A Good Man Goes To War, Ch 3: Mercy





    Paarthurnax crouched in the sun-drenched snow, his wings held halfway aloft. The tension had his haunches and shoulders aching, his atrophied muscles quivering with strength he didn’t know he possessed.


    And for what? It’s not like I could fly away.


    He fought a strangely-human desire to void his stomach, but managed to clear his throat and swallow, instead. “Alduin,” he said again, taking a small step toward the black dragon curled in a heap at the foot of his eyrie, shivering and silent, his wings twisted around his body. “Brother.”



    Paarthurnax took a deep, ragged breath and forced himself to unclench. 



    He is your brother. This is your task. Breathe. 


    And he did, in and out, until his heartbeat slowed to a more comfortable rate. Almost back to the pace he’d enjoyed before Alduin’s homecoming – before the world, or at least his small corner of it, had gone mad.


    He’d been waiting on his eyrie, drifting in and out of sleep, when something roused him to full alert. Vague discontent niggled at his gut for a moment or two before he realized what was wrong – it was too quiet, even for his solitary mountain. Pale, pink light shone above the eastern horizon, but the birds and insects that usually carolled in the dawn stayed in their nests, hushed and still. Even the wind had died down, but the resulting silence wasn’t one of peace – tension sang through heavy air, and the world held its breath, waiting on something of its own. Paarthurnax blinked. The time wound shimmered and pulsed with light.


    At once, everything stirred to life. Wind and breath drifted around the mountain, and Paarthurnax took in a deep breath of his own, ready to exhale a sigh of relief. But relief never came – instead of waning, the tension built, climbing higher and higher. The air didn’t simply move – it flowed toward the time wound – and not only air, but sound and light and the very breath within his lungs, everything rushed toward the tiid-ahraan in an increasingly frenzied stream. Paarthurnax found himself caught in the throes. His heart raced and his blood surged with an intensity he’d only felt in the height of battle, boiling beneath his skin and goading him to action he could no longer take – he needed to run, to sink his claws into an enemy, to fly away from his cursed prison, and he roared into the wind at the unfairness, his wasted years and wasted life.


    Paarthurnax roared once and again, his lungs empty and burning and his every nerve on fire, and the building tension finally reached its zenith. For one moment, perfect stillness reigned, and he waited. For he knew – the mountain had breathed in life, and when she exhaled again, life would follow swiftly, this time on black, angry wings.


    But the dragon didn’t know everything: the mountain didn’t exhale – she screamed, exploding into fury. Winds shrieked and orange clouds lightened the skies, once again raining fire and storms on the mountain’s peak. The time wound, normally the size of a small fox, grew until it dwarfed even Paarthurnax himself and spun with blinding speed, its edges rimmed in fire and crackling sparks.


    Paarthurnax shielded his eyes from the storm and stared at the fiery wheel, entranced. The stars and planets and luminous blue had given way to orange clouds and angry roars and the screams of battle. He covered his thudding heart with a claw.


    The last battle.


    He clunked down from his eyrie and limped across the peak. Except for the fire limning its edges, the time wound blended seamlessly into his own air and sky. Past and present, touching for one moment and melding, indistinct and inseparable. Amid the storm, Alduin roared and laughed with all the good nature of a frost troll. And below his looming menace…


    My friends.


    Gormlaith, Hakon, and Felldir began as his most illustrious students of the Voice, but over the years, a common cause combined with uncommon valor deepened the connection. He never thought to see his brothers-in-arms again, but there they were, striding to meet the World Eater, their foolish and beautiful bravado bringing a wistful smile to Paarthurnax’s heavily-lined face.


    Alive, one last time. I could use your counsel today, old friends. Awash in nostalgia, he lifted one tremulous claw and slowly reached out toward the time wound…


    And the Elder Scroll snapped shut, its rollers clacking against the ground.


    Something black streaked toward Paarthurnax’s face, and he yelped and jumped to the side with athleticism he’d not displayed in centuries. One last crash, and the time wound closed and darkened. A light breeze stirred the air around the mountain, and within minutes, birds and insects chirped and sang in the watery, dawn light. Paarthurnax clawed his way back to his feet and shook snow from tattered wings, turning to face the enormous, dark shape collapsed near his eyrie.


    Wait for Alduin. Save him if you can.


    Paarthurnax sighed and tore his thoughts from the past – his old friends needed him no longer, he thought, turning to gaze at the enormous, dark shape near his eyrie. His brother, on the other hand…


    “Alduin,” Paarthurnax whispered a third time, lifting a wing to shade his eyes from the mid-morning sun, and stepped closer to his brother. Alduin had been ejected from the time wound at a frightening speed, skidding across the snow and crashing into the curved wall below Paarthurnax’s perch. One wing looked bent and possibly broken, but physical injuries were the least of his concerns.


    Alduin’s banishment from Nirn lasted four thousand years. In that time, the reign of dragons had ended, dead and buried in humble barrows all over Skyrim. Time itself had splintered and reformed, kingdoms risen and fallen myriad times over. Even the gods had evolved.


    His entire world, completely changed in a blink of his eye. Or so it would seem when he awakened.


    A groan sounded from the wall and slowly, Alduin rolled his great head over his shoulders and looked at his brother. His red eyes flared, and he twisted his body and tried to stand, putting pressure on his injured wing. Alduin – World Eater, Bane of Kings – cried out in pain and fell back down, supine, in the snow.


    Paarthurnax took a step closer, and Alduin roared, a weak gout of fire spurting from his maw. “No closer, brother. Traitor,” he spat. You may have won, but I know you betrayed me, dirtied our language, our very being – our power – wasting it on those –“


    Alduin broke off, squinting into the sky and staring at fluffy white clouds and golden sunlight. “What-“


    He broke off again and growled, twisting his head at an awkward angle to cast a glance around the silent peak, confusion dulling his eyes. “Where…the battle, the humans with the Elder Scroll, they were-“


    Alduin’s gaze sharpened, resting upon the snowbank behind Paarthurnax. He grunted and rolled over on his belly, using his one good wing to push himself up to a crouch. “Explain,” he said, desperation creeping into his voice as he stared at the time wound. The tiid-ahraan had shrunk and darkened, but could not hide from one who’d traveled its depths.


    Paarthurnax marveled. While facing what he believed to be his ultimate defeat, Alduin had threatened and blustered, brash and defiant as he’d ever been. But the presence of the tiid-ahraan truly scared him, and Paarthurnax understood. Coming to terms with a lifetime of years gone in an instant could prove to be quite the – what was the term one of his less eloquent students had used a few years ago? Oh, yes, he remembered, chuckling to himself. Quite the ‘mind-fuck.’


    “The Elder Scroll,” Paarthurnax said, glancing over his shoulder at the time wound, “was not an instrument of your destruction, as you feared.”


    “I feared nothing.”


    Paarthurnax inclined his head. “As you wish. The humans did not wield the Elder Scroll to hasten your death, but merely as a stalling tactic. The battle – our fight – was lost. You won, Alduin. Even given my defection, even given…dragonrend.”


    Both dragons shivered, unable to contain their revulsion and soul-deep terror. Paarthurnax gazed upon his brother with unaffected sympathy – he’d merely seen the Shout in action during the final battle, but his brother experienced it firsthand. Experienced his own mortality. An irreconcilable paradox, and yes, quite the mind-fuck indeed, for a dragon. Paarthurnax shivered again, and brought his mind back to the task at hand. “Felldir read the Elder Scroll to rip a hole in time. When it opened, time itself pulled you through, and spit you out here.”


    Alduin stared at Paarthurnax, his narrowed eyes lighting on his brother’s tattered wings and wizened body. “How long?”


    Paarthurnax swallowed. “Four millennia, brother, and a sprinkling of years.”


    “And our brothers and sisters?” Alduin’s good wing twitched. “My lieutenants, my priests…”


    At Paarthurnax’s level gaze, Alduin forgot his injury and threw out his wings, wailing in agony. He growled, and grasped at his crooked wing with a claw. “I do not believe you.”


    “I do not know if they are dead or merely asleep. Or gone, across oceans or through the barriers that separate our world from so many others. But yes, it is true. Four thousand years, brother, passed for you in the blink of an eye.”


    “How are you here, then? Awake, alone on this mountain?” Alduin shook his head, an uncharacteristically sympathetic huff escaping his jaw. “And why would you stay?”


    Paarthurnax didn’t doubt his brother’s momentary concern – their kind needed stimulation and society. It was part of the reason they were so eager to accept rule and domination over what they considered lesser species, and one reason Paarthurnax himself kept taking students over the centuries. Yes, they had their eyries for momentary retreat, but for the most part solitude was, as any dragon would agree and as Paarthurnax knew all too well, overrated. “It…was my task. To wait here, for you.”


    “You’ve been alone on this mountain with nothing but your own company? Over so many years? Centuries? Millennia?” Alduin shifted his weight to the balls of his feet and stretched his legs. “A punishment, indeed. Do you regret it, brother?”


    “Do you?” Paarthurnax’s stomach twisted. Had it been a punishment? He hadn’t considered it to be so, but…


    Wait for Alduin. Save him, if you can.


    Alduin snorted. “I regret nothing. I was born to rule, and rule I shall.”


    “You were born to destroy, brother, not to create your own empire. It was not your time then, and it is not your time now – this kalpa is young, its inhabitants still breaking against each other like rocks in the throes of creation, their stardust not even beginning to settle,” Paarthurnax said, his eyes pleading with his brother’s. “It is not your time.”


    “But I am still here, am I not? Our father has not seen fit to stop me. I will not be stopped by the likes of you.”


    “He is not the only power in play,” Paarthurnax said under his breath, and took a step forward. “Remember where you are.”


    “It matters not,” Alduin said, and backed up, his actions and flaring eyes betraying his confident speech. “You cannot defeat me in your grizzled state, brother. Even with my crippled wing.”


    “I am not here to defeat you. And you are not crippled,” Paarthurnax said, and took a deep breath. “Slen Haas Vokrii!


    Alduin stumbled back and growled again as golden mist encased his wing and sank into his flesh. “I could have done that, myself.”


    Paarthurnax raised his brow, but said nothing, watching Alduin wiggle his shoulder a little before unfurling his wings to full span.


    “Do not think this changes anything, brother.” Alduin rose to full height and flapped his wings. His roar echoed around the mountain. “You have picked the losing side, and I will not stay here to sink into obscurity with you. I will, however, leave you with your life,” Alduin said, looking around the mountain with a smirk before launching himself into the sky. “Such as it is.”


    Slen Haas Vokrii – a healing Shout I cobbled together. The words mean “body health restore.”


    Art by Fe-Iron, DeviantArt





3 Comments   |   SpottedFawn and 3 others like this.
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  April 5, 2018
    " this  kalpa  is young, its inhabitants still breaking against each other like rocks in the throes of creation, their stardust not even beginning to settle,”

    That was the highlight for me, although everything in this cha...  more
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  April 2, 2018
    Epic chapter! I could honestly read a series just about the two dragon brothers. The dialogue was great, and the descriptions were vivid. I know you are hoping for honest critiques, but I'm afraid I don't have anything to offer as a way of improvement. :)...  more
    • ilanisilver
      Epic chapter! I could honestly read a series just about the two dragon brothers. The dialogue was great, and the descriptions were vivid. I know you are hoping for honest critiques, but I'm afraid I don't have anything to offer as a way of improvement. :)...  more
        ·  April 2, 2018
      Thanks! They’re fun to write, those guys. And as far as critiquing goes, my head wants critique, but my heart definitely does not, so it’s fine either way! :)