Iriella’s heart was pounding, she and Farkas were pressed flat against the wall passing another draugr, motionless and upright just like the last one. A loud clanging noise startled them both and they looked at one another in surprise. A low, throaty growl came from the draugr and as one they turned their heads to look at it, both of them stock still. The draugr stretched it’s arms out and it looked straight at them, its eyeholes previously black and empty now contained an eerie blue glow bringing life to the creature’s hideous face.
“What in Oblivion?” Iriella cried out, dumbfounded. She raised her sword and the draugr roared again, it’s dried out skin stretched taught over its skeleton, it stepped clumsily out of the alcove and drew an old Nordic looking sword. Farkas was first to move, diving sideways and rolling on the floor as the creature lunged at him in a most ungainly manner. Straight back on his feet Farkas swung at the draugr, missing it by inches, it was surprisingly quick and dodged away from his long sword. Iriella regained some equilibrium and in a neat move severed the draugr’s arm from its shoulder. The creature gave a hideous wail as Farkas sliced off its other arm, before plunging his sword into its abdomen.
The draugr dropped to the floor. Farkas relaxed his stance and pushed his dark hair out of his face.
“Nice move.” He nodded to Iriella, she returned the nod, trying to control her breath, adrenaline coursed through her veins. It had been some time since she had been involved in any decent fight, though it was a first not having Rune at her side. She didn’t have much time to dwell on her thoughts, a familiar sounding growl came from further on in the passageway. Farkas rolled his eyes and looked back to Iriella with a grin.
“Best keep that sword of yours ready.” He forged off into the passage with Iriella hot on his heels. They flanked the next draugr, this one was wearing a helmet and some greaves, the last one had only been wearing a light, very worn leather jerkin.
“Must be higher ranked!” Iriella lunged at the decomposing walking corpse and the clang of their weapons rang out in the small space. The draugr pushed her back with some considerable force and she stumbled, looking back up she saw the creature raising its Nordic axe, she grabbed for her sword to block the blow, but it had slid out of her reach. Quick as a flash she rolled toward the decomposed feet in front of her knocking the draugr to the floor. Farkas had been engaged by a third draugr further up the passage. Iriella rolled back over and swung her leg at the back of the creature’s knees, halting it’s attempts to get back up. While it fumbled for its weapon, she climbed onto its back and dug her knee right between its shoulder blades, which were almost visible beneath the rotted flesh. It made a groaning noise as she grabbed its wrist and pulled back on the arm hard, incapacitating it.
“Seems, you still feel pain.” She said through gritted teeth, the draugr was incredibly strong for a walking corpse, and it struggled against her, desperately reaching for anything it could use as a weapon. A whizzing sound came from the side of her, followed by a sickening squelch. The draugr went limp under her knee, its arm still outstretched, with its fingertips inches from her own sword hilt. The head rolled a foot away from the body, and she looked up to see Farkas reaching down to help her up, his forehead glistening with beads of sweat.
He hauled her to her feet and motioned for her to pick up her sword.
“You alright?” He asked her, concern etched on his face.
“Yeah.” She stood back up, inspecting her sword as if checking to see if it was damaged. “Thanks.” She added, “For having my back.”
“Hey, you had mine just as much, lot of folk would have been dead after being disarmed like that.” She allowed herself to appreciate the compliment and they pressed on through the Cairn.
The next chamber was dimly lit, Iriella leaned back into the passageway and pulled a torch out of a sconce on the wall.
“Good thinking.” Farkas nodded approval and stood in the room scratching his head. A portcullis blocked off the only exit the room had. Iriella remembered a past foray into Bleak Falls Barrow and she started to search the walls, holding the torch up and feeling with her hands. Farkas looked at her in confusion. “What are you doing?” He asked. She did look a sight, patting the walls here and there sliding her hands over the stones as if she were dusting them.
“Shh” she raised a hand and moved past him to the other side of the room, a large alcove contained what she was looking for. “Ah-ha!” she said triumphantly, and she cleared some dead vines away from a lever. Feeling very proud of herself she pulled it and heard the unmistakable sound of clunking as the gate rose on the other side of the room. Beaming, she turned back towards Farkas. Before she could leave the alcove, another portcullis dropped right in front of her, trapping her in the little niche.
“Now look what you’ve gotten yourself into.” She felt her cheeks pink as she could hear the smile in Farkas’ voice, he appeared on the other side of the gate with his arms folded across his chest. “Don’t worry,” he looked around, “I’ll find a release somewhere.” Suddenly he dropped into a defensive stance “What was that?” Voices came echoing down from the steps Iriella’s leaver had revealed behind the gate, Farkas looked at her and motioned for her to keep quiet.
“Well look here…” An unfamiliar voice cut through the babble, silencing it.
Five bandits filed through the archway; swords drawn. Iriella recognised their armour and weapons instantly, Silver Hand!
“That’s one of them.” One of the bandits spoke, leering at Farkas as the others moved to surround him.
“You sure?” Another asked.
“Yeah, he’s wearing the wolf armour.”
“Well, killing him will make a fine story to tell the boss.” The biggest of the bandits gave a cruel chuckle and they all took a step closer to Farkas.
Iriella felt helpless, she couldn’t do anything, her trial would be failed and she and Farkas would be taken back to Jorrvaskr in pieces. Suddenly Farkas stood up straight and spoke to the bandits.
“It would make a fine story, I’m sure. Shame none of you will be alive to actually tell it.” He drew himself up to his full height and closed his eyes. What on earth was he doing? Iriella stood still, her eyes transfixed on Farkas. He looked as though he was growing taller! The Silver Hand bandits took steps back as Farkas put his arms across his chest, mimicking the draugr they had seen before. He was definitely taller now; his hands were getting bigger and his skin was turning grey. Suddenly his eyes flew open, they were still a piercing blue, but they were no longer human eyes, they were the eyes of an animal… the eyes, of a wolf. The bandits watched in horror as Farkas grew even more, his face was unrecognisable now, his jaw had become a muzzle. His armour melted away and was replaced by thick, dark Fur. Ears sprung out of the sides of his head, and a giant mane grew out from where his hair had been; huge claws extended from the paws that had replaced his hands and feet.
Iriella’s mouth dropped open as the creature that was once the big gentle Farkas made short work of the bandits. The slashing of claws and tearing of flesh filled Iriella with a dread she had not expected. What if he turned on her? She had heard of this, men who became beasts, but they would not recognise even their own kin when transformed. Her breathing quickened as the wolf finished off the biggest of the bandits, tearing his throat out with one foul bite of its jaws. It turned to face her, blood dripping from its claws and its mouth panting. She felt her heart lurch in her chest as if it might stop. She dared not breathe. The beast tilted its head to one side and made a low crooning sound, much like Rune would make if he had done something he shouldn’t have, like taking meat from her plate before she had finished with it.
Dropping down onto all fours the wolf disappeared from view, a grinding noise sounded and the portcullis trapping her receded up into the ceiling. Gingerly she walked forward, and then jumped violently when Farkas appeared in the archway, looking like himself once more. He looked rather contrite and rubbed his arm awkwardly.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.” He began, shifting his gaze away from Iriella’s own blue eyes and looking down at the floor.
“Didn’t mean to scare me?” Iriella had her free hand on her hip, her torch bearing hand still raised, the flickering flames highlighting Farkas’ features.
“No, I didn’t mean to. But I wasn’t going to get out of that any other way.” She hated to admit it, but he was right, without this ability of his they most certainly wouldn’t have made it out of there alive. She sighed, resigned and cocked her head to one side.
“Are you expecting me to…?”
“Oh no.” He reassured her, “Only the circle has this blessing. It’s kept a secret from the others.”
“Mhmm. Me, Vilkas, Aela, Skjor, and the old man.” Now everything made sense, that was how Vilkas had snuck up on her at the cabin that night she had first met him and Skjor. It was why Rune had greeted them all like old friends, and it explained why Aela and Skjor went out late at night, they were probably hunting together! “Look, we need to keep moving, we can talk more about it on the way back, if you have questions.” Farkas picked up his sword and motioned toward the exit to the chamber.
They made their way through the various dusty old caves and chambers, the air smelled musty, and Iriella was certain the wolf scent she had caught earlier on had been from Farkas, though she could not smell it now. They passed a few dead draugr, and kept on their guard, lest they be ambushed by more of the Silver Hand. Passing through a chamber that was missing all it’s wall sconces Iriella was glad of the torch she had retrieved earlier. They came across an iron door.
“Hmm.” Farkas pondered, stroking his beard looking at the heavy door. “This must be the entrance to the crypt. Keep on your guard, don’t look for welcome in here.” He shoved the door open and stepped into the darkness of a long stone corridor. Iriella followed, her torchlight making the shadows dance along the walls.
At the end of the corridor they stepped out into a large, well lit chamber. They were standing on the second level, with a lower ground area below them. A stone bridge lay before them, enclosed in a sort of metal caging affair. Peering through the bars Iriella caught sight of a large chest. A whizzing sound followed by the ringing of metal on metal startled them, looking down and to the right they could see a draugr archer aiming up at them. Running across the bridge they found themselves in a wide hallway. The floor sloped downwards and there were odd rectangular alcoves in the walls, some of them still containing coffins.
They picked their way quietly down the hall with their weapons drawn. There was a commotion sounding around a corner, pressing themselves flat to the wall Iriella peered around to see what was going on. The sight that greeted here eyes was one that amused her slightly, the remainder of the Silver Hand bandits had disturbed some draugr, and an almighty fight was going on further down the hall. None of them had noticed Iriella’s head poking out and she withdrew it quickly, leaning to Farkas she whispered,
“Draugr, fighting Silver Hand.” Farkas nodded,
“How many?” He hissed, and Iriella peered around once more to see.
“Five Silver hand, four draugr. Wait, make that four Silver hand.” She withdrew hear head once more and grinned at Farkas. “I have an idea,” she began conspiratorially; “We should wait until one of the groups defeats the other, then we will only need to tangle with one lot of them.”
Farkas nodded, grinned back and they both peered around to watch the fighting.
“Ten Septims on the draugr.” He whispered.
“You’re on.” Iriella whispered back, not taking her eyes off the fight.
Five minutes later they withdrew their peering faces and Farkas reached into a small coin pouch. Iriella grinned smugly as he pressed some coins into her hand.
“I just couldn’t give the Silver Hand that much credit.” He grumbled in a hushed voice.
“I get that.” Iriella replied, taking a quick peek around the corner to see that the two remaining bandits had resumed their positions at the end of the hall. “But those draugr…they’re not too smart.” She grinned and they turned their attention to more pressing matters.
After the last of the two bandits fell at Iriella’s hand she and Farkas nodded to one another respectfully and proceeded into a smaller corridor, which led them into the chamber below the caged walkway. Plodding around the centre of the room with it’s bow drawn was a lone draugr. It almost looked lost Iriella thought, it’s gaunt features and poor armour could almost make one feel sorry for it. With a low grown it saw them standing in the doorway and it took aim. Iriella watched as an arrow flew past them, missing her by at least two feet.
“Wow, their aim is as bad as mine.” She murmured as she and Farkas lunged at the creature, not giving it a chance to nock another arrow. It lay on the floor, mouth open, the blue light gone from its empty eye sockets. The bow, an intricate wooden affair, lay next to it on the ground, Iriella stooped down to pick it up. Surveying the weapon, she held it up to a nearby sconce for a better look.
“Ancient Nordic bow.” Farkas said as she studied it looking lost in thought. Eventually she strapped the bow to her back, securing it with a few of the many leather straps she had about her person.
“Might be worth a septim or two.” She said, by way of an explanation.
“Only to the right buyer.” Farkas replied.
“Oh, I know of one that will take it off my hands.” She grinned and her mind wandered to Ri’saad, who always loved any sort of exotic or old weaponry. He had a buyer in Elswer, a collector who paid a handsome sum for weapons, and artefacts so he was always willing to pay a little more, knowing he would make at least double the cost back.
The door at the far end of the room was locked. Farkas motioned toward the large chest. He heaved open the lid, so Iriella could search its contents. Pulling out an axe, a helmet and a book she reached into the chest once again to check there was nothing more, in the corner of the chest she felt a small, thin metal object, a key. Lifting it out she showed it to Farkas, who dropped the lid of the chest. Examining the objects that had been in the chest, Iriella decided to take the Axe, having first offered it to Farkas, who politely declined it, on account of it being too small. It had a faint greenish sheen to it, and Iriella thought that like the bow, it may be worth a septim or two, so she hooked it into a hoop at her waist on the opposite side to her wolf sword. The book was old, a tattered copy of Ancestors and the Dunmer, which she remembered her mother reading to her as a child. The helmet was a heavy plate affair, too heavy to carry and probably not worth much.
Opening the door with the key from the chest, they crept through a darkened corridor, stopping suddenly to listen to a strange scuffling noise.
“Skeevers.” Iriella whispered, and they continued on.
“Don’t get bitten.” Farkas warned, “They can give you a nasty case of Ataxia.” Iriella scoffed quietly.
“This may come as a surprise to you, but Skeevers won’t actually attack unless they feel threatened.”
“They’ve always attacked me.” Farkas grunted.
“Probably because you’re ten times their size and don’t give them a chance, watch this.” Iriella exited the corridor into a room, two Skeevers were sniffling over a dead draugr at the end of it. Iriella knelt to the floor and reached into her pack, never taking her eyes of the two creatures. She raised a hand behind her, motioning for Farkas to stay put. Pulling the cloth wrapped parcel Tilma had given her from her bag she edged forward into the room. The Skeevers stopped sniffling, catching sight of her. They really were unfortunate looking things, one could mistake them for a very large, ugly rat if you were not familiar with them. Iriella leaned forward carefully and rolled an apple across the floor. One of the Skeevers sniffed the air and walked cautiously towards the fruit. Iriella kept her eyes low to the floor and skidded a slice of bread and honey towards the Skeevers.
The two creatures approached the food, not taking their eyes off Iriella, who knelt just inside the doorway, with her eyes still cast down, not wanting to show any sign of aggression. The Skeevers picked up the food she had offered and fled the room quietly. Iriella rose and turned to Farkas.
“Where did you learn that?” He asked, scratching the back of his head.
“My father.” Iriella replied simply, not offering any further explanation.
They made their way through the room, an old alchemy table sat against the left-hand wall, with three dead draugr strewn at its base. On the right-hand side there was another door, passing through it they found themselves in yet another darkened passageway. At the end of the passageway the walls opened out into a large chamber, Farkas stopped dead before shrinking back into the tunnel. The room was covered in strands of silk, or some other fine thread. It glistened in places, making it look sticky.
“What’s the matter with you?” Iriella looked at Farkas puzzled, he was white as a sheet.
“Ah, um, how much did your father teach you about animals?” What a strange question Iriella thought,
“He taught me to respect all creatures, no matter how big or small, and to avoid killing them, unless out of necessity, such as for survival or if I’m being attacked. Why?” Farkas swallowed hard before replying.
“Well, I think you’re about to find a necessity, unless you’ve got a corpse in that pack you can offer as food.”
“Don’t be foolish.” Iriella replied laughing, “I couldn’t fit a…” She stopped, interrupted by a whooshing sound, followed by a loud thud. Turning slowly, she caught sight of the biggest spider she had ever seen. A second whoosh made her look up, as she watched a second spider drop down from the ceiling and join the first. Both creatures raised their mandibles and looked as through they were ready to fight.
“Oh.” She said blankly.
One of the spiders raised itself up on its legs and spat a rather unsavoury looking wad of goop at her, she rolled to the right, dodging it narrowly. Quick as lightening she grabbed an axe from her back and hurled it at the spider. Not missing her target, it stuck the creature right in the centre of it’s eight eyes and it stumbled about in pain. The second spider lurched towards her, rearing up on four of its legs and spitting more goop at her, as the first one had. Diving onto the floor she landed headfirst in some of the silky strands, which she now realised were webs, and true to their look, very sticky.
“Ugh!” She grunted in disgust as she picked herself up. The spider was bearing down on her, pulling her second axe from her back at the same time as unsheathing her sword she sidestepped deftly to the right, and sliced with both weapons crossing her arms over her chest, cutting one of the spiders legs clean in two. The creature shrieked and stumbled, launching herself at the injured spider she chopped through two more legs before plunging her sword into the top of the spider’s head, ending its suffering quickly.
Iriella sheathed her sword and replaced the axe into its strap on her back. She was removing her other axe from where it was embedded in the other spider’s face when she felt a hand on her shoulder.
“Thank you.” She turned to see Farkas, with a little more colour in his cheeks now, raising his fist to his chest in salute. She returned the motion and allowed herself a grin.
“Who would have thought, Farkas, scared of a few spiders.” She chuckled as she replaced her axe. Farkas felt his cheeks go pink. He wasn’t about to deny it, for all his size and bravado he was absolutely terrified of spiders. Though as he rarely encountered them, not many people knew of this.
“Well, I guess that’s two secrets you now about me now.” He managed a wry smile and Iriella looked at him fondly. Her father had alwasy told her it took a lot for a person to admit their fears, and anyone that can should be praised for it, not jeered at.
“And secret they shall stay.” She bowed her head. “Now, what say we get out of here before any more appear?” Farkas nodded in agreement and they left the web encrusted chamber.
Down another darkened passageway was another Iron door, leading into a large chamber. At the far end was a curved wall with writing in a language neither of them understood on it.
Central to the wall was a large ornate crypt. The chamber had two levels, on both levels there were other crypts standing up around the sides of the room.
“Well this all looks a little too quiet.” Farkas muttered as they entered the chamber.
“What’s that?” Iriella pointed to the ornate crypt, sitting on top of it, was an ebony fragment.
“Well I’ll be damned.” Said Farkas, his eyes wide.
“This is it!” Iriella reached out and picked up the piece Wuuthrad.” No sooner had she lifted it off the surface of the crypt, a cracking noise could be heard behind them, then another, and then another.
Turning as one Iriella and Farkas saw that three of the crypts had broken open, and the draugr once resting in them were stumbling out.
“No time to celebrate now!” Farkas cried as he drew is sword. Iriella hurriedly stuffed the fragment into her pack and drew her own sword, and her fathers’ axe.
“Well,” She said brightly, “here we go again!” Farkas grinned at her and together they ran towards the draugr.
Making quick work of the three shambling corpses they re-sheathed their weapons.
“I guess we should find a way out.” Farkas looked around the room.
“I’m not quite sure we can leave yet.” Iriella commented as Four more crypts burst open. These draugr looked different to the ones they had seen so far, they were better clad, and had bigger weapons.
“Well this just keeps getting better and better.” said Farkas ironically as they were once again engaged in combat by the decomposed draugr. Every time they killed one, another crypt would pop open. Finally, as the last one fell, Iriella and Farkas stood back to back in the centre of the room breathing heavily, they were weary, the draugr had kept coming until sixteen of the crypts surrounding the room had been emptied.
They looked up toward the last crypt, the front of it cracked and fell to the ground, the dust cleared to reveal a fully Armoured draugr. Wielding a long Nordic sword, and wearing a helmed adorned with rams horns it stood up and stretched as it left the crypt. It must have been about seven feet tall, it looked towards Iriella and Farkas, and leaned forward and shouted at them. The force of the shout knocked them both backwards, and they fell in a tangled heap on the far side of the room, the draugr wasted no time in making its way down the steps and over towards them. It was less clumsy than the other, the way it moved, more agile, almost more human.
Iriella sprang to her feet, the draugr was already bring its weapon down upon them and she met the sword with her own. Shoving her back roughly it raised its sword again, Iriella parried the blow but only just, it swung with a great force, almost knocking her off balance. Farkas had got to his feet, he saw Iriella parry the draugr’s swing, noting how well she managed it considering her weapon was much smaller. He watched her fight for a moment, she was quick, her swings were clean, and precise. She was almost elegant in her form, something he had not expected from this unruly nord. He could see she was beginning to tire, the draugr let out another mighty shout, and she tumbled to the left out of its reach. Farkas raised his own sword but the creature turns swiftly, as if it had sensed he was there, and parried what would have certainly been a killing blow. It shouted at Farkas, who was not so quick to move, and he was practically blown across the room. The draugr strode toward him menacingly, he couldn’t find his sword, it had dropped to the floor some ten feet away, unarmed and helpless he tried to get to his feet, still disorientated from the fall. His head felt fuzzy, and the sound the creature had made was ringing in his ears.
As the draugr took its final steps towards him he heard Iriella shout
“Farkas! Get down!” He dropped to the floor just as his own sword whizzed over his head, slicing the draugr clean in two. It looked almost confused for a moment, before the light in its eyes dimmed, and it fell on the floor. Iriella was on one knee panting heavily, having hurled Farkas’ sword with all the strength she could muster at the draugr. Staggering to her feet she made her way to Farkas and held out her hand. He looked up at her and took it, with her help, he hauled himself to his feet.
“Thank you,” He bowed his head. “For saving my life.” She returned the bow.
“Now we’re even.” She smiled.
The last crypt had given way to a hole in the wall, following a long tunnel they found a wall at the end with a lever next to it. Pulling down on it, Iriella watched as a section of the wall lowered, revealing a familiar looking chamber on the other side.
“You have got to be kidding me.” She said rolling her eyes. They stepped into the room, looking around in disbelief. They were right back in the entrance chamber of the Cairn.