Skyrim Stories: The Dragon Cult
“In an era far across the seas of time, it has been foreseen that Alduin shall return to cleanse the land in the fires of his wrath. Rahgot is right, the walls will soon be breached by the heretics and we must secure the inner sanctum. Do not fear the embrace of death for it shall last only till the dragons rise again. Then we too shall walk the lands and bring back the true faith.” -anonymous note, written by a Dragon Cultist stationed at Forelhost
By the time of the Stormcloak Rebellion, most of Skyrim considered dragons to be nothing more than ancient legends and childish fairytales. Nords scoffed at the idea of flying, fire-breathing lizards–right up until the moment one burned Helgen to ash.
But it wasn’t always that way. Back in the Merethic Era, dragons ruled Skyrim with an iron claw. They burned villages, carried away innocent Nords,used the power of the Voice to reshape the world into one more accommodating to their black hearts, and terrorized the land in general. They were creatures hated and feared by local humans, and many mortals longed for the days when dragons no longer took to the skies.
Naturally, this meant that many of them would bow down in worship.
The Dragon Cult began as a way for the Nords to appease their winged tyrants. Though they worshipped a massive pantheon of animal totems, having brought the practice all the way from Atmora, they set a special place aside for the dragons. In return for loyalty and tribute, the dragons would leave them alone and terrorize the filthy heretics instead.
But some were more serious about it than others. There were some that truly believed in the dragons’ claimed godhood, and those that proved their faith were rewarded. The dragons blessed them with powers beyond those of normal mortals, even promising them eternal life if their loyalty was unwavering. These were the Dragon Priests, the leaders of the Cult, and they ruled Skyrim in the dragons’ name.
Under the dragons’ rule, the Dragon Priests held more power than any general or king. They wrote laws, commanded armies, lived in grand palaces, and punished anyone they deemed to be ‘unfaithful’. Every year, the leaders of the Cult would meet at the Labyrinthian, a grand temple to Alduin, the dragons’ immortal leader, and the center of dragon worship in Skyrim. There, they would discuss matters of rule and worship. This went on for centuries. At times, the Cult’s cruelty was only eclipsed by their masters themselves.
Eventually, their reign would come to a bloody end. One of the Eight Divines and true gods of Tamriel, Kyne, took pity on the Nords. She sent a dragon known as Paarthurnax to teach them the secrets of the Thu'um. Dragons were well-known for their ability to craft the words of their enchanted language, Dovahzul, into a Thu'um–or 'Shout’. Just by reciting Shouts, dragons could breathe fire, summon allies, and even conjure storms with nothing more than their voice and their will.
And Paarthurnax handed this ability down to the mortals. Suddenly in possession of a powerful weapon, the Nords rose up against the Dragon Cult. This was the beginning of the Dragon War, a long and violent conflict between men and dragons
The war only ended when three Nord heroes, Hakon One-Eye, Felldir the Old, and Gormlaith Golden-Hilt, climbed the Throat of the World and challenged Alduin himself. Though only Felldir survived the encounter, and his account of the battle is now lost to history, one thing is known: Alduin never left the mountain’s summit. With the dragons’ leader gone, they could do nothing to stop the Nords from winning the day… and eventually, the war.
With their gods defeated, the Dragon Cult couldn’t stand against the vast army of angry Nords arrayed before them. The Labyrinthian was sacked, the loyal acolytes were slain, and the once-mighty temples of the Dragon Cult became their tombs. The Nords sealed their enemies behind great stone gates and devious traps–they didn’t believe Alduin’s promises of eternal life, but they felt it was better not to take chances with this sort of thing.
Remnants of the Dragon Cult did manage to evade the massacres. For the rest of the Merethic Era, they traveled Skyrim, recovering the bodies of slain dragons and preserving them in burial mounds to await their ressurection. As the First Era dawned, they retreated to their hidden fortress, Forelhost, where they planned to hide until Alduin’s return.
Their sanctuary was discovered mere decades later by the Nord general Skorm Snow-Strider. Leading yet another campaign against the nefarious Snow Elves, Skorm stumbled upon Forelhost by chance. Eager to destroy the Dragon Cult once and for all, Skorm left the Snow Elves to their dark fate and laid siege to the monastery. Their leader, the Dragon Priest Rahgot, knew that they couldn’t hold Forelhost once the norn breached the outer gates using the Thu'um. Not wanting to be taken alive, he ordered that Forelhost’s well be poisoned, and that the Cultists use it to claim their own lives. When Skorm’s men breached the Inner Sanctum, they found every Dragon Cultist dead. This was the last recorded encounter with living Dragon Cultists in all of Tamriel. The Cult was gone.
But… it wasn’t gone forever.
Alduin’s promise of life unending hadn’t been a vain one. Through the use of foul magic known only to the Dragon Cult itself, the faithful lasted long beyond their mortal years in the form of the hideous Draugr. Though they were still locked in their ancient temples and barrows, they knew it wouldn’t last forever. The Dragon Priests knew that Alduin wasn’t dead, and they knew that when he returned, they would return as well.
And so, in the 201st year of the Fourth Era, when a great black dragon descended upon the unsuspecting village of Helgen, the dead stirred in their ancient tombs and rejoiced. The time of the Dragon Cult had come again.