Chapter 9: The Solution At Hand
Walking for another few moments I began to calm down from my experience with the huge Draugr in the hall I had passed through. I nearly didn’t make it – without finding that axe to block the door I would have experienced the sharp end of a different one. A strange quietness filled the air as the only sound I could hear was the gentle pad of my leather boots against the cold stone floors of the barrow. Admiring the carvings as I slowly moved on I eventually heard the familiar sound of metal on stone; by the sounds of things there were more pendulums ahead. Walking up a slight incline I came to the inevitable view of another narrow corridor with three bladed pendulums swinging from one side to the other, and on the other side of them – by the looks of things – there was another room (which was surprisingly well lit). Step by step I walked through the death trap, now used to the prospect of a severed limb at every few paces. Placing my foot into the room I gazed up to the high ceiling, following the carved walls right to the peak of the room. My viewing was cut short, however. With a crack of stone, I turned quickly to my left as I pulled my bow and an arrow from my back. As I turned one of the coffins burst open, the heavy stone lid cracking the floor as it fell to the ground. Dust thrown into the air, I pulled back the arrow in preparation for a shot, I just needed to wait for the right moment. With a deathly moan, a grey hand clutched the side of the coffin and the weathered face of a male Draugr climbed up out of the dust. Waiting for sight of the creature’s body I remained stationary, my fingers once more bleeding. Heaving itself once more, it brought a leg over the side and lifted its torso up and out of the coffin. Without hesitation I released the bow string, the arrow instantaneously throwing the Draugr back into its stone bed where it would remain, its leg awkwardly hung over the side of the coffin. Tearing some cloth from my Imperial armour’s tunic I bound my hand, my fingers shaking and weak. Biting my tongue to overcome the pain I readied another arrow as I snuck on through the room, keeping as low as I could. Walking towards a stone walkway that arched above me I noticed more oil on the floor, and as before, above it hung two lanterns. Drawing back an arrow I took a shot into the darkness towards one end of the walkway and as if it were waiting, a Draugr archer stepped out into the open. Drawing back a second arrow I watched as it vaguely searched the ground before it for the source of the arrow. Waiting carefully for the right moment, I slowly and agonisingly drew back another arrow as the Draugr turned and just as it showed its back to me, I released the shot, throwing the Draugr off the edge of the walkway and down onto the opposite side of the oil from which I stood. Waiting nervously a third Draugr armed with an axe made its way down the stairs to investigate the body. Bending down to search for a cause of death, I stood up drawing its attention straight to me. Standing up it taunted me with its axe, and readying what I hoped to be a final arrow it slowly began to make its way towards me. Waiting for the right moment I took a deep breath as the pain surging from my fingers distracted my attention from my target. Eventually it happened. With a gentle splash the Draugr stepped directly into the oil and within a split second I had released my shot. The crack of pottery could be heard as the ancient lantern smashed to the ground, and another split second later the entire floor on which the Draugr stood was a raging inferno. Covering my mouth and nose as the air filled with the stench of the ancient flesh burning I jumped across the burning oil, landing on the other side without so much as a single burn. Taking my arrow from the dead archer I admired the craftsmanship of the Draugr’s ancient Nordic bow. Throwing my own to the floor I picked up the weapon and drew back the string – it certainly felt stronger than my bow, and so kicking mine into the fire I stripped the Draugr of its arrows and made on through the room and up some stairs that led to the walkway that the archer had once acted as a sentry upon. Over the great stone arch I walked, and on into another small corridor. Following the corridor around a corner I eventually stopped before a pair of great oak and iron doors. With a hefty push they both swung open, blowing up all the dust that had collected over the many years that this room had been in existence – and this room truly was many years old, most certainly first-era masonry. One step at a time I walked slowly through the room, running my shaking hand along one wall as I tried to read the runes and carvings made upon it. Reaching about half way through the room I realised that the far end of the room was blocked off by a huge black stone with four white stones inlayed upon it. As I came closer to it, intrigued by the sheer beauty of it, I came to notice strange markings all over it, and what seemed more important was that there were carvings upon the three stones that lay vertically down the centre of a circular pattern on the door. In the centre was the fourth stone which its own strange carvings but they had seemed to be of a different pattern to the other three white stones. Gently I ran my quaking fingers over the smallest white stone which lay closest to the centre of the circle, upon it was what appeared to be a carving of a bear. Stroking down the back of the bear I noticed a looseness in the stone and so with a hefty push the carving receded a little, and the black stone that was at the same distance from the centre of the circle all rotated, bringing with it a choking lungful of ancient dust. As the stone rotated I noticed another carving of the same size appear upon its circle. This time it appeared to be of a dragonfly. Completely confused I stood gawking at the age-old mechanism, thinking desperately for any clue as to how to activate it fully – assuming of course that this was another puzzle like I had seen before the incident with the Skeevers. It was then, standing for several moments facing the cold stone of the ancient door that I understood – the riddle that the journal had within was to do with this door, this room was the Hall of Stories! I rummaged in my bag, pulling out the journal once more to read the riddle. “When you have the golden claw, the solution is in the palm of your hands.” – I had to think, what could this mean? A claw is what, the hand of a dragon? And what lays in the palm of a dragon? Was this a reference to the prey of dragons? That certainly seemed a broad riddle if that was the case. Pulling out the claw I gently rubbed it with my weak fingers, eyes closed as I attempted to dissect the puzzle. I rotated the claw in my hand, still focussing on the puzzle, and as I did so ran my finger across a rough patch between the talons. A little surprised I opened my eyes, expecting to find a spider or some sort of damage that had been done to the claw, instead I opened my eyes to see three creatures carved within the palm of the claw. The palm! That was it, the solution was in the palm of the claw! My face must have lit up a great amount at this point, my eureka moment flooding me with newfound hope and motivation to actually complete this quest. Jumping to my feet I compared the carvings on the white stones to those upon the golden ornament, the claw had them in the order of a bear on top of a dragonfly which lay atop an owl. This was far from what appeared on the stones and so stretching to reach the height of the top stone I pressed it in, and with a hollow echo the outer ring rotated, revealing a carving of an owl – wrong. Waiting for the machine to stop I pressed it once more, and a second later the first carving was in place. Repeating as necessary with the other two carving I filled the air with a completely fresh layer of dust and through the cracks in the black stone circles came a very gentle, yet pleasant, cool breeze. But the door, as a whole, remained closed. Once more I studied the riddle -that had to be it? “The solution is in the palm of your hands” Again I shut my eyes as I thought of the possible answers to the riddle, was this now about my own hands, about the claw itself as some sort of solution? An answer? A key? Opening my eyes again I studied the carvings in the white stones, the top one was certainly correct, as were the middle two. What of the fourth, the centre carving though? It had engraved the faint markings of some sort of hand and where the finger tips should have been were three distinct holes. Just three. Slowly it began to dawn on me as I studied first the carving, then the claw, and once more I looked over the carving as I moved the claw up against it, carefully fitting the talons of the claw into the three holes. With the gentlest contact of the stone the entire door before me seemed to react. With a loud crunch and a huge puff of dust the three rings that surrounded the middle carving all rotated rapidly, each stopping at a carving of an owl, identical to the one in the palm of the claw. Another crack followed and with a huge flood of air that reinvigorated the room, the black door dropped to the ground, falling into a hole beneath it into a mechanical system that locked it in place as it fully lowered. Beyond where the door once stood was another set of stairs in a corridor, a faint glimmer of natural light appearing at the top of the stone steps. Throwing the claw and journal back into my knapsack I swiftly darted up the steps, eyes wide as the carved walls of the barrow opened up into a huge cave, the first section of which was rife with stalagmites and other naturally formed stone structures which appeared to be holding the entirety of the ground above it aloft. As I passed through the low ceiling I saw the cavern’s largest hollow. Waterfalls descended the cold stones as I made for the centre of the grand room – this must have been the main chamber that Farengar had spoken of. Marvelling at the beauty of the natural structures I noticed a curved wall build atop a large platform at one end of the cave. Running to it, now with no fear of Draugr or any other threats, I heard a faint echo of voices. Each step closer brought the voices equally close until they became almost deafening as I stepped within the crescent of the wall which had runes of an ancient language strewn across it. Looking at the words one seemed to begin to glow when I came near to it, emanating a blue light as other strange lights flew into my vision from the other carvings. Moving ever closer the voices organised into a heavy chanting, ever growing in volume as I reached out to touch the glowing rune, my hands now seeming entirely steady. Touching it with my finger-tips the blue light engulfed me, fading to black as the voices changed their chant, calling out in glory as my mind filled with this strange carving, filling me with this new word, empowering me with this new meaning. Slowly the chanting faded and I was left as I had begun with my hands shaking once more and my body cold and tired. Breathing in slowly, and then out again I noticed a strange sickly feeling washing over me. A second breath and it left me completely. Completely stunned I turned back around to see a black stone coffin atop another platform. Next to it sat a chest and so trying to focus on my task again I warily stepped over to it, my heart racing from the strange experience I had just had. As I got within a few paces of the coffin it exploded into life and simultaneously made me jump out of my skin, scared stiff from the sudden animation. Making to grab for my bow, I watched, terrified, as a huge grey body stepped from the annihilated coffin, drawing its sword as it paced over to me. Shaking like a leaf I pathetically loosed a shot from my bow, shooting the great monster in the lower abdomen as it unflinchingly made its way ever closer to me. Dropping the bow in fear I drew my sword, holding it limply up to defend myself as the Draugr lord stepped forth in an attack, sword in mid swing I attempted to block it which did little other than weaken my stance, opening me for a second attack. Darting around behind him I fled to a more decent position, preparing myself as the Draugr relentlessly made its way over to me again – I was never going to fight this creature and win in a fair fight. Utterly terrified I clutched my sword with both hands, pulling it behind my back as I waited for the ancient Nordic lord to come closer to me. Breaking into a run, the creature pulled its own sword behind him in preparation for a strike and just as it reached a few paces from me I tugged at my sword, dragging it heavily over my head as I made to throw the weapon. The Draugr now seeing my plan slid to a halt as I released the projectile, paralysed as we both watched it spin through the air with a force that I didn’t know I really possessed. With a heavy metallic crack the blade drove itself into first the helmet and then the skull of the Draugr lord, throwing the monster to the ground heavily as the air around him filled with the black dust that was once the beast’s blood. Exhausted, the world around me seemed to fade and the next thing I remember is the floor rushing to meet me as a cold feeling filled my limbs.
Waking up damp from the spray of the waterfalls I saw before me a silent and still body, the ground around it covered with a thin layer of black dust. Clutching my head as it pounded, I heaved myself to my knees and crawled over to where the grey body rested, my sword stood straight in its forehead. Pulling my sword from the Draugr’s corpse I noticed a pale carved stone near where it lay and slowly getting to my feet I wearily ambled over to it. Plucking it from the mossy stone on which it rested I ran my juddering fingers over the carvings. They appeared to me as if they, as a whole, formed a map of the province, revealing a series of different locations that were clearly marked with crosses. It was the Dragonstone – I had finally found it! Laying it gently into my knapsack I looked back to the platform that the Draugr rested upon and over the chest that sat beside it. Tottering over to it I flicked the lid open to reveal a pleasant sight. Within it sat an almost new set of Studded Armour and leather boots, and so, as if unconsciously, I stripped from the now torn and ruined fur armour and water-filled boots that had protected me and climbed into the new outfit – it fitted me perfectly. Beneath the armour in the chest lay also a plain golden necklace, a garnet and a hefty purse of coins. Taking all three things I packed my knapsack once more, taking out a load of bread to eat, and made for a set of stairs that seemed to lead up and out towards the surface once more. If one thing was for certain, I had had enough of being underground for one day. Climbing to the top of the stairs I found myself faced with yet another tunnel. Sighing as I chewed on the bread I sauntered on until reaching what appeared to be a dead end – typical. The only thing here was a lone handle atop a podium. Feeling that I had little to lose I gave it a tug and with it a part of the cave wall to my left was lifted up revealing an extension to the walk way. Finishing the bread as I did so, I ambled on into the passage way and into another small cave. Jumping down from a ledge I looted a chest that sat within, taking almost eighty Septims, and moved on towards the natural light that spilled inside the small grotto. ‘Sunshine’ I thought, ‘finally’.