A Plaguebearer in Skyrim: The Epiphany
(Before reading, you should read the first part of our heroes’ adventures. It’s right here.)
Illia continues to be worried about Innohunk as they near Northwind Summit, the northernmost peak in the Rift. It is a lawless region, barely overseen by its jarl in the capital of Riften. It is populated with bears, wolves, bandits, and, if the rumors prove true (they almost always do in Tamriel), dragons. If anything ill should befall them, there will be no help, as nearest civilization is either the unprotected mining camp of Darkwater Crossing on the river to the west, or the city of Windhelm across miles of desolate marshes to the north. That is to say, only weeks ago Innohunk would have been reveling in the danger of their quest. Today he is as gloomy as the Northwind mountains.
Illia has had a witchly premonition (though she quietly disclaims that she is not a witch, not anymore) that the source of Innohunk’s bleak mood will be revealed this very day. The anticipation is killing her.
As they reach a point about halfway up the mountain, our heroes hear a roar far above their heads. At first they look up the mountain, but a second roar echoes against the stone. They turn to see that the rumors were true. High above their heads is the dragon. “Hark! The dragon!” Illia cries. She readies her frost magic and studies the trajectory of the beast, hoping to cripple one of its wings with a spike of ice.
“I guess we can fight it here,” Innohunk says. Illia can hear resignation in his voice, and realizes that in this state, Innohunk won’t be any good in a fight.
She scans the area and spots the entrance to a mine nearby, barely held open with old bowed timbers. “In here!” she shouts, and before the dragon can swoop down on them, they manage to dive into the dark opening.
“That was close,” Innohunk says. He grins. “I’m glad we didn’t actually fight the thing!” He looks around and his eyes sparkle as he sees that the old mine is abandoned. “Well! As long as we’re here, we may as well explore!”
Illia can see that the mine’s floor leads slightly upwards. “Yes, let’s explore,” she says. Innohunk readies his bow and starts into the darkness when she grabs his shoulder. “But you must promise me that we will continue this adventure, wherever it leads. If we find a village of falmer, we must slaughter them. If we find a Dwemer ruin, we must ransack it. If we find a dragon…”
Innohunk laughs. “Alright Illia, alright.” He shrugs her hand off his pauldron. “If we find some manner of Deep Dragon, we will slay it. I promise. But surely you know there is no such thing!”
So they make their way through the mine, Illia patiently hoping that it will eventually lead upwards, and Innohunk happy to crumble the few animated skeletons they find within.
Illia doesn’t even mind when Innohunk stops to mine some iron ore, though she is a bit surprised to find that he was carrying around a pickaxe in his pack this whole time.
“Where did that come from?” she asks.
“Just in case,” he says, his pickaxe ringing off the stone.
When he has finished mining, they continue on through the mine. When they reach the mine’s central chamber, Illia almost cheers. Innohunk audibly moans.
“It goes up!” he shouts in despair. “Up and up! Look at it, Illia! Dozens of stairs it goes up!”
“Yes,” Illia responds. “But we must continue — we have made an oath to each other. We must see where it leads.”
Innohunk can barely destroy the few skeletons remaining in the place, and has no heart for more mining. They soon reach a hall that ends in light. Innohunk marches slowly towards the day, Illia reminding him of his promise with every step.
Exiting the mine, Innohunk and Illia find themselves at the pinnacle of Northwind Summit. Nearby the dragon slumbers. Innohunk whispers that he cannot continue, but Illia hisses that he promised. With a whimper, Innohunk draws his bow and lets fly an arrow. It rips into the beast’s neck, catching it unawares and doing approximately three times the damage that an iron arrow would normally achieve!
The battle is brief. The dragon lurches forward, breathing fire and slashing at our adventurers, but they are old pros at the art of dragon-slaying. Innohunk looses a few more arrows while Illia fires shards of ice at its wings, grounding it. Then Innohunk draws his elven sword, which is enchanted with magic fire. He rushes forward to finish the beast before it can breathe another stream of fire at them.
In a flash, Innohunk is on the dragon’s head. The dragon violently heaves, but Innohunk keeps his footing and stabs straight down into its skull. He leaps to the ground, landing at the precise moment that the dragon slumps in defeat.
“Excellent kill!” Illia cries. “The nobility in Riften will have to sell us that house now. And at an Oblivion of a deal!”
But as he absorbs the soul of the dragon, Innohunk is silent. Which is normal, since it’s a natural tendency to be silent when a dead dragon bursts into flames and feeds its soul to you, the dragonborn. But Innohunk continues to be silent, even after the dragon is nothing but a bare skeleton. As Innohunk stares at the felled dragon and Illia’s battle-rush wears off, she begins to grow worried.
After a few minutes of coaxing, she finally gets Innohunk to speak.
“I… I like dragons,” he says.
“You like dragons?” She scratches her helm. “Nobody likes dragons. They’re evil.”
“I like them. They’re…” Innohunk searches for the right word. “They’re…”
“Cool?” Illia says.
“Not all of them. Only some. Not this one. This one was a fire dragon.” He thinks for a bit more. “They’re likeable. I guess.”
“That’s it? So what? They’re going to end the world if you don’t stop them. You’re the dragonborn.”
“I know, I just think there’s a better way to be the dragonborn than to kill dragons.”
Illia can’t think of anything to say. She’s never heard of anyone who liked dragons. There are people who like to hear stories about dragons, of course. And some scholars like to study the age of dragons. But nobody likes dragons. They’re both silent as they travel back through the mine and then south to Riften.
Having been raised by witches, Illia has never thought much about the Divines. The witches were more interested in currying the favor of the Daedra of Oblivion than worshiping the kinder gods of Tamriel. Now, worried for her friend, Illia utters her first supplication. She prays silently to Julianos, the god of logic and wisdom. She asks for Julianos to reveal a different way for Innohunk to be the dragonborn, a way that will let him be happy, a way that their adventures together will continue.
Suddenly, Innohunk is ambushed by a cave bear.
The bear bites his arm and swats him with its claws. Illia responds as quickly as she can, but Innohunk is on the ground and bleeding alongside the bear. She helps him get up, but he’s feeling a bit dizzy. He takes a few steps and falls back down, exhausted.
Illia feels his forehead. He’s clammy, and clearly exhausted. “I think you may have just contracted Bone Break Fever from that bear’s filthy paws,” she says. “Don’t worry, we’ll get you a potion of cure disease, or find a shrine for you to pray at. Those always work.”
“No!” Innohunk shouts. He stands up straight. “I’ve got it!”
“I know how I can be the dragonborn without slaying dragons!”
“How?” she asks, wondering if this cave bear was sent by Julianos.
“In ancient times, there were chosen ones called plaguebearers. They absorbed all sicknesses, so that nobody else ever got sick! As the dragonborn, I can absorb souls — so why not absorb illness and disease?”
Illia is stunned. “I don’t think that’s actually a thing,” she says.
“No, it truly is. I’ve heard tales—”
“I don’t think so. And anyway, it’s easy to cure diseases these days. Like I said: holy altar or a potion. You can make them with mudcrab chitin and vampire dust, or they only cost a few—”
“No,” says Innohunk. “This is my calling. This is what I must do.” He grins and wipes the sweat from his brow with the back of his gauntlet. “I need to absorb all the diseases of Skyrim at once. This is what I was born — of dragons — to do.”
“N’wah,” Illia curses. She resolves to never supplicate the Divines again.