We didn’t learn a whole lot from the necromancer.
As expected from a door guard. They tended to be left uninformed about the exact goings on inside whatever they were guarding specifically because they could be captured and interrogated.
We did get the basic layout. Naturally the necromancers wouldn’t be content with a random cave in the middle of nowhere, no, instead they had found an abandoned mountain fort that could probably hold off an army if there were enough defenders.
Good thing for us with only two dozen or so necromancers in the fort even with their thralls and summons they shouldn’t have the power or numbers required to fill the fort’s defenses.
The guard was taken care of with a quick beheading and the three of us slipped inside the fort with ease. Erikur had grumbled about me taking the front position but with two dozen spell casters in a mostly abandoned ruin, trap spells were a very real concern. Thankfully Jordis sided with me and we were able to convince the crazy Nord that it was better if the mage who could actually detect the traps went first.
“Hardly fits the stories of a heroic warrior to be cowering behind the mage.” Erikur complained.
I rolled my eyes, “Because stories are never exaggerated. Ever.” I replied. “Now keep quiet, there's a patrol of skeletons up ahead and I don’t want them noticing us before we can take them all out.”
This time both nords grumbled in discontent. Nords were supposed to charge fearlessly at their enemy! Not hide in the dark and jump them like thieves.
The skeletons shambled noisily down the hall. When they got close enough to our hiding spot I gave Erikur a tap on the shoulder and a second later he was right in the middle of them. Jordis was right behind him as he shoulder checked one skeleton and cleaved through the head of a second. She slammed the edge of her shield into another one’s face and started hacking at it with her sword. Seeing those two had the ones nearby handled, I focused on the two archers further down the hall.
Trusting the other two to keep anything off me, I stabbed my sword into the ground and raised both hands at the skeletons. Two bolts of lighting arced down the hallway, frying the skeletons and burning through the necromantic energy keeping them animated.
“If this is the best two dozen mages can throw at us we have nothing to worry about!” Erikur boasted, Jordis nodding confidently alongside him.
“Don’t get overconfident,” I warned. “Skeletons are really only good for overwhelming people, distractions, or early warning. I can guarantee they know we are coming now. We’ll need to move faster. If we’re lucky, we can catch them before they are ready for us.”
To their credit, both Nords sobered quickly after my reminder. Both of them were experienced enough to not let an easy victory go to their head and get...too cocky. They were still Nords after all.
The three of us moved through the fort at a brisk walk, checking for more ambushes as they went, before crashing through a closed door and into a group of mages. An ice spike deflected off my ward and I shoved my sword through the panicking mage’s chest in return. Pivoting, I smacked aside a greatsword aimed at my head and thrust my longsword through the owner’s chest. The enchanted sword quickly burned the reanimated corpse’s insides to a crisp and it fell over, motionless.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Jordis behead another mage and quickly raise her shield just in time to have another ice spike shatter against it. Erikur was doing a good job keeping at least one opponent in between him and the others still in the room, using his axe as a shield when he couldn’t dodge out of the way of an incoming attack.
We must have run into the less experienced members. While there was quite a bit of ice magic tossed around and a few zombies, there was no area affecting spells or daedric thralls.
The last of the mages died when Erikur’s axe went through his shoulder and down to his navel.
“Not bad. I think that was just under a third of them if the guard was telling the truth.” I commented as we all wiped the blood off our respective weapons.
“Indeed! This was a much better fight than those skeletons. This will certainly be worthy of a song or two when we’re done. Three companions fighting through half a dozen mages at once? Hah!” Erikur laughed.
“Good story.” was Jordis’ blunt comment.
“Yes, let’s just make sure we live to tell it.” I said dryly.
We stepped out of another door to find that I was mistaken. We had not been in the fort. We had been in a freaking gatehouse and the rest of the fort sprawled out in front of us, stone fortifications standing in relief against watch fires and the bits of sunlight that trickled in through cracks in the cavern’s ceiling.
“Shor’s breath...this place is huge!” Erikur gaped at the scene in front of us. “What were they planning on doing here?”
There was a sudden spike in magical energies that stood out like a forest fire to my senses and purple spectral wisps of energy started to swirl towards the highest tower on the fort.
“That.” I said quickly. ”They were planning on doing that. We need to stop them before something bad happens.”
I took off at a run, stealth forgotten. At this point they either knew we were here and were going to try and use the ritual as a last ditch effort to kill us off or we simply managed to time our arrival exactly when the necromancers decided to begin the process of summoning Potema. Either way we needed to get there fast.
“Thalin! What in oblivion is going on? What are they doing?” Erikur called as he ran along behind me.
“Necromantic ritual!” I cried back as I hacked my way through a pair of draugr trying to slow us down. “Either an attack so they can deal with us or a binding so they can raise an army!”
Loud echoing voices suddenly were heard throughout the cavern as the magika in the air resonated with the ritual.
"Potema, hear our call and awaken. We summon you!"
"We summon Potema!"
"Long have you dreamed the dreamless sleep of death, Potema. No longer. Hear our call and awaken. We summon you!"
"We summon Potema!"
“Going with the second one personally!”
“Did they just say Potema? As in the Wolf Queen?” Erikur gasped, eyes wide. “And they want to summon her?”
“Thats bad.” Jordis had a talent with understatement.
“No one accused Necromancers of having sense. Move it, Nords! I don’t want to deal with an undead army because we got there too slow!”
The three of us ran through the fort, killing any undead we came across. I noticed that there were really only a handful of draugr and skeleton archers in our way. Presumably, the master necromancers had diverted all of their energy to the ritual so the only undead in the fort were self sustaining ones. Luckily for us those types of servants were really hard to make so we were easily able to overpower any that we ran into.
We had just finished with another two draugr, Jordis was in the middle of pulling her sword out of the one’s chest, when there was another surge in necromantic energy.
"Yes, YES! Return me to this realm!" an ethereal voice boomed throughout the cavern.
“Damn it all, they actually managed to reach her spirit! Move faster!” Erikur cried as he and Jordis sprinted ahead of me up the fort’s steps to reach the tower where the ritual was located.
"As our voices summon you, the blood of the innocent binds you, Wolf Queen!"
"What? What are you doing?" Potema’s spectral voice was now tinged with a bit of panic.
All the summoners chanted together, "Summoned with words, bound by blood."
"You ants don't have the power to bind ME!"
"Summoned with words, bound by blood."
Erikur was the first one to burst past the top of the stairs followed closely by Jordis. I cleared the final step maybe a second after them and quickly took in the scene at a glance.
The Nords were charging the ritual circle of six necromancers. Normally this would be a death sentence, but the mages were entirely focused on the final step of the ritual and couldn’t immediately deal with the two warriors.
More importantly they were literally about to complete the final step! The ritual master had a ceremonial dagger raised over the bound body of a female imperial. Erikur had already realised they were too far away to reach the woman before the ritual master managed to stab her and had reared his axe back in preparation for a last ditch throw. Not a great plan but desperate last attempts rarely were. The problem was there was also the faint shimmer of a ward in the air, no doubt raised by what little power the ritualists could divert.
Alone, the pitiful ward would barely protect against a stiff wind but between the six mages in the circle it would be enough to deflect Erikur’s great axe with little issue.
Or it would if I hadn’t realised what he was doing.
A bolt of lightning arced over his shoulder, and while I couldn’t bend it enough to hit the necromancers with the Nords in the way, I managed to hit the ward just fine.
My spell burned through the minimal protections the ward offered in an instant allowing Erikur’s axe to sail through the air unimpeded. Thank all the gods that he was a good throw. The axe twirled end over end before cutting deeply into the ritual master’s shoulder with a meaty thwack. Flesh and bone split and splintered under the heavy metal blade and the mage screamed in pain as he dropped the dagger.
The purple bands of energy surrounding us snapped and started writhing in the air as the ritual was disturbed, the backlash of chaotic energy slamming into the ritualists. They had only just begun to recover when Jordis reached them and crushed one’s skull with the edge of her shield and then moved on to stab another through the chest.
Behind her, one of the two remaining necromancers still capable of resisting raised his hands to unleash a lightning bolt into Jordis’s unprotected side when I finally caught up. My blade lashed out and easily separated his hands from his wrists. His screams were joined by those of the final necromancer as I thrust out my left hand and bathed her in flames, burning her to cinders.
With the ritual now completely messed up, the magicka in the air swelled before dispersing in a haunting wail. The two Nords and I stood over the remains of the ritual circle members, the only sounds where our own heavy breathing and the weakening gasps from the two still alive necromancers.
I took a second to look around at the ritual scene. The poor woman intended to be sacrificed was thankfully unconscious. I had no desire to deal with her panicking at the moment. I did notice that many of the bodies had enchanted items that spoke of either a lot of money or a supporting group. If it hadn’t been for the backlash of the ritual, we would’ve had an incredibly risky fight on our hands.
The ritual circle itself made little sense to me, I wasn’t well versed in necromancy though so that was no surprise. Erikur had made his way over to the ritual master to retrieve his weapon and considering the man was unlikely to live long anyway, I was hoping to get a few answers.
“So what was the grand plan here?” I asked the bleeding form of the ritual master. “Revenge for some slight? Fulfilment of an unverified prophecy? You had to have known that any mages in Solitude would’ve noticed a Shade of that power being summoned so close.”
The old breton laughed, blood flecking his lips. “...fool...you know...nothing!...The master...will have....” He died with one last gasp.
“Ominous.” Erikur commented.
I cursed at the confirmation that there was more behind this ritual. At least I had prevented the formation of Potema’s shade. Without a tether to her spirit she wouldn’t be able to remain in this realm. One vampire army averted, one to go.
I turned to see Jordis had secured the last necromancer and stopped the worst of the bleeding. With some luck she would know more about what the ritual master meant by a master. With a few words to both my Nord companions we gathered up the various books and scrolls and prepared to escort the prisoner back to Solitude.
If there was a clue in the material we recovered I had best get started soon. There was quite a bit to go through.