Part 54 - Ilinalta's Deep

They followed some more winding passages, until they could hear a couple of voices in the next room. Lydia turned back to the others and whispered. "I can't see around the corner, or I'd try and sneak-shoot one of them. But I have another tactic for these situations."

She stood up just by the corner of the passage and motioned for Clark and Serana to be ready next to her. "I can smell necromancers," she announced in a loud voice. "Of course, the way they stink, they might be half a mile away."

As expected, the two men came running up the passage right into a flurry of blades. Clark had a ward up before the first one reached them, and Lydia's shield was blocking the other half of the space. Serana added a shock spell, to help drain their magicka, and they fell easily.

"Stay here, I can hear more of them," Lydia announced, and the others could soon hear the footsteps, too. "Let them come to us, like the last two."

The first to arrive was a bandit that had clearly been raised by the necromancer following him. He didn't make much impression on Lydia's waiting shield, and an ice spike and a couple of sword thrusts took him down. The necromancer tried a fireball, now that his minion was gone, but Clark's ward was up, in anticipation of that.

Serana went back to shock spells against casting opponents, and he was quickly unable to use his spells against them. That was what Lydia was waiting for, and her sword finished him.

"No flames left?" Clark asked.

"Out of charge," she replied, "and no gems anyway. He's still dead, so what does it matter?"

"Unlike the next one," she continued, as she heard more footsteps headed toward them.

Clark just had time to re-cast his ward before a cloud of frost came their way. Lydia slowed noticeably, having taken much of the force of the spell. Serana had managed to duck around the corner, and she returned fire with a lightning bolt.

The necromancer staggered, but recovered before the slow-moving Lydia could reach him. Clark moved out into the room, as soon as he could get past her. He wanted to get some space between them, so the mage couldn't hit them all with one spell. The necromancer decided he was more of a threat than Lydia, and hurled more ice in his direction.

Fortunately Serana had had the same idea as Clark, and gone the other way. She fired more lightning at their enemy, as she moved.

And now Lydia had shaken off the frost, and was bearing down on him. too. He wouldn't last much longer.

Still, he'd been a bit of a challenge, even for three of them. They stopped to repair and recover, and Clark took the time to recharge Lydia's sword, using the black soul gem he'd filled earlier.

Serana was looking around the room, and found an couple of books, some potions, and some empty soul gems. She brought them back to the group.

"If you're thinking about enchanting your dagger, you should read this one," Clark told Serana. "A Tragedy in Black will teach you a thing or two about the subject. I haven't seen this other one before, though. I wonder what The Aetherium Wars were about?"

He read a bit further. "Aetherium, apparently. Well, we don't have time now to do anything about this, so we'll stow it until later." He put that book into his pack.

They moved on, and soon found themselves back in a familar room.

"Except we're up a level," Lydia remarked, "on that balcony we couldn't reach before. I guess this door is where we want to go through next."

"Yes, if I'm not mistaken, this should lead us to the tower. The one that was still above water, with no visble entrance from outside," Clark agreed. "And that probably means more necromancers are waiting for us."

There were more, and once again, Lydia had them wait around a corner while she hurled insults, to bring the necromancers to them.

"Where did you pick that up?" Clark asked. "You certainly didn't learn it from me!"

"I sort of got it from Gilda," Lydia replied. "We were always taunting each other while I was training her, and I realised just how effective it could be in a real combat situation. So I tried it out in a cave full of bandits, and it worked better than I'd hoped. Of course, Nords are easy to taunt. You just remark on how ugly their mother must be, because if they'd got their looks from their father, they'd never have happened. And if that doesn't work, then you tell them it's the stupidity they inherited from their father. One of the two is usually true, and that's what makes them mad."

"So that's why you remark on necromancers' smelling bad," Serana surmised. "Because they do."

"Precisely," Lydia agreed. "Now I just need the right lines for draugr."

The last room at the top of the tower was empty of necromancers, but a skeleton sat in a chair on a raised dais with a battered-looking Azura's Star lying at his feet. A tome entitled "Malyn Varen's Grimoire" lay on the floor nearby.

"What happend to this?" Serana asked, picking up the Star.

"The Star won't normally hold a person's soul," Clark reminded her. "Varen must have had to do a lot of experiments to find a way to corrupt it, and I'm sure this damage came from the ones that failed."

"Well, at least it won't get any worse now he's inside," she responded. "Do we take it back to Azura's shrine right away?"

"There's not much more we can do here," Clark agreed. "Have we picked up everything the necromancers don't need any more?"

"Just about," Lydia concurred. "And that reminds me, this book looks like something Serana would want more than I would. I found it a couple of rooms back."

Clark knew that one. The Doors of Oblivion was one of the first Conjuration books he'd read way back in Cyrodiil. Lydia handed it over unopened.

"We'll go back to Breezehome for now, and Serana and I will take the Star back tomorrow."

Lydia looked pleased at the prospect of Clark staying overnight. She knew that even though he'd probably be paying more attention to Serana, he'd not neglect his housecarl.

"You two go up the bedroom and get started, and I'll join you as soon as I've got the stew simmering. It shouldn't take me long." Lydia had already taken off her armour, and was now wearing just an apron. She probably wouldn't have worn that, but hot fat was too unpredictable, and she could take it off as soon as the meat was seared.

Upstairs, Serana was still wearing her full outfit, and seemed reluctant to take it off. "I don't want to promise what I can't deliver," she told Clark. "And it's not that I don't want to. You know what happened last time, and I feel so guilty about Aranea having to do everything for you."

"What she told me, was that she felt guilty about getting more than her fair share," Clark replied. "I'm sure that Lydia won't feel guilty about anything. I don't believe she ever does, no matter what she's been getting up to."

Clark had unlaced most of her armour by this time. He began to help her out of it.

"This time, we know what we can do, without any accidents, so as long as we warn Lydia, it should all work out. You seemed to like it when I did this before, didn't you?"

"You didn't do it quite that way last time. I think I like it even better now."

When Clark heard Lydia's footsteps on the stairs, he went to intercept her, and tell her what the ground rules were.

"She can't what? But that's the best part! Wait, does that mean I get it all?"

Clark turned to Serana. "I told you she had no sense of guilt."

"What do you mean? I'm not taking anything away from her, I'm just making sure it doesn't get wasted. What's to be guilty about? Especially as I know you'll be doing everything to make sure Serana's enjoying as much as she can."

"And it's more than I ever did before. It's just that I can almost imagine what I'm missing," Serana added. "Eventually, I believe that I'll want it more than I'm afraid of it, and I'll be cured. I just don't want to hurt my friends getting there."