Part 22 - Solitude

After a couple of days of waiting in Whiterun for Diablita to return, Clark set out for Solitude with Gilda. Although his main intention was to investigate Elisif, Gilda had a Thieves Guild commission there, and she was an excellent distraction.

"We'll go to the Blue Palace to buy a spell tome from Sybille Stentor," Clark told Gilda. "That will give us a chance to look around a little, and maybe find an opportunity for something else."

"Theft, or what?"

"Anything that gives us greater access to the court. If any of the major players, especially the Jarl, has any work for us, that would be perfect. Otherwise, we play it by ear."

They arrived late in the evening, and took a room at the Winking Skeever. Gilda, in her tight leathers, got more than a few glances from the men. Then they'd look at Clark, and wonder what he'd got that they hadn't. The women would look at Gilda, know what she'd got that they hadn't, and then wonder about Clark.

They spent most of the following morning wandering around the market. Then it was time to head for the palace.

As they entered the audience room, and climbed the stairs, they could hear someone petitioning the Jarl for assistance. There were strange noises coming from Wolfskull Cave, and lights in the night. The petitioner was from Dragon Bridge, some way from the cave, but he was clearly disturbed by the phenomena.

Elisif hears a petition.

Elisif was earnestly listening to the man, while glancing at her advisors for clues to their reactions. Her proposal at the end of his spiel caught Clark by surprise.

"We will immediately send a legion to scour the cave and secure your town. Haafingar's people will always be safe under my rule."

Sybille and Falk talked her down to a lesser course of action, of just sending an extra guard or two to Dragon's Bridge. Somebody would take care of the cave, too.

Clark saw his chance and suggested that he and Gilda should go and take a look. Varnius Janius left, happy that the matter was in safe hands.

"You didn't have to volunteer, you know," Falk told them. "The Jarl and I have this routine well-oiled now. She promises the moons, and I bring her down to Nirn again. Everyone loves her for it, because they think she means everything she says. And what they actually get is quite enough to satisfy them."

"Well, we're looking for an excuse to explore the area, so this is no problem for us. And you never know. There just might be something behind that tale of his."

Falk doubted it. That cave had a tradition of being haunted for as long as he could remember, and there was no reason to believe something new was happening.

"But don't let me stop you going there. The caves that everyone avoids are the ones that still hold their treasure, aren't they?"

Gilda whispered in Clark's ear as they left the palace. "I think Falk Fire-Beard and Thane Bryling have something going on. Did you see the way they look at each other?"

"No, I was watching Elisif." Gilda elbowed him in the ribs. "And not just her cleavage. She's quite an actress, and she's playing for high stakes, here."

"What do you mean?"

Clark explained what Diablita had told him. Elisif had to appear weak as a Jarl, so that Tullius wouldn't have her replaced. At the same time, she had to do the job as well as she could. Hence the coded interplay between her and Falk. She'd just told him that she thought something needed to be done about Wolfskull Cave, and probably how much. Falk had scaled it down appropriately, but not changed the basic decision to send more guards to Dragon Bridge, and investigate the cave.

The presence of two skeletons guarding the entrance to the cave was evidence that this wasn't a wild goose chase. Something had to have animated those two, and recently, as that kind of magic fades quickly. That something was most likely still in the cave.

"Skeletons usually indicate necromancers," Clark thought. "I wonder how long before we meet one."

As they might have expected, the novice whose job it was to keep the guard in place was stationed not far into the cave. And further in were more experienced colleagues who'd re-animated draugr to assist them. Finally, they came to what appeared to be a dead end. The chamber had a pit in the floor, but the only other exit was back the way they'd come.

Clark peered down. "I don't see any way to climb back up. But this can't be all there is. We didn't pass anything of interest, and there didn't appear to be any accomodations for the necromancers. I can't believe that they come here every day from somewhere else."

Gilda shrugged. "So we go down, and hope there's another exit. That looks like a paved floor down there."

"That's true. And since there isn't one up here, it didn't just fall there."

It wasn't far to drop, and when they landed, they could hear something up one of the tunnels. "It sounds like chanting," Gilda said. "Come on!" She set off down the tunnel with Clark close behind her.

They emerged on a ledge overlooking a cavern. Blue lights were swirling around a tower in the center, and the sound of chanting they'd heard was coming from the top. "There must be a side-passage back there that leads down, and we missed it." Clark guessed.

Gilda shushed him and pointed. A faint glow was coming from somewhere just behind them. It outlined an opening in the passage wall that they hadn't seen before. The glow was getting brighter, as they watched.

Gilda guessed that someone was approaching, carrying a torch. She crept towards the light, readying a flame spell. An ice spike came back in response, but an explosion of fire ended it. Clark looked down at the pool of burning oil the necromancer had stepped into. "Nice timing," he told Gilda.

"However, I'm sure the others will have heard that, so..." Clark cast Ebonyflesh and readied a ward, too. His other hand held his fiery soul trap sword.

"We summon Potema." The chanting was now close enough for them to hear the words. But it wasn't coming from the draugr that faced them, or the necromancer behind him. As they fought their way around the spiral of stairs and ramps leading up the tower, they could hear another voice being added to the ritual.

"Yes, yes! Return me to this realm!"

"As our voices summon you, the blood of the innocent binds you."

"Summoned by words, bound by blood" The last chanted in unison by several voices.

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

"Summoned by words, bound by blood" The chorus came again from the necromancers.

"You don't have the power!" Potema's voice mocked.

"Something is wrong. There is an intruder" a single voice interrupted, presumably one of the necromancers near the top had spotted them.

The chanting stopped, and several necromancers came down the stairs, firing spells in their direction. Clark had his ward up, in anticipation, and blocked most of it. Gilda hacked past the ward with her blade, and one by one the necromancers died.

At the very top, one lone necromancer stood trying to continue the ritual. Once she was dead the blue lights stopped swirling, and disappeared through a hole in the roof, and an eerie silence fell. Clark searched around, and found a book, which he handed to Gilda. "Read this. I think I recognise it as a skill book you'd find useful."

Gilda meanwhile had found a lever, that dropped a drawbridge to another tower, set against the side of the cave. There was a chest on the top, with a decent amount of loot, but more important, it lead to a path out of the cave.

Back at the Blue Palace, Falk asked what wild animals they'd found. He was convinced that Varnius had just heard wolves howling or something equally innocuous. When Clark told him about the necromancers' ritual, his jaw dropped.

"You stopped them, didn't you? Don't tell me they brought Potema back to life!"

"We stopped them," Gilda replied. "Assuming that was all of them."