Leaving behind the two frozen corpses, I rushed after my Nord companions. I needed to warn them that the Thalmor had every intention of killing them when the opportunity presented itself and both of them were too straightforward to know the signs of someone preparing for a betrayal.
Unfortunately even the small delay of waiting to listen in on the Thalmor bastards had given Erikur and Jordis a pretty big head start and I was further slowed making sure there were no surprises lurking around a corner; so by the time I managed to catch up to them, they were already engaged in a three way battle between the Thalmor and the Vampires.
Well, I said three way, but it was more like the Vampires against the Thalmor plus Erikur and Jordis. My companions weren’t fighting both groups just yet, but they weren’t exactly working together either.
I watched as Jordis locked blades with one vampire only to have to dive to the side when the bloodsucker dodged out of the way a spell one of the Thalmor mages threw at both of them. Sure it might have missed or possibly killed the vampire, but it just as easily could have injured the nord if she wasn’t fast on her feet.
Since there was no follow up attack even when Jordis was unbalanced I assumed the Thalmor were at least not overtly trying to kill the non-mer at this point. So I took the opportunity to get my bearings in the new environment.
I was actually above the fighting for now. The Ancient Nords had actually dug into a massive underground lake and the room I was currently in was overlooking it, but someone had come by later and added on to the old stonework. Several carved statues of winged creatures unlike anything I’d seen made by nords stood menacingly in several locations while the walls, banisters and decorations followed a style I could only compare to the ‘gothic’ methods I half-remembered from a previous life.
There was a series of stairs going down to the right that led to a wide platform where Jordis and Erikur were fighting and a large structure further out where I could see that formed a circular platform in the middle of the lake and had a ring of arches that formed a crown around the entire thing. I could see flashes of further fighting and assumed that more vampires and Thamor had moved into the structure itself.
The structure that was currently making great warning bells go off in the back of my mind.
I may have forgotten the name of the crypt over the centuries, but I had not forgotten what was hidden there or what it looked like. It also explained why the Thalmor and the Volkihar clan were so interested in an old crypt in the middle of nowhere.
This was the resting place of both Harkon Volkihar’s daughter and one of the most powerful artifacts in the world, an Elder Scroll.
I wasted no time practically flying down the stairs to join in the fight, making my presence known by stabbing my longsword through the back of a Thalmor and blasting a nearby vampire with a firebolt.
The altmer dropped like a stone and the leech was flung to the floor screaming until it went still seconds later.
“The Thalmor are planning on killing everyone here.” I barked, cutting off whatever comment Erikur was about to make.
It said something about how much the Nords trusted me -or perhaps how little anyone trusted the Thalmor- that they didn’t question it and immediately turned on the remaining Thalmor.
One lost his head when Jordis turned and went for the kill while a second struggled to deal with a suddenly hostile Erikur waving an axe in his face. That left me to deal with the closest vampire, a Breton woman, who was completely unaffected by the sudden change in alliances.
Why would she be? Both the Thalmor and my Nord companions were already her enemies.
She came at me with startling speed for her obvious lack of muscle or training, but while that would give her an advantage over unwary peasants or less experienced fighters, I wasn’t so easily caught off guard. Not by a novice with a dagger that relied on their daedra-begotten gifts over actual skill.
I parried a sloppy stab with my longsword and removed her forearm just below the elbow with a flick of my wrist before plunging the black blade into the creature’s heart. To my surprise, the Breton actually caught the handguard before I could pull the sword free in an action I would’ve expected in a veteran warrior used to fighting through debilitating injuries.
Then I felt ice slide down my spine at the glassy look in the vampire’s eyes. Something normally seen in Thralls, but if it was on her…
“Thalin, look out!”
Without a second thought, I abandoned my longsword and brought my arm up just in time to put it between me and the master vampire trying to take a bite out of my throat. His long jagged teeth getting caught in my vambrace but failing to pierce through.
I idly noticed the master was already rather roughed up as I wrestled another dagger away from stabbing me in the side. His armor was cracked and covered in his own blood, there was also a distinct smell around him that told me he recently was on the wrong side of a storm mage. Yet, no matter how weakened he was, a master vampire was still strong enough that I couldn’t hold him back with one arm. If our little strength contest continued it would only be a matter of time before he overpowered me.
So instead of resisting, I pulled backwards with all of my strength. And just when we tipped over the edge where falling was inevitable, I released my hold on his dagger arm and my hand darted to my waist.
Both of us crashed to the ground and I felt I got the worst of it when the vampire made no effort to break his fall, if anything he smiled despite my arm still being caught between his teeth. At least he did until he let out a long hissing groan that sounded very similar to a leather ball being punctured.
I twisted the dagger I had planted in his ribs when we fell, drawing another pained groan, before I used my superior leverage to throw the vampire off me. Free for a few seconds, I followed up with an Ice Spike that caught the furious leech in the forehead just as he turned back to face me and then threw up a Ward when a final Thalmor mage sent a torrent of sparks at my still prone form.
He definitely wasn’t the mage that faced the master vampire because even my hasty ward was enough to hold off his assault until Jordis smashed the rim of her shield into his face, crushing his nose and blinding him.
While she finished off the novice mage I accepted Erikur’s hand, the nord easily pulling my smaller form back onto my feet.
“Thanks for the warning.” I said with a quick smile. I was fast coming to appreciate working with skilled companions.
In a world as dangerous as ours, it was surprisingly rare to find competent help.
“Of course! We can’t have our fair wood elf fall to something as plebeian as a master vampire! If any of us are to fall, it should be in the pursuit of something worthy of song for generations to come!”
While I appreciated the sentiment, I’d much rather live through any adventures.
“Well, let's do our best to make sure that day is a long way off.” I replied. “Do you know how many more we have to deal with?”
I could still hear fighting on the platform ahead of us, so at least a few enemies were still alive and I hadn’t seen a Justicar uniform yet…
“Four Thalmor and one other went on ahead when we arrived. But I do not know how many daedra-spawn awaited either. I assume there is at least one more Master though, considering they are still fighting.”
“Could wait.” Jordis offered, but the suggestion burned at my very soul.
No one would kill Silline other than me!
“I’m not giving them the time to regroup.” I declared, already retrieving my weapons. “The Thalmor must have met up with another patrol for there to be this many of them. Whatever they’re here for is worth sending two groups and eliminating all witnesses. I’d rather they didn’t get their hands on it in the first place.”
“Indeed. Very well, lead the way dear Thalin.”
The three of us moved swiftly to the short bridge connecting our area to the platform even as the sounds of fighting died down. Just because I didn’t want to wait for the Thalmor and Vampires to finish eachother off didn’t mean they wouldn’t kill the other while we were rushing over.
By the time the other group came into view, the fight was almost over.
A single Thalmor Justicar was still standing alongside a Nord in steel plate armor trading blows with the last remaining master vampire near the center of the platform, the fallen remains of both groups scattered around them.
I couldn’t see the Justicar’s face due to the raised hood and cloth face mask covering most of her face but I didn’t care. My eyes were glued to the longsword in her hands that all but confirmed her identity.
When Silline had ‘graduated’ from basic sword lessons I had given her a gift.
A meticulously crafted longsword I had made and enchanted myself. The leaf-shaped moonstone blade was common enough, but no other elven style blade traded the traditional feathered pattern handguard for one made of woven tree branches. I had hoped it would be a symbol of our sisterly bond. The fact that she kept using the weapon after she had betrayed me was infuriating.
Magika flared around me in a visible aura as I lost myself in my rage. In hindsight I would probably be disgusted by the wastefulness of my actions, the only thing that mattered at that very second was pouring as much of it as I could into one spell. A beam of blue-white electric death erupted from my palm and yet -against all odds- instead of vaporising the traitorous Altmer I once called a sister, the remaining vampire was somehow thrown in front of the spell and shielded her enough that she was able to conjure a ward to fend off...some of the damage.
Despite the interference my spell vaporised the undead and continued through Silline’s defences, causing her to shriek in pain as the magical lightning ravaged her body.
It didn’t kill her, but it certainly knocked her off her feet and left her twitching as remnants of the spell randomly triggered muscles.
That didn’t matter to me as I pointed my sword at the one who interfered, somehow I was completely unsurprised to find myself staring down the bloody form of the Dragonborn. It was just like him to find himself in a battleground he had no right to be in.
“Stay out of this.” I growled.
Naturally the Chosen of Auri-El did not do this.
Instead he walked right between me and Silline, arms raised, and tried to talk me down of all things.
“Hold on, Thalin, the Thalmor are friendly for now! They helped me clear out the crypt in exchange for some old record the Nords buried here, you don’t need to fight!” Thor said rapidly. As if that would be enough for me to spare her. The infinitesimally small part of my brain that wasn’t consumed by rage also noted that Thor had once again spoken about the Nords as if he himself wasn’t one.
“Your willingness to defend your companions is admirable, warrior, but in this case it is misplaced.” Erikur replied as he and Jordis fanned out from behind me. “These elves have plotted behind your back to kill you once your usefulness comes to an end. Thalin here heard it from two of their members directly. And in anycase,” he continued making Thor’s mouth snap closed, “the Concordat makes it clear the Thalmor have no right to the artifacts of our ancestors. Just the attempt was enough for me, as a Thane of Skyrim, to arrest them for crimes against the realm. Their attempts to kill us in retaliation means their lives are forfeit.”
“That seems a bit harsh-”
“Enough of this. Move!” I shot a -mostly- underpowered shock spell at Thor with the intent of forcing him out of the way.
I wasn’t expecting him to throw up a warding spell that actually managed to block it, but I also wasn’t about to let something as small as being surprised when the Dragonborn suddenly accomplished a spell most novice magicians would need a few years to use reliably get in the way of getting revenge.
If direct spells wouldn’t work...then I had other ways of going through the stubborn Nord.
I brought my longsword up and back down fast enough that Thor was barely able to keep up with my movements. So when his hasty block ripped the blade from my hand he could only watch it in confusion before realising I had thrust my hand directly in front of his face and closed my eyes.
That was all he had time to mutter before the brightest magelight I could conjure flared to life and blinded him.
While the prophesied slayer of Alduin writhed on the ground clutching at his face, I pulled a dagger and stalked towards the Justicar just now managing to rise to her knees.
“I have been dreaming of this moment for over fifty years, Silline.” I hissed at her. “Now you pay!”
The dagger plunged into her heart while mine practically rose to the heavens in joy about getting revenge.
I almost casually ripped the cloth facemask away. I wanted to see the light leave her eyes as she realised the consequences of her betrayal had finally--
This wasn’t Silline.
I hadn’t been joking about dreaming of revenge. At this point I think I knew Silline’s face better than my own. The Altmer dying in front of me wasn’t her, why wasn’t it her, she had the sword dammit!
A muted click rang out behind me and out of pure instinct I dropped to the ground as a bolt flew through the space I had just been standing in.
I turned and this time there was no mistaking her. Silline stood near the platform bridge, an empty crossbow still pointed in my direction and a scroll in her other hand, staring at me with wide terrified eyes.
I cast another overpowered lightning bolt at the traitorous Justicar even as she threw away her crossbow and activated the spell scroll in her hand. A glowing purple barrier sprang to life just before my spell hit and splashed across the screen like water. I fired two more and when those also failed to break the defensive spell she used I swapped to fire and ice spells with similar results.
“Hah, I was worried but it looks like a fortress grade ward spell is too much even for you sister.” Silline laughed.
“Don’t you call me that! You have no right!”
“Are you still upset I turned you over to the Thalmor? You shouldn’t be. I gave you a chance to fix your selfishness and share your gift with the rest of us, yet you refused no matter how much I pleaded with you.” Silline flinched when my sword slammed into the barrier but when she saw it fail to pierce through she relaxed again.
“It even holds up to your blades, incredible.” She muttered to herself before turning her attention back to me. “When will you come to your senses, Thalin? The Dominion deserves your immortality! Just give me the secret and we can put all of this behind us!”
“The only thing I’m going to give you is a quick trip to Oblivion!” I raged. “This ward won’t hold me forever, and the second it falls I’m going to hunt you down and do to you what I did to whoever you gave my sword to!”
Silline looked uncomfortably at the corpse of the other Justicar behind me.
“Yes, Justicar Elsinorin… I guess it was fortunate for me she grabbed my weapon earlier. Fine then… If you can’t be reasonable about this, then you leave me no choice…” Silline backed up. It was only when she was confident I had no way of following her that she turned her back on me and headed back into the crypt.
“Get back here, coward! I’m going to-” a heavy hand landed on my shoulder, interrupting my threat.
I whipped my head over to see a frowning Erikur shaking his head at me.
“Save your breath. I think your time would be better served thinking how to get through her spell than cursing her, no matter how much she may deserve it.”
“Can someone please explain what is going on?” Thor whined, still rubbing his eyes.
“Evil elves wanted to kill us, trapped us here, and escaped.” Jordis summed up.
“That doesn’t explain anything...”
I ignored the conversation in the background and followed Erikur’s suggestion. Examining the spell and performing a few tests on it led to the conclusion that Silline hadn’t lied. This really was a fortress grade defensive spell. Under normal circumstances with no preparation it would take me over a week to begin breaking down such a spell, but luckily for us we had no reason to do anything more than wait.
“Silline didn’t anchor the ward anywhere,” I informed the group, slowly calming myself down. With the element of surprise gone, running headfirst into a trap that was no doubt being set up ahead because I wasn’t thinking would be an embarrassment. “The entire spell is running off it’s initial energy well. It will dissipate on it’s own in ten minutes even if we did nothing.”
“Could she be setting up another one farther back the way we came?”
It was a good question but-
“No. You could buy half of a decently sized town for the cost of one of those wards. The chances of Silline having another are almost nonexistent.”
“Do we break it?”
I thought about Jordis’s question for a second before answering. “There’s not much point. Anything we could do to weaken the ward will take almost as much time as it would for it to time out on its own. We might as well rest and treat any wounds so we will be ready to hunt her-”
I was cut off as a massive series of explosions echoed through the cavern and the path back to the crypt was swallowed by an enormous fireball. By the time the noise quieted down, our path back into the crypt was reduced to large chunks of rubble as part of the ceiling caved in…