If we ever went back to that village for some reason, I would need to track down the person who gave us directions and do something nice for him.
Not only did he manage to point out some very helpful landmarks, but he also remembered to mention that the crypt we were heading towards was actually on a mountain, something he had neglected to tell Silline, which would hopefully slow her down enough that we could catch up to her group. I wasn’t expecting it to slow her down for long though. If there was one thing travellers learned about Skyrim, it was that if there was a mountain cave remotely accessible the Nords would have found it, burrowed in, and made a fortress out of it. Either them or the Dwemer. And Silline wasn’t exactly stupid.
Backstabbing, morally bankrupt, and a coward. But not stupid.
Despite the excellent directions it still took us another two days to reach the base of the correct mountain. And then we needed to search around the base for signs the Thalmor patrol was in the area or if they had managed to figure out where the crypt was.
Thanks to the surroundings being mostly desolate crags of rock covered in a light dusting of snow the checks didn’t take very long. For the most part, all we found were some animal tracks and some signs that a wagon had passed by, though we did find a horse that had broken free of its hitching. After searching for a bit and failing to find it’s owner or a camp nearby, we ended up taking it back to our camp and hitched it with the others we had been using.
“I think we either missed them on the way here or they might have already gone up the mountain.” I said eventually.
“If the Thalmor already had an idea where to look, they might not have needed more than basic directions.” Erikur agreed. “Which means we should venture up the mountain ourselves if we wish to find your quarry.”
“It’s past noon and the climb will probably take a few hours. Should we set up camp and leave in the morning?”
“Shouldn’t wait; Vampires.” Jordis added her thoughts, causing Erikur to nod.
“The lovely Jordis speaks true and with wisdom.” I watched as Jordis blushed from the tips of her ears all the way to her neck and Erikur managed to miss it by virtue of looking up the mountain path. “We have no idea how many vampires are in the area and we are too few to reliably keep watch through the night. Making haste to the crypt and meeting them on our own terms would be better than waiting the night.”
I thought about it for a second before agreeing. The longer we were out in the open the more likely we were to be spotted anyways, by either the Thalmor or by the Vampires - it didn’t matter, both groups could cause us issues and getting caught in the middle of the night wasn’t something the three of us could afford.
“Excellent, then the only thing to do is begin up the mountain!” Erikur cheered. “Naturally I would be happy to take the lead to make sure the path is suitable for such lovely ladies as-”
“Jordis already started going up.” I interrupted Erikur’s declaration with a laugh. I bet the taciturn swordswoman simply didn’t want to let Erikur see her blushing, so she took the lead the second we decided on a plan.
“-yourselves...oh.” Erikur finished weakly.
I patted him on the shoulder as I followed after our other companion. Maybe one day these two would figure things out between them. Obviously not today though.
The climb up the mountain was several times more difficult than my last excursion up a mountain path. Clearly whoever had built this crypt was determined that it wouldn’t be found by accident. The stone markers common for these types of trails were few and far between and there were several spots we needed to move slowly due to the steepness of the slopes.
Ironically, if it wasn’t for the additions made by the vampires - crude stairs, additional markers, and the like - there was no chance our little trio would have made it to the entrance, let alone find the hidden crag in the mountain face that no doubt opened up into some ridiculous structure.
“Looks like the place.”
And it seemed they were all in agreement they had found what they were looking for.
The three of us quickly decided to use the same formation we did back at the Wolfskull cave, myself in front followed by Erikur and Jordis, and made our way forward.
It didn’t take long for my initial guess about what awaited us inside to be proven right. Not only did the crevice open up into an impressive cavern, there was a highly decorated entrance that ran deeper into the mountain and a watchtower that dominated the area.
Why the ancient Nords felt they needed a watchtower on the inside of a mountain was something I would never understand but it would have made the place a pain to assault if there were alert defenders in the area.
Fortunately for us, there wasn’t a vampire army waiting for invaders manning the defences. Instead there were a handful of vampires and thralls huddled by the opened entrance to the crypt…
...And they were facing the wrong way.
“I guess we can say for certain someone came through here first.” I whispered back to the other two.
“But was it the group we are after?” Erikur whispered back. “Someone else was attacking the vampires according to the one we met. Could it be them?”
“Thalmor were here. Look.” Jordis pointed at one of several bodies that had been left lying around the cavern floor. Some of them were clearly just more bodies to feed the vampires living here but a few wore the robes of the Vigilants, apparently they had also noticed the bloodsucker activity in the area and came to investigate. The body Jordis pointed out, though, was covered in the robes of a Thalmor soldier. I might have missed him entirely if she hadn’t pointed him out, considering he was nearly covered by the corpse of a large black doglike thing.
“Good catch.” I complimented. “But if the Thalmor went deeper inside, why are these people hanging around the entrance?”
“Waiting to cut them off if the Thalmor turn back?” Erikur guessed, but even he sounded uncertain. If the bloodsuckers were worried about the intruders leaving they could have just shut the gates to the crypt afterall.
A secret destined to be unanswered I supposed.
I carefully handed my longsword to Erikur and unfastened my bow. The relatively open nature of the cavern meant I had a clear, easy shot into the group huddling around the other door but I had a limited window to take advantage of that before we lost the element of surprise and they scattered behind the stone pillars and cliffs for cover.
There were three vampires and four thralls in the group. As I pulled the string back and focused on my first target I found it ironic that the thralls probably made the group less dangerous overall since they were likely puppets with little will of their own. And everyone knew a puppet without a puppet master was little more than a fancy block of wood.
I released the string and quickly drew another, aimed, and released again. The first arrow caught an unwary vampire at the base of the skull, killing him instantly. The other vampires reacted almost instantly to the death of their companion and jerked into motion but were too slow. The second arrow caught one of them in the heart and dropped them only slightly slower than the first. I fired a third, but by then the shock of being ambushed had finally worn off and the last vampire ducked behind it’s thralls and hid while shouting orders at them.
“Finally, time for a real fight!” Erikur cheered as he ran forward to meet them with Jordis a half-step behind him. Thankfully he remembered to return my longsword on his way past so I was not far behind them either.
The Thane of Solitude hit the first thrall with the force of an avalanche; not only knocking it off its feet but throwing it into the one behind it, taking both of them down in an uncoordinated pile of limbs. A wiry Breton avoided the pile and jumped at him swinging a pair of daggers but Jordis smoothly stepped between them and caught both weapons on her shield before slashing at him in return. While her Stalhrim blade cut deeply into the Breton’s side, he neither reacted in pain nor backed off, simply continuing to harass the pair of nords while the fourth Thrall, a large Nord, squared up against Erikur.
I ignored the thralls - Erikur and Jordis would be able to handle them on their own - and rushed towards the true threat. The last vampire had been slow so far to follow its puppets but pretty soon it would start actually directing them and that was when things could get dangerous. I definitely wanted to kill it before that happened.
I laid a fire rune on one side of the stone pillar I had seen the vampire duck behind and started circling my way around the other, sword at the ready and embers dancing in my hand. At the first sign of movement I would be unleashing magical fire on everything in front of me.
Turns out I didn’t need to.
The vampire must have tried being smart and circling back the opposite direction to either join up with its thralls or to attack me from behind but the sudden explosion of fire followed by hideous screams of pain told me it tripped the fire rune instead. I quickly rounded the pillar and saw the vampire thrashing on the ground; their legs badly burned and robes still on fire in places. Seeing no need to get closer to the thrashing animal I shot it with a handful of ice spikes until it laid still and turned back to the battle with the thralls.
It was going pretty well for my companions. The thrall Jordis had cut either passed out or died from blood loss and Erikur had nearly split another in half with a single blow of his axe. The final two thralls were mindlessly getting in each other's way while the two Nords smoothly danced around each other. It didn’t take much time for them to finish off the thralls and come join me by the entrance to the crypt.
“Any trouble?” I asked, more for formality than need but taking things for granted could wind up causing trouble if wounds were ignored.
“Nothing we couldn’t handle.” Erikur boasted confidently while Jordis simply shook her head. “Excellent work with the last vampire. Without guidance, the thralls were little better than drunk barfighters.”
“Happy to help then.” I smiled back. “But it's too early to celebrate yet, we need to get moving before the Thalmor get away.”
“You mean deal with the vampires, right?” Erikur said with a slight frown that stopped me in my tracks. “Your revenge can’t be more important than making sure these monsters are dealt with, can it?”
I wanted to disagree - Hells, I wanted to rage that there was nothing more important than making sure Silline never left this crypt - but the more reasonable part of my mind reminded me that Erikur was dedicated to protecting Skyrim and its people. A nest of vampires spilling out into the surrounding areas might not be an immediate issue since we were in a remote location, but if the bloodsuckers started digging in again hundreds might die before anything could be done about them.
I clenched my jaw tightly. There was only one real answer to that and it wasn’t the one I wanted.
“You’re right…” I practically hissed. “We focus on the leeches.”
“Don’t fret too much, Thalin. We aren’t going to let your foe simply walk away.” The Thane reassured me. “She will face justice for her actions.”
“I don’t care about justice.” I grumbled as we descended into the crypt.
I just wanted her dead.
Despite what we agreed to, there was little left for us to fight in the crypt. The Thalmor had actually done a pretty good job of clearing out the vampires and the draugr that had awoken. We only had to deal with a handful of draugr that wandered out of the more out of the way rooms and a pair of skeletons.
Still, that didn’t mean we weren't being careful.
We were taking it slow and quiet, so when we heard voices from around a corner we all stopped to listen.
“Stop grunting like an animal and let me bind this, Yaril! You’re going to bleed out at this rate!”
“Maybe if you weren’t - Divines, damn it! Be careful! - yanking everything I could relax!”
I looked back at my companions and motioned that I would investigate first.
Peeking around the corner I saw two Altmer in Thalmor robes sitting up against a crypt wall. One of them was busy trying a tourniquet around the other's leg while the other kept looking around the surroundings. I was lucky he was facing the other direction when I peeked out and quickly retreated before he looked back this way.
“Two Thalmor, one looks badly injured.” I whispered the Nords. I had already decided to let them take the lead approaching our prey since they would need to live with any decisions we made while I could simply cross into a different province.
Erikur nodded and, to my surprise, simply walked up and around the corner followed by his partner.
“There, done. If you had stopped squirming- Who’s there?!” I heard one of the Thalmor cry.
“Peace! We mean you no harm.” Erikur called back. “I am a Thane of Solitude following a rumor of vampires camping in this crypt. Clearly that rumor was true and I regret I did not arrive sooner to aid you in battle. Are you the only two left? We found the remains of your companion outside.”
“A Nord coming from Solitude? That’s quite a distance for a mere rumor.” one of the Altmer sneered.
“Indeed, but there was another incident where me and my companion ran across another vampire and it pointed us towards this crypt as well.”
I was a little stunned that both Nords just walked out like that before my brain kicked back in and I realised what they were doing.
Erikur had only specified one companion. He was intentionally doing so to give me final say on what happened to the Thalmor.
“I see, you should hurry ahead then. The Justicar took the remains of our group to deal with the rest of the vampires. A conclave this large certainly has at least one Master. We’ll try to follow when we can.”
Part of me was thankful that the Nords were giving me free reign with their fates. A larger part was annoyed they thought there was a possibility I would spare either of the conceited Altmer from death.
Still, there was a chance I could listen in on some secrets. So even as Erikur and Jordis walked off I remained hidden and waited to see if the Altmer would let anything slip.
“Was it wise to send more nords after the Justicar?” The one called Yaril asked. “The one we followed here was already potentially problematic. Killing two more while the squadron is weakened might be challenging.”
“Only if they work together and even then only if they know we plan on killing them.” The other replied. “Besides there is no guarantee they will be uninjured after facing a Master Vampire. Justicar Aedifeth will make sure they either die in the fight or soon after. Better they spend their lives protecting their betters while they can.”
I felt an almost unnatural calm settle over my mind as I listened to the Thalmor. Not only were they planning on killing my companions and another Nord they had worked with, they had confirmed Silline was here. Either one would have been a death sentence for the entire squadron, the two combined meant there was simply no reason to delay their execution.
I sheathed my longsword momentarily and flexed my magica so ice crystals fell slowly from both hands. Then I stepped around the corner myself and let loose a localized blizzard before either of the Thalmor noticed they were about to die.