“It wasn’t that funny.” Thor grumbles resentfully as he saws through another batch of webbing.
“Lad, you nearly pissed your britches when that thing jumped you.” The Dunmer hanging from the webbing pointed out.
Thor shot him a dirty look. “We could just leave you here, you know.”
“H-hey let’s not be hasty. I promised to give you the claw already, didn’t I?”
I ignored the comedy act in the background as I used a dagger to poke through the desiccated remains of the brood mother’s last few meals.
Our new friend helpfully told us he had never heard of a man named Tulvol before, so either he had made it deeper into the barrow or he never made it past the giant spider. Which meant I had the pleasure of searching several dead bodies looking for a journal that may or may not be here.
"It's coming loose, I can feel it!"
Coincidentally, the bandit’s shout came at the same moment I found a bound leather book on the final corpse. Surprisingly, it was not the freshest one.
I looked over to see Thor cut through the last strands of spider web holding the bandit in place. When the final one gave way, the Dunmer bandit dropped to the floor, gave Thor a sickly smile, and shoved him into the remaining webs.
“H-hey! What are you-!”
"You fool, why would I share the treasure with anyone?" The bandit turned and fled down the hall deeper into the tomb.
The moment he was out of sight Thor stopped his struggling and calmly started cutting himself free of the few strands still clinging to him.
“Not worried about losing him in the tunnels?” I asked, flipping randomly though the book. Once I confirmed it used to belong to Tulvol I discreetly opened a side compartment on the Void Armoury and placed the book inside.
Thor smiled grimly. “What was it you said about this place? ‘Filled with undead’? I bet the thief is going to run into a few of them first.” His smile shifted into a frown. “Unless the traps get him first.”
I stood up and brushed away the dust and dirt that clung to my clothes from kneeling on the floors. “Well should we go find your rock? I already have everything I came here for.”
A loud bang echoes from down the tunnel.
“I guess he found one of the traps.” Thor comments sardonically. “I don’t get it. Why run into a place he knows is dangerous just to keep a treasure to himself? Did he seriously forget about the spider almost killing him when he was alone the first time?”
“Greed makes people do very stupid things.” I said as dark memories flashed through my mind. “Sometimes that means spitting in the face of lifelong friendships just so you get what you want.”
“Speaking from experience?”
“Want to talk about it?”
Thor sighed and started after the thief. “Well, if you ever want to I’m all ears. Now let's go find that Dark Elf.”
We walk much more boldly through the next bit of the tomb. After all if a Dunmer tearing through the place at a full sprint didn’t set off anything, the two of us wouldn’t by just walking through it.
It was only when we heard metal clanking in front of us that we slowed down a bit.
“I see five zombies up ahead.” Thor whispered as he peaked around a doorway.
I stiffened up. “Zombies?” I hissed, “Are you sure?”
Thor raised an eyebrow, “Dried up dead things walking around wanting to kill the living. Yeah zombies, or draugr if you want the local term I guess.”
At his description I relaxed.
“Draugr and zombies ar not the same.” I seethed. “One is a dried out husk of a warrior ritualistically preserved to serve its master, and the other is a disease ridden rotting corpse either bound to a necromancer or raised by high levels of necromantic energy.”
“Fine. They’re different, why does it matter?”
“Because when you say ‘zombie’ in an ancient tomb that means that the body was freshly raised. It also means there is likely a necromancer nearby using them as meat shields while they infect you with Divines’ knows what.
Draugr are ‘merely’ highly skilled undead warriors. Very different approaches are needed for the two of them.” I lectured.
Thor looked a bit shocked at the intensity of my lecture, but I had seen ventures into old ruins nearly wiped out by scouts describing the creatures in front of them incorrectly.
“Ah, um, sorry? Well there are five draugr up ahead, lightly armoured. No sign of the thief.”
I nodded at the better report and the two of us stepped into the next room. With a gesture I sent a spike of ice magic through the chest of one of the undead and moved forward to remove the head of another with a swing of my longsword. A third was shattered as a long burst of frost froze the corpse solid and it fell to the floor. The fourth was split from crown to navel as my enchanted black sword came down on its head.
The undead taken care of, I turned to Thor and the last draugr in time to see Thor duck past a one handed axe swing. He uppercuted his mace into the creature’s arm, breaking it just as he had the other one, and finishing it off with a solid blow to the head.
His opponent dealt with he spun back to the center of the room for his next target, sparks jumping from his upraised hand, only to see me standing over the bodies of the other four with a bemused expression on my face.
“W-wha-, how-, you-?” he stuttered.
“That wasn’t bad, but you will have to be faster or you might get swarmed.” I complemented before walking off.
The young nord gaped at me for several seconds and then rushed to catch up.
Not too far away we found the mangled body of our Dunmer friend. In either an effort to escape the awoken draugr or simply by not noticing he had triggered a spiked wall that managed to work one final time.
The heavy wooden wall had driven several spikes into his body before ripping itself free of its brackets and tumbling further into the room we were in. Thankfully it had fallen so the Dunmer was facedown and his satchel was mostly free from any blood seeping out of him.
A quick search later and I had both the golden dragon claw the thief had proclaimed to have and his journal.
I idly handed the claw to Thor while I flipped through the thief’s notes. Most of it was simply summaries of past crimes. Apparently the group at the entrance and the Dunmer were more a gang of thieves than proper bandits, though they had joined up with several more ‘rough types’ to raid the barrow. That plan had changed when the Dunmer had found the claw in Riverwood of all places and he planned to steal whatever power he spoke of for himself.
“If you could do that why were you so worried about zombies?” Thor questioned me as we moved ahead.
“Like I said, zombies generally mean a necromancer. And while most of them can only raise and bind lesser undead that approach only works until you run into a master. Then you generally die.” I replied. “Always treat an unknown like a threat. If it turns out they weren’t, you are pleasantly surprised. Much better than the reverse.”
Thor opened his mouth to respond but we were interrupted by another trio of undead running at us.
This time Thor fired the first spell. Bands of electricity arced into the lead draugr and eventually overcame the animating force. I sent an ice spike into the chest of the one behind it and then left the final one for Thor.
This time rather than waste time poking at the creature’s limbs, he simply smacked it’s axe away and crushed its chest with a well placed backswing.
Good, he was learning.
We fought through several more rooms after that. Each one had a handful of draugr waiting to attack us, but between the two of us, they were pretty easily dealt with. The only real challenges were when the occasional magic user appeared, and they didn’t fare much better under the combined strength of our own spells.
Whoever was the focus of the necromantic ritual that enabled the draugr, it was clear they had not been a mage in life. The low numbers and general weakness of its protectors hinted that however mighty they had been in life… they had nothing else to empower the servants left behind.
After another battle with a few draugr I took the time to glance around, you could never be sure more undead weren’t sneaking up on you in places like this after all. When none appeared I turned back to Thor to see him holding a greatsword one of them had wielded.
“Looking for a wall decoration?” I asked.
He sheepishly rubbed the back of his head. “I was wondering if it would be a good idea to bring some of these back and sell them off for some extra coin.” He hefted the ancient sword and grimaced. “Maybe not this one, but one of the smaller swords or axes?”
I looked closer at the pitted metal in his hands. Then shook my head. “I doubt anyone other than a historian would be interested. The cost to restore those would likely be more than just picking up a new weapon entirely and the metal is too far gone to reforge. Besides, some of these are one bad hit from breaking on their own.”
Reaching out I took the sword for myself.
I drove the tip in between the floor stones. With a gentle twist and a shove the blade snapped in half.
“Better off leaving them here.” I continued handing him half of the blade.
I almost laughed as Thor gazed at the broken sword like it had promised him a pile of gold only to vanish in an illusion.
Tossing the hilt aside he joined me at what must have been the ‘Hall of Stories’ the journal had hinted at.
It was...impressive to say the least.
While the entire barrow was a daunting sight simply due to the size of it and the interior had plenty of eye catching architecture that captured the Nord’s preference for harsh angled geometry and decorations, the Hall had something of a weight to it that the rest of the tomb lacked.
Intricate carvings covered the walls. Even if time had worn away some of the finer details the meaning of many of them were still vividly clear.
Most of them were disturbing.
Depictions of death and sacrifice cover the walls. Carvings of rituals where people were offered up to the dragon kings that ruled them as food, of battles where man fought man, and how favored servants were granted power in return for their service.
It was clear that those who built this place definitely did not care about those they considered beneath them.
I wonder what this servant did to-
A grunt pulls me from my thoughts as I see Thor standing at the ornate door at the end of the hall.
He laboriously shifts the stone rings until they show the images of a bear, a butterfly, and an owl. I have no idea what purpose those images serve but Thor seems content with it. He pulled out the golden claw and pressed it into the three indents on the middle panel.
The three rings spin until they all show the owl symbol as hidden mechanisms activate and the door slowly sinks into the ground.
Past the Hall of Stories was a massive cavern. I had no idea if the state of it was by design or if the mixing of nature and architecture was intended. Either way once again I was struck by the atmosphere of the room.
Something rested here.
And somehow it felt almost sacrilegious for me, a bosmer, to step into this revered place of the Nords.
Apparently oblivious to my internal struggle Thor marched directly to the far side of the cavern and intensely stared at the carvings on a curved wall. A Word Wall, I eventually recognized, monuments carved by ancient Nords so the final resting places of their greatest heroes, and villains, were not lost to time.
Pushing down the unease I felt, I walked up behind him.
“The Word Wall say anything interesting?”
The young nord’s eyes were fixed on one group of carvings in particular. I tentatively reached out to touch his shoulder, but before I could he suddenly jerked and inhaled like he had been underwater for a significant time.
“Thor?” I asked again.
This time he jumped and his head snapped over to me like I had appeared out of nowhere.
“Y-yeah, sorry. I, uh, kinda spaced out there. What did you say?”
My eyebrows furrowed as I looked him over. He was paler and sweating a bit. His eyes dilated just a bit so I couldn’t be sure he was looking at me rather than just in my direction.
It seems Word Walls are more traumatic than I believed.
“Nothing.” I shook my head. “Where do you suppose the Dragonstone is kept?”
Thor shook his entire body like a dog. “Well that's the easy part. We just-”
“-need to kill him.”
The sealed coffin in front of the Word Wall, the one I had dismissed in favor of checking on Thor, burst open in a cloud of dust and stone shards.
A heavily armoured figure rose from the remains of the stone coffin. Its eyes alight with both magic and hatred. With movements much too smooth for a dried out dead husk, the helmeted figure pulled an ancient greatsword off it’s back and growled at us.
I readied a spell but was forced to abandon the action when Thor charged forward to meet the draugr, electricity already sparking in his hand.
His mace swung at the undead and was easily deflected by its greatsword. I tried circling around for a clear line to fire off a spell of my own. Much to my surprise the instant the draugr saw me move out from behind Thor, it rammed its sword into his chest plate and circled the same way I was, keeping Thor in between us.
This one was intelligent!
Thor and the draugr kept trading blows as I tried finding a way to actually contribute to the fight but the corpse was doing a very good job of controlling our positioning. If I got close enough to strike it with my sword it abandoned its defence to stagger Thor by striking him in the chest. The cheap iron clearly wasn’t holding up against the thing’s strength. Sounds of metal cracking and warping under its blows filled the cavern. It was the limit of Thor’s skill to just ensure the armour took the hits instead of his limbs.
Moving further away didn’t work either since even though Thor was skilled enough to fight bandits on even footing, the draugr was easily reducing any of his attacks to glancing blows at best.
What’s worse is that Thor is bleeding from several moderate cuts on his arms and legs. While it doesn’t seem to be slowing him down so far, pretty soon blood loss is going to be an issue.
Thor seems to have the same idea since after a particularly heavy blow that manages to stagger the undead he jumps backwards.
“Thalin, hit it with a spell!”
Magical energy swirled around my hand as I pointed it at the draugr. Too far away to attempt attacking me with its sword the undead draws itself to its full height and-
-A wave of pure force slammed into me, ruining my spell and flinging me across the cavern and nearly back through the door into the Hall of Stories.
I landed painfully on the loose stones covering the floor.
So that was what the Voice felt like. I could definitely understand why the Nords practically worshiped it if that’s what it could do.
I shakily pulled myself to my feet and quickly grabbed my sword off the ground nearby.
This was bad.
Half the reason Thor was still alive was because the draugr was using him as a shield against any potential spells I could use. Now that he was by himself there was no need to whittle him down.
My fears were confirmed when I looked up at the sound of a pained wheeze and metal scraping metal to see Thor standing next to the draugr with its sword through his chest.
Oh shit this was so bad.
The draugr ripped the rusty metal from his chest and raised it for a decapitating strike.
I had had enough of this deadra cursed pain in the ass though.
A blue-white ribbon of magical lightning lanced from my hand and struck the undead with all the ferocity of its natural counterpart.
While I’m sure when the corpse was among the living it's armour was heavily enchanted, time has caused those to fail. So its dried out flesh is nearly completely unprotected when my spell ravages it’s body and quickly disintegrates to dust.
I only kept my attention on the draugr long enough to confirm it was dead before rushing to Thor’s side.
It...could be worse?
Obviously the bloody hole in his chest was in issue, as was the pierced lung, but the sword hadn’t hit his heart or his spine so I would take what I could get.
“H-how bad is it?” Thor wheezed, resolutely not looking at his chest.
“I’ve seen worse,” I replied honestly. “But unless you have a very powerful potion on hand or a master restoration mage you are likely going to die before I can get you help.”
Thor gave a wet laugh, some flecks of blood appearing on his lips. “Is this where you tell me you’re also s-secretly a master restoration mage?”
I smiled bitterly. “Sorry, I never learned that far. I can’t heal this type of thing fast enough. With just my magic...you’re going to die.”
His eyes shrink to pinpricks.
“D-die?! But I-I...”
“Which is why it's a very good thing I carry this around.” I continue pulling a red potion with bits of gold swirling through it out of the void armoury.
If Thor wasn’t on the floor dying I might drag this out a bit longer so the fact death was seconds away was driven through his thick skull, but as it stands I simply poured the liquid directly into the cut.
A golden flash of light covers the wound as the stored magika takes effect and it rapidly heals before our eyes.
The light fades and Thor heaves a deep breath.
“Oh, fuck that felt weird.” he gasped and ran a hand over the fresh scar mark on his chest. I noticed his iron breastplate wasn’t much of a breastplate at this point. Large cracks ran over the whole thing except for the places where there were literal holes. I’m fairly sure the only thing keeping it in one piece was the leather under armour.
“Okay, all better then? Good.” I help him to his feet and regretfully return the now empty bottle to my storage. That potion was really hard to come by. “Let's grab the stone and get out of here before something else shows up, yeah?”