Vilkas’s mood had shifted. He was still loving toward her, his feelings hadn’t changed, but their conversation and his encounter with the wolves had troubled him and he didn’t seem much like talking. She left him to his thoughts, telling herself he would talk if he needed to, and feeling a little sad when he didn’t. She forgot sometimes how different men were from women. It was easy for her to talk about her feelings, no matter how deep and painful they were, and it had always been so, but none of the men she’d ever known had so easily let go of the things inside that ate away at them from the inside. Well, except for Farkas, but it didn’t ever seem like much got him down and she envied that about him.
They spent much of their second day traveling in silence, and that night when he made love to her, there was such fire in him she thought they would both burn to ash before he was satisfied. Afterward, he held her so close, so tight, it was hard for her to breathe, and when he thought she’d fallen asleep, he kissed her forehead and left her there to lie alone while he stood guard all night beside the fire.
She was glad they hadn’t encountered any Silver Hands. There was no telling how much further over the edge that would have pushed him, but when they crept up on a mage’s camp just outside of Ustengrav, he wiped every last one of them before she’d even fully drawn her sword.
As they made their way down the wide steps that led into the temple, Vilkas held up his arm and gestured with his head to let her know there was trouble ahead. She nodded, and quietly lifted her blade, the two of them sneaking into the circle nearly undetected and wiping out three of the five necromancers before they even knew what hit them. The last two weren’t so easy, raising the bodies of the dead to fight for them, and as she and Vilkas fought back to back to fend them off, she started to think maybe coming to Ustengrav hadn’t been a good idea.
Beyond the mages, draugr awaited, but Luthien was surprised to find a number of them already slain, their lifeless bodies littering the pathway like beacons showing them which direction they needed to go. They wound through the cobweb encrusted catacombs, battling the occasional draugr until they came to an open grott that led down into a green valley, the constant sound of falling water backed by that strange chanting she’d heard the last two times she and Farkas had gone out together.
“That’s… breathtaking,” Vilkas came up on her left shoulder and peered down into hidden valley below. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Come on,” she started down the side path to her right, realizing as soon as she did, she’d have to jump down to the water’s edge. “There’s something down here I need to check out.”
“What is it?”
“A wall,” she said. “Like the ones I told you about the other day, with the dragon words carved into them.”
She followed the path into a recess behind the waterfall, the constant chant of those strange voices calling to her until she came into the alcove. The glowing word on the wall hummed and vibrated, swirling outward until it wrapped around her body, squeezing its way into her until her legs felt like jelly and her heart swelled with its power. If Vilkas hadn’t been standing behind her, she would have fallen, but he held his arms out to steady her, murmuring, “I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own two eyes. Are you all right?”
“I just need a minute,” she assured him. “It’s like this incredible force and it just sweeps through me like a… like a storm.”
“Here,” he drew a bottle of ale from her pack and brought it to her lips. “Drink this, love.”
She swallowed a few gulps. “It’s not as hard as it was last time, and Master Arngeir says it will get easier with time, but it still packs a mighty punch.”
“And you’ve already been pummeled by this place as it is. How much further before we find this Horn of Jurgen Windcaller you’re searching for?”
“Check the map.” She handed it over to him and watched as he scanned it with a critical eye, tracing his finger over that pathways and glancing up at the grotto they’d come from before looking back down at the map.
“Let me walk it off,” she said. “My head is already clearer and by the time we get to the top of the hill, I should be okay.”
“Are you sure?”
Nodding, he gave in, helping her stand and offering his arm as they trekked back up to the landing just below the throne room. She felt better, her no longer swimming with that power, blood no longer simmering in her veins, but the real test came when they reached a glowing triad of stones that only seemed to open the gates ahead when she stepped on them, closing again quickly as soon as she moved off.
“I know what I have to do,” she looked down. “You’ll have to run, Vilkas, and fast. Stand beside the gates, and as soon as the first one opens, go through it and wait for the next one. Go all the way to the other side and wait for me there.”
“You have to trust me,” she said. “Do you trust me?”
“With my life,” he started toward the gates, passing through them as she opened them one by one, and disappearing into the dark tunnel. He called out when he was on the other side, and she backed up, drawing in a deep breath.
“Here goes nothing,” she sighed it free, sprinting across the stones as she summoned the power from within her, she shouted the word Master Borri had shown her, “WULD!” It was just like she’d practiced in High Hrothgar, a force like the wind carrying her body forward so quickly she barely saw the walls as she passed through the gates and came out on the other side just before they closed.
She hit the wall, catching it with her outstretched arms and pushing herself off, stumbling over her own footing and landing on her backside. It had been a lot easier when she’d been practicing under the Greybeards’ guidance, but at least she’d done it and lived to tell about it.
“What was that?”
“Whirlwind Sprint,” she grinned as Vilkas lifted her back to her feet. “The Greybeards taught me how to do that.”
He was impressed, a reaction she wasn’t used to garnering from him. “What else did these Greybeards teach you?”
“So many things, and yet it feels like I’ve barely scratched the surface of all there is to learn.”
“In time, love.” He lowered his arm over her shoulder. “Just remember what I said the other day about your path. You are exactly where the gods want you to be, doing their will.”
She nodded. They took a few moments to regain their bearings, Luthien shaking off the dizziness that came with traveling so fast it felt like she was no longer a part of her body, while Vilkas consulted with the map again.
“We need to head east.” He glanced up, folding the map and tucking it back into his pack. “Through a door beyond that wall over there. The crypt should be just on the other side.”
They crept carefully along the stone walkway, avoiding the fire traps after accidentally discovering them when she depressed one and nearly roasted both of them. To make the situation even more dangerous, two frostbite spiders descended from their hidden alcoves near the ceiling, spitting venom and gnashing their teeth, ready for a fight.
Fortunately, Vilkas did not share his brother’s aversion to arachnids, and he took out the one to their left while she polished off the one to the right. Back to back, they stood catching their breath and watching the corpse of the spider Vilkas had killed crisping in the flames rising up from the floor trap it had fallen onto when it died.
“You’ve gotten much better with a blade since we first met,” he remarked, grinning over his shoulder at her.
“What can I say? I had a pretty good teacher.”
“Perhaps when we get back, we’ll have Eorlund make you an axe from Skyforge Steel, and I can train you to use that.” He raised his left eyebrow twice, still grinning as he said, “It’s all in the swing.”
“Nothing would please me more, but first, we need to get out of here.”
He followed her carefully across the last of the fire traps and through the thick, sticky wall of web that blocked the way into the crypt of Jurgen Windcaller. There was a chain beside the door that released the gate into the tomb, and previous experience had her expecting an army of draugr as soon as the gate lifted, but nothing came. And then the whole crypt began to tremble as four dragon head statues climbed up out of the water, splashing the path as they rose and spraying water back on them both.
“This place… it’s incredible.”
“I’ve got your back,” Vilkas promised as she started down the stairs, toward the undisturbed tomb with her sword raised and her gaze shifting left and right through the shadows as she walked. The only sound was the dripping of water from those great statues as it plunked down to the stone floor and rippled in the water already there.
She was glad for the sound of his footsteps behind her, glad that he would be with her when she found the horn. Maybe she could convince him to come back to High Hrothgar with her to return it, and he could experience the peacefulness of the monastery that had brought her so much comfort in the face of desperation.
When she reached the tomb, she felt every muscle in her body tighten as she realized the horn wasn’t there.
“What the…” she reached out and snatched the rolled parchment from the stone-carve hands that once held the horn up high and began to unravel.
“What is it?”
Clearing her throat, she read it aloud, “Dragonborn—I need to speak to you. Urgently. Rent the attic room at the Sleeping Giant Inn in Riverwood, and I’ll meet you.—A friend.”
“A friend?” He grabbed the note from her hands and read over it again. “Who is this friend? Where’s the horn?”
“Whoever it is, they must have taken it.” A frustrated sigh deflated her and she felt back to rest against the crypt. “All that, for nothing.”
“It sounds like a trap to me. Whoever it is, they knew I was going to be here.”
“Than if it was a trap, why didn’t they just wait for you here?”
“Maybe they saw my big strong shield-brother and he scared them away.”
Vilkas squinted, clearly not amused. “The Greybeards sent you to do a job, Luthien, and what is the Companions’ philosophy on a job left undone?”
“I don’t know,” she shrugged. “A job left undone is a job someone else gets paid for?”
“You’ve obviously spent far too much time in the field with my brother. A job left undone is a job that will still need doing tomorrow.”
“It’s nearly four days to Riverwood from here.”
“Then let’s not waste any time.”