I was conflicted when I had finished storing away everything I wanted from the bandit’s den.
On the one hand, I was a couple hundred septims richer, had found some decent enchanting and alchemy ingredients, and had found a few containers of some hard to find spices from Hammerfell.
On the other, quite likely everything I had looted was due to the bandit’s raiding the original owner. Owners who would be lucky if they managed to escape with their lives after being robbed.
It was a familiar feeling I had dealt with many times before but it was made all the more unpleasant by the sheer amount I had found. These bandits must have been particularly successful to gather as much as they had and that likely meant quite a few people lying in a ditch on the side of a road.
I shook off those dark thoughts and focused on the issue I was about to head into. I had a vampire to interrogate.
I doubted it was a particularly strong one, especially if it had been held here without managing to ensnare it’s captors but taking risks with mind control was another one of those things that taking a situation as presented worked fine...up until it didn’t. So I was going to treat the leech as the dangerous creature it was until I had removed its head from its body.
Those thoughts in mind I carefully approached the cage back on the first floor of the cave. The light from the mounted torches wasn’t the best and left parts of the interior shaded, but a quick magelight solved that and I got my first good look at the three captives inside.
Like before, all three of them were huddled in on themselves, a solid looking iron chain secured to a metal collar kept them from getting too close to each other. Besides that, they only had light bindings on their wrists.
I looked over the two females first. Both of them had a dull look in their eye and even though they were tracking me, I wasn’t entirely sure they were aware. The first was a dark haired Nord and the second was an ash skinned Dunmer. Not a combination I was expecting in a pair of thralls in Skyrim. Racial tension between the two groups would make the pair stand out quite a bit. Despite the dead eyes and wooden expressions both thralls looked healthy and wore finely woven clothes. They were probably new acquisitions by the vampire if they didn’t look gaunt from his feeding.
The vampire himself was not much to look at. He was an average looking Breton, the kind of person you would ignore in a crowd pretty easily. The thing that stood out the most was his clothing. A loose black shirt was covered by a black leather cuirass, which had layers of material folding over itself and a high collar I could only recognize as ‘gothic’. It was the lapel pin that drove shivers down my spine however.
An eight pronged star with a ring going through the ‘spokes’ of the star.
It had been one of the symbols I had kept an eye out for ever since setting foot in Skyrim. The symbol of the Volkihar Vampire Clan. One of the oldest vampire clans in Tamriel, it was also one I kept an eye out for for a much more sinister reason than them being a bloodsucking horde of undead.
The clan head was trying to end the world.
The Volkihar Clan was the special kind of crazy where zealotry and bigotry combined into that perfect mess where what should be common sense was displaced for mad dreams of power. From what I remembered, ‘Lord’ Harkon Volkihar was obsessed with a prophecy to extinguish the sun, allowing for an endless night where vampires could reign supreme.
To that end, he had retreated to the north several hundred years ago after a rather dedicated alliance of Aedra worshipers had banded together and defeated his armies in open combat. Since then he presumably has been restoring his forces and faded from the public awareness. And while I was aware that he would start sending his forces back into the wider world than the hole he hid in, wasn’t this far too soon?
Dragging my gaze away from the symbol, I decided I was going to get the answer to that question no matter what.
I opened the cage door and stepped inside.
“Hello there,” I said gently, I was going to try the soft approach first to see what I could get. I could always be rougher later and it might help if the vampire didn’t realise I knew what he was. “Sorry I had to leave you in here. I needed to deal with the rest of them. Are you all okay?”
The thralls said nothing and just looked blankly on. The only response, as expected, came from the vampire.
“...so hungry...need to feed…”
“I’ll get you out soon. Can you tell me what happened to you? Why you were captured? Anything at all would help make sure no one else comes after you.” I coaxed the obviously delirious Vamp.
“...need to find the daughter...find the crypt…cattle betrayed us...days in the cage...days in the sun…need to feed...” he rambled.
“Who betrayed you?” I asked.
“...cattle lied...need to feed…” his eyes sharpened a bit as his delirium faded. “...you’re new…free me...let me feed…”
“I’ll get you out of here in a moment but you have to tell me, who betrayed you? What did they say?”
“...Erikur...Erikur in Solitude...told me where the crypt was...told me where the daughter was...lied…'' the Vamp’s voice was getting stronger the more he talked. He also turned to stare into my eyes. “...Free me, let me feed.”
I easily crushed his pitiful attempt to influence my mind and smiled at him.
“Of course.” I replied and then drove my sword into his chest.
The vampire let out a wheezing gasp as the last of the vital energy in his body bled out. “I free you from your mortal shell.” I said mockingly to his disbelieving eyes. “Enjoy Coldharbour, leech.”
With the last of the trash dealt with, I took some time to inspect the thralls and absorb the information from the vampire.
The thralls looked healthy enough to pass off to a guard patrol or if I was lucky a wandering acolyte of Stendarr. As for the vampire, it was both better and worse than I feared. Thank the gods Harkon didn’t seem to know where his daughter, and more importantly the elder scroll she carried, was located but at the same time he at the very least knew where she was supposed to be. And he seemed to have informants willing to aid him so it was likely a matter of time before he knew the exact location of his daughter.
Unfortunately both the name and location of the crypt Harkon’s daughter slept in was lost to my memory and it was unlikely I would be the one to uncover that information before they did.
I shook myself and returned to releasing the collars from the girl’s necks. Perhaps this Erikur would know more about the crypt the vampire talked about. It would be a good cover for why I was asking around Solitude without mentioning her name.
With a final ‘click’ the last collar popped open and fell to the floor.
“Well that’s that, I suppose.” I muttered and gently took each of the girls’ hands. “Now then, please follow me and we’ll see about getting you some help, alright?”
Exiting the cave I saw that I had spent most of the day clearing the bandit hideout. The sun was starting to dip over the horizon. I would probably need to spend the night since the gates to Whiterun would definitely be closed by the time I made it back and I doubt it would be safe for the Thralls to spend the night in the open. Well at least I found a decent campsite alre-
It seems I wasn’t the only one to have a busy day.
The next morning started off pretty well. No bandit attack in the middle of the night, no pack of wolves in search of a meal, and no Nirn-shaking summons from mountain dwelling hermits meant that not only did I have a decent rest, the food I had found around the hideout had made for a lovely breakfast. Thankfully the thralls were self-reliant enough that they were able to feed themselves with little issue.
Even better was the group of Vigilants of Stendarr I met on the road only an hour after I set out, even if I would’ve preferred a less confrontational greeting.
Things started ambialy enough with me greeting the three of them. However when the thralls made no move other than staring at the group blankly they got cautious and hands started reaching for weapons.
“You have some interesting companions, elf.” the lead Vigilant commented even as his hand wrapped around the handle of his mace. “Are they normally so unresponsive?”
“I wouldn’t know.” I admitted and raised my hands in a gesture of peace. “I rescued them out of a bandit lair yesterday where they had been held captive alongside a vampire. I was hoping that you would be able to escort them to Whiterun so they can be checked over in the Temple.”
If anything the outright admittal of the vampire made them more tense. “Oh? So you just stormed a bandit lair by yourself out of the goodness of your heart then? Alone?”
I silently lamented that even the followers of a god of mercy wouldn’t believe a stranger would do such a thing for no reason.
“Well, I managed to kill most of them at range.” I said gesturing to my still secured bow hanging from the Void Armoury. “When I heard they had captives I couldn’t exactly leave in good conscience. I have...issues, with leaving innocent people in unwilling bondage.”
“And the vampire?” the second of the Vigilants commented.
“He was in the cage with these two.” I waved at the thralls. “I’m still not entirely sure how a group of bandits managed to get the upper hand on a vampire without realising what he was, but I stabbed him through the heart when he tried influencing me.”
The Vigilants were silent as they sent looks between themselves.
“Is there some reason you won’t escort them to Whiterun yourself?” the leader finally asked,
“Convenience on my end.” I shrugged. “I’m heading to Solitude. I didn’t want to detour if possible.”
“I see… We will of course take the women with us. Could you provide the location of the bandit lair to confirm your story?”
I had no issue with that and quickly gave them some basic directions on how to find the lair.
“I have to say it's refreshing to come across some like minded individuals even if they don’t dedicate themselves to Stendarr’s path.” the second Vigilant commented once I was done, suddenly much more friendly than earlier.
“You’re...welcome?” I said hesitantly. “Why the attitude change?”
“That would be because of me.” the third member of their group finally spoke up. “While you were talking I managed to cast Detect Life on the area, so we can confirm you aren’t a vampire trying to trick us. Although you should know we will be informing the local guards about the lair as well in case you had any surprises there.” she finished with a vicious smile.
I hadn’t left any surprises so it didn’t bother me.
“Hey, since you’re headed to Solitude would you mind dropping off a letter at the Temple of the Divines?” the second Vigilant asked.
“I’m not against the idea, but why not just send a courier?” I hedged.
“We could, but this way we can also have the Temple reward you for saving these two women.” the leader explained. “And it’s not an urgent message anyway. Simply confirming the group of necromancers was right where Justicar Aedifeth said it was. Stendarr willing you two might see each other there. I feel like you would get along.”
“I’m sure we would.” I accepted the rolled letter and tried to keep the emotions boiling inside me hidden.
“Safe travels to you all.”
“Stendarr light your way.”