The horn sounded, resounding all across the city and echoing across the silent forest. All of the sounds of the forest stopped as the sound from the horn reverberated throughout the valley. The small town from which the sound had originated followed suit, staying utterly still and quiet and listening intently. It was the silence that Lydia noticed first. Falkreath was never silent.
Suddenly, the town erupted with shouts of panic and wails of terror. Birds sitting in the nearby pines took flight, startled by the sudden noise.Lydia stopped dead, dropping the deer she had been dragging from the small copse of trees to the west. She listened, hoping against hope that the sign she was waiting for would never come.
The horn sounded again. Two short blasts this time. She took a deep breath in, steadying herself, trying to cast out her fear.
Lydia had never been good at mastering her emotions, and with the fear she felt now, the task was nigh on impossible. But she had no choice. She knocked an arrow on her bow and slipped back into the woods. Her heart pounded in her ears as she waited and watched. The signal meant only one thing: a full scale bandit raid on the city. Lydia knew there had been a group of bandits up the road to the east pushing their luck recently, but she had never conceived the idea that they would launch a full scale raid upon the town. It was a bold move, even for outlaws. Suddenly she heard it. The shuffling of feat accompanied by the clink of weapons and armor. Then the shouts of rage as the bandits launched their assault. The noise was coming from the northern road.
Lydia blanched. That was the road that her parents had just left from. She circled around the woods, peering through the trees, trying desperately to spot their caravan, but it was out of sight.
She could see the fighting in the village now. One of the guards was locked in furious combat with a particularly strong, steel-armored bandit, but not for much longer. Lydia's arrow sprouted out of his neck before he knew what happened. The guard looked around, confused, and then spotted Lydia under the shady mask of trees. He gave her a curt nod, then advanced without further hesitation upon the line of brigands.
Lydia wanted to sprint along the path toward the caravan, but something stopped her. A flicker and a glow in the corner of her eye.
A bandit was heading toward her home, carrying with her a torch that glowed, its red-hot flames dancing wickedly. The bandits didn't just want to raid the town. They wanted to destroy it, or else cause enough damage to force the villagers to flee.
Lydia knocked and sited and arrow, but the bandit rounded a corner, leaving Lydia out of options. She drew her dagger from her belt and rushed after the bandit. When she caught up, she could hear the woman behind the house. Mustering all of her courage, she rounded the corner and slowly worked her way toward the bandit. Relying on the cover of the general pandemonium beyond the walls of her home to mask her footfalls, she readied her dagger for a strike--
Lydia winced. A branch was snapped beneath her feet. Odd, how such a small sound could spell out her death. Alerted by the sound, the bandit whirled around and brought her sword down with an overhand swing. Lydia dodged and sunk the tip of her dagger into the woman's leg, but it barely pierced her leather armor. Screaming with rage, the bandit brought her knee up under Lydia's chin. The pain was blinding, and even worse when the bandit's hide shield found her chest, throwing her to the ground with such force that her breath was ripped from her lungs and expelled into the air.
The bandit smirked as she brought her sword arm up to deliver the killing blow, but the smirk was, strangely, replaced by a look of shock and a grimace of pain. The bandit fell forward with an arrow buried deep into her back. Lydia looked up and saw her sister, Reydi, standing behind the fallen body of the Bandit, her bow lowering.
"About damn time!" Lydia said with a grin. "By the eight, where have you been?" she asked with relief. "You were gone all night!"
"Doesn't matter. Now, we've got to go help those soldiers," Reydi called over her shoulder as she ran in to help take down the bandits. Lydia quickly grabbed the iron sword wielded by the bandit that Reydi had just killed and rushed after her. There were not very many bandits left. The Falkreath Guard was well trained, and a small militia also garrisoned the town. The attack seemed to be for the most part unsuccessful. The guards and the militiamen were taking care of the final stragglers.
A bandit came rushing out of nowhere. Lydia ducked and brought up her sword, the bandit's war axe glancing off her blade, but with enough force to knock her off balance. Lydia feinted downward, and just as the bandit brought up his shield, she switched directions with a graceful flick of her wrist and jabbed through a chink in has armor, killing him immediately.
The final bandit was killed with a jab in the chest. Every soldier stopped as he went down, breathing heavily. The rest of the surviving bandits had run back the way they came. It was dead silent for maybe a full minute; a silence that only the rasping breaths of the weary and wounded soldiers penetrated. Then there was a unanimous shuffle as they all went to offer aid to the wounded and take the fallen to add to Falkreath's already sizable graveyard. Lydia moved toward one man who lay motionless on the ground, but a hand grabbed her shoulder, stopping her.
"Lydia, the carriage!" Reydi said shakily, her eyes wide with horror. The realization came crashing back down on Lydia. In the heat of the battle, she had forgotten that the bandits must have passed her parents' carriage on their way to Falkreath.
The two of them sprinted full-tilt down that trail. Due to a mixture of fatigue, shock, and fear, their breaths came in ragged gasps. Lydia sent a silent prayer up to any of the divines who might listen and take pity on her. It didn't matter, as long as they were alive. They rounded a bend, and off to the left they could see the carriage. It was smashed to bits on the side of the road, its Imperial escorts strewn across the pathway, dead.
The entire mass of wood was ablaze with a roaring inferno that consumed all she had known and loved. The bodies were already charred and blackened, but Lydia recognized the form of her father well enough. He lay protectively over another corpse that was already so blackened as to be unrecognizable.
Emptiness. Lydia felt hollow inside as she subconsciously sank to her knees. There were no tears. Her mind was completely blank. How could they be dead? No. They were alive, surely. Her mother's comforting voice and dark hair. Her father's kind smile. It was all still there. Right there in front of her. They were not, could not, be dead.
But they were. The realization hit her like a punch. They were dead, their souls irreversibly passed on into Aetherius.
What was the emotion welling up inside her? Sadness? No. It was anger. A sheer and unbridled hatred of those who had ripped her existence from her without a second thought. It was like nothing she had felt before, but it sent a power coursing through her that assured her she would find her vengeance. White hot fury brewed inside of her. She turned to see her sister's tear-streaked face. They looked into each other's eyes.
"Lydia. They will pay for this," Reydi said, her voice trembling.
"Yes," Lydia growled, her anger coming through her voice. "We will kill all of the bandits that did this."
"No, Lydia. They didn't act alone. Think. Look at the carriage." Lydia did, examining the crashed vehicle. One of the attacking soldiers lay dead. Lydia looked at the corpse. He was no bandit. He had a steel sword, and a full helmet, as well as a blue cuirass. Lydia stared.
The man was a Stormcloak.