Chapter 2: Some Way To Escape
Short for breath and low on energy after our breakout Ralof and I stumbled into Helgen’s Keep, the entry way was a small circular room with a high ceiling. In the centre hung a chandelier lit with candles and in the centre of the mossy stone floor lay a carpet. Across from us lay a body. One of Ralof’s friends, a Stormcloak by the name of Gunjar. Ralof knelt at his corpse.
“We’ll meet again in Sovngarde, brother.” He then stood to face me. “Looks like we’re the only ones who made it. That thing was a dragon. No doubt. Just like the children’s stories and the legends. The harbingers of the End Times.” Until this day I had not believed in such things existing, but with the sudden existence of dragons, many other questions filled my head about the existence of other things from stories. What of the Spriggans? Vampires? Werewolves? Did they exist? It had to wait, right now I needed to find some way to escape. We needed to find some way to escape.
“We better get moving.” Said Ralof, “come here, let me see if I can get those bindings off.” I walked up to him and he cut my hands free. Freedom at last was mine, I wished I weren’t free in such a desperate place, under such circumstances, but freedom is just that. I could now be my own man once more.
“There you go. You may as well take Gunjar’s gear. He won’t be needing it anymore.” He looked towards his fallen comrade and then back to me. “All right. Get that armour on and give that axe a few swings. I’m going to see if I can find a way out of here.” With that I pulled on Gunjar’s Cuirass and tied his Iron War Axe at my side. I never thought I’d see the day I wore faction armour, but I have to say – I looked pretty good in Stormcloak armour. While I did this, Ralof made his way over to a door made of metal bars. He gave it a tug and a push before giving up
“Ahh, this one’s locked. Let’s see about that gate” He walked across the room, to a wooden gate. There was no handle or lever visible, but you never know with these places whether or not it takes just a little push or something a bit more technical. He gave it a push and a pull, like the other before admitting defeat.
“Damn, no way to open this from our side.” As he said this footsteps could be heard making their way towards the room from the other side of the wooden gate. “It’s the Imperials! Take cover!”
I ducked in behind some rubble that had fallen from the ceiling during the dragon attack, and drew Gunjar’s axe. Once more, it would taste the blood of my people, but this was for a cause that was true, and righteous. The voices were familiar, one more so than the other.
“Get this gate open!” one ordered -it was the Captain from earlier. I’d waited far too long. I stood out from my cover and waited for the door to open. With a turn of some cogs the door slowly lifted, and with it I flew through it, axe first, driving myself forward, cleaving my way through the young soldier. As he hit the ground, his chest torn open by the metal’s impact I moved onto the second Imperial, the Captain who ordered my death. She was about to face her own. Effortlessly I punched my axe through her chest plate, knocking her breathless and to the ground. Looking me in the eye I could see her pain as I drew the axe back once more and made a final swing at her head. With a spray of blood her lifeless body hit the floor. Ralof and I stood there for a moment, breathing heavily.
“Maybe one of these imperials has a key.” Said Ralof finally. I searched both bodies, taking any undamaged armour, and putting it on. Eventually, I discovered an old rusty key hidden within the armour of the deceased Captain. Walking back across the room I allowed myself a smile as I revelled in the death of such an unpleasant person – some might call that sick, or psychopathic. I call it vengeance. Earned vengeance.
“Did you find a key?” asked Ralof. Silently, I nodded. “See if it unlocks that door” I pushed the key into the lock and twisted it. With a turn of my wrist and a steady push, the door swung open.
“Come on, let’s get out of here before that dragon brings that whole tower down on our heads!” Ralof uttered. I ran through the doorway, wielding the sword of the Captain, an Imperial Steel Sword. Excellent craftsmanship, and reliable in battle, just as was necessary for the situation. Turning to my left, I followed a stairwell down to a lower level, Ralof close behind as we reached a long corridor. With another loud cry from the dragon, came a thunderous crash.
“LOOK OUT!” Cried Ralof as the far end of the corridor collapsed, I watched as a small group of Imperials was buried alive. For a moment, I stood there as the dust settled.
“Damn, that dragon doesn’t give up easy…” Said Ralof, piercing the silence. To our left was a small wooden door, on the other side were voices and so carefully Ralof and I stepped inside, weapons drawn as we moved closer to another point of contact with two more imperial soldiers. I charged at this point, taking on both, head to head. I went in for a strike on the first soldier, another Captain, covered head to toe in heavy armour. Making a stab for his chest, the second soldier turned and prepared to attack. While the Captain recovered from the first blow, the second made a swing for me which I successfully blocked when suddenly an arrow flew past my head and struck the more lightly armoured soldier in the arm, crippling him with pain and thus giving me a chance to make a second attack at the Captain. Striking with a flurry of Steel, the Captain fell, the visible skin reduced to bloody fragments of flesh, his armour dented and deformed. The second soldier, now behind me readied for a second strike at me, the arrow protruding through his left arm. Unable to turn in time to block I stood there in panic, ready to receive a blow to my own sword arm. Wincing in preparation, I stood there like a stone when suddenly the soldier just stopped. His eyes glazed over and he fell to his knees. Behind him I could see Ralof, bow in hand. The soldier fell onto his face, and it was now clear to me that Ralof had shot him again. The arrow had met its target perfectly, passing into his chest and killing him instantly. Only once Ralof lowered his bow did I finally breathe again. I nodded to him as I searched the bodies for any gold or items that could be sold, as Ralof stepped over them he looked around.
“A storeroom. See if you can find any potions. We’ll need them.” He said as he opened up a barrel filled with potatoes and carrots. I looked around the room and came across a few things of interest, a couple of small vials filled with potions of various effects, healing being the primary effect. In one draw was a single Septim, the currency used within the empire. Although worth very little alone, they are light and carrying many is easy and doesn’t take up too much space. One barrel contained three Healing potions, as well as a Magicka potion and a Stamina potion, these were bound to prove invaluable to me throughout all of my endeavours and so I took them without hesitation. Turning back to Ralof, my inventory now ripe with useful items he looked at me with a grin.
“Done? Let’s get moving” He turned and headed through another wooden door, and down a stairwell into the depths of the Keep. The stairwell became dark very quickly, and as we lowered into another room the air was thick with the smell of blood. A cage was visible at the bottom of the stairs, two skeletons to be seen locked inside.
“Troll’s blood! It’s a torture room!” Exclaimed Ralof as he hurried down into the room where shouts could be heard and the sound of metal striking shields. As we entered the room, two Stormcloaks were struggling with the torturer and his assistant, and for the first time, I encountered an opponent skilled in the arts. With a bright light and a sound like thunder, a lightning bolt struck one of the Stormcloaks, throwing him to the ground as the second Stormcloak charged the attacker with her Battle-axe. The assistant took advantage of the man on the ground and went to attack him as Ralof and I entered, thus saving the grounded Stormcloak’s life. I jumped at the assistant, sword first, stabbing him in the neck killing him instantly. At this point the torturer realised his mistake, fear overcame him as four opponents wielded their weapons against him. He screamed as each weapon struck, but persevered to attack us with swings from his Steel Dagger and bursts of Mage Lightning. One more scream could be heard as the Battle-axe wielding Stormcloak severed his life from his body, dropping him to the ground before crushing his rips with a final blow from her axe. Only the rubbing of bone over metal could be heard as she withdrew her blade from his lifeless corpse as the blood from both him and his assistant ran together into a drain as a gentle stream. Ralof turned to them both and looked them up and down before asking
“Was Jarl Ulfric with you?”
“No,” the male Stormcloak replied “I haven’t seen him since the dragon showed up.” To this Ralof sighed and made for the exit on the far side of the room before something caught his eye.
“Wait a second. Looks like there’s something in this cage.” He made his way towards a cage at the edge of the room. He tugged at the door before giving up “Aah, it’s locked. See if you can get it open with some picks. We might need that gold once we get out.” The thief within me sparked up. I hadn’t picked locks for a long time, so it was going to be an effort, but I couldn’t wait to give it a go. I walked up to the cage to see what Ralof was talking about. Inside lay a Breton man, dead, in mage robes. At his side lay an ancient spell tome and several coins. Greedily I searched around the room, checking everywhere for any picks that I could use on the lock.
“Grab anything useful and let’s go.” As he said this I stumbled upon a knapsack, inside were four lock picks and a healing potion, which was perfect. As I closed the knapsack I noticed a book on the desk with it – the same book my father once read to me as a child. The Book of the Dragonborn. It brought a wave of emotion over me as I flicked through the pages once more, reading about the tales of the Akaviri and Tiber Septim, or Talos as he was known to the Nords, and the prophecy of the final Dragonborn, facing the World Eater. I shook myself from the trance and dropped the book. I turned back to the cage and made my way over to it, kneeling at the lock before placing a pick within it, feeling for the pins which would enable my entry. With a click and a sharp twist the lock was open and I took the Septims and Spell Tome before finally stripping the body of his Novice Mage Robes and hood – they always fetched a good price from my memory. On him he had two Magicka potions and so I took those as well (never know when one may take an interest in the arts, I suppose). I stepped away from the cage and made my way to the exit where Ralof stood impatiently waiting for me. As I reached him he turned and ran into the cell block, right to the very end before making his way down yet another flight of stairs into a torture chamber. The air down here stank of decomposing bodies and I nearly vomited as soon as I entered, scattered around were dead bodies, some in cages, and some just left to rot on the floor. I rushed through the room, hopping over corpses of men, women and the occasional corpse who could not even be identified as either. At the end of the room was a great hole in a wall, either from collapse during the dragon’s assault or by attempted break in (or break out?). Here the room spread from well-built granite structures into a vast cave system, lit by sconces dotted around. As we worked our way through the stagnant air of the caves we reached another built up area, stone pillars now maintaining the structure of the caves, and then walls once more. Voices echoed around the walls as we neared another larger cave.
“Orders are to wait until General Tullius arrives!” Shouted one voice.
“I’m not waiting to be killed by a dragon -we need to fall back!” Called another. Our small party of four slowly made our way to the mouth of the cave, only to find a group of Imperial soldiers, and another heavily armoured Captain. Across from us, on a walkway were two archers, and patrolling the walkway across the mouth of the cave was another. In the heart of the cave was the Captain and another soldier, the sources of the voices we heard in the tunnel. With a nod from Ralof we rushed the first archer before spreading between the remaining four Imperials. I searched the body of the first archer hastily, stripping him of his bow and quiver of arrows. A first, again for a long time, I drew the first arrow, aiming at one of the two archers on the far walk way. Releasing, my arrow pierced the air, and then its target, a cry could be heard as the archer threw himself backward in shock. By this time the two soldiers on the ground had already been killed by the overwhelming force of the other three Stormcloaks and so the four of us once more worked together to destroy our final foe. With a strike from Ralof, the archer fell to his knee and I seized the opportunity to fire another arrow. I did so, killing the archer in a single shot, and thus returning Ralof’s earlier favour. He smiled and nodded to me once he realised the origin of the arrow and then we all continued to the exit over at the far side of the opposite walk way. The two Stormcloaks from the torture room stopped and spoke to Ralof, I was at too great a distance to hear but it seemed to be concerning Ulfric, they both remained in position and Ralof made his way further into another tunnel, I followed, sprinting after him.
“Let’s see where this goes.” He called to me. After a short distance we came to a drawbridge, the release lever, thankfully, was on our side this time and so with a hefty push the wooden bridge dropped allowing us to cross safely… To some extent. As I crossed I heard the dragon once more make a pass above Helgen, and Ralof, close behind was lucky to escape a falling rock which destroyed the bridge. Breathless, once more we both stood there, stunned by our luck. As we stood, gasping for air, the tunnel we had just come through collapsed. Ralof looked at me and shrugged.
“No going back that way now.” He chortled. “We’d better push on. The rest of them will have to find another way out.” We both turned around to face a long tunnel, carved out by thousands of years of water erosion. The stream that had created it, now akin to a small river. With no other option we both descended to it and followed it on its course into the darkness. Not really to any surprise, within a few feet we had reached a dead end and, and moreover, a dead body. A coin purse and a lantern lay next to it, and so swiftly I pinched the money and stood, waiting for Ralof to catch up to me. He studied the rocky barrier.
“Hmm. That doesn’t go anywhere.” To our right was another tunnel, lit by a sconce a little way down. “I guess we’d better try this way.” I let him lead, and we descended once more. The air became dense and thick with dust. The walls became sticky and as I studied it further, found it to be spider’s silk. We were coming close to Frostbite Spiders. Almost as if on cue we reached another cave, and within it were three Spiders. These small creatures were no match for most any creature – I’d go so far as to say that even a goat could kill these smaller Frostbites. One arrow after the next, I picked them off while Ralof stood there watching them get thrown into the far cave wall by the force of the arrows. The three Spiders lay dead and triumphantly we both stepped down into the belly of the cave. Mistake number one. As we reached the centre of the cave, two larger Frostbite Spiders lowered themselves from their nests in the ceiling. Mistake number two. Ralof and I both drew our weapons and began to hack through the hard exoskeletons of the spiders, their poisonous ranged attacks completely missing and failing to reach their targets. Ralof made the first kill, stunning the spider before plunging his sword through its abdomen. This kill seemed to infuriate the final spider which sent it into a raging flurry of attacks. Mistake number three. With both of our attention now on this spider it was met by a maelstrom of Steel and Iron, and eventually I embedded my own sword into its firm outer protection, killing it instantly. Mistake number three was the final mistake that spider ever made.
“I hate those damned things. Too many eyes, you know?” Joked Ralof. The dark truth of the matter is that a lot of the time these creatures succeed in ambushing their prey and many an unprepared traveller has been killed by them in times gone by. We both stepped away from the corpses of the spiders and deeper once more into the cave, the air now seemed thinner however and we must have been close to an exit of some description, furthermore, we had now returned to the stream that had led us on earlier. Following it we reached a small, naturally created stone bridge, and so naturally, in the hunt for an exit we crossed it, to a small little platform with a cart on it. In the cart, strangely, was three bottles of Alto wine and coin purse. Being a thief I took the coins without a second glance, but the wine still baffles me a little to this day. I stopped to wait for Ralof to catch up again at this point, and took in my surroundings. The air was filled with dust still, but remained easier to breathe than it had been previously, and light poured in through the dust clouds from holes in the roof of the cave, providing a little light to aid the dim sconces placed throughout the cave. I was about to step further into the cave when Ralof grabbed my shoulder.
“Hold up.” He pointed into the distance to my front, “There’s a bear just up ahead. See her?” I nodded. “I’d rather not tangle with her right now. Let’s try to sneak by. Just take it nice and slow, and watch where you step.” I took a step forward before he stopped me again. “Or if you’re feeling lucky, you can take this bow. Might take her by surprise.” I had to think to myself for a minute at this point, I’m a thief by nature so sneaking around I rather enjoy but the whole ‘lucky’ thing also tempted me. I chose to take the easy way out, and sneaked past the old bear, I had a feeling that my luck for today was just about ready to run out. It’s not every day you survive your own execution, a dragon attack and civil conflict, no way was I about to take on a cave bear as well. Slowly I made my way around where the bear was sleeping, treading carefully, trying to avoid the bones of her previous meals.
“Go ahead! I’ll follow your lead and watch your back” whispered Ralof after me, as I edged around the cave towards where an exit appeared to be.
“Almost there!” Ralof commented. Sneaking really is so much easier when you haven’t got a bloody Nord commenting every two steps you take. Still, we made it to the far side and the only way forward seemed to be a tunnel to the right of us.
“Whew. That was close.” Came a final remark from Ralof. Yeah, it was close because of your clumsy antics you damnable moron. Following the tunnel once more a light was visible in the distance, and fresh air poured into the cave, cooling us and feeding our lungs with decent air to breathe once more.
“That looks like a way out! I knew we’d make it!” Ralof called over to me, as he ran towards the light. The tunnel came out into the open and my eyes were blinded for a brief moment. There I was, in blinding sunlight, overcome by the joy of freedom once more.