Chasing Death: Chapter 1, The Cave of Skulls

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    They were standing in front of the cave's mouth, among the bones of three no longer animated skeletons, with wind howling around their bodies and Decimus couldn't help himself anymore. He spit. The saliva was carried by the wind to his left where Belrand was standing and the Nord mercenary jumped when the spit landed on his cloak.


    “Watch where the fuck you spit, you idiot!” he cursed and looked at the cloak, clearly not sure what to do with the spit. Decimus just chuckled and Belrand then took a step closer, rubbing the cloak against Decimus' cloak. “Keep it,” Belrand growled and the Imperial just laughed.


    “You're like a fucking baby, you know that,” Decimus chortled and studied the cave's entrance, motioning towards it. “I'll give you the privilege of entering first.”


    Belrand grimaced at the black hole in the rock and shook his head. “I'll have to politely decline. You go first.”


    “No, I insist.”




    Decimus chuckled and pulled his cloak closer to his body. “Just in the case there's something waiting to eat us. This way, it will eat you first.”


    Belrand opened his mouth and mimicked a laugh without actually releasing a sound. “Hilarious. But how about this: If we stand here any longer your arse is going to freeze off. Mine won't. I'm a Nord remember? I could probably stand it for a little while longer.”


    “Good point,” the Imperial grunted and circled with his shoulders. “Alright, here goes nothing.” He entered the cave's darkness with his crossbow ready. He was walking slowly, taking his time for his eyes to adjust to the black. He could barely discern a narrow cave corridor in front of him, turning to the right just three steps further. “Looks good,” he turned back and raised his voice.


    Belrand then entered too and brushed snow from his fur cloak, his eyes squinting into the dark. “Torch or magelight?” he asked and Decimus thought about it for a second. Magelight could be extinguished any time Belrand decided and it wouldn't get in their way, leaving their hands empty. Torch on the other hand provided fire and if they would encounter undead they could use the fire. But the Imperial then reminded himself that Belrand knew few fire tricks, so overall, magelight was a better choice.


    “Let there be magelight,” he grinned at Belrand who extended his hand and dim white-blue light appeared above his hand, slowly rising to the ceiling. They began unwrapping their cloaks and putting down their sacks with supplies, because if there was a fight ahead the sacks and cloaks would only get in the way.


    Decimus was immediately assailed by the cold, but it was still much better than outside. He breathed into his hands to warm them up a little bit. He checked the sheath at his left side with his baskethilt sword and then the silver sword behind his left shoulder. When he was satisfied, he aimed his crossbow down the corridor and slowly walked towards the turn, with Belrand and his light behind him.


    He took the turn and then a sound of shattering glass rang under his feet. “Fuck!” he cursed.


    “Could you be any louder?” Belrand growled and Decimus shot him a look.


    “I wasn't the one leaving empty bottles lying around,” the Imperial barked back, looking under his feet. Bottles of wine and one bottle of mead, also a pickaxe, were lying on the floor among some mushrooms. “The guards? Or someone else?”


    “I'd consider the possibility that there could be someone else here,” the Nord murmured and weighed his nordic long sword. “People say this place is haunted, remember?”


    “Well, I have yet to see a ghost with a taste for wine and mead,” Decimus said dryly. He then began walking again, moving forward through the corridor, careful about where he was laying his feet, the smell of stale earth and rock finding his nose. The smell of age. Places like this one are always full of nasty surprises…


    The cave then got slightly wider, now leading down, deeper into the mountain and the Imperial turned to Belrand. “Any idea how this cave came to be? You think it's natural or made by people?”


    The Nord looked around and shrugged. “No idea. You were a mason, if I'm not mistaken. Does this look like stone shaped by tools to you?”


    “If it was, it's one lousy piece of work,” Merotim murmured and for a second he thought about his father, what would he think about this. Son of a mason becoming a mercenary in a distant land. And also owner of a keep, let's not forget about that. That would make the old man laugh, no doubt. But he was long dead and Decimus was now even older than his father was when he died. “I can just tell - wait, you heard that?”


    Their chat was interrupted when suddenly a sound came from down the corridor. Murmuring and shambling, as if someone was dragging their feet through the dirt, followed by the screeching of metal being dragged behind them. The cracking of bones. Then it came from behind the corner and looked at them with its glowing blue eyes. Its skin was grey and thin, revealing the remains of muscles and sinew underneath it. It still had the armor it was buried in, rusty and nearly falling apart, as well as a big axe made of the same black metal.


    “And who invited you?” Decimus snarled, glaring at the draugr when the undead creature noticed them. Both mercenaries exchanged looks, waiting to see if there wasn’t anymore behind the corner, but there was only the one.


    “Straggler maybe?” Belrand whispered, readying his nordic sword. “If there's one there's more.”


    “Yeah,” Decimus murmured as he drew his silver sword and began walking towards the draugr. “But maybe they're sleeping,” he finished over his shoulder.


    "Qiilaan us dilon!" the draugr growled.


    “Really? That's so sad,” the Imperial retorted.


    The draugr raised its axe, swinging horizontally at Decimus who slowly walked into the draugr's reach, but stopped in the last second, taking a quick step back from the axe's swing and then quickly stepped back in, his sword's tip piercing the draugr's eye in a perfect lunge. The draugr opened its mouth, as if it was about to say something but the other eye suddenly flickered and the glow disappeared, the body dropping on the ground when Decimus pulled the sword out.


    “You understood that?” Belrand whispered when he came to the body and looked at it.


    Decimus wiped the silver sword's tip against draugr's armor and shrugged. “Not a fucking word. But I like to imagine they're saying something like: ‘Free us from this pitiful existence.’”


    Belrand scratched his neck and shook his head. “That's so nice. You're actually doing them a favor. You're a saint.”


    “Tell me something I don't know,” Decimus chuckled. “And you look really calm considering this is a draugr,” he added while he unloaded his crossbow, loading it again with a bolt with silver point.


    “I don't like ancient Nord tombs.” Belrand grimaced at that, shifting his feat. “Ancestors and all that. Places that are not meant to be trespassed by the living. So yeah, it makes me uneasy, but I'm not going to fucking lose it, am I? I go where the money is.”


    “And here I though you're going to cry on my shoulder.”


    “Asshole,” the Nord murmured and pointed with his sword down the corridor. “I think there's a light coming from there.”


    Decimus looked and squinted and then he saw it too. A faint orange glow dancing on the walls, which meant there was a fire ahead, maybe a torch. “Hmm. Do you have silver?”


    “Why should I?”


    The Imperial touched the draugr's head with his boot. “Because this fucker is best killed by silver?”


    Belrand's sword suddenly became alive with flames blazing all over its blade and the Nord threw Decimus a look speaking volumes. “I know magic, remember? Plus...spellsword? If that isn't saying all that is needed-”


    “I thought that's what you called your dick,” Decimus interrupted him with a grin.


    “I say it again. Asshole,” Belrand shook his head.


    The Imperial just smiled and headed towards the light. He knew very well Belrand's capabilities, he knew that he had attended the College of Winterhold in his youth before he followed his teacher to the Great War. Fuck, how old is he actually? Older than you, idiot, but it's tough to say with these mages - wait, don't call him a mage. He's a spellsword, let's call things by their true names. So yes, he knew, but he couldn't help but joke about it. If you want to do mercenary work, do it with style, friend. And little bit of humor too.


    They were slowly sneaking towards the orange light and Decimus motioned to Belrand to kill the magelight. The darkness suddenly overwhelmed them, with only the dancing light of fire somewhere ahead barely illuminating their surroundings. They moved slowly, their feet scanning the ground before making a step, and that way they were moving forward.


    Decimus nearly hit something with his head when the shadows danced in front of his eyes and he then recognized it was a beam. He looked back at Belrand and frowned. So this part is definitely not natural. The beams supported a low ceiling and the way the wood reeked it was already eaten through with rot. Just don't bump into it if you don't want the mountain to drop on you.


    The light was stronger and Decimus peered around the corner, only to be blinded by the light of flames. He blinked several times, to adjust his sight and saw something that looked like a watchtower in the cave's wall. A watchtower under a mountain! Inside a mountain! What the fuck? By the looks of it it was an old Imperial construction and Decimus just couldn't wrap his head around that. An Imperial building inside a mountain… To the left of the tower was a fireplace, with two figures in dark robes sitting at it, their backs towards Decimus. There were several bones on the ground, human skulls and Decimus spotted a red colour and narrowed his eyes. It was a red cloth wrapped over the chainmail and leather armor of a Solitude guard. With the guard still inside that armor, unmoving, lying on the ground, the helmet bloodied, dented inwards.


    I guess we found one of the guards, he thought, scanning the surroundings. Beside those two figures by the fire, he saw no one but that didn't mean there wasn't anyone. He raised two fingers to Belrand and then pointed with them behind the corner, making room so that the Nord could look too. He just peeked out, noticed the same thing as Decimus and then retreated back behind the corner.


    Decimus thought about it for a second while he was rubbing his crossbow's stock. The cave was a dead end, but because they saw only one guard, the others must have been somewhere else. And they didn't stumble over them on their way in. Which meant that the path continued and most likely through the tower.


    He motioned at Belrand, gesturing at the tower with two fingers and then putting them towards his eyes. Belrand nodded and Decimus hoped he really did understand that.


    The Imperial stepped into the light, slowly walking towards the two people sitting at the fire, with his crossbow aimed at the one on the right. Which was coincidentally a Redguard woman, the one on the left looked like a Breton man, or maybe Imperial, it was difficult to say. Just because you're pointing at the woman...does that mean you don't respect women, Dec? Or do you just deep down have something against Redguards? He forced himself not to shake his head, because those lines of thoughts were just outright stupid. But he was like that, before every fight. But when the killing began...his mind became a sword, sharp and focused on only one thing. Frankly, women are more dangerous than men. Clever bitches… Yes, they are usually more clever than we are.


    He was now just three steps from them when the woman began turning around, probably her instincts kicking in, and his fingers pulled the releasing mechanism of the crossbow. The crossbow's arms loudly snapped as the string propelled the bolt forward, followed by a gurgling sound when the bolt drilled its way through the woman's throat. She grabbed her throat - maybe she wanted to try to stop the bleeding but it was most likely a reflex - and her eyes found Decimus.


    The man on the left jumped in fright, looking at the woman with wide eyes and when his head swung in the direction the woman was looking. Decimus already had his baskethilt sword out, swinging with it at the man's head. The blade began it's bloody path at the man's right temple, continuing through his eye, cutting the nose bridge and then just scratching the other eye. Before he could cry out in pain, Decimus already continued his swing, changing the sword's direction while moving forward, to the man's right, cutting him across his belly, putting the man between himself and the woman.


    Innards spilled out and in that moment a blast of ice cold magic intended for Decimus hit the man. Just mere second ago the guts were a steaming mass of hot blood and flesh and now they were crystallized into ice, just as the man. Decimus pushed the frozen body to the side, taking a step towards the woman, but she was already falling on her face, blood pouring from her throat. Her eyes locked with Decimus’ in a hateful stare as the last remnants of her strength were vanishing. She nearly got him with that spell even though she was already dying, drowning in her own blood. Such was her hate for the man who killed her.


    “Atmaeen?” a voice sounded from behind the tower's door. “What was that sound-” another figure in dark robes opened the door and took a step out, noticing Decimus standing above the dead bodies of his comrades. His eyes went wide and Decimus could see the magic gathering at his hands. Then a shadow stepped from behind the door, and a crimson blade forced its way out through the man's chest, going straight through his lung, preventing him from screaming. Belrand ripped the sword out and tossed the dying man to the ground.


    "Unslaad Krosis!" a voice yelled from the watchtower and a stream of freezing wind howled from the insides of the building straight at Belrand who managed to raise his Ward just in time.


    “Shit!” the Nord cursed. “Draugr!” he growled in Decimus' direction who quickly began reloading his crossbow.


    “Just hold them,” Decimus grimaced, loading a bolt while walking towards Belrand. A hand appeared in the doorway, sickly grey skin with thin fingers, followed by the rest of the ugly abomination that was a draugr releasing the steady stream of frost magic from its hand.


    When it got close enough, it stopped casting and swung its sword at Belrand standing a mere step from the door. Before it could finish its swing, the Nord's sword cut the hand clean off, his Ward disappearing and replaced by fire magic blazing around Belrand's sword which then went down in vertical swing right into the draugr's skull, splitting it like a melon, the dried blood hissing under the flames. “What the fuck do you think I'm doing?” the Nord snapped at Decimus, kicking the body back into the watchtower which made the other draugr trip over the now finally dead body of its comrade in un-life. The draugr fell on its face right under Belrand's feet and the Nord quickly finished it with his sword, plunging it into its skull. He raised his head and then jumped to the side, dodging an arrow hissing through the air. “Fuck!” Belrand cursed and by that time Decimus had finished reloading his crossbow.


    “Now, now,” he murmured and looked into the doorway, into a hallway leading down, which at the other end turned into a cave covered in snow and ice. Standing right at the other side, was a draugr holding a bow, nocking another arrow with its glowing eyes focused on Decimus. “You wish,” he grimaced, raising his crossbow. He grunted when the stock kicked him in the shoulder. But the draugr ended up much worse, when the bolt flying through ten paces ended up in the draugr's chest, sending him backwards, hissing and cursing in his strange language as the silver sizzled his undead flesh.


    “Son of a…” Decimus cursed, because he had aimed for the head, not the chest. He hung the crossbow back on his back and pulled out the silver sword, striding through the tower's hallway towards the draugr rolling on the ground. It looked at him and opened its mouth, hissing at him in hate, and he ran his sword right through its mouth, effectively killing it. He pulled out the sword and looked at what lay beyond the draugr.


    Belrand behind him whistled when he saw the hole in the frozen ground. It was around ten steps deep, leading into another ruin of an old Imperial-styled building. “This is really weird shit,” the Nord murmured. “Since when are Imperial forts built under ground? And when did draugr and necromancers become best friends?”


    Decimus frowned and just shrugged. He had seen so much weird shit in his life, this could barely move him. But draugr working with necromancers were definitely new, and it meant there was lot of trouble ahead. He then chuckled, which made Belrand look at him with a worried look.


    “I don't like the sound of that,” the Nord stated axiously.  


    Decimus smiled and patted him on his shoulder. “Just laughing at my own thoughts. We're mercenaries, trouble is our living.”


    The Nord grimaced, clearly not really reassured by that. “Nope, doesn't make me feel better. Not at all.”


    “Please,” Decimus spat down the pit in front of them and smirked. “Just go for the rope we left at the entrance.”


    “Why me?”


    The Imperial grinned at him: “It's not me who needs to change his underpants.”

    They tied the rope around a big rock right next to the hole and both mercenaries pulled at it with all their strength, testing the rock’s fastness to the edge. It seemed to hold, so they began their descent, Belrand's mage light hovering above them as they roped down. When Decimus touched the tiled ground, he was greeted by the warm light of torches in the hallway in front of him. The hallway led downwards, following steps made of stone deeper into the mountain.


    Belrand touched the ground after him, his face red and he wiped sweat from his forehead. He looked up and grimaced. “I really don't want to climb back up there.”


    “Stop complaining, you little sissy,” Decimus chuckled as he began descending down the stairs, crossbow ready. Belrand reluctantly followed and the Imperial was forced to shake his head. Belrand was always like that, anxious and jumpy, up until the fight came. He was like one of those drunks, with shaking hands and such, but when they took a bottle, it suddenly stopped. That was Belrand. And Decimus wasn't exactly different. He was joking and all that, but only because he felt anxious too. He felt that the situation was bad, so he was trying to ease it up a little, up until the point when the situation would turn really really bad. The jokes would stop then.


    They walked out of the hallway which slowly turned from man made walls into a roughly dug out tunnel and then eventually a massive natural cavern. As soon as they walked out of the narrow corridor, Decimus' eyes went wide. “Unholy shit!” he murmured under his breath.


    Right in front of them was one of the biggest natural caverns he had ever seen, with what seemed like an Imperial fort sitting at its bottom. They were standing on an edge overlooking it and right in front of them was a main tower with purple-blue lights emanating from its top. The lights were flowing through the air like rivers, illuminating the entire cavern and fort and Decimus realised that he forgot to breath.


    “This is some fucked up shit,” he whispered and immediately regret it when voices thundered from the top of the tower, echoing through the cave.


    "Wolf Queen. Hear our call and awaken. We summon Potema!"


    "We summon Potema!"


    "Long have you slept the dreamless sleep of death, Potema. No longer. Hear us Wolf Queen! We Summon You!"


    "We summon Potema!"


    “Potema?” Decimus blinked several times in confusion. “The fuck?!”


    “Wolf Queen of Solitude,” Belrand muttered next to him, trying to stop his hands from shaking. “They're trying to summon her. Bring her back to life.” There was fear in his voice and Decimus could feel that stupid and cold emotion crawl up his neck too. But there was no time or place to let the fear control him, so he swallowed with a loud gulp and began circling with his shoulders, getting that stupid tension out of them.


    “No one's summoning anything,” he growled and his eyes tore away from the blue lights and began scanning the fort underneath them.


    Belrand grabbed him by his arm and forced him to look in his eyes. Decimus saw the mist in Belrand's eye, the mist that clouded men's judgement, that made them piss their pants at something they haven't even seen yet. “We were not hired for this,” the Nord whispered.  


    “No, we weren't,” Decimus shrugged. “We were hired to find out what happened to the guards. We found one. Still two to go.”


    The Nord mercenary grimaced, looking away, drawing a deep breath. Decimus looked away too, because he knew that Belrand needed a moment. There’s no shame in being scared, to want to leave. But letting someone else see you trying to grab a hold of yourself, muster your inner strength to overcome the fear… that can be shameful. No one wants to be seen in their moment of weakness. No one wants to see someone in their moment of weakness. Give the man room, don't shame him. Speaking of shame, Decimus drew a deep breath too, trying to calm his rapidly beating heart. Yeah, old fart. Pick up the balls that just hit the ground and stuff them back in your sack, alright? You weren't hired for this, but you are here. Make it count. “Make it fucking count,” he growled out loud, cracking his stiff neck muscles.


    Belrand chuckled and Decimus looked at him with raised eyebrows. The Nord was pale, yes, but he was grinning. “If that was a pep talk, then I have to tell's fucking working. Yeah, imagine my surprise. You're right. Let's make it fucking count.”


    “What did you just say? Fucking cunt?” Decimus winked at him and began scanning the fort underneath them again. No one noticed them yet, but he was pretty damn sure that once the fight began, everyone in the cavern would know about them.  


    “So how do you want to do it?” Belrand said with a grim face, pointing to their right side towards a rocky slope leading down towards the fort. “Looks tough, but managable.”


    Decimus shook his head. “We'll get past a few of them, but they will eventually jump on us from behind.” He then looked to the left, at the steps carved into the cave's wall leading down. It was lit by torches which showed a way towards a small tower, that connected to another level of the cave. “I'd stomp right over their fucking faces instead.”


    “Street by street, house by house, room by room?” Belrand cited the Legion's old motto and Decimus raised his eyebrows in pleasant surprise.


    “Fuck yes! That's how I like it.”


    Belrand shook his head and chuckled. “Yeah, especially if it's a street full of brothels.”


    “Ha! Can't argue with that.” He then narrowed his eyes and walked towards the edge of the steps. “I take the undead and you take the mages?”


    “Works fine by me,” the Nord shrugged and Decimus felt wicked grin spreading on his face.


    “Let's dance, motherfuckers,” he murmured and began his descent down the steps, taking one at a time and then taking two. By the time he was nearing the bottom he was already taking four at once and a necromancer and draugr looked up, hearing all the clinking and rattling of his steel armor. They were standing at a point where the steps were suddenly changing direction, with around two steps long fall behind the necromancer's back.


    Decimus extended his step, shooting a bolt from his crossbow in the necromancer's direction, not really focusing on shape, race or gender. All he could see was just a silhoutte in black robes. The bolt buried into the mage's thigh, making the necromancer loose his balance and fall on the ground as the leg gave up. The draugr opened its mouth to shout something, but Decimus was already at him, ramming him with his shoulder because he didn't even have time to draw his sword. It launched the draugr into the air, down the two steps long drop where it landed with rattling of armor and cracking of bones.


    Belrand arrived behind him and quickly finished the necromancer with one swift swing of his sword before the spellcaster could weave any spells. Decimus began reloading his crossbow as he was walking down the stairs, towards the draugr who was trying to get up back on his feet - which was quite difficult with his left shin bone broken in half. Decimus drew his Goldpact sword, driving it through the undead's skull and then ripping it out with a grunt.


    He then made his way towards the tower, again increasing his pace. Silver, silver, silver, he kept repeating in his mind while he walked through the doorway. Aim for their heads, only way to kill them. Silver and heads, yeah, combined. Use a normal weapon and they'll keep walking around even without a head. Silver, silver, silver. He shook his head as he began tearing up the stairs, ignoring the dull thud of his knees. You’ll feel that tomorrow, Old Blade. You're babbling. Fucking babbling. Just kill everything that moves. Make it fucking count!


    A draugr appeared on the stairs, swinging a massive sword at Decimus' head and he quickly took a step to the side, his silver sword fleetingly touching the draugr's blade and redirecting it to the side, and with a follow-up swing he cleanly cut off the draugr's leg under a knee, which made the undead horror fall face down on the steps, rolling down, where it was finished by Belrand with his flaming sword. Or fire, Dec. Fire works wonders too. Fire, silver, heads, fire, silver, heads. Wait, sun spells too, but you don’t know any of those and neither does Belrand. What bullshit! Stop babbling!


    They got to the top of the tower and took sharp left, leading outside the building. When they reached the second level of the fort, he was tempted for a moment to touch the blue river of light flowing right above their heads, only to shake his head and curse himself foolish. He could almost see a familiar pale strong hand slap his in warning, the piercing red-orange eyes narrowed as the low voice spoke ‘no’. Decimus blinked to clear his mind and focused his eyes on the cavern.  It was intermixed with the fort there, the steps leading up being carved right through the rocks and the mercenaries again picked up their pace, speeding upwards.


    They emerged under two towers connected by wall which once housed a gate between the towers. Now it was just a big hole with the stairs behind it, leading up towards a brazier. A draugr arrived from that corridor, sword and axe in its hands and Decimus charged. A black blur then whistled through the air, striking his chest, making him stagger. It was an arrow and it disappeared in the dark after loud clink as Decimus' armor deflected it.


    The draugr in front him his raised his weapons and Decimus pulled the trigger of the crossbow in his right hand, the silver bolt hitting the draugr in its shoulder, spinning it around and it roared in pain as the silver battled the unnatural magic keeping it alive.


    “Archer!” Decimus growled, pointing with his sword at the top of the wall and quickly pushing the crossbow on a leather strap to his back, freeing his right hand, which now unsheathed his baskethilt sword.


    Belrand ran past him, towards the stairs where he met another necromancer who released an ice storm at the Nord. But Decimus couldn't pay attention to that, he had his own problems. The draugr in front of him was heavily armored with a black helmet with horns on his head and Decimus spat in its face when it regained balance again. “Fucking Deathlord!” he cursed and charged the undead.


    It opened its mouth and Decimus gulped.


    “FUS RO... DAH!”


    The invisible force threw Decimus against the wall, his spine feeling like it was curling over the crossbow on his back and he heard something break there. The impact forced all the air out of his lungs and for a second he could only see darkness in front of his eyes. When he opened them again he was lying on the ground, his weapons no longer in his hands and a terrible pain was spreading over his back. Please, don't be broken. There was only one way to find out and he tried to move his legs, gasping in relief when he was able to.  


    His head was dizzy, but his hand involuntarily reached behind his back, feeling the crossbow under his fingers. The string was hanging limp, and he could feel the large crack in the middle of the crossbow's body. “Better you than me,” he grumbled and raised his eyes to see rotting, muscled legs approaching. “Ah, fuck…” He couldn't see his silver sword but the baskethilt one was close and he began crawling towards it on all fours, the draugr following.


    The moment he grasped the weapon, he reached for his bandolier with his left hand, turning around and throwing a dagger at the draugr. The dagger was deflected with a sword and Decimus spat in frustration. “Son of a…” He didn't have time to finish, because the Deathlord swung its axe and Decimus was forced to drop on the ground again. He rolled to the side, feeling every second of that roll, how the steel armor buried into his body and he growled in pain, especially when he rolled over the broken crossbow and felt it push against the armor on his back, right up against the sore place. The Deathlord followed and Decimus managed to get on his knees when the sword came down at his head. He steered the blade to the side with his sword, cutting the Deathlord's thigh - with no effect at all. An armored boot hit him in the chest, sending him on his back again and he yelled in anger. “Bitch! Son of a bitch!” he finished what he wanted to say. “Motherfucker!” He swung his sword at the Deathlord's leg, breaking the bone, but the undead horror still managed to stand somehow.


    A axe came down falling on his head and he rolled again out of the draugr's reach, kicking with his heel at the weakened leg. He heard a loud snap as the shin bone broke in half and the Deathlord came down falling. It managed to swing its sword and Decimus reflected, still lying on his back. He then swung his own sword, hitting the draugr's forearm, right behind a wristguard and cut it off clean. He began getting back on his feet and the draugr, now lying on its belly, swung its axe, aiming for Decimus' foot.


    He quickly shifted his weight, pulling the leg back and then finally found his feet. A pressure on his thigh brought his eyes downward and they narrowed when he saw the cut-off hand gripping his armored thigh so strongly, it was bending the metal. “Fuck!” he shouted, grabbing the hand but it wouldn't let go. It only tightened its grip and he was feeling his flesh bruise. He pushed his sword under its fingers, cutting them off and then it finally fell off, twitching on the ground, trying to push itself towards Decimus with only a thumb and forefinger. Decimus stomped on it, crushing it, and then he had to dodge away because the crawling Deathlord again tried to cut off his toes.


    “You fucking piece of rotting shit head!” he cursed, stomping on the hand gripping the axe, breaking the elbow which made the arm hang limp. The Deathlord hissed at him and Decimus buried his sword into the back of its skull. But it still moved, still hissed and growled. “No one asked for your fucking opinion! Just fucking die already!” He looked around and noticed his silver sword lying few steps away from him. He quickly walked towards it, lifted it from the ground with a grunt because was forced to bend in his back. He paced back to the Deathloard, gripping the hilt of his baskethilt sword, ripping it out in one fluid movement and then quickly buried the silver sword into the draugr's head. Then it finally stopped moving and Decimus spat at the rotting corpse. “Bastard!”


    A body suddenly dropped from above, its bones breaking upon impact, and Decimus recognized a draugr, its head cleanly chopped off and the wound cauterized. He still jumped in fright and looked up, right at Belrand's ugly face. “Are you crazy?! Could have killed me!”


    “What the fuck are you doing down there?!” Belrand shouted back at him. “When I looked, I saw you on the ground all the time.”


    “Fuck you!” Decimus growled and began hobbling towards the steps - knees, bad knees -  which were covered in river of blood. When he reached the top he saw the body of a Redguard, missing an arm and head, lying near the brazier, the source of all the blood that made Decimus nearly slip. Belrand met him there and frowned when he noticed Decimus' broken crossbow.


    “You got your crossbow broken?” the Nord asked and the Imperial frowned at that. What a stupid question. You can see bloody well it's fucking broken!


    “Yeah, we're fucked,” he replied between heavy breaths. Both were breathing heavy, the cold making steam and they were beginning to sweat. Yeah, a bunch of fucking old mercs, are we. They looked to the left, upon another set of stairs leading up, along the cavern's wall, towards the other tower which was sitting opposite to the one with the ritual going on on top of it. “I'm not going to take stairs ever again after this,” Decimus groaned, bending backwards, trying to figure out how far to test his back. He could already imagine how badly bruised it was, but still better bruised than broken.


    "Yes! Yes! Return me to this realm!" woman's voice thundered through the cave. A deep, commanding voice, so full of anger and darkness it sent shivers down Decimus' spine.


    "As our voices summon you the blood of the innocent binds you Wolf Queen!"


    "Summoned with words. Bound by blood."


    "What! What are you doing?! You fools! You cannot bind me to your wills!"


    "Summoned with words. Bound by blood."


    "You ants don't have the power to bind me!"


    Belrand grimaced and looked up the tower where all the rivers of light were converging. “Not good.”


    “Somebody's pissed,” Decimus added and shook with Belrand. “They're about to drop the curtain. We don't have much time.”


    “Then let's make it fucking count!” Belrand snarled and they bolted towards the stair, starting their ascent. Decimus felt stings of pain all over his body, cold sweat on his forehead and he caught himself panting as he was running up the steps. And on top of that he heard his knees crack as if they were about to break any second. Too old for this shit, that's what you are, you old bag.


    They emerged at another level of the fort, the foot of the second tower, the first - their destination - was right ahead of them. They were standing on an ancient stone wall connecting those two towers, with at least a twenty-step long drop back to the bottom. They sprinted towards the tower when a necromancer and two draugr walked out of it, perfectly aware of both mercenaries.


    Belrand released a stream of fire from his hand, towards the necromancer who blocked it with a ward, avoiding all harm, but what mattered was that it kept the mage occupied. It was an Imperial man, his face hidden in the shadow of his hood, but Decimus still recognized the more olive Colovian skin.  A spike of ice suddenly flew out from the ward and Decimus dropped to the ground to avoid it. Well, maybe he's not so occupied...


    Belrand shouted and intensified his efforts, the column of fire escaping his hands grew bigger and Decimus could feel the heat even from two steps away. He was running along the edge of the wall, meeting the two draugr half-way to the tower. The first one swung his big axe and Decimus ducked under it, moving to the left and then he pushed against the draugr with his shoulder, sending it down over the edge. He immediately swung his baskethilt sword, cutting of the second's draugr hand before it could finish its swing and then then his silver sword decapitated it. He spat on the rotting corpse and grimaced. And how fucking easy it is when it's not some shit head Deathlord.


    Belrand was still locked with the necromancer in clash of elemental powers, streams of fire now battling streams of ice, the air hissing and turning to vapour. Decimus had a pretty clear image of how subtle that was, pretty much everyone in that cavern had to know about them and they didn't have time for… For measuring who has a bigger dick, he spat and approached the necromancer from behind. The mage was so focused on the clash of magicks he didn't see Decimus coming and when the Goldpact Knight ran his baskethilt sword through the man's back there was a shock and a surprise on the man's face as the hood slid back, revealing two orange glowing eyes. The shock and surprise then turned to vile grin when Decimus gasped in shock. Red magic glowed around the vampire's hands and Decimus felt his strength being sapped from him. And so he ran his silver sword through the vampire's crotch, up through his internal organs along the spine.


    The creature screamed in pain right into Decimus' ear and he growled, twisting the sword and then the scream of pain ended, the creature turning to a charred husk, leaving a scattering of dust in its decaying wake. Decimus dropped on one knee, using his baskethilt as support as he was trying to catch his breath. Belrand ran to him and helped him get back on his feet. “Was that a-”


    “Fucking vampire,” Decimus finished, wiping some of its dust from his chest piece.


    “Don't let the intruders interrupt the ritual!” someone shouted from the top of the tower and Decimus exhanged looks with Belrand.


    “I think we just crashed the party,” Decimus muttered and Belrand just chuckled to that, before both mercenaries walked into the tower. The first thing they noticed was a butchered corpse on the ground. It was a Nord, naked, with his throat and wrists slit and his ribcage pried open. The ribs were protruding out, almost like the legs of some kind of spider and Decimus couldn’t believe his eyes, the heart was missing, ripped from the chest cavity. He spit, that’s a real monster we may have up there. He noticed clothes tossed in under the stairs and frowned. “That's two out of three Solitude guards,” he murmured solemnly.


    Belrand spat and looked up. “Which means that the third…”


    “Yeah,” Decimus spat too. “I think-”


    In that moment, robed figures appeared from the stairs and released a barrage of spells in their direction, mostly frost but also dark red magic. Belrand covered them both with a ward and they quickly retreated out of the tower, pushing their backs against the wall right outside the door.


    “Shit!” Decimus cursed. “I hate vampires. I hate mages. I hate the fucking lot!” He peaked from his his cover and immediately the doorway was showered with ice spikes. “Shit!” he shouted when he took cover again. “They're holding the stairs.”


    “How many?”


    “I counted three.”


    “Shit,” Belrand growled and hit the wall he was leaning against with his fist.


    “Do you think you can block all that shit until we get close?”


    The Nord shrugged. “I have no idea. Their spells pack a punch.” He then frowned and looked at Decimus. “I might have something special for them but my magic won't be of much use after that.”


    “If we don't get through them neither of us will be of much use to anything,” the Imperial sneered and then released all the air from his lungs, slowly, and then taking a sharp breath. “Yeah, let's do this.”


    “On my mark, alright?” Belrand nodded and then sheathed his sword. He clasped his hands together and Decimus would swear he saw fire burning in his eyes, but the moment the Nord began pulling his hands from each other flames began burning between them. So maybe it was just a reflection. The Nord's face gave up how tired he was, how the focus was taking a lot from him, but the flames between his hands were getting bigger and bigger until they were shaped into a ball of a size of Decimus' head. And he had a big head.


    “Now!” Belrand growled and stepped into the doorway, releasing the fireball and immediately raised his ward, blocking the incoming magic. The fireball exploded middle way towards the three vampires on the steps, when it clashed against their incoming magic. The tower shook under the explosion and wave of fire rolled over the stairs and vampires. Belrand was already running up the steps and Decimus was right behind him, using the ward’s cover.


    The vampires raised their own protective spells and an onslaught of frost and dark magic was released in the mercenaries' direction. Belrand released a deep and primal growl as he was pushing against it, and Decimus could see cracks on the ward, almost like a glass window about to break.


    And then they were close enough to finally use the steel and silver.


    The stairs were merely two steps wide, so not enough room for swinging, so Decimus quickly took a step to the left and Belrand to the right, giving each other at least some room. The Imperial stabbed with his silver sword at the vampire most to the left, aiming at his foot. The vampire raised a ward but Decimus was expecting that, and he aimed as low as he could.  To his surprise, he actually did manage to slide the blade under it, burying the tip of his Goldpact sword between the vampire's toes.


    The creature growled and the ward disappeared and Decimus then swung with his baskethilt sword at the vampire's thigh. But before he could finish, the vampire grabbed him by his neck and the Imperial found himself hanging by his neck with his feet a few inches above the ground. The hand holding his neck began glowing with red magic and Decimus could feel his essence being ripped out of him, the nausea building in his stomach. He swung with his silver sword, cutting the arm clean off, which sprayed his face with that foul thick blood and then he hit the vampire's jaw with the basket guard of his sword. Teeth and blood flew out from the undead’s mouth, the basket ripping off half of the vampire's left cheek, revealing teeth and gums under it, now bloodied.


    “Get down!” Belrand shouted next to him and Decimus' quick look revealed another fireball in Belrand's left hand.


    The Imperial grabbed the wounded vampire around the waist and pushed, jumping down the steps, falling nearly three steps down on the solid ground. Something in the vampire broke, but then the explosion hit and for a second all Decimus heard was ringing. The vampire under him moved and Decimus, still dazed, hit the bastard with the sword's basket guard again and then once again. The undead monster still tried to claw at him with its remaining hand and Decimus put his baskethilt sword on its neck and leaned on the hilt and the blade, burying it into the vampire's neck. The steel scratched against a spine and Decimus growled, looking for his silver sword. It was lying near the wall and he spat into vampire's face. He grabbed the vampire's head and began pulling. The vertebrae resisted and he heard them crack, but not break. The vampire's hand grabbed Decimus' neck and it glowed with red light, and the wound on vampire's neck began to heal.


    The Imperial quickly pulled a throwing knife from his bandolier and buried it into the vampire's eye. It screamed in pain and Decimus pulled the blade out, blood splashing from the blade and he buried it back again, and again. The hand at his neck loosened its grip and then just slid to the ground, the vampire's head now a mash of blood, brain and bone, which began to quickly gather a layer of dust. More dust gathered until the body became a husk and Decimus gave the knife a final stab, watching how the rest of the grey face collapsed into itself, leaving a pile of dust. He coughed, and dust billowed at the movement of his breath.


    Decimus rolled on the ground next to it and heavily breathed. That was one strong fucker.


    “Are you fucking lying on the ground again?” Belrand barked from the stairs and Decimus looked at him, at a blotchy red face with some skin peeling off - most likely burned by his own spell - and nasty scratches on his neck, colouring his iron cuirass in crimson as blood poured from those wounds. But he was the only one standing on the stairs, and that counted.


    Decimus just growled and crawled on all fours, picking up his weapons and then he followed Belrand up the stairs, to the top of the tower.


    There was a stone table in the middle, covered in blood, with a young Nord woman lying naked on it, bound and gagged. Unconscious and unaware of what was happening. The lights were converging upon her. Right on the other side was another Nord woman, her eyes glowing with that now all-too-familiar unnatural orange light. What did vampires want with Potema?


    “You can't stop it! You can't!” the vampire screamed. Belrand and Decimus exchanged looks and began circling the table from both sides towards the woman. “You can't stop what's coming!” she repeated, her voice like a defeaning shriek, and Decimus sprinted towards her, his silver sword raised.


    Lightning escaped the woman's fingers, engulfing him, and he cried out in agony as the shock magicks crackled through his body. Belrand assaulted the Nord vampire with his flaming sword and she blocked it with a ward, releasing Decimus from his torment.


    “Fry her!” he growled through his sore throat at Belrand, but then he shook his head. He realized that the spellsword had already burned through his reserves of Magicka. We're so fucked.


    He crawled to his feet, leaving the baskethilt sword on the ground and took a first step towards the vampire, hearing himself groan. Everything hurt and he could feel the blood pouring into his joints, drying and turning them stiff. He reached for a throwing knife and tossed it at the vampire, hitting its neck, but the creature barely noticed the cold steel protruding from its throat. Belrand managed to weaken the ward and his flaming sword left a burning gash on the woman's belly.


    She growled and released an explosion of shock magicks, tossing Belrand back and forcing Decimus back on his knees. The agony was unbearable.


    “Summoned with words, bound by blood!” the vampire shouted and the rivers of light suddenly twitched and quickened, pouring into the female guard on the stone table.


    With determination, Decimus ripped another knife from his bandolier and threw it. It caught the vampire off guard, the blade burying into its mouth and it froze in shock and pain. But then the eyes found Decimus and he could feel the hate emanating from them. The vampire tore the knife out of its mouth, blood pouring over its lips and released a primal growl that sent shivers up his spine.


    Then a burning sword found its way into the woman's belly and she screamed in surprise and pain. Belrand was standing several steps away from her, which meant he had to throw the sword. Lucky bastard.


    The vampire gave a frantic look towards the other tower, as if she now finally understood her predicament. She opened her mouth as her face twisted in pain. “My lord! Help me!” She was begging? His eyes narrowed. What the fuck?


    Decimus looked in the direction she was focused on, but all he could see was a swarm of bats suddenly flying rapidly towards the hole in the ceiling. What?


    Belrand hobbled towards the vampire, ripped the sword out with a tired grunt and then stabbed the vampire under her chin, forcing the blade up into the skull. More blood poured from the vampire's mouth and one of its eyes popped out of its socket, hanging only by a string of nerves. Belrand then ignited the blade and the vampire immediately turned into dust.


    The cave then erupted in an explosion of light followed by a sucking noise, like air being passed through hole in a wall. Decimus felt the purple-blue lights pass through his body and he could see how it passed through Belrand and the female guard too and for a second he thought all their bodies were on fire, purple flames dancing on their skin. But it disappeared and the strange lights vanished through the hole in the ceiling.


    Decimus dropped to his knees, trying to catch his breath, and he saw Belrand leaning heavily against the stone table, just as tired as he was, untying the Nord woman on it. The lucky lass was still out. The Imperial released a loud exhale, getting Belrand’s attention, and then chuckled. “Did you just throw your damn sword at that bitch?”


    The Nord chuckled too, though he winced when the action hurt his burned face. “Seriously? After all this fucked up shit, that is what surprises you?”


    Decimus shook his head, really feeling how sore he was. “No. I told you, I've seen all kinds of weird shit. It just surprised me that you actually didn't miss.”




    “Yeah, I love you too,” Decimus released a sigh and clawed back on his feet, keenly aware of how all his muscles didn’t want to work properly now.  “Come on, let's get out of here. Let's get this lass back home.”


    “And get payed,” Belrand added and Decimus grinned at that.


    “Aye.  And get payed.”


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8 Comments   |   The Long-Chapper and 7 others like this.
  • A Shadow Under the Moons
    A Shadow Under the Moons   ·  September 5, 2017
    Ahahahah! I remember reading a bit of this. Nicely done... and throwing his sword, eh? Belrand is one lucky bastard. It's a statement about the strength of the vampire too, for a mercenary to even consider throwing away his weapon.
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  September 5, 2017
    Man, I can't decide if the subtitle for this chapter should be "We're so fucked" or "too old for this shit." Banter and battles were thrilling, I actually feel like I ache as much as those two old codgers after reading that. Pretty gory stuff, loved every word.
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      Man, I can't decide if the subtitle for this chapter should be "We're so fucked" or "too old for this shit." Banter and battles were thrilling, I actually feel like I ache as much as those two old codgers after reading that. Pretty gory stuff, loved every word.
        ·  September 5, 2017
      I love writing about old people, 'cause I am old too. :D
  • A-Pocky-Hah!
    A-Pocky-Hah!   ·  September 5, 2017
    Vampires? I take it this is your own version of the quest, Lorc-Chapper?
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      Vampires? I take it this is your own version of the quest, Lorc-Chapper?
        ·  September 5, 2017
      Well, you know us Kaiser, we don't just go through the gameplay motions for a quest, but we try to figure out a reason for it and then what are the ramifications. 
    • Karver the Lorc
      Karver the Lorc
      Vampires? I take it this is your own version of the quest, Lorc-Chapper?
        ·  September 5, 2017
      You could say that, yeah. We're expanding the rather bland Potema quest with quite lot of stuff, adding a real plot to it for example. You know us, we don't allow the gameplay things to limit us. :)
  • Ben W
    Ben W   ·  September 5, 2017
    Ahh, such a lovely old couple
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  September 5, 2017
    Heheh, yay, first chapter!