Although there was the usual tension between Selene and Delphine, the women behaved themselves for the most part and they arrived at the bridge heading north to the Karthspire without incident. That was as far as they got, though, because a dragon attacked when they were halfway across the bridge. It hovered over them and spat frost while the fighters pelted it with arrows and Esbern lobbed firebolts at it. It swooped away, and they ran for solid ground, ready when it came back. It landed before them, and Brynjolf switched to his sword, but Selene and Delphine still stood back and shot. Esbern conjured a flame atronach, who assisted him with his incendiary assault. Brynjolf took a full blast of frost from the dragon and dropped to the ground. Selene’s heart wrenched, but he called out, “I’m okay,” before she could panic. The dragon took to the air and they aimed their bows again, but they couldn’t get a good shot until it stopped moving. It finally came back, hovered, and set its sights on Brynjolf, who was just getting to his feet.
“A little help, Kynareth?” Selene whispered as she aimed and shot. The arrow hit the dragon in the head. It screamed, soared briefly, and crashed to the ground. She approached the dead dragon, who began to disintegrate.
This one was a female, and her name was Kulaasdoiiz—Princess of Ice. “Hi los bahlaan paalle,” she whispered as her soul entered Selene’s body.
Selene looked up at the others. “She said we were worthy foes.”
Brynjolf chuckled. “You mean one actually didn’t curse you?”
“It happens from time to time.”
“Amazing!” Esbern exclaimed. “I had imagined what it would be like, but I never…you truly are Dragonborn. And you’ve learned their language?”
“I’m learning.” An arrow sailed past her head. “Forsworn!” she cried, and they all dove for cover. She drew her bow and searched for the sniper. As soon as she spotted him, she loosed her arrow and he fell from the parapet on which he stood. They started moving cautiously toward the Karthspire redoubt, which was comprised of a series of wooden bridges and platforms strung across the Karth River along with stone structures on either bank. She hung back and fired arrows while Delphine and Brynjolf engaged the Forsworn hand to hand. Esbern conjured a storm atronach, which looked to Selene like nothing more than a swirling mass of rocks. It was effective, though, shooting lightning from its stony fingers and laying more than one Forsworn out.
There must have been twenty of them, and as Selene and the others worked their way through the redoubt, they all sustained non-life-threatening injuries. Selene took the worst of it when she got too close to a hagraven, who shot flames at her and singed her shoulder. “What?” she groused. “Do you people have a newsletter or something saying, ‘Don’t forget to throw a fireball at Selene’s left shoulder?’”
“You speak in riddles, werewolf!” the hagraven screeched, hurling more flames at her.
“Damn you! See how it feels. Yol…toor!”
The witch shrieked as her clothing and feathers caught fire. Selene used the distraction to her advantage, dropping her bow and drawing her sword to decapitate the burning creature.
Delphine walked up behind her as she cleaned her blade. “Did she call you a werewolf?”
Selene looked the Breton dead in the eye and said, “Aye. She did. Look, before you panic, let me assure you that you have nothing to fear. I have complete control of my beast form, and I don’t feed on humans.”
“But you’ve killed them.”
“I’ve killed them with a sword and a bow, too. I don’t prey on the innocent, Delphine.”
“Of course you prey on the innocent. You’re a thief.” Before Selene could retort, Delphine sighed and said, “Fine. As long as you don’t make it my problem. There’s a cave across that bridge and up the stairs. It may be what we’re looking for.”
“Let’s move, then.” They waited momentarily for Brynjolf to unlock a chest and raid it for some gold, and then they made their way up to the cave entrance, which was flanked by braziers and goat heads on pikes. They dispatched a few more Forsworn inside, including the Briarheart, a vicious shaman who was part man, part undead beast, his heart replaced by a spiny pod with magical properties.
Selene and Brynjolf looked in another chest, which afforded more gold and some valuable potions, while Delphine and Esbern began navigating the tunnels. They caught up with the pair, who had come out in a high, open chamber with several stone bridges set across a wide gap. The bridge they needed, however, was raised and there was no way across. Fortunately, the solution to the problem was right before their eyes. Three puzzle pillars stood next to the gap.
“These are Akaviri symbols,” Esbern said, pointing to the pillars. “Let’s see. You have the symbol for “‘king’ and the symbol for ‘warrior.’ The one on the end that has sort of an arrow shape pointing downward, that’s the symbol for ‘Dragonborn.’”
“Most puzzles like this have a key somewhere close,” Brynjolf remarked, looking around the chamber, but there was nothing.
“Perhaps the Dragonborn knows the answer,” Delphine challenged.
Selene looked at the pillars. King, warrior, Dragonborn. The symbols reminded her of Talos, but she was pretty sure this temple was built before Tiber Septim was even born. Esbern had told her the Sky Haven Temple was built to honor the Dragonborn. Perhaps the puzzle was as simple as just turning them all to ‘Dragonborn.’ She gave it a try, turning the other pillars so that the image was facing forward. The drawbridge lowered.
“It worked!” Delphine said. “Let’s see what else they left in our way.”
They crossed the bridge and wound through the tunnel until they came to another room, the floor of which was nothing but pressure plates. The same symbols were carved into the plates, and a pull chain hung on the wall across the room.
“What now?” Delphine asked.
Selene studied the symbols on the pressure plates and worked out the pattern in her head. The Dragonborn plates formed a path through the room. “Wait here,” she said. She set out, stepping only on the Dragonborn plates.
“Be careful!” Esbern warned her.
When she made it through the maze and reached the chain, she pulled and said, “Give it a try.”
Brynjolf, who was in front, stepped gingerly on one of the other plates, and nothing happened. “It’s safe,” he announced, and they crossed the room and entered the next tunnel.
The passageway wound around, and they crossed bridges in the same high chamber twice before coming to a large room with no ceiling. The late afternoon sun shone on the chamber, and a chill wind blew through. It was mostly empty, the only objects being a large treasure chest, a platform on the floor made of concentric circles, and a huge sculpture of a head set into a recess in the back wall.
“Ah, the entrance,” Esbern proclaimed. “Wonderful! Remarkably well preserved, too.” He stepped onto the circular platform. “Here’s the ‘blood seal,’ another of the lost Akaviri arts, no doubt triggered by…well, blood. Your blood, Dragonborn.”
“Now, wait just a minute,” Brynjolf began, but Selene put a hand up.
“I don’t think they’ll need all of it, love. Let me try something.” She knelt in the circle, took her dagger out, and sliced her hand, letting the blood drip onto the seal. Suddenly the seal glowed with bright, white light, and the concentric circles started spinning. They stopped to reveal the Dragonborn symbol in carvings and shading Selene hadn’t even noticed before. As the seal spun, the head lifted into the recess, forming a shadowy doorway.
“After you, Dragonborn,” Delphine offered. “You should have the honor of being the first to set foot in Sky Haven Temple.”
Selene led them past the head and up the stairs to a stone door with the Dragonborn symbol on it.
“There’s no telling what we might find inside,” Esbern declared enthusiastically.
“Let’s find out, then.” Selene opened the heavy door and stepped into a corridor with more stairs. While Esbern and Delphine took their time, Selene and Brynjolf climbed the steps to find a cavernous hall with a high, stone ceiling. Gaps had formed over time and the hall was open to the sky above in places, but it was unexpectedly warm. Again, the room was almost empty. The only furniture was a long table up the center with a few chairs around it. The table jutted out from a dais, on which was an expansive, intricately carved mural.
Selene and Brynjolf approached the wall and stared in awe. It was like nothing Selene had ever seen. The center of the elaborate relief showed a man with arms spread out and a staff in his hand. To his left and right were two others, and they all seemed to be shouting or singing. Above them was the image of a dragon. Radiating out from the center were several scenes depicting soldiers, destruction by dragons, what appeared to be some sort of dwarven centurion, even an Oblivion gate. Although the carvings were complex and finely detailed, their meanings were vague. The dragons breathing fire and destroying cities were clear enough, and the picture in the center seemed to depict the people killing a dragon, but otherwise the symbols were unclear. On the very right, however, one warrior stood alone, bigger and more prominent than all the others, holding fast against the fire of a mighty dragon. Selene didn’t have to wonder what that carving represented.
Delphine and Esbern came slowly up behind them, Esbern making comments about this carving and that as they walked up the stairs. He gasped when he saw the wall. “Shor’s bones! Alduin’s Wall! I’ve never seen a finer example of Akaviri sculptural relief. And it, too, is so well preserved. Look at the fine detail in the—”
“Esbern, we need information, not a lecture on artistry,” Delphine scolded.
“Yes, yes, let’s see what we have.” He wandered to the left-hand end of the wall. “This panel goes back to the beginning of time, when Alduin and the Dragon Cult ruled over Skyrim. And here, the humans rebelled—the legendary Dragon War. Alduin’s defeat is the centerpiece of the wall. You see, here he is falling from the sky, the Nord Tongues arrayed against him.” He pointed to the three human figures shouting at the dragon.”
“Tell us how they defeated him,” Delphine prodded. “Isn’t that why we’re here?”
“Delphine, a few seconds isn’t going to make a difference. It’s not like I’m going to run out and defeat Alduin today, so just shut up and give him a minute. How can you tell the dragon is falling from the sky? It just looks like a big head to me.”
“Patience, ladies. The Akaviri were not a straightforward people. Everything is couched in allegory and mythic symbolism. His fall is implied by the angle of his head. He is not looking down to rain fire on them; he lifts his head to the sky, his wings flailing wildly as he struggles to get away. This—” he pointed to a cryptic shape over the center human’s head “—this is the Akaviri symbol for ‘Shout.’”
“You mean they used a Shout to defeat Alduin?”
“Hmm? Oh, yes. Presumably something rather specific to dragons or even Alduin himself.”
“Damn it,” Delphine spat.
“Any of you ever heard of such a thing?” Brynjolf said.
Selene shook her head. “I’ve learned lots of Shouts but never anything like that. The Graybeards might know. Fancy a trip up the Seven Thousand Steps?”
Delphine let out a frustrated sigh. “I was hoping to avoid having to involve them in this.”
“What do you have against the Graybeards?”
“If they had their way, you’d do nothing but sit up on their mountaintop and talk to the sky, or whatever it is they do. The Graybeards are so afraid of power, they won’t use it. Have they tried to stop the civil war or done anything about Alduin?”
“What civil war? It’s over, in case you forgot. When it was going on, did you try to stop it? How is it any more their responsibility than someone else’s? As for Alduin, that’s my job, not theirs. And don’t worry; I’m not afraid of my own power.”
“Don’t get me wrong, Dragonborn. The Graybeards can teach you a lot. Just don’t let them turn you away from your destiny.”
“They say I need to discover my own destiny.”
“Your destiny is clear. You’re Dragonborn, and you’re the only one who can stop Alduin. Don’t forget it.”
Selene shrugged. “I would argue about you telling me my destiny, but I believe you’re right. We’ll go see what Master Arngeir knows about this Shout.”
“Good thing they’ve already let you into their little cult.”
“Delphine, you don’t even know them. Have you ever even met them? It’s a monastery with four very peaceful, dutiful monks who have pledged their lives to the worship of Kynareth. If you call that a cult, you’re insulting my religion as well.”
“You’re right; I’m sorry. Let’s settle in and get some rest. You can get started tomorrow.”
“Seven thousand steps, eh?” Brynjolf muttered.
“It’s not as bad as it sounds,” Selene assured him.
* * *
When she explored the temple, Selene found a sword of a type she had never seen before. It was made of fine steel, slightly curved, very light, and sharper than any blade she had ever seen. It glowed with purple energy. She took it to Esbern.
“Dragonbane!” he exclaimed. He took it from her and tested the edge with a finger, which came away bloody and a bit singed. “A beautiful weapon, and still sharp after all this time. It will deliver a shock to all enemies, but it is specially enchanted to do extra damage to dragons.”
“I’ve never seen a blade like that.”
“It’s a katana, commonly used by the Akaviri. I’d wager you’ll find several katana in the temple, along with some Blades armor.” He handed Dragonbane back to her. “This was left for you, Dragonborn.”
She took the weapon and inserted it back into the sheathe it came in. “Looks like I have a new sword.”
“Handling a katana is different than handling a regular sword. You use both hands, and instead of swinging across or stabbing, you cut from above.”
Selene stepped back, redrew, and made a few practice swings, slicing toward an imaginary opponent’s head, neck, and shoulders.
“Aim for their center, not their neck,” he instructed, “and follow through. The idea is to cut through their body.”
“I didn’t realize you were a swordsman, Esbern.”
“Oh, no, my dear, I’m no swordsman. But I do pay attention. Delphine could probably give you better training than I.”
It didn’t take more than a quick lesson for Selene to learn the technique, which was really very simple. Delphine taught her the stance and the three basic moves in just a few minutes. Mastery would come with practice. The most miraculous feat of the day, however, was that Selene actually managed not to use the sword on Delphine.
They found a dormitory, but the beds were unusable because the mattresses had mostly rotted away, so they spent the night on the floor of the main hall, tucked into bedrolls. Selene didn’t sleep. The Wall, the prophecy, all they had learned made her head spin. Things were getting too real, and they were moving fast. The World Eater was no longer a vague, distant menace, no longer something she could ignore. He was here, bent on destroying this world and the next, and she was expected to stop him. But how? She was just one person—and not much of one at that. She was only twenty-two years old, she was short, and she was more thief than fighter. When it was quiet like this, she couldn’t help thinking Akatosh and Kynareth picked the wrong Dragonborn. She forgot all her accomplishments of the last few years and thought only of her shortcomings. And her biggest shortcoming was that she was a coward. How many times had she run away when things started to get hairy? Even now, she was tempted to just pack up her bedroll and slip out when nobody was looking.
Brynjolf mumbled in his sleep. Damn him. He had insisted on falling in love with her, asking her to marry him, making her commit. She had to stay here if for no other reason than the utter impossibility of living without him. But morning would come soon, and they could leave together. Screw Delphine. Screw Esbern, and the Blades, and Alduin, and anybody else who thought she was worthy of the title of Dragonborn. Let somebody else do it.
Selene sighed. She wouldn’t run, and she knew it. Meeting Brynjolf, marrying him, even becoming Guild Master had taught her she could stay when the going got tough and the world wouldn’t crumble. She had grown, and she wouldn’t abandon the world when it called for her. She would shoulder the burden of being Dragonborn, even if it meant her death. It probably would.
Sometime before dawn, she heard Esbern come in with a book and sit down at the long table. She’d heard him puttering around all night and suspected he hadn’t slept any more than she had. Tired of tossing and turning, she kissed her sleeping husband and joined the old man at the table, pulling some dried meat and water from her pack.
“I see you found the library.”
“Yes, yes. There are so many books, and in such good shape. I must confess, when I saw that the temple was open to the sky, I feared nothing would be left intact.”
“So the books fared better than the mattresses?”
“What? Oh, yes.” He chuckled. “There is so much information, it will take months to read and catalogue everything.”
“Sounds like fun.”
“Indeed, indeed. After you have been to High Hrothgar, come back here. There is so much to discover, surely I will have something of use to you by then.”
Selene took a bite of meat and chewed thoughtfully. “Esbern, do you really think one person will be able to defeat Alduin?”
“I’m afraid I don’t know, Dragonborn,” he admitted. “If anyone can, it will be you. But the outcome of the final battle was not foretold. The prophecy only says, ‘The World Eater wakes and the Wheel turns upon the Last Dragonborn.’”
Brynjolf crawled out of his bedroll and joined them at the table. He kissed Selene on the forehead before sitting down next to her, digging in her pack, and pulling out some cheese.
“I’m sorry if I woke you,” she said.
“You didn’t. I haven’t slept much. Arriving here at the temple, seeing Alduin’s Wall, it all made it seem so much more real. It’s hard to get a handle on.”
“Tell me about it. Esbern, that prophecy’s not much to go on.”
“You must have faith, my dear. Prophecies never tell the whole story.”
“Think about this,” Brynjolf remarked. “If there was no hope at all, why would the gods have bothered sending you in the first place?”
“Well, when you put it that way…”
“We’re both up; let’s get started. The sooner we get to High Hrothgar and get some answers, the sooner we’ll be able to sleep.”
“Ya think?” she grunted. “I think any answers the Graybeards give us are only going to raise more questions.”
“Then we’ll find answers to those. Don’t give up on me, love.”
Selene sighed and leaned over to lay her head on his shoulder. “I’m just feeling overwhelmed. I’ll feel better once we get on the road. Sitting here at the temple isn’t good for me. I need to do something. Esbern, would it be okay if I took one of those katana we found in the armory? I know somebody who might like it.”
“Who’s that?” Brynjolf asked. “Vilkas?”
“Aye. He’s a master swordsman and a collector, and since we’re going by Whiterun on the way to High Hrothgar, I thought I’d take one to him. It might be fun to teach him something for a change, too.”
“I don’t see why not,” said Esbern. “Everything within the Sky Haven Temple is for you to use as you see fit.”
Taking care not to wake Delphine, she got up and reloaded her knapsack, then packed her bedroll while Brynjolf did the same. When they were ready to leave, she rested a hand on Esbern’s shoulder. “I’m going to miss you, old man.”
Esbern patted her hand. “It’s been a pleasure getting to know you, Dragonborn. Don’t worry. I’ll have more answers for you when you return.”
She turned, and Brynjolf followed as she made her way out of the Sky Haven Temple, through the Karthspire, and out into the Reach. Before they had gotten very far, Selene heard the howl of a dragon approaching in the distance. But it wasn’t dread she felt; it was excitement. She didn’t know when it had happened, but she had come to enjoy fighting dragons. And really, that was all Alduin was, wasn’t he? He was just a dragon, and he would die at her hands, as sure as the one they fought today.
Selene groaned. Nope, she didn’t believe it for a second. Alduin was going to kill them all.