Chapter 86: Shock And Thaw

As I watch the scurrying townsfolk, the screaming children, and the panicked guards trying to maintain discipline in the face of a dragon attack, my first thought is not now, you miserable lizard. It’s been a long, brutal day of nonstop travel and fighting.  I’m tired.  I’m cranky.  I’m getting chilly and all my muscles ache.  The last thing I want to do is fight another ornery wyvern and be the big damn hero.  Again.

Even the inspiring sight of my beautiful badass wife is irritating me.  Why in Oblivion did the Divines decide that I was the Dragonborn?  Why not pick Jenassa instead?  With her disciplined and whip-smart mind, she’s far better suited for the role — not to mention she’s a damn sight more useful in a fight.  But no, instead my beautiful badass wife has to constantly back up my sorry ass while I flail around like a gutless mudcrab.  I can’t help but feel like this whole Dragonborn racket is nothing more than a big joke the universe is playing at my expense.  Or maybe it’s simply setting me up.  Like Roddy did.

And now this dragon.  Septims to sweetrolls, it’s probably the same fire-breathing nuisance that we saw on the road earlier, here to hunt me down after frying the giant into charcoal.  Well, it certainly picked its time.  I’m weary of the whole business and unlikely to fight well in this frame of mind.  In fact, I’m tempted to leave here with Jenassa, head back to the Greybeards, and say, “Take these Shouts back and find some other sucker.  I quit.”

Yeah, right.  Who am I kidding?  Now I see why those shaggy old geezers are perched way up there on High Hrothgar.   Before I could officially quit, I’d have to trudge up that ridiculously long freezing cold mountain trail all over again, which would take a whole lot longer than this pesky dragon fight.   Crafty bastards.

Truth is, the game was rigged from the start.

The dragon roars its challenge, a formidable sound that sends the last of the civilians racing indoors.  Now we’re left to defend the town with just a handful of guards, and I’m not exactly enthusiastic about our chances.  Except for the stone guard towers and the bridge itself, most of the buildings are made of wood and thatch — and they’ll probably go up like kindling as soon as the first spark of dragonfire touches them.

As if in response to my pessimistic speculations, the scaly brute swoops down onto the roof of the inn and opens its maw in our direction.  But much to my surprise, instead of dragonfire, a stinging wave of intense cold washes over us.

 Not the dragon I was expecting.  Either that, or it does remarkable impressions.

As if Skyrim isn’t chilly enough — but at least we don’t have to worry about the town going up in smoke.  It’s a minor benefit, but at this point, I’ll take whatever advantage we can get.  With a pronounced exhalation of relief and a serious effort of will, I focus some energy into my tired muscles and race ahead to join the fight.

Beside me, I hear the twang of a bowstring as Jenassa looses an arrow, which finds its mark in the enemy’s face.  Shaking its head to be rid of the irritant, the dragon flounders off the roof and lands on the ground with a heavy thud.  I’m about to follow my wife’s example and release an arrow, when one of the guards dashes ahead of us, bow raised, and takes aim from point-blank range.  From here, he looks incredibly brave — but also incredibly stupid.

From the refrigerator into the deep-freeze.

After turning the unfortunate guard into a snowman, the dragon lifts itself into the air and prepares to make another pass over the town.  The guards immediately release a barrage of arrows after it, but most of these missiles do little more than embed themselves in the surrounding buildings, leaving the dragon practically unscathed.  Great.  Nothing like a bunch of useless allies to really liven up a fight.

Worse yet, it’s becoming apparent that the dragon isn’t the only thing that’s dangerous.  As the sun sets below the horizon, its warmth is retreating along with the light.  In other words, if we don’t save the town pretty soon, just the cold air alone may kill us.

At least I’m not starving — but a well-fed corpse is still a corpse.

Realizing that using my bow against this dragon is scarcely more effective than throwing rocks at it, I tear open my pack in a frantic search for anything that might conceivably give us an advantage.  My fingers close on a tightly-rolled scroll, and as I bring it up to the fading daylight, my eyes widen in recognition and no small measure of anxiety.  Right.  This has a non-zero chance of going badly wrong, but desperate times and all that.  I just hope my summoning experiences with Mr. Wuffles and Barbie will be enough for this attempt.

Okay, dragon.  Get ready for your shock treatment.

Amid the roaring of the dragon and bellowing of the guards, I try to shut out the noise around me and concentrate on nothing but the words written on the scroll. Hands to my ears, I chant the inscribed verse in an undertone — slowly, deliberately.  Then about halfway through, it’s as if the enchantment itself brings forth the words from my lips, drawing them out, summoning them from an unknown region deep inside my mind.  As the last word is spoken, a breath of savage magic seems to hang in the air.

For a moment nothing happens, and I’m starting to think I misread the scroll after all — when there’s a sudden burst of brilliant light and a noise like thunder, temporarily blinding me and scaring the hell out of the already agitated guards.

All charged up and ready to go.

Crackling with intense bursts of violet light, the storm atronach turns from me and immediately starts tracking the dragon as it continues circling the town.  Relieved that the elemental doesn’t seem to be interested in attacking anyone on the ground, I reach for my bow and nock an arrow, ready to shoot as soon as the enemy is within range.  Something tells me it won’t be long now.

Suddenly the atronach releases a burst of lightning into the sky.   It arcs toward the enemy in a blaze of light, hitting the dragon square in the chest and causing it to howl in pain as its muscles seize.  The beast recovers rapidly, but not before it loses a great deal of height and comes within striking distance — and we certainly don’t hesitate to strike.

You could say we’re taking the enemy by storm.

The dragon struggles to regain some altitude, but only manages an awkward half-circle around the town before it crashes at the back of the inn near the guard tower.  The storm atronach and I press our attack, but in seconds I’m fighting solo as the elemental flashes out of existence.  Aw darn, and I didn’t even have time to give you a name.  Thanks for the help, buddy!

Jenassa and the guards run forward to back me up, but this dragon seems tougher than most.  Now that the regular lightning bursts have ceased, it soon recovers complete control of itself and resumes its assault.  Unfortunately it also seems to have identified me as the problematic mortal who first summoned the atronach — and it’s not about to forgive and forget.

Unlike Queen Elsa, the cold really does bother me.

The dragon releases the full power of its Thu’um in my direction, and a literal hail of razor-sharp ice pellets slices into my skin.  Dozens of bloody cuts start to appear on my exposed flesh, and it’s getting exponentially harder to fight.  Everything starts to slow down as it takes all my effort to simply raise my arm, grab an arrow, nock it to the string, take aim and shoot… raise my arm… grab an arrow… nock it… to the… the string… take… aim… cold… so cold…

The town around me vanishes in a vast cloud of icy fog.  My ears are filled with the roar of the dragon and howl of the hailstorm surrounding me.   And as my limbs start to freeze, there’s a part of my brain gently advising me to just lower my weapon, lie down, and go to sleep.  It sounds like such a reasonable suggestion that my eyelids droop in response, and my bow slowly drops from my hand.

Then dimly, as if from far away, I hear Jenassa cry out.  I don’t hear what she’s actually saying, or if she’s saying anything at all — but the idea of my wife in possible danger sends a jolt of alarm through me.  And just like that, I’m wide awake again — and I’m pissed. 

Injured, bleeding, and half-blinded by hail, I don’t even try to look for my bow.  Instead, with the last dregs of my willpower — and a great deal of stupidity — I grab Dawnbreaker and charge straight into heart of the storm.

SHUT! YOUR! FACE!  (My version of the Clear Skies Shout.)

With a deafening cry that ends in an eerie death-rattle, the enemy crumples at my feet with a single gaping slash across its throat.  Thanks be to Meridia!  Perhaps it was because I was fighting a frost dragon, but somehow the Daedric flame of Dawnbreaker seemed to slice right through its scales.  Or maybe I was just that damned angry.

And a few moments later, as its corpse settles into the dirt, it bursts into a brilliant, familiar blaze as I absorb another dragon soul.

Spring thaw arrives early this year.

Working fast, I recover what I can from the corpse — arrows, bones, scales — as well as a large pile of freshly-smoked dragon meat.  As the otherworldly flames swiftly consume the remains, I hear a hesitant shuffle from somewhere behind me.  Turning, I catch sight of one of the guards.  He approaches me with considerable caution and reaches out toward me, silently offering me my abandoned bow.

Moments later, the only fires that remain are those of flickering torches.   Alongside my wife, the town guards stand in a ragged line behind me, a silent testament to the hard-fought victory of Dragon Bridge.

All that fire, and I’m still freezing my ashes off.  Let’s get inside.

Stiff with cold and fatigue, I turn and let Jenassa guide me around the building and over the threshold of the inn.   The Four Shields tavern is hardly a busy place, but perhaps that’s to be expected when most of the townsfolk ran for the nearest shelter when the dragon first attacked. I can’t say I blame them if they aren’t inclined to venture out again tonight.

The innkeeper is a friendly middle-aged woman with a motherly smile, and she greets us with more warmth than a hot mug of spiced mead.  Speaking of which, that sounds like a great idea.  And also a hot meal.  Plus a nice warm bed.  And maybe another mug or three of that mead.

Getting the cold out might require most of your booze.  Hope that’s not a problem.

Over the chattering of my teeth, Jenassa asks for our dinner to be served in the best room they have, after handing the woman a substantial sum of gold.  I guess the innkeeper doesn’t usually see that many septims at once, because she immediately shows us to quite a nice room, and even offers to heat up some water right away for a private bath.

At this moment, in my personal opinion, this officially qualifies her as the best innkeeper ever.

Friendly, considerate, and honest as well?  Jenassa, tip the nice lady.  A lot.

Still supporting me (and still speaking over my chattering teeth), my wife asks the innkeeper for the heartiest and most delicious meal she can provide.  The woman hesitates slightly at this request and promises to do her best, but adds that the last shipment she ordered never arrived.  This means that the inn is currently short on certain staples — such as fresh meat.

At this, I can’t help but grin.   Here, lady.   Take all you want.   No really, I’m glad to help.   Just make it taste good.

And keep the change.

 

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