the legend of Absinthe

Once upon a time, in the far-off land of Skyrim, there lived a girl named Absinthe.

Or at least that’s what popped into her head when the soldiers asked her name before they put her on the chopping block.

Implausibly, a dragon interrupted the proceedings just as the headsman’s axe was about to fall. She escaped, killing eight soldiers in the process. It wasn’t until after the chaos that she remembered how to sneak, and she vowed that she would never kill again – it was entirely too easy.

All she could think of during the escape was how pretty the dragon was, and how she just wanted to pet his beautiful black muzzle. Even when his firey breath was inches away from her she felt no fear. She knew he’d never hurt her.

On the suggestion of the Imperial soldier she escaped with she

(Once upon a time, in the far-off land of Skyrim, there lived an elven girl named Lisayah. Or at least that’s what popped into her head when the soldiers asked her name before they put her on the chopping block. She escaped in the chaos along with a bearded man who described himself as a Greycloak. On his suggestion she – )

wandered up towards Whiterun, the local big city. Absinthe did what the world seemed to suggest she do for a while, until the local potentate’s head of security rushed up to her with news of a dragon attacking the edge of the city, and wanted her to be involved in killing it. She fled.

She fled to the furthest northwest reaches of Skyrim, where she had heard there was a shop that sold nothing but clothes. This, she felt, was a far more worthwhile goal than snuffing out the life of something as beautiful as a dragon. Along the way she wandered into more than a few tombs, raiding them of all the treasures she could find. She learnt to dodge their inhabitants when they woke, learnt to walk softly so as to wake as few as possible.

When she got to the town where this fabled clothing store was, she found herself entering the city just as a man was being led to the chopping block. A crowd was gathering as an official read out a list of his crimes against the Empire, which sounded curiously like the ones she’d been accused of. She took an arrow from her quiver and aimed it at the headsman. Nobody noticed; the whole crowd kept looking at the official, the official kept droning on. She let loose the arrow and stood there to see what might happen; she only seemed mildly surprised when the town guards ran after her, and the prisoner escaped.

Absinthe didn’t try escaping very hard. When the guards caught her and told her the fine was only five gold pieces, she laughed to herself as she paid. Five gold? That was less than a bottle of wine. That was the entire penalty for setting an enemy of the state free. The world seemed less real around her.

Her quest for the prettiest clothes in all of Skyrim turned absurd when she bumped into the owner of the store in the town’s marketplace. Who sniffed, and told Absinthe that she’d need better clothes than the ones she had on if she was to dine at the Blue Palace. Somehow, it was rapidly established that Absinthe was, in fact, soon to dine at this place she’d never heard of before, and that she would be quite pleased to do the seamstress a favor by wearing said seamstress’ finest attire to this event, if only she’d mention to the local potentate who made it. Absinthe would have been proud to have sweet-talked the seamstress into this, except she didn’t even try. It just sort of happened. Absinthe was left standing in the middle of the market, blinking at an expensive new outfit that she’d just been handed for free.

She tried it on then and there, peeling out of the travel-stained armor she’d taken off of one of the soldiers she killed right after the dragon freed her. Nobody batted an eye. Absinthe examined her fine new raiment, and sneered. It was awful. It was all heavy furs and thick drapes that completely hid her lovely body. She found the clothing shop, and bought a few dozen outfits with the gold she’d found in her journeys through dusty tombs – a bunch of the cheap ones, one gold apiece, in all the colors of the rainbow. As long as your rainbow was limited to brown, grey, and muted blues and greens. Absinthe was aghast when what looked fraught with potential on the rack was full of giant rips and absurd leather stitching. She tried on one of the more expensive outfits, and while it was all in one piece, it was also a terrible quilted monstrosity once it was on her. She sighed, and left the seamstress with all those clothes somehow stuffed into the pack she didn’t carry, and wore the least horrible of the expensive outfits.

Properly clothed, Absinthe could now begin to work on her second quest: becoming a master thief. Absinthe began a trek across the entire continent, from the northwestmost point to the southeasternmost, where she had heard the Thieves’ Guild was located. The less said about it the better; suffice it to say that after her first job after the initiation, they were acting as if she was the great hope of what turned out to be a rather down-on-its-heels Guild who met in the sewers. Admittedly, she was eerily brilliant; she could sneak through anything without being seen, she could pick any pocket she cared to despite only having a few months of memory. But when the Guild gave her a job that involved destroying beehives, she ended the relationship then and there and walked out of their city.

She drifted across the realm, honing her already eerily-good thieving skills. Many times, it was as if she’d try to sneak past some dread tomb-wight, or pick a pocket, only to be caught – and then suddenly she was back somewhere before she’d made the attempt, with a perfect memory of how it failed. Sometimes again and again and again, until she either succeeded or gave up. At night, she’d look up into the cloudy sky. Sometimes she’d have visions of what it must be like behind those clouds: huge, garishly-colored nebulae that looked vaguely like a warrior, a wizard, and a thief, with constellations that grew brighter as she learnt more and more about how to dance through this gloomy, snowy world. Mostly the constellations hanging before the bright green thief.

Eventually, she made her way back to Whiterun, where she’d fled being asked to kill a dragon. When she got there, it was as if no time had passed; the local chief of security was patiently waiting for her to come along for the job.

She decided to come along, and was lead to a tower with a dragon flying about it. The soldiers spread out and began fighting the dragon. Absinthe just wandered up the tower and looked out the gaping hole knocked in its side somewhere in the past. She loosed a few arrows in the dragon’s direction, just to try to get into the spirit of things, but mostly she just watched, and dodged the occasional flame j(got burnt to death)et.

And then the dragon lay there on the ground, dead. Shivering with sadness, Absinthe walked up towards the corpse. She wanted to look at it closely; she wanted to apologize to it. She was not expecting it to suddenly erupt into flames, leaving behind a pristine skeleton and a whirling, ghostly cloud that sought her out and dived into her, leaving a strange word ringing in her mind.

She was especially not expecting to somehow know the dragon’s name. She shouldn’t have been surprised, since she seemed to know everybody’s name, but it was somehow off-putting to know that she was looking at the corpse of something that this world thought needed a name.

As she was trying to make sense of this, the soldiers began talking about the strange things that happened when Absinthe got close to the dragon’s corpse. (To Mulmirnir’s corpse). They began calling her something: Dovahkiin. Which they explained meant “Dragonborn”. A legendary hero, a mortal born with a dragon’s soul… who was destined to be a great dragon-slayer. Who would somehow eat the souls of the dragons she killed. Who could shout in the dragon language and do magic.

She spoke the strange word that came into her mind along with Mulmirnir’s soul, and it came out as a mighty shout that pushed the soldiers aside.

It was at this point that Absinthe broke.

She peeled off her armor and put on a white nightie, and walked barefoot into the local potentate’s hall to tell him that she’d eaten the dragon’s soul without even trying to and people were calling her some legendary hero and the dragon was the most beautiful thing in this poor grey world and apparently she was destined to kill them and– He just praised her. And then an eerie chorus rung out across the land: an obscure sect of monks who were trained in the lore of these super-powerful dragon words, and were calling her to their mountain retreat at the center of Skyrim for training.

She never wore armor again. Just the nightie. It looked good on her, if she didn’t mind running around this frozen land in little more than her underthings.

As it turned out, she didn’t mind. The cold troubled her not at all. Everyone else was bundled up in heavy furs and many layers, but somehow it simply failed to affect her thin body in any way. Even when she followed an Arctic fox up a mountain to a massive granite statue of… some goddess or another, she supposed. She began running around barefoot, for it was easier to sneak past the undead when there were no bootheels clomping on the broken tomb floors, and she could never find any boots that were fabulous enough for her taste anyway. A pack bursting with armor and gold and gems and potions, and all she really ever used was that shift and a dagger. Which she had honed and enchanted herself, and named in memory of Mulmirnir. She pretended his soul dwelled in it, not in her. Many an undead was returned to the next world to serve as an honor guard for the dragon whose soul she’d never wanted to eat.

When she began to feel she’d atoned for Mulmirnir’s death, Absinthe climbed the fabled “Seven Thousand Steps” (which were more like three hundred) to the dragon-word monastery and spent some time with the monks. They were more interested in silent contemplation of what they called the “Way of the Voice” than using the powers knowing words in the dragon language conveyed – for the dragons, they taught, were nearly gods, with a language that has the power to alter reality. Mostly this seemed to involve sitting around in front of dragon statues.

She drifted around the land some more. Robbing tombs for the fun of it, watching the constellations light up brighter every time she looked up past the gloomy sky. Eventually she ran into an ancient order of people who served the legendary hero everyone said she was; they wanted her to come along and help kill a dragon who was about to be resurrected. She wandered away for months, and yet when she finally came back, they were still patiently waiting for her to go help kill their dragon, as if no time passed when she wasn’t around.

Absinthe shrugged. It had been a while since she’d seen a dragon. Maybe she’d be able to talk to this one and negotiate some sort of peace with these beautiful creatures? She doubted it, but she could hope.

Soon, she was trudging around the land with a new weapon: an enchanted bow named Sahloknir, after the dragon she’d seen brought back from the grave by the dragon who’d saved her from the axe, then promptly killed by the people Absinthe was with. It, too, would carry many a resurrected human corpse back to the next world to serve its namesake.

She drifted back to the dragon-word monks. Sitting at the top of a mountain looking at the sky, far away from the affairs of the freezing blue-grey world she was stuck in felt more and more compelling. There, she was allowed to climb to the very peak of the mountain, where the leader of the dragon-word monks lived: A dragon. A friendly dragon. A dragon named Paarthurnax, who would actually sit there and talk to her, who would let her stroke his beautiful, shining scales and tell him how beautiful he was, for all that he was ancient and rugged and war-torn.

She slept in the freezing snow beneath Paarthurnax’s favorite perch, and was happy.

Between Paarthurnax, the dragon monks, and the order of servants to the mythic figure she was supposed to be, Absinthe learnt the history of the dragon who freed her. He was Alduin, the first dragon. Who everyone said was the first-born child of the god who created the world. Alduin’s goal was nothing less than to destroy the world. Up there on the mountain, her hand on Paarthurnax’s friendly head, Absinthe really couldn’t find it in herself to care. She didn’t want to kill any more dragons. She wanted to be one of them.

Up there at the peak of the highest mountain in the land, she fancied that sometimes the skies would clear, and she’d see the true constellations gleaming behind the stars of the mundane world, with the three colorful nebulae behind them.

Well, she contemplated that for a time, but eventually she got bored. Absinthe wandered the land for a while, robbing more tombs and getting involved in people’s lives in glancing ways. Wherever she went, she found herself picking up gold pieces. She figured it was her dragon nature, attracting her first hoard to her. Sometimes she imagined that if she collected enough she’d shed her human form and become one. She knew this would never happen, but the thought kept her amused during the lonely nights away from the only other dragon who’d talk to her. Maybe it helped to explain the way the she kept on being rewound in her life every time she screwed up, too.

Once, a dragon simply dropped out of the sky, dead, and its soul leapt into her. It had no name. Now and then, other dragon corpses fell out of the sky; none of them had names or souls any more.

Absinthe became increasingly detached from the world.

Finally, she let herself be convinced that, dragon or not, Alduin was kind of a dick what with the whole “World-Eater” business, and she guessed she’d go kill him like everyone kept saying she was supposed to. As if in a dream, she summoned a dragon to a palace built generations ago as a jail for dragons, cut a deal with him, and rode him to Alduin’s palace.

Absinthe snuck into Alduin’s palace on a bright sunny day, through a deadly maze of patrolling dragons and undead. By this time, her stealthiness had ascended to the status of legend; she casually slunk inches past the undead warriors and evaded the eyes of the nameless dragon flying above. In the stuttered fractions of future-memory, she was caught hundreds of times, but always she found herself set back a few moments before every single mistake.

And then she dived down a luminous hole at the center of Alduin’s palace, and found herself in Skyrim’s version of Valhalla. It was a misty, cold place, full of giant statues and lost souls who couldn’t find their way to the feast-hall of the Gods for fear of being eaten by Alduin. Absinthe pressed on through the mist; finally, at a cliff’s edge, the air cleared before her, and she saw the feast-hall of the Gods where all the good Nordic warriors went when they died. She craned her neck to look at its soaring eaves, and that’s when she saw it. The true sky. The garish nebulae circling the dome that she’d seen in her mind’s eye ever since she found herself on a cart headed for the headsman.

Absinthe stood there for a long moment, transfixed.

Then she went and did a hero thing. Hooked up with some dead dragon-soul heroes, summoned Alduin, and paid him back for saving her from the headsman by serving as his.

Wherever his soul went, it didn’t leap into Absinthe. She was kind of glad about that.

Afterwards, she looked at the sky for a long time.

It had colors. Bright colors, far brighter than the snow-muted browns and greys and greens of Skyrim. But it was missing one thing: Dragons. So Absinthe spoke to the man who guarded the entrance to the feast-hall of the Gods, and he sent her back to that sad, grey place called Skyrim.

Specifically, to Paarthurnax’s mountain, where dragons circled around the peak and praised her for killing Alduin. Apparently a lot of them kinda thought he was a dick too. Maybe they were even sort of willing to see Absinthe as a dragon now. She wasn’t sure; her grasp of their language wasn’t very good yet.

After they left, she curled up in the snow beneath Paarthurnax’s favorite perch and went to sleep.

* * * * *

Sitting there in the cold winds she never seemed to feel, Absinthe considered the world of Skyrim. How nothing ever seemed to happen unless she was around to see it, how everyone waited upon her assent to do anything interesting. How thin the world sometimes seemed around her. She began to wonder if it really ever existed when she wasn’t there to experience it.

Sometimes, the fact that she never wanted to come down from that mountain again felt like it meant she was the dragon who’d done what Alduin wanted to do. He’d somehow called her into being, that day he rescued her from the headsman, and she’d lived out the last days of the world.

* * * * *

Once upon a time, in the far-off land of Skyrim, there lived an orc named xxLOLBUTTSxx.

Or at least that’s what popped into his head when the soldiers asked his name before they put him on the chopping block.

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