Elspeth tried to stand up but the force of the Dragon’s roar pushed her down and she smacked the side of her head against the chopping block. “This is it,” she thought and just as she was about to let herself collapse into the dirt, she felt a strong hand dragging her away. Ralof hollered at her as he pulled her up, “Elspeth, get up! The gods won’t give us another chance! This way!”
Without looking back, she ran and as she approached the tower, Ralof shoved her forward as he jumped inside and out of the way of a massive chunk of burning stone. Ulfric Stormcloak was there with some other Stormcloak soldiers.
“Jarl Ulfric!” Ralof exclaimed, “What is that thing? Could the legends be true?”
“Legends don’t burn down villages.”
“I think that one did,” interjected Elspeth.
Ulfric and Ralof both gave her puzzled looks but did not respond as the dragon started howling again. A soldier grabbed her arms and cut through her binds. She rubbed her wrists but before she could thank him Ulfric started barking orders, “We need to move now.”
They followed Ralof up the tower but before they made it even half way up the spiraling staircase the dragon’s head came crashing through the wall. She stumbled backward, grabbing at Ralof, who was crouching into the steps. He pushed her forward and they both ran up to inspect the hole.
Ralof looked her over and shouted, “Are you okay? Can you keep moving?”
He turned around and pointed to what used to be the center of Helgen, “See that inn on the other side. Jump through the roof and keep going.”
She was nervous about the prospect of going alone and asked, “Are you coming with me?”
“Just go! We’ll follow when we can!”
Elspeth took a deep breath and jumped. She made her way through the inn and found a pair of Imperial soldiers coaxing a little boy to them as the dragon dropped to the ground. She held her breath and didn’t release it until the little boy made it into the arms of one of the men.
“Gods, everyone get back.” It was the soldier with the list. “Still alive Elspeth? Keep close to me if you want to stay that way. Gunnar, take care of the boy. I have to find General Tullius and join the defense.”
“Gods guide you, Hadvar.”
Elspeth followed Hadvar around the burning village. There were fires and stones and burning bodies and screaming villagers everywhere. Chaos reigned. For a moment Elspeth chuckled at the thought of a defense and wondered if she would find Ralof again.
“Stay close to the wall,” yelled Hadvar.
At that moment, the dragon swooped down. She felt the edge of its wing brush against her head and for some reason that frightened her more than anything else. She froze in her tracks, paralyzed with terror.
“Elspeth!” Hadvar had gotten ahead of her. She shook herself out of her fear-induced torpidity and when she caught up to him she could hear him yelling, “Ralof! You damned traitor, out of my way.”
“Ralof!” Elspeth screamed. She was so very happy see him.
“We’re escaping Hadvar, you’re not stopping us this time.”
“Fine! I hope that dragon takes you all to Sovngard. Come this way Elspeth!”
“Elspeth!” Ralof yelled, “Into the keep!”
She threw Hadvar a look of disgust and followed Ralof. Inside the keep she tried to catch her breath while he leaned over the body of a dead Stormcloak soldier.
“We’ll meet in Sovngard, brother.”
She looked around, unsure of what to say.
“That thing was a dragon,” said Ralof, “Just like the children’s stories and legends. The harbinger of the End Times.”
“If you say so. Where do we go now?”
“We’d better get moving. You should take Gunjar’s gear; he won’t be needing it anymore.”
Gunjar’s armor matched Ralof’s. She took his cuirass, boots, and gauntlets and put them on as fast as possible. Everything was much too big. Ralof looked at her and laughed.
“Let me help you with that.” He adjusted one of the straps and said, “That will have to do for now. My, but you are a tiny thing. Give his axe a few swings—and try not to fall over. I’m going to see if I can find a way out of here.”
Elspeth rolled her eyes and picked up Gunjar’s battle axe. Although she had considerable training with many weapons, the axe felt foreign and awkward in her hand—quite different from the sword to which she was so accustomed.
“Both gates are locked,” said Ralof.
“So, we’re trapped in here?”
“Could be, for now.”
They heard noises and shouting. Ralof turned to her, “It’s the Imperials, take cover!”
Ralof and Elspeth crouched just outside of the door and Ralof attacked the first soldier to come through: “Death to the Empire!” The second soldier went to help and Elspeth attacked him from behind. Ralof took care of the first and darted over to her. He was surprised to see her cut down the second soldier quickly and easily.
“Well, would you look at that? That’s quite an arm you’ve got there.”
They took what they could from the soldiers, including the captain’s sword, which was far more comfortable and familiar in Elspeth’s hand. They moved through the keep and found the storage room, which was a veritable treasure trove of potions and other supplies. Elspeth grabbed a satchel and filled it with elixirs for health, stamina, and magicka. She drank one of those and felt her casting energy return. She took lock picks, bandaging cloth, healing balm, and even some apples. And best of all, in the armory closet, she found a pair of boots that fit. She wasn’t thrilled to be wearing Legion armor, but it would be worth it to be able run without clunky oversized boots slowing her down.
They continued to make their way through the keep. In a torture room they rescued a couple of Stormcloak soldiers, Ólena and Holti. For a while it looked like the Imperials had cleared out until they reached the entrance to a large open room, where at least 15 Imperials had gathered. Panic settled into Ólena’s face as she whispered, “We can’t take them all.”
Ralof and Holti tried to come up with a strategy. It did look hopeless. Elspeth pushed her way past Ralof and looked into the room. She scanned the floor and walls, ignoring the soldiers. When she saw what she was looking for she smiled and turned toward Ralof and the others and whispered, “Get back!”
Ólena and Holti stepped back but Ralof was reluctant, “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Ralof, shut up and get back. I’ll take care of this. I’ve got a spell—”
“If you think I’m going to let you do something stupid—”
“Fine, don’t get back.” Elspeth darted back to the door with Ralof at her heels. With her left hand she cast, in rapid succession, a series of fireballs toward the floor where she had spotted a puddle of lantern oil and then around the rest of the room. The room lit up and exploded. Elspeth, however, didn’t watch; she turned around and pushed Ralof to the ground, covering him as best as she could.
She pulled him up, “Are you okay? Did you get burned?”
Ralof just looked at her wide-eyed and speechless.
“Come on!” said Ólena and the four of them pushed through the room, trying to avoid the smoldering bodies and looking for a way out through the lingering smoke. Ralof ran ahead and found a drawbridge handle and called over to them, “Let’s see where this goes.” As he and Elspeth made their way across the bridge, they heard the dragon howling and screeching again and suddenly the wall around the bridge collapsed.
“Damn,” said Ralof, “That dragon doesn’t give up easy.”
“Legends seldom do,” said Elspeth. “Well, we’re not going back that way now. What about the others?”
“They’ll have to find another way,” said Ralof, “we’d better push on.”
The bridge led to an enormous cave. They kept running, cave was fairly well lit from above but they took many wrong turns along the way. Elspeth’s optimism and energy were starting to fade rapidly when they turned a corner and found a brightly lit path.
Ralof clapped her on the back, “That looks like the way out. I knew we’d make it. Let’s go.” His enthusiasm was almost child-like and it made Elspeth smile
The end of the path opened into a beautiful forested area. The air was cool and Elspeth saw snow on the mountain caps to the north. She gasped in delight.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?”
“Yes.” And it was. This. This was the Skyrim of Runa’s stories.
“Wait!” She shouted. She felt that now very familiar rumble. They looked up to see the dragon flying off into the distance.
“It looks like he’s gone for good this time,” said Ralof.
Elsepth had a feeling that “gone for good” was not quite accurate, but they were safe for now. She breathed cool air in deeply and with her energy renewed skipped forward, following Ralof down the path.