LotS: Frost Moon Chapter Nineteen - Korvanjund Part II

  • Korvanjund Part II

    Content Warning: Language, Violence, Gore

    The adrenaline was starting to subside. Several feet underground, there was no protection from the cold beyond their uniforms; the morning spent by the fire in Camp Varglya suddenly seemed so far away. Reidar didn't regret his decision - he had to get that crown - but it was dawning on him as they walked through another chilly passageway, (mindful now of traps after triggering two of them) that finding the crown might take them... hours.

     

    This crypt was vast, and Reidar found himself cursing King Burgle or whatever his name was. It didn't occur to Reidar that if he'd been a king and found his health failing, he would've ordered they build the biggest tomb imaginable, with booby-traps galore and ghost warriors meant to guard him and his wealth from spineless thieves.

     

    The similarities were entirely lost on him.

     

    "When we find that Crown," said Thurza, as she stood over the ruined corpse of their fifth draugr. “We have to stall the Imperials as long as possible. Galmar's on his way."

     

    Reidar wiped a moist bit of gristle off the head of his axe, scraping the ebony blade against an urn. “He'd better hurry, then. How many Imperials are in here with us?"

     

    "Twenty, maybe more."

     

    "Why so many?"

     

    Thurza kicked the draugr’s ancient boot. "The walking dead. The traps. The sheer size. And if it was that little maggot Farengar who told them where to find it, they would know we were after it too."

     

    *swish, swish, swish*

     

    “What’s that?”

     

    “Another trap. Keep moving.”

     

    Reidar held the torch high, staring down a narrow channel to a small, lit room at the other end. Their path continued down a flight of steps, bypassing the side-room altogether; Thurza impatiently went on ahead. Reidar couldn’t resist a closer look.

     

    Reaching the mouth of the channel, the wide glow of the torch revealed sweeping axe blades, big enough to cleave a horse’s head from it’s shoulders. There were four of them, all swinging with perfect mechanized precision; a heavily decorated chest sat on a table just beyond, promising wealth or ruin.

     

    Reidar smirked. "This place just gets better and better." He'd almost like to see some idiot try and get through that.

     

    He caught up with Thurza.

     

    The library of King Borgas was as impressive as it was large; a two-leveled chamber with iron shelves lining the walls, each one stuffed full with ancient tomes and forgotten manuscripts. Kjeld would have liked this place, except for the bodies.

     

    Breaking up every two or three bookshelves were standing iron sarcophagi, and no sooner had they released the breath they were holding then the lids flew off, the dead roused by their trespassing.

     

    Hacking through corpses was not like hacking through straw; it took concentration and strength to cleave the axe through the dessicated limbs of the draugr. Reidar's ears rang, a powerful vibration traveling up the length of his whole right arm as he struck a battered iron shield.

     

    Before he could get too far from the undead warrior, the draugr's ruined mouth stretched wide, opening like a cavern. A foul, cold breath washing over Reidar's face as the draugr hissed.

     

    "Bolog aaz,mal lir!"

     

    Beg for mercy, little worm!

     

    Reidar kicked out at the draugr, jamming the hilt of the axe into the dead warrior's eye, snapping the head back before he cut the shield free - half of its arm going with it.

     

    "How's that for merc—" His taunt was cut off by a roar of pain as ice scoured his back, stinging his neck, turning his hair hard and brittle and making his blood freeze. Reidar twisted, howling as ice shards stung his face when he tried to glimpse his attacker.

     

    It was a draugr, but this one was using magic.

     

    In direct contrast with the ice spell, heat seared through the air between them as a glowing, distinctly feminine body, encased in volcanic armor with flaming horns, set the draugr alight. Reidar felt himself thawing, but he still staggered sideways, tripping over the severed arm, his body shaking from the cold.

     

    Thurza was at his side in an instant, pressing a small red vial into his hands. "Drink it, stand up and go on ahead."

     

    Reidar's teeth chattered so hard his head shook. "W-W-What the Ob-Oblivio—"

     

    "It's a flame atronach, and for shit's sake stop asking questions!"

     

    The kick to his boots was more effective than any words she could have used. As soon as the red liquid touched his lips, and he took a few grateful swallows, he felt the life flood back into his limbs. Wincing, Reidar hauled himself to his feet; at second thought, he grabbed the shield from his slain enemy (shaking the arm out of it) and pressed on.

     

    With the fiery atronach at her side and the mace in her hand, Thurza was more than formidable enough for the remaining draugr.

     

    One tried to stumble after him. He ignored it, hastening down a long corridor, passing two enormous stone heads covered in ancient runes. The roots growing over and around them tried to trip him up along the way.

     

    Whether he felt it on a subconscious level or somewhere deep in his blood, Reidar sensed that he had entered a different part of the crypt. This part felt deeper. Older. He had discovered a deep corridor that was wide enough for a man on horseback to move comfortably around. Along the walls were carvings depicting figures and creatures he could only vaguely recognize. They seemed… Not of this era. He had never once given thought to things such as ‘eras’ and ‘ancient history’, but as he instinctively slowed, taking it all in, even Reidar found himself wondering about their origins.

     

    Wiping at a cut on his jaw, Reidar reached the corridor’s end, and frowned at a circular door barring the way. It was another part of the Hall that was decorated in no style he recognized; three wheels overlapped one another in the center. Three small, evenly spaced holes in the largest, bottom-most circle caught his eye.

     

    What was supposed to go in here?

     

    The library exploded. Reidar jumped, wheeling around with his axe brandished.

     

    Seconds later, Thurza appeared, bleeding heavily from a gash on her flank, the cloth sections of her armor smudged with soot and dirt. Reidar stared. Her clothing was smoking, and there was the acrid stench of burnt flesh and paper that somehow smelled worse than when they'd lit those oil lanterns.

     

    "What happened?"

     

    "Library's on fire. What did you find?" She grunted, and he saw her expression twist, the furrowed lines of her nose-bridge deepening with pain.

     

    Reidar gestured to the ornate door. "It's missing something. We can't get through without keys - three of them, maybe."

     

    Cursing, Thurza limped over, smacking an ember out of her clothing with one gauntleted hand.

     

    She examined the three notches, one hand twitching towards her satchel - but stopped.
    "Where in Oblivion are we supposed to find three keys?"

     

    Thoughts of that narrow corridor with the four axe blades filled Reidar’s head.

     

    He grimaced.
    " I know where. Wait here, fix yourself up if you can. I'll get the keys."

     

    Thurza stared him down. "If you don't find that key, we're as good as dead."

     

    "I know." Reidar's grip on the borrowed shield and axe tightened, though he felt the strain in his shoulders and upper arms from so much combat. "I won't fail."

     

    Reidar went back into the ruined library, the shield raised as much as protection against the smoking books and flaming corpses as it was against incoming foes. There was an enormous scorch mark in the center of the library, and Reidar eyed it curiously, noticing some small glowing fragments in the middle of it - small as sea salt - all that remained of the atronach.

     

    Whatever the orc-mage had done to the library, it made it easier for him to navigate. The crypt was finally well-lit. Without fear of being attacked and finding it no great challenge to steer clear of the charring bookcases, Reidar went back the way they had come.

     

    Torchlight spilled into the hallway up ahead. Reidar froze, retreated two steps, and with as much quietness as he could possess, weaseled his way into the dark, narrow space behind one of the giant stone heads. Rat bones crunched, ground to dust under his boot-soles, and he held his breath, at once regretting taking so much with him. There wasn’t enough room for his weapons.

     

    They’d better not take these. The shield became a bowl for his quiver, and he cautiously pushed them out of his hiding-place. The weapons lay as though forgotten, camouflaged by the dark tangle of roots in the corner.

     

    Accented voices and a low growl interrupted the faint hissing crackle of the library fire burning itself out.

     

    “You’re a piece of work, Bulgra.”

     

    A deep baritone chuckle echoed off the cavern walls, and Reidar knew at once that they were speaking to an orc.

     

    “A piece of work that’s about to be a hundred coin richer.”

     

    The healing glow of a restoration spell briefly illuminated the corridor, and Reidar saw the light’s edge nearly spill onto his boots. He held his breath, listening in.

     

    “For the love of Mara, hold still!” Snapped an impatient-sounding woman, her voice carried a haughty lilt, as if the words she spoke had been purchased with her own money.

     

    The vowels must have been expensive.

     


    Green skin glowed under the healing light, and Reidar became witness to an orc in Imperial armor examining an ebony claw, thick-taloned and glimmering in the dual light sources. The orc paid no mind to the huge gash on his back.

     

    A woman with golden skin - like the Thalmor - tended to him, her mage’s hood scarlet, the emblem of the Imperials, a dragon, emblazoned on her chest.

     

    The orc’s blood dripping down his back was enough to make Reidar gawk, mesmerized by the soldier’s tolerance for pain. When the orc paused, sniffing the air, that a tremor climbed up Reidar’s spine as though to escape into his hair.

     

    “I smell something.” The Orc took a step towards the rock.

     

    Shit shit shit shit shit shit.

     

    “What is it?”

     

    “They went this way. two of ‘em. An orc, and—”
    The report ended in a low snarl. “Can’t smell anything past this damned smoke!”

     

    “We’ll get them.” The confidence in the Altmer’s voice chilled him; shortly after, he saw another spell-glow spill light across the crypt floor. It was different from the spells Thurza or Kersten had used. Expecting to burst into flame at any moment, Reidar gripped his axe so tight his hand shook, knuckles more bone than flesh.

     

    “You’re right, Sylviana.” There was a mocking, sing-song quality to the orc’s voice. Reidar’s heart flailed. “I’ve just caught us a Stormrat - trapped right here in the corner.”

     

    The rock moved.

     

    Reidar cried out in surprise, and made to scramble free, but the dank, roughen stone pressed in against him with a juttering groan of rock scraping against rock. The Orc was going to crush him!

     

    “You going to come out and face me like a warrior, Milkdrinker? Or must I crush you like a spider?”

     

    “Kill him quickly and be done, Bulgra. Our goal is the Crown.”

     

    “You have no sense of sport.”

     

    Reidar dropped the axe, his breath coming out in short panic-stricken gasps as the rock moved again.

     

    He was pressed against the wall, his horker-tusk bow digging into his shoulder-blades stopped only by the thin mail beneath his tunic. With trembling hands and straining limbs, Reidar desperately tried to push back - his muscle stretching and screaming with each maddened heave.

     

    Bulgra laughed. “Still alive, little rat? So you’ve got some fight left after all!”

     

    The metal scuff of boots on stone made him freeze; the narrow opening of light above him grew dark. An Orc’s hand was thrust down and seized a fistful of Reidar’s hair.

     

    He roared, scratching and twisting to get free - with a bloodied scalp if he must.

     

    “Bulgra enough! More are coming!”

     

    With a reluctant snarl, Bulgra released him. Reidar blinked away furious tears, angry for being so weak. Angry for becoming a target. Angry at the sobbing relief he felt when the orc’s steps faded, and the clash of violence was music to his ears.

     

    Rubbing a bruised scalp, Reidar struggle to stand, kicking his axe and barking both knees in the process. Trembling hands pushed against the stone head. His arms didn’t want to cooperate, and he felt thin, hollowed out like a dead tree limb.

     

    “Reidar!”

     

    He flinched, smacking his head against the back wall smartly. He stared like a deer as Thurza came into view. She took one look at him - pale-faced, trembling, pupils wide- and snorted.


    “What in Oblivion are you doing?”

     

    Reidar quickly wiped his nose on his sleeve.
    “Nothin’.”

     

    Without needing to be asked, the orc-mage passed him the torch, placed her hands on the rock and forced it to yield to her might.

     

    Reidar threw himself free, face red with shame as he bent to gather up the rest of his weapons.

     

    “Well?” Thurza demanded, snatching back the torch.

     

    “Well what?” Well I almost got crushed by an orc with a big fucking rock? What did she want him to say?

     

    “The key, you halfwit!”

     

    Oh. Shit. The key… The key!

     

    “The Orc has it!” Reidar’s face, still damp with sweat, glowed pale in the torchlight. “The orc — he had an ebony claw on his belt. Must’ve gotten it from that chest with the swinging axe blades.”

     

    Thurza bared her teeth, noticing the blood trail leading in but not out. “He has a healer with him. We’ll find him.”

     

    Reidar wished for all the world he had come up with a better plan than ‘rush into the enormous crypt ahead of an army of legionnaires’ to gain glory. Glory wasn’t especially glorious if you died trying to get it. Instead, he nodded grimly, gazing furtively down the corridor back the way they had originally come. The courage to take that first step into the dark did not come. He no longer had any fear of the dead; the living were frightening enough.

     

    “You’re the one with the torch.” He muttered.

     

    Thurza gave a grunt and took the lead.

     

    The sounds of battle grew louder.

     

    ♦♦♦

    Galmar's company of seven strong had arrived. The number of Stormcloaks to Imperials seemed small compared to what Reidar pictured being a battle; but the size of the armies didn't matter. It was the ferocity, it was the brutality that was deciding the victor. As soon as they crossed the threshold into one of the main burial chambers, Reidar lost sight of Thurza; the orc mage disappeared in a torrent of glass and chainmail, snarling as she threw herself into the fray. Reidar stumbled over corpses, gasping as he ducked the swing of a massive warhammer - the kind of swing that decapitated the Imperial standing behind him - blood spattering his robes in the process. Breathing hard, he scrambled back, weapons clanging in his ears and shields blocking his view as each side clashed. Galmar was the owner of the warhammer, which he gripped and regripped as if eager to find his next victim; with the blood running down the hammer's head, Reidar realized why the handle itself was so long.

     

    Galmar could smash as many bodies as he pleased, and the blood would never reach the handle.

     

    Their eyes locked for a moment, and he saw surprise sharpen the old grizzled warrior's features; any words he had to spare Reidar were drowned out by the chilling cries of draugr. More of the ancient dead had appeared, and, condemning each side as foe both, fell upon the warring Imperials and Stormcloaks.

     

    Reidar raised his shield just in time to fend off a barrage of arrows. I need a better vantage point! The scent of blood and the rough din of battle were starting to overwhelm him; he felt like a dog in a butcher's shop. An experience he was supposed to enjoy was quickly turning into a nightmare. It was too much.

     

    He stepped on the hand of a dead Stormcloak at his feet, but didn’t have time to even shudder, finding a wall to press his back against for safety's sake as he scanned the clashing throngs. At once, he found the orc with the claw; looking at him now, dual-wielding two golden axes of craftsmanship Reidar had never seen before, it was a wonder he'd been able to miss him at all. The orc was cleaving a path through two draugr, dismembering an archer with two clean blows from each axe at each shoulder - rendering the draugr's defeat almost comical, when the arms simply fell off, bow and arrow clasped in rotten hands.

     

    The orc seemed to think so. He was laughing.

     

    That was the trouble with archery; from a distance, you were safe. You could pick off your targets one by one - but up close, even a simple hunter stalking a deer would be vulnerable to attack if he frightened the deer enough to charge him. Wulf Wild-Blood had taken Niklaus out hunting with him one evening, and to Niklaus's dread and Reidar's amazement, the boy had managed to get kicked in the arm by an angry deer. He had a hoof-shaped bruise on his shoulder for weeks, the thick padding of the Skaal's traditional garments protected him from the worst.

     

    But this wasn't a deer Reidar was facing. This was an axe-wielding orc who had nearly killed him once before.
    You're mine, you piece of horkershit. Reidar crouched, laying down his shield and axe to take up his bow; he had had the forethought to restring it while they were walking to battle. Reidar pulled an arrow fletched with pheasant feathers from the quiver, and lined up his shot.

     

    Bulgra bellowed a challenge to the advancing draugr, and moved out of Reidar's view.

     

    Reidar tried to follow Bulgra with the nocked arrow, but too many bodies muddied any hope of a clear shot. "Dammit!"

     

    Then Thurza was beside him once more, the battlemage's ghost wolf chasing after Bulgra. He hacked at it with his axe, but the beast cried out in pain even as it latched onto the orc’s leg.

    "Get him!" Thurza's hands were glowing with the purple summon-fires of Oblivion, ready to pull another spirit wolf from its Daedric pocket back into the mortal world, should the first fall.

     

    Sweat had dampened her fiery red hair, and he saw the exhaustion in her eyes and the slight shake of her hands.

     

    Reidar didn't need to be told twice.

     

    He lined up his shot, and let the arrow go. It buried itself deep into the orc's shoulder; Bulgra at first did not seem to notice, so great was his wrath, but then the orc turned even as Reidar was already taking aim for a second shot; Bulgra snapped the arrow shaft, throwing away the broken half as if no more bothered by a child's plaything. Blood made the leather shine in the torchlight - but that wasn't the most alarming thing.

     

    Bulgra had seen him. The orc leered, and cut a path towards them through the draugr.

     

    Thurza cursed, released the spell she had been about to cast, and took up her mace again.

     

    Reidar's heart hammered what felt like a hundred times with each breath, and he fired again - but missed.

     

    Those eyes!

     

    "This isn't worth it," he whispered. Terrified as he was of the orc, he couldn't shoot him - not with Bulgra looking right at him.

     

    "Look out!" Thurza shoved him hard, and with an agonized cry, he crashed against one of the iron shelves, his head ringing. Bulgra had hurled a banded iron shield at him with the same ease a man could hurl a plate.

     

    Dazed, Reidar's knees struck the crypt floor hard, and he stumbled over his bow, the arrows spilling out of the quiver as he tried to get his bearings. Thurza was gone again, but he could hear her shouting something at him, above a dull, rushing roar in his head that felt as if he'd stuck it underwater. The claw. The claw. The claw. If he didn't get it, then this was all going to be pointless.

     

    All of it.

     

    The view of the battle from down below was even more dementing. He felt as if he were out of place; a man in the wrong time. He saw only the stomping of boots - rusted with age, or gleaming in the candlelight - and the flash of blades, the clang of shields raised to fend off an attack.

     

    Reidar grabbed his axe, the shield forgotten - God, his head ached - and ducked into the fray.

     

    If he couldn't kill Bulgra, then he could steal that stupid claw while someone else did.

     

    Bulgra waited for him to arrive. Thurza was nowhere to be seen. Even as the fighting continued in a whirl of metal and melee on all sides, the orc stood tall and taunting, his tusks bared, dual-wielding two gleaming golden axes, bits of the dead surrounding him like fallen apples on a dying tree. Reidar breathed hard through his nose, and clanged his war axe against his shield; while it did sent a numbing jolt up through his sweaty fingers, it also roused his spirits.

     

    I am Reidar White-Paw, son of a great warrior. A war hero. He had no epithets of his own. Being the son of Leiv White-Paw was enough. It had to be enough.

     

    Roaring, shield raised, he made a cutting swing across the orc's chest, but it failed to connect. The golden axes had been raised and caught their ebony sibling between them, trapping the war axe with a hollow clang.

     

    Bulgra grinned, as dangerous as a bristleback, and kneed Reidar in the stomach.

     

    He gasped, resisting every impulse to double-over and expose the back of his neck. Black spots were flashing before his eyes, and the orc struck him across the jaw before he could even react. Bulgra's laughter filled his ears, even above the roaring din of battle as Reidar struck the floor in a clamor of axe and shield. He kicked out at Bulgra's leg, but the Orc stomped down hard, Reidar screeching as his ankle twisted under Bulgra's cruel boot.

     

    No! No no no! This wasn't how it was supposed to be. He couldn't lie here on the ground like a dog. He couldn't die like a dog. Fear and rage battled in his chest as savagely as starving wolves, and he writhed again, slicing and shoving his way back onto his feet.

     

    Panting hard, Reidar was allowed to straighten his stance, but only at Bulgra's mercy. The Orc was toying with him. "You're nothing more than a pup, Stormrat. You really are a milkdrinker!" Bulgra crossed the axes in front in defense just as Reidar rammed his shield into his attacker's chest - or tried.

     

    Fighting Bulgra was like fighting against that stone head; he couldn't move him. And every attempt he tried, he was punished for it. Reidar cringed under a barrage of strikes to his shield, and the handle, perhaps weakened by the sweat of his palms and a thousand years' spent in this musty crypt, began to come loose.

     

    Just as the shield fell away from the grip with a ringing clang, a flash of light blinded him and Bulgra. Reidar cried out, expecting crippling pain - but then his vision cleared and fiery red hair filled up his sights, Thurza's glass mace smashing Bulgra's left arm with all the precision of a lightning strike.

     

    Bulgra snarled with real agony this time, and one golden axe was dropped, where it was kicked aside as Bulgra already began to counter. Reidar's arms shook, and he threw away the tattered shield remains, raising his axe half-heartedly to render aid - but Thurza growled.

    "Beat it, kid."

     

    "Or be a good boy and wait your turn to die," Bulgra leered, and Thurza narrowly avoided a backhand from a heavily gauntleted fist. "Right after I finish off this traitor!"

     

    Reidar had little chance to be stunned, or to let his frantic mind dwell on Bulgra's words. Was it the coward's route, to let another finish his fight? Or was it stupidity to stick around when he was clearly outmatched and couldn't defeat Bulgra on his own?

     

    I can't kill him and I can't help her.

     

    A draugr archer suffered the brunt of his frustration as the fight between Bulgra and Thurza drew further away from him. He kicked another draugr's legs out from under it, to the gratitude of a fellow Stormcloak, but there was little time for celebration as more coffin lids thudded open.

     

    Reidar's gaze found the axe Bulgra had discarded.

     

    What if he...

     

    Reidar grabbed the axe; the design was strange to him, and old - but not of the same designs scattered throughout Korvanjund. It felt unwieldy in his hands, as if made for a much heavier, much stockier race than a 17-year-old Nord - in other words, it was a perfect fit for Bulgra.

     

    Remembering where the high elf had healed Bulgra, Reidar crouched, moving closer to the clashing Orcs. If Thurza asked, he wasn't helping, not really. Just taking advantage of the onslaught to take something that he should've gotten to first.

     

    Thurza was beginning to tire; between the multiple spells and Bulgra's unrelenting strikes, he could see it in the glimpses of her haggard face, expression taut with concentration. There were no spirit wolves, no atronachs, no fire spells. Thurza was out of magicka.

     

    Bulgra didn't see him coming.

     

    Rising up behind the Orc—Bulgra pulled his arm back to deliver a punishing blow to Thurza—when Reidar slashed across Bulgra's back with his own axe. Bulgra howled, staggering forward into the path of Thurza's mace - but Reidar didn't stick around to see how the fight ended.

     

    Thurza barked a harsh laugh, and Reidar felt blood splatter his shoulder as he crouched low and snatched the ebony claw off of the Orc's belt. With only a fleeting glance over his shoulder at Thurza - who now seemed to have the advantage - Reidar ran for the Hall of Stories.

     

Comments

6 Comments   |   KaiserSoSay and 7 others like this.
  • Dragonborn1921
    Dragonborn1921   ·  August 15
    I liked how this chapter really made Reidar seem a bit weaker. I mean, to be fair he hasn't really done much but this chapter just really showcased the fact that he's really just an arrogant kid who's gotten himself in a bit too much trouble.
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  July 29
    Fawn, the amount of swearing in this chapter offends my delicate sensibilities. For shame, Fawn. For shame :p Seriously now, all that tension seems to have been building to this point and unleashed in a barrage of action. Good stuff!
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  May 13
    We will have to sit and discuss "milkdrinker" alternatives. Whelp, cub, skirt-clinger, teat-sucker. lol


    Anyway, nice chapter.  Reidar is getting himself in a mess of trouble. 
    • SpottedFawn
      SpottedFawn
      The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      We will have to sit and discuss "milkdrinker" alternatives. Whelp, cub, skirt-clinger, teat-sucker. lol


      Anyway, nice chapter.  Reidar is getting himself in a mess of trouble. 
        ·  May 13
      xD oh I like skirt-clinger.
  • The Lorc of Flowers
    The Lorc of Flowers   ·  May 13
    Hehehe, Reidar really sucks arse at fighting and that´s what makes it so interesting to read. The battle was fast paced and vivid, plust the Orcs we awesome.


    And I think I´m slowly, just as Grulmar, getting annoyed by the word "milkdr...  more
    • SpottedFawn
      SpottedFawn
      The Lorc of Flowers
      The Lorc of Flowers
      The Lorc of Flowers
      Hehehe, Reidar really sucks arse at fighting and that´s what makes it so interesting to read. The battle was fast paced and vivid, plust the Orcs we awesome.


      And I think I´m slowly, just as Grulmar, getting annoyed by the word "milkdrinker". Why everyo...  more
        ·  May 13
      Glad you enjoyed the orc scenes, I was hoping you'd like Bulgra. He was a LOT of fun to write for! xD and Reidar is just going to continuously get his ass kicked for a while. Gotta beat the 'noob' status right out of him.


      Agreed, "mi...  more