• Published 7th Nov 2015
  • 5,718 Views, 653 Comments

Changeling Escapades: Skyrim - Erised the ink-moth

A Changeling is teleported to the frigid land of Skyrim. Lost in a frigid and hostile land, he must find a new source of love to sustain him. Worse still, Alduin the World Eater has returned to bring about the end of days. What our changeling do?

  • ...

The Dragonstone arc III: Bandits of Bleak Falls

Author's Note:

Hey everyone. Hope you're enjoying the story so far. I recently had a conversation via PM with a user named GhostGrenade, who was curious as to how Stross worked in the context of Skyrim (What skill trees he's proficient in, perks he had, etc.). And so I shared some of my older guidelines that I used (or rather, ignored) when writing Stross in the original story.

GG said that maybe everyone else would like to see it too, and seeing as how it's about to become more relevant in the coming chapters, here it is. My "Changeling character rule sheet":
-Stross's health and magika bars are linked. They do not regenerate over time like normal PCs.
-Stross's magika meter has no limit cap, but will slowly decrease over time at a rate of about 10magika per hour.
-If Stross's magika is depleted, his HP will drain at a rate of 5HP per hour.
-If Stross's health takes damage, his magika reserves will be drained to heal him at an approx ratio of 5magika => 2HP, every 1 second.
-Potions do not restore Stross's health or magika, but rather transfer energy between the two at a 1 : 1 ratio.
-Stross's magika (or mana pool) is what he will use first in order to cast spells, but can "life-cast" once it runs out at a ratio of about 1HP=>2.5magika

Unique Changeling abilities/spells - Feeding:
-Passive feeding (like when he makes out with Fenora): 0mgaika per second spell.
Will restore Stross's magika by draining his target's magika, then their stamina, and finally their health. This happens at a 2 : 1 ratio; he'll receive 1 point of magika for every two points he drains.
The faster Stross drains his target, the more noticeable and painful it is.

-Syphoning: 0magika spell.
Similar to Passive feeding, but with a more profound effect.
Steal a large amount of magika (150 points per cast) from target.
Target's health, magika and stamina are permanently reduced by 5.
Targets have a higher chance to resist based on level and aggression towards Stross.

-Soul eater (Similar to soul trap, but an AoE effect instead of a single target, with Stross's stomach acting as the soul gem): Once per day ability. Duration - 120seconds.
When this ability is active, any enemy killed near Stross gets their souls absorbed by him.
Each soul absorbed restores magika based on their soul's quality.
Petty - 100 magika
Lesser - 250 magika
Common - 550 magika
Greater - 900 magika
Grand/Black - 2000 magika
Dragon - Whoa now... no spoilers.

Stross sat in the corner of the potion shop known as ‘Arcadia’s Cauldron’ that Fenora insisted on stopping by before they left town. The second they entered, the pungent smell of boiling herbs hit them and proceeded to cling to the insides of their nostrils. Where Stross was merely able to tolerate the mix of strange odors that made his eyes water, Fenora took it in, suddenly seeming a bit more relaxed and even nostalgic.

While Fenora talked with the shopkeeper, Stross took a closer look at the small bottles of liquids and the many plants on display. Each of the ferns and patches of mushrooms looked ready to be picked and used. Stross had no idea what they were supposed to be used for, but then again, Stross wasn’t a zebra. He'd known some zebras, he'd hung out with some zebras, then he'd been stomped into paste by those same zebras when they found out he was a changeling, but he never picked up their weird potion-making.

“Thanks for the frost salts,” Arcadia said as Fenora handed her the small pot of freezing powder, “They’ll be important for this love potion I’m making. Perhaps I’ll test it out on Farenger for having others do his leg-work for him.” she joked, “Here, take these as payment.” she passed Fenora some mixed-and-matched potions from behind her counter.

“I’d prefer to be paid in coin if it’s all the same to you.” Fenora told her.

“And I’d prefer if people would actually buy my potions and reagents.” Arcadia admitted with a sigh, “I’m afraid with the lack of customers lately I’ve got no septims to spare; I’m barely able to pay for new stock as it is. Still, take these anyway, and be sure to tell anyone you meet in your travels that Arcadia has cures for any ailment.”

“Right, thanks I guess." Fenora pocketed the potions. "And good luck with that little 'experiment'.”

The two shared a quick laugh, and Arcadia grinned, “I do hope I can make Farengar realize there’s more to life than studying those dusty old books. Perhaps a little surprise in his supper will bring him out of his shell.”

Fenora strode quickly through Whiterun towards the gate, intent on leaving.

Stross nearly scrambled to keep up with her. He was moving so fast that he didn’t notice the tall muscular man in red leather armor coming around the corner until it was too late.

The collision sent Stross to the ground while barely fazing the man, yet he seemed displeased by it anyways. It was at that point Stross realized that the man's armor was the same type the Imperial soldiers wore, only in more pristine condition. The memories of almost being captured and executed by them just that morning were springing back into his mind, and he pulled at the edges of his hood. He had to get away before he was recognized.

“Hey, watch where you’re going.” the soldier barked.

“Sorry about that sir.” Stross said as he picked himself up and tried to reach the gate where Fenora was waiting for him, but the man got in his way.

“Sorry huh? We’ll see about that. Greymane or Battle-born?”

“What?” Stross asked, not understanding the question.

“You got stones in your ears, or just stone for brains? I asked you what side you’re on; Greymanes back the Stormcloaks, Battle-borns stand with the Empire. So which is it, Greymane or Battle-born?” the man asked again, angry that he even had to clarify.

“W-what? Neither!” Stross said and tried to back away.

“Undecided, or just lying. Are you new here or something, stranger? Where are you from?”

“What? I… I-” Stross stammered, now fearing he’d be exposed as a changeling and thrown in prison, or worse.

“’What’ ain’t no country I ever heard of! Do they speak English in ‘What’?” the man thundered, “Well do they?!”

“I uh… I dunno. What are you-“

The man drew his sword, clearly past the point of mere annoyance, “Say ‘what’ again! I dare you, I double dare you. Say ‘what’ one more gods damned time!”

In a flash Fenora was on the man, grappling his sword arm with both hands and easily ripping the weapon from his grasp and turning it on him.

“Step off!” she hissed, “I'm with him on this. Both sides are stupid, everyone supporting either are stupid, and thanks to you I hate both of the Imperials and the Stromcloaks even more. Now back. Away.”

It was at this point that a pair of guards decided to come to the rescue as well.

“Idolaf,” one called the man in armor by name, “Enough of this already, I’m going to have to ask you to cease this violent behavior, or there will be trouble.”

With the odds suddenly stacked against him, Idolaf grudgingly decided to back down. “Fine, but this isn’t over. I’ll take my sword back now.” He said and reached for his weapon.

Fenora tightened her grip on the sword and fixed him with a hard stare, making him pause, but finally relented and returned it to him.

With his weapon back in his scabbard where it belonged, the Imperial supporter turned his back on them and walked away, but not before a few last words about how everyone would have to choose a side soon enough, and how if they were smart, they’d choose the Legion.

“Sorry about that,” the guard apologized, “ever since the war started, the Greymanes and Battle-borns have been at each other’s throats. It’s a shame too. Before the war started the two clans were as close as kin. Ah, but nothing to worry yourselves about, safe travels, adventurers.”

“I used to be an adventurer,” another guard started, “then I took an arrow-“

“We know, Torr! Arrow in da knee! We’ve heard it a bazillion times. Give it a rest already.”

Ri’saad watched patiently as Fenora emptied the entirety of her improvised backpack onto the ground in front of him, finally she placed the three potions Arcadia had given them atop the mess. Honestly, Stross was surprised she’d kept the all of that stuff the whole time and still managed to walk; it must have weighed more than a hundred pounds!

“So… how much can you give me for all this?” she asked.

Ri’saad took a quick moment to sift and sort through all the miscellaneous junk before him, and another second to consider a price. “Hmm… kha'jiit will give the elf lady eighty gold septims.”

“That’s all?” Fenroa stared at the cat merchant, “How about a hundred.”

Ri’saad sucked his teeth. “This is no good. Ri’saad can give no more than ninety.”

“Ri’saad, you’re a resourceful man. What I’ve brought you is worth twice that much, and we both know you could sell it for thrice.” Fenora reasoned with him, “All I need is enough money to get to the border of Skyrim and a boat across the straight, into High Rock.”

“Wait a second Fenora. What are we doing again?” Stross asked her.

Fenora sighed, “Well since the plan involving Balgruuf opened a can of worms, I’m just going to sell everything on me and hope it’s enough to get me home.”

“But… but what about Farengar’s dragonstone?”

Fenora looked him in the eyes. “Stross, there’s no way I’m going into an ancient crypt filled with gods-know-what just to get some condescending wizard his dumb rock. After a while he’ll just assume we died, maybe send someone else who’s better equipped, I don’t know.” she said dismissively and attempted to return to trading, but Stross stopped her again.

“And what about the dragons?! Balgruuf isn’t convinced yet, Riverwood is still in danger, and if those things come here,” Stross shuddered, “It’ll be Helgen all over again. Everyone in the city will die and… Fenora? You’re not just going to leave them are you?”

“Stross,” Fenora said and put her hands on his shoulders, “Think. Think for one second about what it is these crazy people are asking me to do just so they’ll wise up and see the where that smoke is coming from. And now think about what’s happened to us both since we’ve gotten here. We were going to be killed Stross. Killed... for nothing. We owe these people nothing.”

Fenora leaned her head against Stross’s chest and sighed, “I’m not a hero Stross. I’m not a warrior, or a fighter, or a mercenary, or some chosen one. They can’t deny it forever, and when they finally realize what’s happening they’ll find someone else to solve this, like the Companions, or… I don’t know. Someone. The best thing we can do is get clear while we still can.”

“So that’s it?!” Stross snapped, “You’re just going to run away and leave them all to burn?!”

Fenora’s breath hitched and her pupils shrank. Stross noticed and pressed on.

“I've barely known you for half a day, so it might be too soon to judge, but what the hay Fenora!? These people in Whiterun, in Riverwood… they aren’t the bloodthirsty soldiers that tried to execute us in Helgen. They’re just normal people with homes and lives and families. If a dozen trained guards and a battalion of soldiers couldn’t stop that flying monster, what do you think old women and children could do against it? By the time they realize they’re even in danger they’ll be roasting alive!” Stross yelled as Fenora started trembling, “We’re the only ones who know the dragons are coming and decided to take some initiative here. I won't just leave them! We need to follow through or everyone’s going to die, and it’ll be all our fau-“

“VENNIK!” Fenora screamed and grabbed onto him. It was only then that Stross noticed the tears spilling down her cheeks like rivers, “Okay… you don’t need to say any more. Please don’t say any more.”

“F-Fen, I… alright.” Stross tried to apologize, but nothing came out, and instead he just held her until she stopped shaking.

It would be a while before she did.

Before they left, Ri’saad gave them one-hundered and ten septims for their loot; a small ‘saving the people bonus’ he told them with a smile.

The walk back to Riverwood turned out to be quiet and uneventful. Once or twice along the way, Stross tried to ask Fenora about her sudden breakdown, but she refused to say a word to him, and made no attempt at conversation herself. His emotion sense showed a cold shell around her with a powerful guilt buried far underneath.

Stross hoped that he’d be able to make her like him again. Making the jump from Ponyville had depleted him from the start, not to mention the time spent in that cell, and the spells he used during the escape. The fact that Fenora was there to feed on was the only reason he was still alive. Even still, an ache had settled in the pit of his chest and had been gnawing at him all morning.

Stross looked up to see that Fenora was several paces ahead of him, and realized that his movements were much more sluggish compared to hers, so he hurried forwards despite his feet suddenly feeling like bricks of lead.

They reached the bridge leading to Riverwood a bit past mid-morning. When they reached the interior of the town they were treated to the sight of a small mob forming near the inn. Stross instinctively got behind Fenora as they approached, and again made sure his cloak covered as much of his face as possible.

Two figures were arguing at the head of the crowd. One of them was a man shouting furiously and rallying the townsfolk behind him, the other was Gerdur, standing firm against his tantrum.

“They have my sister, we have to get her back!” a man shouted, “Who knows what they’ll do to her?”

“Calm down Lucan, we can’t just go charging up to the barrow.” Gerdur told him, “Those bandits have been dug in there for months, and are too well armed for the likes of us.”

“But we have to do something.” an elf named Faendal joined Lucan’s side, “I love Camilla!”

“I love her more!” a bard by the name of Sven countered, and shoved the elf aside. “And she said she would pick me over you any-day.” he added.

“She would not!”
“Would too.” they argued back and forth, and the children once again handed around the betting bowl.

“Oh will you two stop it already?” Gerdur interrupted them, “We don’t need another drunken brawl. If Hadvar and Ralof were able to control themselves, maybe they would be dealing with this problem right now instead of nursing their concussions in bed.”

“At least these two are willing to help!” Lucan shot back, pointing to Faendal and Sven. “If we wait for the guards to show up, it’ll be too late by the time they arrive!”

The second the word ‘bandit’ was spoken, Fenora decided to see what the commotion was all about, and shoved her way to the front of the crowd. Once through, she stepped up onto the deck of the inn with the others. “What’s going on?” she asked.

“Ah, you’re back.” Gerdur said, “Please tell me the Jarl has sent some guards.”

Fenora shook her head. “Dragons don’t exist to them, and they’re not willing to divert their guards on nothing.”

“We’re trying to convince them.” Stross told them from the crowd, “We need to find something called the dragonstone from Bleak Falls. Is something happening up there?”

“A few nights ago, bandits broke into Lucan’s shop and stole his golden claw.” Gerdur explained.

“And my sister decided to be a big damn hero and get it back!” Lucan butted back into the conversation, “Now they have her too, and we can’t get her back because miss ‘wood-chopper’ over here says it’s too dangerous.”

“Those bandits would tear us apart before we even get close to the barrow.” Gerdur countered. "You know this."

“Bandits…” Fenora hissed, “I’m heading up there anyway, I’ll slaughter the lot of them and get her home on my way through.”

This earned her several gasps from the crowd.

“Here here! I’m coming with you! Sven the heroic bard at your service m’lady.” the bard stepped up with an exaggerated bow. “Let’s go and rescue fair Camilla!”

“Hah, don’t bother taking this joker with you.” the elf archer tutted as he stepped up as well, “You need someone with skill and deadly instinct for such a task. And I don't like to brag, but I once took down a bear at three hundred yards… In a blizzard. The name’s Faendal.”

“Have either of you killed a man before?” Fenora asked bluntly.

Both of them seemed taken aback by the question, each mumbling something sort-of-affirmatory.

Fenora sighed into her palm. “Just get ready, both of you. We leave in ten minutes.”

As the crowd dispersed she turned back to Stross. “So, you’ve been with me this far. How good are you in a fight?”

“Umm…” Stross thought on that for a minute, “Does running away from fights count?”

“Well, it should be fun clearing out a stronghold of bandits single-handedly.” Fenora groaned sarcastically.

“Faendal and Sven are coming too though.” Stross reminded her.

“Single. Handedly.”

After receiving a cheap steel sword from Lucan the merchant in exchange for rescuing his sister and retrieving his golden claw, Fenora and Stross met up with Faendal and Sven, who were more than ready to get going.

The second they started making their way up the mountain to the bandit stronghold at Bleak falls, the temperature dropped significantly and snow started to fall around them, covering the trail in a layer of crunchy flakes almost three inches think.

“It’s freezing up here, how much further?” Stross complained as he shivered under his cloak.

“It shouldn’t be too far now; you can actually see the entrance of the Barrow from the river down there.” Sven told them, “It’s always given me chills looking at it.”

“To think that poor, sweet Camilla is in that horrid place.” Faendal grimaced, “I hate to imagine it.”

As they rounded a bend in the path, Fenora immediately pulled them down behind some snow-covered bushes. When they threw looks of question, she responded by pointing out a bandit lookout in an old desolate tower, partially hidden amongst the falling snow. A lone figure stood with his back against a tree with a small fire burning nearby. He was armored in dented iron, and had a warhammer propped up next to him.

Snatching Faendal’s bow and an arrow off his back, she trained her sights on the bandit’s exposed neck, and drew back the string. Long repressed memories of anger and regret surfaced as she overdrew the string a final inch. Slowly exhaling, she released the arrow, and watched with a slight satisfaction as the bandit collapsed on the ground in a heap.

Faendal and Sven simply sat back in awe, clearly impressed by the feat of marksmanship they’d just witnessed. Fenora paid them no mind however, and simply handed Faendal back his bow.

Stross however had an expression of horror and he grabbed Fenora by her shirt. “What the heck was that?! You just… you just killed that guy!”

Fenora grit her teeth and shoved back. “He was a bandit. They’re nothing but a bunch of criminals, thieves and murderers who only care about themselves.” She jabbed a finger at him, “Don’t ever forget that, and don’t ever try to stop me. Got it?”

Turning away, she walked over to the corpse of the now dead bandit and began searching his body for anything useful; there wasn’t much. A crude shank, a dozen wooden arrows, and twenty-seven septims were pocketed. A half drank bottle of mead, some leather strips, and a necklace of rodent skulls were quickly discarded. She didn’t bother with the clothes or his armor. Not only would it protect you less than tin-foil, it also stunk to High Hrothgar. Seriously, didn’t these people ever bathe?

However, while she was looting and the others stood near the campfire for warmth, a second bandit wandered out of the old tower. The second he spotted them his eyes lit up, and he drew his weapon.

“Fresh coin!” he yelled as he charged at them, caring little about his dead friend and more that he wouldn’t have to share the loot now. The trio around the fire scattered as he swung his axe in a wild arc at them. “Now which one of you should I cut open first?”

While the bandits eyes shifted back and forth between the three of them a sword came down on him from behind and carved a deep line in the backplate of his armor.

He spun around to block a second blow with the shaft of his axe, and shoved Fenora away. He advanced, considering her his first victim, he wound up for an mighty overhead swing.

A blast of white powder was kicked into his face, causing his swing to miss and come down on a treebranch instead.

While he wiped the snowy slush out of his eyes and tried to pull his weapon free from the bark it was wedged in, Fenora didn’t give him the chance to recover. He barely dodged her decapitating swing. Even so, it clipped his right arm and he was forced to abandon his weapon.

Growling, the bandit ducked down and pulled a knife out of his boot before lunging at Fenora again and taking a number of wild swings, all of which she easily backstepped. Her return swing caught him just as he finished his charge and raked sideways across his face in a splatter of blood.

While he was cursing and clutching his face in pain, Fenora kicked him to the ground and drove the tip of her sword into his unarmored gut. It took only a second longer for her to finish the job by driving the rest of the blade through him and into the ground on the other side. Finally the bandit let out one last shudder before going still.

Fenora huffed, retrieved her weapon and shook the blood from the blade. “Well, I think that takes care of this one.” she called out to Faendal, Sven, and Stross as she continued onwards, “Thanks a lot for the help!” the sarcasm was palpable.

“She needed help?” Sven asked incredulously.

Once they reached the massive courtyard leading to the entrance to the barrow, they noticed several more bandits patrolling the outer edges. With the help of Stross’s changeling life-sense, they were able to pick out a few more standing watch with longbows from the carved stone overlooks. While Stross was making whispered conversation with Faendal and Sven, wondering why so many would turn to banditry, Fenora was trying to decide the best way to eliminate them without the others taking notice.

Then, the main doors to the barrow ground open, and what could only have been the voice of their leader called them all inside.

“What’s going on, did they spot us?” Sven asked.

“No,” Fenora replied as she watched them leave their posts, “it’s something else. Let’s move up for a better view, quietly.”

It wasn’t hard to get in unnoticed, as the bandits didn’t even bother to close the door behind them.

The large inner room beyond the doors was dark, only sparsely lit by torches and a hole in the roof that let in sunlight and snow from above. Several barrels were lined up against the walls. The amount of stolen crates made the whole place just feel more claustrophobic than it was already. The ones that weren't broken or stacked into precarious pillars served as seating or tables instead. The sheer number of empty cloth sacks, scattered wine and mead bottles, and discarded remnants of meals made it clear that these people had either been living in this place for quite some time, or were just complete slobs. Perhaps both.

Slinking through the shadows, our team of heroes saw the bandits converging around a table in the center. In total there were ten of them, all clad in fur and hide armor, most wielding either bows or hand axes, though one or two carried large swords.

Once they’d gathered, their leader, a tall muscular orc wearing full iron platemail and a fur cape spoke up. “Alright, listen up you lot, I want all o' you to hear this! Arvel's just stolen the claw and ran ahead. He’s probably trying to take the treasure in this barrow for himself.” He said in gruff, displeased tones.

This revelation was met with sneers and angry yells from the rest.
“That damned traitor, I knew he was up to no good.”
“He was a dunmer, what do you expect from an elf?”
“Hope the traps down there get him!” they said in disgust.

They continued this talk until the leader silenced them with a raise of his arm.

“Forget the claw!” he shouted, “Whilst he was escaping, something better has happened along.” He then walked to a darkened corner, and when he returned, he carried a woman in a yellow dress with him, heavily bound and gagged. He set her atop the table and grinned at his gang.

“This lovely lady has come to us from that town down near the river. You know... the one with all the wood. I forget the name. Point is, she's our ticket to the biggest score of our life, lads. Here’s the plan. It’s no secret she’s gone missing, so we’re gonna bring her back, and tell those idiots we’ll let 'er go in exchange for a bit of coin.” The bandit leader explained before breaking into a grin, “But that’s just the distraction. While two of us go down to make the trade, the rest of us will attack the town from behind and catch them all off guard! We’ll have about an hour tops to ransack the place, take anyone still alive as our prisoner, and steal anything not nailed down. Then we’ll escape south across the border before any of those Whiterun guards ever knew what hit ‘em.”

One lone bandit raised his hand and waved it back and forth. “Ooh! Ooh Ooh, I got a question!” he said, “Can we do things with the pretty lady first? You know… with the whips and leather outfits and the chocolate syrup?”

The bandit leader looked at him like he’d committed a sacrilege. “Are you serious?” he asked in a grave tone. “Of COURSE we’re going to have bloody brutal sex with her first!”

There were resounding cheers from the other bandits. Even from the female bandits! Especially from the female bandits.

“Not so fast you fiends!” Faendal shouted as he jumped out into the open and nocking an arrow. “If anyone’s going to have hot kinky sex with Camilla, it’s going to be me.”

“He mean’s me, but we’ll figure that out later.” Sven joined in, brandishing his woodsman’s axe, “Release her or face our wrath!”

Meainwhile, a certain changeling was hiding in the darkness, cursing them and their aversion to stealth-based tactics.

As Stross set about finding a way out of this mess, Faendal and Sven were busy being set upon by ten rowdy bandits. But even though they were outnumbered and outmatched, against all odds, through the power of righteousness and love, Faendal and Sven…

Still totally got their butts kicked, and the bandits were now celebrating over their two newest hostages.

“Fenora?” Stross called softly as he worked his way through the shadows on the edge of the room, trying his best to not be heard over the sounds of the bandits as they took turns punching Faendal and Sven into submission. “Feeeeenooooraaaaa… Feeeeno- mphf!“

A hand clamped firmly over Stross’s mouth while another wrapped around his waist and dragged him into the corner. “Shut. Up.” Fenora breathed.

She pulled him further over to where a large number of barrels, at least a dozen and a half, had been precariously stacked on their sides, held in place only by a single chunk of firewood.

“Luckily those idiots were able to distract them long enough for me to figure something out, so here’s the plan. These barrels are full of mead, and it’s a shame to waste it, but mead burns really well.” Fenora explained while she shoved a few crates aside and cleared a path for the barrels to roll out on. “So we’re going to flood the place and set it all on fire, grab the hostages in the confusion and escape back to Riverwood. Any questions?”

“Just one…” said a menacingly familiar baritone voice. “What do we have here?” the bandit leader said as he looked over the elf and changeling, “This day is just getting better and better! Five hostages for the effort of one!” he yelled triumphantly, his call echoed by his followers.

“Shit…” Fenora grumbled, “Okay then, time to improvise. Stross, just get everyone out of here. The big one and his cronies are all mine.”

“Is that right little bosmer?” the orc taunted with a hearty chuckle, “And just how are you gonna take on all of-“

“I’ve got a sword!” Fenora said and plunged her blade into one of the barrels, withdrawing it covered in amber liquid. She thrust it at a torch and the blade went up in flame.

“And now my sword is on fire!” she yelled as she charged at them.

The assembled rabble of bandits scattered before her, only their fearsome leader being brave enough to meet her challenge.

“Get them out of here!” she yelled to Stross before putting all her focus into parrying the orc’s massive greatsword.

Stross spotted Faendal, Sven and Camilla near the large table in the center of the room. Several bandits were pulling back to secure them while Fenora kept slashing away at their boss.

A quick spark sent a bright ball of light hovering above the bandits and their hostages. Their eyes were drawn to it, lingering for a second before it exploded in a blinding spectrum. The already dim light of the barrow meant that Stross’s flashbang had an even more profound effect, and every bandit was clutching their eyes and ears while Stross rushed over to the three.

“We can’t stay here! We’ve got to get out of the barrow!” he yelled over the chaos, only they didn’t respond. “Hey! Can’t you guys hear me?!” he yelled and patted them to get their attention.

It seemed his flashbangs didn’t care weather they hit friend or foe. Everyone got blinded and deafened equally!

As the bandits started to recover, Stross grabbed the three of them with a combination of his hands and his mouth and started dragging them to the exit… well okay, more like weakly tugging at them until they followed his lead and limped forwards with him to the exit.

An arrow whizzed past Stross's head, and he realized that the bow wielding bandits were taking aim at them.

Another flashbang was cast, and a sudden spike of pain went through him. He knew he was empty again. The energy he'd taken from Fenora was spent. Any more spells would be taking the energy he needed to sustain itself, leeching the life from his body to provide the magic needed.

Unfortunately it seemed that he wouldn’t have a choice. The bandits had smartened up after the first round, and had shielded their eyes while they waited for the flashbang to go off. Archers were readjusting their shots, and axe-wielders had kept charging forward with their eyes closed and were now in swinging range.

Well… an axe to the face would probably be more lethal than a spell fired on empty. Right?

That’s what Stross reasoned as he charged up a tranquilizer and blasted the bandit charging his right. The satisfaction of seeing the man crumple on the ground mere feet from him was offset by the wave of pain that rolled through him.

Next up was a woman with a viscous looking mace. Again a spell was fired. Again the bandit came crashing to the floor in a twitching heap. And again a wave of pain shot through the changeling foolishly casting spells on an empty mana pool.

While Stross grit his teeth against the pain swelling in every part of his body, he saw Fenora battling against the orc on the other side of the room. Her sword was no longer alight, but she was somehow managing to hold her own against the much more powerful opponent. But holding her own or not, Stross somehow doubted she could win against the bandit leader AND the remaining two thirds of his gang at the same time.

Stross’s feet felt like they were made of cement slabs and glued to the floor, but he dragged himself as fast as he could.

“I’ll give ya one thing little elf.” The orc growled at Fenora over their clashing steel, “It’s gonna fell really satisfyin’ when I kill ya! Now, just… die!”
The orc shifted his weight and powered forward, pressing his blade ever closer to Fenora’s face.

Then a glowing orb stuck to the crossing point of their swords, and he wondered for a moment why the elf had pulled her eyes shut. Then the world was nothing but white light and ringing in his ears.

Fenora looked over and spotted Stross weakly stumbling over to her amid seven of the bandit leader’s henchmen. One got too close to the changeling and was rewarded with a stun spell to the face. Both of them collapsed onto the ground.

She rushed over to the changeling and picked him up with her free arm while pointing her sword threateningly at the remaining bandits surrounding them.

“You need to run!” she heard Stross yell into her ear through the high-pitched ringing, “Let me hold them off, just get the others and run!”

“There’s no way I’m leaving you here.” Fenora told him, or at least that’s what she thought she said as the ringing faded.

Then she felt a smooth pair of lips press against hers. An odd sense of happiness overtook her for a moment before an equally strange fatigue set in.

Stross pulled away and looked into her eyes. “I’ll be fine. Just go. Save them.”

Fenora looked over to Camilla, Sven and Faendal. A pair of bandits were already making their way over to recapture them. That left four still dealing with her and Stross, plus their leader once he recovered.

One second of hesitation was too long, and Stross was already running at three of the four surrounding them. Fenora yelled in frustration as she made the choice to trust the changeling and save the others. The remaining bandit tried to block, but she decided to show him why she rocks, and drove the hilt of her sword into his face.

When she reached the Riverwood trio and fought away the bandits cornering them, Fenora realized even at a glance how messed up they were. The bandits surely hadn’t pulled any punches on Faendal and Sven, they were so bloody and bruised she was surprised they could stand. And Camilla, while in far better shape, was still in no position to fight.

Stross had made a good call it seemed.

“Get back!” Fenora yelled as one of the two bandits got a bit too close. She slashed her sword across the bandit’s belly, making her retreat.

“Out, quick!” Fenora ordered while a couple arrows embedded themselves in the wall behind her, “Now!”

Once the Riverwood trio had stumbled out the door while she covered them, Fenora turned her attention to finding Stross again. She spotted him hovering on filmy wings above the bandit chief and three of his goons on the other side of the room, the high ceiling gave him just enough room to stay out of their reach. A crate full of stolen wine bottles was held in his hands while he used telekinesis to chuck them at the bandits below. Still, while the annoyance was just the distraction they needed right now, it worked a bit too well, and the bandits were doing everything in their power to bring the changeling down.

“Stross, we’re out. Come on!” Fenora yelled while the second bandit facing her took the opportunity to attack.

Fenora blocked the downward swing of his mace and re-angled the blade of her sword to plunge in into his shoulder.

Stross tossed the rest of the crate and began zooming toward the exit.

“Oh no you don’t.” the bandit chief muttered as he pulled out a scroll, “Eat this!”

A fireball flew past Stross in the air, the heat singing his cloak as it passed. It hit the far wall and exploded in a brilliant blast of fire that spread across the stone surface. Another flew towards Fenora, and she barely had time to dive outside before it hit.

With Fenora out of the way, the fireball hit the heavy door instead, and the force of the explosion slammed it closed. Immidiately, a stack of burning crates tipped over and collapsed in front of it, ensuring it wouldn’t be opened again any time soon.

“Like ‘em?” The bandit leader chuckled as he strode forward, “That mage, Thomas, made quite a few of these pyromancy scrolls for us before he finally went and killed himself fighting a troll. I’ve been savin’ these for a special occasion. We’ll have those four back soon enough, but first I’ve got a pesky gnat to deal with.”

Stross suddenly perked up as the bandit told him this. An idea popped into his head.

“Oh yeah, well then you’d better not miss! Think you can hit a moving target?” Stross yelled in a mocking tone and shook his butt at the bandit.

The bandit chief just laughed and hurled two more balls of flame at Stross, which he nimbly dove out of the way of. “Missed me!” he sang and continued to dart back and forth through the air.

Three shots later and the ceiling was ablaze, but the changeling was still flying, and the bandit leader snarled, “Shut up so I can blast you!”

“Okay then, I’ll even make it easy for the little bandit baby.” Stross said and made a pouty face. “I’m just gonna stand right here for you. You take all the time you need to line up your shot, maybe take a nap first, have a nice glass of warm milk-”

“GRAAAAAHH!” the leader shouted in pure rage.

“Boss no!” one of his men tried to stop him, but it was too late, and he flung fireball after fireball at Stross until he ran out of scrolls, not realizing what the changeling had been making his way towards the whole time.

“Not the mead!” one of the bandits shrieked in dismay when the barrels full of the strong-smelling drink caught fire. They bounced and rolled everywhere, exploding when they crashed into walls and stacks of stolen loot, spilling flaming liquid everywhere.

With fire sloshing across the floor, setting much of the bandits’ stolen loot ablaze, and smoke quickly filling the air, Stross decided it was finally time to make his escape. He concentrated on an illusion spell, gathered nearly every bit of energy he’d pulled from Fenora mere moments ago, and cast it on himself.

Stross’s vision blurred at the edges from the amount of energy it took, but he knew it had worked. He moved around a pair of bandits panicking and flailing, trying to extinguish themselves, then a pair who were trying to save some of the stolen goods before it was consumed by the rapidly spreading fire. None of them noticed him as he ducked and weaved around them, right in front of their noses.

It had been a really long time since Stross had used this spell. It wasn’t a normal disguise. No, this one was different. It was costly to use, and only lasted about a minute, but is was possibly the best disguise of them all: nothing.

Stross spotted the archway that led deeper into the barrow. This was his only way out now, but he’d take it.

Then he heard the thundering footsteps behind him and turned to see the bandit leader behind him… and heading right towards him! But he was invisible!

Maybe the bandit was just going the same way he was going to get away from the fire and smoke. Stross quickly stepped to the side to allow him to pass, and started thinking up ways to avoid him later. But the massive orc adjusted his course to match his.

Before he could move, Stross felt an armored fist clamp down on his throat.

He pulled off Stross’s cloak and held it in front of his face so he could see that it was still on fire. “That little vanishing trick doesn’t work too well when you’re lit up like a damn torch.” the orc said with a sinister grin, “Now where was I? Oh… I remember.”

With a ferocious yell the bandit leader ran back into the fire and smashed Stross into a pile of burning crates, then a stone pillar, then through the table in the center of the room. Stross was little more than a ragdoll to him as the orc smashed his body again and again into everything around him. With every impact he felt something break, and wasn’t sure if it was just the furniture, or his shell.

Finally, huffing from the effort, the orc grabbed Stross’s head between his fingers and started squeezing. “You and that stupid elf just ruined the biggest score I’ve ever planned! So I’m gonna crush you like the bug you are, and then I’m gonna burn that whole town to the ground just like you burned my stash of loot!”

While the orc snarled into his face, Stross could feel his shell start to crack under the pressure, and for some reason his arms and legs hurt too much to move.

He could feel his hearing start to fade, the shouts of bandits and the crackling of fire were swallowed up by silence. He couldn't even hear his shell cracking. Soon even the pain faded away, and he was only aware of the sensation of his head getting squeezed, but it didn’t hurt, it only felt strange.

At last his vision blurred away to nothing, the orc’s expression of rage blurred and obscured until it was no more.

There was nothing left to see hear or feel… except his changeling emotion sense.

Before him he could see nothing but a big blob of dark red. Anger, fury, rage, killer instinct. But beyond that were tiny little flecks of white. If he could just reach them… but they were so far away; the red wouldn’t let him through to get them.

He was so hungry. He would just have to yank the little specks out by force.

Fenora slammed her fist against the door again and again, hearing the panicked shouts and sounds of battle just beyond. She had tried jamming her sword in between the opening, but only managed to pry it open about half an inch before the steel blade bent under the strain. There must have been something heavy blocking the other side. In her head she berated herself for dodging backwards instead of diving into the fray. Now Stross was inside there with all those angry bandits, and while she was stuck on the other side of this stupid metal door, they were going to tear him apart.

“This isn’t happening… this can’t be happening. Gods damn it, not again!” Fenora swore as she kicked the slab of metal in frustration, “Think Tandis think! There’s got to be a way back in there. What would your dear ol’ dad do?” Fenora wracked her brain.

Then she paused, and a smile slowly spread across her face. “He’d think of another way to the treasure.”

It was then that Fenora remembered the hole in the roof that let some light into the room, and she turned around to find some way to get to it.

On her way though, her eyes met with that of Camilla. Lucan’s sister sat next to where Faendal and Sven where laying, aching and bleeding on the snow-covered ground. Her hands and feet where still bound, and she couldn’t talk around the balled up cloth shoved in her mouth.

Fenora grabbed the sword from where it had been dropped. The blade was bent at an odd angle and pretty useless in a fight, but could still slice through a couple ropes.

“Sorry about the rough treatment, but the rescue doesn’t seem to be going quite as planned.” Fenora apologized while she helped remove the gag.

Camilla grimaced while the last bit was retrieved from the back of her throat, but smiled up at Fenora all the same. “At least someone decided to do something. My brother said it would be too dangerous for me to go alone, but he wouldn’t stop sulking over that old hunk of gold. I guess he was right.”

“You mean Lucan? He was rallying a mob down in Riverwood when we showed up. These two,” Fenora motioned to the smitten hunter and bard, “insisted on coming along, thinking it would win your affections if they saved you.”

Camilla brushed a hand over each of their faces, and choked back a sob when they each smiled despite their injuries. “I didn’t mean to put you all in danger because of my recklessness. I’m sorry.”

“They chose to come. And I’m sure you’ll make it up to them.” Fenora told her.

Suddenly an agonized wail came from the barrow behind them. It sounded like someone was having their skin slowly peeled off, and lasted just as long.

“I’ve got to get in there. Stay here until I get back!” Fenora ordered them and began scaling an uneven wall up to the roof of the barrow. She reached the ledge just as the scream finally petered out.

The skylight was easy to spot, but it was far smaller than what she would have liked. Fenora peeked through the hole into the darkness below. Flames were slowly dying out everywhere she looked, but nothing was truly visible until a torch lit up, and a pair of bandits wandered into view.

One held an axe out in front of him while the other stood at his back holding the torch and a dagger.

Suddenly the torchlight went out and there was another horrible scream as the axe bandit stumbled away.

The weapon shook in his grip as he frantically looked around in the darkness. He jerked to the left when he heard something move, then from behind him a shadow swooped past, snatching the weapon from his trembling hands.

“N-no… No please- NO!” he begged in vain as he was grabbed and dragged off into the darkness, and another blood-curdling wail filled the air.

Fenora wasted no more time and kicked the loose stones around the skylight to make an entrance big enough for herself to jump through. She landed on the floor below with a quiet thud. The floor was covered in soaking wet ashes, ruined sacks of vegetables, and pieces of splintered wood.

Keeping her guard up, she took a gamble and called out into the dark surrounding her, “Stross?!”

She felt movement from her left and backstepped while turning to face it.

A familiar figure lurched into the pillar of light. “Stross, you’re alright! You look… different.”

Different was certainly the word. Where Stross’s scales had been cracked and crumbling before, they were now whole, glossy and black, and his skeletal form had filled in so that his ribs no longer showed through his upper torso shell. In fact, for a changeling, Stross looked immaculate.

Yet there was something off about him; he was hunched over, and he made little gnawing motions with his mouth when his eyes... his pitch black eyes stared at her. His lips curled back revealing every gleaming fang.

Oh, and there was the fact that he pounced on her and started snapping his jaws at her face.

That’s kind of different too.

“Stross, what the ‘Blivion are you doing!? It’s me!” Fenora screamed as she shoved and wrestled him away.

But Stross wasn’t listening to her as he grabbed her head in his hands, brought his face close to hers and opened his mouth wide.

A chill filled the air, and Fenora felt like she was… slipping into Stross’s open maw. And even in the darkness she saw her reflection in his empty eyes. In that moment she realized it; she was afraid. Worse, she didn’t even understand why, but she felt like she was slowly dying as bits of her warmth slipped away, starting with her fingers and feet.

With a shout of defiance, Fenora kicked Stross in the stomach and knocked him away.

“Stross, what is going on with you?!” Fenora demanded as she put some distance between herself and the changeling.

Stross merely let out a hiss before dropping to all fours and skittering into the darkness again.

Fenora took slow deliberate steps towards the nearest wall, something she could put her back to, and she listened to the room around her for even the smallest noise. Tiny pops of crackling wood, the slosh of ash-filled liquid around her feet… then a metallic scraping.

Ducking down, Fenora found the blade of a large iron sword, the one the bandit chief had used against her. She searched for the handle, glad for any kind of weapon, but found it lodged on something. With a swift tug upward, she found out what.

The bandit chief was pulled from the burning ashes along with his sword, his hands still clutching the blade tightly. He was anything but alive, and without his helmet on Fenora could see the fear and pain frozen on his face. His eyes, once so filled with ambition, pride and hate were now as milky grey as a long dead corpse.

A sharp inhale drew her attention forward again she pulled the blade free just in time to intercept another attempt by Stross as he let out an unearthly shriek. She shoved him back again and made one last attempt to reason with him.

“Stross, stop right now or I’ll cut you down!” she threatened as she raised the sword and pointed it at him.

The changeling paused for a moment… then lunged at her again.

His attack was met with a strike using the flat of her blade. Fenora watched as it collided with the side of his head and sent him staggering.

What had happened to the strange bug-like creature that had tried to save her in Helgen?

The changeling recovered and came at her again. This time her sword cleaved across his chest and splattered gobs of black blood everywhere, and the changeling let out a screech of pain.

Where was the being who selflessly followed her to a bandit hive, throwing himself into harm’s way to save people he’d never even met, likely at the cost of his own life?

To her shock, Fenora saw that the huge gash across his chest was already closing, stitching itself back together. The changeling charged again, failing to notice or simply not caring about the blade pointed squarely towards it.

The sound of iron piercing scale echoed through the room as Fenora drove the length of the blade through the monster’s chest, resting the cross-guard firmly against its shattered sternum. It let out a howling wail that slowly petered out as its body went limp. She released the handle and let the whole changeling kebab to the floor as the black liquid slowly oozed out around it into a growing pool.

At her feet lay a mindless beast.

Where was Stross?

“Are you three going to be alright on the way back down?” Fenora asked Camilla as she helped them each to their feet.

It had been a tremendous task shifting enough debris to open the door again, and searching the bodies wasn’t easy on the mind. Each of the bandits Stro- the changeling had killed were cold and rigid, with the same expression of fear forever locked onto their features. Though luckily, a few had some minor healing potions on them which were quickly put to use.

“We should be fine. Thank you all for rescuing me.” Camilla told her, “I’ll make sure we get back to Riverwood safely. What will you and your friend do now?”

Fenora averted her eyes. She’d neglected to tell them about what had happened. “I’m going to get that claw… and the dragonstone.”

At first there was only a tiny flame. Surrounding it was nothing but darkness and cold that went on forever in all directions. In that lonely void, that little red flame flickered and faded until it was almost extinguished.

But then something miraculous happened. Another flame joined it. It too was small, but its white light blazed brightly compared to the little red fire.

The little red flame jumped for joy when it saw the white flame, and knew it wanted more of them.

Soon it got its wish, and more white flames came, each burning brightly and surrounding the little red flame in the middle of the great nothingness.

The little red flame basked in the warm glow the white flames gave off, and grew stronger, bigger, and brighter. Now the little red flame was happy, for it was no longer alone, and the white fire’s light made it feel safe.

The white flames were not happy though, they were angry and afraid… confused even. They told of how they had been ripped from their shells and forced into this horrible place where their light could no longer shine for all to see. Now they were contained for the pleasure of the red flame.

The red flame didn’t understand, but it didn’t care, for as long as it could see them shine, that was enough.

One by one though, the white flames faded away, having bled the last of their light for the red flame. The red flame tried desperately to hold onto the white flames and their light that it loved so much. But every time it touched them, they burned even faster until there was nothing left but its own red light.

Finally, the last one burned out, and the red flame… once so weak and so close to going out, now towered over the darkness with its bright red, consuming light, shining out into forever… alone.

But then the red flame saw it. Through the infinite darkness it saw another fire, golden and grand and so very… very far away. The red flame moved closer, hoping, praying, perhaps even willing for that gold fire to come toward it as well, just to see its wonderful light.

Fenora crouched over Stross’s body where she’d left him, the sword still through his chest like a pin through a moth.

“I’m going to find the dragonstone Stross, and when I do they’ll have to listen. No matter what I won’t let anyone die because I didn’t do anything. Not again.” Fenora said as she stroked his cheek. They had only met that morning, but she had seen enough to honor his wish. She wouldn’t run from the coming fire or the dragons that breathed it. “I promise… I’ll-“

Stross took a sharp inhale and his blue eyes shot open. “Fenor-“

“GAH!” Fenora screamed and reflexively stomped on his head.

“Oooowww. Fenora that hurt.” Stross whined as he sat up and rubbed where she'd kicked him.

When he did though, he felt metal scraping against his shell, and looked down at his chest. His jaw dropped, and his eyes stared unblinkingly at the blade pushed neatly through him. “I… there’s a-…” Stross tried in vain to use his words.

“St-Stross? Are you… are you okay?” Fenora said, barely believing what she was seeing. Just a minute ago she’d been sure he was dead. And before that…

“No I’m not okay! There’s a sword in me! I'm the complete opposite of okay!” Stross sputtered as his breathing quickened. " I… I feel sick."

“But you’re alright otherwise right? Nothing… weird going on?” Fenora asked cautiously.

Stross hummed in thought for a second, “Well now that you mention it, I’ve got an itch between my wings that I can’t quite reach, my feet are killing me, and- oh yeah. THERE’S A GIANT SWORD IN MY CHEST! Like… all the way through! I’m like one of those bug collector’s trophies! Help me, please!”

“Alright, hold on a sec.” Fenora told him and grabbed hold of the sword handle.

“AHH! No- Stop!” Stross shrieked, “You can’t just yank it out. You’ve gotta pull it out slowly while you use a healing spell to close the wound.”

Fenora thought for a second and then gripped the handle again, bracing herself with a foot on Stross’s shoulder. “Okay, now hold still and try not to scream too much.”


On that day, Fenora managed to extract nearly four feet of steel from Stross’s body like a King from a old fable pulling a legendary sword from a stone, and to the changeling's credit… he only screamed loud enough to wake the dead. Somewhere in Riverwood, scary stories about the banshee of Bleak Falls Barrow were already in the making.


“GAhh, okay. Pulling all the way out works too. Now for the healing spell.” Stross said and looked at Fenora expectantly while he clutched the three inch hole in his chest. “You have one right?” he chuckled painfully, “Right?! I don’t wanna die!”

Fenora rolled her eyes and pulled his hands away from his chest. She ran her fingers over the slight crease in his shell where the hole had been seconds ago, and Stross did the same, dumbfounded.

“There’s your healing spell.” She told him, “Now come on, Camilla and her boyfriends are already on their way back to Riverwood, and we’ve got a dragonstone to find.”

“What happened in here?” Stross asked and looked around at the ashes and debris. “Last thing I remember was fighting that big one, and him trying to pop my head like a tomato. I guess that didn’t end so well.” He said and passed his hand over the remnants of his wound.

“Er, yeah… not well at all. But they've been... taken care of.” Fenora said awkwardly before pulling him forward with her. The whole thing where he went berserk and tried to kill everything, including her, would have to wait for another time. But right now…

“Hey Stross,” Fenora said and pulled him into a hug. “I’m glad you’re alive.”

Stross smiled and rested his head against her shoulder. “Me too.”

After a moment they broke away from each other and made their way to the door that led deeper into Bleak Falls.

And so the gold flame looked out from its shell at the bright red flame, and shined its light towards it. The red flame smiled, keeping its distance as the two flames burned together in the darkness, side by side.

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