” she agreed, sitting up and resting her elbows on her knees, “But do we gotta run off now? Why not talk with the locals? Make some friends before we peace out.”
Martin spoke up, “What Elaine says has merit. Whiterun is not far from here, but to make the trip now would mean a trip through the woods during nightfall. If I may be so bold, I would advise against it.”
Mitchell shrugged. “Cool with me. I really want to get food anyways. Holy fuck, I haven’t eaten anything but cake, and that was at least eight hours ago. Everything else has been booze.”
The little nerd grimaced. “You should fix that. Why don’t we grab some food while you…” she turned to the medic, “... thank Martin for your leg.” She winked at Elaine before trying to drag Mitchell out of the room.
Mitchell rolled his eyes and followed Meryl through the door. Her attempts had barely budged the man, much like a small kitten trying to push away a great dane. “I really want poutine right now. Or Wendy’s.” He remarked once they’d left.
“I honestly doubt they have either.” The girl frowned. “Chicken and rice is practically universal, though. With a little luck, we’ll have enough coin from our friends to cover dinner for the four of us.”
“And if not I shall use my hot booty to cover us.” Mitchell giggled to himself. He leaned up against the bar. “Hey, bartender. What’s on the menu? Anything you’d recommend?”
The Nord was unimpressed. “I ain’t looking to make friends. We got food and drink. I cook. Ain't much else.”
“Fantastic, neither am I. What do you cook?” Mitchell asked dryly, his tone going from open to blunt.
"You like Skeever liver? No? Tough luck."
Meryl sighed. This was going to be interesting…
“Thanks for the help Martin,” While they were trying to get something not disgusting, Elaine was doing a quick self-assessment. To be frank, even with her quick recovery rate, she still wasn’t fast enough to look almost unscathed. She waved for him to sit next to her, “Man I look practically new! I didn’t need stitches, did I?”
“Stitches? No. It was a simple enough injury that a healing spell did the trick,” he chuckled, as he followed her direction and conjured the spell. The widening of her eyes spoke of glee rather than displeasure and he tilted his head slightly, “Would you like to learn?”
“FUCK YEAH!” she pumped her fist enthusiastically. He chuckled and leaned closer to show her how to channel her mana, launching into the mechanics of magical healing.
Mitchell didn’t consider himself an asshole most of the time, but there were some people that just really deserved to get a fist to the face. Orgnar currently happened to be number one on that list, the vague-ass prick. After what must’ve been an hour of negotiating, he finally got chicken, bread, and a bit of potatoes for himself and his newfound companions. In the time that it took for Orgnar to actually make said food, Mitchell mused upon the drug dream that his life was at the moment while idly staring at his phone screen.
“Hoping for reception? I’m not sure any network from Earth supports interdimensional calling...” Meryl mused wistfully.
“I’ve got unlimited text, no matter distance. Can’t hurt to try.” Mitch replied, unlocking the phone and moving to text his brother.
“So I just... ” she narrowed her eyes and focused, trying to draw the energy forth. It was hard and she felt a frustration that it wasn’t so easy as simply feeling and speaking. She could almost remember a word that could help, but it drifted away as a faint golden glow appeared in her hands. It flickered away as she cheered, pumping her hands in the air triumphantly, “I did it! I got a glow! Did you see?”
“I did, but you must practice. You were not able to maintain the spell for long,” he admonished gently, reaching over to take her hands in his and cast again, this time letting her feel the way the energy gathered. Her brows furrowed as she concentrated, forcing her pitiful magicka reserves to obey, “You seem to have less magicka than what is normally seen. Is there a reason?”
“We don’t have magic in my world. It isn’t developed or even a part of life other than in stories. Maybe once long ago we did, but the knowledge was lost,” she shrugged, watching as the glow trembled until her reserves ran dry and she was left exhausted and shaking, “I’m… I don’t feel good. Can I stop for a moment?”
“Yes, you need rest as well. We can continue when your friends return. In the meantime, lay down while I heal the rest of your injuries.”
Meryl squeaked in anticipation. “So?! Did it work?”
“It says deliver- read! Holy shit, read! Gabe hurry your bitch ass up and respon- yes!” Mitchell giggled, fingers frantically replying to his brother’s message of “where the hell are u?”
As his finger hovered over send, Mitchell hesitated. “The fuck am I supposed to say?” He muttered quizzically. “I’m in another goddamn world?”
Meryl shrugged, “I don’t know. Maybe we should talk to Elaine before elaborating. I want to get our stories straight before we get other people involved.” She grabbed his arm and started dragging him back to the rented room.
Mitchell let himself be yanked along by the little girl, his phone still clutched in his grasp. The rented room door was swung open, revealing a rather awkward scene before them. Elaine was in her under garments, and the man named Martin was straddling her, while his hands were “working magic” as it were, on her back. As if the situation could not be more bizarre, his phone went off as they stepped in, the cheesy porno music he’d set as his ringtone and couldn’t be arsed to change went off as his brother called him in a panic.
“I've been really tryin, baby
Tryin to hold back these feelings for so long
And if you feel, like I feel baby
Come on, oh come on~”
Despite himself, Mitchell found another giggle bursting up.
Martin looked up, startled, “My apologies! I hadn’t realized- I mean to say- This isn’t what it looks like!”
Meryl blushed a fierce red in spite of her amusement, and found herself heating up in her hazmat suit. “Um, maybe we should leave them alone…”
“This isn’t what it looks like? Dude, it’s pretty sketchy from this angle.” Mitchell laughed.
Meryl snickered. “They DO make a pretty picture, don’t they?”
“Then take one.” Elaine grumbled, tilting her head to glare at them, “You’re interrupting... and I hate being interrupted during a massage. Especially a really good one.”
“Right. Massage.” Meryl coughed. “Um, Mitch? Why don’t we eat in the main room? I’m going to need help getting out of this first though: I’m sweltering in here…”
Mitch shrugged, unlocking his phone to stop the song. “Fine with me. Where do I start?” He asked, feeling rather like the first time he was faced with unhooking someone’s bra.
“If it wouldn’t be too much trouble, would you mind closing the door?” The healer asked tentatively.
“Sure!” Meryl laughed, “Wouldn’t want to give the world a show now, would we?”
Mitchell swung the door shut behind him, moving further into the room to assist Meryl.
Orgnar stared at them. “What? Food not good enough for your friends?”
She waved her hand hurriedly. “Not at all! It’s just that… they’re busy getting rather friendly at the moment…”
“Wallpapering the closet, if you will. Goin’ heels to Jesus. Checking the oil. The four-legged foxtrot. Buttering muffins. Gland to gland combat.” Mitchell couldn’t help the string of euphemisms. He’d been waiting to say that forever, dammit! “They might be occupied for a bit.”
Orgnar’s face soured.
“Well, it could be worse.” Mitchell said cheekily.
“Speaking of worse…” Meryl sighed, “I still need help getting out of this thing… Maybe I’ll just wait til they’re done. I don’t feel like getting out of this in front of him…”
“Well I’m flattered you think highly enough of me to ask for my help.” Mitch replied. “Orgnar, can we commandeer one of the other rooms for a minute. Just so she don’t die of heat overload? We won’t pull a them two.” He gestured vaguely to the door they just closed.
The girl waved her arms frantically, “It’s not that bad! I’ve got more clothes underneath!”
Mitchell flashed Orgnar a grin, the exhaustion of the day subtly coming up on his face.
“You know what? It’s fine, I can manage this by myself… I’ll just go out back and deal with this mess.” She looked at Mitch sheepishly, “You mind staying to watch the food?”
“Yeah, yeah. I’ll stay. Go ahead.” Mitchell found himself plopping down into the nearest chair, finally moving to reply to his brother’s text.
Meryl shuffled outside. The day was ending, and the sun was beginning to disappear behind the trees. The air was cool, and she couldn’t wait to get out of the layers of protective gear. “Well, nothing for it.” She fumbled for the zipper in the oversized gloves. She pulled the long zipper up over and across, annoyed at having to work around the pipe to her oxygen mask. “Stupid fracking engineers could’ve made something sized for short people....” She kicked off the outer suit and pulled the rest of the gas mask off. The late afternoon breeze felt amazing, but she was still too hot. She heaved a sigh and tugged at the zipper to her coveralls. “I wonder if I could get a bath, later,” she mused aloud. It was too cold and too late for a dip in the nearby river, but she might chance it just to get rid of the sticky sweaty feeling on her skin.
The coveralls came off, and she stood in her work clothes. Of all the days to be dressed in business casual! On a normal day, she’d have had a simple tee and jeans, but nooo… She had to look vaguely presentable right before this mess happened. Meryl ditched her tweed jacket and undid her button down shirt. She nearly shucked it off too, when she heard an odd noise in the trees behind the inn.
“Bloody HELL, Mitch!” She pulled her shirt shut hastily, “I TOLD you to watch the food, you pervert!”
“I know it’s you, you bastard! Now come out and own up to it, you coward!”
An embarrassed cough. It wasn’t Mitch who emerged from the trees.
Mitchell’s explanation was barely suitable, and it left Gabe rather confused. But seeing as the situation was strange and unexplainable, it was all he could do at the time. He was placing his phone back in his jeans when he heard yelling out back. The hazmat girl, yelling his name?
“What in the hell?” Mitch muttered, glancing at Orgnar before jumping up.
Instinct said to check on the woman. His smarter side said to get Elaine first. Veering off, he rapped on the door with his knuckles and politely told Elaine to hurry up and come before taking off to check on the hazmat girl. Orgnar regarded his actions with a sigh before turning back to his books.
The shriek had so startled the medic that she nearly unseated Martin. The knock had them sharing a quick glance before scrabbling to find out what the problem was. Elaine picked up her rifle as she charge out, still in her underthings despite the bracing cold and took aim at the man who very obviously looked out of place among the small band of Earthians.
“GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM HER OR I’LL BLOW YOUR GODDAMN HEAD FROM HERE TO FERELDEN!” she roared at the Imperial armor-clad stranger, not about to let anyone near her charges.
Mitchell jumped slightly at Elaine’s sudden arrival, immediately shifting out of her way to give her a clear shot at the Imperial Soldier. Not that she was going to get to take the shot any time soon: their companion was unsuccessfully trying to strangle the much larger man with her oxygen line, heedless of the way her shirt came undone.
The new man in Imperial armor was doing his best to look as unthreatening as possible with a small girl hanging off of his neck. “I’m sorry! I swear I didn’t mean to-!”
Meryl didn’t care, “Like HELL you didn’t, you wretched-!”
Four sets of eyes turned to Martin.
Mitchell’s eyes narrowed. “Y’know this dumb fuck, Martin?” He asked rather vulgarly.
“I do, in fact.” He turned to his fellow Legionnaire. “Would you please allow the lady to dress in peace?”
“But she was…” Hadvar flushed and couldn’t finish his sentence. “Right. Sorry.”
Meryl reluctantly let go. Strangling him wasn’t working anyway. “Pig.”
Mitchell bit his lip and shook his head. “The fuck kinda world did we just fall into? Hazmat, you alright?”
“A fucked up one, Stretch,” Elaine reluctantly lowered her rifle before sighing and rolling her shoulders to crack her back. Well there went her happy feelings from the massage. She barely remembered the last time she had one and that was a real bummer, “Guess we oughta rest up then. We can ask the locals for any information and then head off to … what was it called again? W-... Starts with a W right? I suck at names.”
“Whitefell? No, Whiterun. I think.” Mitch muttered, pushing his hair back.
“Yeah, well, that’s tomorrow. But I demand an apology, today!” Meryl jabbed the peeping tom in the ribs.
“And she’ll get one too, won’t she?” Elaine shifted her rifle menacingly. Oh yes, he was probably going to regret stumbling upon the group of outsiders, “Though… You’re from … where was that place we were supposed to get sent to? Helga? You tell us what you are doing here. And what you were planning. If you lie, I’m going to hunt you down and rip your fingers off one by one. Capische?”
Hadvar looked uneasily at Elaine. Good. That meant he remembered what had happened at Helgen.
“My dear,” Martin gently placed a hand on Elaine’s shoulder, “I’m sure that isn’t quite necessary.” The healer turned to the newcomer. “Isn’t that right, Hadvar?”
“Yes, sir!” The Nord turned to the angry girl beside him to apologize, but glanced uneasily back at Elaine.
Meryl didn’t care about his unease. “Well?” She prompted.
“I’m sorry for what?” The girl insisted.
Hadvar whined. “Do I need to say it?”
“Admit that you’re a pervert.” She pouted.
“And that you have tarnished her honor by such actions,” The rifle raised threateningly, though there was a gleam of amusement in Elaine’s eyes this time. Well, that and the maniacal grin splitting her face. A definite example of a territorial dragon this one, “She is of my lands and We have rules about this sort of thing. Rules that involve pain and humiliation.”
“What? No!” Meryl squeaked indignantly, “My honor is intact, it’s only my dignity that’s been trampled!” She pouted at Elaine.
“Same-same.” Mitch said with a grin, cracking his knuckles. “Punishments no different. Trust me, you don’t want to know what she could do with that rifle.” He grinned at Hadvar, wrapping an arm around the man’s shoulders in what he called a friendly gesture.
“What sort of reparations do your people require?” Martin asked carefully, in an attempt to redirect the direction of the conversation.
Meryl grinned deviously. “For impugning my dignity as a human being, I demand food, shelter, and clothing.”
“And drinks. Drinks are good.” Mitchell piped up.
Hadvar paled. “But I can’t-”
Martin cut in, “Hadvar, it’s not the worst of all the possible results of this situation.”
“And here I was thinking just cutting a hand off,” Elaine giggled, amused at the turn of events before making a shooing gesture, “I do admit I’m rather Old Testament about that stuff. Now back into the inn. I’m freezing my tits off… among other things.”
“Wait!” Meryl cried. “I want to know his answer!”
Hadvar sighed. “I have an uncle here… I could ask if there is room for us.”
“Excellent! Shall we be off, then?” Martin clapped his hands together.
“My clothes and gear are in the hotel. Packmule here can get them for me while Stretch gives me his hoodie. Like I said, I’m freezing my tits off and I want to not become a popsicle,” Elaine grumbled, crossing her arms.
“Oh? I thought you’d rather have a room to yourselves tonight!” Meryl grinned impishly.
“I’m sorry, what?“ Elaine blinked, rather taken aback as she stared at Meryl, “I … What would you two do if I wasn’t there to protect you? There could be more of his ilk out there and Stretch here would probably trip and shoot himself in the foot if he tried any fancy heroics.”
Meryl smiled. “Not a problem if you don’t mind loaning me something.”
Mitchell pouted, stripping off his hoodie and handing it over to Elaine. “I’d probably shoot myself in the ass, yes, but at least I don’t hide in bushes. Sober.”
“Yeah,” Meryl chimed in, “Unlike SOME perverts…” She jabbed Hadvar in the ribs again. His armor protected him, but it didn’t make him feel any safer.
“Now, now,” Martin chided in amusement, “Now that everything’s settled, we should probably turn in for the night. You may join us at the inn in the morning before setting out. But before that… Hadvar, a word, if I may?”
The two Legionnaires shared a brief aside before Hadvar turned to Mitch and Meryl. “Shall we go?”
“Sure. Is there any beer here?”
“Well that was exciting,” Elaine looked at Martin as the others left and giggled, holding her hand out to him, “Let’s go inside and warm up. It’s too cold here so far North. Maybe you could teach me more before we go to sleep...”
And if Mitchell’s phone went off again with “Let’s Get It On,” well, no one could say it wasn’t his ringtone.
Chapter 3: Curious Bedfellows
Meryl slowly woke to the sounds of a forge being warmed up, and the weaponsmith’s wife working by the fire. Her face was nestled in something fuzzy. Furs? She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and saw two unknown men by her on the floor of a large room. The theater guy (his name was Mitch, right?) and the Roman dude, Hadvar. <iWhat was the deal with Romans having Scandinavian names? Ugh. Day Two of crazy dream adventure thing. Hopefully this didn’t take forever; she had work to do…
Work… Oh Hells… Meryl clutched Elaine’s handgun as she wailed. “My THESIS….!”
Mitchell liked to think of himself as a heavy sleeper, but not even he could ignore the blood curdling screech that jerked him roughly from sleep. “Jesus shitting christ woman!” He groaned groggily, pushing a hand back through his disheveled hair and cursing it slightly.
He let out another unnecessarily loud groan to express his annoyance at waking up, when an errant thought crossed his mind. That scream sounded nothing like Sara or any of his frequent booty calls. So what the fuck was going on? And thus Mitchell had come to realize that his crazy hangover dream was not in fact a dream, and he was fucked.
“Well, shit.” Was all he could say.
Hadvar wasn’t certain what to make of the two strangers in his uncle’s house, but he was fairly certain he knew what the signs of shock looked like. He’d seen it in plenty of other soldiers before, and these two were… well, he couldn’t call them “civilians” exactly, but still, they weren’t soldiers. Soldiers were supposed to deal with the madness of war. Unfortunately, he was dealing with a groggy young man and a distressed girl waving that strange weapon from Helgen. No amount of training dealt with anything like this. “Are you two alright?” He began uncertainly.
“Alright? Are we. all. right.” Meryl stared at him, “What about ANY of this looks REMOTELY alright?!”
Mitchell shook his head, rubbing at his glasses on his hoodie and scowling. “I’m about as alright as a whore in church, bud. Honestly still not over the fact this isn’t a dream. Of course if this was a dream there’d be a lot more fucking.”
Casually the man slid his glasses on his nose and scowled when they came away streaked with moisture. “Fuckin-, you, be a good lad and clean these for me.” Mitchell handed them over to Hadvar.
Hadvar took the strange object in his hands and stared at it. Meryl nearly freaked when she saw him hesitate before taking a bit of battle-worn linen from the edge of his uniform and attempt to wipe Mitch’s glasses.
“Wait!” She yelled at the Roman. “Let me take care of that.” Hadvar dumbly handed them over while Mitchell glared squintily at him for having the gall to not know how to clean glasses.
Okay. Glasses. I can handle that. She reached into her pocket for a sanitizer wipe. She hadn’t bothered getting out of her clothes, too nervous to change in a place full of strangers - PEEPING strangers no less! She handed them back to Mitch with a rueful smile, “Try not to need that too often, I’m afraid we’ve only got what’s left in my pocket for the duration of our stay.”
“If I can get my hoodie cleaned it won’t be a problem. Thanks…?” Mitchell trailed off when he realized he still didn’t know her name.
“So long as I don’t catch the pervert using it, I guess I can tell you.” She ignored Hadvar’s somewhat affronted, though vaguely sheepish look. “I’m Meryl.”
“Nice to finally learn your name, Meryl. It’d be a bitch to call you Hazmat all the time.” Mitchell gave a dismissive wave of his hand as he checked his cell.
“It’s almost 4:30 in the morning now. Too fucking early, but c’est la vie.” Mitchell shrugged. “I figure there’s no chance of coffee. God I miss Tim’s.”
“Tim’s?” Meryl looked at him quizzically.
“Right, accent. Tim Horton’s. Y’know, coffee shop?” Mitchell gestured vaguely, a common habit of his. “Awesome donuts? Double-double? Any of this ringing a bell?”
Had she been just a tiny bit more awake, and perhaps had a cup of coffee in her, and not so cranky before breakfast, she might have stopped herself from being a prat. Maybe.
“Oh my god. I’m stuck in a fantasy warzone with a Canadian.”
Mitchell pouted, sticking out his tongue in a mature and respectable fashion. “You laugh now, but when we have to skate across a frozen lake or canoe somewhere you’ll be begging me for mercy, American.” He added a hint of a Quebec french accent to the sentence, smirking. Nothing like having french cousins to get your impression game on point.
“Oh, please!” Meryl rolled her eyes. “I’m from Boston; we know a thing or two about snow.”
Hadvar looked between the two strangers in increasing alarm. “Well, that’s good. At least you’re not going to freeze while you’re here.” Meryl shot him an unpleasant look. “Sorry, it’s a common problem for provincials…” He shrugged helplessly.
Mitchell raised a sole eyebrow.
Meryl turned back to the Canadian, “I better not hear you sing that damn Wayne Gretzky song every few minutes.”
“So I take it the ‘Good Old Hockey Game’ and ‘the Man In the Moon is a Newfie’ are both fair game then?” Mitch smirked. “Oh you might think it’s goofy, but the man in the moon is a newfie! And he’s sailin’ on ta glory, away in the golden dory!”
Meryl sighed, “Honestly, I don’t care unless you make it a problem. It’s more that that fracking song was on the lips of EVERY. DAMNED. TOURIST. in Montreal AND Quebec when I was there. Apparently it’s the only thing most Americans insist on singing when they visit.” She smiled wryly at Mitch, “That, and one other song I suppose I ought to apologize to you for on behalf of my people.”
“If it’s french specific I can let it slide,” Mitchell said with a grin. “The French and the Furious can handle that issue. What song was it?”
“To be sung to the tune of your national anthem,” Meryl took a breath, “Oh, cannabis! My home and native plant…!”
Mitchell let out a giggle, beaming at it. “I can’t believe I have never heard that one. I can’t wait to tell my stoner friends about it. Provided I ever see those idiots again.”
She slumped a bit at that. “I don’t suppose that’ll be for a long time at this rate.”
Hadvar took the sad lull in the odd conversation to jump in, “We should probably speak to my uncle. He might have news not related to the war.”
“Wicked. Let’s go then.” Mitchell clapped, and then forced himself to his feet.
With only the one bed, Elaine had opted to share. What she had neglected to mention was her habit of invading all available space. Up to and including her bedmate. Who she was now drooling on as she clung to his arm in a vice grip as she dreamed of things that probably shouldn’t be mentioned. Martin was unfortunately less well-rested since his companion for the night had cut off circulation to his hand sometime during the night and had only recently found it released from her custody. Which meant the needle pains.
He sighed and covered his face with his free hand, hoping to be relieved from her grip so he could get up and stretch. And relieve himself. Next time he came to Tamriel he was going to use the floor. Or at least take the blankets for himself. This was ridiculous. When her companions returned in the morning he was going to foist her off on them with a good luck and get the hell away from this madness. Next time Akatosh could do his own dirty work.
Alvor was just as helpful and knowledgeable about the war as his nephew Hadvar, much to Meryl’s dismay. He’d even asked them to go bother a Jarl about the dragon. Because sending total strangers to deliver important news made SO much more sense than sending a Legionnaire. She pouted, but held her tongue until she left the house with Mitch. It wasn’t that she minded doing a favor, but this was ridiculous!
“Honestly, if Hadvar wasn’t semi-cute I wouldn’t be considering this at all… but maybe Alvor was right. I mean, maybe this lordy lord can point us in the direction of some sort of wizard and send us on our merry way home in exchange for the warning.” Mitchell mentioned, biting his lip thoughtfully. “It might actually be useful. Isn’t that how it goes in the stories? Not any particular story, but like, stories, y’know?”
Meryl stopped in her tracks and groaned. “Oh, GODS, no. I don’t want this to be another terrible adventure like that movie, ‘A Kid in King Arthur’s Court’ or something equally as awful…”
“But thiiiiiink about ittttt!” Mitchell grinned wildly. “Soon we’ll meet a Hagrid and he’ll be all like ‘Yer wizards, M-and-M-and-E!’ And we’ll all be like ‘oh my god.’ Or like, we’ll find out we’re some wicked awesome universe jumpers and I can finally become a pirate.”
Meryl hoped the growing horror in the pit of her stomach was not making itself too obvious on her face. “I can’t decide if you’ve gone mad, or are just that easy going. Are you actually enjoying this?”
“Nope. The scenery’s nice and all, but I’m just trying not to go insane by using daydreaming. It helps.” Mitchell replied cheerily with a bounce in his step.
Meryl snickered. “You’re doing it. Oh my god, you ARE one of those people!”
“If that is a thinly veiled criticism about me, I will not hear it or respond to it.” Mitchell fired back with absolutely no change in tone.
“No! It’s… You know that song from the beginning of ‘The King and I’? The ‘whistle a happy tune’ one?”
“Like that ‘A Few of My Favorite Things’ song from ‘The Sound of Music’? Yeah, I know it. So maybe ‘fake it ‘till you make it’ is a good life motto, so what? At least it’s not whatever Orgnar’s on.” Mitchell scoffed, taking the chance to throw shade at the glaring bartender.
“I guess we’ll have to. I hope that works on dragons. And Jarls.” Meryl sighed irritably, “I hope Elaine’s fine, and that Martin hasn’t gone and done something regrettable. I don’t know if I can deal with any more surprises today.” Of course, those WOULD be the last words out of her mouth before she pushed open the door to the rented room. Words failed her at the epic sight in the bed.
Mitchell let out an undignified “bow-chicka-wow-wow!” at the sight, giggling. “Dude, they banged. I called it, fucking called it.”
“I did no such thing” he huffed, looking over at them from where he lay on the bed. It would be easy enough to simply rouse her, but one never knew the temperament of a sleeping dragon and he was loathe to wake her and find her a threat when half-awake and prone to violence at the best of times, “She has been like this for half of the night and I would most appreciate assistance in extricating myself from her grasp. I desperately need to relieve myself and my arm has gone numb. Again.”
“I doubt she’d like you pissin’ on her.” Mitchell chuckled, shifting over to tap Elaine on the shoulder. Fool of a man as he was, he didn’t back away when an annoying tapping failed to rouse the woman. Instead he gave a slight pinch to her arm and called out her name.
The pinch was what roused her, though he may have wished otherwise. She lunged at him, head-butting the nearest body part with a great deal of animosity, though afterwards she collapsed with a yelp. The bed no longer supported her weight with her hanging off of it and considering where her head was roughly at the height of, Mitch was in no condition to help. She would be very apologetic once she was more coherent than homicidal.
Meryl squeaked at the ruckus as she covered her face with her hands. “Um,” she ventured tentatively at the pile of bodies, “are you guys okay?”
A groan came from the bed as Martin gingerly eased himself up. “Your friends are hardy, I’m sure they’ll be fine.”
“But what if they-”
“I’ll be more than happy to assist them after I take care of a few things!” Martin rushed off.
The girl stared at her fellow earthlings. “So… How’s your face? And how are your... manly bits?”
Mitchell let out a loud groan, his voice breaking up in a way it hadn’t since puberty. It was indignant, the only way he could portray his sheer discomfort as he gasped for air. “I fucked up…” He wheezed out, curling into a ball. “Next time- I get- a smart idea, STOP. ME.”
“I’m not sure I could have.” Meryl wrung her hands, “You’re bigger than me.”
“I LIVE!” Elaine shot up, and then fell right over as the blood rushed from her head at such an action. Low blood pressure would do that if one stood too quickly after not doing anything and she had definitely stood far too quickly, “... And now I hurt. What did I miss? And where’s Mars at?”
Mitchell was still emitting pained whines, reaching one arm out to grab Elaine and pull himself slightly into a sitting position. “You have removed my ability to cum for the next month. I hope you’re proud.” He groaned out.
“Come? Come where?” she blinked, looking down at him in bewilderment before sticking her thumb at a rickety chair that seemed to be the only seat in the room, “Why are you sitting on the ground? There’s a perfectly fine chair over there.”
Mitchell glared at her, blinking back tears. “Next time I’m letting Martin piss on ya. Jesus fuck, that wasn’t worth it.”
“Did I miss something here?” Elaine asked, somewhat concerned, “Why would he pee on me? I mean, I would rip his arm off and beat him to death with it or something if he did, but that’s beside the point. What’s wrong?”
“Well…” Meryl began, “You kind of… launched yourself off of Martin… and set your head on a… rather abrupt collision course with… Mitch’s testicles...”
“Oh...” She flushed scarlet and dropped her head into her hands, “I didn’t mean to. I am rather grumpy when I first wake up. Sorry about that...”
“And Martin… well, he was trapped under you and couldn’t go take care of the usual morning things. Like going to the loo... and stuff.” Meryl finished lamely.
“Oh yeah… People do that,” she laughed nervously, “Sorry. I got used to being dehydrated so I don’t go as often as others. Usually about three times a day. Bad for the kidneys I know, but I can be properly hydrated now I’m not in ‘KILLMENOW’ weather.”
Meryl made a face. “Um, right. So uh… Mitch? Are you alive? Or are you going to be dead to the world for a bit?”
Mitchell let out a groan, awkwardly sprawling outwards and wishing he was still in possession of his old cup from hockey. It would’ve saved him a lot of trouble. “I’m good, but if I’m walking funny then I call the right to blame Elaine.” He muttered, standing slowly.
“Should have let a sleeping dragon lie,” she grinned toothily at the double meaning of dragon, “besides, I’m sure you can just walk it off. Eventually. Need some ice?”
Mitchell glared half-heartedly. “I need an egg mcmuffin and a litre of instant coffee. Everything else is pretty much irrelevant right now.”
“I work in a military installation and I still wouldn’t touch that stuff,” her lip curled in disgust before she perked up, “Though an english muffin and with bacon and egg sounds delicious.”
Meryl winced in sympathy. “I wouldn’t blame you. That stuff they use for creamer does NOTHING. It shouldn’t even be called ‘creamer’... maybe ‘whitener’? I mean, it doesn’t really do anything other than that…”
“Food in general sounds perfect. We’ve still gotta eat breakfast and then figure out where we stand and the fuck we should do.” Mitchell pointed out, rolling his shoulders.
“Maybe Mars will have an idea,” she shrugged “It’s not like we know anything other than imperials should be avoided and the stormcloaks are probably not the sharpest tacks in the box. He really is cute though. I’ve got a thing for Mediterranean skin tones.”
Meryl rolled her eyes. Looks like SOMEone has a thing for men in skirts. Granted, they had nice legs, but...
Mitchell hummed in agreement. “Yeah. Anyways, should we take our chances with Orgnar’s cooking or find a general store that sells fruit or something?”
Meryl’s mouth went dry at the memory. “Please… I’d rather not…”
“I could kill for a nice steak with a side of potatoes,” Elaine rubbed her face, and yawned, “but I think I’d prefer not to eat a Skeever. It sounds disgusting.”
“Settled then, let’s find a store. How much cash do we have? I heard someone talking about the mill needing help last night. If we’re stuck here we should at least try to tip the scales in our favor with a bit of money.” Mitch suggested, biting his lip.
“Well I doubt they take what I’ve got,” she sighed, shaking her head, “But we could also try seeing if they have Mercenary work like retrieving stuff in a pinch.”
“I’m not pawning off my watch until I get desperate, and I’m pretty sure after what we did yesterday that merc work might kill me.” Mitch said with a shrug. “I’ll hit up the mill, see if they need someone to chop firewood. If not, well, there’s probably some sort of strip club equivalent here.”
Meryl’s eyes went wide. “W-what?” She stuttered. Oh stars! An optimist AND a stripper?! How in the nine hells did that work?
Of course, that would be the moment that Martin would return. “I think that we may be able to avoid resorting to such measures.”
Meryl choked and flushed in embarassed horror, but Martin seemed more amused than anything. “I propose a small detour through our friend Hadvar’s dreaded barrow.”
“Don’t they have monsters in there?”
“Of a sort. Most are what we call 'draugr’ and they aren’t monsters as much as they are guardians.”
Meryl looked skeptically at the Roman. “So… you’re suggesting we go raiding a place those guardians protect?”
Martin hesitated for a moment, “Well, it’s more a matter of laying their troubled spirits to rest.”
“And here I thought I could leave my Sutras at home,” Elaine grumbled with a grimace of distaste. Killing living things was fine but killing dead things was just unnatural.
Meryl had played plenty of video games to know where this was going. “You mean ‘grave robbing’?”
“How is what you’re suggesting ‘not quite’ grave robbing?” The little girl crossed her arms.
“Because we aren’t. We’re performing a favor for a friend.”
Meryl was thoroughly unimpressed. “And what sort of friend asks you to rob graves?”
Martin sighed in exasperation. “As I said before, we are NOT going to rob graves. An item of some value was stolen from a local shop, and the proprietor and his sister would very much appreciate it’s return.”
Meryl’s mouth opened involuntarily. “You mean you want us to go after bandits and a few unhappy undead?!”
“Shit sounds too ‘Walking Dead’ for me.” Mitchell agreed. “Martin, we aren’t fighters. Well, Elaine’s military so actually she is, but I act and Meryl does weird chemical shit. We aren’t the ones you want backing you against bandits.”
“Bandits? I can deal with those no problem!” Elaine perked up, all too happy to stay the fuck away from the dead of any sort. Especially walking dead. That was heebie and Jeebie, “I kill people and put others back together!”
“I actually do more stuff relating to machines… it just so happens that most of that means I’m stuck making my own prototypes of things.” Meryl frowned worriedly. “I only happen to hunt recreationally. Actual combat is not something I’ve ever really tried.”
“Right. And my extent of fighting is playing ‘Assassin’s Creed’ for eight hours straight. So…” Mitch trailed off, shaking his head and pushing his hair back out of habit. “We should be focusing on figuring out why the hell we’re here. I’ve got classes starting again in a few weeks.”
“And I have a thesis!” Meryl wailed.
Martin pinched the bridge of his nose. “I can point to those who may be able to help you, but I must be sure that you all can at the very least survive the journey.”
Meryl glared at Mitch. “This is your fault, you know. You just had to say we might go on some mad adventure searching for wizards or something.”
“Well forgive me for trying to find a laugh in this shit situation. And maybe that is best, searching for a wizard. Someone powerful enough to send us back home, hopefully for free.”
Meryl whined. “Wizards of that sort never work for money. Ever read ‘Lord of the Rings’? Gandalf and company do magic of that caliber in exchange for quests and bloodshed. Oh, so very much bloodshed!”
“Nothing ever comes without a price,” Elaine agreed, “Haven’t you ever read old fairy tales? Everyone has to pay to get out of something and sometimes it ends up even worse.”
With a sigh, Mitch threw his arms up in an exasperated gesture. “You’ve got me there. Think clicking our heels and saying ‘There’s no place like home!’ might work?”
“Okay. Back up. I…” Meryl bit her lip and took a shaky breath. “Look… I’m sorry, I’m just… really not dealing with everything terribly well.”
“It’s fine, really. We’re all freaked the fuck out right now.” Mitchell replied in a gentler tone. “And hey, that’s pretty much expected too. I mean, what else can we do?”
“I had a friend who was often as lost as you are.” Martin smiled, not unkindly. “A bit of advice I learned from that time, was that in moments like these, sometimes lopping off a few heads helps to clear one’s own.”
Meryl laughed in weary defeat. “Cute. And your friend’s advice gets us to go fetch for your other friends. Fine. You win.”
“Martin, I am slightly concerned for your sanity.” Mitchell muttered dryly.
Martin chuckled. “A sentiment often expressed by my old companion.”
“I don’t see a problem with that!” Elaine grinned, “killing things either makes you crazy or helps calm you down. Of course there is the occasional necrophiliac...”
“Um.... There is that, I guess...” Meryl stared uncomfortably at Elaine. “But you know... right now, I think I could do with a little exercise. What do you think? Guys? Are either of you up for bringing a few bandits to justice? Or exorcising some undead?”
“Fuck no. Let’s do it anyways.” Mitchell said with false enthusiasm so sweet even Splenda would be disgusted.
“Awesome.” Meryl turned back to Martin. “I hope you’re up for babysitting us noobies, because we sure as hell have no idea what we’re doing.” Meryl smiled with more humor than she felt, “In the immortal words of my idiot paladin: OOOOOOONNNNWAAAAAAARD!!!”
Mitchell blinked twice, then shrugged and nodded. “Yeah, what she said.”
“May Akatosh preserve us...” Martin sighed.
Chapter 4: In the Belly of the Barrow
Once upon a week ago, Mitchell had thought Canada was as cold as he was ever going to get. Playing hockey for years should’ve gotten him used to it. Alas, Skyrim had to appear out of nowhere and violently kick him for that idea. It hadn’t helped to be woefully under-dressed in a thin hoodie and jeans. Never the less, the Canadian stubbornly shivered away his complaints as he and his companions trekked on towards Bleak Falls Barrow. Better to freeze than to complain to Americans, after all.
Meryl saw the big guy shivering in the snow and smirked. “So! How’s the weather, Mitch?”
Mitchell cocked his head to the left, dislodging his hood and causing goosebumps to dance up his neck. “Fuckin’ lovely. Now if only I had my ski-doo and helmet.” And the snowsuit, the insulated one. And hot pockets…
Meryl rolled her eyes at his stubborness. “All teasing aside, seriously: how are you doing? This is no time to get sick. I’m not sure we can effectively deal with hypothermia right now.”
“Here’s a hint. You know how they get the holes in CDs? They use my nipples.” Mitchell replied flatly, shoving his hands into his pocket. “I can deal, it’ll be better when we’re out of the wind though.”
Meryl rolled her eyes at his attempt at manliness or whatever. Boys are such a pain. “Elaine, do you have anything for our aspiring icicle?”
“Unless she’s got about ten cups of coffee, then I don’t think anything can help me right now.” Mitchell sighed wistfully.
“I have a spare set of thermals because I’m a wimpy Hoosier who hates the cold,” she wrinkled her nose, looking up at Mitch before grinning impishly, “Though I ain’t too sure that he’d be able to fit. I’d actually pay to see that happen.”
Meryl tried and failed to contain her laughter. “Sorry, Mitch! You have to admit it would be pretty funny to watch.”
“It would be an expensive sight.” Mitch scoffed. “And by expensive, I mean about 30 bucks or a couple of DQ coupons.”
“Dairy Queen? In this weather?” Meryl shivered just thinking about it. She shook her head and decided to focus her attention on something else. “So Martin,” she sniffled from the cold, “You’re awfully quiet. Any particular reason you thought it was a good idea to bring three woefully unprepared civilians into the snow?”
“He’s probably used to it,” Elaine shrugged, gesturing expansively at his visible knees as she cut into the conversation. She had spent most of the time hunched into her sweater and top like a camo-colored turtle, “Considering he and the other Romans are running around like it’s the middle of fucking summer in Tahiti. I mean fuck I feel cold just looking at my freezer.”
“Yeah, like we don’t expect you to go full Winterfell here, but Dornish is hardly suitable.” Mitchell joked.
Meryl groaned. “I suppose we can expect lots of jokes about the Kingdom in the North, now…”
Martin suppressed a chuckle.
“I don’t get it,” Elaine muttered. Game of Thrones was not in her severely limited book of pop culture references unfortunately, “Are we talking about the Norsemen? Because I see a serious lack of red-headed dumbasses.”
“If we see any more dragons, it’ll only get worse.” Mitchell grinned mischievously. “I will take what is mine with fire and blood!”
Martin smiled a bit more at that, and Meryl peered at him. “What’s so funny?”
“I, ah, well.” Martin shrugged. “Skyrim is known as the northern province, so while I remain uncertain as to whether you made the jest with that knowledge, it still holds in this situation.”
“And what’s so funny about dragons?” She pressed.
“Well…” Martin mused with a little smile, “I suppose you’re a ways from ‘taking what is yours’ from dragons.”
“I figure ‘Winter is Coming’ is more apt, then?” Mitchell chuckled, shaking his head. “I love dragons. It’s a damn shame they’re violent bastards. I was gonna go all Targaryen until the big black one fucked with us.”
An arrow whizzed by.
“Speaking of things that are fucking with us. We’re getting shot at!”
“Shit!” Mitchell exclaimed, side-stepping.
The Roman stepped forward. “Take cover. Let me show you how it’s done!”
A shimmering, translucent barrier went up, preventing any further arrows from reaching them.
“Please!” Martin called out to the bandits, “We intend no harm, and would have safe passage through the mountain should you allow it!”
A second bandit spat onto the snow. “Right! As if any of us would be stupid enough to fall for THAT!”
The archer didn’t lower their bow, and an arrow remained nocked and ready. “Them mage folk can’t be trusted. Jus’ look at him! Bringing along a small party an’ ev’rythin!”
“I am merely a guide.” The Imperial responded calmly. “We have no interest in what you have claimed as yours.”
The one who spat palmed the weight of his sword in a meaty hand. “And what are you interested in?”
“What we wish lies within the mountaintop.” Martin replied evenly.
“The top o’ the mountain, you say?” A third bandit came into view. “You mean the Barrow.”
“More like what’s in it.” The archer sneered.
“Looks like that godsdamned elf was on to something.” The third said slowly, “Seeing as he’s got two parties coming after him.”
Mitch was impressed at how Martin maintained his calm. Though it was a bit worrisome that he had not drawn his sword. “We do not seek treasure, only to return something to it’s rightful place.”
“Yeah. Like all that gold being rightfully in my pockets!” The archer loosed the arrow and dropped the bow to the ground for the sake of drawing his own sword quicker.
The arrow bounced harmlessly off the barrier. It was only a murmur, but Meryl could just barely hear the knowing resignation in Martin’s voice - and perhaps the smallest amount of amusement - as he spoke. “You should not have done that.”
The healer exploded into action.
In the moment it had taken to drop the barrier, Martin had drawn his sword and was now bearing down on the nearest of the three bandits- with fire.
The archer swore and scrambled backwards reaching for the shield strapped to their back, as the third bandit bounded past him. Martin whipped around in time to block the larger man’s opening attack with his sword, the first having gone down in a charred mass of roasted flesh. The poor bastard hadn’t even had the time to scream.
The third bandit wasn’t going down as easily. Though his large size made him an easy target, the big man pressed forward with a ferocity that was terrifying to witness. The forced proximity also meant that Martin could not set his opponent on fire without also engulfing himself. More worryingly, the archer would soon be joining the fray. It was about to be two-to-one, and Martin was rapidly losing ground.
Elaine hauled her rifle into position as he continued to fall back. It didn’t look good. In just a few more paces, the archer would be on him as well.
She needn’t have worried. Before Elaine could move to assist, Martin threw off the third bandit at the very last moment. As the man stumbled back a step, the archer closed the gap- only for the both of them to be caught by the lightning that flew from the healer’s fingertips.
Both men went down, screaming as they twitched and spasmed uncontrollably in the snow.
Martin stopped for a breath. “Do you yield?”
No response from either bandit. Perhaps he was being overly cautious, but Meryl supposed it was a good idea to be sure. She looked over the bodies, but from this distance, the men looked very dead.
The Imperial walked past the charred remains of the first and over to the pair of recently fallen bodies. “I say again, do you yield?”
The second Martin got within range, the larger man lashed out at him. The attack was wild and desperate, and easily deflected. “What do you think you’re doing?” Martin grunted. Wild as the attack was, the man was still heavy. The bandit roared in anger, his body wracked by too much pain to be effective, but too stubborn to give in.
Strained as his voice was with the effort of speaking while fighting, Martin spoke as reasonably as he could manage. “This is… unnecessary… You have lost… and we… can help!”
The last bandit cursed and swore as much as his body would let him. “Don’t… fucking… care…!”
The Imperial dashed forward with an unexpected burst of speed, knocking the stubborn bandit’s sword out of his hand, staggering him. In that fatal moment, Martin’s sword was buried in the brute’s chest, and the dying man clutched angrily at the Imperial’s arm as death finally claimed him.
It took some doing, but Martin managed to pull his sword out the dead man. “What a waste.” Martin sighed as he wiped his blade off. “We should see if we can make use of the things they’ve left behind before we move on.” He turned to enter the lonely tower the bandits had been occupying.
Mitchell glanced from corpse to corpse in wide-eyed shock, a shudder running down his spine as he spared a look to the Imperial Healer. “Shit.” He muttered, scratching at his stubble with nervousness dancing through him. “Well mark me down as scared and horny.” He murmured to himself.
“I’m just one of those, and only the supernatural freaks me out,” Elaine giggled cheerfully, slinging her rifle back into its home on her shoulder, “Goddamn Marty, you need to teach me to burn things too. That would be a blast!”
“Martin…” Meryl struggled through the snow to catch up to him, “I thought you said you were a healer.”
The Imperial paused in the archway to the small tower. “In times of war, even healers must take up arms.”
Meryl frowned. He wasn’t wrong, but there was a difference between acquiring minimum proficiency, and the years of training it took to become that good. Granted, he was a trained military man and those were unskilled bandits... but for the closest thing this place had to a doctor, to be quite at ease with performing this amount of violence - hell, to be quite that graceful even - meant there was a lot more to his story than he was letting on. Or maybe the war had simply dragged on for long enough to for him to adapt. Neither was a pleasant thought.
There was a whoop from the other side of the small bridge, as Mitchell located a small cracked amethyst and a bag of coins dropped by one of the bandits. He gleefully retrieved his phone from his pocket, documenting the loot in a quick snapchat to his brother. Still yet to explain the situation to Gabe, Mitch hoped silently that might throw him off for a little bit.
Meryl snorted at the sight before turning back to Martin. “So… Taking up arms, huh? I’d like to know about the fire and shield magic you did. And the basics of healing.”
Martin appraised her, “Do you not already have a healer?”
“We do, but if I can manage taking care of myself at least, it can only help.” Meryl grimaced. “It’s not fair to ask her for everything, and I hate being a burden.”
“I’ve already shown your friend the basics of healing. Why not ask her? In lieu of that, I can show you the basics of offensive and defensive magic.” He paused to look out over the mountain. “I must return to my duties soon, but I will teach you what I can in the Barrow. If you wish to pursue the matter further, there is the College.”
Meryl perked up. “A college? Just for magic?”
“In Winterhold, yes.” Martin nodded.
“You think they might have someone who can send us home?”
“Fuck, magic college? Like, Hogwarts for adults?” Mitchell’s head perked up from the other side of the bridge.
“I’m sorry I don’t understand what you mean, but I suspect that your impression is correct.” Martin replied.
Mitchell shrugged. “To be honest you’re not gonna get half of the shit I think up, but it brings me comfort to think it, eh?”
“If it is of any comfort, then by all means, do so.” Martin chuckled.
“You don’t mind being out of the loop?” Meryl was skeptical. “Most people find that sort of thing rude.”
“I have learned not to take such things personally.” He shrugged. “Besides, there is much about the world I do not know. To take offense at things of which I am unaware seems rather short-sighted.”
“Dude, I think he’s on magical Xanax.”
“It’s pretty normal. If you think about the politics of things, you get a headache. it’s easier to just point and shoot when they shoot at you,” Elaine shrugged, wrinkling her nose, “It’s best not to think about the guy being a parent or a son because in the end it’s you or them and the best choice is always gonna be you and your buddies.”
“Soldiers can’t afford to be saints.” Mitchell quoted as he returned to the group carrying his loot.
Meryl winced and said nothing.
“You have got to be kidding me,” Elaine grumbled, realising how many bandits were between them and the door. She resisted the urge to put her face in her hands, but she really didn’t feel like dealing with this sort of thing at all. Of course they were standing between her and a slightly less cold Barrow, so she didn’t mind so much if she had to go through them, “You think we could come in from the side and not deal with a crapton of assholes who don’t know how to quit?”
Mitchell pursed his lips, eyes locked on the top of the barrow. The icicles hanging off the ledge were almost as tall as Elaine, and sickeningly sharp. For a brief moment he entertained the possibility of the icicles crashing down on them and found himself cringing at the thought. “Okay, I feel like an asshole for thinking of this, but is there anyway we could group all the bandits under those icicles and then send them crashing down on their heads?” He asked in a whisper. “Judgin’ by the last fuckers, these lads won’t give up anytime soon.”
“It might be the most efficient way.” Meryl frowned. “Brutal, but efficient…”
Martin kept his eyes on the bandits but nodded his for an aside, “I must agree. But it seems that there is something that concerns you.”
“I’ve never done anything like this before.” Meryl’s frown turned into a grimace. “It’s one thing to do this as part of a game, or a mental exercise. But to actually do it…”
Mitchell nodded in agreement, letting out a huff of air. “Yeah, there is that problem. Triggering the icicles could fuck up a lot more than just the bandits.”
“Um... Sure. Just… no explosives, please.” Meryl sighed. “And I seriously doubt that arrows will trigger that. Actually, I think they’re more likely to alert them.”
“Is there a way we could draw them all away from the entrance and sneak in?” Mitchell asked, looking back towards the mountainside. “Less brutal and less likely to get us killed in the process.” There, that sounds more like me and less like an asshole. Mitchell thought to himself.
Meryl rubbed her nose. “We’d still have to pass them when we leave…”
“And I suppose we can’t burn that bridge when we get to it. Shit.” Mitch groaned.
Meryl turned to Martin and Elaine. “Hey, guys? Any ideas from back there? What are you two up to…?”
Martin raised a finger to his lips. Meryl’s eyes went wide and her head whipped back towards the bandits.
Elaine grinned as she took her knife in one hand and grabbed the startled bandit from behind. With a quick motion, his muffled cry became a death gurgle and she lowered him to the ground before unslinging her weapon. She had just the plan to get them all in one razor-sharp place.
Meryl swore under her breath and grabbed Mitch’s arm. Mitchell himself followed her lead, letting loose a near silent mix of french and english curses.
Elaine didn’t notice their approach, too busy taunting the remaining bandits with a great deal of glee and avoiding the arrows and swords aimed at her with evil taunts about the bandit’s heritage and sexual preferences. Just a bit more and Martin would have the opportunity to knock the icy spears down so they could get shit done.
Meryl let go of Mitch’s arm to better scramble up the icy steps. She wasn’t sure how long before the bandits ganged up on Elaine, but at this point, it was all or nothing, right?
“Come on, Mitch!” Meryl gasped as she ran, “We have to-!”
“I’M FUCKING COMING!” Mitchell shouted in reply, scrambling for purchase against the icy ground.
There was a small pinging noise overhead. Most of the bandits didn’t notice - mainly, the ones immediately dealing with Elaine - but the rest? The collection of mortals on the ground watched as an arrow struck down an icicle, and the glittering spike began it’s fateful descent.
The icicle shattered upon the stone, and a tinkling rain of smaller units followed in kind.
The sounds began to do more than just echo, and even the bandits who were locked in desperate combat froze, their eyes widening at the crescendo of sound.
Some of them were too dim to realize what was happening, though. “Hey? Do you feel that?”
The cloudy sky darkened considerably.
“RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!”
“Oh shit,” she yelped, landing on her ass at the sudden shaking. Elaine quickly stumbled to her feet and made for the barrow, not intending to end up in a river of snow and debris. Hopefully the others would do the same.
Mitchell lunged towards the barrow, sliding across the ice and half rolling in pursuit of Elaine. His screaming was stopped only by his need to gulp in air frantically when he finally slipped into the safety of the ruin.
Meryl fared worse than her companions. Her legs went out beneath her from the shaking, and all the scrambling in the world did no good on the ice. She watched the others around her do much the same, as she watched the snow come down. Welp, that’s it. She thought in a daze. I am officially toast.
The snow blocked out the sky and she smiled dryly at the inevitable. I hope the others got away.
A mass slammed into her and took the air out of her lungs.
Amidst the roar of the avalanche, Martin summoned an arcane barrier, shielding himself from the snow as he darted away from the escaping bandits and towards a dazed Meryl. The medic snatched her around the waist, knocking the air from the woman in the process of sprinting towards the door. He could see just uphead the other two inside the ruin and sped up, surprisingly stable on the slippery ground. With a great shove off he managed to land in the doorway, hauling Meryl along. He pushed her forward and into a stunned Mitchell before slamming shut the doors and exhaling in relief.
“You alright?” Mitchell panted out, tapping Meryl on the back as he helped her sit upright.
Meryl coughed a bit before finding air enough to speak. “Yeah. Just… give me a bit…” She groaned as she saw a pair of bandits sneaking behind a pillar over Mitch’s shoulder. “Oh, for the love of…”
“It’s times like these that I hate being a medic,” Elaine sighed, turning to pistol-whip the nearest bandit with her buttstock and kicking him in the crotch hard enough that he lifted up into the air slightly, “and now I’ve likely permanently removed his chances of procreation. If you’d like to join him, be my guest. I am not about to deal with this shit right now. I dropped a fucking mountain on your friends. Imagine what I’d do to you.”
“Oh my god.” Mitchell breathed out with slight horror and the tiniest bit of sympathy. “Elaine, was that strictly necessary?Ah yes, kill them all you like, but for God’s sake leave their balls alone!”
Meryl started giggling deliriously as she fell back on her side, “Priorities.”
“Thank fuck you’re okay.” Mitchell said in a huff, giving the shorter woman another once over for any obvious injuries. “Hey Elaine, maybe you should take a look at her.”
Martin sighed and ran his hand through his hair. “Your friend will be fine. She needs some time to collect herself.”
Meryl snorted from her spot on the floor. “No shit, Sherlock…”
“So now that that’s settled,” Elaine re-shouldered her rifle and grinned, “what’s the plan for getting through this place?”
Martin turned to the bandits. “I don’t suppose you would be willing to point the way?”
When met only with silent apprehension from the bandits (and one groaning in agony on the floor), Mitchell brought it upon himself to attempt to salvage the situation. “That way out’s obviously blocked the fuck up, and we’re all stuck here for now. Please, we’re only trying to help out a friend who really needs it. And none of us really give a shit about loot, so you guys can go batshit over what we stumble across apart from what our friend needs. Plus Elaine can probably brutally slaughter just about anything we see here on in. What’dya say?” It was a pitiful try, but hey, it was the best he had.
The best he had apparently wasn’t quite sinking in, because he was still met with relative silence. It was only then Mitch realized it wasn’t actually silent, and that “Let’s Get It On” was once more blaring from his pocket. He was met with the realization that holy shit, his phone was still working even after he’d thrown himself into the ground, and that the bandits were probably too caught up in Marvin Gaye to realize what the fuck he was going on about.
“I feel as though I should take this, excuse me.”
Meryl’s eyes snapped open. No. Way. That shouldn’t be possible… Her brain kicked into overdrive when Mitch began to speak into his phone.
“Remind me to tell my mom to switch to whatever company he uses because damn that’s some coverage,” Elaine laughed somewhat hysterically. While the others had had their moment of stress, Elaine was more the nuclear meltdown type. While she had let off some steam by dropping a mountain and maiming people, she was still out of her element too. A sudden thought had her paling, horror crossing her features, “Oh shit… She’s going to have a heart attack when I turn up missing. I gotta get a message to her.”
Martin smiled awkwardly at the last bandit standing. “If you have suggestions, they might be worth mentioning before they all turn on you.”
The female bandit looked uncertainly at her cohort on the floor before turning back to the Imperial. “I can’t believe I’m going to say this to Legion of all things, but... “ she jerked her head in Mitch’s direction, “D’you think he’s as good as his word? Can you lot be held to that as well?”
Meryl laughed as she sat herself up. “You’re not very good at this are you? I mean, you have the two nicest people in our group wanting to help, and you seriously need to think this over? After what SHE did?” Meryl pointed at Elaine.
The bandit grimaced and turned to talk to Mitch, but Meryl cut her off before the woman could interrupt his phone call. “Hey! He’s busy!”
The bandit turned helplessly to Martin, who put his hands up. “Sorry, he spoke for us. It would be rude to go behind his back now.”
The woman stood there awkwardly before sheathing her weapon. “I guess we’ll be waiting, then.” She kicked her partner when a groan of protest came from the floor. “I said: we’ll be waiting.”
Meanwhile, Mitchell was desperately trying to calm down not only his agitated brother, but his livid mother. With Gabriel’s panicked rambling it was easy enough to listen and try to explain, but his mom’s shouting meant he had to hold the phone slightly away from his ear in an attempt to not go completely deaf.
“No, Mom! I’m not on drug- of course I haven’t been driving, you have my keys! I was drunk, I wasn- Please it’s really not the time for this! I know I’ve been gone for two days, just move baby in the garage and I’ll pick it up when-”
A question from his mother sent Mitchell into a long sigh. “No, I don’t know. I honestly have no idea if I can get back. Please, just board up the attic and I’ll tell you when I’m not in danger of being run through with a falling stalagmite.”
In hindsight, it was probably the wrong thing to say. In a moment absent of strategic thinking, the Canadian quickly rushed out “I’ll call you back don’t call me until I call you- I’ll explain when I understand I love you bye!” and hung up.
It took exactly two seconds to realize he really fucked up before he let out a strangled noise and thrust his phone back into his pocket. “Shittttttt.” He breathed out, grimacing. “I should not have done that.”
Meryl was nonplussed. “So. Family troubles. I guess you’ll be hashing that out later. The question is: will your phone run out of power before your mother is through with you?”
Mitch groaned, checking the battery. “I’ve got an emergency charging pack in my pocket that’s still good for now, but I don’t think I’ll need it. It’s been two days and the battery’s still at 97%. Do either of you wanna make a call once we’re out of here?” Mitch glanced over to both of his Earth companions.
“Later sounds good. But I’d be suspicious of that reading: I don’t know how well your phone is able to accurately report battery usage in these conditions. I mean, it takes POWER to find and maintain a signal, and how the hell that is happening in a snowed-in tomb-thing is-”
Martin coughed gently.
Meryl pouted. “Fine. Later. In the meantime, your bandit lady-friend has been waiting for you.”
“As long as I can somehow keep the phone working, I’ll count myself blessed.” Mitch sighed, shaking his head before turning to the female bandit. “Sorry about that. You were saying, miss?”
“So. You said my companion and I can have the loot, and that you only want one thing?”
Mitch nodded quickly. “We might pick up a sword or an axe on our way in case of emergency, but otherwise every bit of treasure here other than Lucan’s claw is yours. Sound good?”
The woman’s eyes widened at the mention. “THAT damned thing again. We went through a lot of trouble for that stupid claw.”
The bandit on the floor glared up at them. “They want the loot!” That earned him another kick from the woman. “Don’t be daft, you idiot! They said they only wanted the key!” She turned uncertainly to Mitch again. “You want the key after we get the loot, right?”
“Pretty much, yep.” Mitchell said, cocking his head to the left and turning his expression to full on puppy eyes. “The alternative is letting Elaine go apeshit on you, but honestly I’ve seen enough bloodshed for today. And hey, maybe you can get a little something extra from working with us on this.”
Now was not the time to think with his dick, but at this point Mitchell really just wanted to get moving again. The cave was too stuffy for him. With an eyebrow wiggle here and a flutter of eyelashes there with a little pout thrown in, he might actually get something enjoyable out of the entire experience.
Martin concealed a smirk before going over to help Meryl up. “Elaine? Do you have any thoughts on the marching order?”
“If I can have a mace and a shield, I want to be in front. I’ve always wanted to try shield-charging my enemies into walls,” she grinned viciously before turning to the living ones with long looks of appraisal, “And who knows, there might even be enough left over to make soup stock! Too bad those bandits out there are just left to waste.”
That shut up the bandit on the floor. He struggled regain his footing, unsteady after the treatment of his privates. His last remaining bandit companion didn’t bother to help him, swallowing uneasily and keeping her eyes on Elaine.
Meryl caught the bandits’ eyes. “She’s probably just joking. Probably. Wouldn’t want to test that theory, though. I’d see if I could spare a mace and shield if I were you.”
The female bandit sighed and went over to a chest by a small campfire. She dug out a selection of equipment and a few empty sacks. “Here. Take your pick.”
“Just don’t take the bags.” The other bandit spoke. “That’s for my loot.”
She shot him a dirty look. “Our loot, you idiot.”
“And if you guys keep bickering, neither of you will live long enough to enjoy it,” Elaine growled suddenly, lifting the mace and shield thoughtfully as though her words had been a mere thought than a threat of violence, “Ugh. An amateur made these. Remind me to get lessons from a blacksmith because otherwise the terrible counterbalance is going to drive me insane.”
Mitchell glanced over the weaponry, settling on two daggers with the hope he could hide behind Martin or Elaine if a fight popped up. “Better a shit weapon then no weapon.” He called to her with a shrug.
“Combatives!” she shouted back, giggling surprisingly girlishly for the topic, “I can kill a guy with a knife, a gun or my bare hands. It’s all a matter of leverage and hostility. And I’ve got enough of one for a huge ass shit shovel.”
“And I am once again reminded to never fuck with you.” Mitch replied swiftly, sliding a few small rocks in his right pocket in case of emergency.
“You don’t have to worry about anything,” she grinned widely, “You and Meryl are mine to protect. I’ll put down anything that goes after you too quicker than a 240 Bravo can turn a camel into mist! Which is pretty damn fast to be honest. You should see what it does to people!”
“Thank you.” Meryl smiled awkwardly. “Um, I don’t suppose there’s a rapier or a shortsword anywhere?”
Mitch glanced around the pile, fetching a sheathed blade and passing it over to Meryl. “This work? I ain’t exactly familiar with weapon names.”
Meryl opened her mouth but shut it again at Martin’s pointed look. “I can tell you later. The main thing is the balance and weight.” She pulled the iron sword out of its scabbard. “This is more of a longsword, and I lack quite the strength to wield it as well as I’d like, but oh well. So long as Martin shows me how to cast shields and fire I should be ok.”
Martin nodded. “There should be time for the rudimentary spells before this is through.”
“Great. Now I’m using magic to compensate for my size.” Meryl muttered.
Mitchell rolled his eyes. “I thought you were using it to compensate for being a scientist in a viking’s world. It’s for the best.”
Meryl groaned. “I hope to god that there’s a way home after this. I’ve got so much work I’ve left behind! My advisor will kill me...”
“And arguably so will whatever waits for us here. We should get moving, before I collapse from lack of good, non-cavey air.” Mitch announced, rolling his shoulders.
“Yeah. It smells musty and full of I don’t want to know what.” Meryl grimaced.
“In that case, shall we move on?” Martin gestured at the haphazard party.
“I want the back.” The newly risen bandit piped up. The woman rolled her eyes at him. “Don’t be an ass. They could kill you.”
“That’s why I want to be in back!” He protested.
“Fuck, fly if you want to, I really don’t care so long as we leave..” Mitch replied with a snip. “Let’s go. Martin, you good with leading?”
“If the lady would prefer.” Martin winked at Elaine.
Meryl sighed in exasperation. “Oh, get a room, you two!”
“They already did.” Mitch snickered.
Meryl groaned. “This is going to be a long dungeon crawl, isn’t it?”
Meryl glared at the blades swinging freely in the narrow hallway. “Really? REALLY? Who the fuck thinks up these stupid traps?!”
“The writers of Indiana Jones?” Mitch offered, looking down the bladed corridor with a hint of curiosity in his eyes.
“I suppose there are worse bottlenecks to deal with, and that I really shouldn’t be complaining, but come ON! The swings don’t even alternate! And there’s a gap a small child could fit through at the bottom!”
Mitch found himself examining the blades more closely. “They look dull from here. Imagine the original builders wouldn’t have had them regularly sharpened. There are gaps in the system, places someone skinny could fit in during intervals…”
Meryl frowned. “That’s… odd. Blades get dull from use. Or maybe they were never very sharp to begin with…”
Martin cleared his throat. “Perhaps we should not be judging the worthiness of a trap we have not bested, nor the ability of makers we haven’t met.”
“Time to best the trap then.” Mitch responded, pulling his hoodie over his shoulders and setting it on Martin. He next pulled off his glasses, handing them over to Meryl. “Keep these safe for me. I’m about to do something incredibly stupid. Thank God I have my tetanus shot.”
Meryl’s mouth fell open.
“You aren’t going to do what I think you’re going to do are you?” Elaine asked somewhat rhetorically, already cringing at the thought of having to heal him after having huge ribbons of flesh gouged out, “This is not a good idea. Why not send one of the redshirts through first?”
“Because I’m the one in red.” Mitchell replied, gesturing to his own t-shirt.
Before any of his companions could protest, Mitch had stepped back and charged forward, narrowly dodging the first set of blades as he stopped a toes width away from the next set. As soon as the second blades slowed he lunged again, this time getting away with a nick on his forearm. The third set was a bit easier, when he started off seconds before the swinging blades slowed down and flying past them. With a victorious whoop he turned to wave to his friends on the other side. The swishing of the blades and the echo of his own happy yell blocked out a following noise he probably should’ve paid more attention to but ignored in favor of pulling the nearby chain.
“Mitch! That wasn’t funny! Not even a little!” Meryl bounced furiously while clutching his glasses.
“If you do something stupid like that again, I’m skinning you and wearing your skin as a dress,” Elaine threatened somewhat half-heartedly, more relieved he was only lightly injured than maimed. A movement caught her attention and she shifted slightly before bringing her shield up and using it like a battering ram Captain America style on a possibly surprised husk of a human in rotted armor.
Mitchell’s quip was cut off by the small shriek he let out as he jumped away from whatever Elaine had just rammed. “Holy shit!”
“Martin!” Meryl cried out in alarm. An arrow clattered on the stone, causing her to swear.
Martin tapped the male bandit before rushing through the cleared trap. “Cover me!”
The man grunted his acknowledgement and ran after the Imperial. “Elaine! You take care of the- nevermind.”
Turns out, charging a skeleton while carrying 60 pounds of gear tends to smash them to bits.
Martin refocused on the two remaining skeletons. “Meryl! Watch closely! Consider this your first lesson on offensive casting!”
The female bandit moved to cover Mitch, while the male one raised his shield in front of Martin.
“There are differing opinions of the source of magic, but for some, it’s easier to focus on drawing upon the emotions within.”
The two skeletons made it down the stairs and were about to charge the party.
“It’s a bit simple, but sometimes, simple will do perfectly.”
Martin raised a hand and sent a small ball of fire at a point above the charging skeletons. Meryl panicked at how he could miss them at such close range. That is, until a small lamp fell from it’s place and smashed onto the oil spill below.
The ensuing flames destroyed the skeletons.
The bandit covering Martin groused. “And this is why I hate mages.”
The woman guarding Mitch reprimanded him sharply. “He’s on our side, you idiot!”
“She has a point!” Mitchell called from his hiding spot behind the woman. “Better them on fire then us becoming zombie chow.”
“What the fuck is that?” She stared at the shattered remnants of the skeleton she had pulverized, bewildered and somewhat pissed that it wasn’t something normal, “What the Fuck?! Nobody said anything about fucking animated skeletons! What’s next? A fucking giant? What the fuck! It’s bad enough a fucking dragon fucked shit up, but seriously? A fucking walking skeleton? Next thing you know a giant ass spider will fuck shit up or a jianshi or an aswang or something freaky like that!”
“Please don’t say shit like that.” Mitch moaned from behind the bandit, shivering at the image.
“Yeah, you might jinx us.” Meryl frowned. She turned to the remaining oil lamp hanging from the bridge overhead. She tentatively reached out and tried to summon fire.
The damned thing stayed exactly where it was.
“I feel like some dumbass padawan trying to use the Force for the first time…” Meryl grumbled.
“Patience, grasshopper.” Mitch called, straightening up and collecting his hoodie from where Martin had dropped it. “Send over my glasses, would ya?”
Meryl handed him his lenses. “Don’t you Mr Miyagi me!”
Mitch accepted the frames, placing it back on his face and feeling a quick rush of relief at being able to see again. The relief quickly fled when he got a good look at the damage Martin’s spell had done. “We’re fuckin lucky that we weren’t hit with the collateral of that.” He muttered.
“I’m sure Martin had it under control.” Meryl frowned at the stupid lamp again. “Why doesn’t this just work?” She swatted at the lamp. “Damnit. I can’t even hit the thing with my hands I’m so short. Insult to injury.” She turned away from the pot in a huff. “You win this time, you stupid lamp!”
Mitchell glanced over to Meryl with a raised eyebrow. “Just throw a rock at the fucking thing if you want it down so bad.”
Meryl sighed in irritation. “That would defeat the point!”
“It will come in time.” Martin soothed. “For now, we should check the area for anything useful and move on.”
“Ooh! Shiny!” Elaine kneeled down to pick up some coins that had been knocked loose in her charge before picking up the sword the skeleton had dropped. She swung it a few times before perking up and grinning, “He doesn’t need these right? And this is a much better weapon! Too bad it’s not a mace though... ”
The male bandit grumbled. He made to move forward, but the woman jabbed him in the gut. “Let it go, you fool! A few coins is a small price to keep HER from killing you.”
“What the fuck is this? Spider central or something? We better not find a fucking Drider or some freaky shit like that,” Elaine grumbled, swiping at the webbing interfering with their progress. It actually gave resistance to her swings. When she was through, a bath would be required or heads were going to roll. She stepped into the room and frowned at a rustling sound above her. Her gaze traveled upward and she froze with a rather feminine squeak of horror. Spiders were not supposed to be that big. It wasn’t possible. It didn’t stop the Spider from being any less huge however. And the medic, who had so far swung between gleeful rage and hostility, was now locked in a state of rather irrational terror.
Meryl, emboldened by Elaine’s zeal, had been following a bit closer than she should have and bumped into the medic. “Wha? What’s happening?”
"Is... is someone coming? Is that you Harknir? Bjorn? Soling?"
There was a gray-skinned elf screaming in the webbing.
“You!” The woman - was she Soling? - called out to him. “You bastard!”
"I know I ran ahead with the claw, but I need help!"
“Is he the guy who started this stupid quest?” Meryl frowned.
“Um...” Elaine started in a very small voice, attempting to interrupt as she continued to stare up at the monster spider with wide eyes. Panic had her rooted to the spot, but that didn’t stop her from making an inane observation, “I don’t… I don’t think I can shield bash that...”
"What? Who are you? Oh, never mind. Cut me down before that thing gets us!"
“What are you talking about?”
The giant-sized spider dropped into the room. A scream was heard in the background, high pitched and distinctly Mitchell, who turned and ran straight into the nearest wall. Though his feet were stopped, his mouth wouldn’t shut.
The trapped elf started wriggling and screaming. "No. Not again. Help!"
However, his yelling wasn’t as loud as Mitchell’s shrieks of “OH MY GOD KILL IT KILL IT KILL IT NOW!”
Soling sprung into action with a curse. Her partner - was he Harknir or Bjorn? - charged in with a yell. “You damned stupid elf!”
Martin ran past Elaine and Meryl to grab Mitch and haul him out of the way. “Don’t let the webbing get you! And beware the poison in it’s-!”
“No.” Meryl was shaking.
“I AGREE WITH THE NO!” Mitch roared as he clung to Martin like a child clinging to a teddy bear.
Meryl stared at the spider. It had to be the size of a small moving van at minimum. “That’s not… that’s impossible…”
"Don't let it get me. Help!"
“Shut up Arvel!”
“NOW would be a good time to help!”
"Get it away from me. Get it away!"
“Die, you monster!”
“Kill it! KILL IT! KILL IT DEAD!"
“We’re TRYING you FOOL!”
Somewhere in all the screaming, something in Meryl snapped. She started forward in a building rage. This. is NOT. HAPPENING...
Martin saw the smallest of his charges moving towards the spider. “Meryl! Be careful!”
This. is NOT. the way. that THINGS. should BE...
“What are you doing? Get back!”
“No…” Meryl began hyperventilating. “I can’t accept this.”
“This is not about accepting! Just don’t get in it’s way!”
“NO. THIS is an ABOMINATION.”
All her frustration, her fear, her anger. All of the stupid shit that made her feel helpless. This stupid world, her stupid work, her stupid STUPIDweak little…
“MERYL! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”
She barreled ahead, not caring about the consequences. No more. This was WRONG and she was going to CORRECT it…!
“There is NO FUCKING WAY that should work! Spiders are HALF hydraulic and HALF pneumatic! There is NO WAY that system puts out enough force to jump like that! It has a TERRIBLE power-to-weight ratio! It’s too fucking HEAVY! And their blood is their NERVOUS system, their DIGESTIVE system, and their WASTE system, SIMULTANEOUSLY!! At this size, they should be covered in sticky, shitty goo from CONSTANTLY excreting SHIT! They should be OVERLOADED with oversensitivity to environmental CONTACT from their body hairs! They can’t put out THIS MUCH energy AND store enough to SUSTAIN them in THIS form factor ALL AT ONCE! Their blood can’t POSSIBLY be THIS oxygenated at THIS. ALTITUDE! They should have to choose between BREATHING and MOVING! THEY SHOULD BE GODSDAMNED BLOODY WELL SUFFOCATING!!! I SHOULD NOT HAVE TO BE KILLING THIS MISERABLE FUCKING THING!!!”
Somewhere amidst all the screaming, Meryl had begun hacking away at the monster spider.
And set it on fire.
“Shit! Fuck! Watch what you’re doing!”
Somewhere during Meryl’s rage, Mitchell had released Martin and switched from screaming in terror to laughing maniacally at the spider being set aflame. Martin took advantage of being freed to rush to Meryl’s aid while avoiding the poison being spat out from the flaming spider.
“This is why I hate mages!” Harknir/Bjorn cried.
“They’re on OUR side you idiot!” Soling screamed in between blows.
Martin stunned the beast with a shock spell, and Meryl couldn’t help but think deliriously, Why hello there, Emperor Palpatine… She laughed in terror, rage, and adrenaline as her fire casting went wild and sputtered out.
It didn’t take much more for the four combatants to take the monster down, but it did make for quite the mess.
“I don’t want to be in a place with spiders the size of a small bus,” Elaine spoke quietly, staring at the spider’s corpse with dismay and a little bit of disgust, her shield and sword limp in her arms as she began to laugh somewhat hysterically, “I want to go home where spiders are a normal size and don’t spit venoms except in Australia. I can deal with mutated lizards and cats and shit, but not mutated spiders. That’s just wrong. Next thing you know there’s gonna be cockroaches the size of a goddamn Shetland pony or some shit.”
Mitchell blanched at the image, gagging in his throat. “Don’t…” He said towards Elaine weakly, but not nearly loud enough to be heard. He was pointedly avoiding looking at the spider’s corpse.
Meryl was still shaking. “Ha. You know what? There’s this thing I keep telling you guys, but does anybody listen? Noooo…” She was surprised when her sword fell out of her hand.
Martin’s eyes widened in alarm as Meryl began to flex her fingers. Or tried to, anyway. Meryl stared at her hands as an ache in her head took hold.
The runaway elf started wriggling in the webbing again. "All right, all right, enough with the dramatics! You did it. You killed it. Now cut me down before anything else shows up."
Soling was livid. “This is all your fault, you bastard!”
“What? Me?” Arvel had the gall to look offended.
“Yes, YOU, you stupid-!”
Meryl laughed. “I feel funny.”
Martin muttered an oath under his breath. “Elaine! She’s been poisoned! Can you heal her? I’m all out for the moment.”
“Uh… sure,” She laughed a little shrilly as she walked over to Meryl and pulled out a penlight to examine whether it was neurological or symptomatic of something else. It wasn’t because magic needed a diagnosis, but doing the medic thing was second nature and came to her on autopilot, “Follow the light please. I want to examine the dilation of your pupils.”
Meryl blinked under the glare. “I’m not concussed!” She insisted. She tried to wave the medic away, but doing so was taking some effort. “I’ve got a headache and I feel cold. Sluggish.”
“Poison?” Elaine frowned and brought her hands up to place her palms just over the skin of Meryl’s cheeks. She carefully concentrated, drawing the magic out to begin healing hands to the best of her ability. Not the greatest since she had only recently learned, but enough to flush out the poison at least.
“Yes.” Martin confirmed. “Thankfully, not a serious one, but it can be a rather unpleasant hindrance. I don’t think I need to tell you how the smallest of things can cost you everything at the most inopportune moment.”
“It feels like I have a cold. Or maybe anemia? Is that what that’s like?” Meryl felt the magic under skin. “That tickles…”
“Don’t distract me,” Elaine grumbled, the magic flickering as she drained her pitiful magicka reserves, “I don’t really have much magic to work with and I need you to not feel too ill to move. Mitch might need saving from himself. Who knows what horrible STIs bandits pick up from houses of disrepute!”
“I think I may have just destroyed any chances of getting laid tonight, but the concern’s appreciated.” Mitch coughed out, stumbling closer to Elaine and Meryl.
Meryl didn’t want to keep still any longer than she had to. “I’m ok, now. I think. Just a little sore.” She turned to Mitch. “Well! That was fun.”
Mitchell stared into Meryl’s eyes like she was a camera and he was on ‘The Office’. “We need to buy you a dictionary.” He deadpanned.
“I already have a few!” Meryl smiled. “And that’s not the point! I learned something new just now!”
Mitch sighed loudly, shaking bits of webbing from his hair. “Yes, you murdered it. Thank you.”
“No, no, no!” Meryl waved her hand dismissively. “That’s not what I meant. I can set things on fire now. I can set things on fire anytime I want.”
Harknir/Bjorn looked at her in alarm. “Oh no.”
“I wanna burn things too!” Elaine perked up eagerly, “Can I learn too?”
Martin chuckled. “Meryl, would you care to help your friend?”
“Sure!” Meryl had to resist the urge to skip over to Elaine. “Okay, so you know how in ‘Star Wars’ they’re always saying things like, ‘beware the Dark Side’ because of the negative emotions it taps into? Ignore that.”
Martin winced and quickly intervened. “An interesting interpretation, but in practice it’s really more about-”
Bjorn looked rather distressed about the sudden lesson, while Soling did her best to pretend it wasn’t happening.
“I’m surrounded by pyromaniacs.” Mitchell whispered. “Shit.”
“So long as they don’t set us or anything valuable on fire I don’t care.” Soling turned back to Arvel. “THIS idiot on the other hand…”
“If he’s going to be a problem, I’ll just charge him into a wall like I did that skeleton!” Elaine beamed, “I bet you he’ll probably squall like a wounded pig! Want me to? or I can see if it’s possible to choke someone to death on their own reproductive organs or do they bleed out first? No Geneva conventions here!”
Harknir/Bjorn looked decidedly ill, but Soling looked rather contemplative as she ground her teeth.
Arvel protested. "Cut me down. Or you'll never get the claw!"
“We could just take it off of your corpse.”
“Yes, but I know how it works!” He protested.
“You mean the way it works as written in your journal?” Elaine held up a book with a wolfish grin splitting her face, “It took a minute cause I didn’t know how it was pronounced, but ‘the swift’ isn’t exactly rocket surgery to figure out.”
“Ooooohh get rekt!” Mitchell cackled in the background.
Soling grinned predatorily. “So then! What’s your next reason to let you live?”
“It had better be good.”
Arvel spluttered and squirmed frantically in the webbing.
Meryl thoroughly unimpressed. “You’re not going to get very far that way.”
Martin tried to redirect the conversation. “Perhaps if we gave him incentive to stay, he would not be acting so strangely.”
“Give him incentive to stay?” Soling jabbed the edge of her weapon into the bundle that was Arvel. “After what he did?”
Harknir/Bjorn grunted. “I’m with her on this.”
“I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not dig the claw out of his corpse.”
Meryl’s face contorted in revulsion. “Eww. Could we not do that?”
“He’s not gonna last long without healing anyways. If the spider’s been doing fucky stuff at him he’s prolly got all weak and shit.” Mitch observed eloquently. “Martin, you recharged yet? I have a feeling it’ll be better to get revenge in a different way. Y’know, eye for an eye? Killing him is sort of disproportionate retribution.”
“I agree.” Martin nodded. “He wanted to carry off your loot, so I suggest you let him.”
“Are you out of your mind?!” Soling spluttered.
“Wait, that’s not what I meant!” Mitch said quickly.
“I didn’t say what sort of loot we could make him carry.” Martin smiled cheerfully.
Meryl bounced up and clapped her hands in glee. “Oh, perfect! I have JUST the thing for him!”
“Have I mentioned how much I hate you?” Arvel grumbled for the dozenth time.
“Yes! And have I mentioned how little I care?” Meryl beamed at him.
Soling made a face. “All right. I get it. This is revenge. But did you really have to make him carry Frostbite Spider body parts?”
The bandit now known as Bjorn snorted. “Well, I think it’s funny…”
“I still think it’s disgusting. It fits, but it’s fucking gross.” Mitch commented.
Meryl skipped ahead of Arvel. “I need to study it.”
“And what do you think you might learn from it?” Martin asked.
“I want to know exactly why I’m wrong.” Meryl frowned. “I mean, I’m no expert on spiders, but biomechanically, this doesn’t make any sense. For starters, the blood of these creatures would have to have incredibly oxygen dense for this to even survive. Just how efficient is their blood? It would have to be several orders of magnitude greater than what I’m used to back home. The next problem would be-”
“Yes, yes, that’s all very interesting and stuff, but couldn’t you just carry a bottle of their blood and be done with it? Why do I have to carry this?” Arvel whined.
“She needs the lungs too. And we didn’t have a bottle.” Mitchell grunted, nose wrinkling at the smell.
“And spider lungs include the legs! Or is that just with grasshoppers?” Elaine cackled in amusement before something distracted her. She immediately scampered over to a wall and began looking at the intricate designs, fascinated by the artistry and skill behind it, “Ooh! Man this makes me wish I had been able to go to Nimrud before IS fucked it up. So much of the world’s remnants of history destroyed by idiots. If I catch any of you desecrating history, I’ll do to you what I did to the skeleton.”
Meryl made a strangled noise of agreement. “Go right on ahead. I might roast that person for good measure, too. Just on principle. Some things are beyond priceless, and history is one of them. Do NOT get me started on Indiana Jones. Make no mistake, I admire the guy.” Meryl wrung her hands together out of frustration. “But for goodness’ sake, he trashed entire complexes for ONE artifact! One! That’s just criminal!”
Mitchell nodded in agreement. “Yeah, there was really no difference between him and a tomb robber.”
Bjorn eyed a broken pot worriedly. “So… You saying I can’t smash pots anymore?”
“Pots are fine. Those are a dime a dozen and most can be put back together,” Elaine waved a hand before gesturing to the wall, “But a bas relief fresco is much harder to fix than a piece of clay! So no scratching your initials in or nothing!”
“That’s not true!” Meryl said absently while wandering over to Elaine. “Pots are part of how we know about a lot of Classical Greek culture! They were instrumental in-”
“Meryl…” Martin raised a hand to pinch the bridge of his nose. “I think it’s safe to say that most of these pots are not particularly significant to history.”
“You might be right.” Meryl then leaned over to whisper to the medic conspiratorially. “Do you think I could get Arvel to carry pots as well?”
Martin sighed, “Meryl... that is petty, and therefore beneath you.”
“You don’t know that.” Meryl riposted impishly.
“She’s too short for anything to be below her, Marty.” Mitch laughed, dodging the elbow jabbed in his direction.
“Very funny.” Meryl crossed her arms and glared at Mitch.
“Soling!” Arvel whined plaintively.
The woman shook her head. “No. I am not getting between you, and any of them.”
“So... can we or can’t we smash pots?” Bjorn looked like he had a headache.
“You can smash pots without any designs big guy,” Elaine patted his shoulder, “just not the burial urns cause those are cultural. The big ones are just fine. Also I like the sound they make when they shatter. It’s very soothing.”
“And you’d want to avoid the burial urns anyways. If magic and white walkers exist in this world, then I wouldn’t put it past ghosts to exist either. And if pop culture has taught me anything, ghosts don’t appreciate people fucking with their remains.” Mitch added.
“And yet you lot are in here looting.” Arvel quipped sourly.
“Correction: we just want the claw when you’re done.”
“You people are here looting, we’re just company.” Mitch agreed.
Bjorn swallowed his comment at a look from Soling.
“Might I suggest we get back on track?” Martin interjected. “The sooner we’re done here the sooner we can leave this place.”
“Seconding that notion!” Meryl wrinkled her nose. “This place smells awful.”
“Aight aight, all we gotta do is get past whatever the fuck this shit is.” Mitch said quickly, looking over the barrier separating them from the rest of the barrow.
Meryl walked over to the massive thing Mitch indicated. “That looks like a moon door with circular dials. Elaine?” Meryl tossed over her shoulder. “What does the notebook say about it?”
“That’s what the claw is for.” Arvel grumbled. “I can’t believe I went through all that trouble for this to happen…”
“You could be dead instead.” Mitch pointed out, shrugging dismissively. “Martin, ever see any of these before?”
He asked the question as he kneeled down to get a better look at the carvings on the wheels. “Bears, Dragon thingys, Moths and birds of some sort. Maybe we’re supposed to move them?”
Arvel made a face.
“Perhaps it has something to do with the depictions on the walls?” Meryl asked.
“Maybe we have to hit the symbols?” Bjorn said hopefully.
Arvel grit his teeth.
“I think you just want to hit things.” Soling muttered.
Arvel’s face started changing colors.
“As much fun as it is to watch Arvel make faces, the book says to turn the dials according to what the claw says,” Elaine snickered in amusement, “SO I’m guessing there’s a design on the foot to follow. And apparently, the bird is a hawk. The creatures are likely an animism form of worship? Maybe when we get the chance, we should pick Martin’s brain for the information of the gods and shit of this world. I reaally hope it’s polytheistic. Monotheism is so annoying because they never bother to understand the nuances of their own religion. It’s we will create. Not I. He’s the supreme god, not the only god.”
“Save the sermon. What order do I spin the rings in?” Mitch asked.
“You’ve got the claw, you tell me,” she smirked, “the palm of the claw is the answer to your inquiry.”
“Are you serious?” Meryl peered under Mitch’s arm in order to examine the claw. “Wow. WOW… That is the WORST security design I’ve seen so far. It’s like making a password for your computer and then posting it on the monitor with a sticky note. EXCEPT THEY CARVED IT INTO THE DAMN KEY.”
Martin sighed. “Meryl…”
“Oh, fine! I guess you need to at least have the key.” Meryl conceded. “It’s a pretty stubborn door.”
“Maybe they weren’t trying to keep people out. They were tryin’ to keep other shit in. Like herding zombies for fun zombie games involving voice attacking innocent tomb raiders and feasting on corpses. Just some good clean family fun!” Mitch chirped with sarcasm lacing his tone.
He shook his head and laughed at his own shitty joke before circling the rings around to their designated positions and inserting the key.
Meryl groaned and rolled her eyes at Mitch as the door started to rumble and open. “I keep saying…”
“No one cares when we’re so close.” Arvel snipped.
Soling glared at the elf. “And I keep saying, don’t piss off the mages on our side, Arvel.”
“The ladies doth protest too much.” Mitch grinned as the door slid downwards, revealing a new passageway.
“Aight, let’s keep moving before I jinx anymore shit and Meryl fucks me up for it.”
“Please tell me you were joking about the zombies and corpses.” Bjorn grumbled. “I’m going to be angry if you weren’t.”
Martin made for the stairs. “Perhaps you could direct that anger at our enemies.”
Jogging up the stairs, Meryl commented idly. “I dunno, I don’t really see anything or anyone at the… whoa…”
“Holy shit that’s cool,” Elaine agreed, eyes wide as she stared at what became apparent.
The short stairway led to an open cavern, with thin strips of light filtered in through the stone. It illuminated a small footbridge over a little creek, leading towards an altar-like slab of stone and a wall with carvings that vaguely reminded Mitchell of cuneiform. The party carefully picked their way over the bridge and up the stairs towards it.
“Well. That explains why the air isn’t so stale in here.” Meryl gazed at the cracks in the ceiling. “Good to know we won’t suffocate before we find the way out.”
“Honestly, it’s a bit disappointing.” Mitch stated with a frown. “I mean, all of that for this? An altar and a wall of script we can’t even read?”
He glanced over at the bandits. “You people run into this shit often or is this like a one time thing?”
“I’m glad I’m not the only one who can’t read it.” Bjorn replied.
Soling sighed. “That wasn’t his question, you idiot.”
“Who cares? There might be something valuable in that coffin.” Arvel shifted his load and walked over to it.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” Martin cautioned. “Places like this were often sacred at one point or other. There might be a very good reason for why this individual was buried here.”
“Yeah. Inside a ridiculous temple, full of traps and zombies. And let’s not forget how much magic we found inside this place. Half-assed or not, the fact that someone went to all this trouble is telling.” Meryl poked at a crystal on the altar by the coffin. “Anyone have any idea what all this was for? Or for whom?”
“Someone who’s already had their grave looted before? Fuck if I’m supposed to know.” Mitch replied as he drifted away from the others and towards the wall of carvings. “Maybe this could’ve told us, but I can’t fuckin’ read the damn thing. Think maybe if I took a few pics or something we could get it translated?”
Martin made a face when he saw where Mitch was headed. “Mitch! Be careful!”
Mitch ignored the warning, moving forward now in what seemed to be more of a trance than of his own free will. He was vaguely aware of his arm raising from his side to rest a hand against the stone and stroked a thumb over the etchings. What was once cool rock heated swiftly under his touch, and his head swam suddenly at the sound of a Gregorian Monk-esque chanting rising in his ears. His vision flickered as the song swelled and the rock burnt his palm. Yet he found himself unable to pull away. Strangely enough he found he didn’t want to. Something in Mitch drew him closer to the rock, calling him in. And just as one word distinguished itself from the rest of the chant, he felt a flare of heat burst in his lungs.
Mitchell’s vision went black, and he was falling, falling, falling…
Martin caught Mitch before he hit the floor. Wincing visibly as he heard Elaine collapse in a heap and Meryl fall onto the side of the sarcophagus.
“Did you feel that?” Bjorn looked surprised.
“Yes, but perhaps not the way they did.” Soling frowned. “What was that wind?”
“Who cares?” Arvel cried out gleefully. “The coffin is open!”
Meryl put a hand to her head. She hadn’t expected to be stunned in a relatively empty room, and the shock of… whatever it was had knocked her on her behind. She leaned on the side of the stone sarcophagus and took a shaky breath. “Martin, could you have warned us sooner…?”
Her voice trailed off again as the stone she was leaning on rumbled. There was a grating and a crash that sounded an awful lot like stone on stone.
“Meryl! Get out of there!”
A skeletal hand grabbed the edge of the sarcophagus right next to Meryl’s head. Her eyes widened and she swore for the umpteenth time that day. “Oh, bloody hell!”
Everything came back to Mitch in a rush, and he found himself painfully thrust from blissful nothing to a sudden jolt off cold air and shock. He thrashed suddenly in Martin’s grasp, accidentally elbowing the Imperial in the ribs. “Shit! What the fuck?!” He screamed, but it came out garbled.
Meryl scrambled away from the place as best she could in her fading, though still dazed state.
“Of course there’s another stupid draugr!” Arvel raged. “Come on! Kill it so we can loot the damned thing’s corpse!”
“Arvel! That’s not a normal-!”
Time froze for the party as the elf was blown screaming over the ledge. There was a sickening noise that not even the waterfall’s rush could mask.
“Damn him!” Bjorn charged past Meryl towards the uber-draugr. Soling joined him as Martin dragged Mitch to his feet, calling for Elaine and Meryl as he did so.
Mitchell was still swearing up a storm, his sight blurred still. He was aware of Martin trying to lift him and aided the tinier man by lunging up. He nearly tripped both of them in the process but by some miracle managed to remain upright. The words still rang like church bells in his head as he stumbled sideways. He attempted speech once more, only to have the words catch in his throat. Keeping silent, he kept pace with Martin as best as possible.
Meryl shook her head violently in a desperate need to clear her head. “So, Martin! What’s the plan?”
Soling screamed in between her sword swings. “To Oblivion with the plan! We need to kill this thing!”
Elaine charges in with much less grace than she should have, still dazed and disoriented from the attack, Soling narrowly dodging as the medic slammed into the Draugr with her shield. Bjorn was startled mid-attack to find that Elaine has pinned the massive draugr to the altar. The sound of bones cracking and protesting metal could be heard, but the creature stayed rather stubbornly intact.
“Tch. Wish the blitz worked on this guy.” Meryl grimaced.
Martin put a hand in front of Mitch as his other hand readied a spell. “Stay back. You’re not wearing enough to weather the blows this one can deal out.”
“Me neither, actually.” Meryl pointed out.
“True, but you can cast.”
“I can’t get a clear shot in that mess!”
“Then you must find one, or make one.”
Martin rushed to join the fray, much to the relief of the bandits. He cast a ward spell which barely nulled the effects of the monster’s magic-infused voice in time. “Keep on him! We have to prevent him from Shouting!”
“You don’t need to tell me twice!”
“I’m not even going to ask how they do that. Everything in this place seems to come down to ‘because magic’, so I should just give up already…” Meryl commented sourly by Mitch.
They watched as Elaine resumed her furious assault and battered it with her rather poorly-constructed mace, keeping it pinned as best she could with the shield.
“Yikes. Remind me never to be on her bad side.”
Bjorn cried out when Elaine clipped him.
“Watch yourself, you fool!” Soling screamed, shoving the large man out of the way.
“ME?!” Bjorn looked insulted.
“You should know enough to look out for her!”
“How am I supposed to do that when I’m trying to kill this thing?!”
“The same way you look out-” Soling roared as she made another attack, “-for anything that might kill you!”
“But she’s on our side! You said so!”
“That includes making sure you’re not in the way!”
Soling was forced backwards and knocked into Bjorn, lost her footing and left him scrambling for his shield. Martin moved to defend them while they sorted themselves out, but to his horror, the monster turned from them faced Elaine, its shoulders readying themselves for a magical attack.
“Elaine! Look out!”
The medic barely twisted out of the way of the brunt of it, but couldn’t quite clear the attack enough to avoid it all. She stumbled, and had this been flat ground she would have been fine. It’s really hard to recover from a stumble when the ground drops out from beneath you rather abruptly.
That spurred Meryl into action. “YOU BASTARD! Head’s up, guys! I’m going to roast him!”
“Be my guest!”
Soling backed out of striking range as Meryl threw as much magical fire as she could at the draugr. It was not much, but it was the best she could do before running away, Martin covering her exit.
“Elaine! Are you ok? Answer us!”
Bjorn attacked again, “Magic is such a pain!”
“Bjorn, not now!”
“I don’t care! It’s damned annoying trying to hit something while it’s on fire!”
Meanwhile, Elaine staggered back to her feet. It had been a short drop, and she would have been fine if not for the roll that followed it. Her stupid mace had gotten lost somewhere because of that. She cast her eyes about, looking for her weapon when she saw what had happened to Arvel. The runaway elf had not been so lucky. The monster had blown him clear of the shorter drops, and even then he might have been fine if he hadn’t been impaled by the things he had been carrying. There was a massive pincer protruding from his chest. Not a fun way to die. She pulled the thing free with a wet, squelching sound. It would do in lieu of her mace. Hopefully she’d find the damn thing later. Right now, there wasn’t enough time to look.
On the platform, the fight still raged, and Bjorn was given a very sharp reminder by the draugr, for why carrying shields into battle is a very good idea.
Soling was absolutely furious. “DAMN YOU! Bjorn, don’t you dare die on me, too!”
“We need to get him out of there!” Meryl grabs Mitch by the arm. “Can you get him? I don’t think I can move him!”
Mitchell nodded, lunging forward and grasping onto Bjorn’s biceps to haul him backwards and away from the draugr’s swinging sword. He cursed all the while as he dragged the bandit back over towards the wall and kept him still. “Shitting fuck Christ shit!” He hissed, pressing his hand down on where blood was swelling up from Bjorn’s fur armor.
“Meryl!” How Martin can keep an eye on everything all at once? “Give him this for now!”
Meryl rushed to catch the small bottle Martin threw her.
She squeaked as she tried not to drop it. It’s not like Martin could afford to turn his back again to hand her another. Soling was fading, and unless something was done soon, the healer would be left facing the monster on his own.
She ran back to the wall. “Mitch! We need to clean out his wound!”
The Canadian nodded at her, propping Bjorn against the wall. He swiftly tore away at the buckles of the bandit’s armor, yanking away the cuirass and peeling off the undershirt with little difficulty. Thank God for actively banging cosplayers, else he’d had never gotten it off as fast as he did.
Meryl hurriedly pulled out another alcohol wipe and dabbed at the wound carefully. The bandit’s scream is not unexpected.
“You lunatics had better not be making things worse!”
“We’re trying to prevent infection!” Meryl shouted back over her shoulder, only half-hearing the woman. “Hey, Mitch? You wouldn’t happen to know how to use this thing, would you?”
Mitch looked at her incredulously. “Do I look like Doc fucking Martin to you? Fuck, nevermind that, I think it’s like antibiotics or some shit.”
“Should we just pour it on him? I don’t have anything to make a proper poultice.”
“It’ll make a mess.”
“If it’s that or dying, I really don’t think he’ll care!”
Meryl tentatively began pouring the contents of the bottle on the wound. Bjorn screamed again, and Mitch found himself grimacing as he tried to keep the bandit’s arms pinned back.
“What the hell are you two DOING to him?!”
Martin called out between grunts, “You’re supposed to make him drink it!”
“Well we fucked that up!”
“There’s still some left! We could dribble it down his-”
Bjorn abruptly snatched the bottle out of her hands and downed what was left of the potion.
“Of course I’m alive! I can’t go to Sovngarde like this! Even if they let me in, I wouldn’t want to go. They’d laugh their asses off when they’d found out I’d been done in by a damned healing potion. And after escaping death by a draugr, too!” Bjorn swore and spat.
“I vote we sit here and wait so we don’t do anymore damage.”
“Yeah. I hope Elaine’s all right. I don’t think it was that far down, but she could have fallen badly.”
There was a sudden roar from the stairs as the medic charged up them, a fang rather inexpertly lashed to the front of her shield. It didn’t need to stay on long. Just long enough for her to slam into the Draugr and impale it on the jerry-rigged spike. Sometimes a little bit of poison was all you really need to get a leg up. And the whole contraption was on fire just to kick him in the metaphorical balls.
“Women are scary.” Bjorn mutters.
Is he concussed? Meryl gave him an uncertain look. “Martin’s not a woman.”
“No. But he’s not the scary one.” Bjorn shuddered.
“Ooh! Hey! It worked!” Elaine dropped the shield and its new rider to pick it up by it’s gangly arm and yank the sword out of it’s hands. She then proceeded to hop on the very dead corpse with some prejudice until something made a very not organic noise, “This is mine. And this is for shouting me off a cliff! What’s that?”
Mitch glanced over to Meryl, eyebrows raised. “Is she… well I can’t say alright because she’s like that, but did that fall knock something? That fall killed the other guy.”
“Getting impaled on a spike killed the other guy!” Elaine corrected cheerfully as she kneeled down and ripped apart the rotted leather to get at the stone in his clothing She looked at it before hugging it tightly like it was a teddy bear rather than a rather musty rock, “Ooh! I want this! It’s mine!”
“No contest!” Meryl leaned as far into the stone wall as she could, eyes the size of saucers at the sight.
“Seconding that notion. But can I take that weird crystal thing on the counter over there?” And thus Mitchell’s curiosity surrounding shiny things reared it’s head.
Bjorn and Soling exchanged a look. “Fine. I don’t care about those things anyway.” He grumbled.
Meryl looked at Bjorn funny. “Why wouldn’t you care?”
“That stuff’s for mages.”
Her eyes narrowed. “What is with you and hating mages?”
Bjorn made a noise akin to a scared puppy and looked to Soling, who was pointedly NOT looking at him.
“Bah!” Meryl huffed in annoyance and tried standing up. “Meat-heads probably think it isn’t glorious or something stupid.”
“Somewhere in that same vein, do you think Templars exist here? Because if they do then I don’t think this will be half as fun anymore.” Mitch stated as he scurried off to pick up the crystal.
“Depends on the kind of Templar you mean, I think.” Meryl thought. “I mean, there are the historical Templars, the Freemasons, the Black Templars, the ‘Assassin’s Creed’ Templars, the ‘Dragon Age’ Templars...”
“Dragon Age ones, since they’re the anti-magic ones. But like the asscreed ones are dicks too.” Mitch replied with a shrug.
“I’m sorry. I’m afraid I don’t quite understand the question.” Martin replied uneasily.
Meryl didn’t like that look. “I guess we’re asking if people are going to try to lock us up out of hand, simply for having magic.”
Bjorn kept his mouth shut, but Soling carefully spoke up. “No. Something like that would never work. Not for long, anyway. We, ah… encourage students to go to the College…”
“It’s not that different than from what she said.” Martin intervened. “It is simply a less popular pursuit of study among certain groups.”
“Like that coward over there?” Meryl jabbed a thumb in Bjorn’s direction.
“Hey, so long as you two can’t be carted off to fancy jail for spell-slinging, I really don’t give two shits.” Mitch inputed. “Now, to reroute this, what the fuck did that wall do to me? Because my eyeballs itch and my lungs hurt, and I passed out from that. I don’t think that’s good. But the lungs hurting may be from the screaming.”
“Weird. The same thing happened to me. It’s like… there’s a word on the tip of my tongue, but I can’t actually vocalize it. Like I’m on a rollercoaster, and I need to scream but can’t.” Meryl turned to Elaine. “Did it happen to you, too?”
“I got thrown off a small cliff and you’re asking if I hurt?” Elaine looked at her like she was a little bit crazy, “I mean, I passed out when Mitch touched the wall, but that’s not the weirdest things to happen to us all things considered. And I have had that feeling since I learned about magic. I want to make things happen. It should be easy as a word, but I can’t get it out.”
“Sorry! I mean, you kinda blitzkrieg-ed that zombie thing like a bat out of hell, so I assumed…” Meryl trailed off awkwardly.
“What about you, Martin?”
“Nothing of the sort, actually.” Martin turned to Bjorn and Soling. “And you?”
Both bandits shook their heads.
“Please don’t tell me we get magically whooshed like that every time we find one of these things.” Meryl’s lips pursed in consternation. “That’s going to make getting around terribly annoying if there are weird magics out to get us.”
“I’m sure that it is nothing quite so dire.” Martin cleaned his sword before replacing it in its sheath. “You might consider asking the court wizard in Whiterun for any ideas.”
Meryl rolled her eyes. “And this is the part where you give us yet more reasons to go there. As if we couldn’t tell what you’re trying to do.” She rubbed her temples in a poor attempt to deal with her headache. “Any reason you can’t tell Jarl What’s-his-name about the dragon yourself? And while we’re at it, isn’t that important enough to do right away, and NOT before losing, what? A day in some tomb?”
“It was fun and we learned a lot of things!” Elaine pointed out before giggling, “I got to shield bash things and impaled a guy on a spike!”
Bjorn made a face before turning to Soling with a look. One that implied he was right about her being scary.
“Honestly the only thing I feel I’m taking away from this is that I shouldn’t run at metal things or touch walls.” Mitch said with a shrug, pushing his hair back out of habit.
“Or step on the swirly rocks unless I want to get hit with something!” Elaine added way too cheerfully.
“Yeah, that too.” Mitch nodded. “So, anyways, claw. Lucan. Should we get going?”
“Sounds like a plan,” Elaine grinned before looking around, “So how do we get out? I kind of have no sense of direction and getting blown off that ledge ruined what little sense of placement I have.”
“We could always take the stairs.” Meryl pointed out. “But they only go further up.”
“Better than going down.” Mitch replied. “Let’s get out before anymore of those fuckers show up.”
He jerked his thumb towards the corpse of the draugr, peacefully rotting away on the ground.
“You said it.” Soling shouldered her pack and headed for the stairs. She paused a moment before turning back around. “Meryl, would you mind following? I don’t want any funny business from the men.”
“She’s too short to block the view.”
Soling snorted. “She’s fine. It means no one will be close enough to look up my armor.” The bandit turned back to the stairs.
“Would Meryl look up her armor?” Bjorn whispered.
“Considering how she handled Hadvar? Fuck nah.” Mitch laughed. “C’mon, big guy.”
Chapter 5: Follow the Cobblestone Road
"I can't believe I fell off two fucking cliffs in an hour!" Elaine growled, stomping along with a face red from angry embarrassment as she rubbed it furiously. Her dark sunglasses had come off and she seemed to not even have her eyes opened, but apparently so long as there weren't any cliffs or dips around she was fine, "This is even worse than tripping and having my backpack knock me unconscious in high school!"
Meryl worried her lip with her teeth, caught somewhere between amusement and horror at her friend’s irritation.
Mitch winced at that, biting back a laugh. “Seriously?” He asked in disbelief. “How the hell does that happen?”
"Having all my curriculum books and three full-sized Russian classics in my backpack when I tripped. I needed to have military-grade backpacks because standard ones broke on the first day," she grimaced, "I am not a gentle person."
Mitchell’s shoulders ached in sympathy. He hadn’t had a heavy bag since high school graduation, and his hockey bag had had wheels.
“I guess you’d like another ’massage’ then, yes?” Meryl unhelpfully responded.
Mitch chuckled at that, avoiding Martin’s pointed look by checking his phone again. Since they had left the barrow he had repeatedly pulled it from his pocket, pausing to verify the time (at least, the time back home) or to begin a text to his brother. Each time he started typing a message he found himself quickly deleting it. After a while he had given up and taken instead to snapping pictures of the scenery. Maybe if he couldn’t give a proper explanation, he could at least placate his family with pictures.
“I’d be careful about how often you do that.” Meryl cautioned. “I mean, it’s a good idea to document as much as possible, but everything you do on that phone takes energy. Powering the screen on your mobile actually drains a lot of juice. We need to find a way to recharge your batteries as soon as possible.”
Mitch bit his lip, shoving his phone back to his pocket. “At the very least we’re assuming. I don’t know how the battery display got fucked over on me, but it still hasn’t dropped from 97% yet. Sorry, mostly instinct to pull it out. It’s a comfort to have.”
“There is no harm in what it is you’re doing.” Martin responded. “You simply have to balance your needs.”
Nodding in agreement, Mitch shoved his hands into his hoodie and cast his gaze back down to the ground.
“He said he had a backup, so we’ve got some time before this one runs dry.” Meryl looked at the sky thoughtfully. “If I could get the parts and a workspace, I might be able to cobble something together. No promises though. I don’t know that this place will somehow have things that can be repurposed for electronics…”
At that Mitch found himself perking up slightly. “Like the potato chargers? Anything if it keeps my phone going.”
“Not quite, but we might have to start there. The problem with that method is that it can’t charge modern cell phones beyond just turning it on. Honestly, we might be lucky if we can even get that far with a potato..” Meryl frowned. “And there’s the risk of damaging the battery in the process. Most of the things I used to do while camping probably won’t work here, either…”
“Well,” Martin cut in, “We do have a favor to turn in. Perhaps our friends will be of some help in that regard.”
Meryl looked up in puzzlement. “What do they have to do with this?”
“The ones who we have retrieved the claw for, happen to own a shop.”
“I doubt they sell plugins or electricity, Marty.” Mitch said as he side-eyed the healer.
“True… but you might be able to find something that is a step in the right direction.”
Meryl looked up quizzically. “Perhaps… How hard is it to get metal wire in this country?”
“I’m not sure. I’ve never needed to look.” Martin said apologetically.
“That would have been too much to hope for, I guess…” The little nerd perked up again. “Wait! Maybe Elaine will have something! I’m going to go bother her for a bit!” Meryl ran after the medic, leaving Mitch alone with the Roman.
“So,” Martin began genially, “How are you feeling?”
Mitch blinked, glancing down at Martin. “I don’t know...” He said with a shrug. “I’m alive, I’m walking, and so far I’ve gotten away with minimal injury. So despite it all, kinda lucky, I guess.”
“Those are all good things, Mitch. But I was not referring to the condition of your body.” Martin fixed him with a firm look. “How are you feeling, inside?”
Mitchell sighed, shaking his head and pushing his hair back again. “Shit man, I don’t know. Confused? Slightly terrified?”
“Only natural, given your circumstances.” Martin replied. “You do have multiple avenues of support, however. But that is not enough, is it?”
“If you’re trying to explain some life lesson shit to me, just spit it out.” Mitch groaned exasperatedly. “I’ve received enough vague advice from my high school guidance counselor to last me a lifetime.”
“My apologies, I did not mean to patronize you. It seems that old habits are difficult to overcome…” Martin clasped his hands behind his back and slowed his pace a bit, forcing the both of them to drop a bit further behind Elaine and Meryl. “It is never enough to have friends, though they are often vital. But it is far more difficult to make peace with oneself when one feels hopeless. One needs to have agency.”
Mitch closed and opened his mouth a few times, trying to articulate a response and failing. “I don’t- I mean, like thing is… Shit. Fuck, I can’t even think right now. So what, I need to meditate or some shit?”
“If you believe that would help. But I think perhaps you may be better served by finding what you can do to assist your friends.”
“How? I’m not exactly William fuckin’ Wallace here.” Mitch huffed, before hastily adding an explanation. “He was a Scottish dude, leader of a rebellion, had an awesome speech that ended with ‘they can take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!’ ” He added flourish to the last bit, with the accent and the thrusting his hand up as if wielding a sword and leading a charge.
“Perhaps, not. But I suspect the answer lies in your own training, and not in that of a ‘Scottish dude’.” Martin smiled gently.
Mitch laughed at that, a bit more bitterly than intended. “It’s surreal to hear you use the word ‘dude.’ Like hearing a priest swear but not quite. But like, I don’t have training, not really. The extent of fighting I’ve done is checking people in hockey.”
“I’m sorry. Could you please explain what those are?” Martin asked.
“Right. Well, hockey’s a sport where I’m from.” Mitch began, tilting his head to the right. “Real popular too. Basically you’re wearing bladed boots on ice and skating around in armor-type gear that’s fairly bulky and you’re carrying a sort of staff thing that’s got a curved end, and you use it to hit a thing called a puck. The aim is to score the most points by getting the puck into the other team’s net- there’s two teams facing off against each other. And checking is basically body slamming someone to get the puck or to drive them into the boards, except you have to be really careful doing it or else you can seriously fuck up someone with it. I’ll show you a video of it later if we can rig up a charger for my phone. It’s kinda hard to visualize with how I explained it. Sorry, didn’t mean to ramble.” Mitch finished quickly.
“It’s perfectly all right, my friend. It sounds like a rather exciting activity. I only regret that I had not the opportunity to try it.” Martin muttered. “Not that Jauffre would have approved…”
“Joffrey? Huh. Well, if it’s any consolation, there are a share of people that disapprove. It can get really violent, especially if a certain team loses and a riot breaks out. Not the best example of humanity, those things.” Mitch shook his head. “Tell you what, If I can figure out how to make skates here, and if I can make new sticks, I’m having a game with you.”
“As tempting as that offer is, I’m afraid I must decline. There is only so long I can postpone my duties, and I must be on my way soon.” Martin smiled wistfully.
Mitch saddened at that, the reminder that they were soon losing their guide to his duty. “I understand. Ah well, I can probably fit in one Youtube video to show you, after Elaine and Meryl make calls home.”
“I would like that very much. But look a moment, do you know where we are?” Martin stopped walking and looked at Mitch expectantly.
Mitch stopped in his tracks, looking around and returning his glance to the healer with a questioning expression. “On a road, in the middle of somewhere? They don’t exactly offer ‘other universe’ geography as a course in school.”
Martin chuckled and pointed. “Look over there, across the water. Do you recognize that place?”
“We’re back in Riverwood. Your point?” Mitch raised an eyebrow.
“We’re back, and it hardly feels as though any time as passed, doesn’t it?”
Mitchell looked at him funnily before nodding. “Yeah, my perception of time is sort of fucky right now. I still don’t understand though?”
“Why do you believe it’s only your perception of time that is thrown off? I have been here, and I hardly feel any different than you. Now why do you think that would be?” Martin asked.
“My sparkling personality and provision of uplifting conversation?” Mitch asked with sarcasm lacing his tone. “I don’t know, time perception is a weird thing in general for everyone.”
“True, but do not discount your own role in that. The ability to put anyone at ease is a rather valuable skill. It is subtle, but no less capable of enabling great things than a sword or a hammer.”
“You never seemed all that disturbed in the first place, Marty. I don’t see where you’re getting the calming people down thing from.” Mitch shrugged.
Martin raised a brow. “You think it was not troubling to watch over the three of you in the Barrow?”
Chuckling, Mitch grinned and shook his head. “I didn’t imagine it as a walk in the park, no. I just don’t see how I helped any. You seemed alright for collecting yourself, and I was more of a hinderance than anything. For what it’s worth, I won’t be charging swinging blades again anytime soon.”
“Good to know. I do not believe your medic approves of that particular activity.” Martin grinned in amusement. “But you did talk down a pair of hostiles, did you not?”
“That? That’s what you’ve been getting at? I think more credit is due to my ringtone for that. Shocked them into complacency.”
“But you did secure a deal by capitalizing on the disturbance. And later, you talked the group out of murdering a helpless elf. They were awfully keen on the idea, too.”
“I did do that, didn’t I?” Mitch snorted, kicking away a few pebbles. “I suppose it was made easier by having Elaine behind me looking murderous. But it’s just a thing I’ve always managed to pull off somehow. Puppy eyes work miracles, man.”
“Indeed. It is a less lauded skill because it is not the most obvious path to victory. But that in itself is a boon: it is not something they expect to work, and that gives you an opening to use their blindness. Whether it is followed by more words or by weapons does not matter. It does not matter if you bring a little insurance along, or even a palpable threat. The key does not even need to be in the words that are spoken, but rather, the way in which they are presented. And you have shown a natural capacity for that.”
Mitch bit his lip, letting Martin’s monologue sink in and stir. “Thanks, I guess. So my weapon is parley. Nice. Jack Sparrow -he’s a fictional pirate, he’d approve.”
“If you say that, then I believe that would be so. But now... care to prove it?” There was a twinkle in Martin’s eyes as he smiled.
Mitch sized up the shorter man, cocking his head to the left. “How so?” He asked slowly.
“Come.” Martin walked up to the door of ‘The Riverwood Trader’ and pushed it open.
"Hey lady," Elaine looked up as Meryl made her way over, watchful of her surroundings. Without a full unit of soldiers, she was worried. Meryl and Mitch weren't weren't warriors and Martin was a healer by trade, "Good job with that bug."
“Um, thanks.” Meryl flushed awkwardly. “I’m not sure having a meltdown is a commendable thing, but-” she groaned and smacked her head. “Oh curse it, now I’m really going to have to watch my temper, aren’t I? Now that I can go all Sith Lord or something like that.”
“It’s not that bad," Elaine chuckled, tilting her head and grinning wider, "you took out that spider solo and set it on fire! And incidentally unlocked offense magic first!"
Meryl quirked an eyebrow at Elaine. “You’re not at all worried about me falling to the Dark Side or anything? I could be a mad scientist- or magus, I guess- just waiting to happen, and you’re perfectly fine with that?”
"I'm a Medic who shot up a platoon of Romans in skirts, are you really asking me that?"
Meryl blinked. “Oh… that’s fair.” She blushed in embarrassment. “So… just spiders, then?”
"Only really fucking big ones. Holy shit that was cool!"
“So long as we don’t have a repeat of that encounter, I’ll agree.” Meryl sighed. “Somehow I don’t think we’ll be so lucky.”
“It could be worse,” Elaine chuckled, smiling cheerfully, “It could have been a giant mass of tentacles and Eyes. I’m Asian enough to know exactly how that would end.”
Minus the surprising and unwanted imagery the medic conjured, Elaine’s comment took the smaller woman by surprise. “I never figured you for an optimist.”
“You take the good where you can,” she shrugged, “Military life tends to give you a healthy appreciation for not being dead and a gallows humor.”
“I guess. When do you get out?”
“It depends on the person,” Elaine shrugged, “You could say I was bred for it. It’s been a part of my family for generations. I couldn’t just live like a civilian. I tried once and I couldn’t do it. It was too much a part of my life. I couldn’t stay in one place and live like a normal person. I wanted to join up before I even hit puberty. I had a 40-year plan too.”
Meryl’s ears pricked at the past tense. “What changed?”
"You can't be an Angel if you can't even see the instrument panel," she shrugged, "I wanted to be an air force jet pilot. I was late to stabilize in vision, so I did the next best thing and became a Medic."
“I thought the Blue Angels were Navy?”
"I was 12. It hardly matters which branch at that point in time."
“Oh…” Meryl thought for a moment. “You could have still worked with them if you were an engineer. They need people who can do just about everything but fly to maintain and develop planes.”
"My mother had a similar job. She's medically retired after what happened with a tailflap being turned the wrong way."
“Dio.” Meryl winced. “Um… should I stop talking?”
"That’s probably a good idea," Elaine agreed blandly.
Meryl chewed her lip. Way to go, you idiot. She thought sourly.
"In the military, there is a lot that is asked of you. Even as far as your life. A limb is a small thing in comparison."
Meryl paled. “But…” to her horror, the question escaped her before she could stop herself, “what if you can’t serve, anymore? What would you do?”
"I don't know," she shrugged, "get an apartment and live like a hermit with Internet and video games."
“I wish I could do that.”
"I have been saving for a long Time. When I retire, it's for life."
“I’m still in grad school,” Meryl groaned, “It’s going to take forever for me to pay off my student loans…”
"That sucks," she patted Meryl's shoulder sympathetically.
“If we make it through this, and somehow get back- please let me know if you do retire early to play videogames? Also if you would mind terribly much if I visited you to play them?” The poor student looked at Elaine wistfully. “I make dessert!”
“I suppose I will have to take you up on that offer,” she grinned, “The way to any soldier’s heart is through the stomach!”
Meryl laughed. “Funny. Nonna always tells me that I need to cook well in order to win a man. I guess she didn’t think it could be used for other things, too.”
"Believe me, I'd kill a man for a good dessert," Elaine laughed, only partially joking.
“Oh?” Meryl smiled uncertainly at Elaine. “Maybe I shouldn’t make the boozy desserts...”
It wasn’t long before the pair came upon the edge of Riverwood. The sounds of the forge could be heard over the sound of running water, and the local children were playing outside. Hadvar was helping his uncle, but stopped to hail them when he noticed the medic and the geek returning.
“Hello, there!” He waved as he straightened up, his other hand wiping the sweat from his brow. “Where have you been all morning? And where are the others?”
"We killed people-jerky in the catacombs on the mountain," Elaine grinned, "I got to impale one on a flaming spike! That fucking phrase 'fuss roe-da', is a ridiculous trigger for an air cannon."
“I… what?” Hadvar looked completely lost, so Meryl tried to help.
“We cleared out the Barrow for you, so there probably aren’t any more draugr-things shambling around anymore.” Meryl realized that probably didn’t help when Hadvar’s eyes widened in horror.
“You went where?” The big man choked out.
"The place with all the dead people in a weird maze thing. I hate mazes. And dog-sized rats."
Hadvar looked decidedly ill at Elaine’s comment. Meryl tugged uncertainly at Elaine's sleeve as she tried to whisper. “Oh, bother! I completely forgot he’s afraid of that place!”
"Well, zombies are some scary shit," Elaine shrugged, "Though, for a big tough guy, that's pretty lame."
Hadvar looked as though he wanted to retort, but seemed chastised all the same. He looked to Mitch and Martin as they walked on by, but they seemed too deep in conversation to notice his distress. Meryl said nothing, since she worried that he might be offended if she tried to defend him, as Elaine continued to look at him in mild disapproval.
And so Hadvar proceeded to be bewildered by the pair of strange, foreign women.
Once inside the shop, Mitch found a man behind the counter and a woman sweeping the floor. The man looked up, and his face broke into a hopeful grin. “You’re back! Were you able to retrieve the claw?”
Martin nodded. “With the help of this man and his companions, yes.” He then nudged Mitch forward.
Mitch stumbled a tiny bit, his hand coming up to awkwardly scratch at the back of his neck. “Yeah. This is it?” He pulled the claw from where it had been strapped to his side with a makeshift belt of leather and passed it over to Lucan.
“You found it!” The man laughed for joy. “There it is. Strange… it seems smaller than I remember. Funny thing, huh? I’m going to put this back where it belongs. I’ll never forget this. You’ve done a great thing for me and my sister.”
The woman - apparently the sister - walked over and thanked Mitch, too. “It means so much to us to have the claw back where it belongs. Thank you!”
“Not a problem, Ma’am.” Mitch replied quickly, smiling. “I don’t think the bandits who took it in the first place will ever return again.” At least, not if they remembered the promise Elaine made once they’d parted from the group. Hell, he would become a hermit in that very cave they’d just left if she had aimed that threat at him.
“I certainly hope not! My sister was about ready to go and fetch the thing, herself!” Lucan laughed.
The woman pouted. “I am more than capable of handling myself, Lucan!”
“You say that, but you’ve done little about the situation regarding your-”
“Lucan!” Camilla looked scandalized.
Lucan coughed and muttered a hasty “sorry” behind his hand. “Anyway, if there’s anything you’d like, let me know and I can cut you a better deal than anywhere else!”
Martin nudged Mitch and looked meaningfully at him, before looking at Camilla and back.
Mitch ignored Martin for a moment, turning his gaze back to Lucan. “Actually, my two companions, Elaine and Meryl, they were wondering about how easy it would be to procure wire, like copper wire and such. They had an idea that called for it, but we haven’t been able to find any. If they drop in and you know where to find some, could you let them know?”
There, that was the start of his charger hunt. Now onto whatever Martin was getting at. He returned to Camilla, smiling warmly and clasping his hands behind his back. “And for what it’s worth, I believe you with that. You appear to be very capable. The bandits would’ve had nothing on you.”
“Oh.” Camilla was slightly taken aback and even blushed a tiny bit before replying. “Thank you!”
“Camilla!” Lucan chided, but he was laughing all the same.
“What now, brother?”
“Nothing. Just… well, and you wonder why those two don’t get along.” The merchant sighed.
“I just don’t understand it. We’ve all known each other for a long time. I don’t know how it is that they’re no longer quite on speaking terms.” Camilla looked wistful, but her brother scoffed.
“You know precisely why, Camilla. Don’t play coy.”
Mitch bit his lip, glancing down to Martin but unable to read the Imperial’s expression. “If you don’t mind me asking, who do you mean?”
Martin murmured softly to Mitch, “To borrow your own words: ‘the lady doth protest too much’.”
“Technically we’re both stealing from Shakespeare.” Mitch muttered back.
“Regardless, you are stalling Mitch. Would you leave a distressed citizen trapped in a dilemma not of her own making?” Martin added quietly. “Well, mostly not…”
The party’s other two members burst into the shop.
“Does it have something to do with the pointy-eared woodsman and the bard? I like the woodsman. He looks like he knows how to handle an axe,” Elaine grinned, clasping her hands together cheerfully, “He looks like he wouldn’t die if more bandits attacked for that stupid key.”
Mitch stepped slightly aside when he heard Elaine and Meryl entering, snorting at Elaine’s observation. “These are the companions I mentioned earlier, I’ll let them ask about the wire.”
He let Elaine and Meryl talk to Lucan, turning back to a now seated Carmilla. “If there’s any way I could help, don’t be afraid to ask.”
While Mitch tried to talk to Camilla, Meryl bounded up to the counter and asked the shopkeeper rather bluntly, “Did they tell you we helped retrieve the claw?”
“I got to kill a skeleton and a mummy!” Elaine giggled, bouncing on her heels. She somehow managed to hold onto the stone during her impromptu plummet off the small cliff, and was pleased it hadn’t been damaged, “And Meryl killed a Giant Spider. It was massive! Like… As big as a… a big thing!”
Lucan blinked. “Oh… I, ah… congratulations…?”
“What, they told you this was easy?” Meryl laughed before she realized that Lucan was still shocked. “Oh. They did tell you that, didn’t they? Um, yeah... Don’t worry about that, it wasn’t so bad… There were a lot of us! Well... fewer now, but no one died! Well... One person died, but...”
“She’s exaggerating, Lucan.” Mitch called from where he now sat, distinctly having look of an idea being bounced around. “Several bandits died, but hey, they knew the risks when they dared to steal from an honest merchant. And you should’ve seen how gracefully Meryl handled the giant spider.” He chuckled.
Meryl whipped around to stare at Mitch quizzically. “I think that you’re the one who needs a dictionary. That was anything but ‘graceful’...”
“It was hot is what it was!” Elaine interjected with a grin.
Mitch giggled at Carmilla’s questioning look. “It involves a long and winded speech that boiled down to a lot of fire being thrown around. It was amazing.”
“My! That sounds exciting.” Camilla smiled. “A shame I wasn’t there to see it.”
Mitch nodded in agreement. “Definitely. But as you were saying, something about Sven and Faendal?”
Camilla sighed and sank deeper into her seat. "I came here from the Imperial Province, to work with my brother Lucan. It got bad back in Cyrodiil. The war with the Thalmor ruined... everything. I came to Skyrim looking for a better life." She sighed and added somewhat bitterly, "So what did I get? Another war. I just want to find a good husband, and start a family of my own. And now those two…”
The woman sighed and shook her head.
Mitch nodded sympathetically. “Men like that, they don’t get it. It’s like to them, ‘no’ means ‘yes’ and ‘leave’ means ‘stay’ and ‘piss off’ means ‘take me, I’m yours!’ Idiots. Maybe I could speak to them for you, put some sense into them?”
“That’s… rather generous of you.” Camilla paused before continuing, this time with more hope. “Perhaps you might be able to do something before they end up doing something regrettable.”
“You stole that from Hercules!” Elaine shouted suddenly, pointing at him with too much enthusiasm to be proper, but she actually caught that one and she was going to be excited damnit, “I recognize that reference!”
“Not really stealing though, more like, borrowing.” Mitch replied with a grin. “So, what do we say? Shall we go find the two idiots?”
“So long as we can come back to look through the store’s inventory.” Meryl shrugged. “I mean, it’s not like we’d be going far, right?”
Mitchell bounced up enthusiastically. “Aight, let’s get going. Goodbye, Camilla.”
Camilla smiled back and waved. “Don’t be a stranger!”
Once outside, Meryl turned to Mitch expectantly. “So… what exactly are we doing?”
“Convincing two dickheads to fuck off, mostly. She’s landed in an unwanted love triangle and we’re taking care of it before it turns into ‘Twilight’ with elves.” Mitch replied with a shrug. “So, Sven first? She said he usually hangs around the inn.”
“Can I show him the El Kabong treatment?” Elaine asked innocently, grinning with too much cheer as the looked at the others, “It wouldn’t take much. I just need a guitar!”
“Maybe he’s just awkward about approaching women? I mean, some guys are really weird when they like someone and don't know what to do,” Meryl jumped in hastily, “We shouldn’t just off him without reason!”
“I was just gonna bang them both and then tell Carmilla which one was the better lay, but I doubt she’d react well to that.” Mitch shrugged. “We can talk to them both and then decide what to do from there.”
“I’m for that! I’d rather not get arrested in place whose laws I don’t know!” Meryl bit her lip nervously.
“Right, let’s find Sven then. And I will not commit acts of sodomy… not yet at least.”
The Sleeping Giant Inn was as warm as it had been that morning, though Orgnar’s presence could’ve chilled even Hell with how he stared down Mitchell. Note to self, bartenders who look like they should be wielding battle axes instead of serving drinks are arseholes. Mitch ignored him, instead locating the man who held the description Camilla had provided.
Sliding onto one of the benches nearby the bard, Mitch relaxed and leaned back against the table. “Hey.” He greeted, nodding his head slightly. “Nice song.”
Sven seemed to puff up at that, pridefully beaming. “Always happy to perform for someone who appreciates good music. Unlike some...”
If Sven wasn’t referring to Faendal, then Mitchell was the Queen of France. Feigning ignorance, Mitch quickly asked “Now who could possibly hate good music?”
“Depends on the music. I love operas and orchestras, but also country and European metal. And for some reason I despise Rap,” Elaine shrugged, “I mean, I understand why people like it, but I don’t. And there’s also that deeply unpleasant headache-inducing discordant music.”
“True, but I doubt anyone could hate the way our bard here sings.” Mitch replied smoothly, as Meryl tried not to gag at his honeyed words.
Sven snorted at Mitch’s words, setting down his lute. “Try explaining that to Faendal.”
“Faendal?” Mitch inquired, keeping a passive expression. “And that would be?”
“An elf.” The word was said akin to the way Draco Malfoy says ‘mudblood.’ “He thinks he can woo Camilla Valerius away from me!”
Mitch side-eyed Elaine and Meryl as Sven launched into a speech about Faendal. His expression seemed to state his thought of 'oh my god, what a little bitch!”
Meryl pursed her lips in disapproval rather than say anything. Judging by the looks being exchanged, she really didn’t need to.
“Hey Mister, can I see your guitar thing?” Elaine asked suddenly, “I want to see how the artist made it. I’ve got a deep love of crafts and I really want to know if it’s as good as it looks from here.”
“She doesn’t mean any harm in asking.” Mitch swiftly supplied at Sven’s apprehensive look. “She just really has a thing for lutes, though where we’re from they’re called guitars. While she’s doing that, how about a drink? It seems this Faendal really gets to you. It would be a shame to have you all worked up on his account.”
He threw in his best smile, leading the bard over to the bar and leaving Elaine and Meryl with his lute.
“I’m gonna Kabong him,” She growled, turning to Meryl, “I am going to do it. This thing’s a cheap piece of crap anyway. Probably cost about the worth of the wood and that’s it. Idiot didn’t even tune it in the time we’ve been here. He’s likely just got it to look the part. He’s no real Bard.”
Meryl wrung her hands nervously. “Elaine… please don’t…!”
"I want to and you do too!" She pointed at him with her usually aggressive enthusiasm, "he's a schmuck!"
Meryl tugged insistently on Elaine’s sleeve. “I’m not denying that he’s a racist, skeevy poser that absolutely deserves a beating, but please! At least don’t take it out on the lute!”
"I could make a better one and I barely know how to make a shelf!" She huffed, "and we'd be doing the town a favor!"
Meryl winced. “Cheap or not, I’m sure we could find a better use for it. Like making money or something. I mean, if THAT idiot can hack it as a musician, then surely WE can do better!”
"But I want to hit him!" Elaine whined, crossing her arms and pouting, "you don’t want to let me have any fun!"
Merl looked furtively over her shoulder at Mitch and the possibly doomed bard. “Could you at least wait to clobber him until he goes outside? I mean, there are woods out there. He could blame it on the wildlife, and we don’t get arrested! Everyone wins! Well,” Meryl amended, “almost everyone...”
At the bar, Mitchell ordered two ales while he slid a few septims across he looted to Orgnar. “So, you really do like this Camilla, don’t you? But have you actually talked to her? Maybe spent some time with her instead of glaring at Faendal while he actually makes an effort to be friends with her?”
Sven had the gall to look offended. “Wha- I- we are friends!”
“Of course you are, I meant no offense with that. I meant have you tried to properly woo her? Maybe take her out on a date…”
And as he bullshitted his way through the entire conversation, a plan quickly formulated in Mitchell’s head. He restrained himself from smirking as he arranged for Sven to plan a surprise picnic for Camilla. Downing the rest of his ale, Mitch said goodbye to the Bard and swaggered back to Elaine and Meryl. “Ladies. We have a plan.”
“I’m listening!” Meyl turned to face him.
"Does that mean I can't hit him over the head with his cheap ass lute?" Elaine pouted, disappointed at the look of triumph on his face. She was really looking forward to doing that.
“Tell you what, if he really dicks up my plans, then you can hit him. Alright?”
"Fiiiiine, but only this once!" She huffed.
Meryl released the breath she had been holding in relief.
“Aight,” Mitch began. “So Sven has just been talked into setting up a picnic later tonight for Camilla. I figure if Faendal’s as much as a dipshit as Sven is, we can lead him to the same spot we place Sven. At which point you two will go get Camilla and give her this letter Sven handed off to me earlier. Apparently his brilliant idea was to denounce Faendal. But to the point, I see if I can get Sven and Faendal to actually fight it out somehow.”
“You mean, maybe so they can get that machismo nonsense out of their system, or something?” Meryl asked.
“Exactly. They both beat each other shitless while I eat Sven’s food and then you two come in with Camilla and she’ll see them being fucking idiots and tell them off for fighting. Hopefully.” Mitch grinned suddenly. “And then I get a kiss from the lovely Camilla and the two, both knocked down to equals, work together against me. Except I’m not actually a threat, and they’re forced into a truce. I know this is bullshit, but do you two think it’s bullshit we can pull off?”
Meryl fixed Mitch with a deeply suspicious expression. “Are you trying to get into her skirts?”
Mitchell opened his mouth in protest before taking a quick breath and shutting it again. “Not intentionally, but hey, if it’s offered as a reward… I am an easy man, ok?”
“At least you’re honest.” Meryl frowned. “Just be sure to be honest with her, okay? And no leaving babies all over the place!”
Mitchell decided against mentioning the condoms sitting in his pocket, instead offering up only a nod and a smile. “Of course. I wouldn’t pressure her into anything she wouldn’t do.”
“Great.” Meryl sighed. “I think I’ve just found the Canadian Casanova...”
Mitch giggled, walking out of the inn with a spring in his step. “Ay. Now let’s go find this Faendal.”
In the woods in the evening, Mitchell could hardly tell the difference between a forest in Skyrim and one in Canada. Both were dark and filled with the quiet hooting of owls, the sounds of deer rustling by. He supposed back home he’d have Gabe beside him instead of that weird tiny elf and a tiny weird American, but hey, he made do with what he could. Faendal seemed to have no trouble keeping up with Mitchell’s long strides, despite only being half his height. He huffed a bit, more so from frustration at Mitch for being ever vague.
“Are you sure she’ll be here?” Faendal hissed quietly, still not having spotted his beloved yet.
“Chill, she’ll be here. Just a few more metres and we’re there.” Mitch replied lowly but jovially.
In the short distance he could smell sweet pastry things and the weird honey and nut thing he’d tried earlier. Sven had spared no expenses on the set up, and for that Mitch was grateful. He’d been craving something sweet for a while now. “And we’re here!” He announced, stepping into the clearing with the bosmer in tow.
“What are y- YOU!” Faendal spat, laying eyes upon Sven and his picnic set up.
“You? You!” Sven snapped back, immediately jumping to his feet and moving his hand to his lute.
Both men seemed to forget Mitch’s presence. They were too caught up in eye-hate-fucking to pay any mind to the Canadian. It’s a start. Mitch thought to himself.
He coughed to regain their attention. “Evening, gentlemen. There’s been a change of plans!”
When met with angry glares, Mitch grinned even broader. “The lady still is indecisive over who should win this little cock fight, so it’s about time there was an actual fight. A duel, mano a elfo, to settle things once and for all. You two fight, one of you wins the right to court Camilla. Survival of the fittest. Just bare fists, makes it more even. Sound good?”
Meryl snatched the lute from Sven in case he decided to make a swing with it. “Don’t even think about it!” She glared at the bard.
Before Sven could reply, Faendal had already pounced. He took a broad swing at Sven, hooking him in the face and throwing him off a bit. It infuriated the Nord, who immediately bounced back with a punch to Faendal’s side. As the two circled each other, Mitch slipped to the side and picked up a sweet roll.
“Mmm, delicious. Credit to his mother, she makes a mean roll.” He commented as he gulped it down happily. “You should try a bite, Meryl.”
“I’m not getting my fingers all sticky while handling an instrument.” Meryl looked critically at the spread. “I hope Sven hasn’t spiked them with aphrodisiacs or something. They do look awfully good…”
Mitchell swallowed at that, glancing down at his hands. “If I’m gonna wake up in fuckin Rivendell naked and missing a kidney, it might as well happen from this.” He commented. “But besides that, how long do you think Elaine will take?”
“Depends on whether Elaine thinks it’s funnier to either let Camilla read their letters and arrive angry, or having her read them in front of these clowns and make them watch her get angry.” She shrugged.
“I vote for the latter. Hey look, they fell in the mud!”
Meryl held the lute a bit tighter. “Eeeww. Looks like this is going to be really messy.”
“Now all they need is bikinis, and we can make it a calendar.” Mitch joked.
“No, thank you! I think any naughty pictures involving these two would be tainted for me.” Meryl grimaced. “I’ve seen more than I care to of these idiots.”
“Suit yourself.” Mitch shrugged, leaning back against the tree.
Meryl looked over the picnic spread again. “I wish I knew what half of these things are made of.” She poked the edge of a plate. “This thing looks like cranberry, but I don’t know if they have cranberries in this country.”
Mitchell picked up the pastry she was gesturing to, taking a tiny bit of the fruity part and chewing thoughtfully. “Tastes like it. You sure you don’t want a bite?”
He broke off a piece, holding it at level to her mouth so she wouldn’t have to get her hands dirty.
Meryl shook her head. “I can’t eat when I’m nervous. By the way, how on Earth are you so calm?”
“Easy. We aren’t on Earth. And well, the barrow has sort of milked me of being shocked right now. Give me a day to recuperate so I can be anxious again.”
As he answered he moved to sample another piece, a weird egg roll looking thing that smelled sweet but upon tasting made him gag. He spat out the bite he had taken off into the bushes, coughing as he stared down at the thing. “The fuck is this?”
Mitch tossed the pastry into the fray, hitting Sven in the ass, which left an odd, fruity smear on his rump.
“-and that’s how I found out you can lift a guy on his own dick!” A familiar voice was heard as the two ladies arrived, Elaine gesturing expansively as Camilla continued to scowl viciously, “Not a good enough story? I particularly like the part where he made this adorable little whimper when he came down.”
“I’m going to do even worse to those two when I get my hands on them!” Camilla swore, hands in front of herself, having obviously read both letters before arriving.
The sudden sound of Camilla broke Sven and Faendal’s concentration. They both froze, Sven pinning Faendal into the mud. Silence fell as they stared up at the fuming Imperial. From his spot against the tree, Mitch snickered.
Meryl looked forlornly at the discarded dumpling and sighed. “What a waste of food…”
“Don’t think that’s our problem right now, bud.” Mitch replied with a snort. “Sven, Faendal, there’s a lady in our presence. Get yourselves together!” He chided them.
“He’s got a pastry smear on his butt.” Meryl frowned. “That’s probably going to stain.”
Mitch ignored her. “Camilla, I presume you’ve already read the letters?”
“I have.” The woman replied tightly.
“Looks like they’re in for it now.” Meryl murmured.
Mitch held back a smirk. “And is there anything you’d like to say to their authors?”
Camilla bit her lip a moment and took a deep breath as though she were trying to compose her thoughts or trying to reign in her temper. The motley group waited with baited breath and varying expression, all of which were, no doubt, tied to how much trouble they were in at the moment.
The Imperial woman drew herself to her full height, and began to speak with all the haughty scorn that she could muster. “It seems that I have been under the most unfavorably false impression, that we were all good friends.”
Sven moved to protest, but was quickly silenced with a glared from Mitchell and a light kick to his side.
“I am sorry to say,” Camilla continued, “that it has fallen to my most recent companions, to disabuse me of such a notion. That this task should fall to near-complete strangers causes me no small amount of displeasure.”
“It’s all their fault!” Faendal insisted, interrupting her rudely. He gestured to Mitch whistling innocently, and Meryl acting as though she found the lute immeasurably fascinating. “They-”
“Their help was not asked for, but offered freely in the interests of peace!” Camilla rounded on him. “Do you know how much trouble your little feud has caused in Riverwood?”
“We have hardly done anything! It’s the town’s own fault if they gossip!” Sven added in.
“You can’t deny how much trouble you have caused!” Camilla cried out in exasperation, “It was such that our neighbors have seen fit to inform me that I am somehow responsible for this mess!”
As Faendal tried to get mouthy again, Mitch pressed his sneaker down onto the elf’s leg and made him yelp. So Sven must’ve gotten a lucky hit after all.
“The both of you are sorely mistaken, if you believe that the nature of your affections excuse the manner of your conduct. I assure you, your conduct has revealed the both of you to possess little in the way of manners. That it has come to this,” she gestured at the mess the two had made of themselves, “only serves to prove the point.”
“Since it seems that neither of you are capable of understanding polite discourse, I shall have to use plain language: Both of you have proven arrogant, selfish, and even violent. Neither of you have shown regard for each other as intelligent persons, nor that of the people you live and work with. You have made it so that there is no choice between you. Neither of your affections are wanted, and I trust that I can make myself no clearer when I say: I don’t want either of you.”
Sven and Faendal both looked on, dumbfounded. Further protests died with a scathing look from Camilla as she turned around dismissively and refused for a second to pay them any mind. Mitch gave a mocking bow. “And I believe that’s your answer. Good night, gentlemen. You can both fuck off now.”
The group left Sven and Faendal to their mess. The two of them stood helplessly for a bit before Sven finally muttered, “This is all your fault. I nearly had her.”
Faendal punched the Nord half-heartedly.
Camilla and Mitch walked a ways in silence together. Eventually, Camilla sighed heavily and spoke. “I’m so sorry for what happened back there, but I couldn’t have asked for better people to help with this.”
“It was not a problem, ma’am.” Mitch replied with a smile. “Always happy to help out.”
“And what help it was!” Camilla laughed mildly. “I don’t think they’re ever going to forgive you.”
“In all honesty, I couldn’t care less what two idiots think of me. Anyone like those two, too blinded by their own hatred for each other to actually focus on their love for you, they aren’t worth anyone’s time.” Mitch commented.
“They did fail rather spectacularly in that. I would say that they were being tactless, but that doesn’t quite capture it.” Camilla turned to Mitch with a mischievous smile. “In fact, I’d almost say that you weren’t very tactful either.”
Mitch chuckled. “If you can’t baffle them with your brilliance, blow ‘em away with your bullshit. Convoluted plans are a specialty of mine, even if they sometimes lack finesse. And I was hungry. This got me free food.”
“You really are an odd one, aren’t you.” She laughed. “Shameless, even!”
Laughing, Mitch shrugged dismissively. “I’m a theater student. They don’t teach you shame on stage.”
“Is that so? Care to show me?” Camilla smiled suggestively.
“Marty!” Elaine tugged on his sleeve as she came up alongside him, a bit of a serious look on her face as she made sure the others were distracted by the merriment of fixing Camilla’s woes, “Martin. Hey can you do me a huge favor before you decide to do what you do as a medic?”
“What is it?” he inquired calmly, certain that she couldn’t have too crazy of a request. Strange perhaps, but no more strange than he could possibly think of. He had a fair bit of experience with heroes before this.
“I want to make sure I’m not going to spontaneously become a paraplegic or something,” She shrugged, not at all bothered at the bluntness of her comment, “I did kinda fall off a couple of cliffs and that’s a bit problematic even if they weren’t over ten feet in height. It would really suck if you left and then I died of some preventable injury right?”
“I think I could look you over in the inn,” he offered, smiling when she nodded cheerfully. She looped her arm in his and he chuckled as they made their way back, certain that the tension that seemed to hover between them would soon be dissipated. Or at least, somewhat relieved before he had to leave.
Today, Meryl thought wryly, had to be the strangest day of her life. She sighed and shook her head. Actually, yesterday might be a better fit, unless all that stuff with the dragon was a hallucination. She’d have to ask the others more about that incident later to compare their experiences and- Meryl shook her head again. She needed a notebook to keep everything straight. There was all the crazy stuff that had happened in the barrow, the dragon before that, and more recently a weird love triangle- or was it now a quadrangle? She was pretty sure it was a quadrangle now, if the noises coming from the upper floor of the "The Riverwood Trader" were any indication. Meryl had rather awkwardly tried to buy supplies from Lucan while Mitch was... well... getting "lucky" with the shopkeeper's sister. Neither of them looked each other in the eye the entire time. Not until Lucan had said that she and her friends were welcome back any time as she was leaving.
"You're not mad about...?" Meryl had waved noncommittally at the ceiling. Lucan laughed uncomfortably and said that Mitch seemed a much better fellow than the other idiots pursuing his sister. Oh, well. So long as Mitch didn’t get them into too much trouble by thinking with his… other head… she wasn’t going to say very much about it.
Meryl had been grumbling to herself about men and their womanizing ways when she’d found that Elaine was engaging in similar activities with Martin at the inn. Orgnar hadn’t seemed to care - did the man care about anything? - but Delphine had given her a rather forbidding look that had prevented her from accidentally walking in on her friend yet again. Lost for what to do, Meryl had stared awkwardly at the door for a few moments until a particularly unusual string of noises drifted through the wooden barrier. So she promptly turned and left. Despite her natural curiosity, there were some things she really didn’t need to know.
It was a nice day and she had nowhere to be, so Meryl wandered down to the waterfront and drank in the scenery. This place - Martin had called it “Skyrim” if she recalled correctly - was beautiful. The air was a bit sharp from the cold, but it was tempered by the smells of the woods and the village. A bit like the parks in Maine or Washington, it felt removed from the world but not uncivilized. Just a touch more rustic than she was used to, but not a big deal. It couldn't be much more difficult than camping trips with the cousins...
Speaking of the cousins, they would probably love to hike a few of these mountains, Meryl thought wistfully. The hike to the barrow had afforded the motley group some rather spectacular views well worth the trouble. "Skyrim" was an apt name, for what she'd seen of the country thus far. A shame she didn't have anyone in particular to share it with. That was fine. People could be noisy. Not very good for stargazing. She could use a guide for this sky, though.
Meryl started in surprise before turning around. It was Hadvar.
“So, uh, what are you doing over here by yourself?” He asked tentatively.
Meryl sniffed and turned back to the river, idly fingering the lute. “Not much,” she replied.
“Oh.” Another awkward pause.
“Do you know anything about stars?” Meryl asked.
She could hear the befuddlement in the man’s voice, “Not more than what everyone else knows.”
Which means he might be able to point to one or two specific celestial bodies at best. She sighed. At least he was honest. Hadvar continued to stand uncertainly, and she didn’t invite him over. Meryl grimaced. He was probably not doing so great after what had happened to his comrades, and there was little in the way of news around here. There were no more dragon sightings as far as she knew, but the pointed looks from Hadvar’s uncle Alvor were only getting more insistent. Not that she blamed the guy. She sighed again. Probably best to not unintentionally antagonize their benefactor and his family. Meryl turned to the man again. “Can you play?” She indicated the lute in her lap.
“No.” So much for that idea. Hadvar’s face was starting to get as red as his skirt. Guess he wasn’t the only one who got flustered when they weren’t useful. Meryl hated how easily she blushed. Curse her silly complexion for having insufficient melanin...
“Are you cold?” Havdar scratched the back of his neck uncomfortably. Meryl thought it was a sweet gesture on his part, but shook her head and turned back to the river. This was getting awkward. More awkward than was usual for her.
Sighing, she picked at the strings of the lute aimlessly, until her fingers seemed to settle on the melody for “Danny Boy”.
“What are you playing?”
Meryl winced internally. Probably not the best thing to be playing right now, given the subject of the piece. “It’s an old folk song.”
“What’s it about?”
Meryl winced outwardly this time. “It’s… kind of sad.”
“Really?” Hadvar asked. “Why would you play a song like that?”
Meryl thought for a moment before speaking. “It reminds me of a lot of things in life that are unfair. And it’s beautiful in spite of tragedy… or is it because of it? I don’t know.”
“Now I’m really curious to know what it’s about.”
Meryl sighed. Looks like there was no getting around it. “It’s about a girl who died waiting for her man to come back from the war.”
Hadvar blanched. Meryl stopped playing the lute and sighed. She was doing an awful lot of sighing these days. She didn’t like it. Stars forbid she ever looked like some lovelorn girl in a bad romance novel. “See? I told you it was sad.”
The soldier looked rather apologetic. “I’m sorry.”
Meryl looked at the man quizzically. “What for?”
Hadvar was going red in the face again. “I didn’t mean to pry.”
Meryl laughed, much to his confusion. “Not at all! I’m not waiting for anyone, so don’t worry about me!” Hadvar didn’t look very reassured, and Meryl promptly stopped laughing at the next thought in her head. “Oh, no... Is someone waiting for you?” Hadvar’s mouth dropped open and Meryl babbled on in horror, “Oh, my god, I am so sorry! I don’t mean to be so morbid or anything! I just happen to like sad songs like that! And I’m sure you’ll get back home just fine! Who’s the lucky girl? Have I met her? Wait- are you married? Do you have babies?”
Hadvar stood there dumbstruck for a moment. “Um, no?”
Meryl pursed her lips. “Well that’s non-specific. Do you mean ‘no’ to any of those questions, or ‘no’ to all of them?”
“...All of them?”
“Oh.” Meryl’s face burned in embarrassment. “Well, that was awkward…”
Hadvar, it seemed, was taking her outburst rather well, all things considered. Another thought occurred to her. “Oh! I’m sorry- are you gay?”
He spluttered, “I- what?”
“Or maybe you like both?”
Hadvar stared at her, uncertain how to respond. Meryl, in an effort to be sociable piped back up again, “I like both.” No good. Hadvar was going red in the face again. Maybe move the topic along? “Say, what do nice guys like you do to meet anyone around here?” Bad idea. Hadvar looked about as lost as she did in that department. Hooray, for the awkward and possibly eternally single... Best to back out of this conversation as fast as possible. “I’m sure you’ll meet someone, someday. Maybe you’ve even met them already. You never know. Life can surprise you sometimes.” Hadvar was looking at her strangely, now, and Meryl wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or a bad one.
An unrelated, but very important, thought occurred to Meryl. “Hadvar… Any idea where Sigrid is?”
That got Hadvar’s attention. “I’m sorry?”
“Sigrid. Your aunt. Do you know where she is?”
Hadvar was all red again. “You do know she’s married right?”
“Yes.” Meryl frowned, “What does that have to do with anything?”
“I… don’t know?”
Meryl laughed. “You’re so weird. I just want to ask her about lady things.”
“Oh...” Hadvar looked like he needed reassuring again. She wasn’t sure why, but he did.
“I need to ask her how women deal with… well, that time of the month around here. I don’t think your country has the same… amenities that mine have.”
There wasn’t much else to say after that, so Meryl left him there standing on the riverbank, face as red as his legion skirt. Hopefully this conversation wouldn’t make sharing sleeping space on the floor weird. It was only for one more night. If nothing else, they would be leaving for Whiterun in the morning. Unless something crazy happened. Sadly, there seemed to be a lot of crazy happening these days.
Whatever mattress he was on was way too poky for Mitchell’s tastes. It seemed like one of those old timey ones, made of straw or so-
Mitch groaned as he sat up, taking in the morning glow of the room around him. To his left Camilla still slumbered on peacefully. The evidence of their night was left mostly around her neck and breasts, splotches of purple-pink skin standing out. She’d be stuck in high collars for a few days then. Not that his own neck was any different, but he didn’t exactly have anything besides a hoodie and t-shirt. The Canadian groaned again and stretched out, getting off the bed and retrieving his phone from his jean pocket. No new texts. He wasn’t quite sure if that was a relief or not.
A clearing of a throat from the stairs made Mitchell freeze up and spin around, pulling his jeans in front of him to cover himself. “Shit!” He exclaimed.
Lucan was caught between a blush and a glare.
“Your friends are looking for you downstairs.”
He may have flashed the shopkeeper a few more times than strictly necessary in his haste to pull on his clothing and grab his discarded wallet. The condom that had been haphazardly thrown off in the night now laid in Mitchell’s pocket. Unsanitary, but he didn’t see a wastebasket anywhere nearby and he’d be a dick if he just left it there. He’d have to ditch it before Whiterun.
Mitch pressed a quick kiss of goodbye to Camilla’s cheek before practically flying down the stairs and into the shop itself.
Meryl took one look at the Canadian and sniffed in amused distaste. “Firstly, congratulations. Secondly, I don’t want to know.”
Mitch straightened up, pressing his hands on his hips in an awkward stance. “Ah, yes, well- uh... thanks?”
He tried to keep a casual expression but failed miserably. “So, uh, how’s the weather?”
“A bit chilly.” Meryl shrugged.
“Right.... never noticed…” Mitch trailed off, shaking his head. “We should go, before Lucan tries to kill me with the claw.”
The door opened with a bang as a disgruntled Elaine stormed in. Her appearance was no more disheveled than usual, though there was a distinct lack of a fourth party with her, not that it mattered when it looked like she was a wrong look away from murdering someone.
“MARTIN LEFT!” She yelled, waving her hands with excess frustration, “What the fuck?! Who just up and leaves like that? I mean the last guy at least had the decency to wake me up and say ’yeah I gotta go’ before leaving!”
Mitchell stopped his jaw drop before it happened, leaving him looking slightly constipated. “Ah.” He replied quietly. Thank God Camilla isn’t Elaine.
“Weird. I thought Martin was nicer than that.” Meryl frowned. “Maybe Hadvar knows where he went?”
“Did he not even leave a note? Damn.” Mitch commented.
“Do you think I’d be this mad if he did?” she glared at him before groaning and covering her face, “I need coffee. Or vodka. Maybe both. Both sounds good right now. I need something to get me wired.”
“We can get breakfast in the Sleeping Giant, pick up a bottle of ale there or something.” Mitch shrugged. “Too bad there’s no pancakes.”
Meryl grimaced at the mention of the inn. “Alcohol might be the safest thing to buy from that place, but I’m not sure it’s a good idea to get drunk before we try to go on a long hike.”
Mitch sighed but admitted she was right. “I should agree, having made that fuck up in the past. I feel like my entire life is a collection of increasingly bad decisions accompanied by tequila at this point. There’s nothing like regurgitating your soul out in the middle of nowhere.”
He gazed off dramatically into the middle distance.
Meryl looked askance at the tall guy. “I can’t decide if that makes you the best or worst kind of babysitter.”
“I’m an amazing babysitter.” Mitch replied defensively. “I don’t drink on a job. I even sing along to all the crappy kid show theme songs! That’s not to say the children haven’t been warned against following my lead though...”
“Ha! You come with your own disclaimer?” Meryl snickered behind a hand.
“Precisely. 18 holes a day, and I still have time for golf. I am a man of many things.” Mitch giggled ‘maturely.’
Lucan looked on in confusion.
“Um… Maybe we should take this discussion elsewhere…” Meryl gestured surreptitiously at the bewildered shopkeeper.
“Seconded.” Mitch agreed, and scampered away like a hooligan caught loitering.
“I generally give them paper and art supplies,” Elaine shrugged, following after him, “might as well get a meal to go, though I wouldn’t drink the water here. Beer should be good enough.”
“Should probably avoid the milk too, in case it’s like that gross ass world war two stuff.” Mitch added.
“Um, guys?” Meryl spoke up uncertainly, “Lucan has cheese and bread in his shop. They might be safer…”
Mitch glanced between the two. “I’m down for anything. Need to get my carbs back up anyways.”
“So… one wedge of cheese and a loaf of bread for each of us?” Meryl asked.
“Sounds good. I can try and track down Hadvar while you two pick up food?” Mitch offered.
“Ok, then.” Meryl looked unhappily at the door to the Riverwood Trader. “Going back in there isn’t going to be awkward at all.”
“Exactly.” And with that, Mitch darted off to find Hadvar.
“It could be worse,” Elaine shrugged again before snickering and giving Meryl a wink, “I wonder how Camomile is gonna look when she wakes up?”
Meryl shook her head vigorously. “I really don’t need to know!” And darted into the shop.
She laughed, following after the flustered scientist with a grin. She didn’t much care either way and the exchange had lightened her mood. As did the possibility of getting back. Or at least a decent mission of a sort.
Meryl stopped short when she entered the shop: Camilla was standing on the stairs as Lucan admonished her to find something that would cover her. Bruises, she thought dumbly, How did she end up with so many- Meryl gasped as the dots connected. “Camilla! What did he do to you?!” She all but wailed.
“I’d say he was on her like a … something that sucks blood out of things. A leech!” Elaine cackled, amused at her own joke, “He really did a number on her yeah?”
“But…” Meryl looked at Camilla nervously, “Were you okay with that? I mean that’s somewhat… intense...”
Camilla smiled tiredly. “It was.”
“Oh. So more than okay.” Meryl blushed.
The Imperial woman laughed, “Quite.”
“Right. OK, then! Um… ON TO BUSINESS!” Meryl whipped around to face Lucan. “Bread. Cheese. Food for the road- you have those, yes?”
Mitch hummed slightly as he walked, pressing his hands into his hoodie and bouncing in his step. He made his way across to blacksmith’s letting Hadvar give Alvor his parting words before intercepting the soldier and steering him towards the river. Mitch kicked against the ground lightly, staring longingly at the water as he spoke.
“So, Hadvar. You’re cutting back to Solitude, eh?”
The man nodded, glancing idly over to a mudcrab that scuttled along the banks. “Ay. I should report to General Tullius as soon as possible, inform him of my position.”
“And Martin left without you?”
Hadvar tore his gaze away from the mudcrab. “Pardon?”
Mitch locked his eyes on him and repeated himself, watching Hadvar’s face carefully. Hadvar’s confusion was genuine and gave Mitch no answers whatsoever.
“I’m sorry. He informed me he would be leaving, I just did not think to ask when.” Hadvar replied honestly.
“Well shit, there goes our hint.” Mitch muttered. “Thanks anyways, man.”
He raised a hand to go for a fist bump of parting before recalling Hadvar had no fucking clue what he was doing and lowered his arm awkwardly. “Well, uh, I’d better get going. Things to do, spiders to scream at, all that good stuff. Y’know.”
Hadvar nodded, though he did not know. But before Mitch could up and go, he stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. “What happened to you last night?” He asked inquisitively.
Mitch quickly clued in to the fact he was staring at his hickies like they were cysts. “I was rewarded for heroism, youngling. This is my medal of honor.” He grinned and left with a wave, leaving Hadvar confused behind him.
On the road to whiterun, Elaine examined the rather sparse map they had been given. It seemed to only hold pictures of major cities and roads, though she supposed a severe shortage of cartographers and equipment was the reason. At least they had a general impression of what to look for. And it didn’t look too much longer than a day if they moved at a pace a civilian could endure. Maybe two.
Meryl pursed her lips in disapproval. “If this is what passes for cartography around here, it’s a wonder the warring factions can find each other at all. Look at that,” she pointed at the space between Riverwood and Bleak Falls Barrow, “Not even the vaguest hint that there might be some dirt road or something… does this map even have the correct scale?”
"Beats me," Elaine shrugged, squinting at the paper near sightedly, "Hopefully this ‘white run’ is easy to find. Or we stumble on it."
“So, we just stick to this road and hope there are signs along it?” Meryl looked at Elaine uncertainly.
“I can agree to that,” she chuckled, giving Meryl a wry grin, “I have the directional capabilities of something that doesn’t need to go anywhere.”
Meryl raised a brow at that. “Have you never gone camping or hiking? Being unable to navigate the woods can be really dangerous…”
"Generally I go with a redneck and he helps me not get lost."
“Sensible.” Meryl paused to hop over small root on the path. “Hey, Mitch! Have you ever gone camping? And I mean proper camping where they don’t provide electricity or running water.”
Mitchell shrugged. “Couple of times with the school and once with my mom, but I was never the one navigating. I fished more than I camped, left that sport to redneck cousins and the crazy side of mom’s family.”
"Well... that could be problematic," Elaine chuckled, "maybe it will be hard to miss. Or we find some travelers willing to point it out to us."
“I wish there were more signs.” Meryl frowned. “I don’t like the idea of having to ask potential bandits for directions. I don’t think they’ll all be as nice as Soling or Bjorn.”
"I could just beat them til they're crying for mommy," Elaine volunteered eagerly.
Meryl guffawed. “So… you’re encouraging me to just walk up to random strangers? Possibly dangerous ones?”
"Want me to be the one to approach?" She grinned impishly.
“What if they have spiders?”
“There’s gotta be like guards we could ask.” Mitch pointed out. “Some form of police force has to make patrols or everything would be raided by bandits.”
Meryl frowned thoughtfully. “I don’t recall seeing anyone like that in Riverwood. Did you?”
“Now that I think of it, no. But in the city they have to have something, don’t they?” Mitch pondered, scratching at his stubble.
“Well, Alvor said it wasn’t far and Hadvar said we couldn’t miss it if we stuck to the road. Speaking of Hadvar…” Meryl looked up at Mitch. “Did you do anything to him? He seemed worried about you.”
Mitch looked at her oddly, cocking his head to the left. “No… wait. Oh!”
He laughed, rubbing at his neck. “We talked, I asked him where Martin was, he made observations.”
“So you didn’t bat two for two?” Elaine asked with as straight a face as she could manage.
“He never showed interest.” Mitch shrugged, ignoring the pun with an eye roll. “He thought the hickies meant I was sick.”
Meryl snorted behind her hand in a poor attempt to hide her amusement.
“Besides, his eyes were strictly focused on our dearest Meryl when we were there.” Mitch teased with a grin. “Blushing boy has a dirty side after all.”
“Wait, what?” Meryl spluttered.
Mitchell chuckled and shook his head. “So you didn’t notice the way he lit up when we caught him peeping, or how he was always watching you when you walked? Man, he full on swooned. You could’ve scored easily.”
“These guys do seem the type to like to stick their dicks in crazy,” Elaine cackled, giving Meryl a toothy grin, “And your first encounter did involve an attempt at strangulation. Maybe he likes it Kinky.”
Meryl gaped in horror. “I… don’t even know how to respond to that.”
“Clearly you’ve gotta run back and fuck the man’s brain’s out at the soonest possible time.” Mitch smirked.
Meryl’s face flushed. “I don’t even know the guy!”
“So? I didn’t know Marty that long and I still did him,” Elaine pointed out, “Besides, it’s not like you’re ever gonna see him again.”
The little doctoral student buried her face in her hands. It did nothing to hide her embarrassment. “I can’t do that! I’ve never even-!” Meryl abruptly stopped speaking before she condemned herself, but alas, it seemed she already had.
“So? I didn’t pop my cherry until I was in my twenties. It’s not too late,” Elaine grinned, reaching over to ruffle the top of her head, “Besides, it’s easy. Boys are stupid and they’ll spread their legs for any pretty girl. Just ask the beanpole here!”
Meryl peeked between her fingers to stare at Mitch.
“I popped mine at sixteen. She was two years older and about five years hotter than me. I honestly don’t know how it worked.” Mitch replied wistfully.
“But either way, it’s probably too late now. He’s likely left for wherever it is by now.”
“Okay, okay, I get it, I get it!” Meryl flailed her hands wildly. “I’ll take care of that eventually! Could we just get going?” Meryl skittered down the road in what she hoped was the right direction.
Mitch shook his head, letting out a breathy laugh. “Only if you want to, Meryl. Don’t let us pressure you into shit.”
“It could be worse,” Elaine giggled, “We could be doing this while he’s still around. Maybe we’ll find you a cute guy who’s not part of a group trying to kill us.”
Meryl stopped and whirled back around to face her companions. “You… you’re both perverts! PERVERTS, I tell you!”
“I’m Asian; It tends to come with the territory,” Elaine grinned wider, “Just saying. I mean, stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason, don’tcha know?”
“By that measure I should have boned Hadvar anyways.” Mitch replied with a snort. “Bisexuals with no inhibitions and easy lovin’.”
He paused suddenly, looking up as if a new realization dawned upon him. “Wait a fucking minute.”
“What?” Meryl responded quickly, glad for a possible change in topic.
“What in the fuck is that?!”
He threw his arm out, gesturing wildly at a large figure wielding a bone club. It roared, swinging forth the weapon as they heard a war cry sound out. “What the shit?!”
What looked to be a giant sporting a loincloth could be seen in a field past a few buildings, it’s anger directed at something on the ground.
“It sounds like fighting!” Meryl gasped. “Someone might be in trouble!”
“Fucking Christ.” Mitchell said, stepping aside and watching attentively. “They have giants too?!”
“Not for long,” Elaine promised grimly, dropping to a knee and unslinging Ruthie. With an ease born of combat, she lifted the rifle to her left eye and sighted, the crack of thunder rolling over the plains as the bullet penetrated the beast’s skull and left it collapsed in a heap with a neat little hole in its head.
“Boom! Headshot!” Meryl clasped her hands together in embarrassment. “Sorry, I play way too many video games. Nice aim, though!”
“Sick!” Mitch agreed. “We should go take a look at it.”
“I’m more likely to play engineer on those, I’m a crapshot at video games,” She laughed, standing and slinging the weapon back over her shoulder, “I’m sure those guys are wondering what the hell just happened. Let’s go let them know, ha?”
“I hope the giant didn’t crush anyone!” Meryl sprinted towards the fallen creature.
Mitch kicked into a jog, following her closely and watching the horizon before eventually overtaking her. As they came closer, he noticed the armored warriors standing at the corpse and watching in sheer stunned silence. He let out a sharp laugh, catching their attention.
“What’s so funny?” Meryl panted as she caught up. Silly tall people and their long legs… She stood uncertainly next to the Canadian at the sight of the people in front of them. Very dangerous looking people. “Um, hi. We come in peace...”
“You’re welcome.” Mitchell added. He patted Elaine on the shoulder. “That shot was her.”
A tall woman with paint like claw marks across her face eyed Elaine. “Strange. I’ve not seen such magic as this before.”
“Ruthie here’s my pride and joy,” Elaine smiled proudly as a mother of an honor roll student and lifted up her rifle, “she fires up to 550 meters effectively and fires up to 3600 meters away. And she’s kept clean as a whistle. You could call her a really composite crossbow with a bolt the size of your pinky and smells strongly of sulfur when fired.”
“I see.” The painted woman replied, though Meryl strongly suspected that she didn’t.
“It’s just an exceptionally complex machine.” Meryl piped up, in an attempt to be helpful. “My friend is more likely to charge into battle, but this seemed… expedient.” Meryl paused to reconsider, before she quirked an eye at Elaine, “Or maybe she just wanted to see if she could.”
“A bit of both really,” Elaine grinned cheekily, moving to sit on her prize without a care in the world, “On the one hand, I wanted to put it down quickly, but on the other, Who else can say they shot bigfoot and have evidence of doing so?”
Mitchell took a picture with his phone of Elaine on the giant, beaming. “Now you have evidence.”
A hint of a smile tugged at the warrior woman’s face. “So you say. No matter. You handle yourself well. You could make for a decent Shield-Sister.”
Mitch glanced between the warrior woman and Elaine as he tucked his phone back into his pocket. “Like a valkyrie or a shield-maiden? Well not maiden, that ship has sailed…”
“Shush, you!” Meryl elbowed Mitch in the ribs.
“I don’t have to go through three months of hell again do I? I already did that and got the tee-shirt,” Elaine complained, “No sleep, homicidal urges, idiots, and a deep hatred of the Neidermeyer-type Senior Drill Sergeant. Seriously, who tries to commit suicide with a spoon? That’s idiot ball award of the year that!”
That earned a chuckle from the man next to the woman who spoke and a good-natured, though somewhat confused, smile from the other woman with them.
“Is that so?” The first woman spoke again.
The man by her side spoke up. "You should come to Jorrvaskr and be a Companion."
Meryl struggled to maintain a straight face at the word ‘companion’. She wasn’t sure they used similar words around this world for ladies and gents of the night...
“What, like an Escort service?” Elaine raised a brow, though the double-entendre of the word’s meaning would likely go over their heads, “What are the companions, and why should I join up?”
"An outsider, eh? Never heard of the Companions? An order of warriors. We are brothers and sisters in honor. And we show up to solve problems if the coin is good enough."
“So a mercenary band who only saves the weak if they have gold?” Elaine wrinkled her nose, “If I join, it’ll be under one condition. These two get training in combat so that they don’t need to rely on a tank to dish the bulk of damage. And also if you can take us to white run.”
“We’re no mere mercenaries,” the woman bristled, “We have a long and proud tradition that goes back to day days of Ysgramor.”
“And you only take jobs you can get paid for,” Elaine countered, “A mercenary band has to build a rep for good service or they don’t last long. Good service also means not fucking over a client. I’m not some mindless kick yankee without two bits of brain to rub together. And I don’t know a Yis-grammar. It’s action that shows, not tradition. Spain has the best armada and England practically bent the collective armada over the rails and fucked them harder than a two-bit whore. The sun didn’t set over the British Empire for something like 500 years. America literally dropped a small sun on two cities because they could. Time progresses. If you don’t, you die.”
“Um, Elaine?” Meryl whispered.
The warrior woman’s eyes narrowed as she sneered down her nose. “If you think you're better than we are, go talk to Kodlak Whitemane. See what a warrior of true mettle is like.”
Oh, PLEASE don’t take that as a challenge...! Meryl thought desperately.
“What did you say?” Elaine was suddenly full of smiles as she unslung her rifle and handed it off to Meryl. She was not pleased at that comment, being a warrior herself, “Are you insinuating that I am not? I am a Medic you overgrown lapdog. I Am the Ultimate form of Preventative Medicine. I make sure that I kill my enemies faster than they can kill my friends. I am the one who puts my gun down when people are dying and I’m the first one they aim for because I’m not a threat while I treat others.You think your band of merry misfits can show me honor? I dare you to try.”
Well, someone just threw down a gauntlet. Meryl winced internally, perhaps outwardly as well.
That was the point Mitchell clued into fact that shit was about to hit the fan if something did not interfere. He quickly stepped in between a fuming Elaine and the warrior woman, holding up his hands peacefully. “Easy, there. You’ll have to forgive my friend, she’s quick to jump to conclusions. We aren’t exactly from Skyrim, so uh, we might make a few misjudgements. I’m sure the Companions are as great as an organization as you claim. Where we come from, there aren’t as many honorable groups. It’s a bit hard to believe for us, to be honest.”
“What he said!” Meryl nodded her head vigorously. “Our country happens to be at war right now.” She made a face. “Several, at the moment, actually…”
“Well, their country is. We’re from the same continent but different countries. It’s honestly a long story.” Mitch added in.
“We’re a bunch of omnicidal maniacs made of the dregs of other countries, but hey, at least we weren’t a penal colony! Too bad that also meant we got the best minds that got kicked out too.” Elaine cackled, “My family is full of soldiers and crooks, and sometimes they were both!”
Meryl would have smacked herself in exasperation if she weren’t carrying Elaine’s rifle.
Mitch bit his lip, willing himself to not freak out. “Hey Meryl, you and Elaine should look over the giant and maybe document some observations? See how deep the bullet went and all that?” He motioned for them to move away with quick hands before turning back to the warrior woman and giving and awkwardly reassuring smile.
Meryl looked worriedly at Elaine.
“Like I said, different places, different times. Elaine was never as skilled at diplomacy as she was at medicine. We’ve been... displaced… at the moment, and we’re trying to find the Jarl of Whiterun to report a dragon attack on Helgen. It’s been a long few days for us, and my friends tempers aren’t at the most tolerant. If we could maybe get directions to the Jarl, that’d be great? We’ll get out of your hair and be on our way.”
Mitchell cocked his head to the left, giving kicked puppy eyes to the man who originally told Elaine to join the Companions. He seemed the most approachable, so if he could at least convince him maybe he could reel in the redhead for them.
The man shrugged. “Sounds fine by me. Getting tired of hanging around talking all day."
“You need to get your bounty money eh?” Elaine was seething, but she allowed Mitchell to hint about her dropping the issue. She growled and turned away, moving to look at the creature with a stiff posture but screaming for the redhead to say the wrong thing so she could tear that pretty throat out. Elaine made a strangling motion to calm herself down and rubbed her temples, feeling a headache coming on as she snarled under her breath, “I hope that mewling pup ends up with a war on her doorstep. then she’d know about what it means to be a true warrior’.”
“You dare to insult-!” the now thoroughly angry warrior woman took a step after Elaine, nearly bumping into Meryl. “What are you looking at!” She snapped.
“Um…” Meryl stared, transfixed. “I’m sorry… I just…”
“IF YOU TOUCH A HAIR ON HER HEAD, I’LL RIP YOUR GODDAMN HEAD OFF!” Elaine bellowed, rounding on Aela as fire flared at her fingertips and teeth bared in an open-mouthed snarl. It was obvious she was a bit on edge, though her reaction was somewhat extreme, “She’s Mine! I won’t let you hurt her. Any of you.”
“I… I can see between your breasts…” Meryl stammered, now staring determinedly at the scary woman’s… decolletage… rather than look her in the eye.
“What?” There was a definite edge to that question from said scary lady.
“I’m sorry!” Meryl closed her eyes and shook her head furiously, clutching Elaine’s rifle to herself. “I didn’t mean to stare! It’s just that I’m so short and you’re so tall…!”
Mitchell looked back between the warrior woman, Meryl, and Elaine, a look of sheer horror on his face. Internally he was screaming fuck over and over again on the outside, he quickly morphed into a stern expression. “Elaine, stand down!” He snapped, hoping that wouldn’t turn Elaine on him. “Meryl, step back and stop staring. And for fucks sakes, would both of you relax for five seconds?! Jesus, it’s like babysitting all over again.”
Elaine growled, but reluctantly allowed the flames to dissipate. Her dark eyes flashed with a bloody promise as she stared at the warrior woman. When she had the chance, the barbarian was going to find out what it really meant to be a warrior.
Meryl didn’t move, but averted her eyes from the woman’s breasts to her feet.
“See, was that so difficult? Americans, honestly.” He shook his head, feeling a migraine flare up.
“I am so sorry, madam.” He said to the warrior woman as respectfully as possible. “Like I said, it’s been rough. It’s best we get going.”
Mitchell winced and rubbed at his stubble again. “We won’t bother you again. Come on, let’s go.”
He seriously hoped the city walls he saw not far off was Whiterun, because otherwise he was going to be dead from his rising blood pressure in ten minutes. The Canadian walked forward and nodded respectfully before walking by and hoping the other two would follow him peacefully.
Meryl didn’t move. She was so busy trying to stare at something- anything- innocuous on the ground that she nearly missed the other warrior lady’s question. “Are you ok?”
She was startled into looking at the speaker.
“Wow. You look like you might have a fever. You should see Danica in the temple. She’s a nice priestess who’ll surely be able to help you.”
Meryl’s self-consciousness only fueled her blushing further. Cautiously, she peeked up at the woman she had so rudely oggled. Whatever expression on her face there was, Meryl couldn’t read. The war paint wasn’t helping. Nor was the other Companion.
“I think this one likes you.” The male Companion spoke, amusement evident in his voice.
Mitch, a few metres away, was silently praying to any god who was listening to please let him not have a heart attack.
Meryl for her part was fearful of the warrior woman’s silence. Okay, she’s angry and thinks I’m some sort of… deviant. Whatever you do, don’t say anything perverted, don’t-say-anything-perverted-!
“I like your hands!” Really? REALLY?! that was the best you could come up with? Meryl wanted to smack herself again.
“Stop Oggling the brat,” Elaine grumbled, kicking the dead giant in frustration, “I want to know how this thing even walks. it’s bigger than an elephant! How is it able to stand up weighing so much?”
Meryl skittered away from the warrior lady with a “Yes, ma'am!” before the taller woman decided laugh at or hit her. Probably the latter, considering her luck, though admittedly, she probably deserved it.
“Do you really want to get me started on the physiological merits of an oversized humanoid?” Meryl tried to focus on the giant. “I mean, it’s clear the rules of evolution from home don’t apply here. I don’t know what I could tell you.”
"You could tell me the sun is a hole in the sky where God peeks down at us for all I care. I just need a distraction before I go postal."
“Oh.” Meryl wracked her brain for a few seconds before answering. “I guess since this land has magic- and goodness knows what else- size might not be a very reliable indicator of… available nutrition? I don’t know. I mean, there was that idiot from the village who looked like an elf. And the people here seem… taller.” Meryl sneaked a furtive glance at the scary warrior lady. “Even the spiders are bigger, for goodness’ sake!” She thought for a beat before shaking her head. “Also dragons. I’m pretty sure all rules go out the window when you have dragons.”
Meryl winced when the male warrior-Companion-dude-or-whatever inquired, fixing her with a very interested stare.
Mitchell perked up at the sound of the word dragons, turning around and walking slowly away from the horse he had approached and back to where he had left Elaine and Meryl. "Yeah." He called up. "We were at Helgen when the dragon attacked. Great fuckin' big black thing burnt the place down."
“Is that so?” The scary warrior lady seemed to reevaluate the trio, while the shorter warrior lady lit up with excitement.
“Really? That must have been amazing!”
"Fuck yeah! I mean we nearly died like ten times but still! Dragons!" Mitch replied with enthusiasm.
"I had it under control!" Elaine huffed, "well, until I got hit with a chunk of wall anyways. Thank God Martin was there to patch me up after."
Meryl shook her head in amused bewilderment. “Even so, I’m pretty amazed that you were able to go traipsing through a dungeon after that. I mean, that was a serious chunk of stone fortress you got taken out by.” She sighed irritation. “I just wish Martin had seen fit to help us find the Jarl before he ran off. Honestly, that’s a bit much.”
"Not to mention the mystical wall of scratches that knocked us all out."
“For future reference: be wary of magical cuneiform.” Meryl added dryly.
"But hey," Mitch jumped in. "At least in meeting a dragon I finally met something that could swallow me whole."
(He would proceed to laugh internally about that dick joke for the next five days.)
Meryl stared at him. “Really? We nearly died of a dragon attack and you’re making dick jokes? What are we, twelve years old?”
"I nearly died of a dragon attack, Meryl. I don't want to die of another one tomorrow knowing I could've made a dick joke today and didn't." Mitch replied in a heartfelt tone.
Meryl groaned. “I am surrounded by perverts.”
"Suit yourself." Mitch replied. "Just remember that my eyes are up here when you talk to me, eh?" He teased, drawing his hands up from his chest to his head.
Elaine couldn’t help throwing in a stealth gay innuendo. "I don't think you have to worry about her looking there anyways Mitch."
“It’s not my fault that I’m short!” Meryl protested. “And she’s got like, this MASSIVE gap in her top like, Right There!!”
The nice warrior lady laughed. “She’s still behind you, you know.”
Meryl finally turned back to face the scary woman. “I didn’t mean to! Please don’t hurt me pretty lady!”
"She'll have to go through me first." Elaine warned.
“Ha. She called you ‘pretty’, Aela.” The male Companion laughed.
“Shut up, Farkas.” The scary warrior woman replied.
Mitch chuckled, nodding. "She's beautiful. Why would there be shame in that?" Default flirt mode had kicked in.
The scary lady now known as ‘Aela’ scoffed. “Because there are more worthy things in the world than mere beauty. Beauty does not keep. Honor and valor do.”
“They might have plenty of that,” the second female Companion chuckled. “It seems they struggle more with people than with dragons.”
"Enemies are easy. People you can't kill are harder," Elaine huffed, crossing her arms, "they want to lie and confuse and trick. It's stupid."
“Then we’re agreed on one thing.” Aela conceded dryly. She turned to her Shield-Siblings, “Come, we’ve been gone too long for a job as simple as this.”
“Wait! Before you go, would you mind pointing us towards Whiterun?”
“You’re looking at it.” The still-unnamed Companion laughed. “You said you had a message for the Jarl, yes? Come, I’ll vouch for you at the gate.”
“I can agree to that,” Elaine laughed, “but only if we get your name as well.”
“Oh! My name is Ria.” The genial Companion replied. “Welcome to Whiterun.”
Chapter 6: Where There's Smoke...
TRIGGER WARNINGS FOR: Graphic Violence, Minor Character Death, Fire.
warnings for possible insensitivity to PTSD, sexual themes/humor, bestiality jokes, sex toys as weapons mentions, and general fuckery.
The problem with being a storyteller was that Mitchell may have fucked them all over by hyperbolizing on the heroics of Meryl and Elaine when they were brought before the Jarl of Whiterun. He had a tendency to get carried away, and it was easy to expand upon what had happened in Helgen. In hindsight, he probably should’ve thought of what he was going to say before hand and prevented the rambling that got them all thrown from the frying pan and into the fire.
He wrapped up his summary with an eloquent, “So, uh, yeah. That’s it.”
"On the bright side, we now have an angry Dragon with burns on it," Elaine beamed, "which means I can have a rematch!"
Meryl laughed uncomfortably. Mitchell glanced sideways at her. “Jinxed!” Meryl whispered and sighed in defeat.
Mitchell silently raised a hand to show her his crossed fingers. He shook his head and hoped she wasn’t right.
Jarl Balrguuf -- as his sour bodyguard informed them -- took the news far too well for Meryl’s liking. “You say the three of you fought a dragon and won?”
An awkward chuckle escaped Mitchell. “Define ‘winning’. If it mean’s ‘got away not-dead,’ you’ve got it.”
“I see… perhaps there might be something you can do for me.” The Jarl mused aloud.
Meryl strangled the groan trying to escape her esophagus, and settled for pouting at Mitch. The Canadian could only offer a deer-in-the-headlights expression to her and the mouthed words, “I have fucked up.”
“My court wizard has been seeking something that might help with this dragon menace-”
Meryl swallowed uncomfortably.
“- and I think you may be able to help him with a problem he’s been having.”
As the Jarl got up from his seat, accompanied by glares from the ever watchful and terribly angry looking elf-lady, Meryl muttered to Mitch, “Well, so much for going home in one piece…”
“Maybe the problem is he can’t get laid. Please be that problem, I don’t want more fuckin’ dragons.” Mitch muttered back. “Give us something peaceful, like incontinence or a cold or something.”
Meryl winced. “Best I’ve got is a tiny spell for healing bruises. If he’s actually sick, and my chicken soup doesn’t help, I’m all out of ideas.”
“Elaine’s like a doctor. She’ll know something.” Mitch replied.
"I'm more like a glorified paramedic than a doctor," Elaine sighed, "but he's probably gonna send us to a dungeon or a cave or something like Lucan did."
Meryl stopped short, eyes wide in concern. “This is going to be a pattern, isn’t it?”
"Weren't you the one who warned us about not jinxing it?" Mitchell groaned, rubbing his temples. "God, I need a drink."
“I gave up,” Meryl sighed. “It looks like we’re developing a reputation.”
The scary elf-lady may have snorted, but that could have been nothing more than stress causing her to imagine things. Meryl didn’t have time to ponder that, because the Jarl led them to a sour-faced man in a robe behind a desk cluttered with strange objects and lots of random paper. Meryl pursed her lips in an apprehension: this man was an academic. She prayed silently that he was not of the insufferable variety.
"Farengar, I think I've found someone who can help you with your dragon project. Go ahead and fill them in with all the details."
Mitchell felt his need for a strong drink skyrocket into the clouds. He glanced over at Meryl and then to Elaine, giving both of the women an exhausted look. “I’ve fucked up.” He murmured, low enough for only them to hear.
“Is that our motto?” Meryl joked feebly.
“I’m from the army. We have a saying; SNAFU- Situation normal: All fucked up,” Elaine sighed, rubbing her temples, “And that cave name sounds familiar. Any chance we can do something like get a room to grab a nap and a store for supplies before we have to do shit? This is rather ridiculous and I have the feeling that as soon as we hand over the rock he wants so much something else is gonna need to be done. It’s like they think we’re glorified Gophers or something.”
The wizard sniffed disdainfully at them when he finally finished his blathering.
“Um, Elaine…?” Meryl tugged at the medic’s sleeve apprehensively, “I think he wants your rock…” She pointed at the parchment on the wizard’s table.
“If he wants it, it’s probably more than just a rock.” Mitch said with a shake of his head. “We’ve found The One Ring, guys.”
The wizard looked at Mitch in surprise. “You’ve already found it?”
“A people jerky was carrying it!" Elaine scoffed, waving a hand dismissively, "I grabbed it."
“You what?” The wizard was very obviously perplexed despite the hood obscuring his face.
“I impaled the dessicated zombie corpse on a spike and rifled through his pockets for spare change,” she rolled her eyes before perking up and bouncing on her heels excitedly, “I found the stone on him and I thought it looked cool so I kept it. We also lost a bandit in the process. He was blasted off a cliff! The zombie did something and and it caused air compression that was visible to the naked eye!”
Meryl’s grip on Elaine’s sleeve only tightened as she stared nervously at the wizard. The wizard, for his part, was staring open-mouthed at the medic, and Meryl wasn’t certain that was a good thing.
“You thought the Dragon Stone was ‘cool’ so you kept it?”
Yup. The wizard did not sound happy at all…
“Mitch…!” Meryl whispered in a poor attempt at subtlety to the Canadian, “Say something!”
Mitchell tossed her a raised eyebrow before looking back to the wizard. “And? Better she think it’s cool and takes it, than having some bandit with a strong sword arm take it and lose it. At least now it’s here, and not buried in the middle of fuckwhere. Important part is you want it, we have it, and we can trade you for it.” He reasoned, shrugging his shoulders.
“Whatd’ya say? Information for rocks?” He asked, sticking out his hand for the wizard to shake.
The wizard stared at his hand and then back up to him. Mitchell slowly lowered it and winced. “Right. You don’t do handshakes here. But still, sound good?”
Meryl, meanwhile, was staring in open-mouthed horror. Did he just barter away Elaine’s prize without consulting her? She looked fearfully at the woman whose sleeve she still had in her hand.
“Why do we have to give him the rock? Can’t I just threaten him until he spills his guts like I did that other guy?” Elaine whined, looking at Mitch with a pout, “I killed the dead guy fair and square! This wimpy slack-wit would probably break his foot trying to pick it up! That’s why he wants us to act like glorified gophers. He’s too helpless and weak to do it himself!”
Mitchell gritted his teeth. “It’s a rock, soldier! Why bother with it when you could get, like, I don’t know… a dragon skull? I’m sure there are plenty of cooler souvenirs to take home.”
“... I think the Jarl has one over his throne,” Meryl wondered aloud, “Maybe we could ask where he got it?”
"And we all know how well killing a dragon went last time," Elaine huffed, pointing at her head, "we almost died!"
Meryl disliked bargaining with academics, but it was satisfying to corner a snooty intellectual when she had the chance. “Maybe we won’t have to. The Jarl said he wants his wizard to do something about the dragons returning, right?” Meryl returned, “And we just got them that much closer to an answer. They’ve got to give us something in return for that! After all,” Meryl looked pointedly at the wizard, “They do want our help, don’t they?”
"I doubt mister superiority complex could even comprehend what we are, let alone read an ancient mummy codex," she snorted, but rummaged around in her pack regardless.
THAT got the wizard’s attention.
“You can read the ancient script?” He asked incredulously.
At that moment, the jarl’s scary elven bodyguard came thundering their way.
“Save it for later,” the elf’s grim countenance somehow managed to look even more grim, “There’s been a development. The Jarl would like to see you- all of you.”
The wizard balked. “But if they-”
“NOW, Farengar.” She fixed the Canadian, the medic, and the nerd with pointed looks before turning smartly on her heel.
"I wonder if she's as authoritative in bed," Elaine mused, eyes drifting lower than particularly polite. Not that it would have mattered in that armor, but a girl could fantasize, "cause if she is, I want a romp."
Meryl gaped openly at Elaine.
Mitch bit his lip and considered it for a moment. “Maybe. Not my usual tastes, but maybe.”
Meryl stared between her two companions and slowly shook her head. “I can’t believe you guys can think about that in the middle of all this.”
“Stress relief fallback?” Mitch shrugged and laughed warmly.
Meryl blinked. “I’ll say it again: perverts.” She sighed and rubbed my temple, “I have to give it you though. You guys are certainly dedicated…”
“Elaine and I shall charge in, dick first and screaming.” Mitchell replied, tone completely serious.
“Wait. Elaine is trans?” Meryl gasped. “Oh, farging hell- I hope I haven’t said anything dumb or offensive!”
“I meant like, a metaphorical dick.” Mitchell corrected with a shake of his head. “I don’t know what she’s got goin’ on in her pants, and it ain’t really my business, but like…” He trailed off.
“You ever play Saints Row? Y’know the dildo bat? Like that.”
Meryl stared at the tall man, fighting to keep silent even as her face began to flush scarlet. She was losing though, as a small, strangled noise escaped her lips.
“It’s huge, and purple, and like a baseball bat but flexible and it’s a dick.” Mitch rambled on, lost in a fantasy with a grin. “Elaine could take a dragon out with it easy.”
Willpower failed Meryl, and she spared a second’s worth of sorrow for her propriety before exclaiming, “I could make one!”
A sudden silence fell over Mitch; his grin replaced with a wide mouth gaping in excitement. He didn’t so much as reply as make an excited squeak, pitched higher than even he though he could reach. “Really?!”
“So… I mean… Say we got a dragon, yes? Elaine has dibs on its skull, but maybe we could see if it had a, um, penile bone. Lizards don’t normally have them, but this place has giant spiders and flying dragons, so… if-it-has-a-penis-bone-I-could-turn-it-into-a-bat.” Meryl rushed the last bit, hoping that he didn’t think she was a freak or something. It wasn’t her fault! Saint’s Row was a funny game! He brought it up!
Mitchell’s gaping burst into a wide grin. “Yes.” He whispered frantically, mania clear in his eyes. “Yes. We need to do it. Just fucking do it, this needs to exist. Yes!”
Meryl wasn’t sure if she was encouraged or concerned about her companion’s excitement. More importantly, she was trying not to trip on the stairs to a back room in the palace, where the Jarl was busy giving orders to a rather deflated looking guard.
“What’s going on?” Elaine asked the Jarl directly, not at all bothered at such a breach of protocol. They didn’t have time for niceties if shit was going down. The other two couldn’t fight well, but she was trained for combat. She wouldn’t turn down those in need. Even if some of them made her want to tear her hair out.
The grey elf turned to the Medic with a grimace. “We have a dragon attacking our Hold. That cannot be allowed to stand, even if we are not able to stop it.”
“ ‘We’?” Meryl repeated faintly.
The Jarl turned to the group with an equally grim expression. “There’s no time to stand on ceremony, my friends. I need your help again. I want you to go with Irileth and help her fight this dragon.”
Meryl couldn’t help wincing.
The Jarl continued. “You survived Helgen, so you have more experience than anyone else here.”
“I’ve already ordered my men to muster at the gate.” Irileth added.
“Don’t think I’ve forgotten what you’ve done for me by retrieving the Dragonstone for Farengar. There will be a suitable reward later, but for now, please accept your choice of gear from my personal armory.” The Jarl gestured towards a large table nearby, where a number of articles had been arrayed.
“Be quick about it.” Irileth urged, “We need to deal with this dragon before it reaches the city.”
“I’m going to need a crossbow or something until I can get my hands on gunpowder,” Elaine grumbled, examining the armor before holding up a chainmail shirt, “Mitch and Meryl should stay out of danger unless absolutely necessary. They aren’t trained for combat.”
“I’m not trained for this either,” she amended, scowling as she examined the weapons and continued grumbling to herself, “Big fucking mutated lizard is too much. I mean, goddamn, we aren’t in the Middle Ages anymore. Things need to start making sense, ‘cause this is bullshit to the umpteenth degree..”
Meryl looked uncertainly at the table, as no armor looked as though they would fit her tiny frame. The same went for most of the weapons, as a matter of fact, since most of the swords looked to be longer than she was tall. “Could I… get a change of clothes…?” She hazarded.
“Probably not until we can get a blacksmith to look you over,” Elaine glanced back at her with a wry grin, “You’re about as tiny as a tween. I also have plates in, so I at least have some resilience. How about you and Mitch try to let me continue to do the Leeroy Jenkins stuff? I’m good at that, at least.”
“Every party needs a tank.” Mitchell agreed, looking over the gear.
He was a more suitable height than Meryl, but his slender frame would’ve sank under the heavy weight of the armor on the table. “You’re right, though. I’d best stay near the back. I’m a lover, not a fighter, and we don’t want me to try and ‘love’ the dragon. Besides, my ‘way with words’ is about as useful as balls on a priest right about now. The dragon isn’t going to fall out of the sky just because I’m fuckin’ shoutin’ at it.”
“Nice metaphor.” Meryl, despite preparing to go to what could very likely be their doom, still managed a snort before scanning the table again. “If there’s a clean tunic and pants I could use, I’d be much obliged. I doubt tweed will be any help in a fight, or most cloth for that matter, but that’ll be easier to run in, at least.”
Balgruuf looked thoughtful. “Someone might have a robe in your size...”
Farengar hummed in approval, before spluttering and turning to his Jarl. “Wait, you don’t mean-”
“She’s only borrowing one!” Irileth snapped, “We don’t need her falling down and making a meal of herself!”
Meryl made a strangled noise. “It doesn’t need to be one of his things!” She shuddered violently at the thought of wearing anything belonging to someone who played with unknown (to her at least) materials. “Anything clean that won’t catch fire will do just fine!”
“Very well.” Irileth cut in, in irritation, “There’s no time to waste- I’ll meet you at the gate. I expect you three there in five minutes.”
“Once they’re changed, We can set out,” Elaine agreed, though she was hesitant. She really didn’t want the other two to be there in case the dragon decided to try making one of them a meal instead, “We had better nip this in the bud before that beast decides a city makes for a better target.”
Irileth, it seemed, had meant three minutes when she had said they were getting five minutes to meet her at the gate. Meryl didn’t blame the woman, since there was a dragon on the loose, but fit or no, her short legs wouldn’t help her catch up. On the other hand, they were taking a slightly more direct route to make up the difference, rather than following the road to the tower-- she just hadn’t expected the open plains to have so many little streams and crabs between here and there.
Elaine wasn't fairing much better despite being taller. But that probably had to do with the small Arsenal of weapons and arrows that she was carrying. In her opinion, there was no kill like overkill. And once she got ahold of gunpowder and perfected the fire runes, she was going to make exploding arrows. It would be awesome!
Mitchell by contrast, was as swift as a deer and twice as fidgety. He was constantly rushing ahead of the other two when something caught his eye, darting off to get a better look at whatever had caught his fancy and then quickly remembering that Meryl and Elaine were lagging behind and thus scurrying back.
“Hey!” Meryl panted, while dodging yet another crotchety crab, “Can either of you see anything? Are we still heading in the right direction?”
“Yeah, tower’s not far off from here.” Mitchell replied, brushing back his hair yet again. “If we jog we’ll be there in about seven or so minutes.”
“Or I can leave my heavy stuff with Stretch, go ahead and you guys can follow me,” Elaine offered with a grin, pleased at the idea of fighting another dragon, “I can't wait to test my mettle against a dragon!”
Mitch bit his lip and cringed mentally at the reminder of their task. “Fight. Why do we have to fight it? Aren't there like, nice dragons? Like that one from Merlin? Or a charizard? Chinese wisdom dragons?”
He supposed that there wasn't really diplomatic reasoning when it came to dragons that were intent on roasting the village and having barbecue human, but he could still hope.
“I don't think these overgrown lizards are interested in having a nice cuppa and a chat,” Elaine snorted, giving him a bland look before hiking her backpack up a bit from where it slipped. Having narrow shoulders was not conducive to carrying heavy loads, “I am sure that if we find one you will have all the time you want to chat him up. And maybe we can figure out how to show these dragons what it means to be an Earther.”
Mitch snorted. “I'm not gonna ‘chat it up,’ just ask how they breathe fire and why they're so damn hard to kill. I like dragons, but I ain't exactly a scaly here. But yeah, good idea. Prove to this strange Vikingland that one Canadian and two Americans can start a massive shitstorm.” He joked.
“I dunno about that. I’m ready to sit flat on my butt and wheeze for a bit.” Meryl fisted the hem of her borrowed robes and hiked them a bit higher as she hopped over another stream.
“Hey guys?” Meryl panted, “Maybe it’s just my lungs burning from insufficient oxygen, but do you smell smoke?”
“I have an inhaler,” Elaine admitted easily with a grin before taking a deep breath through her nose and frowning, “but I smell smoke too. Not a wood smoke, though there is some. Do I smell sulfur? Smells a lot like the black one's fire. I think we're close if that black plume is any indication.”
Meryl groaned. “No… I’m really not up for another round with that thing!”
“Now that you mention it, yeah, I smell it too.” Mitch agreed. “But it doesn’t have to mean the big black one specifically. If there are multiple dragons, wouldn’t they as a species share a common way of making fire breath? Like, it could be a tiny little fucker that just happens to have a very loud burp?”
It was especially obvious that Mitchell was in a desperate attempt to reach by the pained expression on his face when he heard his own sentence. “I took like one bio class in high school, don’t quote me on anything ever.”
“That’s ok.” Meryl sighed, “I took several, and not a single one is any use here, apparently.” She pointed at the smoking tower ahead of them. “That… does not look good.”
“No shit.” Mitchell said in quiet exasperation. “Fuck, don’t need fancy PhD’s to figure that out. Let’s hope it’s just some friendly teenage arsonists who happen to have weird firestarters.” His voice went up slightly at the end of his sentence, trying to imbue a sense of cheery optimism.
He wasn’t fooling anyone.
“Mitch? Did… did your voice just crack?”
“We’re potentially facing another fucking crazy sky lizard and you’re concerned about my voice over that fact? Sort your priorities, man.” Mitch replied defensively, voice cracking again.
“Sorry!” Meryl squeaked, “I know it’s kind of a bad idea, but I’m not too proud to admit that I’m sort of half hoping you really can um… ‘chat up’ the dragon… maybe we won’t have to fight it this time? I know that sounds stupid given the smoking tower, but nothing here makes sense anyway!”
Mitchell’s jaw dropped slightly, before he clenched it and gave a pained look. He glanced away and then back again and let out an “eughghgh” noise. “If the dragon has magical shapeshifting powers and can suddenly become Daenerys Stormborn, or hell even her weird ass brother, that I can work with… But I like having a non-burnt, non-hurt dick thank you very much. This isn’t Shrek, as much as I fit the position of annoying talking animal.”
Meryl’s eyes went wide in shock. “I… I didn’t mean it like that…”
Mitch froze up, cringing. “She didn’t mean it sexually and I took it as sexually. Awesome job, Mitch! Think with head, not with dick.” He muttered to himself. “Okay, if magically for some reason we can reason with a dragon, I’ll try. If not, we get explodey. Plan?”
“I create an arrow-propelled grenade and hit the dragon with a boom?” Elaine grinned widely, and pulled out the longbow, “with about 60 pounds of force one can kill a buck. 120 might be able to puncture a dragon’s hide. Or put a dent in it.”
“That sounds good, but I don’t know that we’ll be able to get as many attacks on this one as we did the last time if that only partially works.” Meryl frowned in thought. “Elaine? How good a shot are you?”
“Firing left-handed? I'm a crack shot,” she grinned impishly, “This is an ambidextrous bow. And a longbow. You can put an arrow through an oak door with these.”
Meryl licked her lips as she considered. “Next question: how ballsy are you?”
“I'm a medic. We're infamous for being ballsy.”
“Ballsy enough to fire a grenade down it’s throat?” Meryl smiled nervously.
“Absolutely,” she grinned and picked out the straightest arrow she could find, “let's get’r ‘done!”
“Awesome!” Meryl clapped her hands together excitedly, before realization hit her. “Um, Mitch?” She smiled apologetically.
In the background, Mitch was still muttering “head not dick” to himself while staring into the distance. He snapped to attention at the call of his name. “Yes?”
“Sorry if this sounds bad in light of our recent misunderstanding, but… can you distract the dragon?”
Mitch sighed and shrugged. “Yes. Not with my dick. I’ll yell ‘fucker’ at it ‘til it starts chasing me.” He said firmly.
Meryl would have elaborated, but a man dressed like the guards in the city began yelling at them.
“Are you mad?! There’s a dragon out there! Get inside before it carries you off, too!”
Meryl stared at the frazzled man askance before whispering to her companions. “Does he realize that the inside is on fire..?”
“He's running on panic mode: not thinking beyond trying to protect people,” Elaine shrugged, “it's a common trait among those who are exposed to a traumatic incident.”
“Oh.” Meryl looked away from Elaine, cheeks burning. “I- I’m sorry. I guess you have to deal with a lot of that.” Internally she beat herself upside her head. Nice. Real tactful, there, Meryl...
“If we contain this, we might be able to help curtail this before it degrades into full-blown PTSD. I've got an axe in case it decides to get pissed off we're taking him down,” She grinned and pulled out a small handaxe, offering it to Mitch before rolling her shoulders back, “So let's get this dragon out of the sky.”
Meryl smiled feebly at Elaine before hazarding a glance inside the tower. This was not the time for self-recrimination. “Huh. Mostly stone, so it’s actually not so bad in here. If we follow the stairs to the top, we might be able to spot the dragon before it comes into range. That is, if it comes back.”
“The tower also could turn into an oven if the dragon comes back while we’re inside. Stone may not burn, but it can heat.” Mitch murmured. “We’re gonna wanna be fast.”
“Agreed. It might be the best vantage point for taking a shot, though the other dragon seemed perfectly content to perch on things and roast us rather than fly. In that case, being on the ground is better.” Meryl made an annoyed noise. “We really don’t know enough about these things to reasonably guess.”
“Depends on dragon stamina? This one might be a different subspecies. Are there dragon subspecies? How the fuck would we classify them?” Mitch asked, not really expecting an answer.
“Color,” Elaine spoke calmly, eyes narrowed as she lifted her chin to look up at the sky and pinpoint the beast. She took a deep breath and pulled the string back, taking aim as she watched it fly, “This one's a different color from the black one. I'll bet he's weaker too. Now let's get his attention, yeah?”
Meryl blanched. “Here we go again…”
“I s’pose I should go first?” Mitch guessed. “Well, wish me luck and think non-barbecued thoughts. Good luck with the shooty bit.”
With that the Canadian shot off suddenly, not quite running yet. True to his words, the first scream out of his mouth was a loud “FUCKER!!” The handwaving probably wasn’t necessary, and probably a waste of energy, but it seemed to get the beast’s attention fast enough.
Mitchell’s heart was in his throat as he turned tail and ran, goading the dragon into a chase as he directed it closer and regretted his life choices. His only comfort was that he looked decent in his borrowed leather armor. If he died today, he’d die as he lived: flaming, and sexy as hell.
“YOU!” Irileth bellowed as her men rallied around the tower, “What in Oblivion do you think you’re doing?!”
“REGRETTING EVERYTHING, NOW FUCKING GET TO IT!” Mitch yelled back.
The grey elf may have sworn in some unknown language, but whatever it might have been was immediately swallowed up by a string of barked orders. But even her fearsome command did not compare to the beast that descended upon them small party of warriors… and two scrambling civilians.
Great wings beat the air, sending powerful gusts of wind that threatened to scatter loose bits of armor, and those below dug their heels into the dirt in an effort to steady themselves. Their dedication to duty and uncertain courage might have seemed foolish to the dragon, for it roared in an almost amused manner and belched flames over their heads.
Meryl hoped she hadn’t just sent Mitch to his death by drawing the dragon’s attention.
“Hold your positions!”
Elaine didn't speak as she pulled the string back to her ear, her gaze on the dragon as she bared her teeth and narrowed her eyes. One shot, but one would be all that was needed. A burst of focus, a red fire rune etching itself against the head of the arrow and down the shaft, and then she released it to fly at the dragon's head.
Mitchell gritted his teeth, slowing in his steps as the dragon locked eyes with him. For a moment he saw his life flash before his eyes. The dragon threw flames the same way he threw one-liners and sarcasm, with great vigour and a look of victory upon it. Mitch stood frozen before the dragon’s gaze, just as an arrow whizzed past his head and struck the dragon and drew its attention away from him. He sidestepped quickly, dodging away from the enraged bout of flames that came barrelling towards him.
Meryl flinched and bit her lip. Mitch seemed fine for now, but her inability to do much of anything wasn’t helping her nerves.
Elaine bared her teeth in a grin as the beast turned towards her and drew another arrow, runes forming on the tip of this one as well before she lined up the shot. She had very little to hit, the scaly hide a suit of armor that protected the beast from even the harshest blows. While Meryl and Mitchell were very much inclined towards pursuits of the mind, she was more of a follower of the path of instinct and a more animal drive. Not that she minded. She wanted to take down that overgrown lizard and show all her power of destruction!
Meryl stood by as Elaine lined up her shot. Her hands balled into fists to keep them from shaking, biting her lip till she tasted blood, chanting the word steady silently, over and over, though whether it was meant for Elaine or for herself she did not know.
Elaine waited until she was sure, the beast giving her a look that had her grinning widely as she released her shot. The arrow sang in her ears, though it was no louder than any other, aimed at the gathering fire in the dragon’s maw as it opened its voice to Shout out words of power.
From where he had sidelined himself, Mitchell watched Elaine’s arrow fly with bated breath. Blood pumped in his ears even louder than before, fuelling a growing power trip that rushed through him. He’d never wanted to throw himself into battle like this before. It was like riding the high of the entire battlefield. It was like Satan was trying to yank his soul out through his kneecaps.
The arrow flew true, but the dragon saw the magic and banked. Too late it twisted away, saving its face but leaving it’s side and vulnerable wing to the not-so-tender mercies of the rune which exploded as it hit the joint of his wing, nearly ripping it off at the impact spot and sending him crashing to the ground with an enraged bellow of pain.
Irileth was shouting new orders with this development, but Meryl could hardly hear the exhilarated cheers of the soldiers over the pounding of her heart in her ears. The dragon, though downed, was no less dangerous on the ground, it’s massive tail swinging wildly and smashing into the bodies of those who had gotten too close. And who could forget that the frenzied creature could still breathe fire?
“Elaine!” Meryl cried out in horror, “I can’t see Mitch!”
Knocked flat on his ass by the sudden rush of wind as the dragon fell, Mitchell was making a frenzied attempt at rolling as far as he could away from the dragon. A quiet mantra of FUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCK poured from his lips as he rolled far enough to grasp at the axe of a fallen guard. He heaved himself to his feet as he gripped the handle tightly. The axe itself wasn’t built for throwing, that much was clear; but the going was getting tough. The not-tough have to improvise sometimes.
Mitchell surged forward with the axe in hand, swinging it with all of his might and letting it fly. The axe embedded itself in the side of the dragon’s throat. A wild slash of the dragon’s claw broke the handle off, but the head itself stayed firmly buried in the dragon’s throat.
“MITCHELL!” Elaine charged in, a sword in her hand and her face grim with determination. Unlike Mitchell, she was one of the tough and she had seen the axe land a damaging blow. A blow she would use to her advantage. She gave a roar of challenge at the beast, waving the sword high to distract it. Mitch had wounded it, but she had inflicted greater harm herself, “Have at you, ya fucking mutated piece of shit! I’ll rip yer other wing off too and shove them both up your fucking ass!”
Elaine drew away the dragon’s attention, and Mitchell seized his chance to run. He shot off like a bullet, charging away from where Elaine attacked and back towards Meryl as fast as he could. He’d played his part; it was time now to stand back and let Elaine take the lead.
The dragon reared his head with difficulty, and took a great breath, causing Meryl’s heart to skip a beat. “Watch out! He’s going to breathe fire again!”
“Shields up!” Irileth shouted.
Sure enough, flames came from the great beast’s mouth, but it seemed that the axe Mitch had left in the monster’s neck made it difficult. The flames sputtered and flared, but no steady stream of death was forthcoming. Meryl still desperately wished Martin had shown her how to conjure shields before he disappeared.
“Mitch! Are you okay?”
Mitchell let out a broken cackle and dived behind Meryl, bouncing back to his feet and raising his stolen bow as he thrust a fist to the sky. “Pretty great, I’ve almost died!” He replied, unnaturally cheerily. “I think I fucked it’s neck up!”
“I’d say leaving an axe in it’s throat definitely qualifies.” Meryl had her hands up in case she needed to… do something. The dragon breathed fire. She doubted throwing more fire would be helpful. She looked uncertainly in the direction of where the Medic had charged. “Can you see Elaine? I’m too short!”
“Look towards the screaming. I think she’s the one insulting the dragon and threatening to shove it’s wings up it’s ass.” Mitch said, pointing Meryl’s gaze towards where Elaine was fighting. “Can you see her or do you need a lift up?”
Meryl looked at Mitch skeptically. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea. Piggyback rides in the middle of combat seems vaguely suicidal.”
“I was thinking more of a rousing game of ‘toss the nerd’ really.” Mitch laughed. “Should I risk firing from here, or do we let the guards handle it here on in? And by guards, I mean Elaine, let’s be real here.”
Another spurt of fire made the decision for Mitch before Meryl could reply. Using all of his archery knowledge from high school and summer camp, he swiftly drew and arrow and sent it into the other side of the dragon’s throat, mirroring his axe’s placement.
“Nevermind, I think I’m helping. I mean, once in a lifetime. Well, twice for us. But, y’know. Lord of the Rings moment.” He rambled on as he let another arrow fly, narrowly missing the dragon’s eye and knocking into it’s horn instead.
While they were distracted arguing over the size and visibility of a short person, Elaine took advantage of the Dragon’s distraction to charge in under its throat and began hacking away with her borrowed axe. Not that it took much effort for a woman capable of hauling a man in full kit to his feet. The dragon’s blood ended up covering her from head to toe and she came to a sudden realisation that it might not be the best idea to be under a mortally wounded dragon. At that point, she decided it was a really good idea to move to the side instead and made to climb over it’s scales.
“Oh, problem solved!” Mitchell exclaimed. “Look, there she is! Our soldier, all armoured up and murdering a dragon.”
He wiped away a fake tear before drawing back another arrow and sending a shot into the dragon’s leg.
With the beast on it’s last leg, almost literally, Elaine reached out to grab its head spikes before hacking at the base where the skull met the spine.
“Oh, ouch!” Meryl winced almost sympathetically, “That has to hurt.”
“Burning also hurts; eye for an eye.” Mitchell laughed a little to himself as he sent his arrows straight for the dragons last leg, before glancing over to Meryl again and calling out; “If you could summon up some of that spider rage from before, we can knock out his last leg and help out Elaine!”
“I’m not nearly angry enough for this!” Meryl shouted back, fisting her hands in her borrowed robes, and tripping awkwardly towards the angry dragon. “I could enchant your arrows, maybe?”
“Be my guest.” Mitchell replied smoothly, drawing back another arrow.
Meryl reached a hand towards Mitch’s weapon and desperately hoped that enchanting came as easily to her as it had Elaine when the soldier had enchanted her own arrow when this fracas started.
Feeling a spark shoot up his arm and shock his hand, Mitchell watched as a bolt of lightning crackled alongside the shaft of his arrow. The longer he held on, the more the static vibrated through him. He let the arrow fly sooner than he meant to. His hand spasmed as it released the bowstring, and he swore loudly as the residual electricity sparked at his fingers. It fueled the second arrow he shot back before fading off and leaving his hand smoking slightly.
“Oh, hell!” Meryl froze up, face contorted in horror, “Mitch, I’m so sorry!”
“It’s no worse than a hand buzzer from the dollar store.” Mitch shrugged, laughing. “Hit me again, we’re helping take this fucker down.”
“But I don’t want to zap you!” Meryl cried.
Mitchell chewed his lip and glanced between Meryl and the dragon. As Elaine hacked away, the dragon threw it’s head aside, trying to toss her off. In its struggle it revealed the axehead Mitch had stuck into it’s neck, still lodged there. Feeling a moment of brilliance, Mitchell threw down his bow and lunged for Meryl, hoisting her up onto his shoulder. “Fine, don’t zap me. Zap the neck! Axe! Thing! Lightning does shit with metal, right?”
“This is my life now. Hoisted up and tossed at dangerous things.” Meryl laughed deliriously, occasionally winded by Mitch’s shoulder in her gut. “Oh, who am I kidding, how different is this from before? Oh, yes- in my past life, there were no dragons!”
“Eyes on the prize, my guy!” Mitchell shouted back. “We either die here or we kill this fucker and go home! Just sayin’!”
Elaine struggled to hold on at the sudden violence of the Dragon’s thrashing, dropping her axe to hold on tightly to its horns. There was no way she was going to be able to land another hit with how it was thrashing, but it left an opening for the light show that was about to go down.
Meryl’s shock magic gave out with a sputter. “I’m out of juice!” She flailed on Mitch’s shoulder, desperately wanting to get away from what was (in her mind) an even angrier dragon.
Dropping her abruptly, Mitchell lunged for his bow again and danced backwards with all the grace of a pregnant rhino. He drew back one of his arrows, now down to five of them. “Right, it’s on Elaine and good ol’ Lady Luck now.”
Elaine was a bit distracted trying not to fall off the angry dragon, but her hands were slick with blood and the dragon was whipping his head fairly violently. It seemed almost inevitable that her hands would slip. Her fingers lost traction and she went flying with a whoop of shock.
Irileth rallied her soldiers as Elaine smashed into what remained of the front line. “To her! If we lose these three I’ll have your heads!”
Even grounded and bloodied up, the dragon posed a threat. Death throes or not, it could still smash its tail into bodies, and fall on them as it died out of sheer spite. It didn’t look as though it would take much more to finish the creature off, however.
“I am so done with this shit! Put out it’s fucking eyes!” Elaine growled, pulling her pistol out and lining up the shot. Even if the damn thing was taking far too long to kill, they were not going to lose to an oversized behemoth of a lizard. She didn’t care anymore. At this point, she would gladly unload a full clip into the beast’s face just so it would stop being alive, “JUST DIE ALREADY!”
Multiple shots rang out, the beast reared it’s wrecked head, and it seemed for a moment that the air had been sucked out of everyone's lungs as the dragon turned on them, as though seeing them in an altogether different way.
There was thunder in the sky, a rousing roar in the blood, and the sky seemed at once dimmer and brighter than before.
When the dragon collapsed, a golden dust pulled from his bones and swirled in place for a moment before abruptly splintering into three and winding towards the trio in a serpentine fashion. Elaine had only a moment to compare it to the myths of how the chinese dragons flew before it wrapped around her in a rush of heat and golden glitterdust. She gasped, eyes closing as a memory jolted through her. Of home in the end of summer. Opening the door and feeling the blast of hot desert air that coiled around her like the warmest of comforts until it sank into her bones and vanished, leaving her shivering in the cooler plains air once more.
The light passed through Elaine and shot forth like an arrow, engulfing Mitchell before he could sidestep. It hit him like a brick wall and then rushed through him like water rushing through a brook. He was warmer than he had ever been before, like burning in the heart of a star. He felt the air escape his lungs and felt his heart beat like a drum. Adrenaline shot up and a barrage of energy fueled the blood in his veins. For a moment, he felt like he could run forever and never once falter. The rush passed through as quick as it had come, leaving him feeling the calming cool of a wintery breeze retake him and remind him of home.
The light struck Meryl with enough force that she thought she might fall, but instead, found herself feeling almost... lifted by it. It was sharp and cold, like the brisk morning air on a mountain hike, that whipped through her with a violence at once frightening and oddly welcome. It reminded her of her first attempt at skydiving, of how frightening, exhilarating, and freeing it had been... And then it was over, and the loss of that feeling was almost too much. Was this the crash after an adrenaline rush? It took a moment for her to register the fact that she was actually falling now, and she made no effort to right herself. But even as she landed in an undignified lump in the scorched grass, she felt the familiar tug of half-awareness that had bothered her so much in the cave.
“Guys… the wall… do you remember the wall?” Meryl asked feebly, uncertain if she would be heard over the excited clamor of Irileth’s soldiers.
“Are you alright?”
“Do you know what this means?”
Mitchell slipped past the sudden barrage of questions and kneeled at Meryl’s side, attempting to help prop her up on her elbows. He shushed her and glanced around, feeling a wave of anxiety overtaking him. He bit his tongue and tried to haul it back down, to little avail. “I remember the wall.” He said softly, watching the guards and wondering if this meant that they should start running.
Meryl’s head slowly became more clear as Irileth continued to bark orders. “There was a word, remember? We all…” Her mind snapped back to the present. “Wait, how’s Elaine?” She staggered to her feet, with Mitch’s help. “Is she okay?” Panic began to set in, even as the memory of the wall began to grow ever more insistent in her mind.
“That.. was fucking EPIC!” Elaine hauled herself to her feet, shaky after being thrown from the dragon’s head, but grinning in a fierce joy. They had taken down a dragon. A creature that didn’t exist except in fairy tales. A feeling ran through her, a burning need that she couldn’t explain. But it didn’t matter. She made her way to Mitch and Meryl, giddy with pleasure, “I kinda feel like yellin. How about you guys?”
Mitchell tossed her a thumbs up and pushed his hair from his eyes. “I am always screaming on the inside.” He said brightly. “And I feel like falling down and sleeping for the next year or two. That’s a coma, right? I could go for a nice, light coma right now.”
Meryl laughed feebly. “I feel like I’m going to burst.”
“Well I for one feel like a force a nature!” she laughed, tilting her head back and letting out a shout of excitement, “Come and get me you scaly bastards! I’ll rip your hearts out next time!”
“Wait!” One of the guards ran up to Elaine, breathless with excitement, “Have you tried Shouting?”
Irileth scowled at what remained of the dragon, as another guard ran up to Elaine. “Yes! Shouting! Like the legends!”
Mitchell blinked, and threw another sideways glance at Meryl. “I could go for a good scream right about now too, come to think.”
Meryl shrugged. “Why not?”
“... Are we going pterodactyl shrieks or William Wallace yells?” Mitch asked. “I want this circle jerk stress relieving exercise to sound relatively in tune.”
Meryl was pretty sure that the movie William Wallace probably wasn’t historically accurate, but at this point didn’t care about debating what was accurate in a world of dragons and such. “Whatever floats your boat. I have no particular preference.”
“Hm. Elaine, what’s your fancy?” Mitch prompted, cocking an eyebrow.
“What about what those stupid Norse mummies were shouting?” she grinned impishly, feeling the rise of sensation that felt like the blast of hot desert air, “Something forceful! Like Fus!”
Whatever Elaine said had seemed to make the world freeze for a moment. It took another moment for Mitchell to register the world was not frozen, and he was in fact being thrown through the air at a speed that would’ve made the flash look tame. The screaming started at about that point, with Mitchell shrieking as he shot backwards about fifteen feet and landed on his ass in the grass. The force of his landing knocked the wind out of him, and for a second his vision blurred.
Groggily, Mitchell pushed himself into a sitting position and yelled back to Elaine, “Yeah, that works too!”
“Are you ok?” Meryl called out tentatively, “That looked like it hurt!”
Mitchell gave her a thumbs up. “My ass has been fantastically abused ever since we landed here, at this point I don’t think it’s gonna get much worse!” He called back.
He struggled up to his feet and brushed the dirt off of himself, hopping back to the rest of the group. There was a slight twinge of pain in his lower back, but nothing really to complain about. Mitch could probably swipe a healing potion from someone if it started getting annoying. “Could be the adrenaline, but it’s not that bad.” He shrugged, adjusting his glasses. “I’m slightly more worried about the thing itself and the fact Elaine just did it, but that’s just me.”
“Oh shit,” Elaine had covered her mouth in mortification at the fact she had thrown Mitchell with just a shout. She hadn’t meant to, but it had happened regardless. She glanced over at the guards and the blue-elf with some concern, hoping they knew she didn’t intend on technically assaulting her friend, “What did I do?”
Their reaction was quite the opposite of what could be expected after accidental assault.
“That was Shouting!” One them cried excitedly.
“Yes,” Meryl stared at the guard confusedly, “But it’s not as though she meant to-”
Another guard cut in in amazement, “That means the legends are true!”
That worried Meryl. “What legends?”
“You didn’t know? The legends say that the founders of Skyrim, the first men of Tamriel, were Dragonborn.” The guards were only too happy to inform them, “In the very oldest tales, back from when there were still dragons in Skyrim, the Dragonborn would slay dragons and steal their power.”
“That’s right!” The number of excited guards was really starting to worry Meryl, “My grandfather used to tell stories about the Dragonborn! Those born with the dragon blood in them- like old Tiber Septim himself!”
“Wait… so, these ‘dragonborn’ can throw someone around like a doll with just a word?” Elaine asked, staring at the guards with some concern. That much power in her hands, let alone someone else’s? She glanced at the two others and the dead dragon before groaning and dropping her face into her hands, “This is gonna suck.”
The guards nodded excitedly, before one pointed out to the others, “I don’t remember any tales about Tiber Septim killing dragons.”
“That’s because there were no dragons when he was alive, you idiot!” Said another, as Irileth arrived and tried to get them to behave professionally.
Biting his lip, Mitchell glanced between the guards and furrowed his brow. For once, he couldn’t quite find the words to put to his growing anxiety and sense of danger. Something was wrong, but something had been wrong ever since they touched down. How could something feel unnatural if everything else felt unnatural too?
“... Maybe we should report to the Jarl? Let him know we iced the dragon?”
“A sensible plan.” Irileth nodded, at what was left of the dragon, “But I cannot leave this site unattended for now.”
“Come on, Irileth!” A guard called, her previous admonition forgotten, “Tell us! Do you believe in the Dragonborn?”
The woman scoffed, annoyance plain, “Here’s a dead dragon. Good. That means we know we can kill them. I don’t need some mythical Dragonborn. If they can put down a dragon, that’s good enough for me.” She ignored the petulant groans among her men, and muttered under her breath to Elaine, “Though the Jarl may appreciate some mention of the possibility. He has scholarly interest in such things.”
Irileth leaned back to address Elaine and her companions, “I would appreciate if you would report these events to Jarl Balgruuf. The rest of you!” She barked at her soldiers, “We have a perimeter to secure!”
“Yay, we get to be gophers again,” Elaine huffed, before smirking, “Man, the guys are never going to believe I killed a dragon. We should have taken pictures of the beast before killing it. Ah well, come on kiddo’s time to go back to the city. Maybe we will get to have a bath after this!”
Alas, a bath was not anywhere near enough in the future for the three Earthlings’ preference. Word traveled fast in Whiterun, it seemed, and the three found themselves bombarded by questions about dragons.
More concerning, were the questions about whether or not Elaine was the Dragonborn.
“There’s been talk amongst the guards. That you are… Dragonborn. But such a thing… surely that’s not possible…”
Rubbing the exhaustion from his eyes, Mitchell took his cue to trudge forward. “We came here from another universe somehow.” He said flatly, voice sounding gruff from all the yelling he’d done during the fight. “Of everything that’s happened in the last few days, that’s probably the least impossible thing.”
Possible or not, they had a report to deliver.
The gossip and constant speculation dogged them all the way to Dragonsreach, but even though the halls were silent, he could practically feel the questions radiating through the collective court’s eyes. Jarl Balgruuf in particular looked rather expectant.
Mitch sighed and stood up, straightening up to his full height and tilting his head back to meet Jarl Balgruuf’s eyes. “Long story short, the dragon’s dead. Short story long, when the dragon died it blasted out a light, and it hit Elaine, Meryl, and myself. Next thing we know, Elaine’s repeating something we heard in the barrow and I’m flying through the air, because apparently she shouted.”
Balgruuf cocked his head aside. “What did she repeat?” He questioned, narrowing his eyes.
“Fus. But she yelled it, so it was more like, well-”
T-2 seconds to shit hitting the fan.
Jarl Balgruuf was slammed roughly against the back of his throne, thankfully saved from head trauma by the cushioned back. His chalice was knocked from the arm, and several decorations smashed against the floor. The dragon’s skull over the throne shuddered against the wall violently.
Mitchell rushed from shock to panic in a fifth of a second and nearly tripped backwards. “Fuck, didn’t mean to do that!” He shouted, unsure if he meant to reassure himself or the guards who were currently pointing swords at his throat. “Didn’t know! Sorry!”