“Nords are completely mental!”
“Yes, they are! Get behind me!”
My quiver was full to bursting after I took my pick of the dead dunmer’s less valuable possessions. Good thing, too, because the first two arrows I fire at the things bounce uselessly off the walls behind them. My hands are shaking far too much to make the shot meet its mark, but my life depends on me doing so in quite the literal sense. My third arrow embeds itself firmly in the breast of one of them right where its heart should be, but the damned thing kept its feet and continued its advance on Jenassa. Its blade must have been centuries old yet looked impressively sharp.
It made a clumsy swing at Jenassa with its axe. She ducked out of the way then practically tore it apart with her blades.
“Another one!” I call. “They’re still getting up! What are these things?”
“Draugr!” Jenassa calls back, pivoting to face her next attacker. “Stay back!”
Step back, assume stance, arrow nocked, sudden spasm of pain! I release the arrow and had it flown inches to the right it would have lodged in Jenassa’s rump.
“Ffff-ah! I told you that skeever had ataxia! I told you!”
Jenassa parries a blow from the second draugr and slashes its neck with both blades.
She snaps her head to me, red eyes smoldering. “Then use your dagger, you idiot!” She drops her blades and draws her bow to greet a bearded draugr shambling toward her with an arrow.
“Are you kidding me?” I unsheathe my blade and creep forward. “You’re telling me to get close to that thing? You wanted me to stay back a moment before!”
She bellows in frustration and feathers the draugr a second time. “Use it on the draugr or I’ll use it on you!”
Its attention is on the dunmer. Divines, its axe is as well-kept as its gloriously thick beard!
Jenassa shifts so her back isn’t against a wall.“Billy!”
‘Don’t think about it,‘ I tell myself, over and over. ‘Don’t think about it. Don’t think about it. Don’t think about it. Don’t do the warcry thing again.’ I leap forward and jam my blade into the softer tissue near its neck, pull it out then step back before it can take a swing at me. It pauses and the eerie blue light in its eye sockets winks out.
I sheathe the dagger and stare at it in disbelief. “I did it,” I mutter. I throw my arms up in victory and shout to the heavens. “I did it! I stabbed it! It’s dead!”
The lights in its skull rekindle themselves and it turns toward me.
My dagger is out of its sheathe once again and I take a couple steps back. Neither action would serve to protect me, but it made me feel better. The draugr lets out an ear-splitting shriek and closes the short distance between us, its axe raised and seeking my precious, precious arteries.
I hear an arrow released from a bow and it’s knocked backwards into the wall. While one eye remains lit, the other now has an arrow sprouting from it. It pushes off of the wall and charges straight for me.
“Damn it!” I drop my bow and sprint for the nearest exit. I realize too late that it’s leading even deeper into the ruins, but I’m not about to turn around with the living dead on my heels. I feel a part of the floor depress under my feet and hear a brief grinding before I’m face to face with an iron gate adorned with spikes hurtling toward me. I leap away from the trap and I hear something crunch when I crash to the ground. For a moment the agony leaves me stunned. I see a cloud of dust particles slowly drifting down to the floor where the draugr once stood. I crane my neck and spot its crushed remains on the opposite end of the room. It isn’t moving.
Jenassa moves to the fallen draugr then plucks her arrow from the dead thing’s brain. She inspects the thick black fluid coating the arrowhead. It’s a wonder it wasn’t shattered when the trap hit.
“Ataxia, you say?” she asks.
“I want to go home,” I say. My muscles are stiff from the disease and the ache is unbearable. I stagger to a wall not lined with desiccated corpses and sit with my back against it and my face in my hands. I hear Jenassa approach but don’t bother looking at her.
“Where is your home, argonian?” she asks.
I slide my hands from my face and clasp them in my lap. Looking at her makes me tired, so I stare at the floor instead. “I haven’t made it yet.”
She crouches next to me and offers her hand. “Do as I say and you will have the opportunity to make that home one day.”
I eye her hand warily. “I don’t trust you.”
She doesn’t move. “I’m not asking you to trust me.”
“Why are you being so nice, now?”
“I’m not being nice. You have ataxia. It’s going to be a bitch to get back up.”
“Are you saying you don’t like me?”
“I do not.”
“Not even a little?”
I ponder this, then take her hand. “It’ll have to do.”
The pain and stiffness persisted, but as I am ever the resourceful argonian, I manage to adjust to it somewhat. My adaptation is nice, though it is no comfort upon witnessing our next obstacle.
“A hallway of bladed pendulums. I had thought a trap this pointlessly elaborate was the stuff of fairytales.”
Jenassa nods. “They’re quite common in nordic ruins. You first.”
All three pendulums swing simultaneously, leaving a clear path that lasts but a second or two. “I may take you up on your offer,” I say.
“I may prefer if you kill me now. Less messy that way.”
She shrugs. “My offer has yet to expire.”
“I thought so.” The blades swing and against the protestations of my aching muscles and the rational part of my mind, I sprint down the hall. I feel the rush of air as the third pendulum completes its swing mere moments after my crossing. I check my tail to ensure every inch is still intact before I take a moment to look around.
“There’s a lever back here,” I call to my partner.
I take hold of it and pull, then hold onto it for dear life as another spasm of pain causes my knees to buckle. The pendulums cease their swinging and Jenassa strolls down the hallway.
“Did you know that was here?” I ask incredulously. She nods. “I think I finally hate you.” She nods again.
The passages are oddly well-lit, though I light a torch I had been allowed to pluck from the dunmer bandit’s body regardless. We come to a narrow passageway and stop before a puddle of dark fluid that shimmers different colors in the light. I crouch down and inspect it. It extends from our position to the other side of the passage.
Jenassa eyes my torch. “You aren’t thinking of lighting it, are you?”
“Consider it,” she says, pointing. I look up from the puddle to see two draugr barreling down the hallway toward me.
I yelp wave the torch in front of me frantically.
“What are you doing?” Jenassa shouts as she backs up and draws her bow. “They don’t fear fire!”
“I’ll make it fear fire!” I shout back then dip the torch in the oil. It lights immediately and I’m struck by an intense wave of heat that boils me in my furs. I stumble backwards away from the river of fire I had created. To my horror, one of the draugr manages to lurch out of the inferno and wreathed in flames it resumes its charge. An arrow from Jenassa makes it crumple to the ground in a burning heap.
I sob and fight to catch my breath in the smoke as the fire dies down. “I need to rest,” I gasp.
Jenassa shakes her head. “You’re on fire.”
For the first time I notice the burning sensation creeping up my arm. My glove has caught fire. I wave my hand about and scream. Jenassa draws out her canteen, takes careful aim, then douses the fire with it. It takes a forceful kick from her to stop my screaming even after I had been extinguished.
“Get up. We aren’t done yet.” She snatches my torch from where it had fallen during my little panic and reinvigorates its flame off of the burning body of the draugr. I want to run. I could call Jenassa’s bluff and flee from the ruin. I could.
But, I am a coward. I pick my burnt battered and ailing body off of the floor and take the torch from Jenassa. Without prompting I take point once again.
Every corner we turn and every room we enter we are faced with more draugr. Exterminating them is an exhausting process. I avoid their blows or deflect them with the torch, then swipe at them with the fire to set them alight. Thankfully, Jenassa does the lion’s share of the dirty work. I rarely have to be within swiping range of a draugr.
After hours of creeping through a stale subterranean maze, I am delighted when we eventually come across a natural cave with sunlight streaming in from above. Unfortunately, it comes with the deep chill and snow from the mountains. When the cold bites and I begin to shiver I decide not to linger long here.
Beyond the cave we found ourselves once again in the ruin. After Jenassa dispatches a particularly resilient draugr we come upon a heavy set of double doors. I lean against them and sip fresh water from a flask I had filled in the river that runs through town.
“You’ve gone quiet,” Jenassa observes.
“Isn’t that what you wanted?” I ask. She takes a seat on the floor and digs into her own rations. I take this to mean we have earned a short break.
Once fed and watered, I get to my feet with a pained groan. Jenassa stands and joins me at the door. She stares at me expectantly, though I am unsure what it is that she expects me to do.
She puts her hand on my shoulder lightly. “We’ll be out of here soon,” she says softly.
I could have said something clever or made a petty insult, but I felt tired. More tired than I have ever been before. “We?”
She takes her hand from my shoulder and nods. “Are you ready?”
I touch the sturdy yet aged wood of the door and nod. She pushes it open and we continue on to the last stretch.