Tara crouched in the shrubbery and studied the bandits.
People had said Skyrim wasn’t civilized, but bandits, with a rock trap right along a major road? Truly uncivilized. Weren’t there patrols to keep these things in check? Tara shook her head. Now, she had to decide if she would try to go around them, or take them out by herself.
The bandits had situated themselves on small cliffs above the road. On each side were wooden platforms, with a bridge running between them. She could make out the rocks held high, ready to be unleashed by a lever onto the road. They could drop the rocks and kill, or block the road with them.
Tara watched for a few more minutes. There seemed to be only two bandits, one on each platform. Ready to release the trap and shoot arrows down on a surprised caravan, no doubt.
That was the big problem. They were both archers. Taking on one would leave her vulnerable to the other’s arrows. And she didn’t have a bow of her own. Just the axes and a dagger.
She didn’t like the idea of leaving them here, where they could attack innocents, but she didn’t see a way to handle them herself.
Get around them, then report them when you arrive in Falkreath, she thought. Surely, the jarl there would do something about them. That was the safe thing to do. Let guards handle the bandit problem.
She studied the area behind the bandit on the same side of the road as her. Thick pines, and the ground seemed flat enough. Plenty of ground foliage to use as cover. She was about make her way deeper and get far behind, and around, the bandits when she first heard it.
Roar was the only word to describe it. A roar of a type she’d never heard before came from somewhere above. Tara looked up immediately.
What was that?!
Like a reflex, her body tensed and she held her breath, as if a scared rabbit hiding from wolves.
The sky was a stunning blue. The day had dawned blue and bright, with few clouds to decorate it. It could not have been a more perfect autumn day.
Nothing. Nothing in the sky. Just blue and the distant clouds near the mountain tops.
She heard it again. A roar like nothing else in this world. Bears, tigers, nothing sounded like it. It dug into your bones and shook them. It was the roar of terror. The roar of death. The roar of a world’s end.
Then, she saw it.
That’s not possible. They’re long dead.
A thing of legend; something she’d read about in history books.
A huge, black dragon was flying above, headed northeast.
The size of it. By the Gods, Tara didn’t even know what to compare it to. Giants, orgres? They were nothing compared to the winged beast overhead.
A sense of dread hit her as it roared again, still heading northeast.
It was heading to Helgen. Where she’d just been this morning.
Tara took off running, heading back to Helgen. She gave no thought to whether the bandits might see her. She needed to get to Helgen, to warn them. Somehow.
Tara had arrived in Helgen early in the morning. Half the shops were still closed at that early hour. She’d wanted to get her tasks finished and make it to Falkreath by midday.
Helgen, more fort than town, had been strangely busy. Imperial soldiers were everywhere. Murmurs and talk seemed around every corner. She’d seen the telltale wood block being setup. An execution was happening today. She did not want to stick around for that.
Selling the bear hide, she’d chatted with the shopkeeper. He told her General Tullius himself would be arriving. That a bunch of Stormcloaks had been captured.
“I’m sorry. I’m new to Skyrim,” Tara had said. “Stormcloaks?”
“Nords who follow Ulfric Stormcloak. Think we should leave the Empire.”
“Oh, wow.” Tara didn’t know what to say. What a time to come to Skyrim.
“He killed the High King. Shouted him to death.”
“Shouted?” Tara had blinked.
“The Way of the Voice. Using your voice as a power. A Thu’um,” the shopkeeper had said. “Have to train with the Greybeards to learn it.”
Voice as power. Right. Tara had read something about it in one of the Nord history books. The Dragonborns of legend supposedly had the ability naturally. More abilities, like premonitions, she didn’t understand. Was it another type of magic? Divine wizardry?
“Thank you,” Tara had said. She’d finished up her sale, then headed to the nearby general goods shop. She’d bought more healing potions, and found a couple of simple shirts, to replace the bear ruined one. She’d taken note of the town as she headed out towards Falkreath. Besides the Imperial soldiers, almost everyone else was a Nord. She had spied another red haired Breton, chatting with someone, right before she left the town’s edge.
Well, there you go, she’d laughed to herself. Skyrim is a little more cosmopolitan than Cyrodiil would have anyone believe.
Tara sprinted back to Helgen, stopping to catch her breath when her lungs insisted. Why did it feel like it was taking forever to get back?
She heard more roars, and soon, screams.
Tara came around the final corner, the place where Helgen had first come into view to her not that long ago, what now seemed years ago.
She realized she’d stopped and dropped to her knees. What had been Helgen was black smoke, fire, and death. What if she’d lingered and visited with people this morning? She’d be in there.
You’d be dead.
Tara got up off her knees and made a final sprint to the outer walls. She could hear all the fires crackling, raging. Smoke blocked much of her view. She called out.
“Can anyone hear me?”
She realized what was missing from the crescendo of noise from the fires. The thing she’d heard while running, but now was missing in the destruction.
Screams. No one was screaming. No voices of any kind.
Tara stumbled through the smoke. The building where she’d seen the other Breton had collapsed. The shop where she’d sold her bear hide was a smoldering mound. The towers to the fort at least looked to be standing, though collapsed stones blocked the doorways. She stepped towards them, maybe she could help the injured inside. Then she saw the bodies.
Black, burned bodies. Some frozen in a final, dreadful pose. Had the dragon spewed fire at them all? Had they died instantly, obliterated before they knew what was happening? Could feel anything?
Tara realized she was crying, tears freely streaming down her face. The terror they all must have felt in those last moments. So many bodies. An entire town. All those soldiers. That shopkeeper she’d chatted with. He’d been alive just hours ago.
Anguish overwhelmed her and she felt a wave escape, radiating outward. There was nothing left for it to destroy, though. Nothing that hadn’t been destroyed already. She was standing not in a fort or town. She was standing in the middle of an ashen hell, surrounded by collapsing stone. Another reminder fire could destroy stone. At least she hadn’t caused this destruction. All she could do was bear witness. There was no one here left to help.
Calming, she looked up at the sky. Where had the dragon gone? No idea. The sky gave no clues and she couldn’t hear anything outside of the roar of the fires still burning.
She needed to tell someone. If no one had survived this, she was the only one who knew what had happened. Dragons were back.
Get to Falkreath. Tell the jarl.
Helgen was part of his…hold? That’s what they called their counties.
Yes, getting to Falkreath was urgent now. People needed to know what happened here.
Tara turned her back on Helgen and headed to Falkreath, again, for the second time in one day.