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Leaving the barrow turned out to be a very simple affair. While we were poking around the main chamber for anything else worth taking Thor found a door that led to a secret passage out into the mountainside the whole ruin sat on.

 

From there it was a short hike back down to the river that eventually led us to Riverwood.

 

Gerdur had been surprised to see us so soon after we had departed for Whiterun, but she and her husband were happy enough to put us up for another night after we told her about the meeting with the Jarl and that we had cleared Bleak Falls Barrow of any bandits in the area. Apparently there had been people in town getting worried about the possibility of a bandit raid and us killing them off would go a great deal towards making the people of Riverwood feel safe.

 

Thor went off with the golden claw saying he was going to return it to the shop it was stolen from. Personally, I didn’t see the point of returning an artifact like that to someone who was probably completely ignorant of its true value but if he didn’t want to carry it around it was up to him.

 

From there it was a quick stop at the local tavern for lunch before setting off once again to Whiterun for Thor to give Farengar the Dragonstone. A completely uneventful trip until we reached the surrounding farms of the walled city.

 

“You aren’t coming with me to Whiterun?” Thor asked with a shocked look on his face.

 

“Nope, I already have everything I need from around here and I even got the lead I was looking for.” I held up the leather journal I had picked up. “I only joined you this far because this is the easiest route north. Besides I’m sure you can get to the gates from here without me holding your hand.”

 

“What about the reward for bringing back the Dragonstone? Don’t you want that?” Thor seemed really insistent on trying to get me to come back to the city with him.

 

Sorry kid. I have no intention of fighting a dragon unless I have absolutely no choice.

 

“I never actually accepted that job. Even if I had Jarl Balgruuf probably can’t give me a reward I’d consider worth the time.”

 

Thor tried a few more times to bribe me into going back with him, but once again since he couldn’t give me a valid reason on why I needed to go to the city I simply refused until he gave up.

 

Eventually Thor said his goodbyes and went back by himself looking a bit depressed while I gave him a mental salute.

 

Farewell Dragonborn. I have no desire to be caught up in the insanity that is your life. Good luck saving us all. And to whatever god is trying to force us together, the Dragonborn can handle Alduin by himself just fine. I have something more important to take care of.

 

I opened the journal to one of the last entries.

 

'...were handed over to a Thalmor patrol. Lovir hates having anything to do with the goldskins, but we can’t deal with them and make the delivery on time. Justiciar Silline Aedifeth promised us they would be taken to Solitude as soon for treatment. Good thing too. Lovir needs to head for Helgen soon if…’

 

The sight of that name caused me to snap the journal shut in disgust.

 

Thankfully it also gave me a clearer destination than I had had for several years. Solitude, huh? I wondered if Tullius would mind me poking around after Thalmor agents.

 

Naturally I hadn’t parted ways with Thor for long when I ran into some more bandits. I wasn’t the least bit surprised. Travelling alone seemed to be one of the easiest ways to guarantee you would run into them.

 

“Well look what we have here boys. A lost little tree hugger all by herself.”

 

I glared at the bandit even as my bow slid into my hand. I was taller than him, the jackass.

 

“Here’s tha’ deal girly. Give us all your stuff, don’t fight back, and after we had a bit o’ fun we let you go. Put up a fight an’ we keep ya around for the rest o’ the band to have their way with ya.” The bandit said, waving an axe around. The smug grin on his face told me he believed the four of them could handle anything I could pull.

 

An arrow sprouting from his forehead disabused him of that thought.

 

The other three cried out at the sudden death of their friend. Two of them, once they were over their surprise, rushed at me with weapons drawn. The one who thought dual wielding daggers was a good idea on an open road got an arrow through the heart.

 

His more sensible companion with a mace and shield got one in the knee and another through his eye when he stumbled and fell.

 

The last one, a younger nord, dropped his weapons and fell backwards at the rapid and effortless deaths of his friends. He looked like he was going to dive for the bushes at the first chance he got, so I put an arrow right in between his legs.

 

To discourage him from running, not because I felt a deep satisfaction watching a bandit wet himself from fear. I swear.

 

“H-hold on, you can’t kill me!” The bandit was fearfully looking at the fresh arrow already sitting on the string.

 

“And why is that?” I idly asked.

 

“W-w-we can pay! Gold, weapons, captives. Anything you want from our haul I’ll get the boss to give you for letting me go!”

 

My eyes narrowed at the thought bandits were keeping captives.

 

There were only a few reasons for them to do so, and very few of those were pleasant. I wouldn’t consider myself someone with a hero complex, but leaving people in that situation wasn’t something I could tolerate.

 

“Alright then. Since I’m not stupid enough to think you won’t go back on your word once I let you go. Where exactly is your group.”

 

Scared shitless he might be, but the bandit was still smart enough to not to give everything away all at once. Besides the next landmark he gave no indication of where the bandit’s main camp was and no amount of threats could get him to divulge all the details about how many of them there were.

 

He led me east from the Honningbrew Meadery over one of the bridges and up one of the roads. It seemed the bandits usually targeted people going to the eastern side of the province and the group that jumped me just happened to be scouting ahead for any caravans going that way.

 

I had been watching the bandit for any signs of escape so when he suddenly took a deep breath I planted a dagger into his temple before he had the chance to shout.

 

After cleaning and sheathing the dagger I started to look around trying to find where a group of bandits might be camping out.

 

I doubted they could manage to hide out for any amount of time on the riverbank, so the camp was likely in the hills off to the right.

 

I sighed.

 

Why was so much of Skyrim mountainous crags? Sneaking around undetected was so much harder when there was so little to actually hide against. If this was even just sparse woodland it would be so much easier.

 

Despite my complaining I was able to sneak up the hills easily and soon found myself looking out over a campsite with two bandits huddled around a cookfire and a cave entrance a little ways off.

 

The bandits didn’t seem too concerned about being overheard even as I once again brought out my elven bow.

 

“...is going to beat you if you don’t leave Ulfr be, Rodulf. The old man might be blind as a bat, but he’s still family.”

 

“Bah, Hajvarr won’t do shit.” the nord spat dismissively. “After what Ra’jirr pulled Hajvarr might gripe a bit but worst I’ll get is another night watch. I ‘ain’t gonna stop messin with the fool until we get a decent watchman.”

 

“Didn’t you get a letter threatening the cage if you keep actin’ up with Ulfr?”

 

“Yeah I did. So what? We have a blind fool actin as out first line o’ defence.” the nord rambled as he added items to the cooking pot over the fire, oblivious to his partner slumped on the ground with an arrow in his throat. “I would be a better watchman than Ulfr and I can admit I’m a lazy bastard. Hey, pass me the rabbit meat.”

 

There was no answer.

 

“Hey didn’t you hear me? Pass me the-” the bandit turned to yell at his companion only to be immediately silenced when another of my arrows went through the side of his head.

 

I waited a few seconds to see if anyone would notice the two, but when there was no reaction I slowly left my hiding spot and crept into the camp. A quick poke around confirmed that the area was just a cook station. I could grab some provisions on my way back down, but there was nothing worth taking immediately.

 

The one thing that stood out was that the meal being prepared would feed probably around ten people. If the group I ran into earlier was expected back I would probably only have to deal with another four inside the cave. If not then I could expect double that.

 

I sighed and swapped to my longsword.

 

Hopefully it was the first one. If they used the captives as shields it would be hard for me to deal with by myself. Maybe I should run back to Whiterun and gather some of the guards?

 

I shook my head.

 

I already killed the two out front. Even if I hid the bodies the rest of the bandits would eventually notice when no one came to let them know the food was ready. Whether they moved or killed the captives there wasn’t enough time to get help before the missing two were noticed.

 

Stepping into the cave I blinked my eyes rapidly to get used to the much darker interior.

 

Thankfully there was no bandit charging me right away. Just an old balding man looking at a book. Hmm, I thought the watchman was blind. I guess that was just an exaggera-

 

"Eh? Who's there? Rodulf, that you?"

 

I don’t know what alerted him to my presence but the old man had turned to face me. The milky film over his eyes showing why he could possibly confuse a red haired female Bosmer for a blonde haired male Nord.

 

… I guess he really is blind.

 

There was no way he would mistake my voice though so on a gamble I tried making a masquline grunting noise of affirmation.

 

Against all odds the old man seemed to accept that response.

 

“Boss was looking for you, said he'd be up at the summit. Better not keep him waiting.”

 

With that he went back to whatever he was doing at the table. It certainly wasn’t reading if the past few moments were anything to judge by. A quick look down the tunnel going further into the cave confirmed that no one was in sight and a quick decapitation later I moved deeper into the cave.

 

Blind old man or not. He had been a bandit and not many of those grow old without being a certain kind of person.

 

Poking my head around a corner, I saw the cave tunnel opened up into a large cavern that someone had taken the time to carve a ramp into the far wall going further up the mountain. A pair of bandits idled around a large iron cage I could see the huddled forms of a few captives in.

 

“How long are we keepin’ these oblivion-damned nobles?” One of them complained as I pressed myself up against the wall and crept closer. “I’m sick of listenin’ to the imp’s rambling and the other two just stare at me.”

 

“Yeah, the staring’s creepy but not much else they can do. Too bad the chief won’t let us have some fun with them. I could go for hours with those girls.” the other said.

 

“You wish, a runt like you would be spent after five minutes.” The first one laughed. “Don’t worry about it. The chief just doesn’t want some pissed off noble coming after us once we get the ransom. Once we get rid of this group we’ll grab a few girls from the next caravan.”

 

The two kept talking but none of it was worth paying more attention to. Still, I was glad they gave me more information about the captives I was here to rescue. Three people, probably nobles or at least very wealthy, two females and an imperial male. Since there was no mention of anyone else they should all be in the cage and therefore relatively safe.

 

Time to deal with the trash then.

 

There was too much open ground between the tunnel and the two bandits so they saw me almost immediately when I charged out into the room. Not that it helped them much since one of them died immediately when my longsword drove into his heart, the brittle iron armour he wore giving way under the sharp ebony blade. The second one gave a loud cry of alarm and fumbled at his side for a sword. Too bad he could only get it halfway out of the sheath before I ended him as well.

 

Five down, only a few more to go.

 

The noise from my short fight hadn’t gone unnoticed. I could hear the rest of the bandit group cursing and scrambling around above me. Probably pulling on armour and grabbing weapons. I took a second to glance at the three in the cage to make sure they were okay. Unfortunately all three of them seemed to be huddled up against a wall where a short chain secured them by the neck. They would have to wait before I could free them.

 

My theory about the bandits was confirmed when a female bandit leaned over the cliff edge at the top of the cavern, bow in hand and wearing disheveled leather hide armour.

 

She called something back to whatever companions she had up there before drawing her bowstring back and aiming at me. In response, my left hand came up and with a surge of magic a foot long spike of ice formed in my palm and shot at her.

 

Unfortunately the slower moving projectile was easily spotted by the bandit who just pulled away from the edge. And then I was forced to split my attention since an orc with a sword and shield started moving to meet me on the ramp going up. I would have to fight him and keep an eye out for the archer now. Then just to top it off, a third bandit appeared and took a position behind the orc, armed with a pair of axes.

 

Fantastic.

 

The orc roared in challenge and made his way toward me. I wanted to back off a bit because his shield gave him a big advantage on the slope, but when I tried moving backwards I was forced to dodge the archer up above.

 

Well if that’s how it was gonna be then I guess it was time to be a little reckless.

 

I stepped closer to the orc and slashed at him, my sword biting deep into his shield, then started bathing the two bandits in front of me in flames. The orc and his friend cursed as they quickly backed up freeing my blade and ‘accidentally’ causing me to bathe the floor in a torrent of fire.

 

With those two distracted I was able take my time aiming another spell at the archer.

 

This time a lance of electricity shot out of my palm and connected with the bandit. I doubted it actually killed her since it was a hastily cast spell but she was definitely out of the fight for a while.

 

“Molag damn you, wood elf!”

 

I turned my head to look back at the last two bandits who had managed to extinguish the last few embers that had stuck to them after my fire attack. Both of them seemed a bit singed but there was no serious damage.

 

“What’s the matter boys, not used to someone who can fight back?” I mocked. “Or were you just so pathetic everyone avoided fighting you out of pity?”

 

Not the best as insults go, but it was enough for both of their faces to darken in rage and charge me.

 

I’m sure they meant to overwhelm me with their momentum, but as they charged down the slope they passed right over the scorched patch of floor from earlier. The same patch of floor I had hidden a fire rune on for that very purpose.

 

Pained shrieks filled the air as the fiery trap went off. I had actually planned to use the distraction to quickly kill the orc shielding his friend, but in a stroke of luck the ork stepped too far to the right and fell off the ramp. A sharp crack from below told me the bandit had at the very least broken something important.

 

His friend was arguably better off despite the moderate burns on the exposed parts of his body, but that was rectified by another slash of my sword. An instant later the final bandit was a head shorter and I was free to move up to the top level.

 

A quick check confirmed that the archer had actually died after getting hit from the lightning spell. Not of the spell itself, but because she had broken her neck on an exposed rock when she fell. A touch anticlimactic perhaps, but the bandit chief was still on the summit. It would be poor form to let my guard down now.

 

As it turned out I needn’t have bothered.

 

I was expecting another fight at the summit. Some thrilling pitched battle between myself and the bandit chief.

 

The chief apparently didn’t get that message since when I finally reached the summit overwatch, I found the man completely drunk scribbling away in a journal. When the man finally noticed me he tried to stumble to his feet, but ended up tripping over his sword.

 

Another stab of my own sword ended that particular embarrassment of a fight.

 

With the last of the bandits dealt with the only thing left to do was free the captives back down below.

 

Well a few more minutes wouldn’t hurt them. Let’s see what the bandit chief thought was important enough to write down.

 

Hmmmm, notes on successful raids. Complaints about increased guards. A mutiny apparently happened a bit ago. His reaction to Helgen. Ah, his thoughts about the captives.

 

Alright, the two women became less and less responsive. Eventually only following basic orders from the male captive and ignoring the bandits entirely. While the male grew weak pretty quickly and had started trying to bite at anyone who got close enough.

 

I closed the journal with a snap and leaned against the table.

 

It seemed the bandits had managed to accidentally capture a vampire and a pair of thralls. That was actually kind of impressive since the vampire should have been able to mesmerize whoever delivered their meals into releasing them. These bandits didn’t seem the hard to influence type. Although it could have just been a very weak vampire.

 

The bandits probably just ignored any odd behavior since they were waiting on an assumed ransom. Vampires very rarely were able to pass as anyone rich since most rich people tended to have the coin to afford things like blessed amulets and temple visits. Not to mention acolytes tended to make house calls looking for donations. It would only be a matter of time before a vampire was discovered then.

 

So where had this one come from that he could pass as a noble?

 

I couldn’t think of a place off the top of my head. Guess I’ll just have to interrogate the guy in the cell to find out where. Then I can just let the guards know the location of the nest and everything should get taken care of.

 

I took one last look around the area.

 

Right after I finish looting this place.

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Azureblade

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