Chapter 8: Fear And Sickness
“You did it. You killed it.” Said the man, still completely stuck in the spider’s web, “Now cut me down before anything shows up”.
“Where’s the golden claw?” I asked, my sword gently pressed against his hide chest plate
“Yes, the claw” He stuttered, “I know how it works. The claw, the markings, the door in the Hall of Stories. I know how they all fit together!” He told me, clearly terrified – be it of me or the dead spider that lay behind me didn’t matter, he was telling me everything I needed to know. “Help me down, and I’ll show you.” He pleaded “You won’t believe the power the Nords have hidden there.”
“Hand over the claw first!” I demanded, pressing my sword a little harder into his chest.
“Does it look like I can move?” He snapped “You have to cut me down, first.” Removing my sword from his chest I made an incision in the webbing that held him up, just to the right of his arm.
“It’s coming loose. I can feel it.” He sighed, clearly happy to be close to freedom. Making a second slice in the silk, on the other side this time, the strength of the web failed and the man came crashing to the floor in a heap. Pulling the remaining webbing from himself he got to his feet, giving me a dark look as he did so.
“You fool, why should I share the treasure with anyone?” he laughed, turning away and running off into the passage behind where he had been held captive. Bastard, double crossed by a half-naked Dunmer who had just been at the very tip of my blade? I should have killed him and taken the claw from the start. Breaking into a sprint to attempt to reach him as he sped away we darted through an ancient burial preparation area, urns seeming to fill the dust-ridden room. Attempting to put more distance between us, he pulled an urn out behind him and watching it topple I made for a jump over it. Panicking at my quick reaction he turned and made another break for it, into another dusty passage leading us ever further into the barrow. Room after room I gave pursuit, dashing between ancient coffins and burial urns until eventually we came to a large burial chamber. Flying around a corner, I lost sight of the rogue bandit and the next thing I heard was a crash of metal on metal and a scream come from the fool that I was chasing. Sliding around the corner I stopped almost instantly, almost tripping as I did so. The man whom I had chased was on the floor, his sword lying at his side and his lower arm a small distance away. Above the corpse of the bandit stood something I truly dreaded. Raising my sword ready to fight, I looked into the eyes of the undead beast that had killed him, the faint blue glow emanating from them threatening me as the ancient Nordic warrior lifted his axe from the mess of broken ribs that it sat amongst. Bringing its ancient axe to rest in its hand the monster gestured towards me. Opening its mouth it dryly uttered words in an ancient tongue, and with it two more Draugr were summoned from their slumber. One now stood behind me, one to my right and the first to my front I stood, shaking like a leaf, not sure if the cause was the fear seeping slowly into my skin or the ever worsening Ataxia. Each of the ancient Nords took a step towards me, now encircling me. The first pointed its axe at me before trying to create a smile upon its ancient leathery face.
“Qiilaan Us Dilon!” it bawled. The other two seemed to react to this, one banging its sword against its iron shield.
“Aav Dilon!” screeched the second, stood behind me. Turning quickly to face it I saw that this Draugr was once a woman, her ancient golden hair now barely akin to wisps of smoke trailing down her shoulders. A loud crack filled the room from behind me, turning back around I saw the first of the Draugr step upon the corpse of the bandit I had chased, his head now crushed under the weight of the Draugr’s iron cladded boot. With a click of its neck it gestured to me once more.
“Aar Viik Ok!” It barked, and with that the other two took another step in, both readying their weapons to attack. I had no idea what had just been said but I feared that the first Draugr had just ordered my death. The Draugr armed with a sword and shield made for the first strike and as if acting on instinct I dodged the attack, jumping to the side, narrowly avoiding a strike from the female Draugr at the same time. My back to a pillar, the first Draugr made a rush at me, arm pulled back ready for a swipe with his axe. Pulling my sword up to meet his blow I parried his strike, knocking him out of balance and thus leaving him open for a strike. My dilemma was that by going in to strike I opened myself up to receive one from the other two Draugr. Deciding it best that I at least remove one foe I made for the attack and at the same time, so did both of my other attackers. Ducking as I swiped at the first Draugr’s chest I narrowly avoided having my head taken off by a strike from the female Draugr, which to my luck, ended up knocking the weapon from the shielded Draugr’s hand. As I pierced the first Draugr’s skin, no reaction came from the monster’s face. ‘Wonderful’ I thought, as black dust poured from the open wound, ‘they can’t feel pain’. Hauling my sword up for a second strike at the Draugr, the other two seemed in dismay, confused as to how I had evaded their strikes. My sword crashing down upon the Draugr’s helmet seemed to finally affect the Nord on more than an aesthetic level. Falling to its knees, clearly now actually injured, I withdrew my weapon from its skull, as I did so the blue light in its eyes ceased to be and the Draugr fell to the ground, finally dead for good. Turning back to the other two Draugr, I nearly laughed as I watched one of the creatures reaching down to pick up his weapon just as the other was readying an attack at me. Charging headlong at the female Draugr, I knocked her axe away with my sword before giving a backhanded swipe at her head, lodging my blade in her skull and killing her instantly. Struggling desperately I tried to pull my sword from her head as the final Draugr returned to the fight. Running at me I glanced over to him and then back to my lodged sword before finally letting go of the blade and grabbing a hold of the second Draugr’s axe, parrying the attack from the final Draugr and simultaneously damaging his shield. I had not used an axe in battle before, and so didn’t know what to do concerning attacks but I couldn’t risk getting hit by this foul beast. Running at the stunned monster I hacked heavily into his shield, cleaving it in two and leaving it entirely useless. Not seeming to be phased by the attack he swiped at me with his sword, but to my luck missed due to his lack of depth perception. I looked up to see that a splinter had found its way into the Draugr’s eye from where the shield had been held together. Not affected by pain, the only reaction from the Draugr was his now particularly poor attacks. Moving quickly around him, I swiped at his back, pushing him to his knees as he flailed with his sword, hoping desperately to hit me. Making a second strike I released the axe, leaving it embedded in the creature’s head. Dropping its sword suddenly, it fell to the ground, limp, the axe stood up, resting in his head. Breathing heavily and still shaking I returned to my own sword before heaving it from the Draugr’s skull, a sea of black dust pouring into the air as I did so. It was only now that I realised, with all the years that these creatures had been lurking in this dark place, their blood must have dried within their very veins. The dust that had been pouring from their wounds was their blood. Returning to the bandit’s mutilated body I searched his knapsack, and almost as if I didn’t expect to, I pulled out a large golden ornament. The claw. On it seemed to be some strange etchings, so I searched the man’s belongings for some clue as to what their purpose was. Finding his journal eventually I opened it and quickly scanned through it. Little of value was to be found within, except for the mention of one “Lucan Valerius” and his “favourite store decoration” – perhaps he was the shop owner from Riverwood who was robbed? I would need to check with him when I returned next. The final note in the journal was mention of a “test that the Nords put in place” and a riddle stating that “When you have the claw, the solution is in the palm of your hands”. Confused I closed the journal and placed it into my knapsack along with the claw, closed it up and pushed on into the ruin. Things were about to get a lot more challenging, I felt. Creeping warily on into the dim light of the crypt I nearly stepped onto a pressure plate on the ground. Testing it from a distance, I threw some of the broken shield from the recently departed Draugr onto the plate. Watching it lower I held my breath, and as if built just moments before, a wall of spines swung around and into the main walkway, throwing everything in its path directly at me. Moving quickly to the side I watched as the debris that previously lay before me was catapulted behind me. Glad that I had missed the opportunity to fly like a hawk, I moved forwards once more – stepping carefully around the side of the pressure plate – and on into another burial chamber. I wished to not have to fight anymore Draugr and so taking care to sneak past the bodies of the ancient Nords I held my breath as much as I could. I couldn’t risk being heard by anything in here, for each separate burial could pose a threat to me. Slowly I tip-toed on through the chamber to the far side, from which I heard the sound of metal sliding across stone. My sword now drawn I edged towards where I thought I heard the noise come from and just as I made to step inside a narrow corridor, a bladed pendulum flew past my face, missing it by the most miniscule amount. Breathing out heavily after such a close shave I sheathed my weapon and prepared to move quickly between the swinging axes. Judging the timing carefully I made my first step, the first axe gliding behind me just as I drew to a halt in front of the second. Once more I made the step, almost slipping into the path of the third axe before finally diving across in front of the third axe, hitting the floor with a heavy thud and throwing up dust all around me. Patting myself down quietly I got back to my feet and continued to stoop low through the narrow corridor, walled with ancient skeletons of the Nords of old. Reaching the bottom of another dimly lit stairway I noticed a Draugr ahead, asleep or dead I did not know, but I didn’t wish to find out. Walking slowly I made my way past it, hesitantly, watching its face closely for any flicker of life as I passed it, my heart thumping like a war drum and my hands shaking like sails in a storm. Crawling over a gap in a cave-in further on I found myself in another section of the corridor, but this time the smell of fuel filled the air. Looking down to the puddle that I had stepped in after passing through the rubble I realised the source of the smell. I was stood in a pool of oil. I looked around me desperately searching for some sort of booby-trapped tripwire or another pressure plate but found nothing, nothing but a pair of precariously hung lanterns that swung from the ceiling. ‘There is no way I’m going to even try to take them down’ I thought to myself, trying to weigh up the risks between me either walking through a stream of oil under a pair of poorly hung lanterns, or pulling down a pair of lanterns, naked flamed, while I stood in a stream of flammable liquid, which, as luck would have it, was now seeping into my leather boots. Slowly trawling through the oil I came to the far side of the corridor which was, thankfully, at an incline. Climbing to the highest point inside the tunnel I tried to squeeze as much liquid as possible from my boots before continuing on. My boots, now a little less heavy with torch fuel, began to rub for the first time since first wearing them as I trudged on through a less well build tunnel and so loosening the buckles I marched on into another open room, this time not a crypt (much to my surprise). Walking into the room revealed a small waterfall tumbling off the northern wall and passing in the form a small channel through an Iron Gate in the south wall. Stepping into the room, amazed by the survival of such a place after so long, I marvelled at the well-lit carvings. For a brief moment I actually began to relax – until I heard the familiar sound of the undead rising once more into the world of the living. With a crash, and the falling of a great stone coffin lid, a Draugr armed with a battle-axe climbed out from in the corner of the room. Drawing my bow quickly, I pulled back an arrow and released, throwing the Draugr back into its coffin as the iron tip punctured first its eye, then its brain and finally pinned the creature to a wooden ornamental piece within the coffin. The grazes on my fingers now reopened I winced a little, but overwhelmed by the success of my shot I couldn’t help but smile. Walking over to the dead Draugr I pulled the arrow from its head, wiping the tip of it in the decaying cloth that he wore. Placing the arrow back into my quiver I noticed a chest at the side of the room. Eager to find some sort of treasure beyond just the Dragonstone I quickly paced over to it, opening it up to find a veritable plethora of items; arrows, a soul gem, a few Septims, an iron chest plate and gauntlets, and a potion said to replenish magicka. Piling the loot into my knapsack I caught sight of a chain to the right of the Iron Gate that the water was running through and so, replacing my bag on my back, I walked over to it and gave it an almighty tug. The rust crumbling from the ancient chain I heard the sound of cogs in the wall, and almost instantly following, the gate began to lift. Smiling at my good fortune I rinsed my hands in the fresh water, and made sure to wash all the oil from my boots before making my way on through to the area that had now been revealed to me. Through a small cave I ventured, until finding myself in somewhat of a cavern, the stream that had poured off of the wall running at my side. Walking on through the soft ground of the cave I noticed a strange green aura to the cave’s light. Looking more closely at the walls I discovered that the entire cave was, in fact, lit by a type luminescent fungus. “Glowing Mushrooms” as they were known were apparently common in underground water sources such as these, growing off of the algae and moss that thrives in the area closest to the streams and pools. Walking along gazing at the mushrooms I nearly tripped as I stubbed my foot on something metallic, upon closer inspection it appeared to be a pick axe and just next to it, a skeleton. ‘Miners, down here? But this is a tomb, not a mine’ I thought to myself, confused. Picking up the axe I noticed a glimmer in the ground that I walked on. Beneath was what appeared to be an iron deposit. Throwing the pick axe down upon it, a large chunk of rusted iron dislodged from the ground. Suddenly interested by the prospect of finding my own ore I made a second swipe, and a third, and then a few more until I eventually found that I had completely depleted the deposit. Going around, collecting the larger chunks of ore I once more thought back to the skeleton – how had he died performing such a simple task? Was there a cave-in or was there something else involved? Slowly I moved on, my mind busy with the thought of miners and deaths-by-cave-ins. A little disturbed by my own thought trail I urged myself to stop as I came across another chest. Opening it I found another collection of valuable goods; one amethyst, more Septims, a scroll which upon it was drawn a crude bonfire (what in Oblivion that meant, I had no idea), and another magicka potion. I really was getting a good take from this barrow. My mood now at the highest it had been for some time, I walked on into the darkness once more, following another tunnel at the end of the cavern. Bow in hand I descended ever further into the abyss, my way lit only by Glowing Mushrooms as I pressed on until reaching another opening, this time leading out onto a walkway. This would have been of no worry to me had there not been another damned Draugr in my path. ‘Why can’t the dead just stay that way?’ I joked to myself, drawing an arrow from my quiver, both hands shaking violently as I did so. Pulling the arrow back, the Draugr seemed to notice me and before I could release, it was almost upon me. Panicking, I released the shot but unfortunately, it only winged the creature, embedding itself into the Draugr’s arm. Laughing some sort of demonic threat it continued its charge and so out of sheer desperation I drew my sword once more. Pushing it forwards I stepped into a defensive stance and the Draugr seemed to blindly continue on. It seemed that despite hearing me walking, this Draugr was in fact unable to see, and so staying as quiet as I could, I simply held my sword forward as the blind Nord ran neck-first into it, killing it almost instantly as its face turned from malicious intent to complete shock. Chuckling at the stupidity of the beast, I sheathed my sword once more, my hand quaking from the Ataxia. Pulling the arrow from the Draugr’s bicep I glanced over the edge of the walkway – it was a long way down. No way was I going down there without necessity. Passing over the natural stone bridge I walked into another narrow path within a tunnel, lit up with the faint green from the Glowing Mushrooms. Around a corner and up a steep incline I eventually found myself once more in a room built by the ancients, carved walls and ancient sconces filled the room with character as I slowly made my way on through the part-cave, part-corridor of a pathway. Gazing ahead I could see another room before me, lit by the familiar orange glow of a sconce in the far corner. As I made my way to the door I noticed a large shadow creeping across the wall – it was being patrolled by a Draugr. A large Draugr. Battle-axe in hand it marched from one end to the other, standing by the fire and then repeating once more. I knew at a first glance that I couldn’t handle this monster of a Nord in single combat so I stuck to what I knew best – sneaking. Stepping into the shadow of a pillar, I made my way anxiously across the room in the darkness. As he made for another round I darted to the next pillar, and the next until I was merely a couple of paces from the door. Waiting for a third pass I jumped out into the open, alerting the bulking Draugr, and with shock darting through my body I pushed through the oak doors, shutting them as soon as I passed through. Desperately I reached for a battle-axe that lay on the ground beside the door and barred it, my hands shaking violently through a mix of fear and sickness. The restless Draugr hammered at the door from the far side, shouting its empty Nordic curses at me as it did so. Breathing heavily I wiped the sweat from my brow before turning to find myself faced with yet another long tunnel. My hand rested on my sword’s hilt, I once more started on through the ancient walkways of the Nords.