"Are you sure this is wise, my Thane?" The cautious voice from one of her housecarls, Lydia, echoes in her ear. The messy haired blonde glances over to her friend, catching sight of the concern in those dark brown eyes. The blonde's head tilts in confusion, perplexed at being asked such a question. "Of course, silly! How many precautions must one take? We're out here, isolated in a cabin among the forest and I have you, Vilkas, Faralda and Phinis here to observe in case things go wrong! I figure that's being wise and safe enough, don't you?"
"Well...yes, but...the nature of your experiment..."
"...Yes? Don't be reticent Lyd, we are all friends here!"
"It is dangerous."
The blonde blinked rapidly, her confusion growing more and more with each passing moment. "Lyd, am I not the last Dovahkiin?"
"Indeed you are the last Dragonborn, my Thane."
"And am I not the Archmage of the College of Winterhold?"
"Aye, you are her."
"And did I not, through blood and sweat, work my way to become the Harbinger of the Companions."
Lydia sighed, something that she made no effort to hide from the blonde. "You did."
"And was it not through my assistance that General Tullius managed to quash the rebe--"
"YES!" Lydia bellowed, exasperated almost beyond belief.
The blonde grinned knowingly, unfazed by the tone of her friend's voice, well aware that she'd made her point. But she couldn't resist emphasizing it further. "So you see, Lyd, my whole existence has revolved around danger! In fact, one very well could take up a new tome and use my face as a definition of the word danger."
"That may be true, my thane, but--"
"Ah ah ah!" The blonde swiftly dashed up, pressing a finger up against Lydia's lips to cut off whatever she was about to say. "No no no. No, Lyd, no buts here."
Lydia's eyes slid shut momentarily, a low sigh once again escaping her but when she opened her eyes again, it came with a slow but deliberate nod. "As you say, my Thane. One thing, however."
The blonde removed her finger. "And that would be...?"
"I thought I told you to cease calling me Lyd."
The smile on the blonde's face only grew more playful, followed by a shrug. "What can I say, I guess old habits die hard?"
"Tch." Lydia grunted, and at that the blonde turned on her heel, hurrying back over to the focus point of her experiment. "Now then-" The excited dragonborn started. "-I believe it is time to put my experiment to the test!"
Lydia stood there among the others. Vilkas had been silent, only looking at his presence here as another job and one he wasn't all too interested in. Contrasting him, however, was the silence of the two other mages from Winterhold, Faralda and Phinis. Their silence was born of an eager desire to see the results of this action, for the sake of mystical advancement and the pursuit of knowledge. Only Lydia's face showed any consternation, and as she looked towards the blonde mage, a thought ran through her mind. A thought that many across Skyrim had thought, at least once. Only a being who had been born while the largest storm in recent memory ravaged the land, only someone like that could be this reckless and wild, maybe even slightly crazy.
Alerys Stormborn grinning from ear to ear as she threw her experiment into motion, did little to calm her housecarl and friend Lydia in the moments before the inside of the cottage exploded with white. When the blinding light settled, everything was...surprisingly as it was. Not a single bowl or book had been moved. She, Vilkas, Faralda and Phinis all remained where they had been. Only one thing actually changed. Alerys was nowhere in sight.
Lydia sighed a third time, and thought to herself: When you return, don't say I didn't warn you.
"You're mine, you bastard. Goddamn it!"
"Over here, Shepard. This thing is fucking impossible."
"What are you doing?" The Commander asked.
"There was a kid here, sniveling brat, spending all his credits, crying." The mercenary explained.
"Ah. So you thought you'd get a prize for him."
"He asked. Looked simple enough--goddamn it!"
"I'm surprised by you, Zaeed. Didn't think you were that charitable."
Zaeed grunted dismissively. "Just cause we shared a bed all those times don't mean you saw all of me, Shepard."
Shepard shook her head and snickered, amused by the older merc. "Sure." She let him have that one. "So where's the kid?"
"What do I care?" Zaeed retorted in a harsh growl.
"That's more like you." Shepard teased, but he ignored it.
"Got any credits, Shepard?"
Her eyebrows raised as she leaned back against the machine. "Isn't there something better we could go do?"
"What could possibly be more important than Zaeed Massani not getting bested by some fucking kids' game?!"
"You really want one of those plushy toys, huh?"
"Goddamn right I do." He immediately replied with zero shame.
"Credits." He demanded.
"Sure, but even an old as hell grizzled merc has to use his manners once in a while." Shepard mocked, crossing her arms. He stared at her and only spoke again after a lengthy pause. "............................................................Please."
Shepard grinned, smug as can be, before tossing him some credits. He still failed, frustrated anger flashing across his damaged face. "It's obviously rigged somehow."
"Oh yeah. Uh-huh. Definiteeeeeely." Her comment was as sarcastic as sarcastic could get but Zaeed either ignored it or didn't even hear it, focused as he was on glaring daggers at the infernal machine. "I swear I am going to hunt down the shit-for-brains inventor of this crooked game and pull his inspiration out through his arsehole!" The old mercenary fiercely snarled. "Probably some smart-ass salarian bastard."
There were a few seconds of tense silence before he turned his head slightly towards Shepard. "I'm going back in." Zaeed declared. "Credits."
Shepard was more than willing to give some more, wordlessly handing them over. True to his word, he dove back into it, but this time he managed to at last succeed, provoking a more quiet and subdued "alright" out of him. Once his prize was collected, the older merc and the young N7 soldier strode several feet away from the machine. The plush volus prize got shoved into the hands of some asari they passed by, with Zaeed proclaiming: "Your lucky day, sweetheart." The blue alien didn't even have a chance to say anything before the two continued on.
"Okay Zaeed, where to?"
"How the hell should I know? What do ya feel like? Apollo's? Casino? More claw?" He finished, gesturing back at the game machine.
"Sure, Zaeed, if you want." She replied. "But this time you pay with your own fucking credits."
"I'm man enough to pay for my addictions, Shepard."
"I'm an all-in kind of guy." He remarked over his shoulder, already heading back to the game.
Shepard's eyes drifted downwards as he went, coming to a stop on a particular part of him with a smirk emerging at the corner of her mouth. "I think I knew that about you." She finished, lightly jogging up to join him. The rounds of games lead to greasy dinner, which lead to drinks and, well, one thing led to another over the course of that night. Before the night was out, their bed was warm by the time they drifted off into sleep. Yet when Zaeed awoke, he was strangely alone. That...was unlike her. Every time they shared a bed before, she either wasn't up by the time he was or she had waited to see him get up before she stepped out of bed. But this time, she was just...gone. It didn't exactly ruin the night of fun, but some of that pleasant morning feel was lost.
Her morning was far less pleasant.
Shepard awoke, bright overwhelming light burning into her eyes in the time before she managed to raise a hand to block it from view. "What the fucking hell...?" She grumbled as her sight adjusted. It was only then she noticed that rather than the casual white tank top and dark boxers she'd been wearing to bed, she was now all decked up in full armor. More than that, she was packing heat. She had no memory of doing so, however, and the experienced soldier instantly pushed off the ground where she had been lying down and sprang to her feet. Her red eyes scanned the surroundings, instantly recognizing the place as some kind of prison cell. "What is going on here?" She yelled in a voice as rough as sandpaper.
"Ah, you're awake now." Another female spoke from the cell opposite, but her voice was light. If one's voice could ever be described as silky smooth, hers surely fit the bill. Burning red eyes met shiny silver eyes as Commander Shepard, Spectre and savior of the Citadel locked stares with Alerys Stormborn, Dovahkiin and slayer of Alduin.
"Who are you?" Shepard demanded in a guarded voice, her eyes narrowing in a harsh glare.
"Oh yes, introductions! Forgive me for my rudeness! Hello there! I'm Alerys. Alerys Stormborn." She spoke, both swiftly and excitedly. The smile never faded from the blonde's face despite the commander's own sour expression and the surroundings they were both in. Those bright and curious eyes roved all over the Commander, down every inch of that armor and over every centimeter that she could see of the weapons on her back. "Forgive me again, but I've never seen armor like that before...nor those...things on your back? What are they? Where do you get them and what do they do and--" One hand shot up to her mouth, stifling her sentence as shame filled her. "Ah, my mistake, I'm sorry!" She stammered awkwardly. "My excitement got the better of me, sorry. I should have waited to hear your name first." Alerys fell silent with a small smile, letting Shepard speak at her leisure.
The commander stared blankly back at the young woman, so taken aback by that display that for a short while there she had no idea how to respond. There was just a thought. What the hell's up with her...
Alerys's smile faltered for the first time at the awkwardly long silence. "Are you...going to say your name...?" The Dragonborn eventually asked. That seemed to shake the soldier out of whatever stupor had claimed her, and the dark haired woman responded with a brief and blunt: "Shepard."
The smile was back in full force and then some. "Nice! It's good to meet you, Shepard! Now, back to my earlier questions about--"
"Hold on. Stop." Shepard waved a hand across to stop the motormouth before it got too out of control. "What's the matter with you? Why are you so cheerful about this?! Did you wake up like I did? Last thing I remember was being..." Shepard paused and chose, tactfully, not to go into too much detail. "...being somewhere else, but then I woke up here. In a prison cell from the looks of it. What about you?"
"Oh, yes, I had a similar experience."
"What is it?"
"What is it?" Shepard repeated, perplexed. "If you went through something like that too, then what the hell's the matter with you?! Why are you so cheerful? What the fuck's wrong with you?! We're locked in cells, you idiot!" Shepard roared.
"Oh, that." Alerys shrugged before she waved a hand nonchalantly, as if she didn't have a care in the world. "Not a problem."
"Not a problem?!?"
"That is what I said." Before that last word finished, something strange began to occur. Alerys's whole body began to glow...and then it dissipated, the dragonborn disappearing from within the cell...and within seconds reappearing in the hallway between cells, just outside Shepard's own. The soldier's mouth fell open in disbelief. "What the..."
"Psijic order teleporting spell. Learned it from an Altmer mage named Quaranir."
"...Okay." Shepard simply stated, not bothering to bring up the fact that she had no idea what Alerys was talking about or who that guy was.
"Now, I believe the button sequence was..." Alerys's head raised as if she were peering into a visual representation of her memory. After a moment or two her head lowered and she rapidly pressed several buttons on the control panel of Shepard's prison cell. With a whirring noise, the cell opened up and Shepard exited the cell...to immediately grab Alerys by the neck and shove her into the nearest wall.
"If you could do that the whole time, why the fuck did you wait?" Shepard growled in frustration, so close that Alerys could feel every warm breath.
"I wanted to meet you first! You looked intriguing, after all, and I thought that perhaps, we could be friends!" Alerys answered with a wide grin.
Shepard stared at the young woman as if she were insane. Finally she shook her head and relaxed her grip. "Whatever. Do you know the way out of here?"
"Yes I do!" Alerys lifted a hand to point to the left.
"Fan-fucking-tastic." Shepard released the Dragonborn and immediately turned away, heading that way.
"Hey wait!" Alerys dashed up to fall into step alongside Shepard. "I still have my questions, you know!"
"Doesn't mean you're getting answers."
"Really now? You're going to be like that, after I let you out?"
".............." Shepard glanced over at Alerys.
For a being born with the fiercely mighty soul of a dragon, Alerys had the most cute and powerful puppy dog eyes that Shepard had ever seen, rivaling if not surpassing the ones that she imagined were behind Tali's helmet. Not even the rough N7 soldier was able to resist. "..........Fine. I'll tell you about my armor and weapons."
"Yes!" Alerys squealed in victory and one of her hands swept through the empty air. A book was conjured into existence as the pair walked through one of the doors in the hallway and as Shepard explained, words were autowritten into the book to record it all as if by invisible pen.
"Neat trick." Shepard had to admit.
"No tricks, only magic." Alerys countered. "But thank you for the compliment!" She hesitated before continuing, tapping two fingers together idly. "I do have another question though."
"That word you've been using. Fuck? What does it mean?"
That threw Shepard for a loop, not quite sure how to explain. Then again, she didn't get the chance to, as the next door that opened up in front of them led them both into a sandy colosseum looking place. No sooner than their entrance did a voice boom throughout the area as if they were expected. Something that Shepard herself had suspected with the lack of guards around a prison.
"LADIES AND GENTLEMEN AND PEOPLE OF ANY AND ALL GENDERS, AT LONG LAST OUR CHAMPIONS HAVE ARRIVED!"
The crowded as hell stands around the arena burst in wild applause and raucous cheering, to the confusion of both Shepard and Alerys, who shared a bewildered glance with one another. Yet before they could say anything, a sudden invisible force ripped them away from each other, pushing either to one side of the arena. The loud voice continued.
"In this corner, born among a fierce maelstrom with the heart of a dragon, we have the legendary last Dovahkiin, the kickass 23 year old Breton mage of High Rock, Alerys Stooooooooooooooooooormborn! And in the opposite corner, we have the galactic hero, the 32 year old soldier by who all other soldiers are measured, the remarkable Commander Shepaaaaaaaaaaard!"
Magnified holographic screens of both of their faces popped into view around the stands, showcasing the absolute confusion on both their faces for all to see.
"Wait-" Alerys started.
"-what?" Shepard finished, both responding about the same way to what had just been said. "HOLD ON!" Shepard added, yelling to the skies. "Explain what the hell you're going on about!!!"
"These two have been chosen to represent their respective planes of existence, the realm of Nirn and the Milky Way Galaxy in a fight to end all fights! For as it stands, they must fight to determine which of their universes gets to continue to exist! Only the winner is rewarded with survival!"
"...And if we refuse to fight?!" It was Alerys's turn to yell towards the sky.
At last the mysterious loud voice seemed to address them.
"Then both of your universes die!"
"..." Alerys gulped, fear emerging to replace the ever present smile on her face. Her blood ran cold and a shiver worked its way down her spine at the very idea of all those lives being extinguished like that. Genocide on an unbelievable scale like that.
Alerys's eyes shot over towards Shepard after that shout. "You hear me? I call bullshit! Both our universes dying? You expect me to believe that load of fucking garbage?"
"If it is proof you need...I expect you to believe your own eyes."
The big screens shifted, no longer showing the two's faces, but two different views. One of a world being besieged by big, almost squid looking things raining down blasts of red upon the planet. The other of a bustling town, the walls lined with guards loosing arrows upon bandits. And then both, at once, exploded in a violent blast. When the dust cleared...there was nothing left. Nothing but ash.
"But that's not--" Whatever the dragonborn had been about to say, she didn't get to finish before a sudden impact sent her flying and knocked her into the sand.
When she looked up, she saw a glowing blue Shepard standing there weapon drawn, having biotically charged into the younger woman. "Sorry, kid. You heard him, and I have no reason not to believe him after that. I'm not going to let my universe die. And if I'm wrong, and if this is all some fucked up trick...I'll pour a drink in your memory."
"..." Alerys lowered her gaze towards the sand, eyes flitting about as she tried to process the bad situation she'd been dropped into. But on the chance that all of this was what it seemed...well, she couldn't risk it. When the dragonborn lifted her gaze back up, it was not with an expression of fear, or chipper excitement. It was a face that promised she'd do whatever she had to do, to prevent unimaginable destruction. "Who says you're going to win?" Alerys didn't wait to let Shepard answer, instead following through with a mighty shout befit a dragon.
"FUS RO DAH!"
This time it was Shepard who went flying like a ragdoll, skidding and bouncing along the sands of the arena. When she stopped, hardly a second past before she jumped onto her feet and drew her rifle. Both knew the stakes now, that was obvious in their focused eyes. The rifle rose up and fired, bullets shooting through the air. Lightning and fire and ice and more erupted out of hands or expelled through the mouth.
The fight was on.