Sunday, February 24, 2013

Fiction - Proven

This is a piece of fan fiction, set in the Elder Scrolls world, specifically the Skyrim region.  Bit of context: One of the Skyrim mods I play with is Frostfall, of which I am very fond.  Short version of the mod is that it actually makes Skyrim a dangerous, cold, northern environment like it's supposed to be.  This changes gameplay at a fundamental level in several different ways, because you can't just ignore the world around you.

Just so you have an idea of this character.
Most prominently, it changes some of the quests.  In particular, for this event, I was doing the quest Joining the Stormcloaks.  Normally this is a simple quest; you run to a nearby location, kill a relatively easy enemy, and run back.  With the mods I use however, and playing as I am currently with combat set to Master, everything changes.  A simple quest becomes a challenge just to survive the journey, let alone the enemy that I'm supposed to kill.

What follows is a fan-fiction telling of what happened to my poor beleaguered character.  I've taken some liberties in relation to game mechanics, and for various reasons I removed the fact that she's the Dragonborn.  Oh, and please forgive the character's name; it's one of the weirder character names I've come up with.

For no real reason, I've included pictures of my character.  I call the story "Proven."  Hope somebody enjoys it.  :)


With a heavy roar, Vlga whirled her axe in a deadly arc.  Her swings were on the verge of uncontrolled as she shook from the chill and her muscles ached from weariness; the blade of her dwarven battleaxe struck a nearby rock, sending stone chips flying.  The warrior paid no heed to any of it.  Neither cold, nor weariness were on her mind right now.  The Nord warrior knew only her enemy, and she ducked to the side as the vicious ice wraith lunged at her again.  Though slowed by the cold and a weary body, Vlga’s movement was enough to avoid the wraith’s attack, and the serpentine creature sailed past her and was forced to whirl around in the air.

Turning to face her attacker, Vlga grunted with the effort of doing so.  She was strong and healthy, and full of youthful energy, but the last several days had been very hard on her.  The haft of her battleaxe felt like it was emanating cold all its own, nevermind the cold of the air around her.  Even through the leather gloves that held her bronze-armor gauntlets in place, she could feel the skin-searing cold of her weapon.  Forged of dwarven metal, it seemed to absorb and hold a chill with a vengeance.  Her bronze armor was just as cold, and only the padding underneath served as any kind of protection.

Again the wraith lunged, but this time Vlga didn’t dodge.  Instead she brought her battleaxe up, tried to catch her attacker as it seemed to slither through the air.  She wasn’t quite fast enough, and her axe whistled past the translucent creature as it bit into her arm.  With a cry of rage more than pain, the young warrior lunged to the side and slammed her shoulder against the stone she’d struck just a moment ago, pinning the wraith between herself and the rock.  It screeched and writhed, trying desperately to free itself and fly away.

Behind the mask of her helmet, Vlga gave a grim smile.  She pulled backward quickly and immediately slammed back against the stone, catching the wraith between her shoulder and the rock again as it tried to slither away.  Its movements were slower now, and she could feel it crunch beneath the weight of her strength and her armor.  Again she pulled back and then slammed her shoulder against the rock, and this time the wraith let out one final shriek, flailed for a moment, and then disintegrated into a cloud of frost.

The exhausted woman gave a roar of triumph, and resettled her feet underneath her.  She wanted very much to collapse, to sit down and rest, but right now that would be a terribly bad idea.  Wind howled around her, seemed to rip right through her armor, and her armored feet were sunk into the snow up to the middle of her shins.  No, there would be no sitting down right now.

Vlga looked up toward the top of the little island, where she could see a circle of stones surrounding an ancient standing stone.  There was the image of a serpent carved into it; not surprising, given the island’s name.  She had no interest in the stone.

“I’m sending you to Serpentstone Island.”  She could still hear Galmar’s gravelly voice.  “If you survive, you pass.  If you die, well, you weren’t going to be much use to me anyway.”

Again the young warrior smiled behind her helmet’s mask, but this was a smile of victory.  She didn’t bother heading up to the island’s top, instead she settled her axe in its clasp across her back.  With hands that shook terribly, she pulled a small vial from a safe pouch on the back of her belt, and knelt to collect some of the strange, glowing blue ice into which the wraith had disintegrated.  This would serve as proof of her kill; now to complete the proof of her dedication.

With a grunt of effort, she stood and hurried back down the little snow-covered trail that lead to the spot she’d first arrived on the island.  She had first set foot on the island late last night, and it was not even midday now.  Her trip to the base of the island wasn’t long, not even an hour she guessed, and her campfire was still right where she’d left it; nestled close to a steep rocky hill that would help the heat emanate in one direction.  Her little impromptu tent was still in place, too.  Bringing her actual tent to the island wasn’t feasible, so she’d had to make do; the top of her fur cloak was tucked into a crevice of the rock face, and its bottom was held in place by a heavy stone.

Vlga hurried to her makeshift campsite and huddled underneath her cloak.  Placed as it was next to her fire, it caught much of the heat and held it fairly well.  Her fire was dying, and so before anything else she poked it with her axe to stir the embers underneath what remained of her firewood.  Not much was there, so she pulled the last two pieces from a nearby oil-slicked leather bag and added them to the fire.  That bag, as much as anything else, had saved her life today; without it to keep her cloak and firewood dry, she’d have died on this island.  As it was, she had a long…very long journey back to Windhelm.

As she removed pieces of her armor, she thought again on why she was here.  The Stormcloaks.  Just thinking the name—about how close she was to her goal—sent a shiver up her spine that was not at all caused by the cold air.  She hadn’t met Ulfric yet, though she’d seen him across the hall when the guard brought her in to meet Galmar Stone-Fist.  Even from a distance, Ulfric had been everything a young Nord warrior could hope to admire; tall, powerful, and proud.  With just the image the man cut, and nothing else to go on, Vlga would have been tempted to join his cause.  Everything else just sealed the deal.

She thought about this—about her goals, about Ulfric and Galmar and the Stormcloaks—as she began to drift off.  The sun was still high in the sky, but weariness and cold had taken their toll on her.  As warmth from her campfire filled her makeshift tent and soaked into her body, she let herself get some rest.  She dreamt of many things, and amongst it all she relived her conversation with Galmar.  Again she heard his speech to her.  It seemed, she remembered, to be a speech he said often.  Likely it was one he’d said once to a potential recruit who needed to be tested, and he liked it so much he now said it to everyone in that position.

Vlga woke with a start.  The sun had dipped very low on the horizon, and it was dangerously close to nightfall.  Her cloak would serve as a tent well enough during the day, but not for too long.  When night fell, and the temperature dropped even further, her cloak wouldn’t do any good at all.  As quickly as she could, she packed her armor away in the oil-slicked bag.  On the swim over to the island it had held her armor, her cloak, and firewood; at least this time it would be much less cumbersome without the firewood.  Once her armor was packed she stripped down completely, since no clothing would help her in this icy water anyway.  Once that was done, she took a deep breath in preparation.

As soon as she pulled her cloak from is place above her, the heat it had capture dissipated.  Cold air seemed to barrel in against her like a physical attack, and she had to grit her teeth against the shock.  She quickly tucked her cloak away in the bag with her armor, and tied it shut with a heavy yank to ensure no water would get inside; she’d need that cloak badly on the other side.  With a look to the water—the dark, choppy, freezing water—she didn’t let herself hesitate.  She grabbed the leather bag in a fierce grip of determination, and before she had a chance to think twice she ran toward the water and charged headlong into it.

The cold of it knocked the breath from her lungs in a heavy gasp, just as it had done before, but she didn’t let herself stop.  Now she was committed; now there was no turning back if she wanted to live.  As she hurried forward she tied the bag to her back, wrapping its cord swiftly around her waist and shoulders and slipping her battleaxe into the makeshift holster along the side of the bag.  When the water was waist deep she dove forward and began to swim.  The cold was unbearable; even as a Nord, raised in this frigid land, it was nearly too much.  She could feel it sapping the heat from her body like blood from a wound.

Doggedly, she continued on.  She swam with all her might, which was considerable as a lifelong warrior accustomed to wearing the heaviest of armor and wielding heavy weapons.  Every sweep of her arms pulled her forward a considerable distance, and each time her head broke the choppy surface of the water she could see the chunks of ice ahead were that much nearer.  Again and again she swept her arms and kicked her feet, willing that she could pull the entire ocean with her efforts.

An eternity later, as the freezing black cold began to crush in on her, she felt her hand hit the slush of ice that surrounded the large chunks that were her goal.  This was no relief for the freezing warrior, only acknowledgement that she had achieved one stage of her goal to survive this day.  She swept forward several more times, pulling herself through the ice slush until she could grip one of the giant chunks of ice that floated around this small chain of islands.  With fingers that didn’t feel anything, and arms that were very quickly losing their strength, she pulled herself up onto the ice chunk.  She crawled up atop it, and wanted to rest.  Everything in her body wanted to stop, even here naked in the snow, on a chunk of ice, and just rest.

With a heavy roar, a battle cry, she surged to her feet with every ounce of strength she could muster before she had another instant to think about laying down.  She reached one hand back to hold the leather bag in a firm grip, and the other to hold her battleaxe steady across her back, and she ran.  Her blue eyes scanned the ground ahead, as she carefully picked every step, and she ran.  The snow actually aided her here, since without it the ice chunks likely would have been impossible to run across with bare feet.  She ran across the chunks, leaping from one to another with quiet effort as snowflakes began to fall from the sky.  Paying them no heed, she ran.

The shoreline was far away, and she had to cross another small island before she ever reached her destination.  It was even tinier than Serpentstone Island, and she never allowed herself to stop running.  On the other side, more ice chunks provided her with a way to run, but the cold of her swim, and the air, was taking its toll.  Every breath was ragged now, and her limbs were shaking terribly.  She felt like she was weak, certainly not strong and healthy; she felt like she couldn’t possibly go on.  She just wanted to stop, to take a break and catch her breath.

Vlga gave another ragged battle cry.  She hadn’t been bested in battle, and she would not be defeated by the cold of her own homeland!  Rather than stop, rather than give in to her weariness and slow down, she sped up.  Each stride was longer now, and faster, as she forced herself to run even more swiftly across the chunks of ice.  Her footing was unsteady, and she risked everything, but she couldn’t slow down now if she wanted to live.

Ice chunks gave way to narrow strips of frozen muddy ground as she drew nearer to the shore.  Only the harsh, rough sounds of horkers nearby caught her attention, and she risked a glance to the side.  Though she wasn’t terribly concerned about the horkers, there had been a sabre cat stalking them last night when she had made the trip out to the island.  Sure enough, just ahead, she could see the telltale white fur of that same cat as it worked its way around a fallen log out of the horkers’ field of vision.

With a curse, Vlga came to a halt.  There was no way she could fight a sabre cat right now; it would be a great challenge even in ideal circumstances, and here she was naked and freezing to death.  Her feet seemed to settle into the ground of their own accord, and she could feel her body eagerly giving in to its own weariness.  There was no time to stop and ponder; she just picked a direction and resumed her run.  Her legs were sluggish, but she gritted her teeth and forced herself to move.  Circling around to the side, behind the sabre cat, she hoped that if she took a wide enough route the cat would be too interested in its horker prey to give chase.

She skirted along the edge of the little strip of land for some distance, moving behind the sabre cat, until she came again to chunks of ice and leapt out onto them without hesitation.  One chunk after another, as wind howled through her ears, and she leapt from one unstable perch to another with faltering, shaking strides, the freezing warrior suddenly found herself running across the beach she had so desperately sought.  Up ahead, the small campsite of someone she hadn’t met remained just where it had been yesterday.  With a ragged cry of relief, she veered direction toward the camp, exhausted steps brought forward until she crashed painfully onto the rocky ground in front of one of the tents.

Yesterday, before making the trip out to the island, she’d moved one of the tents closer in to the campfire in preparation for just this occasion.  Her firewood was still there, covered by a log to keep it free of snow.  Vlga dropped the bag and the axe from her back, and ripped the leather cover off her campfire.  Picking up the flint and tinder was difficult; she could barely feel them in her shaking hands, and couldn’t get a decent grip on them at all.  Shaking violently, it took her many tries to get any kind of spark, but somehow she got her fire lit.

Her exhaustion and the cold was rapidly overtaking her now, as she struggled to open her oil-slicked leather bag.  Pulling at the cord with numb fingers, it took her great effort to pry it open and reach in for her thick fur cloak.  She pulled it out with sore arms, wrapped it over her shoulders, and huddled close to the fire to let its warmth gather in the area of her cloak.  Warmth began to slowly fill the tent she was crouched in, and the cloak around her shoulders, as night fell like a hammer.

-Time Passes-

The next morning, Vlga woke very slowly.  Her eyelids were heavy, and her limbs felt as if they were made of metal.  She opened her eyes very gradually, to see that the sun had come up but it was not shining brightly.  Snow still fell outside her tent, and her campfire had died sometime during the night.  She groaned, and curled up in her cloak for warmth, but she knew that she had to move.  There was residual heat in her tent and her cloak right now, but it would not last and she had no more firewood.

Though she was still cold and weak, she was not shaking as she had been last night.  She pulled her bag into the tent, and donned her armor padding as quickly as she could.  For a few moments she debated whether or not to put on the rest of her armor, but eventually decided it was better to have it than not.  Without aid, and in the cramped confines of a tent, donning the armor was more difficult than it should have been, but she managed.  As the last piece, she donned her helmet and fitted it securely, giving a heavy sigh as she did.  It seemed that just putting on her armor had taken every bit of strength she had, and she wanted to curl up and sleep again.

Without firewood, staying was not an option.  Still, she had warmed up at least a little bit, and she was certain she could continue.  With a quick check to make sure her axe was secure on her back, Vlga left the tent and headed out into the cold again.  The sky was overcast today, and the snow was falling heavily.  Her footsteps up the hill away from the water were difficult—each step slipped and just lifting her legs was tiring—but she managed to reach the top.

She continued upwards, climbing the shallow hill for several hours, without incident.  The world seemed very quiet, without even much of a breeze to move the snow that fell around her.  Up ahead, her destination was visible at the top of the hill.  Surrounded by small copses of trees, she could just make out the rounded top of the ancient ruins which was her next waypoint.  She didn’t know what the old place was called, only that it was an ancient stone structure shaped like an upside-down bowl, with an opening at its top.  Within that structure, she could find a bit of respite from the elements.  There was a doorway in the ruins, and she had tried it when she first arrived, but it was locked and built very sturdy; she doubted she had any real chance of getting inside.

It wasn’t long before she reached the ruin, and with faltering steps she descended the spiral staircase along the inside of the cylinder-shaped opening at the center of the structure.  At the bottom, her own personal tent was still standing just as she had left it, sitting next to another campfire left with firewood and covered with leather just as she’d done with the other one.  This tent even held the rest of her belongings; a fur backpack full of food, and everything else she brought on her travels.  Eagerly, the young warrior hurried to light her fire, and as it crackled to life she sat down to pull some dried meat from her backpack.  She hadn’t eaten since yesterday morning before she fought the ice wraith, and now she dug into the meat ration like only a hungry warrior can.

With a sigh as she ate, she began to relax; the hard parts were over.  Now all she had to do was return to Windhelm, and—

The terrible roar echoed through her little stone shelter like the sound of Oblivion itself.  She could feel it vibrate through the ground, the stone around her, and her very bones.  It was a sound that she had come to know well in the past few weeks, a sound that had been described in legends for as long as she could remember.  With a sinking feeling in her stomach, Vlga looked up to see the trail of smoke from her campfire arcing up into the sky, a beacon for hungry dragons.  The beast roared again, nearer this time; it sounded eager and vicious.

There was no time to think, and Vlga didn’t hesitate.  She grabbed her helmet, thudding it onto her head even as she stood.  One hand grabbed her axe and backpack, and she slung the latter onto her back as she ran.  As she climbed the steps, lifting each leg with effort, she secured her helmet by the time she reached the top.  Looking to the sky, sure enough there was a dragon swooping down right for her.  The beast was not using subtlety—they never did—but was bellowing that terrible roar again as it hurtled toward her.  She gripped her axe, and wanted to stand her ground; there was no greater victory than to best a dragon.  Yet in the weak grip was able to hold on her axe, Vlga felt the truth of this situation.  She couldn’t beat a dragon on a good day; perhaps someday, when she was ready…but not today.

She waited, just a few seconds longer, as the beast swooped down toward her.  It opened its mouth to bellow, and shot a giant gout of flame.  Without any more hesitation, Vlga leapt straight down the side of the domed structure, rolling across its hard surface painfully as flames scorched the air above her and the spot where she had been standing.  When she hit the snowy ground, she surged back to her feet in a roll and lunged forward in a full sprint.  She slowed only for an instant to secure her battleaxe on her back, and then she was sprinting again.

The dragon was right behind her, and it was eager for the kill.  Vlga heard the rush of wind as its wings stirred mightily and brought the tremendous beast around in a great arc.  Just ahead, she could see a small ridge that might provide some cover, and she ran toward it with all her strength.  The beast roared again, and Vlga jumped off the ridge blindly, just as the dragon landed with a heavy thud where she had just been, its weight and its claws tearing apart earth and stone.  She landed heavily on the ground below in a shower of snow and rock, but didn’t allow herself a moment to stop.

Back on her feet again she ran, and this time she headed for a nearby copse of trees.  The dragon was right behind; a giant burst of flame barely missed roasting the woman in her armor as she pounded her feet through the snow.  At the copse she began to weave between trees, trying to give the dragon a more difficult target.  Flame roasted several trees to her right as she did, and she heard other trees shattering with loud sounds of splintering wood as the dragon ripped them out of its way with mighty claws.

Still she ran, and the dragon pursued.  The walls of Windhelm were in sight, and so Vlga did not allow herself anything but to run, and to watch for the next spot that might make the dragon’s pursuit more difficult.  She dodged around every tree she could, as the dragon tore them apart; she jumped and rolled down every ridge and small outcropping she found, as the dragon tore stone from the earth trying to reach her; she ran, and she did not let her body slow.  Her heart felt like it would burst through her armor itself, her lungs were on fire, and her muscles felt like they were going to tear themselves to shreds, but she did not have the luxury of giving in to pain or weariness.  The Nord warrior ran, and she neared Windhelm with every desperate stride.

In the distance, she heard the cry of the Windhelm guards.  Whether or not they saw Vlga amid the shower of snow, stone, earth, and wood that the dragon caused in its rending charge, she had no idea.  She did not doubt that they saw the dragon.  Hope soared in her heart as she ran, and she veered toward one edge of the Windhelm wall that would take her around the eastern edge, just past the water, into the city harbor district.  She saw guards on the wall, hurrying to battlements as they rallied to defend their city.

“Look there!”  She heard one of the guards shout, and with a glance she saw that he was pointing at her.  She did not wave, or respond, but continued her run at maximum speed.  The guards began to fire; she heard arrows whistling through the air and heard the dragon roar in fury at their interference.  Now, finally, it felt wrong to run.  The Nord warrior refused to run any more, not when her kinsmen were battling the creature that was chasing her.

“Skyrim for the Nords!”  Her throat was raw, but her battle cry was loud and powerful, as she reached to her back and drew her battleaxe.  In the same motion, she slowed her run and whirled around, feet sliding to a halt on the snowy ground.  Axe held firmly in two numb hands, she resumed her run in the opposite direction, charging at the dragon with a roar.  She raised her axe, even as she saw that the beast has halted its own charge.  Under a hail of arrows, the dragon’s easy lunch had clearly been spoiled.  It roared in frustrated anger, belched a bright hot flame at the archers on the wall, and turned to fly away.  Vlga never had a clear shot at the dragon, but she took a heavy swing that landed a glancing blow on the dragon’s tail as it soared into the air.  She roared one more time, waving her axe in the dragon’s direction, and fell to her knees with the last of her energy.

She stayed that way, kneeling, resting her axe handle against the ground and barely holding herself upright.  Her breaths came in deep, ragged gulps of air until she began to recover.  By the time she did, three Windhelm guards had arrived at her location.  She reached up with a shaking hand to pull the helmet from her head, letting snow fall on her sweat-drenched blonde hair.

“Are you alright?”  One of the guards asked, as the trio arrived.  “Who are you?”

Vlga smiled, through her exhaustion and the cold that still ached in her bones, a smile of victory.  She reached to her belt and held up the vile of ice that she had collected from the ice wraith.  “I am Vlga Bronze-Helm.  I am a Stormcloak, tested and proven, and I am here to fight the Empire.”

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