An old adventurer sat alone in the Winking Skeever. I had heard rumors that he was the famed Dragonborn from the stories my father would tell me about. I figured he got enough questions about the battle, or Ulfric Stormcloak, or his supposed ties with the Dark Brotherhood. As I sat there watching him eat by himself in a dark corner of the room, I only had one question for him. I approached his table, and he barely glanced up at me from under his black hood. After I asked him my question, he irritatingly pushed his plate away from him and began.
“You want to know why I always travel alone, huh? Unfortunately, it is not my choice anymore. Be seated, and allow me to tell you why it is I can never take another companion into battle with me.”
He continued, “Ancano lay at my feet, surrounded by the historic pillars that lined the Hall of the Elements. You don’t know Ancano? He was a bastard High Elf, and that’s all you need to know.”
“Although the Eye of Magnus had been transported from the room, there was still an ominous feel to the stones that lined the floor. You don’t know the Eye of Magnus? The source of mysterious power that nearly destroyed Skyrim, and perhaps Tamriel itself?” he sighed, “ Well, that’s what it was. Anyway.
“I could hear the voice of Tolfdir, the eccentric old mage that had let me into the college, despite the fact I could barely cast a Lesser Ward during the entrance exam. His words were difficult to make out. I couldn’t tell if it was because of the metal mask I wore around my face to enable me to breathe underwater and carry more load, or the remnants of magical energy coursing through my eardrums. Despite this, there seemed to be a voice missing from the room; one that had often made obvious suggestions upon entering a giant hall of undead Draugr, or a cave covered in spiderwebs.”
“‘Ria?” I asked to no one. Sunlight poured through the open door of the hall where a palisade of curious faces peered inside to take a look at the aftermath. A glint of light bounced off of the eye-hole of my face mask, and I moved my head to see what it was that was casting such a blinding glare in my direction.”
“There she lay, doubled over, her body bent backwards in one of the least glorified corpse positions I’d ever seen. Her glass armor looked untouched, and the stag antlers on her helmet didn’t have a mark on them. Yet, there she was, dead as yesterday.
“It wasn’t sadness that first took me. No. If it was any emotion, it was guilt. Guilt that this was the fifth companion that I had let die during a tough battle. First there was that cute little Housekarl that the Jarl of Whiterun had given me upon becoming his Thane. Can’t remember her name at all, but I certainly remember the arrow sticking out of her face from that godsdamned Falmer. Then there was that guy I met in the tavern in Windhelm. He seemed really happy that I was even talking to him. Kept saying how great a friend I had been to him, even though I had just hired him not two seconds earlier. Poor guy didn’t even make it to his first dragon fight. Instead, some cursed dragon priest named Krosis killed him.”
“Then there was this alcoholic from the Companions hall that I – err, ended up getting sacrificed at some Daedric shrine.”
The old adventurer began nervously sweeping away some kind of black smoke from his ebony chain mail.
“Moving on. How many was that? Three? Four? Regardless, Ria was the fifth. I liked Ria. She was tall for an Imperial, and we Nords like our women tall. Thought about taking her to the Temple of Mara, making an honest woman out of her. That idea went out the Oblivion gate, so to speak.”
“So what did I do? What else could I do? I had to move on. At first it was a dog named Vigilance. The creature had the absolute worst breath in the world. I don’t know what that kennel master was feeding the damned thing, but the stench certainly didn’t make sneaking any easier. Neither did the fact that the mutt had no concept of sneaking. It was during a fight in a cave full of rogue mages that I had to let the beast go. The dog got too excited and ended up pulling about five of the ascendant bastards right to me. Forget picking them off one by one with my bow, it was sword and shield time. Not to mention just about every-potion-in-my-bag time.”
“Somehow, I ended up making it out. As I looked at the snow capped peak where the Greybeards had taught me so much, rising in the distance above me, a woman’s voice caught my attention. My first thought? Bandits. This really wasn’t Forsworn territory, and I had come to notice that women were a lot more outspoken in these unorganized groups of criminals.”
“As I crouched my way through the brush I found the source of the noise. That combination of glass armor and Nordic helmet was unmistakable. I doubt there was a being in Skyrim with the same armor choice. And I didn’t think there ever would be again. Ria was dead. Yet, there she was. Half of her body in the dirt, the other half in this stiff, crooked pose. She was speaking, much in the same way she used to speak to me when we were raiding a Nordic ruin or old Dewmer city.”
“I walked up to her, not thinking that she could do anything to me with half of herself buried in the ground. I literally didn’t have the words in me to express what I was feeling at that moment. So I simply said the fourth or fifth thing that appeared before me.”
“‘I need your help, follow me.’”
“She didn’t move. After a few minutes of just listening to her ramble on about our surroundings I decided it would be best to let undead mercenaries lie, and moved on to a cave I was asked to clear out by a local Jarl.”
“I don’t get startled too easily, I just want to make that clear before I continue with what happened next. While in this cave I found myself hurt pretty badly after an encounter a Pyromancer. I was nursing my wounds when I heard footsteps behind me, causing me to whip out my sword and ready my vocal chords to Fus-Ro-Kill whatever fool decided to try and sneak up on me. However, what ended up happening was me nearly back-flipping out of my ebony armor in surprise. It was Ria. She had somehow pulled herself out of the ground, looking as if nothing had ever happened to her.”
“And for all other purposes, nothing had. She still fought, helped me carry my loot, and made those annoying obvious statements about the geography that I had come to enjoy so much.”
“Things went well for a while, until one day she just didn’t follow me. I don’t know where she went, or what she did, but I tried to hire others to replace her. Each time I would ask them to follow me they would merely reply, ‘It looks as if you already have someone.’ No joke. And every time I would do a full-turn to find no one else standing with me. I’m not sure what these people were seeing, but I certainly wasn’t seeing it.”
“It wasn’t until I heard about some dormant words of power in a cave somewhere that Ria came back to me. Again, it was her voice I heard first. Her specific inflection causing me to spin on my heels and look at her facing the woods. I couldn’t make out what she was looking at until it was too late. A snow troll came bounding through the foliage, taking her down to her knees in two fell swings. Ria certainly wasn’t a Dovahkin, err, excuse me, Dragonborn, but she wasn’t some unblooded whelp either. Two hits from a snow troll definitely shouldn’t have taken her down like that. I made quick work of the beast, and stood there waiting for her to get back up on her feet.”
“I began to get worried when she wasn’t getting off of her knees. Now, I’m not really one for magic. I figure a shout can do anything a spell can, without having to worry about extra weight for magicka spells. However, I needed to try something to help my longest companion. I remembered learning a healing spell back when I was helping the College in Winterhold, and did my best to perform the damned thing on Ria. I watched as the wisps of healing light encircled her body, and I waited for some sign that she was getting better. I got none.”
“Then something dawned on me. Perhaps this is what she was waiting for. Perhaps she wanted me to be the one to end her life. She had to keep coming back for a reason, right? No joke, kid, this was the only solution that I could see presented before me. Ever since I’d learned about being the Dragonborn my path was laid out pretty clearly before me. This was the first time I was at a complete loss. As if the divine hand that had been guiding me from that prisoner cart in Helgren just turned a blind eye to the situation. So I grabbed the hilt of the Daedric sword I had crafted with Ria standing right beside me, and I swung it into the back of her head.”
The old Dragonborn grew silent for a bit. I dared not interrupt whatever it was that was playing out in his head.
“And … that was that. She was dead. I checked her body. I could have taken every item off of her at that point and sold it for a nice profit. The only thing I took was an ebony bow I had given her a while back. I don’t know why, but that’s what I took. After a while I tried to hire some more helpers to carry some gear for me, but again, they just gave me the same answer I’d been getting ever since I asked Ria to follow me.”
“You ask why I’m sitting here, eating alone? Because Ria won’t let me be accompanied by anyone else. I can’t explain why, it really doesn’t even make sense. I never thought a dead person could actually have that much influence over the living here in Skyrim, but it would appear that the creators of this world had more important things to focus on. Anyhow, I have to go check on a whispering door up near Dawnstar, would you like to follow me?”
At this moment a glint of light caught my eye, and I thought I saw a woman in glass armor move through the doorframe of the tavern. My heart began to beat faster as I saw her take one look at me and shake her head “No.”
“Nevermind,” the old Dragonborn said with a sad smile, as he looked around the room for the woman he’d been through so much with, “I’m guessing you’re seeing what all the others could, yet I am still unable to view. I’ll catch ya around kid.”