By the time Thales returned to the fork in the road outside Riverwood where she had contemplated whether to go to Bleak Falls Barrow to seek out the bandits that stole the golden dragon claw from the shopkeeper or go to Whiterun to warn the Jarl about the dragon, it was night. It was particularly dark out with many grey clouds bloating out the stars. I can’t even see the warrior constellation tonight. There is no telling how many bandits are in those ruins. She prayed to Talos in her mind and walked up the mountain path.
The path was winding and had very little vegetation (mainly grass and weeds). It grew rockier with each ascended step, until snow blanketed each side of the path. A few minutes later, she saw an unmarked and mostly ruined stone tower near the edge of the mountain side. Snow completely covered the ground in this area. The road disappeared under the thick snow. She stood nearly between two peaks. Thales remembered that Bleak Falls Barrow appeared to be between the mountain’s two tallest peaks. If she was close, she believed she needed to go right where the vast majority of the snow was rather than straight ahead where the stone tower still stood. But many huge boulders jutted from the mountain to block her path. The only clear way to go forward seemed to be to get closer to the tower and then take a right.
A lone bare tree stood close to the bridge leading to the tower. A male orc leaned against it with crossed arms and fur armor. Of course these bandits would keep some behind to watch the road. This tower is a perfect place to keep watch. The orc stood straight and lifted a steel warhammer from his back. Thales unsheathed her steel greatsword in retaliation. “Just let me pass. You don’t have to die tonight. I’m just going to Bleak Falls Barrow. I have business there.”
“And what business do you have in a ruin,” a female yelled from the bridge to Thales’s left. This was a Redguard woman, also wearing fur armor, but with an iron sword in hand.
“Jarl business. I’ve had a long day and it’s going to be an even longer night,” Thales said to them as she backed up and side stepped to the right to get them both in view at the same time and be closer to the way she needed to go. “I’d rather not make my night longer by messing with you.”
“Well, you’ve come to the wrong place, lady.” The redguard charged. She leaped in the arm, swinging down her iron sword. Thales easily side stepped and simply sliced off the Redguard’s head with a downward swing to the back of the neck.
“Hmmm, I guess it won’t take as long as I thought after all.” The orc screamed as he swung his hammer. Thales leaped backwards. The orc swung downwards very quickly. The hammer only hit snow, but Thales’s greatsword impaled his stomach all the way through his back.
She heard the distinct sound of a steel weapon hitting a shield. She looked at the bridge to see one last bandit that must have been in the tower when she arrived. He was a Nord in iron armor with a horned helmet and a branded iron shield. The Nord kept his shield up as he slowly approached her. He looked strong, but Thales believed she could knock him off balance with a strong swing to the shield. Using all her might, she swung down at the shield, but instead of blocking, the Nord hit her in the chest with the shield. She stumbled backwards, barely blocking his attack in time. She parried and tried to sweep his legs with her greatsword but the Nord jumped over the sword and attacked again. Thales managed to dodge the attack and rolled past his left side when he attacked again. She quickly turned around and stabbed him in the back. She had to pin his body down with her iron boot in order to pull her sword out of his back.
Thales looked back at the tower. They might have some useful stolen goods in there. Unless these aren’t the bandits that stole the golden claw. She crossed the bridge and entered the tower only to find a closet sized room in front of her with nothing but a chair and a coin purse and stairs to her right. She took the purse, but only found 14 gold pieces. This can’t be it, unless these are the worst bandits in all of Skyrim. She walked up the stairs which only led to another small platform and more stairs. When she finally made it to the top where the roof of the tower no longer existed, she discovered a chest. Inside was iron armor (which she was already wearing), some stamina potions (she drank one immediately), some lockpicks (she left them in the chest), and 139 gold pieces. She took the gold. That’s more like it, but no golden claw. She made it back down the tower and headed for Bleak Falls Barrow.
There was a clear path of snow amongst the rocky, jagged surface on either side of the winding road. The jagged rocks looked link boulder-sized dragon teeth all around. The path led Thales between the two peaks and around the left most one. The skinny path hugged close to the left peak while a bird’s eye view of Skyrim spread out on the horizon to her right. Thales stayed very close to the rocky, snow covered wall of the peak. Nothing would protect her from falling if she stepped too far to the right.
As she walked around to the other side of the peak, the path widened and opened up to another wide flat surface covered in snow. Another peak could be seen and between that new peak and the one Thales stood close to was Bleak Falls Barrow. She approached a bounder bigger than her and stood by it as she looked out to the ruins before her. Large arches reached high above the path, but most of these towering arches were broken at the top. Some only had one pillar still standing or just part of one. Stones were black and grey as the whirling wind blew snow on them constantly. A large flight of stairs led up to a huge platform with more huge pointed arches straddling the platform. Most of the arches here were not broken and stood strong against the weathering of time. The arches grew bigger as they got closer to the mountain peak and it seemed as though the very entrance led into the mountain itself. She studied the massive structure for a while until she saw movement at the far left of the platform. She ducked behind the boulder that was most likely a fallen piece of one of the broken arches. Of course they’d have some more men guarding the entrance. How many bandits are out here?
The person just stood at the edge. She could not tell if it was a man, woman, or what race. It was too far. She took out the bow Hadvar gave her, but when she reached back for her quiver, she only had a single arrow left. Shit! She looked around and discovered more cover closer up. Staying low, she snuck towards the closer cover. Her iron armor brought more weight in her steps as she crunched the snow beneath her. She only hoped that the strong wind would be loud enough to keep her silent to the person on the platform. As she drew closer, she could see it was a man with a bow and arrow in fur armor. She still could not tell what race he was, but his side faced her. She drew back the arrow and fired, but the wind took the arrow off course and it flew past his face. He drew an arrow and snapped in her direction. She ducked behind the rock just as an arrow whizzed above her. She exhausted all her arrows. She only had one option.
She unsheathed her greatsword and charged for the stairs! The man with the bow walked sideways towards the stairs, firing off arrows that all flew too far behind Thales’s charge. Just as she reached the stairs, a strong and bearded Redguard with dreadlocks and an iron warhammer charged down the stairs. Another bowmen (or maybe a bow woman) stood at the top. Thales backed up with her sword at the ready while the Redguard charged down the steps and the bows fired away, missing horrible. She waited for the Redguard to swing first and blocked the overhead blow. She pushed the warhammer back and sliced him vertically down his chest, but he still fought on. She witnessed one of the bowmen run down the stairs while the other stayed on higher ground. The Redguard stayed arm’s length away while the bowman circled around behind him and took cover behind a broken pillar. “How about you start running now, so that I can stab you in the-” Thales didn’t let him finish his stupid threat. She plunged her greatsword down into his shoulder where his neck connected to it. He collapsed in a heap and she pulled the blade out just in time to side step away from an arrow.
The bowman was a Redguard much skinnier and clean shaven with an almost shaven head. Thales ran around to the other side of the pillar only to see him pull out a dagger. He lashed out with a fury of swings, but none found weaknesses in her armor. She jammed her blade into his gut and took his quiver which still had fifteen arrows. She strapped it on her back in place of the empty one and pulled out her bow. She could now tell the last bowman was a bearded man with a black spikey hair. He was a wood elf. He started backing away from the edge a bit to make himself a smaller target. Thales fired three arrows. The third pierced his neck! She aimed her bow all around the edge of the platform, but she saw no more movement and heard no more arrows. She walked up the stairs after collecting anything useful from the bandits. She obtained eight gold pieces and by the end of the looting had thirty-six iron tipped arrows. She walked up many flights of stairs to reach the large entrance into the ruins. She slowly opened one of the huge Nordic doors just until she could squeeze inside.
Inside, was a huge room made entirely of stone. Some pillars were collapsed and the room looked very empty, save for a few corpses of the giant rat-like creatures, skeevers, that populated Skyrim. A few huge holes in the left of the ceiling cast moonlight inside while a blazing light of a campfire could be barely seen behind one of the remaining pillars on the other side of the room. Thales crouched down with her bow still in hand and slowly approached. As she approached the first pillar in the center of the room, she saw two dead skeever and a dead male Nord with an iron War Axe and a hide shield. She crept up to the pillar and peeked around the right. A black altar with dragon heads for corners stood high on the far right of the room with stairs leading to it. Another male Nord lied on the altar with his legs dangling off the side and his chest on the altar. A man and a woman stood by the fire and spoke. The man’s back was to Thales while the woman faced her, only the huge man probably blocked the woman from seeing Thales. She could not tell what they were saying, because the wind still howled through the holes in the walls.
Thales fired an arrow at the male Nord’s back, but it missed the target. Luckily, it went over his shoulder and hit the woman in the eye! She fell onto a wooden chest on the edge of the camp. The male Nord looked around, but Thales fired into his broad and bare chest. He fell into the fire. I’m getting much better with this bow, unless this is all just luck, Thales thought. The woman had more arrows and a hunting bow that Thales took after dropping her weaker bow. The woman had more arrows giving Thales a total of forty-four arrows. The man had some gold pieces and a garnet she could sell. The chest was locked, but Thales bashed it open to reveal thirty-eight gold pieces and a Magicka potion inside. Thales took the gold and pressed on.
She descended down a long passageway that declined into the mountain. Cobwebs covered the corridor, forcing her to slice through them with her greatsword. The corridor twisted around several times, but there was always only one way to go. Some corridors were flat with altars and urns, but Thales didn’t want to steal from the dead. She let the urns be. The path never led upwards, but always down if it wasn’t a flat corridor. A few torches lit the way, but it was never too dark. There still must be bandits further on. She eventually came to another downward flight of stairs that finally led to a room. She saw a handheld torch ahead and a man wielding it. She could see him in the archway below the steps. She crouched to see him better as he walked deeper into the room below. He walked up to a lever in the middle of the room and pushed. Several tiny darts shot out from all directions and killed the man. When the darts ceased, Thales walked into the room.
An iron gate blocked the only other exit of the room right across from the lever. Thales looked above the gate to see two giant statue heads carved into the wall. Their mouths were opened wider than a human’s lower jaw could ever open (unless broken off) with a huge plaque in each mouth. One plaque had the symbol of a snake whale the other depicted a whale. There was enough space between them that could fit another giant head, but it had broken off and lied on the stone floor. Its symbol was another snake. She looked to her left to see human-sized similar plaques with an eagle, a whale, and another eagle from left to right. She approached those plaques and discovered they could rotate three times with more symbols on each side. She looked back over the gate. A combination? she wondered. She turned the plaques on the left to snake, snake, and whale from left to right. Hope this works. She pushed the lever. The gate opened.
The gate led to a small room with a spiraling staircase to the left, but a chest caught Thales’s eye. Inside were a minor healing potion, eighteen gold pieces, a soul gem, and a stamina potion. She took everything and walked down the stairs. She didn’t make it too far down the wooden steps when she heard something skittering up. She drew her greatsword and held her ground. Three putrid skeevers raced up the stairs and leaped for her. She chopped one of them in half in the air while the others’ rat teeth bit at her armor. The rodents were the size of pigs and their grey fur looked diseased with bare patches of fur. She kicked one of the little beasts and it fell down the center of the spiral staircase. She brought her greatsword down hard on the last, splitting it in half. “I hate these fucking things.”
Cobwebs really covered the room at the bottom of the stairs; so much webbing covered the room that Thales could not see the stone table in the center until she walked next to it! With nothing of interest in room, she continued down the steps in the back of the room. The corridor led to a doorway that was so thick in cobwebs, Thales could not pass through without the use of a sword. On the other side, she could hear a man screaming for help. Two strong swings and her greatsword cut through the webbing. She walked in to find a room full of cobwebs and spider sacks. Several human bodies and skeevers were cocooned in the webs. At the far left end, Thales discovered a man trapped in webs blocking the other exit of the room, but as soon as Thales walked in and spotted the man, a spider as massive as a bear dropped down from the ceiling between her and the man in the web.
Thales had heard the spiders could get this big, but she never saw one with her own eyes. All the spiders she had killed over the years, including the ones she killed earlier that day, seemed like blessings now. The giant spider’s hairy top fangs lifted. A ball of green venom spewed out of its mouth. Thales leaped to the right out of the projectile and ran to the giant spider. She showed none of the fear and disgust welling up in her. She sliced at one of the spider’s front legs.
The spider made a terrible shrieking sound as it reared up on its back for legs. One of the legs struck Thales in the chest, causing the Nord to fall on her ass. Another of the spider’s legs struck at Thales’s side with the speed of a lunging snake. She rolled away from the next strike and sliced another of the spider’s legs. This time, the spider leg was cut clean off. The giant insect brought its fangs down at Thales, but Thales drove her greatsword upwards through the beast’s heat. The tip of the sword burst out of one of its many beady black eyes. The fangs twisted and searched for skin to inject its venom. Slimy fluids dripped, but only crawled down the iron armor of the Nord. Thales crouched pulled her sword out, and leaped back. The spider collapsed.
“Hey! Don’t leave me here!” the man in the web yelled. Thales walked over to him and discovered he was a dark elf in full leather gear. “You did it. You killed it. Now cut me down before anything else shows up.”
“Do you have the golden claw?” Thales asked as she kept her greatsword in hand.
“Yes, the claw. I know how it works, the claw, the marking, the door in the hall of stories. I know how it all fits together. You wouldn’t believe what power the Nords have hidden here. Now cut me loose.”
“Fine, let’s see if I can cut you down.”
“Sweet breath of Arkay, Thank you.” Thales swung at the webbings on one side with a powerful downward swing. “It’s coming loose, I can feel it,” the dark elf said.
Thales slashed a heavy blow on the other side of him. The webbing cut away and he fell onto his knees. “Hand over the golden claw. Then we’ll travel through this together,” she offered.
He twisted around and bolted down the corridor. “You fool! Why should I share the treasure with anyone?”
Thales growled and chased after him, her greatsword in hand to cut him down. She was able to keep up with him, but never was she close enough to hit him. They came upon a large catacomb with graves and mummified ancient Nords lying in tombs on the walls. Two shelves of tombs lined each wall. The dark elf tripped. When he turned onto his back, Thales pointed the tip of her sword at his neck. “Hand over the golden claw, now!”
She heard groans from the tombs and spotted one of the mummified corpses stepping out! She remembered what Hadvar told her earlier about his childhood fear of Bleak Falls Barrow. He told her he feared draugr coming down from the mountains, sneaking into his window, and stealing him and other children to bring back to the ruins. Thales never heard of tales that depicted draugr eating or kidnapping children, but she heard some ancient Nord ruins had draugr protecting the tombs and treasures inside. The tales spoke of the ancient Nords knowing some kind of magic that could turn mummified corpses of warriors into these draugr sentinels.Draugr! The legends are true! Thales backed away from the dark elf and scanned the whole room. Three draugr in total crawled out of the tombs. Two wielded ancient Nord axes while the other had an ancient Nord greatsword. Thales wanted that sword. She charged at that draugr and managed to chop off its head before it could attack. She picked up the ancient Nord greatsword and blocked a blow from one of the other draugr. The dark elf fought the other one with an iron sword. Thales swung her sword hard against the draugr’s iron shield. It’s scrawny, almost skeleton legs, stumbled. It fell to its knees and Thales chopped off its head as well.
The last draugr buried its axe into the dark elf’s face, splitting his skull open. Thales charged as it struggled to pull out the axe. She chopped off a leg and in one fluid motion, she brought her new greatsword down into the undead creature’s face. No more corpses reanimated. She looked down at the dark elf with the split open face. “Look where greed led you to.” She searched him and finally found the golden dragon claw.
She continued on through the tombs with her greatsword at the ready. Her blue eyes darted around at every tomb, examining for the slightest movements. As she entered a narrow corridor that turned to the right, she discovered one mummified Nord out of place. It was in full armor while the others only had mummified skin or were skeletons. Not taking any changes, she buried her sword into the corpse. The corpse’s glowing blue eyes opened. It shook violently before dying for good.
The right turn led to stairs that Thales walked down. She entered another large room of tombs like before. A female draugr rose from her tomb directly to her right. Thales stabbed it before it could get out. Another male one with a greatsword rose from a tomb across the way. Thales sliced it down its chest just as it stood up straight. The third draugr was already up and about with an ancient Nord bow and arrows. It missed and Thales charged it. She hit its chest with her shoulder. The draugr dropped its bow and stumbled backwards into a corridor were pendulums swung and sliced the undead being in half. Three pendulums swung at different times. Thales studied the pattern for about a minute before running through them one at a time.
She continued down tighter corridors that looked more like manmade catacombs than the ones carved out of the very mountain. Everything was grey instead of brown and some of the mummified corpses stood on their feet like sentinels. But halfway through these corridors, the sentinels came alive. Three were ahead of her while one was behind. She sliced off the head of the one behind her and discovered a long corridor with glistening oils on the floor and a torch on the wall. She grabbed the torch as she ran down and threw it behind her as she passed the oil. The three draugr burned in the fire quickly. She waited a few minutes for the oil to finish burning and then continued through the catacombs.
She came to a small room with a waterfall and the stream flowing to a closed gate. A chain on the wall would open the gate. A stone coffin on the other side of the stream burst open and another draugr with a battle axe stepped out. Thales made quick work of this single draugr and opened the gate. She followed the stream until it flowed under a wall. The space below was too narrow for her, but she saw a cavern-like corridor to the right. She followed it and it led to a larger cave and back to the stream. Glowing blue mushrooms lit the cave, but the stream soon dropped off the edge into another waterfall. A corridor spiraled down to the right and wrapped around until it led to a natural rock bridge in front of the waterfall. A female draugr stood on the bridge with a sword. The undead creature charged at Thales, but with one mighty swing, she pushed the dragur off the bridge and down the waterfall.
Thales continued through the cave until she eventually came to rooms again that felt more like the ruins. Large wooden double doors were closed across the other side of the room and a draugr with a battle axe blocked Thales’s path. He swung down, but only hit the stone floor when Thales sidestepped it. She swung sideways and upward slicing the edge of her blade into his chest. I don’t see why people are so fearful of these creatures. They are undead and a frightening sight to see, but they are weak and easily fall to pieces. I’d much rather fight more of these than more spiders. She walked through the door to find another corridor with three swinging pendulums. This time, Thales discovered a pattern where the corridor was clear of all three pendulums for four seconds. The corridor was at least fifteen wide strides long. Thales was confident she could make it. She bent low in a running position as close to the corridor she could get without chopping her nose off with the first swinging pendulum. She waited for the time the gap appeared and sprinted down the hallway with huge steps. She counted to four in her head and realized she was past the second pendulum at three and still had at least five more steps to go. She dived through the grey stone corridor and the last pendulum swung once her foot passed it.
Her iron armor clattered loudly on the stone floor. One of the two stone coffins lying on the right burst open. The stone door flew off the coffin and smashed the top of the other coffin. In front, the room opened up to a large room with two open floors. A draugr with a bow stood on the second floor. Seeing a small room to her right with two open archways for entrances, Thales retreated to the room just as the draugr from the coffin chased after her with an ancient Nord sword. Thales pressed her back against the small wall between the two archways and sliced off the head of the draugr when he ran through the left archway.
With her hunting bow now ready, she peeked from behind through one of the archways to the larger portion of the room. The draugr with the bow must not have heard her or seen her, because it just stood on a circular platform held up by a single pillar in the center of the room. Two bridges arched from two sides of the platform. A burning ceramic lantern hung above the draugr. Thales shot the orb lantern and it smashed on the draugr’s head. The creature caught on fire. Another draugr with a battle axe on the second floor ran to the burning undead comrade and it too stupidly caught on fire and died.
Wooden stairs led to the second floor and she found her way across the bridges to some more wooden double doors. Thales entered a huge hallway lined with large torches and candles. Carvings of people were on each wall, telling stories, but Thales wasn’t in the mood for stories. She just wanted the ruins to end and for her to get the dragonstone for the court wizard. At the far end of the hallway was a large, black, circular stone door with three symbols and an indentation for the golden dragon claw. The symbols were a moth, an owl, and a bear from top to bottom. Thales place the golden claw in the indentation and it turned, but the door did not open. Thales examined the golden claw and discovered three symbols on where the “palm” should be: a bear, a moth, and an owl from top to bottom. It’s another combination. She moved the top symbol and it spin to the right. She turned it till it showed a bear symbol. She turned the middle one to a moth and the bottom one to an owl. She placed the claw in its spot, pressed and turned. The symbols spun till they all showed an owl and then the stone door lowered into the ground.
Thales walked up a flight of stairs. At the top was a huge cavern with altars, and open empty coffins. She walked around the boulders and columns to find a huge altar separated by a moat. Several waterfalls scattered along the outer walls of the cave. A stone bridge led to the altar. She walked up a few more steps onto the platform; an altar, coffin, and chest were to her direct left while a huge wall carving towered in front of her. She could not recognize the letters (if those scratches could be considered letters), but a few glowed blow and beckoned her. Ignoring the coffin, she approached the huge wall with the glowing letters. Wisps of energy whirled towards her from the letters and suddenly, she felt like she knew the word meant “force”. Strange.
She turned her attention back to the altar. But just as she got closer, the stone coffin burst open and a draugr stepped out. Thales ran at the draugr as it slowly climbed out of the coffin. Her ancient Nord greatsword hit the undead creature in the shoulder, but the draugr looked unaffected and its arm did not slice off. She managed to get another swing in, but the sword still didn’t go as deep into the shoulder as it would have with any of the other draugr. This one is tougher. Finally, a challenging draugr, Thales thought very Nord-like. She tried to take one more slice at the draugr before it could stand up straight, but the undead Nord opened its mouth and unleashed a terrible voice that seemed to unleash a torrent of wind straight at Thales.
Thales was a strong Nord, she had to have been to be able to wield a greatsword by the time she was teenager, but she was no match for the shear force that erupted from the undead mouth. Her body catapulted backwards and her back collided with the large wall of carvings. She fell to the floor on her hands and knees. The draugr had the power of the voice. It could shout like Ulfric Stormcloak! Thales looked up. The draugr had an ancient axe in its left hand that was black and grey like the other ancient Nord weapons, but it also had a pale blue glow to it (enchanted with magic). The draugr was already down the steps and in front of her!
Thales rolled to the left as the undead creature swung down with its axe. She rose to her feet and horizontally swung her greatsword against the draugr’s back. The draugr stumbled and collided with the wall. She stabbed at the draugr with the attempt to impale it, but it rolled against the wall, faced her as the tip of her sword struck the wall, and shouted again. Thales flew back again, this time falling on the small steps leading up to the altar in the center of the platform. Even protected by the iron armor, her back hit hard and she let go of her greatsword on impact.
The draugr not only was tougher and with the power of the voice, but it was faster than all the other draugr as well. It was already upon her before she could recover. The ancient Nord axe penetrated Thales’s armor and deep into her shoulder. She screamed and gripped the draugr’s axe and dried up, dead hands. The axe’s blade was colder than anything she’s ever experienced. Never would she have ever imagined that her Nord blood would allow her to feel could. She could even see her breath whisking in the air from her scream. Pushing through the pain and the protest of her right shoulder, she managed to push the axe out of her and away from her body. She kicked the draugr and rolled to her sword. In one fluid motion, she picked up her sword, leaped to her feet and slashed her greatsword upward. The blade cut up the center of the draugr’s chest and under its chin. Thales plunged the sword forward and the blade went through the creature’s neck. Try shouting now, beast. No blood poured from the draugr’s wound, because it was already dried up. But the blue glowing eyes faded and its body collapsed in a heap.
Thales pulled out her sword and fell to her knees. She hissed at the pain in her shoulder and carefully pulled out a healing potion. She poured some on the wound and drank the rest. Her wound already started to mend itself, but it would take some time. The bleeding stopped though and it would leave a scar. There was nothing she could do for the pain in her arm. She would just have to ignore it. She sheathed the greatsword on her back and walked to the altar. A stone tablet lied on top of it. A map of Skyrim seemed to be etched into the stone. Is this the dragonstone the wizard wanted? Believing it must be, Thales took the tablet and looked in the chest near the coffin. She found eighty-nine gold pieces and some glowing hide braces. She took everything in the chest and took the draugr’s enchanted ancient Nord axe.
Thales noticed some stairs off to the left side of the huge wall carving. She walked up, but it only led to a dead end. She noticed a strange lever and pulled it. The stone wall in front of her parted, revealing a secret passage. The passage was long, but she soon discovered light at the end of the tunnel.
She exited the cave onto a ledge looking over a huge lake and a pinewood forest. She looked over the ledge. It wasn’t that far down and not terrible steep, but she needed rest. “The wizard can wait in the morning. She undressed out of her armor and rested on the rock ledge. She had fallen asleep on much worse surfaces and was too exhausted to complain.