24 - Dragons

Delphine and he compared notes, and she decided that his description matched what she knew of the Karthspire, a Forsworn citadel in the Reach. "We can go there together, or split up. I'll make sure Esbern gets there, if you want to travel separately. That might be better, as would attract less attention from the Thalmor."

We'd already been in the area, but hadn't taken that fork in the road. I also wanted to go back to the Tower, and drop off some surplus supplies, maybe make a few more potions for the battle against the Forsworn - I just knew that they wouldn't be friendly and let us through.

"Kothet, what are you expecting to find at Alduin's Wall?" Zahra asked me.

"I don't have any idea, but if it gives me any more information about Alduin and the other dragons, it has to be useful. I don't trust these Blades any more than you do, but they're on our side at the moment, so I'm going along with them."

"Even though it means fighting more Forsworn? I though you were getting tired of that."

"You'd prefer that I'd find some more spiders?"

She gave me that look.

Actually, the one good thing about the Forsworn is that they generally don't keep spiders as pets. And I do enjoy combat, wherever I can find it. Even if a dragon gets involved, as it did this time.

We were just crossing the bridge that led to the Karth Valley, when it attacked from the mountains behind us. After blasting frost at us, it moved on to attacking someone else, a bit further up the road. That turned out to be Delphine and Esbern. When we united against it, it flew on a bit further, and attacked the Forsworn, instead.

That was helpful, and we stopped to let it do our work for us. However, it wasn't long before it landed on the hills above the camp to recover. The Forsworn turned their attention to us, and we'd have to fight through them to reach either the dragon, or the cave we were seeking.

Once the Forsworn were dealt with, we discovered a hagraven between us and the dragon. Since the dragon didn't appear to want to get involved, we had to deal with her to get to it. As usual, she attacked with fireballs, and our fire resistance was decisive. The dragon, however, was breathing frost, and was stomping in our direction as he did so.

By this time, however, Esbern had caught up to us, and was contributing his frost atronach to the fray. That creature is immune to frost, of course, and so was able to ignore the dragon's shouts. Zahra switched to firebolts, so that she could be more accurate at the expense of power, and I waded in with my war hammer.

With another dragon's knowledge gathered, we could now turn around and look for the cave entrance. Naturally, it was all the way over at the far side of the camp, on the other side of the valley. And there were more of the Forsworn inside. They can't have been able to hear the commotion outside, or we'd have dealt with them earlier.

Past that entrance chamber, however, we were on our own. The only things left were puzzles and traps, left by the Blades to ensure only their people could pass.

Esbern recalled the symbols on the pillars at the first puzzle, and explained their meanings to me. The one meaning "dragonborn" would be the obvious key, so I turned the pillars to all show that symbol, and a drawbridge lowered to allow us further in.

In the room we reached next, the floor was covered in tiles with the same symbols. Something about them reminded me of the flame traps I'd seen in other ruins, so perhaps it would only be safe to tread on some of them. A quick tap of my foot on the first one with the dragonborn symbol seemed to confirm they were safe, so I told the others to stay where they were and set off across the room, being careful to step only on those.

The path didn't lead to the exit, but there was a pull-chain on the pillar where it did end. I pulled it, and stepped on another tile, this one with a different symbol. Nothing happened, so either I'd just disarmed the trap, or there never was one. Whichever was the case, we could all walk through safely, now.

The chamber we entered next was larger than the others, and a large stone head stood on the opposite side, beyond a strange spiral pattern on the floor. Esbern told me the face was that of Reman Cyrodiil, and the spiral was a blood seal, and my blood was the key to opening it. Just a little of it, not all of it, he assured me.

A few drops from a cut finger was all it wanted, and the stone head revealed itself to be a door. It swung up out of the way, and we could see stairs in the passage behind it.

Delphine and Esbern spent some time lighting the braziers with their torches, and soon there was enough light to see the wall we'd come here for. A huge bas-relief, depicting dragons and soldiers, and with symbols in a strange language among them. They didn't look like the dragon language I'd seen on the word walls, but Esbern told me that they were Akaviri, and he had some knowledge of that tongue.

I found out from what Esbern read, and things he already knew, that the dragons had not been united in the past. In the dragon wars depicted on the wall, there was an Atmoran faction, known as the Dragon Cult, who had joined one of the sides, and revered "their" dragons as avatars of Akatosh. Mostly, of course, they were just using the dragon conflict to advance their own mortal interests, and sieze power on the newly-settled Tamriel.

The group of Nords that rebelled against the tyranny of the Dragon Cult also had dragons on their side, and learned the use of the Thu'um from them. The wall showed them shouting against Alduin, and apparently defeating him. But since he was now back in Skyrim, it was apparently not permanent. The wall also didn't give any indication what shout was involved.

Without Alduin, the dragon war had ended, with the Blades hunting down the dragons remaining. That part didn't make sense to me, as some of them were also depicted as allies earlier. But the Blades were Akaviri, not Nords, and presumably advancing their own agendas while they had the chance.

This fit in with what I already knew. If Alduin was the only one capable of restoring a fallen dragon, then without him, they'd be easily eliminated.

Since nobody knew what shout had been used against Alduin, it appeared that I'd need to go back to High Hrothgar to start my investigation. Nobody knows more about shouts than the Greybeards. Delphine seemed very reluctant to ask them for help, but my opinions and hers don't have much in common.

Arngeir reluctantly decided that this was all now beyond him, and I'd need to talk to Paarthurnax to progess any further. He was the leader of the Greybeards, and lived in solitude on the very top of the mountain. The path up was impassable to any without the right shout to dissipate the freezing winds that blew across it. They could teach me that shout, because I was the dragonborn, and so capable of learning it, but that was the last they'd be able to do for me. Anything further would have to come from Paarthurnax.

I was surprised to encounter goats along the way, but it seemed that they were as vulnerable to the cross-winds as any other creature. They just had the ability to climb up the slopes, and weren't confined to the path as I was. And there were Ice Wraiths, that lived in the areas between the "wind traps" and preyed on the goats.

When Paarthurnax turned out to be a dragon, I wasn't entirely surprised. I knew from Alduin's wall that the dragons weren't all on the same side, but he explained that the dragons of that time didn't really have any affinities with each other, apart from temporary alliances to gain a transient advantage. Each dragon was out to establish its own place in the pecking order, and Alduin had held most of the cards. He was the "eldest" - first-formed - and moved swiftly to consolidate his position above the others.

The humans - joor in the dragon language - were the ones that banded together in their struggles. The Nords that opposed the Dragon Cult (allied to Alduin) had turned to him for assistance. He'd taught them the Thu'um, to put them on an equal footing with the others, and they'd developed a new shout to use against Alduin.

"Can you teach me that shout?" I asked.

"Krosis. Apologies. I cannot teach you that shout, because it is not known to me. It cannot be known to me, because the concepts it holds are inimical to dragons, and that is why it can only be used against them, and not by them. The mortals devised it to use against Alduin, and it has not been heard since."

"Then how can I possibly learn it? It seems that I will need it, or Alduin will be victorious, and the world will come to an end."

"Is that necessarily a bad thing? Is this world not just the egg of the next Kalpa? Perhaps the world must end, so that the next may come to pass."

"I have reason to like this world the way it is," I told him, glancing over at Zahra. "The next world will have to take care of itself."

"A valid reason," Paarthunax concurred. "There is a way you might learn that shout. The humans used an Elder Scroll to cast Alduin adrift on the winds of time. Time itself was broken by that act. That happened here, on this mountain, and that is why I have been waiting here for his return. I believe that if you were to read that same scroll here, at the Time Wound, then you might be taken back to that time, and learn the shout from those who first used it."

Paarthurnax couldn't help me find an Elder Scroll, either, but he did suggest that mages at the College of Winterhold would be the ones to ask. Esbern might also have clues from his study of the history of the Dragon Cult, although knowing where it had been in the past might not be helpful in the present.