Bleak Falls Barrow wasn’t an easy, in and out job. The bandits who’d taken up residence inside were tougher than those they’d encountered on the road, and the first draugr she saw nearly made her wet her armor. As it staggered toward her, its jaw dangling against the rotting flesh of its chest, she swore she heard it mutter curses at her. She’d heard stories about draugr, but much like Farkas when it came to dragons, she’d never believed the dead actually got up to fight again until she saw it with her own two eyes.
They found the thief who stole Lucan’s golden claw quick enough, tangled up and left for dinner by a giant frostbite spider with a few missing legs and a really bad attitude. She thought Farkas was going to faint when the spider hissed poison in their direction, but Luthien had never minded spiders, and she dispatched that one pretty quickly, turning over her shoulder to make sure her companion was all right.
“Did it hit you?”
“No,” he shook his head, drawing up to stand at his full height again. “Draugr, I can stand against, men, even dragons if they really exist, but spiders…” He shuddered, trying to shake the creeping feeling from his skin.
“Hopefully we won’t run into any more of them,” she said as they crept through the catacombs in search of the dragon stone.
“A person could get lost in a place like this,” she swallowed her fear and scanned the carvings in the wall.
“It looks like that claw you found on the thief opens the gateway, but I can’t even imagine what waits beyond that door,” Farkas shuddered. “Probably another spider.”
“Or more draugr,” she gulped, studying the pattern on the claw.
“How bad do you think the jarl really needs that dragon rock thing he sent you here to find?”
“We’ve come this far,” she said. “We might as well keep going.” Holding up the claw, she studied the patterns that marked its handle. “These markings here, they look similar to the ones on the door. I’ll bet it’s a pattern.”
Farkas leaned in to take a look, clicking his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “Well, let’s hope we get it right the first time. It looks like it’s wired with a trap if you don’t put in the right combination.”
Luthien wasn’t tall enough to reach the outer ring, so Farkas turned it to the bear symbol while she set the center ring to the moth and the inner ring to the owl. Stepping back to study the rings again, she glanced again at the claw in her hand. What if she’d gotten it backwards and she wound up dead before she even found the Dragon Stone?
“You want me to do it?” he asked.
“No,” she shook her head. “You’re a far more valuable asset to the world than I am. Step back, and if the trap triggers and I don’t live, make up a far braver story to tell the Companions about how I died.”
“Will do,” he promised. From the corner of her eye, she saw him grin beneath his helm, and then she lined the claw in the center, pushed forward and turned it. Heavy stone began to roll and turn, dust showering down on them from above. She covered her face with her hand as she stepped back, bumping into Farkas, who held a hand out to steady her and the other over his mouth as he coughed.
“Looks like you’re not gonna die after all,” he said.
“Not this time, anyway.”
The eerie chanting started just after she opened the gate, growing louder and louder as they drew nearer to the inner sanctum. She stopped, listening to the rising chorus of voices, and then glanced over her shoulder at Farkas.
“What is that?”
“That weird chanting. Can’t you hear it.”
“I don’t hear anything, which scares me a little more than it probably should.”
She started forward again before he’d finished speaking, allowing the sound to draw her in its direction. The dark inner sanctum seemed empty when she scanned it, her gaze locking on the curved wall behind an old crypt. Something on the wall glowed, pulsing with a faint blue light, but from where she stood she couldn’t quite see where the light was coming from.
“You can’t hear that?” She took a few tentative steps forward. “It’s getting louder.”
“I don’t hear a damn thing.”
She was mid-step when Farkas yelled out behind her, “Watch out!” just moments after the lid of the sarcophagus broke free and a nasty draugr with a rotting grin climbed out with his sword arm at the ready. It lifted its free hand, a jet of icy air shooting from its palm as he growled and muttered curses at living.
There was no time to think, only act. She’d been carefully going through all the motions, demonstrating what Vilkas had taught her in the practice yard every time she’d come upon an enemy, but this draugr didn’t give her a chance to process what she needed to do. Something inside her had wanted to do well, so the next time she saw him in the yard, she could show him she what she was made of.
Her body reacted without thinking, sword raising upward until the pommel rested just above her belly button, left foot pushing her off, right arm guiding as the left struck down hard. She pivoted, reversing her movements to hit the draugr again, as Farkas came in on the left and brought his own sword down. The draugr fell, twitching a few times before it was still again, the two of them standing over it catching their breath.
“I hope that’s the last one,” she muttered, more to herself than her companion. She glanced back up at the wall behind the sarcophagus, seeing now that the glowing blue lights there were letters. “What is that?” It seemed to draw her, more than just her curiosity, but her body longing to be near that strange wall.
But it was too late. She came upon the wall and swirls of iridescent blue and white flew from the stone whirled around her like a storm as her body absorbed whatever power had been there. It tingled through her, fire, ice, air, all of it at once, bombarding her senses until she stumbled back a little as the last of it flowed through her.
“Whoa,” Farkas reached out to hold her steady. “What the hell just happened?”
“I… I don’t know,” she shook her head. “I felt really strange for a second, but I think it’s passed now.” Glancing around behind her, she walked back at the draugr they’d slain and searched it, finding the strange dragon stone Jarl Balgruuf and his court wizard had sent her to find. She tucked it into her pack and made for the unopened door. “I hope that’s a way out,” she said.
“Are you sure you’re all right?”
“Fine,” she nodded. “I just want to get out of here.” But she wasn’t fine. She didn’t know what was wrong with her, or what had happened. All she knew was that she needed to get out of that crypt, and fast.
He followed her up the stairs, close on her heels as she headed out the side of the mountain and looked down at the world below. As soon as the fresh air hit her face, she felt refreshed, as if the great weight of darkness and despair that dwelt within Bleak Falls Barrow had been lifted from her shoulders and she could breathe again.
By the time they climbed down from the that overlook, the sun was halfway across the sky, most of the day already having passed.
They traveled back to Riverwood, and though she didn’t let her excitement show, Lucan’s reward was more than enough to hire a carriage to take her to Windhelm if she really wanted to go. She dropped the gold into her purse and then they proceeded to make their way back home to Whiterun. It was well past nightfall by the time they made it home.
“You go on ahead,” she said, as they climbed the stairs to the Wind District. “I’m going to take this stone up to Farengar and collect my reward from Jarl Balgruuf.”
Farkas stopped for a moment on the steps, avoiding her stare and glancing toward Jorrvaskr before turning to look at her. “You’ll at least come and say goodbye before you run off to Windhelm, right?”
“I…” she reached down and untied her coin purse from her belt, handing it over to him. “Here. Maybe you could hold onto this for me until I get back to Jorrvaskr. I’m not going to Windhelm. Not yet, anyway. I thought about what you said, and even though it’s killing me just knowing those Imperials are out there… I don’t think I’m ready for war just yet.”
“Wow,” he nodded. “I think that’s the first time anyone’s ever taken advice from me.”
She laughed. “It was good advice. You helped me look at it from a whole new perspective.”
“So, I guess I’ll see you later then?”
“I guess so.”
After they parted ways, she headed up to Dragon’s Reach to give Farengar the stone. There was a strange woman in his quarters, going over a map with him when she entered, but they both dropped everything they were doing when she handed him the stone.
“Excellent,” Farengar eyed the artifact with appreciation and a hint of longing. “It’s good to see the jarl actually found someone with a little initiative for once, and you did it quickly too. I’ll make sure you are rewarded for a job well done, now if you’ll excuse me…”
He hadn’t finished his sentence when Irileth burst in, her attention immediately focusing on Luthien. “Good, you’re back. There’s been a dragon sighting over by the Western Watch Tower. The jarl needs your help.”